It is November and the weather is getting colder much quicker than anticipated after a fairly mild October by comparison. The cold winter has been forcast for some time so it is not a sudden freak snap.

In spite of this the price of gas per unit has nearly doubled in the last week from 43p to 80p per therm. This is having an obvious knock-on effect to energy companies who will of course pass on these rises to consumers, it is also a potential problem for businesses that rely on gas for production. The chemical industry have already spoken about the possible ramifications of a cold winter meaning jobs will be threatened as production costs rise. Perfect for workers in that industry in the run up to the festive season, there will doubtless be a few parents hoping that their children’s wishes for a white Christmas do not come true, at least not this year.

The reason that this is a particular problem here is that where once Britain had a degree of energy self-sufficiency from the North Sea gas an oil pipelines the reserves have been nearly exhausted enforcing the importation of gas from continental Europe. Britain is now considered a net importer of gas. This situation is not one that is likely to recede it is to increase more and more and prolonged periods of cold weather will only serve to exacerbate the problem. We only need look at the US to see what happens in the case of a country with an energy deficit, were there to be any interruptions in the gas pipeline from Europe for any reason it is difficult to see what course Britain would attempt to take in order to preserve the current energy consumption.

There are of course alternatives to gas as a fuel medium, one set of methods has been on the agenda for some time but it would take time, effort and a lot of research money with initially low chance of return and this is why the cause of renewable energy has been lagging behind for decades. There has been far too much pussy-footing around when it comes to the construction of wind farms and the like due to allegedly “aethesthetic considerations”. This argument I’m afraid is a non-starter, to be honest the same people complaining about the proposed effects of a wind farm on their environment should be given the option of either having said wind farm or being responsible for generating their own power. New homes should all have modern solar panel fitted as standard and that should be a statutory requirement the same way the type of glass in windows is enshrined in legislation. Modern solar panels work best in bright sunshine but not exclusively they also generate energy from light in general.

We are told that there isn’t time to put all the necessary research and development into renewable energies and it has been reinforced by reports this week that in the mind of Tony Blair only nuclear power can best fit the bill in terms of both reducing reliance on fossil fuels and reducing carbon emmissions as per the Kyoto treaty, this is not a very good run-in to the announced review of policy by the government to be completed next year. (The last review was only concluded 2 years ago and had reported that renewable energy and improving efficiency were the best ways to ensure future energy provision was met.) The option of nuclear power seems ridiculous if being discussed for a short-term measure because the costs of building the power stations and obtaining the raw materials are high, it would cost £9 billion to upgrade to retain the current 20% power coming from nuclear rather than ramping down and obviously far more if the percentage is to be increased to lessen the impact of Britain being a net importer of gas. One cannot debate nuclear power without mentioning that the costs both financially and environmentally of the disposal of nuclear waste are astronomical. However the nuclear option does not make sense in the long term either because it too is a power based on the use of a certain material of finite global quantity. Have we learnt nothing from the fossil fuel situation? For us to change from one non-renewable source to another would be a serious policy based on the principle of fingers in the ears and la-la-la I can’t hear you!

According to Labour’s Minister for Energy Malcolm Wicks who claims to be ‘Nuclear Neutral’, renewable energy also has a role to play in New Labour’s vision, in 2020 20% of energy could be provided by renewable sources. This means that in light of the gradual, becoming ever increasingly steeper, decline of fossil fuels we are, like as not, to end up in the situation of France where nuclear makes up 80% of the electricity production.

Why the change of heart from the Labour party? Let’s have a look at some figures and see if we might be able to fathom it: power stations account for 29.7% of the UKs carbon emission (a quarter of this is nuclear) This is only 1/3 of the country’s total emission and whilst it is the biggest single contributor there are others that provide cause for concern such as transport at 22% and there hasn’t been such a furore about reducing the emissions from this source as there is from power stations. Which is interesting because you cannot break the link between transport and fuel. Whilst we may not have oil power stations and coal buses, I cannot see even this ostrich-like government suggesting we embark on nuclear buses. Government carbon emissions targets for 2010 and 2020 will not be met by renewable alone, so purely in order to meet these targets, which are above those required for Kyoto and not for long-term environmental considerations is nuclear being considered. In fact doubling nuclear power provision would only reduce carbon emissions by 8% and so clearly it’s long-term consideration.

Of course Sir Digby Jones and the CBI and Business community support nuclear, let’s bear it very much in the forefront of any study that it is a commodity based form of power production, money can be made in all the forms of the process, the supply and distribution of the raw materials to the disposal of the waste. You cannot sell the wind or the sea or the sun and perhaps this is the true reason why renewables have never really been at the top of the political or economical agenda.

It is all very well to chide and look on the fact that we should have acted decades ago to prevent this from becoming the crisis that it unquestionably now will but that does not remove the responsibility to pressurise those in control to change now to lessen the impact of such a catastrophe. It is also important to tackle the issue of targets. Some may say how could I be against targets that are in excess of those required under the Kyoto treaty? To be honest it is all very well to set targets but this has to be based on sustainable solutions, to be using a form of power that is still heavy on emissions albeit slightly less so than the ones we are currently using but where the flip side is that the half-life of the waste has to be safeguarded for generations to come seems not to be a panacea to me. I would far rather an integrated system where we look at the way we live our lives and acknowledge that regardless of how we might like to dress it up we are going to have to radically alter the way we do things. Yes there may be a country like Iraq to be invaded for the oil reserves, even perhaps Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan for the same, or Russia for the gas reserves but at the end of the day IT IS GOING TO RUN OUT IN THE END. That is irrefutable, I haven’t even heard the trained chimp disputing that one. Surely then the best solution is the one whereby we generate our electricity by renewable sources and run our transportation systems accordingly to bring them into line. This way we drastically reduce both carbon footprint and dependence on finite resource fuel.

As for nuclear, well, I have to leave that debate with the words of Roger Higman of Friends Of The Earth “Until we’re happy to see Iran doing it, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Song Of The Day ~ The Bluetones – Serenity Now

Original Comments:


Kristie made this comment,
You know, Baron, I have to say, I admire your devotion to the cause, and all its subsidiaries. Just the energy I see you put out to inform on myriad topics makes me tired. But I’m sure as hell glad you do it. Thanks.
-Redbaron responds – And it is the comments of people like yourself that make the effort worthwhile. I hope sometimes to inform, and to provoke, to ferment a little thought in anyone reading would be a decent reward and any response is an added bonus. There will be an unusual breadth of topics covered over the next few entries as the ‘look to the future’ series expanded from 4 to 9 parts in draft!-

comment added :: 23rd November 2005, 07:40 GMT+01

Haddock made this comment,
I definitely agree that all new housing should be fitted with solar (both PV and for pre-heating water). I also think new houses should incorporate rain water harvesting systems for supplying water to toilets and washing machines. This would help eleviate the water shortages every summer and slow the runoff into rivers/flood plains in times of heavy rain. I have such a system and I reckon we save about 40 – 50% on our useage of mains water (sorry to digress from the energy theme).
-Redbaron responds – No, no, you are quite right to bring this up now it is exactly in line with the energy theme and the examples you cite are precisely the shorts of things that we should be implemented.-

comment added :: 25th November 2005, 23:48 GMT+01 :: http://greenhaddock2.blogspot.com/

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