The UK must avoid an “island mentality” towards energy if it is to secure the power it needs in the next decade, concluded an energy debate in London today featuring industry bosses, environmental groups, consultants and academics.

Douglas Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace, said the UK offered the best potential in Europe for wind and wave power, but to exploit – and export – this power it must look to its neighbours. “The UK must have more interconnection with Europe – we will want their solar power and they will want our offshore wind.For the UK, “greater energy security lies with interdependence and not with national interests”, he told the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transportation Forum.

However, Tim Pyke, head of climate change at EON and formerly the company’s head of UK operations, wondered if Britain would “be ready to interconnect”. He said the country was at a critical point in its asset management cycle and this marked one of the biggest challenges faced by the country’s energy industry.

There was consensus that, regardless of the government’s Electricity Market Reform strategy, it should – and would – be gas that will form the backbone of Britain’s power supplies in the near future.

Julian Lee, senior analyst at the Centre for Global Energy Studies, said: “The UK is surrounded by gas-rich neighbours and our fossil fuel policy will be driven by our relationship with those neighbours.”

And he sounded a ringing endorsement of shale gas, saying it had the potential to become “a game-changer not just for the UK but for Europe as whole”.

He said the scale of the shale gas market in the US had “changed the picture for Europe”, and while he asserted that Europe would not see a sector of the size across the Atlantic, it was vital it was ready to exploit discoveries, and for this “diversification of supply and delivery routes will be key”.

The need for gas was backed by Ian Fells, professor of energy conversion at Newcastle University, who called for the planned decommissioning of many coal and oil fired power stations to be postponed.

“Gas is going to be the default,” he said. “We have to keep our coal and oil fired, we need to build more gas fired and we have got to build more nuclear reactors.” He then delivered a scathing verdict on the UK’s plans to provide 15 per cent of its energy via renewables by 2020.

“The chance of achieving that target is zero. We are just not going to meet it – wind is no help at all and gas storage is pathetic in this country.”

The UK’s planned roll-out of Smart Meters of the next few years was also criticised. Fell said “no-one but real nerds are going to worry about a Smart Meter on their mantelpiece”, while Mark Powell of global consultancy KPMG said the Smart Meter was “already outdated” and doubted the £12m ($19m) cost of the initiative would be equalled in savings from homes.

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