Cry for the UK, because it has hit the Green Energy wall, And it is not just the UK, reports Francis Menton in his Manhattan Contrarian. Germany and California are in a similar Blind Alley of their own making.
In the cul-de-sac, you are trapped with no evident way of getting out. You might be in there for a long time,” explains the Manhattan Contrarian, which is exactly where the UK finds itself today, he adds.
Legislation made mandatory a Net Zero emissions target. To accomplish this hundreds of wind turbines and solar panels were built at the same time coal mines and coal power plants were shuttered.
The two countries and California are largely dependent on natural gas to back up the intermittent renewables.
The Net Zero emissions target was made mandatory by legislation in 2019. They have built hundreds of wind turbines and solar panels, while at the same time closing almost all of their coal mines and coal power plants. … They have plenty of natural gas right under their feet in a large shale formation, but for years they dithered about allowing fracking to produce the gas, and then in 2019 they imposed a blanket moratorium on fracking.
With production from their North Sea gas fields declining, they must buy gas on the European market. And although they don’t buy much gas directly from Russia, the European market has been driven to great heights by the cutoff of Russian supplies. Result: average annual residential energy bills in the UK, which were around £1000 as recently as earlier this year, went up to about £3000 this month, and have been projected to go as high as £5000 by this coming April absent some sort of government intervention.
An Exit Strategy?
Even if everyone in the UK were on board with exiting from the green energy delusion, which of course, is not the case, there is no easy or good answer.
How Long to Return to Normal?
For years they have been prohibiting the things they have needed to do to maintain a low-cost energy system, and now they are facing years if not a decade or more to get back to where they were.
Mr. Menton’s considered strategies for getting back to energy sanity:
- Lift the ban on domestic fracking.
Prime-Minister-for-a-month Liz Truss did just that during her brief term in office. Then new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took office on October 25, and on October 26 — the very next day — he announced that he would reinstate the fracking ban.In the best of circumstances, it would take several years after fracking is allowed before full-scale production can be up and running to alleviate the energy crisis. But with a regulatory environment that reverses by 180 degrees every few weeks, who exactly is going to put up millions of pounds to start big fracking projects?
Even if they reversed course again and opened up fracking tomorrow, it would at a minimum be multiple years before large scale new production would come on line.
- Import more natural gas from the U.S.
Prices are much lower in the U.S. due to the fracking revolution that has enabled vastly increased production over the past decade.
Easier said than done, cautions Mr. Menton.
There are multiple bottlenecks in the system, each of which could take multiple years to resolve. The biggest immediate bottleneck is that all U.S. facilities for cooling and compressing natural gas into LNG for export are already operating at capacity. (From Reuters, March 25, 2022: “All seven U.S. LNG export plants, however, are currently operating at capacity and liquefying about 12.7 bcfd of gas. So, no matter how high global prices rise, the U.S. cannot produce anymore LNG – at the moment.”). Other bottlenecks include shortage of LNG tankers to transport the fuel, insufficient pipeline capacity from the Permian basin gas fields to the export facilities on the Gulf coast, and insufficient LNG import capacity on the European side. The existence of all of these bottlenecks preventing U.S. exports to Europe is precisely the reason that natural gas prices are so much higher in Europe than the U.S. We’re talking years to alleviate all of these bottlenecks.
- Use Coal as an Option
As recently as 2012, the UK got close to 20% of its energy (not just electricity) from coal; but by 2020, as part of the forced green energy transition, coal produced only about 2% of the UK’s electricity (and almost none of its energy for other purposes). The recent plan was to close the last coal plants by 2024, although in the current crisis the talk is that the last plants will be kept open for a little while longer.
(From Reuters, May 30, 2022: “Some of the British coal-fired power plants slated for closure this year might need to stay open to ensure electricity supply this winter, the government said on Monday.” )
But there is no real possibility of going back and reopening the many plants that got closed in the last decade. In many cases they were blown up. Here is a picture of the Longannet plant in Fife, Scotland, getting blown to smithereens just last year in 2021.
- There’s Always Nuclear?
Not a chance. Given the regulatory morass and activist opposition, bets Mr. Menton, we’ll probably all be long dead before it can make a significant contribution.
The UK supposedly has two nuclear plants in the works, Hinckley Point C and Sizewell C. The Hinckley Point plant started construction in 2016, and is currently supposed to be finished in 2027, after lengthy delays and massive cost overruns. Sizewell C just got its green light from the UK government in July 2022, so don’t expect that one to produce any electricity before some time in the mid-2030s. According to the AP at that link, activists continue to seek to block Sizewell through litigation.
- Yet More Wind and Solar?
“Ridiculous,” notes Mr. Menton.
As discussed many times at the (Manhattan Contrarian), it doesn’t matter how much in the way of wind and solar facilities you build, you will still have long periods of blackout absent full backup from some dispatchable source. In the UK, all the dispatchable sources are at the minimum many years away, if not completely blocked.
A Blind Alley
So they have hit a cul-de-sac. And to add misery to their misery, the UK can’t even muster a solid political majority for trying to get out, Mr. Menton warns.
A substantial bloc of what they call the “Green Tories” continues to advocate for doubling down on the green fantasies.
The other significant parties — Labour, Lib Dems, Scottish National Party — are all in for Net Zero.
It’s going to be a long, long time before the UK can work its way out of this mess.
“Blind Alley” by Isaac Asimov is an American sci-fi short story about a race of intelligent non-humans who are going extinct because science covers only their biological needs. (“The race has nothing to live for in a galaxy completely ruled by humans who provide for all it physical needs.” The race is also prohibited from leaving the empire.)
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