On visiting the websites of the Guardian and the BBC, I often find myself reading articles which in any sane society really ought to give our politicians and policy-makers pause for thought, and more. This morning, however, I read two articles demonstrating the utter madness at the heart of net zero ideology, and the massive problems and lifestyle damage that will be caused to society unless we change our ways, and soon.
This was the heading to an article on the BBC website this morning. The heading alone contains enough to be of significant concern to us all. However, on reading the article itself, the whole energy debacle caused by the net zero dogma is set out for all to see.
First of all we learn that a regular exercise carried out by the energy industry is “aimed at preparing the UK for the possibility of a gas supply emergency” and that it will take place over four days, rather than the usual two. While it’s good to know that the authorities do hold such regular exercises, it’s more than a little worrying to realise that they don’t seem to have learned much from them, since here we are, facing an energy crisis.
We are told that the government says there’s nothing to see here, and that this is simply a routine part of the energy industry calendar. On the other hand, the BBC reports on the exercise by using the word “wargamed” and claims that industry insiders link the extension of the exercise to the seriousness of the situation. I can understand that the authorities wouldn’t want to say anything that might frighten the horses, so to speak, but the level of politicial insouciance in the face of current energy issues worries me more than just a little.
There is a briefing note for those interested, and it is something of a relief to see the apparent seriousness with which the Network Emergency Coordinator is addressing the situation. On the other hand, given that gas storage levels have been allowed to fall lamentably low, one might question why earlier annual exercises didn’t prompt someone in a position of authority to notice this rather obvious problem.
After all, it isn’t as though people weren’t talking about it at the time. To give the Guardian its due (words you won’t see me write very often) it reported at the time of the closure of the Rough storage field in 2017:
The closure of the UK’s largest gas storage plant has prompted warnings that the country faces more volatile winter gas prices and is becoming too dependent on energy imports.
British Gas’s owner, Centrica, said it was permanently closing the Rough facility off the Yorkshire coast because it had become unsafe and uneconomic to reopen the facility, which had been temporarily shut over safety fears.
We have learned, to their chagrin no doubt, to be increasingly sceptical of the wisdom of experts. Back in 2017 we were told:
Experts said it was no surprise Centrica had decided to shutter the depot, because liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from Qatar had significantly reduced the economic rationale for this kind of facility.
We weren’t told who those misguided experts were, but others saw at the time all too clearly the problems this would create:
Analysts at Barclays said the closure would increase the volatility of winter gas prices, a view shared by other industry-watchers. Matt Osborne, a risk manager at energy consultancy Inenco, said: “We anticipate that the decision to close Rough will create uncertainty in terms of energy pricing.
“Though we haven’t seen a material impact on prices yet – most probably because there is still a significant amount of recoverable gas in the field, which could last for years – the pressure could come in the winter months, especially if we experience very cold conditions.”
The fracking industry [what’s that?] said the closure would increase the UK’s reliance on Qatari LNG imports, which it said had proved to be politically risky, although there is no evidence yet that the diplomatic crisis engulfing the Gulf state, whose neighbours have severed diplomatic ties, has interrupted UK supplies.
Ken Cronin, the chief executive of the onshore gas and oil industry trade body UKOOG, said: “The solution for the UK in the medium term cannot be to transport gas across oceans and continents. The UK needs to ensure that whatever gas replaces that from Rough comes from sources that can deliver the same high levels of environmental and regulatory standards.”
Gas has become increasingly important in the UK’s power mix as coal plants close and renewables grow, and also provides heating for about 80% of UK homes.
To some, then, the situation was obvious at the time. And note very well indeed, despite the almost casual reference in the Guardian article, that it was clearly understood that gas was becomingly increasingly important due to the obsession with closing coal plants and growing renewables. Increasing reliance on renewables, due to their inherent unreliability and the uncertainty of the energy they supply (often unavailable when most needed, especially in winter), does not reduce the need for reliable alternatives ready and willing to power up at relatively short notice to make good the regular shortfalls. In the absence of investment in nuclear power (thank you Nick Clegg) then gas is really the only show in town. They (the people at the Guardian, the BBC, at BEIS, at National Grid ESO and others) all know that increasing reliance on renewable energy means increasing dependence on gas.
And how did the Guardian report back in 2017 on the response of BEIS to this alarming situation?
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesperson said: “The UK has highly diverse and flexible sources of gas supply through domestic production and extensive import capability. We expect healthy margins this winter as we continue to upgrade the UK’s energy infrastructure.”
On Tuesday, the government announced funding for two projects that could help wean the UK off its reliance on natural gas for heating.
BEIS said £25m would be made available to test using hydrogen to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heat. The money will fund research into whether existing gas pipes can be used for hydrogen, and what impact having a hydrogen boiler would have for consumers. A further £10m is being invested in “smart heating”.
Unlike gas, hydrogen produces no emissions when burned, although it is only considered a green fuel if produced with renewable power.
The newly appointed energy minister, Claire Perry, said: “The UK government is committed to leading the world in delivering clean energy technology and today’s investment shows that we are prepared to support innovation in this critical area.”
Thank you very much for that. Five years later, would you say it’s going well?
If further proof is needed that we urgently require a change of political personnel, the Guardian was also reporting in September 2021 (well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which seems to be the convenient fall guy in this respect):
In the midst of a global energy crisis Europe is preparing to enter the winter with its lowest reserves of gas in at least 10 years. For the UK, which has some of the continent’s lowest gas storage capacity, the drawing in of colder months has left households even more vulnerable to the risk of shortages.
