It was heartening to note the recent study by the UK government’s chief scientific adviser on climate change, Professor David MacKay, that switching wholesale to renewable energy won’t be any more expensive than replacing ageing fossil fuel-driven power stations.
An argument frequently heard is that renewable energy is too expensive. However, Professor MacKay estimates that the cost of converting the UK’s energy infrastructure to low-carbon sources by 2050 would be around £5,000 per person per year. A more business-as-usual approach, based on upgrading existing fossil fuel power stations and importing large amounts of gas and heating oil, would cost around £4,600.
The calculator also lends some support to the argument that nuclear power is too expensive. A scenario based largely on expanded nuclear power costs around £5,500 per person per year, making it among the most expensive option.
Of course, none of the assessments offered by the calculator bear in mind the actual costs of climate change itself if we continue down the fossil fuel route. The Stern review, the high-profile study of the economics of climate change published by the UK government in 2006, estimated that cost as equivalent to £6,500 per person per year.
The various arguments against renewable energy – such as cost, that it can’t supply consistent power, or that it can’t be expanded fast enough to meet our needs – are being proven as having been false in the first place or outdated as technology improves.