Lesley Riddoch: How Britain could avoid repeating past mistakes on energy
BBC News repeatedly talks about the “global energy crisis”. Yet at a recent online event, speakers from five Nordic countries were asked if they had experienced energy shortages. The answer was a collective no.
A steel boss on Radio Scotland said other countries are avoiding Britain’s dependence on gas by using coal and nuclear. But this is not the combination used by any of our northern neighbors.
Are they just too Nordic, too wealthy, and too smart to get a mention?
Either way, it’s a shame because their planned and far-sighted approach to energy security is precisely what Britain needs now. It’s not the chaotic gas race that Boris Johnson is about to unleash.
Norway relies heavily on hydropower and heat pumps for its energy, not the oil and gas it exports to complacent neighbors. Thus, energy security is built in and Norway is not disturbed when President Putin flexes his political muscles.
Scotland could have followed Norway’s path – in addition to sharing offshore oil and gas reserves, hydropower has long been part of our energy mix, and our technical heritage means that the heat pumps used at Drammen to extract heat from seawater are actually made in Glasgow.
But heat pumps were not pushed into Britain because we relied instead on North Sea oil and gas imports and failed to develop the district heating systems that power most cities in northern Europe. When technology changes elsewhere, it’s relatively straightforward to upgrade the heat pumps that power district heating instead of forcing citizens to buy a new individual kit.
The free-for-all UK approach means a lot of boilers, a lot of costs for individual households, a lot of fuel poverty and a lot of profit for private gas suppliers. Norway’s planned public approach creates affordable, renewable and safe heating provided by public sector operators.
Margaret Thatcher’s energy privatization failed to secure the sustainability of UK citizens in many ways, but the failure to convert individual gas boilers into district heating systems was one of the more important.
The other great advantage of Norway is that its water resource is a base load, a constant source of energy available at the push of a switch which can equalize the intermittence of the wind.
Scottish Hydro is doing the same job, but tidal power – also basic but not yet ready for mass production – is likely to stagnate, in part because Westminster will not allocate funds for development. If Scotland were an independent or controlled energy policy (like the Vested Territories of Denmark), our parliament could set aside money to prevent our advance in tidal technology from moving to Canada or Indonesia, to maintain the tidal manufacturing jobs here and to improve energy security by adding other renewable energy. resource to our diverse energy kit-bag.
With such control, Scotland could have participated in the green ‘North Sea polo’ grid proposed ten years ago and explored connections with Iceland which also has excess baseline geothermal energy.
But within the framework of a short-term, just-in-time Britain, energy security in Scotland – the Saudi Arabia of renewables – is difficult. Our wind and hydro power help keep the lights on in England, but we’re supplied from the same national grid, so our base load depends on old nuclear power plants and – of course – gas.
Surprisingly, it is too late to emulate Norway’s energy know-how.
This is why the experience of another Nordic country may have more relevance now; 92% of Denmark’s energy consumption came from imported oil until the OPEC crisis of 1973 produced a seismic shock and a bold new energy strategy, supported by all political parties.
When world oil prices finally fell, they were held at 1973 levels in Denmark and car imports were taxed to the max, while public transport was made more affordable and reliable, and cities like Copenhagen were brought to the table. been transformed into cycling towns.
Like all other North Sea states, Denmark has expanded its production of natural gas, but has turned even more to district heating and wind power. Today, 42% of electricity comes from wind and Vestas, headquartered in Aarhus, dominates global wind turbine production.
Yet Denmark’s wind resources are only a fraction of Scotland’s in terms of strength and consistency. This world leader should have been us.
But Danish politicians saw the energy crises of the 1970s as a wake-up call and took bold and collective steps to phase out oil-fired power plants – ours did not.
Denmark imports hydropower and nuclear power from its neighbors, but has moved from 100% dependence on imported fossil fuels to the OECD’s safest and most energy-sustainable country, reducing emissions and improving the competitiveness of Danish manufacturing as the price of oil increases steadily.
Despite changes in government since 1973, Denmark’s core energy strategy has not changed – a function of consensual government that tends to result from proportional voting, and not first past the post.
So, can Boris Johnson turn this into “a good crisis” like the Danes did in 1973 and massively develop renewable energies, end dependence on gas and do it all without passing crippling costs on consumers? No chance. Clearly, political will and renewable vision are totally lacking in the British Cabinet.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has presided over cuts to onshore, solar and community wind power, removed tax exemptions for renewable energy, scrapped carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects in Scotland and sold the Green Investment Bank, before being cut off by Theresa. May in 2016.
So now, in the face of COP 26 and the climate crisis, Britain doesn’t even have a dedicated minister for energy and climate change. In contrast, the Danish Energy Agency is guiding its long-term strategy, Norwegian Hydro is effectively owned by local councils and Norwegian oil / renewables giant Equinor is two-thirds state-owned.
Will the British state take any part in our energy future? As OVO’s Stephen Fitzpatrick pointed out in yesterday’s Marr program, energy insecurity cannot be tackled over a four-year electoral cycle and the tax system could fund a more gradual and planned transition from gas than from gas. overcharging individual energy bills.
Was anyone listening? Naturally, the imminent prospect of rising bills and severe fuel poverty is mobilizing people’s minds. But if citizens do not demand energy security from government with a big and bold Danish change, Britain will not come out of this crisis but will simply ease it, postpone it and repeat it over and over again.
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