Wednesday, February 20, 2013
For many people, worrying about keeping up with ever-increasing energy bills which drop on to the doormat every quarter is not a new thing.
Before we throw our hands up in the air and blame the energy situation entirely on successive governments, we should remember that we are the ones using – and often wasting – energy.
Many people still leave their televisions on standby which can cost about £50 a year and could be saved by simply turning them off at the plug.
Tumble dryers also use four times as much electricity as a washing machine and while it might not be practical in the winter, in the summer it is possible to save money by drying clothes outside.
Our buildings, both domestic and commercial, often leak energy which can be solved by insulating roofs and making sure windows are double glazed or have draft proofing fitted.
Other tips include: Wait for a full load before starting washing machines or dishwashers; and don’t fill your kettle right up every time – just boil the amount of water you need.
For more information, visit the Energy Saving Trust at www.energysavingtrust.org.uk
And the fact that, according to Alistair Buchanan, outgoing head of the energy watchdog Ofgem, it is only going to get worse is obviously not going to help ease concerns – especially when the energy supply gap could have been avoided.
Mr Buchanan’s warning comes three years after the EDP reported that, despite the then Labour government’s plans to “fast track” new nuclear, there would still be a shortage of supply as a result of repeated “dithering” for more than a decade on this issue.
In November 2009, Keith Tovey, who was energy science director of the CRed community carbon reduction programme at the University of East Anglia, warned that the years 2015-2018 were going to be critical in terms of energy consumption.
“Even if we build 10,000 wind turbines over the next few years, there will still be a gap which will have to be filled by imported gas, which is clearly vulnerable to international situations and changes in prices,” he said.
Of course, 2015 seemed like an age away at that time and in the years since, with the recession hitting hard, little has been done to plug the upcoming gap – and now here we are facing the “likelihood that avoiding power shortages will also carry a price”.
The crisis has been brought about by coal and oil-fired power stations closing earlier than expected, lack of action on things such as new nuclear and the development of renewables together with the unpopularity of onshore wind which was initially expected to help meet the shortfall.
Dr Tovey, now an emeritus reader at UEA as well environment officer for Rotary in East Anglia, has every right to say “I told you so”.
“I don’t like using that phrase because it is easy to say in hindsight but I did see it and I, and many other people, did warn various governments,” he said.
Clearly the situation is worse now than it was even three years ago but Dr Tovey believes we can still act.
“I have been saying for the last 18 months that we have to hope that in the latter part of this decade we don’t have a prolonged cold snap at the time when there is also a cold snap in countries like Russia because recently, when this has happened, they have said that they can’t export gas to Europe because they need it all themselves. We could see power cuts if this does happen.
“The more we can do to push projects that can come on stream quickly, the better. And that really comes down to some of the renewables at present. We need to push ahead with strategies which can get us out of a potential mess.”
Many people believe renewables, particulary onshore wind, are an expensive waste of time but Dr Tovey points out that while the wholesale price of electricity has risen by more than 100pc in the last six or seven years, less then 10pc of that has been because of our increased support for renewables, the rest has been because of the increase in the price of gas.
This country is not the only one having problems in security of supply and while that might normally bring some comfort, in this case it makes the situation worse.
Dr Tovey said: “Germany could potentially be in the same situation as us although they have been investing far more in renewables. France has got a surplus of energy generation because they embraced nuclear in a big way about 20 years ago. Italy is in a bit of a pickle because they are short of supply. There are other countries which sometimes temporarily have a problem such as Norway, which has a huge amount of hydro and in the winter if their reservoirs freeze they can be short and so they have an exchange with Sweden and work through things.
“When we think about the three pipeline connections we have to Europe we have to ask where are we in the supply when it comes from Russia? We are at the end and so have to negotiate with Germany and other countries for the gas to pass through and if they are short they are probably going to say they need it, so if we want it we’re going to have to pay more.”
The solution, when it comes, must be a partnership between us and the government who, Dr Tovey believes, are often hampered by lengthy planning inquiries.
We all have a part to play in making sure we save energy where possible – which will help us as well as them –otherwise, another three years from now, not only will our energy bills be out of control but power cuts might be something we have to take in our stride.