What is the Energy Crisis?

Over the past few weeks, we have seen fuel prices rise to new heights. Whilst there has been a steady increase in fuel over the past few years this has been a drastic rise. On average the price of fuel is now £1.67 per litre. This will affect everyone as it means paying more money for fuel and at a time of economic hardships that is going to be difficult.
But what has caused this rise? To put it simply it has been caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Britain and Europe have relied largely on Russian gas and oil for years.

Following the invasion this has made Russia our enemy and we have applied heavy sanctions on them. With the west and Russia being hostile, this means that Russia can shut off our gas supply with ease. This could easily lead to a fuel shortage and with that the markets have reacted. The reaction obviously being panic which has resulted in increased prices.

What are the Energy Alternatives?

Following this threat of shortage this has raised a lot of questions about alternatives. It is now the commonly held view that we can’t keep relying on Russian gas due to their unpredictability. But what are the alternatives?

Renewable/Green Energy

One that has been taking centre stage in the past decade has been green renewable energy. This means solar and wind energy among other things. I’m sure we have all seen wind turbines and solar panels dotted all over the country creating natural energy. The issue with this though is that using this natural energy can be temperamental particularly in this country.

One of the main drawbacks of using renewable energy as our prominent source of energy is that the natural resources required simply aren’t that common in this country. In terms of solar energy, Britain is not known for its sunny weather. With this lack of prominent sun, it will mean that we won’t be able to wholly rely on solar energy.

The same goes with wind energy. Whilst at times we can have quite windy days in winter the same cannot be said the whole year round. In the past decade we have experienced more storms in the UK the most recent one being late February. However, another problem that was faced was that due to the winds being so strong it broke the wind turbines. This made them futile as they couldn’t transfer the wind into energy.

The final problem with relying solely on renewable energy is that it is still in its infancy. If we were to apply this to every aspect of our lives, including our homes, it is the more expensive option. To read more on this click the link to our article here.

With these issues of renewable energy this has led to many people calling for different alternatives. These alternatives are fracking and nuclear energy and in the next few sections we shall be looking at these alternatives.

What is Fracking?

Before we investigate the pros and cons of fracking, we will first explain what it actually is. Fracking is essentially a technique of extracting gas and oil from shale rock. This technique consists of directing a high pressure of water, chemicals, and sand at a rock layer via a drill. This then releases the gas inside.

Pros of Fracking

New Pools of Oil and Gas

One of the main pros of fracking is that it will allow us to gain more natural oil and gas across Britain. Experts have found large reserves of shale energy which hasn’t been used. Whilst there are untouched reserves in the south of England the largest are in the north across Manchester, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. Caudrilla, a resource company, has stated that extracting just 10% of this natural shale gas in Lancashire would supply Britain with 50 years’ worth of gas. The Oil and Gas Authority also said that British petroleum reserves are expected to sustain production for another 20 years.

Self Sufficiency

By fracking these natural reserves, we have we would become highly self-sufficient. This would also mean we wouldn’t need to rely on Russia for our energy. Which also means that we wouldn’t need to rely on foreign imports for energy such as coal gas and oil. Government statistics reveal that in 2018, 36% of our energy came from foreign imports. By fracking these natural resources, we won’t need to pay for foreign imports. This in turn could also reduce energy bills due to our self-sufficiency.

Job Creation

Fracking also has the opportunity to create jobs in various rural areas. Unemployment is usually the biggest worry for everyone across the government, including the government. Unemployment means a lack of money coming in making life more difficult and for the government it means a failure in policy. This is why unemployment is always a front page topic such as in 1972 when unemployment reached 1 million. This led to wall to wall coverage and applied serious pressure on Edward Heath’s government. According to an industry review fracking in certain rural areas in the country could generate over 60,000 jobs. This would put 60,000 people into work and would result in a decrease in unemployment.

Helps Renewable Energy

As stated earlier renewable energy at times can be unreliable due to the change in weather patterns. Fracking will allow to use natural gas that can be used in gas fired power stations. These power stations are also far cleaner environmentally. The natural gas used would be able to make up for any shortfalls in wind and solar energy that can be affected by unpredictable weather. This would also allow our renewable energy to be stronger as it wouldn’t falter with the pickup from natural gas.

Reduces Production of Coal

Finally fracking can also reduce coal production. Coal is one of the dirtiest forms of energy and creates carbon dioxide as we burn it. This obviously goes into the atmosphere and makes it worse as we have seen in many different studies. By focusing more on fracking we can move away from coal production. This would allow us to meet carbon reduction targets and help in the current climate crisis.

