Well, it’s been a good few weeks if you’re involved in the gas industry. Not only did it receive its own dedicated strategy, significant tax breaks and top ministerial backing but the controversial exploration of ‘unconventional’ gas through fracking was green-lit to resume across the country too.
Quite rightly, environmental groups have been outraged by government’s outpouring of support for gas. It has become abundantly clear that the UK is running two separate energy policies: one low carbon one driven by the Lib Dem-led Department of Energy and Climate Change and the other driven by a Conservative-led Treasury.
For the first time since he was pictured hugging a husky, David Cameron was forced to answer questions on the state of the green economy when he faced the House of Commons liaison committee. The Prime Minister’s answers were incredibly revealing and left no doubt which side of the energy fence he sat on.
Cameron made it crystal clear that government is gambling on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) working alongside gas to help generate a significant proportion of the UK’s required low-carbon electricity.
In an excellent blog, Juliet Davenport, the founder and CEO of Good Energy, explained why the reliance on gas is such a mistake. She points out: “Why gamble on gas when we can just invest in sustainable and predictable renewables? Renewables are here and now, and we know they can deliver.
“Or as the popular and now ex-Energy Minister Charles Hendry once put it ‘I have no idea what the price of other [energy] resources will be next year, whether uranium, gas or coal. But the price of wind, and marine I know – where there is a cost of construction, but where the fuel itself is free. This brings a lot of energy security’.”
Terry Macalister, the Guardian’s energy editor, hinted via tweet why the Conservatives seem so willing to support the gas industry:
In two decades I have never come across such heavy lobbying than for shale gas. What a pity renewables cant get that financial muscle.— Terry Macalister (@TerryMac999) December 13, 2012
Here in the solar industry you could be forgiven for thinking that we have been forgotten altogether. Cameron was talking up the policy certainty that his government had given all renewables until 2017. Except that doesn’t include solar, which is still waiting for the announcement over the future RO rate (however, there have been some hints that industry may be getting some good news).
The government’s endorsement of gas may not be all bad.
Yes, increased reliance on gas could mean that there will be less opportunity for renewables in the future. But by locking the country into dangerously volatile gas markets, it is widely predicted that energy bills will spiral out of control.
Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change has explicitly said so in its latest report on energy bills, stating: “Bill increases in the 2020s would be higher in a scenario with extensive investment in unabated gas-fired generation, with significant further increases beyond 2030 and a risk of much higher bills in the long term (e.g. the average annual bill in a gas-based system could be as much as £600 higher in 2050 than in a low-carbon system.)”
Bloomberg New Energy Finance also published a report that calculates that the average household energy bill will climb from £454 to £699 by the end of the decade due, in large part, to the rising wholesale cost of gas.
The point is this: with every hike in energy bills, solar becomes a more compelling product.
We’re rapidly approaching the point whereby the average Briton won’t be able to consume electricity in the way they are accustomed to. The public’s inevitable appetite for drastically cutting their bills will lead them straight to solar, the UK’s most popular renewable energy.
Easy to install, low-maintenance and getting cheaper and cheaper, solar is ideally placed to take full advantage of the continued price escalation of energy bills.
Forget the feed-in tariff. A solar installation will be the easiest way for householders to take back some control over their household finances. With cost-effective storage solutions just around the corner, solar may become one of the most essential household purchases by the end of the decade.
Maybe it’s about time we thank the frack-heads in Westminster.