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Times [letters] August 18, 2004
August 18, 2004

Present and future energy supplies
From Professor Ian Fells, FREng
Sir, Matthew Parris (Comment, August 14) is correct; energy supplies are finite; although a government economist told me recently that supplies are infinite: “As the price goes up you engineers will find more.” This approach cuts little ice with my board, who are all engineers except for the finance director. We have not been taken over by bean counters, as Matthew Parris fears.

If world energy demand continues to grow at 2 per cent per annum, as it has since the Industrial Revolution, we reach a situation in less than a thousand years’ time when the accumulated mass of energy resources consumed amounts to more than the total mass of the Earth. You could say that really is a boundary condition.

Yours faithfully,
IAN FELLS (Chairman),
New and Renewable Energy Centre,
Eddie Ferguson House,
Ridley Street, Blyth,
Northumberland NE24 3AG.
August 15.

From Sir Donald Miller, FREng

Sir, In addressing our future energy problems Matthew Parris advocates leaving it to the engineers who will not be afraid to guess when they, unlike the accountants, do not know. But before engineers “guess” they make an informed assessment of what is known, just as Mr Parris’s father would have done when confronted with the problem of transmitting power from the Kariba dam to South Africa.

A recent report of the Royal Academy of Engineering gives costs for electricity from the types of generating plant which may make a worthwhile contribution over the next 20 years. Solar does not come within this category, nuclear comes out at 2.3p per kilowatt hour and onshore wind at 3.7p, rising to 5.4p with allowance for the additional standby generation required to meet electricity demand when the wind does not blow.

Engineers may not know the full potential of all these energy sources but they do know that the cost of wind power does not come down as the size of the generating unit is increased with further development. They can therefore make an informed guess.

If Mr Parris doubts the Academy’s figures he would need to explain why, at the time of privatisation of electricity, Scotland, with more than half the electricity from nuclear, could offer one of the lowest electricity prices in the UK. And that was after allowances for waste disposal and eventual decommissioning.

Yours sincerely,
Puldohran, Gryffe Road,
Kilmacolm PA13 4BA.
August 15.