A study was taken in America observing an ongoing fracking operation. This found that in the first 12 months fracking uses far less water than the amount used for coal extraction. This means that we would be saving water by focusing attention to fracking instead of coal extraction.

Cons of Fracking

Threat of Earthquakes

One of the biggest cons to fracking is the threat of earthquakes. Due to the methods of fracking it has been known to cause earth tremors and earthquakes. At a site in Preston back in 2011 a tremor was recorded with a 1.9 magnitude. The same then happened in August 2019 with a 2.9 magnitude earthquake. This then led to the government’s ban of fracking in November 2019. Whilst these tremors are small and are rarely felt by people on the surface it still poses environmental concerns.

Environmental Damage

Another concern is that fracking sites can damage the sites around it. By building these sites it destroys a chunk of the local habit. This has an effect on the wildlife that depends on that habitat. A study recorded in 2016 revealed that of all the areas targeted for fracking, 65% of said areas had a higher biodiversity then the rest of the UK. This means that these areas that have such high biodiversity would be destroyed to make way for fracking.

The Stalling of Green Energy Development

If fracking is given the go ahead it means it would become more of a primary focus. This would result in the slowing down of development of green/renewable energy. This would be caused by the lack of investment from government as they would also be funding fracking. Renewable energy is the cleanest option and in some people’s eyes should be the primary focus. Certain environmental groups believe that for us to reach our climate targets such as a reduction in carbon dioxide we should continue our heavy investment in renewable energy.

No Net Zero

Another issue with fracking is it will make it harder for us to reach our net zero target. The government has set out a plan that the entire of the UK will emit no carbon by 2050. However, by extracting the gas and oil via fracking this still creates a considerable amount of greenhouse gas. This will obviously have an effect on the environment and add towards the climate crisis. It begs the question of if it is worth using this gas if we are still adding to the rising carbon dioxide levels?

Industrialisation

One concern of allowing companies to frack in various areas is the threat of industrialisation. With these companies entering some rural areas it will have a wider effect on these towns and villages. These companies will need to haul in equipment and water to and from the site. Not only will this be a substantial amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the air, but it will also result in an increase in noise pollution and traffic.

These towns and villages are typically small and ones that have been there for close to hundreds of years. This means that they aren’t used to a sudden major increase in traffic flowing through. It may also cause some issues with the larger vehicles from these fracking companies trying to get through small streets.

Threat of Water Contamination

Finally, there is a fear of contamination of water in the area that fracking will take place. In order to frack you need to use a sand water which equates to 98% and 2% of chemicals. There is a fear that these chemicals could be toxic and be at threat of contaminating local water. Over in Pennsylvania there was a case of toxic water spewing for 12 hours. The Duke University also reported that drinking water in New York and Pennsylvania that had fracking sites nearby was contaminated.

What is Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy is created after a process known as fission. This is where the binding energy that holds the atom together is split. With it split into smaller atoms which releases the energy. Extra energy is also taken during the reaction as the smaller atoms don’t need the binding energy. This extra energy is released as heat and radiation. This heat is then used to boil water which then turns the turbines in the generators that creates electricity.

Pros of Nuclear Energy

Its Reliable Energy

One of the main advantages of nuclear energy is that it is very reliable. Nuclear power stations can produce energy at their maximum output 93% of the time. This is more then any other energy source. A nuclear power station is able to work around the clock for long periods of time. This means they can be consistent in producing energy and supply more then enough energy for the nation.

Its Clean Energy

As most of us know our reliance on fossil fuels has led to the damage of our environment. This is because of the amount of carbon that is produced and enters Earth’s atmosphere. However, nuclear energy and nuclear power stations produce a very low amount of carbon dioxide whilst in operation. The World Nuclear Association found that emissions for nuclear energy average 29 tonnes of CO2 per gigawatt hour/GWH. Solar energy averages at 85 tonnes per GWH and wind 26 tonnes per GWH. This means that nuclear energy is either cleaner or about the same as other sources of renewable energy.

Small Carbon Footprint

An often overlooked positive side to nuclear energy is its size. A standard nuclear energy plant that produces 1000 megawatts of electricity takes up about 1 square mile. Compared to wind energy it would require 360x the size and 3.125 million solar panels to create the same amount of energy. To put it simply nuclear power stations, take up far less room. This means that we can leave far more of the environment untouched. Thus, nuclear power plants have a smaller land footprint.

