Our society is energy hungry. Cutting carbon from this diet is vital. And we mustn’t forget gas!
Decarbonising our electricity supply is an on-going hot issue, and challenging too. For example, the technology is not yet all proven – like the uncertainties of carbon capture and storage (CCS) – and for some technologies the reality is harsh – like maintaining wind turbines and tidal barrages in marine environments. There’s also the big challenge of matching a variable supply of power with actual demand.
If we don’t decarbonise our electricity effectively, then transferring from diesel locomotives and petrol cars to electric vehicles will risk adding to our climate footprint.
At present, according to National Grid’s recent submission to the Transition to Zero Carbon Britain policy working group, about three times as much energy is transmitted through the UK gas grid every day as through the electricity grid. This includes gas being used to produce electricity so let’s assume the gas grid currently supplies twice as much end-use energy as the electricity grid.
If we are going to transfer all this use to electricity then even with some energy efficiencies we’re going to need to build the equivalent of between one and two whole new electricity grids. That’s doubling the numbers of pylons marching across the countryside, digging up thousands of city streets and finding space for new or expanded substations in almost every community.
Is there a less disruptive vision for future UK energy supplies?
Recently there has been a new ‘dash for gas’ in power generation, to the dismay of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups, who have presumed the gas would be shale gas released through fracking. But if our future gas supplies were from renewables not from fossil sources… the whole picture changes.
Encouraging sustainable gas makes sense. Gas is easier to store than electricity. It is portable. It can be a chemical feedstock.
The government provides a feed-in tariff for green gas, as part of the Renewable Heat Incentive. But this is poorly recognised, and not getting much publicity – which is probably why the ‘green’ groups have been making a fuss.
The technical hurdles for green gas are at least as large as for green electricity. We need to increase pressure in this area to ensure that development occurs fast enough to make a seamless transition to a zero carbon 2050. And if we succeed it will mean our energy comes to us underground through our existing gas pipes, and we won’t need to double the number of electricity pylons marching across the country!
* Lucy Care is a member of the Federal Policy Committee, was a councillor in Derby from 1993-2010 and was a General Election Candidate in Derby in 2005 and 2010 She blogs at lucycare.net.