Monday 4 August 2014

The escalating tension around the Ukraine has once again highlighted UK energy security. With the EU dependent on Russia for one third of its gas there has been a lot of media attention on gas supplies. The UK has taken a rather superior attitude by pointing out that we don’t import Russian gas and although technically true this ignores the fact that the European gas system is integrated and any disruption to supplies further East is likely to affect the UK. However, more importantly the focus on gas means that an important UK energy security issue has been totally ignored until now – and that is the problem of the UK electricity system using Russian coal. For some time I have been pointing out that a significant proportion of UK electricity is generated by Russian coal and that we should be concerned about this. Now I am glad to read in the Times (1st August) that Greenpeace has issued a report highlighting this issue and referring to the UK propping up Russian “coaligarchs” (great title). I don’t often agree whole heartedly with Greenpeace but on this issue I do.
UK dependence on imported energy rose to 47% in 2013, up from 43% in 2012. Coal generated 36% of UK electricity and 41% of that coal came from Russia. That means 15% of our electricity is generated using Russian coal and we are shipping off £1 billion a year to the Russian coal companies.
Well done to Greenpeace for highlighting the issue.
Energy use per capita and per unit of GDP continues to decline, total energy use fell 14% between 2000 and 2012 while the economy grew 58%. The old linkage between energy use and the size of the economy is broken – but in order to improve energy security and not be dependent on Russia (and other countries) we need to massively scale up energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy. We know the potential is there, we have the technology, and we know that as well as improving energy security enhanced energy efficiency brings many co-benefits including improved productivity, job creation and environmental protection. Massively scaling up energy efficiency is the least cost, least regrets route forward irrespective of your preferences on energy supply options. As we head into the 2015 general election, improving energy efficiency should be the first item on the energy manifesto of all political parties.


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Dr Steven Fawkes

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