Cheap Energy Costings

One big factor that is always considered, like with most things in life, is costs. People always look at how much things cost, and a lot of the time make their judgments based on that factor. Luckily nuclear power stations are cheap to run. According to the US Department of Energy nuclear energy is cheaper to run then coal or gas. It is estimated that the full costings to run a nuclear power plant it would account to 33% to 50% of the costs for a coal plant. This means that it is the far cheaper alternative in the long run.

High Energy Output

Finally, we must also take into account that nuclear energy has a high output of energy. Nuclear energy produces far higher levels of energy compared to renewables and isn’t dependent on certain weather. This means that it is the superior choice for providing the baseload energy that the nation depends. Baseload being the minimum amount of energy required to keep our electricity going. Not only will it be able to achieve the baseload but it would very easily be able to exceed this.

Cons of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Waste

The main disadvantage of nuclear energy is the amount of nuclear waste it produces. Dealing with nuclear waste is a very complicated issue, it is also highly radioactive. This means that it is a health and safety nightmare as it can cause large amounts of damage to the environment. To deal with nuclear waste requires immeasurable safety precautions and takes a long time for it to be safe. If there are any slip ups the consequences could be dire and effect entire regions. Whilst it may be a reliable source of energy what it produces is highly dangerous.

Nuclear Meltdown

Nuclear meltdowns are also a massive threat in any nuclear power station. A meltdown is caused by the heat created by the nuclear reactor exceeding the amount of heat being extracted by the cooling system. This causes hot radioactive vapours to escape which can lead to the nuclear power plant to meltdown and combust. The two major incidences of this happening are Fukushima and Chernobyl.

Chernobyl is the most famous nuclear disaster which resulted in the surrounding areas being completely uninhabitable for years to come. The high levels of radiation and nuclear waste that was produced killed a lot of people and affected many more from radiation poisoning. However, whilst Soviet Union officials did cut a lot of corners and react slowly, due to nepotism, the fallout of what happened stands as a constant reminder of what can happen when a nuclear power station goes wrong.

Relies on Non-Renewable Energy

Most nuclear technology relies on uranium which whilst a clean source of energy is non-renewable. The longer we rely on nuclear energy, the more uranium we will use and the quicker it will deplete. There are two other negatives that will contribute to this. The first being that there will be negative environmental impact from mining the uranium that is needed. The second is that the more we use up the higher the price will be when it comes to extracting the uranium as it becomes rarer.

Expensive to Build

Finally, the last disadvantage of nuclear energy is also the cost. Now earlier we said that one positive was how cheap it was to operate a nuclear power plant. Whilst this is true the cost of building said nuclear power plant is very high. Nuclear reactors are very complex machines that require lots of different parts. This money soon adds up making it highly expensive to build. There is also a high number of things built for safety reasons to ensure that another Chernobyl is avoided. Whilst it’s a positive that it is maintaining safety it does come with a heavy price tag.

How This Effects Housing

As we briefly covered earlier the main energy supplier we use will have a major effect on housing. As we have seen in the news recently, energy bills are set to rise upwards of £600 this year. This is going to have a heavy impact on many families up and down the country. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has proposed a mandatory loan of £250 per family to help with these rises. However, this won’t be available till October, and it is a loan so it will need to be paid back. The government realises that it can’t continue to rely on Russian energy, so it is left with looking at other options. The main question is how will this effect housing and people’s bills?

The Saudi Arabia Question

One option is instead of relying on Russia we instead rely on oil from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is well known for its oil supply and Britain does have a good relationship with the Saudi government. However, there are also issues with Saudi Arabia. In March 2022 Saudi Arabia had 81 people executed in one day. This along with numerous other human rights breeches leaves raised eyebrows. The question it raises is we would be stopping reliance on an unpredictable nation, to then rely on another unpredictable nation.

The Fracking Alternative

The first alternative that we looked into was fracking. You may derive your own opinions on whether or not fracking is beneficial or not by looking at the pros and cons. However, by extracting that gas and oil it would mean that we wouldn’t be reliant on Russia. This would mean that there would be no threat of Russia cutting off our supply.

With our self reliance on gas via fracking it could lead to stopping the rise in energy bills. This could be a possibility due to large reserves in the north of England. Reserves have also recently been found off the coast of East Anglia.

This would relieve people of a lot of stress who worry on how they will afford this. It will also help the government as it means they won’t have to give out these mandatory loans. This would most likely either be paid via borrowing which would increase the nations debt or by printing more money which would increase inflation. However, there are environmental drawbacks such as Earth tremors being caused and harm to local environments.

