Turbines Tree

Panic at the Pumps – Watershed for Britain’s Energy Policy

For me, the overall reaction over to the threat of petrol and diesel shortages, from the cynicism of the Government in seizing the opportunity to create a crisis to deflect attention from the “cash for access” scandal, to the sensationalism of the press to the selfish instincts of the public, making sure they bought they needed and never mind anyone else, fighting in forecourts and even putting lives at risk, the “Blitz mentality” on which we pride ourselves was nowhere to be seen.

Having said this, what the events also highlighted was our dangerous over reliance on oil. Part of the reaction (of the public, there are no excuses for the Government or press) was understandable because the car has become such an intrinsic element of modern life and is for many a necessity. This is a very real and pressing concern. As oil supplies dwindle and global demand grows the price of oil will continue to rise. As well as increased prices at the pumps, tanker drivers will continue to be squeezed as distributors attempt to offset price increases which will mean that strikes or threats of strikes will become more common.

The Insanity of Oil Reliance

Of course when it comes to oil isn’t all about petrol. We use it to operate machinery and to fire many of our power stations. It is no exaggeration to say that were the oil supply to dry up today the nation would grind to a halt. And we are talking about a resource that it both finite and outside of our control. When supplies reach critical levels, there is no doubt that those countries which do control the oil won’t want to share it and if they do, the price will be high and may be measured in more than money.

Although there is basically peace between the Middle East and the West, the two regions have very different cultural and political ideas and it is fair to say that the various Governments tolerate each other simply because a delicate power balance exists and it would be dangerous to disturb it. As the oil dries up however the balance of power will shift to the East and we could be faced with a stark choice – do we trade our way of life for fuel? This might sound like the premise for a bad film but you only need to look at the way so many countries around the world have been forced by the West to change their way of thinking to avoid trade embargoes or acquire aid when the West has all the power to understand that the same could easily happen in reverse.

What Can We Do to Save Ourselves?

The good news is the future does not have to be bleak. There are alternatives to oil that we can control and that are not about to run out. Also, it is not all about replacing oil, there is plenty that can be done to ensure we need less and supplies last longer. All we need is a greater political will.

In Britain we have an abundance of wind, a surprising amount of useful sunlight and being an island, we are surrounded by waves. All of these natural phenomena contain vast amounts of energy. The trick is harnessing it, but the technology is there waiting to be fully developed. Like any new technology it needs investment to reach its full potential and the impetus must come in this case from Government, either in the form of direct investments or in the form of additional renewable energy incentives. You might read this and point to the feed in tariff scheme. Positive though this is, real change will only be effected when the technologies are developed on an industrial scale, so that energy companies are able to generate all of the electricity they produce without recourse to oil, gas or nuclear fuels.

Then there is the issue of the car. Can all petrol/diesel engine vehicles really be replaced by electric equivalents? There is a catch 22 here. Although the technology is here, sales of electric cars are hindered to a large extent by the lack of available charging stations. There is a lack of available charging stations because there are not enough electric cars to make them financially viable.

This is resolvable however. Temporary tax breaks could be introduced for petrol companies who install charging facilities on their forecourts for example or installing a charging facility could be a condition of the grant of planning permission for new petrol stations.

Whatever is done to loosen the grip of oil, recent events prove that action needs to be taken quickly.

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