Instead of fracking, get the nation behind renewables and networks

The national desire to cut down the use of gas, especially Russian gas (although it represents just a small part of UK imports) have led some to suggest that fracking for gas in the UK may be the answer.
Well, maybe. But that will be a slow process with an uncertain return, and one in which a huge amount of delay and protest may be expected.
At a time when the government has political capital available, and there is public support for action, more positive actions are available. I see some better options.
First, speed through the 600MW or more of onshore wind already in the planning system. MPs may worry, because ten years ago there was vocal opposition to onshore wind – but surveys say much of that opposition has dissipated, and a national drive for home-grown wind would find much less opposition than for fracking.
Second, fast-track a transmission line or two. We are already paying tens of millions of pounds a week in so-called ‘constraint costs’ – in fact, this is paying to discarding wind generation because it cannot be transported to customers across congested transmission lines. This is especially important across the Scotland-England boundary, but there are other areas where it applies. Building a transmission line generally takes up to a decade – but much of that is in the planning process. The locations of the areas of major constraint are well known, new lines already suggested, and development already under way within the transmission companies. Again, speed them through the planning system and get them built. Make its mark by using the new tower design.
Neither of these two options address the fundamental problem that electricity prices are largely set by gas prices, even on days when gas is simply ‘topping up’ renewables. But both will have a measurable effect on our ability to generate and make use of domestic resources. They will require political capital to be spent (although there are ways to help manage that such as offering local buy-in, perhaps on the Ripple model). But they will also gain support as they go: the outcome will be a visible national effort to build something for the future, not the awful sight of protestors being dug out of tunnels so fossil gas can be extracted instead.
Finally, the government should boost the installation of rooftop solar for domestic and business. And insulate, insulate insulate. But that is so obvious it hardly needs saying.

1 comment for “Instead of fracking, get the nation behind renewables and networks

  1. David Dundas
    March 18, 2022 at 1:45 PM

    There is no way that renewables can be increased enough over the next 29 years to meet the UK’s primary energy demand, presently around 2,000 TWh forecasted by the Future Energy Scenarios of the National Grid to fall to around 1,600 TWh by 2050, when you consider that non-fossil electricity production is presently only 200TWh which includes nuclear electricity of which most of our nuclear power stations will be retired by 2035. As a result we need more of every source of fossil-free power. In the meantime we have an energy crunch being heavily dependent on imported oil and gas, so increasing our own production of gas with fracking is a quick way to reduce our dependence on foreign energy as a short term measure while renewables and nuclear are ramped up.

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