The Green Energy Alternative

Another option for the government is of course renewable energy such as wind and solar. This has been the main alternative since the days of Tony Blair. This caused Blair to delay the building of new nuclear power stations in favour of green energy. Green energy is becoming more prominent in our everyday lives. We are expected to go greener as the years go by as per the governments net zero plans.

This includes our homes becoming greener, but what does this entail? Well, it would mean getting rid of gas boilers and replacing them with renewable energy alternatives. These alternatives are ground source heat pumps, solar panels, and air source heat pumps. The main issue with these is that they don’t work as well as a gas boiler and are more expensive. Kwasi Kwarteng, the Energy Secretary, even admitted that they don’t work as well. Yet the government still plans on banning gas boilers by 2025.

The Cost of Green Energy

On average a gas boiler costs £1000 yet the green alternative can range from £5000 to £19,000. It begs the question why are we forking out far more money for something that doesn’t work as well? Not just that but it is a large sum of money that a lot of people just won’t be able to afford.

What we must also take into account is that the economy is in a poor state. The country is in a debt at £2.6 Trillion and that debt is going to need to be tackled. Inflation is also on the rise meaning all prices across the country are going up yet wages have stagnated. Is it fair to expect people, who are already financially struggling, to pay out all this money?

The Nuclear Energy Alternative

The final option is nuclear energy. As we have seen nuclear power stations can generate a large amount of energy. It has a far higher output then any other form of energy and its power plants take up little room. With its high efficiency it would allow for us to have continual energy and make us self sufficient. This would also probably see a stop to the increase in energy bills.

These do look promising however, as always there is a negative that people bring up. This being the safety concerns surrounding nuclear waste and the threat of a nuclear meltdown. This would be a very complex operation and if it goes wrong the consequences would be catastrophic. If nuclear waste were to leak it could result in contamination of water and vast damage to the environment. A nuclear meltdown would be far worse such and could cause deaths if not contained.

The Government’s Plan for Energy

Of course, the main thing we need to be looking at is what the government’s plan is. So far that has been a bit of uncertainty over what the government will do, with clarity being needed. The government have ordered various fracking wells to be concreted over by June 2022. This would mean that we would no longer be able to frack and use the natural shale gas. With the current situation in Eastern Europe, it has led to calls on the government to lift the fracking ban.

However, at the time of writing the government is still undecided on whether to resume its fracking programme. Labour is firmly against fracking instead opting for green and nuclear energy. If the government does go down the route of fracking it will face fierce criticism in the House of Commons. But if it does decide to do it, it needs to make its decision soon before they are concreted over.

Giving the Green Light to Nuclear Energy

On the 15th March 2022 Boris Johnson called for “Big new bets” on nuclear power stations. This means that the government is certainly looking at building more nuclear power stations. However, as seen over the past decade it has taken a long time to get new power stations built. Britain’s main nuclear power station, Hinkley Point, is estimated to be operational by 2025. Hinkley point was ordered in 2016 by then Prime Minister Theresa May. This means it has taken nine years to construct one nuclear power station. If the government want us to be reliant on nuclear energy, we will have to wait till at least 2030. This also doesn’t account for delays and change in government policy.

Close to a Deal?

Finally, Boris Johnson visited Saudi Arabia on the 16th March 2022 for a series of talks. These meetings are occurring to convince Saudi Arabia to sell more of their oil to Britain. This would end our reliance on Putin and cause more damage to the Russian economy. With a poor economy this would result in the stall of the Russian advance into Ukraine.

The Prime Minister seems to be aware of the energy crisis and rising energy bills and is hoping that a deal with Saudi Arabia can halt it. If a deal is met this means that there would be stability in the global oil market. With this stability we would hope to see a stop in the rising prices along with fear of fuel shortages.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as we can see there is a plan that is being formed by the government. The short term answer is to rely on oil from Saudi Arabia instead of Russia and hope for more stability. In the long term it looks as though the government is pushing for the development of more nuclear power stations. There are still two questions that are left that need answering in regard to fracking and green energy.

The first question is, will the government be keeping the ban on fracking it has had since 2019? Even though fracking has its opponents and supporters there is no denying that there is natural shale gas underneath us. This natural gas could keep us supplied for years to come so clarity is needed on if the government plan to use it. The second question is if the government is planning on keeping to its net zero targets? If it is the government needs to be clear on the specifics of these targets and if there are changes. Regardless of the approach this will have an affect on housing and on bills which will effect all.

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