Overnight switch to low carbon would see the lights go out

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From Mr Malcolm Webb.

Sir, Patrick Cleary’s letter (September 20) regarding shale gas claims that “the honest approach must be to acknowledge that new sources of high-carbon fossil fuel need to stay where they belong: in the ground”. In the same spirit of honesty maybe Mr Cleary should also acknowledge that in a society which is today reliant on fossil fuels for almost three-quarters of its total primary energy supply and which in 10 years, even upon attainment of the UK government’s targets for low-carbon electricity generation, will still be some 70 per cent reliant, a policy of leaving fossil fuels in the ground would risk the lights going out combined with serious economic and social dislocation.

It is, of course, important that we move purposefully to a lower-carbon economy but it is hardly useful to pretend this can happen overnight and without a reliable supply of fossil fuels to keep our society functioning as we make that journey.

Let us also remember the difference between electricity generation and total energy supply. In this country electricity generation accounts for roughly a third of total primary energy supply, with lower-carbon natural gas providing 40 per cent of electricity in 2011. Another third of our total primary energy supply goes to transport, where oil dominates and no other fuel provides any realistic near-term alternative. The final part of our energy supply goes to domestic and commercial heating and other industrial purposes where gas is the dominant source. About 80 per cent of our homes are heated by natural gas and the replacement of that gas heating by electrical power would require a quadrupling of the size of UK’s electricity system.

Malcolm Webb, Chief Executive, Oil & Gas UK, London SW1, UK

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