There doesn’t seem to be a year go by when the wider world does not threaten Britain’s energy security.
This week alone, there arrived two problems which have exposed our countries’ vulnerability where energy is concerned, and as usual, when the weakness is exposed, household and commercial energy price rises follow quickly behind.
Freedom from high energy costs seems to be slipping from our countries grasp year on year, with the escalating problems of terrorism as seen in Algeria this week. Our dependence on sources from troubled geographical locations will only increase alongside our ability to keep energy costs down.
As resentment builds in such countries with foreign intervention, these increasingly fanatical religious groups will undoubtedly increase, leaving Britain in a more precarious situation than we have previously known before.
In the last few years, North Sea production has fallen, and imports doubled between 2007 and 2012. This period has been relatively free from these kinds of energy problems which can cause sudden increases in the price we all pay. The recent price rises with which we have become so accustomed to is the result of internal network upgrades and other unrelated issues coming from the global energy markets.
The way in which we transport gas supplies affects the price we pay to heat our homes too. Gas from these unstable countries such as Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tobago and Trinidad, is frozen via tankers that are more expensive to transport than gas from our own North Sea.
The new dream in the form of shale-gas can only supply a few are increasing demands and entirely replacing imported supplies with shale-gas can only ever be a pipe dream (excuse the pun).
The USA’s abundance and recent take-up of shale-gas also known a ‘fracking’ has given them a short-term respite from the pressures of the world markets, but as recently reported, the gas wells are only productive for a brief time. This situation has caused America to now take alternative energy technologies seriously.
Current optimistic estimates of Britain’s shale-gas opportunities say there are 20 trillion cubic feet of gas available. That is around two years at our current rate of consumption – not enough to end our reliance on gas imports.
Shale-gas production can only ever be a short-term solution to a long-term energy problem.
Our previously reduced energy bills (remember that) were a result of our abundant homegrown North Sea reserves, but the tide has turned, and our current reliance on global stocks with political and price volatilities will now see the costs of heating the home grow relentlessly in the next few years.
More North sea supply woes with long-term implications
In addition to the North Sea’s declining outputs, the light has shown on the North Sea’s Brent pipeline system which has been shut down after reporting leaks. The leak comes after a succession of leaks reported by many other rigs and pipelines around the world.
As the world’s oil and gas producers look at increasingly deeper and environmentally sensitive geographical locations to quench our energy thirsts, the recent leaks reported from the Brent pipeline system can only get worse.
If the Brent pipeline continues to stay unproductive for any length of time, then this will influence the price of energy overall. An accident on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, will undoubtedly leave the United Kingdom vulnerable to a full-blown energy crisis not yet seen in this country before.
You have to wonder what’s in store if we continue to pursue and push our technological limits as we are doing with George Osbourne’s Tax relief on new exploration in the broad North Sea regions.
Deep-sea drilling is pushing our technological abilities to the limits, but the ability to do it safely and without a significant impact on the environment around is diminishing the further and deeper we go.
Keeping Britain secure its energy supplies is going to take a monumental shift in thinking and ideas and preventing our household energy bills from exponentially rising will require the same.
As Barack Obama in his 2nd term inauguration speech said: “The time for debate is over”. The time for wind turbines, the time for solar panels and alternative technologies to keep our society and our planet for our children and our grandchildren is now.
George Osbourne’s and our coalition’s government assault on the alternative energy sectors last year already looks archaic thinking. It now looks like our once great country will be left behind as the United States, Germany, Japan, China and Australia now steam ahead with the green revolution which we gave away.
The irony of all this came to the Olympic opening ceremony when we celebrated our industrial revolution, in the same year we as a nation rejected the next great green energy revolution.
The double irony is that the money they spent on the Olympics could have kicked start our world dominance in the green energy sector, creating real jobs and left a legacy to be proud.