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Getting warm in the search for future energy supply

A retired physicist from Totnes has come up with a wide-ranging study into climate change, the looming energy crisis, and renewable power. Now, as Neil Young reports, he's just hoping that people will take notice

While others see retirement as a chance to cultivate their gardens or finesse their fly-fishing skills, Geoffrey Haggis attacked the crisis of global warming.WHILE others see retirement as a chance to cultivate their gardens or finesse their fly-fishing skills, Geoffrey Haggis attacked the crisis of global warming.

Now the former Edinburgh University physicist has produced a challenging strategy for dealing with what is arguably the most important issue of our time.

Dr Haggis, 79, of Totnes, has put his extensive academic experience to good use with three years of research into climate change. The result is a remarkably detailed, but as yet unpublished, book called Tomorrow's Energy (finding solutions to the problems of global warming and future energy supply).

It is not, he admits, a "sexy read", but this solo endeavour may provide some of the answers that have eluded other high-profile scientists, environmentalists and government think-tanks.

What is more, he believes he can show how global warming can be curbed, and the UK meet its future energy needs, with existing resources. And he hopes that an organisation such as the recently formed Renewable Energy Foundation will take up and test out his findings.

Prominent thinkers, including Professor James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory, argue that Britain cannot cut greenhouse gas emissions by renewables alone and must face up to the urgent need for nuclear power.

Others warn that the Government's 2010 target of producing 10 per cent of all electricity from renewables - let alone 60 per cent by 2050 - is fanciful.

However, Mr Haggis warns: "Just because the energy crisis has become more acute it doesn't make nuclear any more safe.

"Nuclear is still risky. A terror attack on Sellafield is a scenario that is too horrific to contemplate. And if we start building more nuclear power stations, even with technical advances, then why shouldn't places like Argentina or India?"

Of onshore wind power, he says: "Even if you put a huge number of turbines in Devon they make a trivial contribution to energy needs."

By contrast, offshore turbines and tidal-current power had huge potential. Not to mention hydro power and energy from waste, and photovoltaic (PV) panels on houses to convert sunlight to electricity.

"If all the buildings in the UK were roofed with the conversion efficiency of today's panels, this would meet 50 per cent of energy needs," explains Dr Haggis.

He has even thought through the drawbacks.

"Electricity from PV and water heating from rooftop solar heating panels both fall off during the winter months," said Dr Haggis.

"To match renewable energy to the seasons, wood-burning CHP (combined heat and power) plants could run during the winter months, supplying the extra electricity needed at this time as well as district heating."

Dr Haggis's vision is wide-ranging, covering the revitalisation of the rail network, rural poverty, sustainable farming, third world debt and reforestation.

He is passionately concerned with the global social and political effects of climate change.

What seizes him is working out the possible solutions. He is ready as well to break with conventional wisdom.

He does not, for example, discount the use of coal reserves. The latest science holds out the prospect of capturing the carbon emissions from coal before they enter the atmosphere.

"All these reserves could still be used, without adding to global warming, if these fossil fuels were gasified to hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

"The UK could continue to import coal, for a century or more, to generate hydrogen, sequestering the carbon dioxide produced in this process in sandstone rock layers under the North Sea," says Dr Haggis.

He has worked out a projection of energy sources and needs in 2075.

However, he says: "We've got to make some big decisions now. First we need to develop our renewables as fast as we can and reduce our energy use, though that will be difficult politically."

In a "note to potential publisher", he warns of the consequences of inaction: "This book is intended for town and countryside planners, architects, energy consultants and all those, in the general public, who have become interested in the renewable energy future, through concern about climate change, or concern about the wars which will have to be fought to secure Middle East oil (while it lasts)."

Nevertheless, he is optimistic. He says: "Oil is going to start running out fairly soon. Once production peaks then it can't meet demand and then prices will rise and it will be the equivalent of the oil shock in the 1970s.

"That will be a huge boost to renewables. I've looked at a scenario of 2075, and part of the reason for the book is to show people that we could have an attractive future."

nyoung(at)westernmorningnews.co.uk

Editorial Notes: As many others have pointed out, while an oil crisis is a great incentive to move towards renewables, the associated economic depression and high energy prices will mean that both the energy and investment capital needed to embark on large infrastructure projects will be less readily available - so it will take at least some creative political solutions to make the transition.

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