Energy policies across the globe are getting ever-more muddled. EU countries are preparing to voluntarily try to reduce their gas usage. This is not to save the planet as part of climate change, but rather to prepare for when gas rationing is forced upon them.
t is driven by the need by many European countries to fill up gas storage tanks for the winter as they expect Russian gas supplies to be greatly reduced or even cut off.
This is not an environmental policy but a dose of short-term energy realism.
In the US, the Biden administration is struggling to get legislation passed which will implement the climate targets agreed in the Paris agreement.
While the country has committed to reduce its emissions by 50-52pc below 2005 levels by 2030, recent research has shown that without further policy action, the US is on track for a reduction of just 24-35pc.
In Japan they have 55 nuclear power stations. After the Fukishima disaster they shut down virtually all of them. Now just 10 are back in use. In the meantime, to plug the energy gap, Japan has become the largest importer of LNG in the world as there is no political appetite to reopen nuclear power plants.
Japan imported 74,463,881 tons of LNG in 2020 valued at over $30bn (€29.2bn) – about 21pc of the world’s net LNG imports.
In countries like Belgium and Germany they are looking at taking mothballed coal-fired generating plants back into service to try and meet the coming energy squeeze.
Germany has the largest coal power generation fleet in Europe and is now seeking to boost utilisation, prioritising near-term energy security over longer-term environmental targets.
Desperate times are leading to the consideration of desperate measures
In the Netherlands, they are even considering reopening the Groningen gas field, which was once one of the biggest in Europe. It is an onshore field and it was shut down because it had triggered a number of earthquakes over the last 30 years.
Desperate times are leading to the consideration of desperate measures.
In Ireland we are persisting with a sort of bizarre lack of reality about all of this. We use a lot of gas to generate electricity. Much of it is imported through pipelines.
We don’t have any storage capacity for LNG gas which would come in pretty handy in the event of supply problems down the pipeline.
We have ambitious climate change emissions targets which we have adopted from the EU and we have consistently failed to meet them. It is as if the optics of the situation are more important than the reality.
Other countries, from the US, to the UK and from Japan to Germany, are adopting their policy needs to meet the new geopolitical realities around gas and oil certainty.
At home we still have a box-ticking mentality rather than something that faces up to reality and acts accordingly.
For example, government policy remains opposed to issuing new exploration licences in Irish waters. Changing that policy would cost nothing and it would not deter us from trying to meet our climate change targets.
The success rate for commercial discoveries has been incredibly low. Hundreds of millions have been spent on exploration in Irish waters without yielding a result
Solid-looking gas prospect next to the Corrib
That is not the point. These are commercial decisions and commercial risks for private sector backers. Nobody is suggesting the State should go digging for oil or gas in Irish waters. So why not let the private sector give it a go.
Look at the few successes there have been over the years and the difference they have made. The country benefitted from Kinsale gas for decades. Right now it is benefitting from the fact we are receiving about one third of our gas needs from the Corrib find off the west coast.
A company called Europa Oil & Gas has a very solid-looking gas prospect next to the Corrib where it believes there may be double the Corrib find in two locations within 40kms of the Corrib field.
It needs an extension of its licence beyond the end of this month’s deadline. So far, it hasn’t been forthcoming. The company needs more time to find a suitable backer, something which is a lot more likely now than it would have been two years ago.
Europa chairman Brian O’Cathain has said he fears the licence extension is being left in a limbo by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications because of ideology rather than having it proceed.
The simple truth is that the Greens have been right about everything. They identified the threats to the planet from pollution, energy consumption, greenhouse gases and the need to tackle these problems.
Few anywhere will argue with the benefits of switching to renewable energy. The debate should not be about energy, but timing.
There is an argument that says the planet is burning and everything must be done to slow that down immediately. But equally, uncertainty about energy security triggered by the Ukraine war runs the risk of destabilising entire societies.
Arguments about shifting to renewable energy have always been about when to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The EU has officially recognised gas as a sustainable fuel source.
The Corrib gas field has all of the infrastructure in place and it will gradually produce less and less over the next decade. The Government wants new gas-fired power plants to be built, which would be operational for at least 25 years. Why not use Irish gas, if it can be brought to shore commercially.
The lack of an LNG storage facility is a gaping hole in our infrastructure and security of gas supply.
Surely, the Government can re-examine its decision on exploration without abandoning or watering down its commitments to a renewable future.
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