Saturday, March 23, 2013

Energy: gas rationing

Gas 023-rat.jpg

Britain faces the prospect of gas rationing for the first time, says the Independent as a perfect storm of prolonged cold weather and disruptions to Norwegian supplies push the energy grid close to breaking point.

Households and businesses have turned up the heating in recent weeks to keep warm in the unseasonably cold weather. It is this, the paper claims, that has run gas reserves so low that there is a very real prospect of running out in the coming weeks if the cold snap persists.

But what the paper doesn't seem to realise is that gas is already being rationed. Mains pressure has been reduced. Householders are finding that gas ovens are taking longer to cook food, while fires burn less brightly. And companies with interruptible supply contracts are already on notice for Monday, that gas will not be available.

And, of course, it is not helping that the coal estate is being shut down, although we are currently getting 42 percent of our electricity from coal, compared with 20 percent from gas. In a week's time, the equation will have changed yet again and the generators could be in real trouble.

Thus do we get the Daily Mail blandly tell us that, "National Grid has protocols for gas shortages, designed to stop households being affected immediately".

Power stations which run on gas are the first to be rationed. "They can do that to keep the lights on because we have coal and oil-run power stations which can be ramped up to meet demand", energy analyst Peter Atherton says.

"But next month many of the UK's coal and oil plants come offline to meet green regulations handed down by the EU, and will not be available as a stop-gap if another shortfall arises next winter", theMail tells us.

If we actually avoid power cuts, it will be by the skin of our teeth. But the nation is on notice, a country that is paying the price for the failure to manage energy supplies. More and more, predictions are becoming fact and we are looking at "when" not "if" we run out.