The UK gas market and prices: why are we not talking more about renewables as a solution?

By Chris Winward


The timing of the gas market crisis makes us acutely aware of the potential impacts to the UK public, as people face a winter of energy insecurity, with rising costs to heat their homes. Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was clearly aiming to reassure the British public, when he stated that the government’s primary focus is to protect consumers and that the country benefits from a diverse range of gas supply sources.


Rising gas prices is a global problem. The wholesale cost of gas has increased by 250% since the start of the year, with a 50% rise just since August. As countries around the world recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions ease, the demand for gas has risen. This along with the previous cold winter has resulted in a gas market with depleted reserves both in the UK and Europe which has driven prices up as countries seek to increase reserves for the winter ahead. A reliance in the UK on bringing in gas from the continent to supplement our own production coupled with a high demand for LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Asia have also contributed to the increase in price as gas is diverted to the highest bidder.


The UK will need to look to solutions to resolve the current situation as well as increasing the country’s resilience should a similar situation arise in the future.


In order to increase the UK’s energy security we need to become more self-sufficient. To do this we must develop more energy sources in the UK and stop relying on energy coming from Europe and other parts of world. Renewable energy plays an important role in making this happen, however this needs to be a balanced approach as wind and solar alone do not provided resilience needed. The UK currently produces renewable biomethane using anaerobic digestion (AD) technology. Unlike its fossil fuel equivalent, natural gas, biomethane does not release additional carbon into the atmosphere which has been locked away for thousands of years, as it recycles the carbon that exists in the present environment.


AD is a proven technology that could stop the need for importing gas from abroad. It turns waste into biomethane and can help process the 10.2 million tonnes of consumer food waste we throw away every year in the UK. AD also produces digestate, a nutrient rich fertiliser, as part of the same process. This could prevent manmade fertilisers being produced which emits harmful carbon dioxide gases.


Stepping up biomethane production will provide even more renewable gas for UK homes and businesses displacing gas from fossil fuels and the subsequent further release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), a supportive policy environment could enable the production of eight billion m3 biomethane per year using AD technology, which is enough to heat 6.4 million homes.


The other major factor that has been in the news is the shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2) needed to keep the whole food supply chain moving from abattoirs through to packing food for supermarket shelves. So, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the process of producing biomethane using AD technology also produces CO2, which can be captured from the biogas produced in the digestion tanks when it is upgraded to biomethane. This CO2 is chemically identical to the gas supplied to the food and beverage industry so could help provide a solution for the shortfall.


By investing more in AD we can stop relying on the two factories that produces 60% of our CO2 production and save the government millions of pounds which they recently paid to CF Industries to reopen one of their plants. This money could have been redirected into new AD plants to produce green gas and CO2 which would be here for the next 25+ years.


The current energy crisis illustrates how we need to look at renewable energy sources that are already working in the UK. AD provides a clean, closed loop solution and if we located an AD plant on the edge of every town to produce green electricity and gas we would create a resilient, sustainable circular economy.


Now is the time we ask everyone to “Be Brave on Climate Change” whether you are a leader of a country or just making changes to your everyday life we can all make a difference.  As COP26 approaches we should all reach out to our leaders who will represent the UK and the rest of the global community to demand they #bebraveonclimate change and make the decisions to protect the planet and the future generations.