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Friday, 11 October 2013

The Price of Energy

The government has tried to explain how shale gas might reduce the price of energy. On the 19th of July 2014 the Chancellor George Osbourne said:

I want Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution – because it has the potential to create thousands of jobs and keep energy bills low for millions of people.

Many commentators including this blog have shown how unlikely that is.

energy price freezeHowever, shale gas could easily stop the incessant rise in energy prices by using shale gas revenue to support the development of green alternatives. 

What we saw at Balcombe was in some ways a triumph of free expression, responsibility, regulation and control. 
  • The police guaranteed that protestors could express their opinions while upholding the rights of others. 
  • Cuadrilla has shown a remarkably responsible approach to the development, especially in their lack of inflammatory language and their preparedness to consider and comission independent scientific measurements of the environment. 
  • The responsible attitude was matched by the Balcombe Parish Council, whose report on the exploration before it started is a fine example of evidence-based pragmatism delivered in a clear way. I look forward to a summary report in about a year or so that describes their experience of all aspects of the exploration.
  • The Environmetal Agency applied the existing regulations and control in what seems to be a fair and balanced manner, taking account of environmental sensitivities and recognising pragmatic approaches when necessary. Even after the  fact the Environmental agency are having meetings with the local residents to see if they can communicate and inform better.

The price of energy is an environmental issue, but it is also one of government policy, and a decision the government could make with very little delay is to pledge at least to stabilise energy prices for 5 years by using shale gas revenues.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Shopping for Energy

As a global family, perhaps we should source our energy needs in the same way that a normal family would, only cost now means environmental cost.

When you want something you go shopping, and that means effort and enjoyment (depending on the type of person you are!). It means comparing, discriminating, choosing and finally paying before you enjoy what you have bought. In that process, there are a few important questions:

Do we really need it (like food or heating in winter)?
How much does it cost?
Is it available?
How long will it last?
Can we afford it?

When we go shopping for energy as a global family, it should be no different.

Do we really need it? - Well, yes, because of the way we have constructed the modern world. We would die (or many of us) if we suddenly did not have access to energy.  

That is not, however, an argument for not cutting back on energy use. The truth is we are addicted to it and need to dry out. But for the moment, yes, we really need the energy fix!

How much does it cost? - The true cost is the economic cost plus the environmental cost. Different energy sources have different costs, and that is where we would be responsible to compare.

Suddenly, shopping isn't so much fun!

Is it available? - Well, it depends if you are lucky enough to have it under your back-yard. Lucky? Well that is a matter of your view.
  • For plutonium, everyone is a NIMBY.
  • For coal everyone should be, and the same goes for tar sands!
  • Oil should be avoided as an energy source because it should be conserved in order to make things from it.
  • Natural gas is available, and increasingly shale gas will be a bridge to alternative energy sources.
  • Wind, solar and tidal energy is not presently available - but will be if we can bridge to it in a reasonable way.
  • Fusion is not available, but might one day if we can hold our breath long enough!
How long will it last? - Well you would not want your new television to last only 2 days! The same does for energy sources.

  • For plutonium: Frighteningly long.
  • For coal: Really enough for 500 years, but at what cost.
  • Tar sands: As long as it takes to prop-up the Canadian economy.
  • For oil: Perhaps several hundred years but at increasing economic cost for all items made from it.
  • Natural gas shale gas: Perhaps several hundred years, which shoild be sufficient to convert to other energy sources and/or reduce energy demands through efficiencies and lifestyle changes.
  • Wind, solar and tidal energy: Forever, providing rare earth elements can be efficiently recycled. 
  • Fusion: Again forever! 
Can we afford it? - Well, that is the question.

Can the environment afford it - No!

Can we afford not to and live - No!

When we go shopping we make pragmatic decisions with an eye on our pocket and an eye on our future. That is what we need to do when shopping for energy.