UK's Onshore Plans Blowing in the Wind

Shale gas is back on the government’s agenda but its financial viability and environmental safety is still in question.
Published: Tue 06 May 2014

The UK’s conservative party says that the country has enough onshore wind power projects in the pipeline and that there should now be more focus on shale gas.

Kickstarting a new industry

Conservative energy minister, Michael Fallon, says that if his party is elected next year, they will curtail the deployment of onshore wind by putting a stop to subsidies and changing the planning process. Mr Fallon has announced that it is time for the country to rather focus on shale gas as it “has the potential to kickstart a whole new industry.” He explains that shale gas will provide energy security and it will maximise the economic benefits for the whole country.

The announcement has been met with strong criticism from the Renewable Energy Association (REA). James Court, head of public affairs, says that this announcement will undermine all the positive work that the current government has put into renewables.

Government: Shale has huge potential

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has just released a shale gas supply chain report which states that shale gas has “huge potential economic benefits to the UK”.

The report forecasts that as much as 64,000 jobs could be created across the shale gas value chain. However, the Renewable Energy Association counters that the renewable sector had more than 100,000 jobs across the value chain back in 2012 when it last carried out detailed analysis of employment in the sector.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has committed to providing £2 million of funding for projects that offer “innovative ideas” for producing or exploring for shale gas.

Liberal Democrat energy minister, Ed Davey says that the funding shows the government’s continued commitment to remain at the forefront of new technology and techniques to efficiently and cleanly explore and produce shale gas. While this commitment is important, Mr Davey points out that the benefits of shale should not put the environment at jeopardy.

Renewables are delivering today

Mr Court counters by pointing out that renewables are delivering today, while the potential benefits of shale are still a long way off.

He explains that renewable energy is attracting investment, creating jobs, reducing costs, improving the country’s energy security and preserving the environment.

Financial viability in question

While shale gas does seem appealing (especially since it can replace energy generation from coal), it still has the potential to be harmful to the environment. A full-proof solution has yet to be discovered. In addition, the quantity and financial viability of shale gas in the UK is still uncertain. Lord Browne of Madingley, former chief of BP and now chairman of Cuadrilla explains that that aspiring companies would need much more information on whether the gas reserves are economic to exploit, and that can only be revealed with further exploration. "We have an idea of the UK's potential for shale - what we now need to do is figure out how much we can produce economically and how fast.”

Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, points out: "Despite all the government bluster about fracking, the industry still doesn't know if it's viable in Britain, and it will take years to find out.” We covered the negatives in our article Fracking in the UK-Energy Security and Financial Prosperity.

Since renewable generation is already proving its worth, it would be foolish to put an end to subsidies. Research already shows that solar energy costs are on a par with conventional power. [Engerati: Solar Energy Costs on Par with Conventional Power.]

Clean energy has a lot to offer and is probably still in its development stage with regards to technology-especially energy storage solutions which will fully harness renewables’ potential.