Sunday, April 26, 2015
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Scottish Parliament Speech: Question Time - Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: "Determining and delivering on Scotland's energy future" (September 2009)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's report. I dissent from some of the recommendations in the report, for example the acceptance of "the need to extend the operating lifetimes of the current generation of nuclear power stations."

I have seen those mausolea rise and fall. Terrorist attacks and the disposal of the nuclear waste that they produce will dog them for the 30,000 or so years that they will be with us. The compromise in the report would squander on an outdated energy source that is only 35 per cent efficient money that is urgently needed for research in, and the development of, renewable energy resources.

Scotland can, soon, become a major supplier of energy and a gravedigger for CO2 - the North Sea oil-bearing strata can accommodate 150 billion tonnes. We need to focus on those strengths and not cling to a nuclear past that is all too much tied up with the notion of nuclear deterrence. We must be prudent when it comes to planning and investing in energy and, before we replicate the expensive toxic ruins of our nuclear power, we must carefully consider and eliminate the potential health and landscape risks of waste incinerator plants or overhead power lines such as the one between Beauly and Denny.

I have news for Lewis Macdonald: an intermediate technology that can produce baseline power cheaply is to hand. It has just been launched - Mr Johnstone will doubtless be amused that it has been launched in Germany but, after all, they have industry there and we do not - and it showcases the need to be in the lead of renewable technology. It is called the Zuhauskraftwerk or the personal power station. People can have one in their cellar if they wish. It is manufactured by no less a company than Volkswagen, which adapted its Golf engine to use natural gas or biofuel and produced an engine and heating system that is 92 per cent efficient. Not only that: the system can be strung together like Wikipedia or Google to produce a combined power output of about 2,000MW. Longannet produces 2,400MW and wastes an additional 64 per cent of its heat by blasting it into the air.

The system has just been launched and, already about 50,000 people have signed up for the personal power stations. I am not making a plug for Volkswagen - as members know, I have not driven a car for 30-odd years - but the system provides a baseline power unit that can be shifted around. It can be installed in a house to supply much-needed heat to, for instance, old-age pensioners and, once the house has become a passive house - enjoying a normal European standard of insulation - removed and installed elsewhere.

That seems to me an admirable method of using an intermediate technology. Not only that: if the units are to be manufactured in Scotland - there is the possibility of entering into some agreement with Volkswagen - we have companies such as Aggreko and the Wood Group that have plenty of experience in installing light, portable power units. The personal power station was a new technology to me when I saw it, but I have been through the printouts and downloads and it seems to me that it is the next great thing.

The committee's report sensibly emphasises energy efficiency, considering that 53 per cent of our energy demand goes on space heating. Among nearly 140,000 houses in Britain that were surveyed over a year, only four reached the European Union energy rating band A. Most of our stock struggles hard to reach band C, so we will not cure the problem with a bit of do-it-yourself. We have to redesign our housing stock and insulate it so well that it barely requires heat. It will resemble - alas - few houses so far built in the United Kingdom.

As with houses, so with shops. Should we succumb to every offer by a supermarket to create 200 jobs without querying the carbon footprint that it will leave - the buildings have to be heated and cooled; trucks bring in the goods and cars take them out - and the damage that it will inevitably do to the commercial fabric of the small-town communities that the Conservatives and I are pledged to retain?

I turn to transport. In time, there might be electric cars, but there are great problems with batteries and their recycling, with hybrid engines and with the absence of a second-hand market. Remember that, in Victoria's age, it took 40 years to make the transition from the three-master cargo sailing ship to the tramp steamer. I do not think that we will be any smarter by going down the way of electric cars. Rather, we must prioritise social solutions - walking, cycling and public transport - particularly in our central belt, which is 75 per cent urban. In Copenhagen, cycles carry 36 per cent of commuters; in Edinburgh, they carry 2 per cent. On that score, our mark can only read: "Must do better in future."

 
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