Future Earth

What do Fracking and Iceland have in common?

1 Comment 24 April 2012

I have to say it’s been interesting to see UK energy policy taking shape over the last six months with forays into areas that ten years ago would have seemed preposterous.

But a lot has changed during the intervening decade particularly the declining reserves of both North Sea Oil and Gas along with the commensurate price rise in both fuels on the wholesale market. Add into the mix coal fired power stations that will close due to being unable to meet the clean air requirements of the European Large Combustion Plant Directive (directive 2001/80/EC) along with decommissioned nuclear reactors and the UK is facing an energy gap of as much as 20% by as early as 2015 – it’s a frightening prospect especially given that the bulk of our remaining energy production is in the hands of other countries.

No wonder the government is considering all of its options, two of which are highlighted below.

Perhaps the craziest is fracking in Lancashire which got the green light from ministers despite the fact that it had been accused of causing earthquakes last year. I personally think it is a storm in the proverbial teacup.  Although I am doubtful that the gas extraction method will lead to the low prices that the US is enjoying. First, the earthquakes. The earthquakes that fracking causes are not serious and in any event small tremors will be the least of our concerns if large scale fracking goes ahead. Worry instead about ravaged landscapes, contaminated water supplies and potentially damaging pipeline installations left by industrial-scale operations, as well as concerns over the long-term safety of the wells. In so far as it will result in lower prices I’m not so sure. Land is way cheaper in the US and its purchase contains the mineral right below the surface whereas in the UK, the government owns those. Add in the cost of building the infrastructure plus sorting out weak wells and that will put a serious dent in the overall retail price. Perhaps the final insult is that although natural gas is supposed to be a “cleaner” fuel than coal, releasing less carbon when burned, evidence also suggests fracking produces more carbon than exploring for conventional gas supplies, making the fuel less attractive from an environmental point of view.

An altogether more attractive idea is to connect the UK to Iceland’s abundant geothermal energy. This one is not as crazy as it sounds. The energy minister, Charles Hendry is already in active discussions with the Icelandic government and is due to visit in May to start fleshing out plans for a 1,500 km cable that would be by far the longest in the world. However there is precedent for this. One has already been laid from the UK to the Netherlands at a cost of £500m and a contract has recently been signed to lay a 900km interconnector to Norway – this is due to open by 2019 and would enable excess wind energy to pump water into storage lakes above the fjords. Then, when the electricity is needed, floodgates are opened and the water flows back down through turbines. Both the pump storage and the high-voltage direct-current interconnectors lose very little energy. Another ambitious interconnector would link England to Alderney, where very strong tides could produce 4GW of electricity, and then on to France and the new 1.6GW nuclear power plant being built at Flamanville. Commercial agreements for this were signed in February.

I have to say interconnectors sound more sensible than fracking. True they are expensive but it’s a relatively small cost compared to that of building and running a power station. Not only that but the energy on tap from Iceland and the Netherlands is renewable so it puts us in line with meeting carbon reduction targets.

And crucially it spreads our energy risk.

Has anyone heard of other ‘serious’ plans for securing our energy future?

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1 comment

  1. Inma says:

    With just 3 geothermal plants they manage to produce all the energy they need.. Chapeau!
    Inma recently posted..Around Iceland in less than 48 hours

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