Cold weather and energy security

  • Voltage collapse and resultant power loss (“the lights go out”) has happened
  • “Renewable” energy sources and development

By Bill Butterworth

9 December 2014

spiders web

In cold weather, the spider still seeks to trap a food supply. Could we use “wastes” to produce our supply? Sustainably?

I am told, and have no reason to doubt the source, that there was a voltage collapse in parts of North London and Manchester during the autumn of 2012. People and electrically-driven systems had no electrical power for several hours. In the year of 2013, we had a net population increase of over 200,000 people. People use power. Currently, there are up to three nuclear power stations at least partially shut down with less power delivered. In the next twelve months, never mind what the politicians say they will do, we almost certainly will have another net increase in population of over 200,000 people. (And that is the ones we know about.) In the year of 2016, we are due to permanently shut down three large, coal-fired power stations.

We buy in a great deal of power already. Some as electrical power via a cable from the continent. What happens if there is a cold winter there? Some of the extra power we need will come in in the form of liquefied gas from the Middle East and Russia – who will charge us and that price is not likely to fall. However, we do not have enough gas-fired power stations to use what we could buy. We are over a barrel.

There is some common sense about all of this. Building new power stations takes time. The easiest and fastest to build are gas-fired. In terms of hydrocarbon-fuels power source, they are also the cleanest.

Is there a “green” and renewable argument about all of this? Of course. However, much of it is ill-informed. Much, if not most, of the case for “renewable” energy developed so far assumes it is sustainable. Much of it is not so. The energy put in to manufacture, pack, transport, install, commission, maintain, and decommission, will never be recovered from the production of electricity from that system. People take polarised and emotion positions about this and “bend” the research results to suit a supportive argument. However, looking at the research world-wide, the lack of sustainability is the stronger argument supported by the evidence. We need to be much more critical about getting back what we put in and put cash into research to develop better and more efficient ways of generating electrical power. Fortunately, we in the UK are very good at inventiveness. In the meantime, build the solar panel farms and wind turbines because the consensus is that there will be power failures and we need to minimise that risk.

What shale gas could do is buy time. We can develop new and sustainable systems but we are not there yet and need time. In the meantime, the human race needs to read the writing on the wall and curb population growth. Sorry, too difficult a discussion?