Day number one in Cheltenham and it’s certainly been a busy one – for the Academy at least. We’ve had not one, but two events this afternoon and if I say so myself they’ve both gone rather well, with loads of debate and discussion from the speakers and the audience.
Up first was our wind debate with engineer Andrew Garrad and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt arguing for the motion ‘Should Britain be a fan of wind energy’. Andrew and Jonathon stressed that, while they were proponents of wind energy, they saw wind as being part of the energy mix along with other renewables such as tidal, solar and hydroelectric. For Jonathon, Britain has no other choice but to be a fan of wind energy, as we try to move towards a future of energy efficiency and decarbonisation.
Taking the stand against the motion were energy policy analyst John Constable and writer and independent political researcher Ben Pile. Ben felt that we should have more democratisation in energy policy, and that wind power won’t lead to cheap, abundant energy, instead costing us more and delivering less. John argued that we’re simply not ready for wind power, which is currently technically primitive and very expensive.
Chairing the event, Vivienne Parry took to the audience to find out their thoughts on the topic, which were many and varied. Among the questions asked were how to incorporate wind with other energy sources, for those times when the weather isn’t so compliant. While speakers agreed that other energy sources will still be needed they pointed out that the holy grail would be to solve the energy storage problem.
All of the speakers agreed that energy is a political topic and in his introduction Andrew Garrad stated that security of supply is a big concern. He said that he felt wind could be a very British energy source, with wind turbines being developed, constructed and producing energy in and for the UK. Although some turbines now call for rare earth components such a neodymium, which have to be sourced from overseas, Andrew said that we don’t necessarily have to continue with these designs. But perhaps his killer argument was that a wind turbine with a design lifetime of about 15-20 years needs to run for only 9 months to recover the carbon costs taken to make it.
I’m afraid there was a LOT more discussion about the topic, particularly regarding subsidies and the need to redesign the grid to cope, but this is just a very quick run-down on the points I was able to note down. For anybody interested in a more complete version, a video of the event will be going up on the Academy website fairly soon.
I was planning to talk about our second event ‘Can we keep warm and still save the world’ too, but I’ll hold onto that for another post for fear of going on too long. But I’ll just end with two of the points made by John and Andrew when summing up at the end of tour wind debate today. We need to develop renewables under real world conditions, but we also need to start thinking about energy in a different way, as this could be the beginning of a whole new era.