Debate Magazine

The Electricity Trilemma

Posted on the 17 March 2016 by Markwadsworth @Mark_Wadsworth

From a recent City AM:
Margaret Thatcher’s former energy secretary [Lord Howell] said that with coal stations being phased out by 2025 and nuclear coming online “10 years beyond that”, the UK faces a huge energy gap.
“Wind can come on when the wind is blowing, and we can get up to quite a high percentage of green electricity, but there’s still a big gap.”
He also slammed successive governments’ attempts to address the country’s energy “trilemma” – reconciling affordability, supply security and decarbonisation – dubbing policy on this front a “failure”.
“We’ve got some of the most expensive energy in Europe, even more expensive than Germany. That hurts people, particularly the poorest, and hurts industry and undermines our steel industry. We’ve got the most unreliable system.”

Fair enough, that is the trilemma, those are your three constraints (reliability - cost - "greenness/sustainability"), to which different people attach different importance*.
Minitrue resolves the trilemma by sticking its fingers in its ears and whistling:
A DECC spokesperson told City A.M.: “Our priority is crystal clear – to ensure our families and businesses have access to the secure, affordable and clean energy supplies they can rely on now and in the future.”
* My view is:
1. Security is paramount - which probably means slight overcapacity; which in turn means slightly higher costs and probably prices to consumers. Electricity is so fundamental to so many things, society grinds to a halt without it, but in terms of input costs it is only a tiny percentage unless you are an aluminum smelter.
2. Cost - of course we should use whatever generation method is cheapest in pence per kWh. Whether that is solar, wind, nuclear, gas, coal or hydro is a separate topic; whereby ascribing monetary values to pollution and potential loss of output are important, albeit a bit difficult.
3. Greenness/sustainability - is a subset of "cost" and a separate topic in itself IMHO. We could have 100% solar/wind/hydro by tomorrow if we wanted. All we would have to do is shut down everything else. The economy would collapse and people would freeze, but hey.


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