The trouble with the energy price crisis, coupled with the Ukrainian situation is that politicians’ first instinct is to look for sticking plasters. The same is true of the climate crisis, where one half-baked policy after another is announced and then abandoned (albeit with one or two exceptions, like offshore wind). This has been the story of UK energy policy for as long as I can remember—so Labour is not to be excused. The government’s latest contribution is the ‘British Energy Security Strategy’ published on the 7th April. The main purpose of this seems to be to re-introduce the idea that only a massive expansion of nuclear power will keep the lights on (perhaps in two decades’ time). Listening to the chap who founded Octupus energy on the radio this lunchtime I was reminded of the question ’since wind and sun are free, why does renewably-sourced electricity cost so much.?’ His answer was that this was how the market worked—the market price we pay is driven by whatever costs the most, currently gas. Perhaps it’s time to introduce two markets—fossil/nuclear and renewables. Might this not speed up the transition?
A glaring absence in the Tories’ so-called energy security strategy, under the heading ‘renewables’ is geo-thermal energy.* This source could supply a very substantial component of UK heating demand. It’s not rocket science. I remember, as a member of Hull City Council’s economic development committee, back in the 1980s, visiting Southampton which was then tapping into geothermal energy resources for district heating. In the intervening 40-odd years little development has taken place in the UK. Why? It’s partly the cosy relationship between e.g. nuclear industry lobby groups and government. Another glaring absence in the government strategy is anaerobic digestion. The potential of this technology is tremendous (one estimate has been half of UK domestic gas demand). And as long as we have sewage treatment works (and what goes into them) there will always be a need to find ways of dealing with sewage outputs—rather than pouring it into our rivers and coasts. Once again, back in the 1980s I visited Yorkshire Water’s treatment works at Elvington, near York, where they were actually generating energy from the shit we gave them (for free).
What an irony it is. If UK governments had put as much effort into solving our looming energy crisis as Thatcher had put into defeating the miners and closing pits, we would be in a far happier situation. And yes, if the rest of Europe had followed suit we could laugh in Putin’s face—his fossil fuelled revenues wouldn’t be what they are now and just maybe, he couldn’t have afforded the cost of a senseless war.
* The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have just published a very good report on the potential of geo-thermal energy. (post.parliament.uk)