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UK energy in transition

According to government energy statistics for May to July 2016, just 5.3 percent of the UK’s electricity was generated from coal.  According to the government, this is a record low, meaning that generation from solar is now greater than from coal.

Unfortunately, at 17.4 percent, renewable energy was down – a result of a 22 percent drop in wind generation as a result of low average wind speeds.  The majority (50.3 percent) of the UK’s electricity was generated using gas; reflecting the development of a new gas infrastructure designed to use gas produced by hydraulic fracturing.  Nearly a third (27 percent) of our energy was generated from nuclear, following a government decision to extend the life of several ageing nuclear power stations.

UK energy consumption as a whole was down 2.2 percent, as a result of a rise in energy prices.

The shifting balance of energy away from coal in favour of gas and nuclear reflects government policy in favour of fracking and nuclear.  While it is still possible (albeit unlikely) that this will allow Britain to keep the lights on, there is a huge risk that Britain will be left with a gas-fired electricity infrastructure without sufficient low-cost gas to run it.  In the UK, we have yet to see a fracking company produce a single btu of fracked gas; still less a profitable one.  Meanwhile in the USA the 2011-14 shale boom has collapsed in a round of bankruptcies as energy prices remain far below the price at which fracking is profitable.

Five years from now, the remaining coal-fired power stations will have shut.  Hinkley Point C will still be being built (assuming EDF hasn’t bankrupted itself by then).  And the remaining old nuclear power stations will also have had to close.  Without significant deployment of renewables, this will leave us dangerously exposed to gas.  If the government is correct, by then we will be awash with fracked gas.  If energy analysts are correct, however, we may find ourselves having to go cap in hand to Qatar and Russia to beg sufficient gas to keep our economy running.  We can but wait and see.

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