Securing Our Future Energy Needs
Written by Zero Carbon Harrogate on September 30, 2021
As we bid farewell to those balmy days of summer and prepare to welcome the rather chiller, damper days of autumn we can perhaps be forgiven for reaching for the heating ‘on’ switch and looking forward to those cosy fireside evenings. But cosy and warm may go hand in hand with increased costs this winter, as energy prices appear to be going through the roof.
If you weren’t already aware – distracted by the disruption to petrol supplies perhaps – the price of gas has increased by 250% since the beginning of the year. This is not part of a strategy to address climate change but rather the impact of actions taken by those who wish to make as much money as possible from supplying our energy. Harsh words you may think but as with the petrol supply problems it has nothing to do with the amount of ‘product’ that’s available, but all to do with the way its supply is controlled. Energy is big business, with the profits of many large companies, dependent on the price they can charge.
According to the UK government, more than 22 million households are connected to the gas grid, with 38% of the country’s gas demand in 2020 used for domestic heating, another 29% for electricity generation and 11% for industrial and commercial use. Any restriction in the supply of energy, whether in the form of oil, gas or electricity means higher prices and a direct impact on the supply of products, that rely on energy for their manufacture. So not only are we facing rising costs to heat our homes, we are being warned of shortages of goods on the shelves and even the threat of Christmas being ‘Scrooged’, due to a lack of availability of those things we have come to enjoy at that time of the year.
Whilst energy shortages and price spikes are nothing new, they come at a time when energy generation and supply are poised for one of the biggest shake-ups the industry has perhaps ever seen, as alternatives to fossil fuels are introduced to help address climate change. A time which poses challenges in finding the best alternatives but also a time that provides opportunities to take back control of our own energy needs, at least in part.
The combined energy, used for domestic and industrial purposes, is still the largest contributor to carbon emissions in the Harrogate District, at nearly 600,000 tonnes per year, even though emissions have been significant reduced in recent years, thanks to the introduction of sustainable generation methods.
Solar PV panels, wind turbines and other techniques utilising natural, renewable resources, have made the supply of ‘green’ electricity possible. Perhaps equally important, they provide the possibility for local generation at individual property level or via shared community and industry schemes. But what of heating? What are the alternatives for those 22 million households currently on the gas grid, or those reliant on burning other fossil fuels?
It seems electricity is the favoured thinking in government circles, given the increasing capacity in renewable generation, either through heat pumps or by direct convective or radiant heat transfer. Whilst this may be a good option for many new homes, the cost of retrofitting and using electrical appliances in older properties, makes this approach rather less attractive, not to mention the limits of their effectiveness in such situations. There are of course other options being developed, including hydrogen gas and biofuels, which may also offer the opportunity for local or at least national ownership of our energy supply, but they are not yet viable options for most of us.
It seems that more time is needed to get future, realistic, renewable energy supplies in place; time that we don’t have. More investment is urgently needed to bring forward the technologies that promise much, together with a commitment from the government to take back control of our energy supply and avoid being held to ransom by corporate profit seekers. COP26 is looming and it is the perfect place to make a national statement of intent to change the face of our national energy supply framework.
It is of course not just government that needs to act, we as residents and business owners need to do all we can to take the pressure off the energy network, by reducing the amount of energy we use, through improved insulation and by taking more control of the ‘off’ button.