Is Britain in the midst of an energy crisis?
By Katie Anderson on March 28, 2013
According to Energy UK, the organisation that represents the country’s energy suppliers, an unseasonally cold March has left Britain in the midst of an energy crisis. A crisis that could, perhaps inevitably, lead to higher energy bills.
Minister of State for Energy John Hayes insists there is no crisis. The Conservative MP told the Guardian: “The UK’s gas needs continue to be met. We get our supplies from a diverse range of sources and the market is proving highly responsive to the UK’s needs”.
But “responsive” does not necessarily mean there is no crisis. The Energy Minister was referring in part to a supply of gas from Qatar that arrived in the UK by tanker earlier this week. More shipments are due in the coming days as concerns grow over Britain’s ailing reserves.
Last Thursday, energy suppliers warned of trouble ahead as gas reserves dropped significantly. High winds and low temperatures caused an increase in energy usage among British households. Heavy snowfall across the country only made the situation worse. As the cold snap closed schools and brought transport to a standstill, Britain was estimated to have enough gas in reserve to last just two days. Then the unthinkable happened: a fault at Bacton Gas terminal shut down the UK’s interconnector system, which imports gas from mainland Europe.
Wholesale gas prices shot up as demand increased suddenly. Before the interconnector came back online on Friday afternoon, the wholesale price of gas had more than doubled. Prices settled some hours later, but energy suppliers remain concerned.
Chief Executive of Energy UK, Angela Knight, noted that Britain’s apparent inability to cope with unseasonal weather highlighted a risk to the nation’s energy security.
Earlier this month, the Chief Executive of SSE, Ian Marchant, warned that the UK faces a “very real risk of the lights going out” in the next few years as demand outstrips supply and focus shifts to foreign imports. In response, environmental campaigners accused energy suppliers of scaremongering.
Energy bills can be reduced by installing loft and cavity wall insulation, double glazing and solar PV. New central heating boilers can also make a difference, but the reality for many households is that energy bills are already unaffordable and soon they will become even more so.