Our energy and climate systems are being pushed to the edge. With global supplies entering a new era of insecurity, the scramble to prop up business as usual has intensified.
European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger revealed the EU is drawing up a Plan B to protect gas supplies should Russia cut off Ukraine with knock on effects in Europe – as it did in 2006 and 2008-9. Measures could include limiting industrial use of gas to safeguard household supplies. Any illusions that US shale gas exports might be a solution to Europe’s dependence on Russia were doused by International Energy Agency boss Maria van der Hoeven, who told a recent conference that “a few tens of [billion cubic feet] of LNG will not make much difference, given that OECD-Europe production continues to fall by similar quantities.”
In the UK, National Grid unveiled a contingency plan against a potential capacity crunch. Several power stations have been shut down recently, including four nuclear reactors for safety reasons, increasing the prospect of power cuts this winter. The mitigation plan consists of voluntary demand reduction by large energy users during peak periods, and contracts with smaller power generators to add capacity when needed. Outages such as these could become more common across Europe as nuclear power stations built mostly in the 70s and 80s are phased out.
The looming referendum should have opened up a wider debate around energy given Scotland’s key role in UK oil, gas and wind power production, but the rest of the union apparently has no contingency plan should the Yes campaign emerge victorious on September 18. Both sides persist in arguing about the estimated size of remaining North Sea reserves, ignoring the fact that output has slumped two-thirds since the turn of the century.
While politicians and suppliers tinker round the margins, the scale of the problem was again highlighted this week with a leaked IPCC report warning of the “severe, pervasive and irreversible” impacts from climate change. Working to maintain the status quo is no longer an option – we need a Plan B for our entire energy system.