UK Energy Sector Facing Crisis As Natural Resources Diminish
The future looks promising, but energy security will be a real challenge, according to experts who gathered on TynesideE
University’s Prof Jon Gluyas, an expert in geo-thermal power and fossil fuels, chaired the Great Energy Debate and highlighted how the UK fortunately has ‘abundant natural energy reserves’.
(Photo: The Great Energy Debate)
But he quickly shifted tack to point out how these resources are diminishing and, as a result the UK is now facing an energy crisis.
He said: “We have the resources but they are in decline for a number of reasons. Coal production has declined significantly, our light oil reserves are in decline, we are at a pinch point for gas and we are not capable of storing renewables.
“This makes us extremely vulnerable for the first time in generations, and, along with this, the green agenda is failing. We have lots of initiatives but we are not making much impact on emissions to the atmosphere.
“For the first time the UK is facing a pinch on energy security – the future looks promising, but over the next few years energy security will be a real challenge.”
The Great Energy Debate was the highlight of the programme at the seventh annual NOF Energy National Conference and Exhibition, Energy: A Balanced Future.
Durham-based NOF Energy, which now works across most energy sectors, has its roots in the North Sea oil and gas industry from which it grew over a quarter of a century ago.
Consequently, many of the 400 delegates at the conference at the Sage Gateshead were cheered by a presentation from one of the world’s leading oil and gas consultancies Rystad Energy.
Mark MacLean, senior vice president and UK head, concluded his address by predicting a rise in the oil price, and an increase in the number of offshore projects.
He said: “Some say we have reached peak oil demand, but oil demand has never been as high since the 1970s. I cannot see that changing for some time and, as a result, we expect to see an increase in the oil price over the next few years.”
He began his address by reflecting on the period since the 2104 oil price crash. He said the cycle had followed a familiar path; from over production, to a cut in spending and an accelerated decline in infield drilling.
He said the decline in conventional oil projects has been at ‘unprecedented levels’ and said that in relation to predicted demand this is an ‘unsustainable course’.
“The conventional oil projects – the baseload of the oil and gas market – take three to six years and we needed to start building now for the next cycle.
“Up to now there has been no significant rebound, but 2017 is a transition point and we are seeing more new projects being sanctioned.
“We had reached the lowest point since 1950, when only 10 projects were approved, but we expect to see 30 to 35 approved and this is setting up the stage for a new oil cycle.”
While acknowledging the growth of renewables such as solar and wind he said they account to 3% of global supply and said it would be ‘another 20 to 30 years before renewables would result in a significant impact on oil demand’.
Richard Aukland, director of research at 4C Offshore, highlighted the growth of offshore wind which is expected to reach a global capacity of 25GW by 2020 – almost double today’s level.
He said improving technology had seen load factors (the amount of time power is being produced) increase from 30% to 45%.
He went on to say that better offshore sites and the clustering of developments was helping with significant cost reductions.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive the Nuclear Industry Association, believes there is no single bullet to achieve the country’s climate change targets.
“We are nowhere near achieving the targets set out by the Paris Climate Agreement, to do that we will have to rid ourselves of coal by 2025.
“By 2030 only one of our nuclear plants will still be operating, so we have a lot to do in a short space of time.”
He highlighted the employment opportunities and economic benefits of developing low-carbon energy.
“People talk about the trilemma (energy security, costs and cutting carbon emissions), but we should really consider it as a ‘quadrilemma’ where we also factor in the economic opportunity from the new jobs and skills that can be created in the UK and the North East.”
Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), said most people do not understand where our energy comes from.
“As a society we have moved away from our physical relationship with energy – when we used to carry buckets of coal from the coal shed – to the new plug and play reality of the digital world.”
He said that by 2030 we will be importing 80% of our gas and he believes we should doing more to harness our indigenous resources, such as shale gas.
He said: “Two-thirds of the public support fracking for our own gas, rather than relying on imported gas.”
This year, he said, will be a big year for the UK shale gas industry with exploration wells set to be drilled in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire.
He said the industry could create over 60,000 jobs with opportunities for the supply chain in sand, cement, drilling and transport, while the market for rigs could be worth £2bn.