Expert warns of post-Brexit gas supply shortages

The EU could reduce winter energy exports to Britain after Brexit, warns industry leader.

According to European energy mogul, Marco Alvera, Brexit may place the UK at danger of gas supply shortages and increasing winter prices.

Alvera presently heads the GasNaturally European sector group and is CEO of Snam, Europe’s largest natural gas utility.

Nearly half of the gas supply consumed in the United Kingdom comes from Europe and public statistics state that in 2018, 39% of the country’s total energy supply was produced by natural gas.

However, Alvera informed the BBC that during cold spells gas exports to Britain could be limited.

He said: “We’ve spoken to several ministers and civil servants over the last two years. Energy has not been discussed enough.

“I would make [energy] a high priority in the discussions, and I haven’t seen it be like that.”

Tariff tip-off

Alvera also advised that despite UK dependence on imported natural gas resources over the winter, the introduction of tariffs on its gas and electricity exports after Brexit may not be prevented by EU nations.

He added: “In the week [last year] when we had the ‘Beast from the East’ cold spell, the system was already under a lot of strain, and the UK was taking a lot of gas from Europe that was stored in Europe”.

Alvera also pointed to the decrease in the UK’s own North Sea gas supplies and the shutdown of components of its gas storage facilities as problems that exacerbated European energy dependence.

Storage solution

He thinks, however, that converting unused gas fields in the North Sea into storage facilities could help to solve the problem.

In 2017, British Gas statistics showed that 44% of UK gas is generated domestically, with 47% coming from Europe (Russia and Norway) and the remaining 9% coming from LNG exports.

Since then, the numbers have raised concerns about UK dependence on Russian power sources while diplomatic relations stay tense.

In Norway’s case, although it is not an EU member state, it falls within the internal market for energy and is therefore bound by EU regulations.

A 2017 House of Lords report on the problem proclaimed it “unlikely” that the EU would place tariffs on gas and electricity provided to Britain after Brexit, even if the UK leaves with no deal.

However, it stated that tariffs could take place elsewhere in the energy industry, including on products commonly used in the construction and maintenance of the energy system.

How the National Grid tripped up

The UK National Grid’s vulnerability to unforeseen circumstances was no better demonstrated last Friday when millions of homes – mainly in London and the South East – were affected by a power cut.

Up until then, most of us in the United Kingdom thought that this sort of problem only occurred in other less well-developed nations, unless, of course, you are old enough to remember the blackouts of the 1970s.

So why did the outage occur?

Just as people were clocking off work and looking forward to the weekend, two power stations disconnected simultaneously, both of which were completely separate and coincidental incidents.

The gas-generated Little Bedford plant was the first to go down at 4.58pm and then Hornsea Windfarm in the North Sea followed two minutes later.

As renewable energy cannot be generated on demand (no-one has the ability to make the wind blow, after all), there was a shortfall of available power on the grid.

The National Grid runs at a frequency of 50Hz, and when supply falls and demand for energy remains high, the frequency drops, in this case to 48.9Hz.

Drops in frequency cause substantial infrastructure damage and to safeguard against this an automated system shuts down part of the grid to cut demand, which in turn increases frequency back up.

The big problem lies with the demand cutting process. If automated, why is it automated to shut down hospitals, like the one in Ipswich and key transport hubs such as Clapham Junction in South London?

A government investigation has now been launched into the incident, the first of its kind since 2008, and the National Grid must review and report to OFGEM.

One of the obvious conclusions to draw from this is that the power network has little resilience, especially when it goes wrong at 5pm on a Friday afternoon.

 

 

Will Boris Johnson warm to the challenges around climate change and energy?

Energy Management’s Jac Stone says Boris Johnson must put climate change and energy at the top of his long ‘to-do list’.

Last week saw the arrival of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, a Brexiteer hellbent on delivering the public vote and leaving the European Union on 31 October, 2019.

While the focus is on the here and the now as people contemplate just how the new man in charge of the country proposes to keep his promise in such a short space of time, his policies over the next few years – presuming he stays at No.10 – will be critical for the Energy Industry.

What next?

Although the UK has recently committed in law to reduced greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, the route to achieve this is completely new territory. In order to meet this ambitious target, work needs to start immediately otherwise we’ll run the risk of missing  out. Couple this with the UK’s outdated energy policy and it’s obvious we cannot afford any delays.

Top of the tree for tasks to complete at Downing Street will be deciding whether to accept the recommendations made by the arrival of the Energy White Paper. The paper, due to arrive imminently, will set out a new framework designed to tackle pressing issues such as developing carbon capture projects, investment in renewable energy and funding of nuclear power stations. All contributing to the aim of meeting net-zero targets.

Making energy and climate change a priority, despite Brexit, would offer greater clarity and support across the whole of Britain. Businesses have already been hit by soaring non-commodity cost rises due to funding for government subsidies and these are projected to continue as the UK experiences its energy transition.

Boris’ Background

To say Johnson’s previous approach to climate change was sub-standard would be an understatement. As an MP he consistently voted against climate change measures and in December 2015, following the signing of the Paris Agreement, Johnson wrote a column for The Daily Telegraph praising the work of notorious climate science denier and brother of the Labour leader, Piers Corbyn, who he called a “great physicist and meteorologist”.

However, the new Prime Minister’s stance seems to have altered as of late. During his stint as Foreign Secretary, he said he would, ‘continue to lobby the U.S. at all levels to continue to take climate change extremely seriously’. He has also voiced his support for the net-zero 2050 target as well as discussing falls in the cost of renewable technologies – and its subsequent growth in the UK.

Where now?

It’s impossible to say where Boris Johnson will head with energy and climate change policy in the next few weeks and months. It will be vital that Brexit does not eclipse upcoming decisions which will be crucial to the net-zero 2050 target.

The new Prime Minister must maintain the momentum that has been building towards achieving the net-zero 2050 target and identify the pathway that will keep the U.K on track. Sufficient government support would ensure a swift and cost-effective transition for everyone.