Three-day weeks and brownouts may seem like a distant and unpleasant memory. We face a similar crisis in the coming decade unless our government acts soon to secure our energy supply. Brownouts will damage our fragile economic recovery through business closures, falling confidence and rising energy prices from imports. This is the energy gap.
This piece originally featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013.
In the 1970s, rampant inflation and capped pay rises triggered a bitter power struggle between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Edward Heath government. The mineworkers’ union worked to rule depriving power plants of coal, leading the government to declare a three-day week to conserve energy. An oil crisis with OPEC in 1973 didn’t help.
Fast forward 40 years, inflation and union power may have been curbed, but the failure of successive governments to address our ageing energy generation plants has put us in the same invidious position. This time they don’t have unions or foreigners to scapegoat.
The UK was a net energy importer until 1980, and then North Sea oil and gas started to flow, making us a net exporter until 2004. Since then, we have been a rapidly rising importer, taking 8% of our energy in 2005, the year the balance switched. Net import dependency in 2012 had increased to 43%, its highest level since 1976.
In 2005, a panel of 150 energy experts, under the auspices of the UK Energy Research Centre and Geological Society of London, reported that by 2020, the UK may only be producing 80% of the energy it needs. That’s an unprecedented shortfall, which heralds brownouts and a four-day week.
Ofgem’s Project Discovery report in 2009 identified the problems that Britain faced. It stated that the combination of a global financial crisis, tough environmental targets and the closure of ageing power stations would increase the risk to consumers’ energy supplies and could lead to higher bills.
In 2010, parliament published a briefing paper describing the ‘looming’ energy gap. It said,“There will also be a substantial loss of generating capacity during the next decade as coal-fired capacity closes around 2015, following the emissions standards set by the Large Combustion Plant Directive, and most nuclear power stations reach the end of their productive lives.”
In October 2012, Ofgem warned that there may have to be “controlled disconnections”, or brownouts, of homes and businesses in the middle of the decade because Britain has so far not done enough to make sure it has sufficient electricity.
Ofgem’s outgoing CEO Alistair Buchanan, writing in the Daily Telegraph in February, said, “If you can imagine a ride on a rollercoaster at a fairground, then this winter we are at the top of the circuit and we head downhill – fast. Within three years we will see reserve margin of generation fall from below 14% to below 5%. That is uncomfortably tight.”
A reserve margin of 5% is too slim a reserve if we have a particularly cold spell and energy consumption rises beyond.
In March 2013, the UK lost 10% of its generation capacity as coal and oil-fired power stations went offline.
Dithering over nuclear and divided over renewables, the government’s solution appears to be to import scarce fossil fuels with volatile prices from unstable and unsavoury regimes
Despite the clear warnings and apparent recognition of the energy gap we face, the government has still not secured generation capacity to meet our future needs. Dithering over nuclear and divided over renewables, the solution appears to be to import scarce fossil fuels with volatile prices from unstable and unsavoury regimes.
But the world has not stood still.
The economic growth of China, India and other emerging economies means the demand for fuel supplies has risen. Our success in promoting free trade and economic growth means we now have more competitors for increasingly scarce resources. Energy exporters have a greater choice of customers they can serve. Russia’s gas can flow west into an interfering Europe or east into a grateful Asia.
Two reports that have largely been ignored by government demonstrate that the UK could become a net exporter of energy if it produced and implemented a coherent energy strategy, with a pivotal role of renewables.
The National Grid’s Future Energy Scenario report 2012 indicated that the UK could become a net exporter of energy by the 2020s, by delivering on the commitment to have 15% of energy generated by renewables.
Meanwhile, the Offshore Valuation demonstrated that using just a third of our offshore energy potential could make us a net energy exporter.
And this isn’t the pipedream of treehugger, although we probably count on their support.
In March, Good Energy CEO Juliet Davenport wrote, “Last week [March 22] the combination of a cold snap, dwindling gas supplies and a pipeline failure meant gas prices spiked within hours on Friday. As the events unfolded they provided a dramatic example of how our over reliance on importing expensive fossil fuels like gas, leaves us exposed to volatile prices.
“At the same time, on Friday morning high wind speeds led to 11.6% of demand being met by wind. According to RenewableUK, Saturday was another record breaking day for UK wind, and over the weekend clean British energy was generating enough to power the equivalent of nearly four out of every 10 UK homes and consistently over 10% of GB’s overall electricity needs.
“The wind dial on Gridwatch, which displays near real-time data on what the UK’s electricity grid is doing, consistently showed over 5 gigawatts (GW).
“We have been given a glimpse of the future if we fail to make the most of the abundant resources we have here in the UK. On Monday last week, Denmark produced enough energy from wind power to satisfy the whole country’s electricity demand.
“Wind is not a silver bullet, but it must be an important part of the energy mix in the years to come if we are to meet the challenge of greater energy security, cheaper costs and cutting carbon emissions. For those who would ignore the potential of renewables, Friday provided a fantastic example of what we would be missing.”
There doesn’t need to be an energy gap if politicians with vision and courage support the renewable sector with conviction
A government’s first duty is the defence of the realm and its people from enemies, both foreign and domestic.
There could be no greater twin threats to our national security than climate change and the energy gap. The first is existential; the second economic.
The energy gap makes us dependent on increasing imports of scarce fossil fuels with volatile prices from unstable and unsavoury regimes. Burning those fossil fuels makes us a primary cause of climate change and leaves us open to its many and unpredictable threats. More extreme weather events are the most obvious threats, destroying agriculture, flooding homes and businesses and harming communities.
The domestic enemies are those in the media who claim that burning more fossil fuels is just fine and that human-caused climate change is a myth.
The UK could secure a domestic, clean and limitless supply of energy by tapping into the wind, wave and tidal resource that we have in abundance.
Solar and nuclear both play a role. Solar due to their easy small scale installation and rapidly falling costs. Nuclear may be a necessary evil if we can bear the risks of waste storage and proliferation.
Energy efficiency, including residential, commercial and transport initiatives, all play their part in reducing demand as we clean up the supply.
It would support thousands of new jobs domestically, from engineers to construction workers to insulation fitters. It would also help create a valuable new export industry in a global renewable market worth $1 trillion.
Davenport makes the point, ”Instead of relying on rescue from a tanker from far flung places like Qatar or gambling on the hope that we’ll find new unconventional sources of gas, we could become self-sufficient in clean energy. It not only makes economic sense but environmental sense too.”
There doesn’t need to be an energy gap if politicians with vision and courage support the renewable sector with conviction. There doesn’t need to be an energy gap if the electorate commit to punishing those who do not address the challenge we face.
The year of brownouts, 2015, is the year of the next general election.
2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage
Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.
Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.
Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each
The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.
Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.
Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.
Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.
That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.
Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.
Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.
Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.
The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.
Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity
Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.
Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.
It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.
Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight
The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.
The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.
2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded
People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.
Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.
Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.
Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.
Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.