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UK Dependency on Russian Coal Highlighted

coal supply trainA new report from Greenpeace has revealed the UKs indirect reliance on troubled Russia for our energy needs.

The popular theory has been that we are relatively if not completely insulated from a direct impact of any interruption in the gas supply from the Russia / Ukraine crisis and as such our energy security is somewhat higher than our continental neighbours.

However that was always a slightly naive view with the (two-way) interconnectors between the UK and the continent enabling gas producers to send their wares to premium priced markets, which continental Europe could be if Russia blocks gas flow through Ukraine as it has continually threatened to do. Any such directional flow would lead to the UK’s own shortages and the price spikes such an imbalance would bring.

Now though Greenpeace have highlighted another chink in the UK’s energy armour, imported coal.

It is a sad indictment of the UK energy industry that we have just 2 deep seam coal mines left operating which will soon fall to one, this is despite coal remaining the largest fuel source for electricity generation in the UK.

This anomaly is made up through imports of cheap coal from two main sources, the first America, the second? Russia.

In total in the 2013/14 fuel mix disclosure period 34% of UK electricity was generated from coal.

Greenpeace found that 47% of coal was imported in 2013, and 41% of this was imported from Russia.

This figure in rose to 51% in Quarter 1 2014.

In effect therefore 17% of all the electricity generated in the UK is solely dependent on Russian supplies of coal. This is a less than palatable situation at any time, ever more so in a climate of sanction tit for tat.

Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace’s energy campaigner, said:

“By burning Russian coal we damage our air quality and threaten the climate. David Cameron says he’s turning up the heat on Russia, but he’s presided over a massive increase in our reliance on Russian energy.”

That said the immediate worry isn’t the use of coal or it’s renewable replacement but the source and security of supply. Despite the increase of renewables to nearly 17% in the UK generation mix there simply isn’t enough short or medium term investment to deliver anything like the 34% of electricity generated by coal.

Replacement orders need to be placed with America with haste, reopening of our still existing coal mines should happen, a stay of execution for our nuclear stations should be passed, further shale gas experimentation should be undertaken and refreshed vigour in investment in all forms of renewable energy and not just those politically acceptable to the contemporary government should be made.

Even without the geo-political issues of Russia that sort of open-minded and pragmatic approach to a genuine fuel mix is the right thing to do. With such issues it is a dereliction of duty not to.

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