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Energy Crunch: Avoiding a new dash for gas

Image via imahornfan/flickr. Creative Commons License 2.0.

Three things you shouldn't miss this week

  1. Chart: UK open to fracking:
  1. Chart: UK gas consumption 2013 by sector:
  1. Chart: Renewables rising steadily - UK Electricity generation 2013 by source:
Nearly half the UK is now open to fracking. The latest onshore oil and gas licensing round opened up most of England and the Midland Valley of Scotland for applications to drill, including National Parks – though these will only be drilled in ‘exceptional circumstances and in the public interest’. Whether fracking is in the public interest at all is still highly contested of course, with questions about greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and earthquakes still unanswered, not to mention the broader social and economic impacts.
The most frequent, though disputed, argument made in favour of fracking is that burning gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal, so shale gas provides a lower carbon bridge towards a more renewable electricity system. Several papers have questioned this assumption, reporting high ‘fugitive emissions’ of methane during fracking. It also ignores the fact that, as figures released this week show, the primary use of gas in the UK is not electricity generation, but domestic heating. Decarbonising the energy supply therefore requires action to reduce our reliance on gas, not embark on a new dash for gas.
Politicians seem to find addressing household gas demand much harder work than simply handing out oil and gas licenses. The easy wins should come from improving the energy efficiency of housing — through new boilers and insulation — but public policy on the issue has been half-hearted and plagued by false starts. The Green Deal loan scheme launched in 2013 was, by the government’s own admission, “disappointing”; in December last year ministers bowed to energy company pressure to water down the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme; and last week the new Green Deal Home Improvement Fund offering cash back to homeowners for efficiency improvements was closed two months early to avoid running out of funds. Back to the drawing board then. 


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