climate change

Opinion: What the gas crisis tells us

Photo credit: Getty Images.

By Anders Lorenzen

Every couple of years the UK experiences a gas crisis. This is a signal not only of the country’s unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels but also a failure to move away from gas in a way that other countries have done successfully.

Now such a crisis has arisen again. It is prompted in large part by low gas storage capacity, the COVID-19 pandemic, a power plant coming offline and low wind speeds responsible for a downturn in wind power output. This demand has caused gas prices to surge and caused a number of energy companies to go under, as well as customers facing a hike in bills.

UK’s unhealthy reliance on gas

The crisis tells us a few things, not least how dangerously reliant the UK still is on gas. Despite the government`s big talk on climate action, the country has hardly made a dent in easing its reliance on gas in recent years. The UK is one of only a few countries in Europe where ovens and cookers running on gas are still being produced and sold. Perversely, many new homes being built today still come with a gas hob.

UK’s hugely inefficient housing stock means most homes and buildings do a very poor job of conserving heat. This means that not only are huge quantities of heat and gas going to waste but people are paying a lot more on heating their homes than they would have been, were they insulated to a better standard. The protest group, Insulate Britain sought to make that statement when they blocked motorways in the UK for several days recently.

What happened to energy efficiency?

Once again the UK government has talked up increasing the deployment of renewables, but they would do well to invest in the most powerful low-carbon technology we have; energy efficiency. So far they have done little in pushing this forward. This would also create a post-Brexit and post-pandemic job bonanza creating many different jobs in a variety of industries. 

While gas is the preferred heating method, the government has been very slow in scaling up alternatives such as heat pumps, geothermal heating and many other gas alternatives.

As 42% of the UK’s electricity is generated by gas power plants, it is urgently necessary to make the country better protected against future gas crises by scaling up both renewables and nuclear power. And it should be a renewable energy strategy banking on several technologies not only offshore wind, and must bring the cheapest renewable energy technology in the UK back from the cold; onshore wind.  

But there must also be a change in policy, and the government could start by banning gas cookers in newly built homes and put in place better incentives to scale up the adoption of heat pumps. In addition, they should rapidly phase out gas for electricity, but of course only if the electricity is produced by nuclear or renewable energy.

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