Monday 14 March 2022

Environment Monday - The Ukraine war teaches us a harsh lesson about energy self sufficiency

 This blog has been campaigning for sustainable energy and transport from the day we started. Sadly, in the 14 years I've been blogging, there has been little real change. When I started writing the blog, I knew little on the subject. I just had a general feeling that we weren't doing enough. When I got my first regular pay packet back in 1983, I took out a monthly standing order to Greenpeace and have paid it every month since, as I believed we need to be more considerate of the environment, but it was only when I started to write the blog and research the issues, that I got any real understanding of what we can/should be doing and how appalling we've actually been at doing it.

The sad truth is that if the Govt had listened to people who did know, back in 2008, when I started blogging, we'd not be in a position where a war in Ukraine would be sending our energy prices through the roof. The sad truth is that successive governments have preferred to run a high carbon, unsustainable economy rather than invest in technologies that would now be cheap, sustainable and under our control.

Of course there are other nations that have done far worse, but for me the fact that Germany has made a dogs breakfast of its energy procurement does not absolve the UK of having no strategy to become sustainable and independent. There are a whole range of things we could be doing to meet these aims, I've discussed them many times in this series. It is no mystery what we need to do.

1. Reduce our dependence on imported petrol and oil

2. Develop our own sustainable energy sources

3. Develop a national efficient network of energy storage facilities

4. We must add a caveat that this should not be done to the detriment of the environment or important natural habitats. 

To acheive the first objective needs to be lead by a proprer local, regional and national strategy to move us out of our cars and on to public transport, bicycles and to walk. It is almost unbelieveable that in the course of my lifetime, we actually lost a railway line in Mill Hill that would have provided quick, non polluting travel between Edgware and Mill Hill East and would have served Saracens Rugby stadium, shifting thousands of people. If you look at how investment in Thameslink massively increased usage of the line in Mill Hill, prior to the pandemic, it should be clear to all that investment does pay. 

London has a shortage of decent radial routes. I recently had to get to Ruislip for a football match on a Saturday. The recommended journey involved a bus and changing a tube train. On the way back it was two tube trains and Thameslink. If we are to take modal shift seriously, we should start building proper radial, outer London routes, that would open up travel across the outer suburbs. If you think this isn't needed just look at how busy the North Circular and M25 are. Sadly in the 1960's many lines that would offer sensible passenger routes, such as the link from St Albans to Hatfield were pulled up in the Beeching cuts. We should have a look at reopening as many of these routes as we practically can. When we look at the costs, we should consider that payback will be over many decades. It will help us move away from reliance on foreign regimes for our oil who history has shown are unreliable.

Of course, in terms of short journeys, walking and cycling are the most sustainable ways to travel. We need policies that favour these. I'd like to see a walking/cycling requirement on school admissions, to reduce the traffic generated by the school run and improve the general fitness and wellbeing of children.

The UK needs its own sustainable energy sources. Wind, solar, tidal and other new technologies need to be developed. We have an efficient national grid energy transmission system, which allows us to move electricity around the nation. Now we need to massively increase the amount of energy that we generate using green technologies. It beggars belief that there are people such as Nigel Farage pushing back against this. We should be looking to lead the world, this would bring cash in as the market for such tehnologies will only increase. I once read of a scheme to use the Thames Barrier to generate electicity. It would only be opened at mid tide and then at other times, turbines would use the difference in river height to generate power. I'm not qualified to say how much this could generate or whether it is feasable, but such things need to be investigated.

Energy Storage. One of the problems with solar and wind energy is that sometimes it produces too much energy and other times not enough. The holy grail for sustainable energy is efficient energy storage. Historically this means batteries, but this technology is not particularly sustainable or green. Work has been done on using water reserviors and turbines to store and generate electricity. When there is a surpluss of energy, water is pumped to a higher level and then released as needed to the lower level using turbines to generate electricity in the process. This would help smooth the peaks and troughs of generation.

What we mustn't do is what the UK always seems to do. That is use sites of natural beauty or scientific interest to house new infrastructure. This is usually done as it is cheap and there are not many NIMBY neighbours to placate. 

We have to move away from a situation where tinpot dictators can use our energy requirements to blackmail us. It is also an opportunity. If we get good at sustainable technology, we will develop significant export potential. This will only be good for the UK. Five years ago, I installed solar panels at home. I calculated the payback would be 7-10 years. With recent hikes, my sums tell me I'm already in credit and from here on in any energy is free. It is a shame that locally, Barnet Council didn't do the same with it's libraries estate in 2011, when I suggested it. They would have made a huge profit by now. 

No comments: