Yeah we have a Gas supply crisis in the UK, seeing prices rise, for all the home supply and for the industrial health gases, that’s CH4 Methane, and Carbon Dioxide CO2 Carbon Dioxide. Methane the heat of choice, and dry ice, used in Food, Medicine and Rock and Roll, dry ice to you and me. Deep Purple on Tour, can you have a 70’s metal for grandmother’s tour WITHOUT dry ice at the end of the set and before the encore.
The Dry Ice story catches the ear, eye, and imagination, I don't think any of us realise how pervasive the use of CO2 is. We all had an inkling Astra-Zenica needed CO2 to cool the vaccine, I know it’s used in Keyhole surgery.
It keeps red meat red, bagged salad fresh, and the fridges cooled. We all knew that Coke tastes better with Gas, and the CO2 puts the fizz in beer. But this is a short term issue, we can live without beer, meat does NOT need shrink wrapping, local craft butchers do a better job. Many will cheer problems for meat, but before celebratory glasses of flat no fizz, low alcohol beers are raised, just remember low fertilizer now, means lower food outputs next year, what goes around comes around.
The current Gas supply issues tell a storey. It’s not a simple return to the “good old days” of a nationalised British Gas, they’d face exactly the same problems as today’s providers. There’s nothing to be gained by saying we shouldn’t have burnt Gas to generate electricity, as a Nation we did, and we had low cost electricity, and we cut acid rain, BUT we still burnt Carbon, and C02 spewed out. These are some consequences. We can all see them, and dreaming of turning back time is a waste of time, it solves nothing, jumping up and down, finger pointing, takes us nowhere in the short term.
We are in a Market, at the end of the Siberian gas pipeline, realistically we can make the best of the situation. In the short term, that means sucking it up. The unpleasant, unpalatable truth is we are energy deficient, and have to compete for power. In the short term there are too few options, turn the power down, wear pullovers in the house, and turn the heating down. In most of Europe the EU nations, where they have reserves used to balance prices, and costs, an option not available to the UK. We, our providers, with Government approval, CLOSED large scale Gas storage facilities, made savings, and passed some of these on to customers, through lower price caps, and built in costs. I suppose a few power stations could switch from Gas to Oil, but Oil’s a few weeks shipping away, and delivery may be a problem. In the immediate future it looks like, turn the thermostat down, close the doors, pull the cardie on, huddle and drink more warm tea.
This may seem flippant, it's not intended to be so, just an attempt to help us face up to where we are, in the energy world we all live in. That place where we are on the wrong side of the energy supply line, and just have to face the consequences. In terms of higher prices, for me I can live with it, go out less, eat less meat, and there’ll still be heat in the Toon Traveller’s home. For all too many people, sad to say, Universal Credit dependent, time will be at best tough, more likely desperate and not truly mitigated.
In the near future, 12 – 24 months, perhaps we, the UK, needs to reinstate those closed Gas storage facilities, mothballed in years past. This will cost us all more, as a nation, a people, we need, and vitally need, to realise there is no chance of something for nothing, no likelihood of energy on the cheap. If we want fuel security, either physical supply, or price stability, as a nation investment is needed and that needs to be funded as we the consumers benefit, through the ability to feed in stored gas and reduce our financial exposure to the worst price spikes. BUT in the period between now, and the next Gas price review, there are all too few options for us in the UK, and we have to face facts, there are tough energy days ahead. The ‘Just in Time’ model has given many cheaper prices, until now, but with Just in Time, there are risks, in terms of physical supply, and price. It’s a product of the way we have chosen to manage the available energy supply.
In the medium term, we have good alternatives, our coasts are being blockaded by wind farms, not my words or attitude to alternative energy, we have fields, once sheep filled, now flocks of solar panels, so there’s alternative power options. We also have GAS pipelines from the Irish Sea and Norwegian North Sea, but still huge shortfalls. There is the current Nuclear debate, and that is largely CO2 free (excluding embed carbon principally in concrete) there’s extensive plans for more North Sea arrays, and for solar power. In the short term we’ve seen emergency restarting of coal powered power stations, and a recognition we, the UK, imported electrical power, (including Nuclear) from France.
