According to the latest statistics published by the Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the UK still obtains nearly half its gas from production (the North Sea), and imports most of the rest from Norway (31%) and Qatar (15%). About 30% of UK gas is used in domestic consumption (heating and cooking), and a similar volume in industries. The rest is used for electricity generation (22%), or exported (17%), mainly to Eire and other EU countries.
The same source indicates that the UK generates its electricity from gas (29%), coal (22%), nuclear (21%), renewables (25%), and oils and other sources (3%).
About 30% of UK electricity is used in domestic consumption, 21% in commercial, 36% in industries and services, 5% in public administration (e.g. street lights), and 8% in other uses and losses. Renewables are sourced from wind (12%), bio (9%), solar (2%), and hydro (2%).
Looking ahead, the UK’s coal fired power stations are being rapidly phased out to accord with international climate change obligations, and many of its nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their working lives. Replacing nuclear power stations is proving a lengthy, expensive, and controversial process. Shale gas is seen by many as an essential stop gap to the country’s energy needs. They pose the question as to whether we import it (taking advantage of the current world glut), or harvest it from underground in the UK at a potential lower cost.
Opponents of shale gas point to the continuation of damage to the Earth’s climate. They argue that methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas which can trap 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 and has a global warming potential (GWP) of 86 over 20 years. They are concerned that fracking wells leak 40 to 60 per cent more methane than conventional natural gas wells, and that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. the combined emissions associated with extraction, combustion, and methane and CO releases) means that fracked gas can be as dirty as coal.
Against this background, it is hard to understand why the government phased out subsidies for renewables. The UK already gains a fifth of its electricity from this source and has hardly begun to exploit the potential for hydro. Our island coastline is some 5,000 km in length, yet there have been few attempts at capturing energy from tidal and wave power. Its availability cannot be doubted, as we have been able to predict tides accurately for 200 years.
Sceptics of renewables argue that wind and solar are too expensive to harvest, and so intermittent in the UK as to make them an unreliable energy source. Advances in designs are though bringing down the costs, and batteries are now being manufactured that can reliably store the energy as it is generated, and make it available for future use.