The UK’s stores hold enough gas to meet the demand of four to five winter days, or just 1% of Europe’s total available storage. The Netherlands has capacity more than nine times the UK’s, while Germany’s is 16 times the size.
Britain’s continental neighbours also have lower gas market prices. However, according to the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, any connection drawn between soaring prices and meagre storage levels is a “red herring”.
And in that same Guardian article, we read the words of John Underhill, a professor at Herriott-Watt University in Edinburgh. He warned then that
the UK’s gas market woes would only deepen through [last] winter as cold, dark days drive demand for gas higher.
“The real challenge will lie on cold, dark, windless days of winter when demand for heat, light and energy are at their highest,” Underhill said. “Without addressing the need to replenish sources, have secure and reliable supplies and storage issues, the current crisis is simply a warning of what is to come over the winter and beyond.”
The UK hopes to replace much of its reliance on fossil gas with cleaner alternatives in line with its goal to cut emissions to net zero by 2050. But before the government achieves an overhaul of the electricity system the UK will continue to rely on gas power plants, which produce around 50% of the UK’s electricity.”
Underhill added: “Short of the lights going out, cookers failing to light and radiators going cold, this may be as close as we get to the ‘black swan’ moment where people realise where our energy comes from and our need to ensure there is sufficient homegrown supply, reliable import sources and back-up to avoid shutdowns and other unintended consequences for food supply chains and the like.”
Well, quite. Why was nobody listening?
Finally, on this subject, yet another Guardian article, this time from 1st March 2018:
National Grid has warned that the UK would not have enough gas to meet public demand on Thursday, as temperatures plummeted and imports were affected by outages.
But the government said households would not notice disruptions to their supply or any increase in energy bills because suppliers, including British Gas, bought energy further ahead. The energy minister Claire Perry said people should cook and use their heating as they would normally.
But experts said there was a strong chance that industrial users could experience interruptions to their gas supply.
Within-day wholesale gas prices soared 74% to 200p per therm after the formal deficit warning, which acts as a call to suppliers to bring forward more gas. It is the first time such an alert has been issued since 2010.
By lunchtime on Thursday the price had spiked even higher, hitting a high of 275p per therm at one point.
National Grid’s forecast for the day initially showed a shortfall across the day of 49.5m cubic metres (mcm) below the country’s projected need of 395.7mcm, which would normally be around 300mcm at this time of year. The gas deficit warning aims to fill the gap, which has since narrowed to 16.5mcm.
…The crunch is also the UK’s first big energy security test since the country’s biggest gas storage facility was closed by Centrica last year. The Rough site in the North Sea had accounted for 70% of the UK’s gas storage.
Well, they can’t say that they haven’t had plenty of warnings.
England’s housing strategy would blow entire carbon budget, says study
That was the heading to an article in the Guardian this morning. Its sub-heading makes the point very clearly: “Target of 300,000 new homes a year not sustainable, finds researchers, with negative biodiversity and climate impacts”.
Assuming that we can believe the BBC (increasingly a dubious assumption, admittedly, but in this case I would suggest its findings are fairly uncontroversial), then two and a half years ago “the difference between the current housing stock and the number needed for everyone to have a decent home to live in – is more than one million homes”. So wrote Simon Gompertz. And the implications?
In a poll of more than 2,000 people for the Affordable Housing Commission, 13% of adults said their mental health was affected by their housing situation.
Looking just at those in unaffordable housing – costing more than a third of income – produced a greater level of concern.
Twenty-five percent of the sample said their mental health had suffered. That’s potentially millions of people…
…Behind the stress is a shortage of places to live.
The BBC’s Housing Briefing estimates that we have built 1.2 million fewer homes than we should have, and the need for more homes is increasing.
The calculations suggest it will take at least 15 years at current building rates to close the gap, and that not enough of what is being built is affordable.
That’s pretty clear then – the UK has a serious shortage of housing stock, with mental health suffering (over and above the obvious problems of millions of people lacking their own homes) and we need to build pretty furiously for at least the next fifteen years. We’d better crack on with it then. What’s that you say? We mustn’t. What about the carbon budget? What about 1.5C?
England would use up the entirety of its 1.5C carbon budget on housing alone if the government sticks to its pledge to build 300,000 homes a year, according to a new study.
The building of new homes under a business as usual scenario, coupled with current trends on making existing homes more efficient, would mean the housing system would use up 104% of the country’s cumulative carbon budget by 2050.
The paper, published in Ecological Economics, is the first to comprehensively analyse the impact of the government’s response to the housing crisis on national carbon and biodiversity goals.
As it happens, I share concerns about endlessly building on our green and pleasant land (the bits of it that are left, anyway) and the implications for biodiversity. I also agree that if, as claimed, there are 1.2m empty or underused homes, it might make sense to try to work out ways to bring them into meaningful use.
However you dress it up, though, the implications of the report are quite chilling. A couple of the highlights deserve some thought:
Other strategies [i.e. other than building 300,000 houses a year] for meeting society’s housing needs are theoretically possible, but they face a challenging political economy.
Solutions include decarbonising the existing housing stock through rapid retrofitting, and policies disincentivising the overconsumption of floorspace.
For all the talk, then, of retrofitting (and do we need to be reminded of the problems retrofitting can cause?) it seems that even the authors agree that the alternatives to build, build, build are only theoretically possible, especially against the backdrop of “a challenging political economy”.
And please do note the other point – “policies disincentivising the overconsumption of floorspace.” I suspect that’s a euphemism for telling us that just as we are now going to have to face blackouts or otherwise minimise our energy usage in the brave new world of net zero, so we are also going to have get used to living in rabbit hutches.