The Importance of Energy Security

Some years ago I recall writing a piece prompted by sudden and unexplained major The Importance of Energy Security Jim Lambeth power failures both in the UK and further afield. The consequences were horrendous with reports of stranded workers sitting in darkened offices, unable to operate without computers, telephones, lifts, escalators nor any chance of getting home. Underground and over-ground trains came to a standstill, traffic lights were inoperable causing gridlock with buses and taxis stranded in overcrowded streets. The net result was utter pandemonium.

I came to realise how vulnerable we would be if a terrorist group decided to attack our major infrastructure networks by disabling our energy supply network.

At that time the UK still relied heavily on coal for the major part of electricity generation, much of which was mined in this country providing some degree of national security.  Today, every UK deep mines has closed and virtually all coal used for power generation is imported - although the tonnage burned is far less than a decade ago. As a consequence of government pressure to achieve a low carbon economy generators have been encouraged to invest in wind and solar, biomass, nuclear and gas to light both homes and industry.  In addition, we have various deals to import electricity via submarine cables below the English Channel.

The importance of energy security 5In my view, none of the above provide peace of mind in terms of energy security. Wind and solar are too variable with our British climate. Biomass relies on massive tonnages imported across the Atlantic from North America, and the emissions are already causing some concerns relating to air quality issues. Nuclear remains a long term project reliant on foreign investment. Imported gas leaves us at the mercy of Eastern European oligarchs; and our historic relationship with France has always presented a challenge!

As a postscript, within the past months the media have reported both the first day when no coal was burned for power generation and latterly a single day when only wind and solar provided our total energy needs.  Clearly the green lobby has been working overtime issuing positive press releases to justify half-baked government strategies.  However, I recall on both occasions we enjoyed particularly hot weather conditions – and no doubt the right amount of wind.

During October 2012 Ofgem issued a warning of potential power cuts by 2015 as a consequence of shortcomings in power generation strategy at that time.  Thankfully, a series of mild winters coupled with heavily subsidised energy saving measures allowed us to scrape through without a crisis - but what if we were to endure a prolonged cold spell?

I am reminded of our vulnerability when listening to reports surrounding the chaos resulting from recent cyber-attacks on the NHS computers, together with many other computer systems throughout the world. Of course we regularly hear reports of personal banking details being stolen by unknown crooks from foreign shores, incidents of hacking and a constant barrage of computer viruses. Most recently British Airways passengers suffered massive delays over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend following a major breakdown of their computer systems.

I fear the modern world has become too reliant on electronic devices and the potential risk of associated hardware/software The importance of energy security 3failures. Everywhere you look our society is bombarded by advertisements for the latest mobile phone, tablet and Apps plus the scourge of social media.

The trouble is, there is more to go wrong, opportunity for malicious interference and a massive reliance on electricity to keep all these devices active.  It has been reported that the current push towards electric vehicles in preference to diesel will exacerbate this problem by increasing power demand.

Which brings me back to my opening remarks. Jeopardise our power supply and our economy would be at risk.  Remember those occasions when bank automated services have failed due to hacking activities and multiply the affect 1000% - total chaos!

I sometimes feel that advancing modern electronic based technology is out of control?  Or perhaps the Luddites felt just the same.

Sorry to sound like a grumpy old man, but I am!

Jim Lambeth

 

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