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Investment in alternative energy sources

by
07 August 2015

iStock

From Dr Anna Thomas-Betts

Sir, — It was reported correctly that I called for more investment in alternative energy sources in the General Synod debate on Climate Change and the Church’s Investment Policy (General Synod, 17 July). I did so, as I have done in previous Synod debates, out of the firm conviction that our dependence on fossil fuels will not diminish unless there are affordable alternatives. Let me explain why.

I was involved in research into heat flow and exploration of geothermal energy in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. We, with others working on wind, tide, and wave energy, received generous government funding for our research when the OPEC countries dramatically increased the price of oil, only for the funding to dry up immediately the price of oil came down.

This experience brought home two points to me: the importance of fund-holders in dictating research directions, and the relativity of energy costs.

What we were able to demonstrate in the short period of research opportunity which we had was that, even in our geologically stable country, there were opportunities for space-heating and modest amounts of power generation in some locations, using geothermal sources. Were it not for cheap oil and gas, owing to the combined effect of OPEC’s reducing oil prices and the discovery of North Sea oil and gas, we could easily have seen some housing developments using geothermal heating by the end of the last century.

It is naïve to think that there will be a massive, popular change away from fossil fuels to other low- or neutral-carbon sources unless it is financially attractive. (And a massive change is necessary to make any dent in the carbon-dioxide reservoir in the atmosphere.) Even in the heyday of our research, we were well aware that, while cheap coal was available, geothermal energy with the associated drilling costs would never take off in the UK.

So it is important that we identify and develop energy sources that are relatively cheap and easily accessible, such as solar energy, alongside techniques for carbon reduction such as carbon capture, artificial photosynthesis, and so forth. This would reduce our carbon footprint and, even more importantly, enable us to help energy-poor, developing countries by sharing with them the fruits of our R&D.

There is a wealth of research in our academic communities both into alternative energy sources and carbon reduction. The Government and other investing bodies could help them become more innovative in developing viable and effective mechanisms for reversing the trends of global warming.

In the end, positive investment in these could prove to be more effective than disinvestment from oil companies.

ANNA THOMAS-BETTS
68 Halkingcroft
Langley SL3 7AY

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