Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Complex Issues Raising Concerns about Energy Security

Energy security in the 1970s was anything but a settled issue.  Rolling blackouts and other interruptions were common in an era when energy production was dependent almost entirely on coal. Although strides have been made in the decades since, there are new concerns over energy security that could cause significant problems in coming years. The good news, according to The Guardian, is that we are in no danger of seeing the lights go out in the immediate future, however things could change beginning with the winter of 2015 / 2016.

At the heart of the issue are a number of complex problems surrounding how we currently produce and use energy.  On one hand, the UK is attempting to get away from burning coal in order to address climate change yet, on the other hand, coal is extremely cheap right now.  It is financially more advantageous to produce electricity with coal than natural gas, leading to existing gas-fired plants being shut down and delays in the construction of new plants.

In the arena of renewable power, things are not as far along as many in the UK would have hoped.  According to The Guardian, just 6% of Britain's total energy was produced by renewable sources last year.  That will have to change drastically if we are to continue reducing our dependence on coal and natural gas.

The current dichotomy between renewables and meeting demand is made even more complex by the question of investment.  The Government has limited funds to invest in commercial research and development, customer subsidies and so on.  At the same time, the big five power companies are not likely to put large amounts of money into what could end up being an energy gamble without Government support behind them.  Nevertheless, who decides which projects are funded and which are left by the wayside?

Decisions Must Be Made

The UK leads the world in two key areas that are, at the current time, opposed to one another: addressing climate change issues and pushing the world into the future of high-speed network communications.  Yes, the UK is on the cutting edge of renewable energy.  Nonetheless, we are also the first to design and build new data centres and high-speed networks to serve the average consumer.  Unfortunately, these facilities and networks consume a tremendous amount of energy that needs to come from somewhere.

Energy consumption has fallen in the UK by about 10% since 2005 / 20006 however, our energy margin has remained steady at 6%.  That margin could be as low as 4% late next year if the right mix of unfortunate conditions is present.  Avoiding that means making decisions now that will increase the margin substantially.

We can continue to design and build state-of-the-art data centres and renewable power generation projects nevertheless, at some point, we have to decide which priority is more important.  Without a miracle power source we have not yet discovered, it seems we cannot have the energy security we want with both.

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