Friday, June 28, 2013

The looming UK power crisis

Don't worry, this may not turn out to be a 'doom and gloom, better just slash your wrists' post!

The UK power generation regulator, Ofgem, has warned of the increasing risk of power outages (cuts to you and me) from 2015 onwards.   Think this is scare-mongering?  In March 2013, it was reported that the UK was within 6 hours of running out of gas.  6 hours!

The reasons given are the Global Financial crisis, tough emission targets, the UK's dependency on gas imports and the closure of ageing power stations.

Let's de-construct this a little.

Global Financial crisis??  I have tried to understand what this has to do with the lights going out but just don't see it (maybe I am in the dark?).  Okay, if there is no money around, you can't afford to pay for electricity but that isn't the issue here.  The issue is about generating capacity, or rather the lack of it.

Tough emission targets - This links up with the other two - increased dependency on gas imports and the accelerated closing of ageing power stations.  All three factors can be laid at the feet of the UK government.  The Labour party, when in power adopted idiotic policies to reduce reduce CO2 emissions in a unilateral attempt to solve a problem that wasn't there - so called 'man made global warming'.  The Coalition government slavishly allowed the Lib Dems to take the lead on this and followed the Labour party's pseudo-science and eco-posturing.

You may know that the UK produces less than 2% of global CO2 emissions and might ask yourself how will these tough UK emission levels impact the global levels and quickly come to the conclusion that these will make somewhere between zero and no difference to overall CO2 levels.  We don't need to have any kind of argument about whether there actually is such a thing as 'man made global warming', the simple fact is that the UK position is pointless and fatuous posturing.

As a result though, power stations are being forced to close.  These are described as ageing, though the truth is, like many of us, they still have a viable working life ahead.  It is somewhat ironic that at a time when people are being told they have to work longer because we are living longer, we now tear-down power stations because they are 'aged'.  Part of their ageing comes from recent accelerated usage and it is a kind of vicious circle.  As power stations get taken out of the system, those remaining have to take up the slack,  As they take up the slack, they use-up their allotted remaining generating capacity and so become 'aged' even earlier and get to meet the wreckers ball sooner.

The earthly paradise of a renewable energy fueled economy is proving to be as elusive as the fictional   'Shangri La'.  Except, that the fictional valley wasn't despoilt by hideous bird and bat killing machines.  Wind power makes a minute contribution to the UK's energy needs and must always, always be backed up with a fossil fuel (as in CO2 emitting) alternative, because the wind doesn't always blow or sometimes blows too hard!

So gas imports then.  From Russia and Qatar (and Norway, to a certain extent).  At some point though, you run into the closing power station issue!  DO we really want the UK to be dependant upon Putin's Russia for our energy?  Really?

Of course, we do have gas on, or rather right under, our own doorstep.  It's called Shale Gas.  This, along with Shale Oil, has completely changed the USA's energy market.  They are predicted to become a net exporter of energy in the coming years.   As shale reserves have been developed, the US economy has seen energy prices plummet.  That this has a very positive knock-on effect in the overall US economy , should not be overlooked but staying with the actual price of energy, natural gas prices in the US,  are now around half of those in the UK.  And the gap will continue to widen as more and more green taxes are loaded into the UK energy market and as capacity constraints take an even greater hold.

The British Geological Survey estimates that in one 'reservoir' area, in the north of England, there are reserves of around 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas.   To put that into context, the UK currently uses around 3 trillion cubic feet of gas, per year.

Obviously, the 1,300 trillion reserve is unlikely to be fully recoverable.  Let's be very conservative and say that 10% was recoverable.  That would be 130 trillion cubic feet or, looked at another way, 43 years of gas, based on current usage.  Consider that.  No import dependency, tax revenues from natural resource exploitation (all sub-surface reserves belong to the UK state) and no need for punitive green taxes, reduced fuel poverty, even increased employment.   And that 10% recovery level is very conservative

Oh, and that is just the north England basin.  There is a potentially far bigger one in the central belt of Scotland and others in the south of England.

So, why isn't this being exploited?  Frankly because of lazy journalists and politicians.  The latter should come as no surprise for many people.  There are exceptions but many MPs and MEPs live in a bubble where information is fed from lobbyists and single (minority) interest groups.  Journalists though, we might have expected more of.  We are not talking Woodward and Bernstein, but maybe some basic research?

Much of the opposition to shale gas comes because the extraction process requires something called 'fracking'  This is the fracturing of the reservoir formation with water and chemicals under high pressure.  An American, Josh Fox, produced a movie called Gasland which seemingly showed all sorts of consequences from 'fracking'.  This movie was picked-up and pushed by lazy media types and Hollywood 'celebrities' as well as a few from the even lazier US political circles and became the stick which they and their eco-loony 'watermelon' fellow travelers use, to attack evil 'big oil'.

This movie did indeed contain some very worrying claims and these would give any politician cause to pause and ponder.  Presumably that is what the leaders at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change did.

Pity then that they don't seem to have taken the time to view Fracknation.  A documentary by Phelim Mcaleer and Ann McElhinney.  In a measured and fact-based way, they take on all of the allegations from Gasland and refute and discredit them.  Every one of them.  (Oh, and if you're an eco-warrior and thinking this documentary was funded by big oil, think again.  The project was funded by hundreds of indviduals contributing $5, $10 $20 etc.  The single largest donation was $5,000!)

So you might think, since there are no major environmental concerns when will this natural windfall come to the aid of the UK?  My advice, not this side of the 2015 General Election and then only if the Conservatives are elected (maybe).  The Lib Dems  are so in thrall to special interest groups and has a strong 'eco-wing' so don't expect them to have an original thought on the issue nor to come out of their 'there is no such thing as man-made global warming' denial phase.  As for Labour?  Well, they put these lunatic green policies in place and never let facts get in the way of doing the wrong thing and following the wrong policy.

I challenge any reader that has got this far, to watch Fracknation and then, if you are as persuaded as I am, write to your MP and to local and national papers, demanding that the Department of (lacking) Energy and Climate Change take immediate action to accelerate shale gas exploitation and call a moratorium on all closures of power stations and reverse the imposition of green taxes.


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