Letter to the Energy Secretary
Posted on Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Dear Mr Miliband,

Congratulations on your recent appointment to the most important job in government.

Just as Spike Milligan played a part in Hitler’s downfall, I could perhaps claim a small hand in your promotion: I advocated the creation of a ‘Department of Energy and Climate Change’ and cabinet-level Energy Secretary in my book The Last Oil Shock, published in April last year, a copy of which is enclosed.

I am also encouraged by an unexpected outbreak of common sense in several areas of British energy policy, though not all, since your appointment: raising Britain’s emissions reduction commitment; announcing the introduction of a feed-in tariff; and the recent decision to reward biogas production for injection into the national gas grid. All were long overdue, but are welcome nonetheless, and I hope a sign of greater alacrity and sharper analysis than has been evident in British energy policy to now. Your reported support for personal carbon trading is also encouraging.

Since you are apparently building a bonfire of previously held policy prejudices, can I urge you to add your predecessors’ willful denial of the imminent threat of peak oil, recently highlighted by group of major British businesses – the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security. As their report makes clear, the worst impacts of global oil depletion are likely to be felt far sooner than the worst impacts of climate change – without in any way detracting from the profound threat of global warming.

The recent spike to $147 per barrel and subsequent plunge to the mid $60s – just as damaging in its way – is only the start. Oil price volatility is likely to become increasingly violent as we approach the ultimate ceiling of global production, and this will inevitably damage our ability to fund the investment needed to create a zero-carbon energy supply. So we need to get off oil much more quickly than the government has yet acknowledged.

Your predecessors in the energy brief suffered not only from shoddy analysis, but also a marked lack of ambition. Perhaps this was due to their location in BERR, whose mission statement was “creating the conditions for business success”. Now you have your own department, allow me to suggest a motto that is more focused and commensurate to the challenge: “achieving complete independence from fossil fuels by 2030, by expanding renewable supply where environmentally acceptable, and managing demand as necessary”.

If that sounds politically and technically daunting, I urge you to instruct your officials urgently to assess the work of Dr Gregor Czisch, of Kassel University in Germany, who has demonstrated with computer modeling how Europe could provide all its electricity from renewables – all of the time – by means of an HVDC grid, at less than the current cost of power. Combined with the widespread electrification of ground transport – with biogas to fuel heavier road vehicles such as lorries and buses – this would constitute major progress on the two great challenges of our times.

Best wishes,

David Strahan

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