What can the UK do to alleviate the gas crunch and ensure energy security?
A blog by Colin Elcoate, CEO of SMS & the Alderley Group
28 September 2021
The gas crunch that the UK is currently experiencing perfectly illustrates the urgent need for government to ensure energy security for the country.
Within weeks of the first autumn leaves falling, UK consumers have been faced with the spectre of higher bills and retail energy firms going bust because of rising gas prices across the world. Let’s not go into the current chaos at the pumps.
With gas making up around 24% of the energy portfolio in the UK, and with 50% of the CO₂ emissions of coal, it represents the key fuel in a transition towards a low-carbon future.
Together with CCUS – one of the key pillars of the government’s Ten Point Plan for a green economy – gas emissions can be reduced much further and more quickly.
Gas represents the perfect bridge from coal to renewables for electricity generation until low carbon technologies come on stream in higher volumes and with storage solutions that can manage energy provision when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
Gas is good for baseload too. It can deliver peak load when renewables aren’t available. It’s as versatile a form of energy as it comes.
And we mustn’t forget that gas brings us warmth and convenience as we use it to heat our homes and to cook.
A couple of points from my side for the way ahead.
Given that over 50% of our gas is imported into the UK, I would like to see us become much less dependent on foreign suppliers.
Energy security is key for all nations irrespective of size. In the UK we have the gas there and ready and to go.
In fact, projects like Cambo North in the North Sea are ready for gas production and could help kick-start new supplies of UK gas if the government sanctions its approval.
The supply chain is ready to go and if we move on this, the UK could replenish its gas supplies and deliver it to homes, power stations and industry within months.
This would reduce our dependence on imports – give us security of supply – and support the energy transition.
This final point is an important one.
A bridge to transitioning jobs, skills and expertise
According to the Energy Transition Institute’s findings (2021) as cited in the government’s recent Green Jobs Taskforce report, it is estimated that over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability.
These workers are recognised as being well positioned to work in other energy sectors such as decommissioning and subsea network projects, and medium transferability to offshore wind, CCUS and blue hydrogen.
Further estimates by the Energy Transition Institute suggest that around 100,000 (about 50%) of the jobs in the UK offshore energy sector in 2030 – including jobs in renewables such as offshore wind, hydrogen, CCUS and oil and gas – are projected to be filled by workers transferring from oil and gas to offshore renewable roles.
Skills in data analytics and digital – already key components of the oil and gas industry and a specialism of Alderley – will also be required for the Net Zero energy workforce in all areas.
Therefore, to ensure a smooth and successful energy transition, we will need to continue to invest in gas for a little while longer otherwise we will be at risk of not having the people or technical capability to deliver on our long-term low carbon targets.
So, by moving on North Sea gas we kill two birds with one stone – helping the UK’s energy security and continuing to develop the skills, know-how and experience that will put us on the path to a low carbon future.
Colin Elcoate is CEO of the Alderley Group and has worked in the energy industry for over 25 years.