Following on from recent failures to protect the UK from energy volatility, it is prudent to search out some facts on Energy Security, which is a complex and wide issue.
Is the Government lazy or has it just focused on the wrong priorities?
Energy security and Russia
We are currently bouncing around a bunch of issues that remain peculiarly dramatic for the UK but that also affect Europe and the rest of the world, although to a lesser extent. Dale Vince (owner of Ecotricity) made an interesting statement to the BBC today that contained two gems of information. Firstly the UK has 1% of the gas storage capacity in Europe and 10% of the population. Secondly there is pressure on gas supply across Europe at the same time as Russia drops production by 25%.
Dale’s comments are interesting and focus us on the problem of reliance on Russian gas across Europe. Russia justifies the drop in production on their need to replenish their storage but this may be a cover to exert pressure on Europe. But Russia has an agenda to complete another gas line to Europe (Nordstrom 2) and some believe this drop is also to ensure approval and use of this second pipeline.
UK seems to be doubly impacted by this due to issues of UK leaving the European Internal Energy Market and not having enough gas storage to weather price fluctuations, as reported earlier. However it highlights an additional issue in that our energy supply is insecure against simple non-violent but hostile acts.
UK has two agricultural fertiliser plants, run by CF Fertilisers owned by American CF Industries Holdings Inc. If they are shut down, it stops production of C02 as well as fertiliser. And what do our nuclear power plants need? Yes, you got it, C02 is used in their cooling systems. So, by creating pressure on the gas supply, we have been put into the position that the government could be forced into paying tens of millions of pounds to an American company to avoid major problems in maintaining our nuclear power production.
Moreover, surely a business this critical should be in public hands? Since abattoirs and meat packaging companies use the C02 produced at these plants, their closure could seriously affect meat production as well as nuclear energy production. This is a national security issue and needs addressing and, in my opinion, should never be in foreign hands.
It is an interesting situation as we are giving tens of millions to private foreign companies due to monumental failures of a government which is not prepared to support smaller, often green, companies that are being harmed by those same failures. Surely there should standard that UK should be required to maintain a certain level of gas storage, ideally a level in line with the rest of Europe – i.e. 10 times our current level. We could even become world leaders in energy storage!
Diversity means security
A key means of protecting the UK can be learned from our innovative energy suppliers, like Ecotricity. What they bring is diversity of supply. If we have diversity at appropriate levels we have energy security. To achieve this we need to focus on these areas:
- Energy Production Diversity
- Energy Storage Diversity
- Market Supply Diversity
- Equal Terms access to Energy Markets
- Reduction in Waste
Further ways to achieve energy security
Ok the recent protests on the M25 and at ports are annoying but the point these people are making about insulating homes ties in neatly to the energy security issue. If we insulate our homes then we’ll need less energy. Also the poorer you are the more likely you are to have a poorly insulated house, or have a landlord who is not remotely interested in improving insulation. It is shocking that the government, rather than saying ‘Yes, you have a point’, serves an injunction to imprison protesters. A very odd focus with COP26 coming up. Surely legislation to enable an insulation blitz and require (and subsidise) landlords to insulate homes before they can rent them would be a great and inexpensive solution?
Vehicle to grid (V2G)
V2G is a vital and inexpensive part of the storage puzzle. Some Electric Vehicles (EVs), Nissan Leaf for example, are capable of V2G, which feeds electricity back to the grid. There has been no legislation from the government to make V2G mandatory in EVs, so only a limited number of car makers support it.
V2G allows an EV owner to feed the grid which is particularly beneficial at peak times. A good example of this is when people come home from work we get a peak in demand from all the cooking, TV, kettles etc. But if they are home then their car can feed the grid, so it is about as perfect as it can get. The cheap plentiful electricity is available when people are sleeping. Most people only travel 40 miles per day (or less) so they can even give back a little in the morning. There is activity in this area but it is very limited. It is expected that the cost of a charge point that can do V2G will be about £1,000 (for volume production) which could be paid back in just a few years to the user. From an energy security standpoint, it is really dramatic, as we would then have millions of these mobile power stations on the road.
Emerging energy storage
Another ‘work in progress’ is the use of cranes to raise concrete blocks during periods of excess generation and lower them thereby generating energy when we need more. The work even included lowering the amount of concrete to reduce emissions. We have very clever people! This type of energy storage is going to become more critical as we use less and less domestic gas. There are other schemes and battery based storage is also coming on line. Iron Air batteries, which are too heavy for cars but have amazing potential, are also under development.
There are many options where the technology is already there, but we do not have even the basics of a coherent policy and we are not developing the individual technologies fast enough.
It is a great time to write to your MP to nudge or cajole our government to do the right thing. Because, if we do develop a coherent energy security policy, then we can maintain a great way of living, it can be affordable for all and it will go a very long way to meet our carbon reduction goals.