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Sainsbury’s takes action over UK energy crunch

“The move by Sainsbury’s is further evidence that the current UK government is on the wrong side of history.”

UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has lost faith in the Government’s ability to keep the lights on according to Emily Gosden at the Telegraph:

“Paul Crewe, a senior executive at the supermarket giant, said he had sleepless nights over energy security and feared UK electricity demand could soon outstrip supply.”

The supermarket chain has already built several power plants to provide electricity to 10 of its stores.  A further six new gas-fired plants are being built this year.  The gas plants are part of Sainsbury’s plan to go green, as gas is created using a bio-digestion process based on inedible food waste that cannot be used for human or animal consumption.

The move by Sainsbury’s is in line with projections made by British Gas owner Centrica, and fits with the recent energy market forecast made by former SSE chief executive Ian Marchant:

“Now there are already one million small generators from community-owned wind, small scale biomass, rooftop wind and solar, and a decreasing number of older, large power stations. That trend will continue and in 30 years’ time we will have millions and millions of small power stations in this country.”

The move by Sainsbury’s is further evidence that the current UK government is on the wrong side of history.  The delusional dash for shale gas – which has already gone sour in the USA – together with insanely expensive nuclear plants, is burning up the capital that the UK desperately needs if we are to create the new diffuse energy infrastructure that is essential both for keeping the lights on and for arresting climate change.

There is, however, a less obvious but devastating threat when companies like Sainsbury’s shift to their own energy generation.  This is the problem of marginal returns for the existing energy system.  Crewe notes that Sainsbury’s accounts for nearly one percent of UK electricity.  If they can gain a competitive advantage by generating their own, the other supermarkets will have to follow suit.  As, of course, will many other businesses that already face high energy bills.  When this happens – and I believe it is inevitable – the cost of maintaining the existing Grid infrastructure will have to fall onto the shoulders of ordinary households; among which, around three million are already experiencing energy poverty.  Ultimately, the system will fail because people on lower incomes will stop using electricity, while those with sufficient private income will go off-grid – leaving an increasingly squeezed middle to fund the system.  This will bankrupt the the big energy companies and ultimately the Grid itself.

It is for this reason that we desperately need a long-term energy plan that addresses the hard realities of a depleted North Sea and our increasing dependence upon expensive (to extract) imported fossil fuels; coupled to our climate-related need for zero-carbon energy.  Either way, Britain is  going to shift to renewable energy… the only question is about the manner in which we get there.

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