Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Boris, the burst gasbag


NAPOLEON preferred lucky generals to clever ones; Boris would never have made it in the Grand Armée.   

Having tied himself to the mast of climate change and net zero (which he made even harder) and become enthralled to the COP26 jamboree he’s hosting in Glasgow, his ship is now getting a severe battering from the combination of calm weather, a pesky electricity connector to a petulant France, a shortage of natural gas and an energy market too full of speculative players who are now dropping like flies. 

The latter is more a result of ‘new-paradigms’ turning out to be empty dreams. Quite how regulators failed to spot that they were selling long while buying short is an open question.  

Why they need bailing out is beyond me, as is why the larger suppliers stepping in to acquire a customer need compensation either. Such is the lunacy of our current system. 

In 2019 (the last meaningful year in terms of energy supply) almost 40 per cent of the UK’s energy came from gas.  Back in the day, we got it all from the North Sea.  

That’s now falling away and Boris’s hoodie-hugging predecessor (cowardly Dave) took against fracking, which means that we’re not currently tapping away at the substantial reserves of gas identified by the British Geological Survey in 2016.   

No, we’re buying our gas on the open markets from either Vlad (whom we’ve identified as potential enemy number one) or Dubai. 

Of course, burning natural gas emits CO2.  But, as I think the Westminster Bubble is about to discover, the vast majority of the population’s short-term concern is with warm houses and working lights.  

The power cuts of the late 1970s (caused by industrial disputes, not anything complicated) destroyed an economy and a government.  Boris may already have achieved the first with the Covid response; certainly his ‘natural electorate’ is pretty peeved. 

There are two technical problems that our benighted leader has yet to grasp.  Firstly, the availability of wind does not match demand. Currently the electricity grid is manipulated (sometimes expensively) to prioritise using wind and solar over gas (suppressing emissions).  

Without adequate storage for those times when the wind blows and there is no demand, wind is useless. That storage should be in the form of hydrogen, which is a direct substitute for natural gas.  

The problem for solar is worse, as in the winter months (when demand is high) it offers only ten per cent of the energy it can generate in summer. So the storage requirement is even greater. (And no, batteries will not do it. All the battery farms in the UK between them hold enough energy to run the UK for about 90 seconds).  

Until our government gets real about energy, we face the prospect of rising bills and failing supply. Such reality will be easy to spot; it would include restarting fracking, building nuclear plants and completely reforming the failed energy market.  

I (reluctantly) am coming to the view that there is merit in returning to the Central Electricity Generating Board and Gas Board model – albeit with the huge caveat that they would have to be run independently of government and Parliament. 

Still, I assume that Number 10 insiders are looking forward to glory in Glasgow – at least the spin masters will be.  For an example of their skill see here.  

Note that there is no consideration of the minor engineering detail of where the energy will be found. They haven’t even found the £100billion to help the developing world. That’s right, £100billion, about the same as an HS2 or five Sizewell C nuclear power stations. I have an awful feeling that if and when that money is found, it will vanish in consulting – anything except the engineering, 

Here’s the simple reality for the UK; replacing hydrocarbon energy with zero-emissions means we need to build the equivalent of at least 35 Sizewell Cs by 2050.  

And that will only get us to the IPCC Paris target of reducing our emissions to 20 per cent of their 1990 level. Getting to net zero means we must plant 20 per cent of the UK with trees.  

It’s time for the government machine to get real, or to get out of the way. 

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here. He is the Reform Parliamentary Candidate for Swansea West.

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