Save the planet – burn gas!

Posted:  May 3rd, 2011 by:  The Environment Site comments:  0

Despite the billions of pounds spent promoting, subsidizing and developing renewables they still produce just 6.5 per cent of our energy needs.
According to the Renewable Energy Foundation, the UK has spent £5bn subsidizing wind farms, but we still missed the target, announced in 2001, of generating 10 per cent of our electricity from renewables by the end of the last decade. We are now supposed to be moving towards a 30 per cent target by 2020. That now looks like a long shot.

The present Government policy is to de-carbonise the electricity network through renewables and nuclear energy. However, the big fallout from the Japanese disaster is likely to be a series of delays caused by new safety reviews for that whole industry. Our first new reactor was scheduled to open in 2018 with others to follow over the ensuing decade. That was already way too late to plug our growing energy gap and now looks almost certain to be delayed further. It will also inevitably lead to additional cost.

So, solution: Burn gas. There is hundreds of years worth of ‘shale gas’ available from the US and Northern Europe as well as a healthy supply of liquefied natural gas from slightly less reliable sources, such as Russia and the Middle East, but it is there nonetheless. It is cheap (although Germany turning off its nuclear reactors will lead to price pressures) and we understand how to use it.

Switching direction back in favour of a, largely, gas-based system would be quick and far cheaper than trying to stimulate more renewables and build nuclear power stations. Expedience – financial and political – will probably be the winner in the race for energy security and climate change, so don’t be surprised if the ‘New Age of Gas’ could soon be upon us.

It would have to be accompanied by the already planned programme of energy efficiency upgrades of existing homes and offices to reduce consumption and so limit carbon emissions. Although gas is not a zero carbon, or even a low carbon solution – it is less carbon intensive than where we are now and it has the distinct advantage of keeping the lights on. It would be a stop gap solution.

By improving insulation levels via the Green Deal funding and using more high efficiency conventional technologies, such as condensing boilers and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, we can make massive strides towards lower carbon emissions while still preserving our energy security. Renewables like solar thermal and PV can still play a role where they are possible, appropriate and cost-effective; and all of this needs to be linked together by effective and intelligent building controls.

From an HVCA perspective members using their already considerable knowledge of conventional gas-fired building services systems in tandem with better controls and more thermally efficient buildings have a far better chance of reducing the nation’s carbon emissions than anything else currently proposed; and, more importantly, we will help to keep the lights on!

However, it is not totally straightforward. With shale gas, we have to overcome the small problem of extraction, known as ‘fracking’, which uses vast amounts of water and can lead to gas coming out of your kitchen tap. There is also the requirement for carbon capture and we know how difficult and expensive that is proving to be.

And, of course, all this leads us to the inevitable conclusion that energy efficiency measures are still the best investment of all.

David Frise is head of sustainability at the HVCA whose members are committed to delivering high quality, responsible and sustainable building services solutions.


Picture Credit:

Be Sociable, Share!

  • Forums & Blog

    Join the environment forum now !

    Environment & Alternative Energy Forum

    The Environment and Alternate Energy Forum