So what is microgeneration?
Microgeneration is a complete change in the way we view energy.
We have been lulled into a sense of security - we've had plentiful coal and gas, nuclear power stations have quietly ensured we have power every time we flick a switch. Only a few of us in industrial nations have a notion of life before these labour saving commodities. But cracks are beginning to show. The UK is at the start of its energy gap - where nuclear, gas and coal run down and we are now beginning to import - see Mark Townsend's article in the Ecologist. There will be a gradual decline and by 2020 some predictions point to requiring 80% foreign imports.
Fuel / Oil Every now and then we've had a fuel shortage. The queues at garages, the anger, frustration and yes, even desperation were apparent. Road rage had become petrol / gas station rage.
There doesn't seem to be a definitive answer as to how much oil there is left in the world. Some say there is plenty and that there is still potential for more oil fields to be found. Though new oil fields would likely be in areas that were challenging and expensive to drill. Others give reasoned arguments that there is rather less oil in Arabia than has been reported - giving us a few short years till the fields run dry.
Whether we have 20 or 50 years - either way - it looks as though we need to start thinking now about alternatives.
Gas Natural gas has pretty much gone for the UK - it is now imported. Governments are getting understandably twitchy at the unreliability of imported fuels - (remember the Russia / Ukraine disruption to gas supplies that affected other European countries?)
Nuclear Power Almost all of Britain's nuclear power stations will be decommissioned within the next few years. Currently only producing 8% of the UK's power, nuclear power has intrinsic problems with the carbon emissions and radiation created during the mining of uranium. It is also purported that there is not enough uranium left in the world to service a new generation of power stations. And, of course, there is also that small matter that we still have not found a way to safely dispose of the waste.
As present nuclear power plants reach the end of their useful life; new plants will take up to 25 years to build and cannot fill the upcoming energy gap that we are facing. Without subsidy it is doubtful that a new generation could succeed - it hardly seems worth spending a lot of time on such a risky industry when all its advantages appear flawed.
What to do?
The secret is to change the mind set from centralised sources of power and to accept diversification. No one power source can replace fossil fuels, natural gas or nuclear power.
Even more than this, the July 2006 Energy Review acknowledges two interesting points. The document gives a lot of space to methods of saving energy - have a look at the BuilditSolar site which has a whole section on his efforts (very successfully) at reducing power consumption. It relates to the US culture and geography, but the general idea can be easily picked up by anyone anywhere on the globe.
The second point of the Energy Review is its support of the development of microgeneration. That is households developing their own power through their own supplies. The industrial revolution led us towards centralised power sources, before that, for thousands of years, populations sought their own heat and light. If we are to become a more community based, healthier and happier society again, production of our own fuel for our needs seems an obvious step.
What we have now is a situation where we can begin to take responsibility. Not leaving it up to government to make the decisions for us to supply our needs, but to begin to gain awareness of what our consumption requires. Build appreciation for what we are using - not wastefully, gleefully earn a few bucks and use the power - but learn to respect where power comes from.
Much of the solution is down to us.
For those considering a community enterprise Energy4all is a group set up to help co-operatively owned green energy schemes. Co-operatives are developing in small communities around the UK that are prepared to club together to service their needs - the Dyfi valley community in Wales is an inspiration, see also the The Ecologist article People Power which describes in detail how they went about their venture and what the benefits are. In Oxfordshire the Westmill community has raised £4m towards a co-operatively owned wind farm. The New Scientist, exploring microgeneration in its April 06 article It's all over for nuclear power - also covered the Oxfordshire story.
Anyone who participates in microgeneration now is insuring themselves against the potential energy gap - these small scale schemes of combined heat and power produce between 30-80% less carbon dioxide emissions than large-scale gas-fired plants. They can involve a whole community or may be initiated by one household. It all starts with an idea ...