However the French Connection, a power link with Europe, is currently interrupted, but therein lies a problem for some, Nuclear. In France 70% of electricity is Nuclear, and the UK imports this on a regular basis and that goes down like a lead balloon with some of the green lobby. At the moment we are dependent on our and Europe’s Nuclear power. So in the mid term we have unpleasant choices, for us all, compromises may have to be made in terms of personal political agendas. Such compromises may be permanent, the Nuclear option, short term the reinstatement of Coal with all of its environmental damage. But one thing that to me has been overlooked is our power usage, and power needs. Part of this problem is being addressed, with varying degrees of success through various surcharges, and energy efficiency initiatives, there have been calls for the abolition or temporary suspension of Green surcharges (David Cameron reputedly referred to them as “Green Crap”) to alleviate, in the short term, this what is hopefully an effective energy price tax hike. I feel that as attractive as this is, it would be a mistake, as such charges do fund energy saving, although all the low hanging fruit has been picked there is still more to be done.
Paradoxically these price hikes, if prolonged, may be an impetus to drive this government to convert the green energy rhetoric and talk of the 'Green Energy jobs bonanza' into something concrete and meaningful at a micro, (and politically boring) level. Whilst a new wind farm, or a tidal barrier has huge numbers, and looks fantastic on TV and the media, it is at the end of the power line, beyond the meter, where changes that will matter must occur. For millions homes and families, where insulation is poor, either through poor practice, or hugely widespread though age and exhaustion of buildings way beyond their ‘best before date’. These homes all over the nations, largely the result of Victorian expansion, contribute to heat loss and fuel poverty. It’s these homes where technical, legal, financial and cultural problems have frustrated past imitative effectiveness, (well these and successive Governments’ obsessions with micro management. But for me a real political problem is the lack of visual impact, for example a small box with a fan (Ground source heat pumps) will reduce CO2 Emissions and reduce household fuel costs, over time, but it’s not gonna make good TV, Youtube footage, and therein lies a problem.
Daily we see, or experience much of the problem , thermally challenged pre WWI, interwar housing stock, solid wall, terraced, high ceiling homes. Hard to insulate, yes we’ve double glazed, loft insulated, door insulated, installed thermostated radiators and a polyphony of low scale measures. But there remain huge numbers of poorly insulated homes, crying out for internal insulation, or the less disruptive, external cladding. Traditionally the issues have been cost and householder disruption, now the whole issue of cladding is a real can of worms with poor regulatory control, and fire risk management damaging the industry in the public’s eyes. Past events both for high rise in West London, and Low rise in East London, can only make insulation programmes - one of the more important solutions, a hard sell. People fearful of fire risk, and aware product installation is highly disruptive, are even less likely to be receptive, especially when householder contributions are high and financial payback is measured in years, but for freeholders at least they have the option.
For leaseholders and tenants, especially those in large Victorian Houses turned into flats, with leaseholders, it's the freeholders, cost recovery, and property valuations that complicate the picture. As for the tall blocks, council, private, social landlords, tenanted, and owner occupied there’s a whole legal minefield wrapped up in various leases related to right to buy, sub leaseholders, and the low shared ownership arrangements. None of this will be easy to resolve, and yet these are the areas where energy savings can be effectively maximised. So it looks like we are in a high energy, high cost, economy, with all too few deliverable options, and that’s for now, this year and the next few, (perhaps five plus) years to come. As said before there are no realistic solutions that protect the future and keep carbon reduction on track.
Almost regardless of our energy provision model, we face problems of rising world demand, and that demand exceeds supply in the short (2-3 years) term. As a nation we need to reduce our energy usage, both natural gas and electricity, and the energy we burn. Some of us, homes well insulated, have a degree of choice, many do not. But for me this is precursor of the world we’re in, where carbon energy is more expensive, and perhaps we will all start to the issues of Carbon burning, CO2 Greenhouse gas generating, as two sides of the same coin, recognising we need to fund and pay for energy efficiency, if we all, across the nation, want to enjoy warm comfortable homes.