Energy and crisis

Rarely can a book have had so much free publicity in such a short time as “No oil in the lamp” has over the last few days.  Alistair Buchanan the head of OFGEM gave speech stating the UK faces a “near crisis” in its energy supply as 10% of the power stations are about to be closed (by April).  These are coal fired and an oil fired station that no longer meet EU emission rules.  The closure of these stations are good news for the climate but bad news for our energy security in the medium term.  We will only have 5% rather than 15% extra capacity in our electricity system and potentially face power cuts if there are some power station outages.  We also face immediate price increases and large increases in prices over the next few years as new gas powered stations are built to replace them and we have to purchase natural gas on the world markets when international supplies will be tight.  China’s gas demand is rising 20% a year and Japan is importing lots of gas.

How have we got our selves in this mess? Is it as the Daily Mail believes that its pandering to middle class greenery?  Buchanan kind of agreed with this as he said that the global financial crash had wiped out investment for low carbon alternatives which are expensive being in early stages of development.  I don’t entirely as you can imagine.  I think what we are facing is a classic case of being in denial about fossil fuel addiction.  Successive governments have largely ignored energy policy but have switched from backing renewables (2003), nuclear (2005), carbon capture and storage-clean coal (in between) to gas now (the belief being home fracking is the answer-when we will have to import it).  All along our indigenous natural gas supplies (along with oil have been in decline) meaning we buy more and more gas from places like Qatar at international prices.  No government has wanted to admit that oil and gas will one day run out.  My domestic electricity and gas bills have risen dramatically over the last ten years, gas prices rose nearly 50% in 2011 alone.  This was not due to green energy but natural gas price increases.

What we should have done is invested more in renewables.  It seems crazy and expensive when fossil fuel power is cheap.  When I bought my solar hot water system whilst the carbon savings were considerable, economically it was a joke.  However, 11 years later its on the brink of paying for itself with years of life left in it.  The same with my first solar system.  The cost of renewables is fixed at the time of installation, the fuel is free and the running costs are very low.  Fossil fuel prices are rising constantly meaning the running costs are constantly rising.  A country that doesn’t recognise this will suddenly turn round and realise its energy security is gone and suffer huge rises in energy bills.  This is what has happened to the UK.  Its only 10 years ago we were a net exporter of gas.  On an individual basis my renewables and a lot of energy efficiency measures have meant my bills have hardly risen in real terms.  I’ve protected myself against energy price increases and have made a better return than keeping the money in the bank.

Its not all bad news.  Renewables have been like motherhood and apple pie to successive governments.  We have managed to install a lot of solar and wind in the last few years and 2012 was a record year for renewable electricity production in the UK.  The fixed price of renewables is evident in the graphs below with a fall in prices in about 2020.  The Guardian usefully put a link on its website to a spreadsheet from the Department of Energy and Climate change (DECC).  This attempts to predict gas, diesel, petrol and electricity prices until 2030. I’ve plotted the gas (converting from therms to KWh) and electricity prices.  DECC offer low, medium and high predictions.  What is worrying is that I am paying more for electricity and almost as much for gas than even the high prediction in 2013.  2001-12 figures are actual historical figures.

I’ve plotted one more graph.  Taking the average increases year on year from 2001-12 for residential prices from DECC and extrapolating them forward we get this.

At an Eco-congregation meeting a few nights ago someone suggested if we couldn’t cut our churches energy use we should concentrate on cutting our members energy use.  I felt this was a cop out.  We need to do both.  We are wasting some of our churches money on heating and lighting our buildings when we could be doing something much more worthwhile with the money (evangelism, helping the poor etc.)

As Tim Yeo MP Chair of the environmental audit committee put it on the news “The days of cheap energy are over”.  The question is as Christians are we going to ignore this?


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