How the United Kingdom could suffer in another freezing winter

I write this when it is very hot in London. We are sweltering and I am enjoying the heat wave, which I personally hope will continue. However, it was not that long ago when we were suffering such cold weather that my blog entry about how your condensing boiler can stop working in very cold weather got thousand of hits.  Weather changes and we adjust to the changes with heating and cooling. And this made me think about natural gas. 86% of UK homes are connected to the gas grid. Our energy supplies are terribly insecure. We use so much fuel of which we have little and the western world and much of the developing world depends on foreign supplies of fuel. There is a gas argument between Russia and Belarus, which unusually has broken out in the summer rather than the winter. Each side claimed the other owes money, and this is a familiar tale oft told in Eastern Europe. Russia had been reducing rather than cutting off gas to Belarus, and around 6.25% of European Union gas supplies were threatened. The dispute was settled by late May but Germany, Poland and Lithuania were affected. A new dispute broke out with 60% of the gas passing through Belarus being curtailed. That has yet to be settled.

There is an alternative gas route to supply Europe with Russian gas and that cross through the Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia have in the past few years also had similar disputes about payments for transiting gas through pipelines.

It is possible that if another dispute between Russia and the Ukraine arises and the dispute between Russia and Belarus increase revives (these things do have a history of reviving), Europe could find drastic reductions in the amounts of Russian gas that it can obtain.

At the very end of the Russia gas pipeline is the United Kingdom. Our own reserves of gas are difficult to estimate accurately but we do need gas from Russia and from Norway to keep us warm. In January this year, when the United Kingdom experienced unusually cold and freezing weather for an extended period gas was cut off at over 100 factories as our supplies and infrastructure failed to cope with the cold weather.

Austria buys gas in summer, when gas prices are cheap, stores it and uses it in winter, when gas is expensive to import. It holds enough gas for six months storage. France has 24% of its annual gas use stored. The United Kingdom five years ago had almost four days worth of storage and now has around 5% of its annual gas use stored.

It is not difficult to foresee a winter as cold as our last winter in which Russia Belarus and Russia and Ukraine are arguing, with gas supplies being curtailed or stopped. The United Kingdom will then be cold. Oil and electricity prices will rise drastically, as the energy suppliers cash in.

Those with solar assisted heating and solar hot water will have some comfort, but as that is a tiny fraction of households, for the rest there will be very cold comfort indeed.

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