So we seem to be setting ourselves up for a good old fashioned 1970s style oil shock, with all the economic misery that entails (for those of us that can remember back that far). However this time, instead of learning the lessons from that period, we appear to have decided to compound the issues of energy security in this country by committing ourselves to replace a good amount of the stable energy supplies we have become used to with irregular renewables.
Now I am all too aware of the figures being bandied about regarding peak oil and running out of fossil fuel resources, but these have never taken into account that increasing prices bring about methods of extraction that become more economic, and therefore increase the availability.
We have had 40 years of oil left for the last 40 years and I doubt we have finished exploiting this resource yet, and there are thousands of years of coal reserves left across the world – although at some point the ecological damage extraction will cause getting to some of these deposits will guarantee they remain in the ground.
However the most mystifying result of the push to move our world beyond fossil fuels has resulted in a rush to energy production methods that wouldn’t have looked out of place in pre-industrial England – or certainly Holland. I am of course talking about wind farms.
There have been a number of studies that show that this form of energy production has no place in a modern technological society, and a recent submission to try and alter the policies of the Australian legislators has pulled a lot of this work together (http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/why-wind-wont-work.pdf).
Despite this projects continue to plough on, the latest in my area (although not within sight so no NIMBY comments please) is the Hagg Wood / Copmanthorpe proposal near York. This will site 5 turbines, each the size of Blackpool Tower, just 300m away from some homes on the edge of the village. They will be the biggest land based turbines in the UK, possibly the biggest in the World so near to human habitation, and yet aren’t even situated on a hill or near the coast – where you get more wind!
One of the best arguments I used to use against wind power was that it was so irregular that it needed spinning reserve to smooth out the power delivery, so it was then usable in our on demand society. In this way new gas fired power stations would be required to back up wind farms, and along with the emissions costs of building them in the first place this pretty much wiped out the carbon saving element of the schemes. Indeed many other countries have now wised up to this and have started to scale back their investment in wind energy.
You would have therefore thought in a sane world this would have made people in the UK think again, but then we get the following from Steve Holliday, the CEO of the National Grid, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
“The grid is going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030. We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it. It is going to be much smarter than that. We are going to change our own behaviour and consume it when it is available and available cheaply.”
So here we are in a society where computers run everything and uptime is of maximum importance to the actual fabric of society and this guy is suggesting that rolling blackouts when the wind isn’t blowing are the answer. This would have meant that last December, one of the coldest ever recorded, there would have been power outages for days at a time as we struggled to cope with increased demand and zero supply from becalmed wind generators.
In the 21st Century a situation like this is not just annoying, as it was in the 1970s, but potentially life threatening. It would certainly seriously damage the economy, and inward investment would cease if foreign organisations weren’t sure we could even keep the lights on.
The sick man of Europe would return as the sick man of the World.
What worries me is that there seems to be a disconnect with the people running things and plain common sense. While we must get to grips with alternative sources of energy in this century the headlong rush at any cost we are embarking on will only be a source of pain as it hits right at the time when we financially cannot afford it. Suggesting that we will have to get used to living without the lights on when the wind – something can’t and never will control – is not blowing is a ridiculous suggestion from someone charged with looking after our critical national infrastructure, and these type of comments are not uncommon from our ruling elite.
The latest report from the Govt also suggests that there is no way they will be derailed from casting us into uncertain waters with an energy policy that they admit will mean the UK energy supply become more intermittent and unreliable. It looks like everybody had better start stocking up on candles now, and hope that they are not banned on health and safety or emissions grounds!