Folder 3 Energy scenario for the UK

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UK Energy

In the UK we have been very fortunate to have indigenous supplies of fuel, firstly coal and then our bonanza from the North Sea - oil and, almost as a biproduct from the oil wells, natural gas.

Over the last few decades our use of energy (by source) is given in the following diagram:

Coal, which was our main source of energy before 1960, has given way to oil and gas from the North Sea. Nuclear and Hydro energy sources share a much smaller part of the energy mix and Renewables are not quite measurable on this energy scale. Prior to the 1970's gas had to be manufactured from coal and the "so called" town gas was an expensive fuel. However, North Sea gas, initially regarded as an unwanted by-product of North Sea oil, reduced gas prices considerably as shown:

Thus, gas has been the favoured fuel since 1970 for, typically, heating homes and electricity production in power stations ( the dash for gas ) so that the present Government eagerness to extend the home supply of gas through FRACKING is understandable -- as the supply of North Sea gas reduces then gas from Fracking will be a replacement.

The PRIMARY ENERGY sources are then used in a variety of ways as illustrated in the energy flow diagram:

The total primary energy (as of 2014) is listed as 277.7 Million tonnes of oil equivalent.

For energy units given in Joules, about 11.626 EJ. ( 277.7 (Mtoe) x 41.868 (conversion factor) = 11,626 PJ = 11.626 EJ)

The contribution of BIOMASS to our primary energy total is small, 11 Mtoe and HYRO and WIND have an even smaller share, namely, 3.6 Mtoe. The delivered energy shows that we can only achieve 142.8 Mtoe and almost 58 Mtoe are lost by conversion and delivery. It must be noted that exports and marine bunkering accounts for a sizeable amount of energy so the energy demand of about 200 Mtoe has remained fairly constant over the past few decades.

The pattern of energy use in the UK is showing changes with time as illustrated below:

As we see, Transport demands an ever increasing supply of energy but the requiremnts for industry (which continues to shrink) is reducing with time. Domestic and Comercial demands for energy are relatively stable.

After this brief resume about our energy use over the past few decades it is now essential to present some truths about our current situation;


Clearly, the government must have been thinking along these line as it issued an Energy White paper in 2003. The basic assertion in this document was that we were all to use much less energy and that Renewables would solve any shortcommings that may arise. Most people were not impressed with the ideas put forward in the 2003 document and therefore another Energy White paper was published on the 23 May 07 and this was entitled "Meeting the Challenge". What is alarming is that on page 106 of the document there is a pie chart giving the predicted mix in 2020 of primary energy sources

---- 14 % coal, 39% oil, 40 % gas , 3 % nuclear and 4 % renewable

It can only be concluded that we will be about 80% reliant on fuels that will have to be imported and whose security of supply is very questionable. Section 4.04 (page 106) states "we therefore need to be confident that the market continues to ensure reliable supplies".

Richard Girling, in his Sunday Times article "Black to the Future" (14 October, 2007) has some thoughts on energy our future and it is recommended as a good read. You may also plough through the 342 pages of the White paper and see if any recommendations have been made to give the country a secure energy supply in the future. My thoughts after reading Girling's words were passed back to the Times ---

In truth, the government has absolved itself from giving us energy security --- ALL ENERGY PROVIDERS ARE NOW IN PRIVATISED INDUSTRIES and these energy companies are in business to make a profit. One has severe doubts that any company would be able to attract capital funds to, say, finance the building of a barrage across the Severn Estuary. Do oil companies bear the full costs of spillage of oil on our beaches? Do they make recompense for severe climate changes in Africa? Or do British Energy, the privatised nuclear industry, have to deal with decommissioning reduntant power stations and provide secure storage for the radioactive waste for centuries to come? The answer is, unfortunatley, NO. The government (ie tax payers) has full liabilities for this. In fact it is very evident that the privatised energy companies have "cherry picked" all the easy parts of energy to give a good return to share holders and left the rest of the country to shoulder the true energy costs. Several of the Utilities are owned by European Companies - EDF (Energie de France) REW (Rheinisch-Westfalische Elektrizitatswerke) and E-on (Energy on) and it could well be that their loyalties lie more with European interests rather than the population of the UK. Recently, however, RWE has revealed plans to build a gas fired power plant at Staythorpe, Swindon and a carbon capture plant at Aberthaw, South Wales. E-on has abandoned plans for a coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth.

At this stage it may be instructive to look at numerical data - already mentioned are the hugh power station losses, 90 GW, which we release into the atmosphere. Denmark, for instance, attempts to reduce these losses by district heating. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, in their Energy market outlook, conclude that " in the near term, the security of supply in the electricity sector looks robust". Yet, in the same document they admit that several generating plants (12 GW total capacity) will not meet stringent air quality standards set by the Large Combustion Plants Directive and will be forced to close in 2015. In addition, the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installation Inspectorate may close several (5 to 8 GW) of Nuclear power plant capacity on or before this date. Thus, a shortfall of 20 GW could occur within 5 to 6 years. Renewable sources, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, hydro, wave, biomass... would give, at best, 4 - 5 GW and will not ever approach a delivered power of 20 GW by the year 2015.

Today, nuclear power is being hailed as an energy source to save our planet. An article by John Busby, 15 Nov 09, casts doubt over this suggestion . Table 1 on page 4 show clearly that the UK has to import all the Uranium ore which gives a feed of 2,059 tonnes to our reactors. If the whole world requires Uranium the price will increase at an alarming rate and one has to question whether nuclear power will be affordable.

So, we come back to the fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas.

COAL From the first graph we find that the annual consumption of coal is approximately 40 Mtoe. We convert to Mtco (million tonnes coal equivalent by a factor 1.66. This gives approx.65Mtce and imports are 47 million tonnes, Mt, and UK production is 18 Mt. More coal could be produced at home but, presently, imported coal is cheaper.

GAS Again, from the first graph, gas consumption is 90 Mtoe. In a parliamentary report Malcolm Wicks reported (House of Commons, Hansard written answers) that 285 TWh was imported in 2007 so we need to compare 90 Mtoe with his figure. A factor of 42 converts Mtoe to PJ - so, gas consumption is 3780 PJ. Now there are 3600 J in 1 Wh so the UK gas usage amounts to approximately 1000 TWh. We see therefore that approximately 1/3 of out gas supply has to be imported. By 2015 the UK will have to import 50% to 60% of its gas.

FRACKING may well be an inevitable part of our energy picture in the future.

OIL With an oil consumption 80 Mt and imports of 46 Mt. we see that there is almost a 50:50 split between North sea oil and imported oil. By 2015 the import of oil may well have risen from this approximate value of 50% to 75%. (Useful reading matter at )

Well, that is our numerical data. In very broad terms - all nuclear fuel has to be imported and we are soon to be importing all fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas at a rate of about 75% when the country is in a very poor economic state and can ill afford to spend abroad. The security of supply can never be guaranteed so one must be prepared for the consequences. The year 2015 would appear to be a watershed as electrical generation capacity could fall by 20 GW, almost a third of total capacity, and interruptions of supply are more than likely.

External observers voice their opinion "How has Britain ended up in this terrible mess?" I quote from Roger Pielke "In terms of energy policy this situation is almost criminal - a hugh planning failure in New Labour's 12 year reign from 1997 to 2009" .

But, in the end, energy must be a national issue and good governance must offer the whole nation a secure energy supply.

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