Skyrocketing energy bills continue to be a hot topic this winter, with soaring gas prices causing ripples in the energy sector. The energy price cap – set by regulator Ofgem – rose by 12% in October 2021, and several providers have already gone bust as a result of the crisis. Gas is currently used for one third of the UK’s electricity and heats 80% of homes. The electricity market is currently at its most expensive since 1990 and there has been a 250% increase in gas prices since January this year.
Why is This Happening?
The astounding increases are due to a number of factors. An extraordinarily long and harsh winter in 2020/21 year depleted stocks. High demand in Southeast Asia also stretched supplies. Meanwhile, supplies from Norway, one of the European Union’s (EU)’s biggest gas providers, have reduced for four years in a row, and some are accusing Russia of withholding supplies for political gain. Indeed, with doubts over the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline and a looming war in Ukraine, Russia may yet prove to exacerbate the crisis further.
Many are hoping that the crisis will show the volatility of the fossil fuel market and spur the government to make the green transition to renewables. However, while the landmark United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this year focused heavily on coal, gas was off the menu. This was despite widespread calls by activists to leave all remaining unexplored fossil fuels ‘in the ground’.
So What is Being Done in the Energy Sector?
While global conversations haven’t quite started, as a nation the UK has made some headway. In 2020, 42% of the UK’s energy came from renewables, compared with 41% from gas and coal. The majority of this is wind (25%), with biomass (12%) and solar (4%) bringing up the rear. 2020 was the first year that more power came from renewables, however it should be noted this is due to lower demand brought about by COVID lockdowns. A transition to a green economy means an increase in electricity use, as heating systems and vehicles get on the grid. This leaves more potential for renewables.
Now would seem to be the time for governments to seize on the potential of renewables, especially as recent research found that they can be half the price of gas. But what are our options?
Renewable Energy: What are the Options?
Wind is set to be the UK’s biggest source of renewable energy, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising all homes will be powered by wind by 2030. Wind power separates into two main categories; onshore and offshore. Onshore wind powers over 7.5 million homes and offshore wind provides energy for 4.5 million. Offshore wind is expected to grow with an estimated £19 billion of investment between 2016 – 2021. Locations of offshore wind stations include Barrow and Lincolnshire but the UK is also home to the world’s biggest offshore wind project, Hornsea One, off the east coast of Yorkshire.
Biomass is organic fuel which is burned to create energy. It is ,in theory, carbon neutral as the carbon is released then reabsorbed by the next plantation. The organic matter which is burned can be either specifically grown ‘feed stocks’, food waste, or even sewage. Dry stock biomass is burned, which in turn boils water, and the steam from this then turns a turbine, which generates electricity. Wet stocks like sewage are placed in sealed containers and the methane they produce is captured then burned. Drax power station in Yorkshire provides 7% of the UK’s power and four of its six units are fuelled with biomass. However, the plant has been criticised for importing biomass fuel from Canada, Brazil and European countries where fuel sources are not guaranteed to be sustainable.
Solar isn’t necessarily the obvious choice of renewable energy in the UK (maybe we could find a way to power our homes using an overcast sky?) but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. The UK’s largest solar power plant in Dorset powers 60,000 homes in Bournemouth. The vast, flat expanses of East Anglia are expected to play host to many of the black panels in the near future, and solar panels adorning the roofs of individual homes are already a semi-familiar sight. The UK is also spearheading One Sun, a global network which will link 140 countries, in partnership with India that is already home to the world’s largest solar farm.
Which renewable energy options do you think hold the highest promise? And how has the current state of UK gas prices impacted you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!