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Fracking: What the fracks going on?

With the Government announcing that Local Councils who back fracking will get to keep more of the proceeds from operations in the UK, we thought it might be worth taking a look at the state of play, so to speak.

Fracking is a controversial and hotly-discussed topic in most of the industry and for every 10 people, there seem to be 15 opinions on the subject.

From an impartial, emotionless standpoint, there are many, many reasons fracking seems like a “must do” rather than a “maybe”, and it seems that the whole subject is another example of eye-popping, jaw-dropping images and conjecture clouding and misinforming the general public about the ‘risks’ involved in fracking… After all, which makes the better story, “Fracking could save consumers a little bit on their bills“, or “LOOK AT THIS TAP SPRAYING OUT FIRE!!!“?

The long and short of it is that we need a solution to the current quagmire in which we find ourselves. We are ridiculously over reliant on importing energy, and the import figure is rising.  Renewables are a great way to push us towards self-sufficiency, but there is major investment needed (which, frankly, should have begun YEARS ago, as it did with many countries, most notably, perhaps, Germany).

So where is the energy we use coming from? The Gridwatch website is brilliant. If a little confusing at first…

Without looking at the ‘dirty’ generation elements and focussing solely on ‘renewables’:

  • Wind Energy currently provides about 7.8% of our daily grid demand for Electricity (including unmetered farms, therefore an estimate).
  • Hydro Power accounts for 1.4% of this daily need (worryingly, as the Gridwatch site states, this could be higher were it not for stations intentionally reducing their output to maximise subsidy rates)
  • Biomass contributes 2.14%, however much of this comes from importing timber which, whilst qualifying it as ‘sustainable’, hardly seems far to take into account with a goal of ‘Self Sufficiency’ in mind, does it?
  • Solar is, as expected in our tropical British climate, infinitesimal in the scheme of things, and massively weighted to summer months. Estimates are in the region of 0.25GW’s, therefore less than 0.5%, on generous estimates

That, from ‘renewables’, gives you somewhere in the region of 15/16% of our daily demand for electricity. In real terms, unless you are happy with blackouts for (in the region of) 20 hours a day, every day, then we need to find our energy from some other source.

The protesters may have some of their facts correct but there are upsides and downsides to all energy sources all of which seem to cause the same people to object:

  • Wind – ugly [apparently]
  • Solar – ugly [really?]
  • Biomass – save the trees
  • Nuclear – aargh Chernobyl
  • Coal – let miners keep their jobs, but shut down all the polluting power stations please.
  • Hydro – reservoir destroys beauty spot and kills fish, allegedly
  • Gas/Oil – yet another ugly power station blighting the landscape
  • Shale – caused an earthquake in Blackpool and you can set fire to water
  • Tidal Power – destroys habitats of estuary birds.

How many of these protestors are also complaining about rising energy bills from the Big 6?  The price of Gas in the USA has halved since they started extracting Shale Gas in significant volumes.

Microgeneration is likely to provide the long term solution (i.e. micro turbines, solar panels and ground source heat pumps on every new home/office development), but at present, this is a long, long way off and requires the concentration of everyone in the UK all at once… This, historically, has been somewhat tricky to achieve in any area, let alone something as complex, taxing and confusing as Global Energy Management… Apparently, even Eastenders is struggling to do that these days!!

There is an estimated 26 trillion cubic feet of extractable Shale Gas in the UK, based on the latest estimates.  We already have many operations licensed for on-shore drilling in the UK as it stands and this practice began in 1919. Surely, at the very least, this possible solution requires some further investigation? Yes? With things settling down in the US and them becoming a net exporter of energy for the first time in decades in 2011, Shale Gas looks like a very viable, and if properly regulated, safe way of reducing our dependence on Import until we get something better off the ground. Plus, environmentally speaking, the net effect of extracting Shale Gas in the UK is not likely to be as ‘Dirty’ as our current solution, which is to buy fossil fuels from the cheapest source we can.

If the choice was “do it with renewables” or “do it with fracking”, the choice is obvious… renewables it is… That, however, is not the choice… it’s just another part of the energy mix and it’s better to use our own resources in the UK than to pay ever increasing prices for importing energy and when our energy runs out be held to ransom by other countries. So more of everything please.

Frack to the Future

Image courtesy of Energy Live News

Lee Freeman is an Overhead Management Specialist at Auditel in Leeds and is always looking for a better way.

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