Renewables are the only way forward
The Renewable Route out of our Triple Energy Crisis: Decarbonisation, Affordability and Security in 2022 Britain
There exists an urgent need for progressives to determine and pursue a local green path out of our current Triple Energy Crisis. We need affordable, sustainable and secure green energy – yesterday. Britain is locked within a Triple Energy Crisis. Price, insecurity and carbonization. Price hikes breed deepening fuel poverty. Energy insecurity and rising carbon emissions hit headlines.
Domestic dependence upon Russian Energy imports rushed centre stage almost alongside Russian troop invasion of Ukraine. Energy security consideration has been catapulted to the forefront as Europe’s heavy reliance upon Russian fossil fuel imports has been highlighted. Once, mere weeks ago, people were alarmed at Putin’s LPG redirection back into India. Fears were expressed that Western political clout was being compromised in the face of dependency on Russian energy. Would Russia cut supplies in the face of sanctions protesting hostilities against Ukraine ? Now Russia has invaded Ukraine. Sanctions intensify daily. Energy markets are spooked. She remains one of the world’s largest petrol, natural gas and coal producers and any retaliatory reduction in her energy exports could be catastrophic.
Presently Russia supplies 70% of Europe’s total oil, gas and coal consumption. She provides 41% of its natural gas, 27% of its crude oil and liquids separated from natural gas and 41% of the total and 47% of the coal. She exports around 5 billion barrels of crude daily: 20% to China; 60% to Europe.
Sixty million barrels of strategic oil reserves will now be released in answer to Putin’s invasion: 30 million from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve; 30 million from the other thirty International Energy Agency (IEA), countries. It’s been presented both as a response to price instability, and a means of ping- up pre-existing supply shortages distinct from importation. As IEA Director Fatih Birol recognised ‘global energy security is under threat’.
Scrabbling around for other natural gas suppliers is only a partial solution. Little thought went into constructing a planned energy future to succeed north sea oil and natural gas and so we are becoming trapped in a viscous circle. Carbonisation triggers more and more extreme weather events, disrupting our centralised energy grid, disconnecting rising numbers of consumers; increasing prices and fuel poverty and therefore ill-health and NHS demand.
Renewables are now seen as inescapably integral to energy security and reliability as well as a sustainable energy future. Luckily we have under-sung energy resources. Cork University has just published a report which reveals extensive roof-top solar potential that can be developed without reducing supplies of cropland. The greater part exists in ‘The South’; but much remains untouched in ‘The North’. Extensive wind power potential, especially offshore, remains. Marine wave and short-range tidal has yet to be fully exploited. Geothermal is deep drilled in Southampton, found in granite in the South—West; and more widely distributed limestone karst, determinedly harnessed in Basel.
These can go further than is commonly believed. Fifty percent of the demand for energy is for heat not power and enormous quantities of heat still escape from domestic and industrial buildings. Retrofitting can’t happen quickly enough. Nor can recycling energy presently wasted in industrial buildings, hospitals, sports centres and data centres. Disused coal mine tunnels are flooded with warmed water, sewer waste heat is being harnessed in Kingston, Surrey; hi-energy industries waste heat energy at their fingertips.
Local renewable energy has much to offer: heat, power, skilled jobs, local enterprise, enriching local wealth, improving local health, enhancing community wealth building and democratic opportunities. Community and municipal energy projects expand to meet the demand for affordable heat and power, to cut carbon emissions, to enhance local energy security and resilience.
Legislative proposals slowly gain support – one-third of MPs in the House, so far, for a community energy enterprise renewable Local Electricity Bill, now ,attracting department of Energy interest. Its new national grid charges and responsibilities – proportionate to enterprise size, would enable local energy enterprises to invest and expand, become community electricity suppliers, even diversify into other non-weather dependent renewable energy.
More ambitious futures present: mixed weather and non- weather-dependent renewables, distributed via local interconnected electricity grids to enhance resilience and security. As one grid ‘goes down’, it can be isolated so as not to disrupt supply in others.
Conversations about local grids have already begun in Australia where extreme weather events like bushfires seriously disrupt their supplies just as storm, snow and flood disrupts ours. Sturmberg talks about “lots of local small-scale generators, many microgrids, interconnected but able to operate independently when necessary” and renewable to break the negative cycle sustained by fossil fuel generation. (Bjorn Sturmberg. Microgrids: How to Keep the Power On when Disaster Strikes. The Conversation. 10th Feb 2020 ) .
Inter-connected local grids invert our current centralised supply system into a decentralised renewable energy system effecting much decarbonisation and price reduction whilst raising energy resilience and security.