Last week, I proposed that comparing our progress against the rest of the world’s energy policies and projects can inspire us to take a hard look at our own energy efficiency practices and protocols. I would like to extend that idea further by asking, can we predict our future based on the current experiences of similarly situated countries? And can a glimpse of “what might be” inspire us to change course and modify our behavior so that we can avoid the worst-case scenarios currently being played out on the other side of the world?
What might a worst-case scenario look like? One need only go “across the pond” for a good example. According to an article recently published online by the Telegraph UK [read article...], several organizations in Britain are predicting that the country could face an “energy gap” sometime within the next decade. And it’s not just a question of meeting future demand—a feat in and of itself—but of whether or not England will be able to “keep the lights on” ten years from now.
The UK finds itself in the crosshairs due to a perfect storm of aging infrastructure, EU emissions reduction requirements, and an overly cautious international investment climate. A situation not dissimilar to what many of our own communities are facing throughout the country. Discussions of a national Smart Grid, increasingly stringent EPA emissions regulations, and even our 2008 economic implosion—it’s clear that what’s going on in Britain is just a slightly altered image of our own current (and future) situation.
For a glimpse through the looking glass, one need only pause at a summary of what —according to the Telegraph—the future holds for England:
- In the next 10 years, eight nuclear power stations will come to the end of their functioning life.
- Because of a failure to comply with the EU Large Combustion Plan Directive, six coal-fired power stations will have to be closed by 2015, thereby eliminating 8 gigawatts of capacity.
- According to an announcement by Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, any future coal-fired plants will be required to utilize yet-to-be-developed carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
- Future demand for electricity will also be impacted by the requirements of both high-speed electric trains and electric cars.
- Meeting the 2050 GHG emissions goals set by the 2008 Climate Change Act will “mean basing much new energy infrastructure around renewable energy, particularly offshore wind power”.
- Any funding for infrastructure improvements—including £150bn of low- carbon investment from the private sector—will not be available until, and unless, the British Government succeeds in implementing the “right policy framework.
- Market volatility is making investors nervous.
- Increasing dependence on imported gas—particularly from Russia, the world’s biggest gas supplier—puts the country at the mercy of its suppliers.
Additionally, some possible solutions will take years, even decades, to reach a point where they are viable enough to meet the country’s energy needs. For example, any new nuclear facilities will not be available until 2018 and will not be operating to full capacity until sometime in after the year 2020. Additionally, some experts worry that wind energy investment is not being pursued with enough speed and vigor to propel the technology into a position of supplying a bulk of the country’s energy supply. For now, it appears the consensus is that in the short term the solution lies in natural gas. Easy to build and with enough flexibility to allow for onsite power options, natural gas would allow the UK to meet demand via energy importation without having to depend on one supplier (Russia), thanks to diversified pipelines.
But as we know, increased supply is only part of the equation. Efficiency must also be added to the mix—especially in terms of demand reduction. That means efficient lighting, building retrofits, and consumer education. And, as always, increased investment and deployment of onsite power—especially when paired with renewable energy.
So what do you think? Should we concern ourselves with the prospect of a global energy shortage? Could we find ourselves in a similar situation, scrambling to meet increasing demand against a diminishing supply? Is energy efficiency enough to bridge a potential energy gap, or are even bolder actions needed? And do you agree with the assertion made by Wim Thomas, chief energy adviser at the oil company Royal Dutch Shell that “You have to understand that you are interdependent with other countries via infrastructure, treaties, contracts, and ultimately via the global economy, and you need to co-operate”?