Can renewables and efficiency supercharge UK industry?

The Financial Times (FT) argues that Britain has quietly become a star in the world of green power. It writes that a record 25% of electricity generated last year came from wind farms, solar panels and other renewable power sources, up from 9% in 2011.

For the first time, says the FT, renewable sources provided more power over the year than coal, the fuel that made the UK the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

Simultaneously, Business Secretary Sajid Javid has said that more needs to be done to lower British industry’s energy costs, in order for UK businesses to compete in Europe. He was responding to the Business Select Committee’s questions over the steel crisis after Tata Steel’s CEO pointed out Germany’s lower prices.

Therefore, interesting energy dichotomies now exist. The UK is genuinely stepping up on green energy. But at the same time, renewables subsidies are being slashed and the price of existing power is damaging UK business. The UK’s nuclear option is in disarray, while coal stations are coming offline.

Could a combination of renewables and efficiency be the panacea the country requires?

Technology transfer

In other signals, the UK steel industry is doomed unless it embraces cutting-edge technology, one Cambridge professor has warned.

Prof Julian Allwood said the only way to save steel jobs was to make high-value products for industries in which the UK leads the world.

Allwood says that the global steel industry today has more capacity for making steel from iron ore than it will ever need again.

“On average, products made with steel last 35 to 40 years, and around 90% of all used steel is collected. This is easy because it’s magnetic. The supply of steel collected from goods at the end of their life therefore lags the supply of new steel by about 40 years.”

Consequently, the solution is not to make more steel. It is to focus on new methods to scrub impurities from recycled steel, to then make high end products for the aerospace and car industries.

Prof Allwood pointed towards the Danish wind industry as an example of successful government strategy to create jobs with a new product.

Seemingly, his thoughts share a startling similarity with energy efficiency and management. Why make more power, or build new Hinkleys, when you can simply do much, much more with the power you already have?

Cost crisis

In the latest news on Hinkley Point, worrying estimates on price continue. Reports say costs on the UK’s proposed Hinkley Point C reactor have crept up to £24 billion, about $35 billion.

The Large Hadron Collider cost $5.8 billion to build, the BBC notes. About the only thing that rivals Hinkley on Earth is Chevron’s recently completed $54 billion natural gas plant in Australia. The International Space Station’s collective modules top everything at a total of $110 billion.

France’s Government, says The Times, is now selling off its shares to try and raise the capital. It has an 85% stake in EDF.

The costs keep rising, the final decision keeps on being delayed. Can Hinkley really stay on the rails?