As many people in Europe turn to primitive ways to keep warm, an academic has said that Britain’s energy crisis was 20 years in the making.
“This has really been a crisis in the UK that’s been constructed over 20 years. And so what we’re experiencing right now is acute price crisis, where prices have gone up, what you’re potentially facing in the winter is a supply crisis,” Sean Field, a research fellow with the Center for Energy Ethics in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
“The energy price cap basically (has been) tripling in the last six or so months, so for the most vulnerable people here in the UK are those on benefits and fixed incomes. But we’re also seeing the middle and working classes being squeezed,” Field said.
He described the current situation in Europe and Britain as delicate, because Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas flowing from the east to the west, and Britain is not immune to that. The reasons for the deep energy crisis in Europe, he said, stem back to the infrastructure on which their energy is situated.
“Basically when you look at all the maps of the gas supply lines, they run from east to west. And when we have a whole region that’s dependent on natural gas, it makes it very acutely vulnerable to supply crises as well as geopolitical risk, which is exactly what we’re seeing right now,” said Field.
In face of an energy crisis, people began to resort to “some very primitive measures” to keep them warm, which he described as somewhat “ironic.”
“We’ve seen news reports about people in Germany hoarding firewood and Danes are camping out in primitive ways to cope with the energy crisis in 2022, things like this seem ironic. And even in Britain, we’ve got local city halls, town halls, planning to organise facilities in libraries and community centers so that people can actually go in there to keep warm during the cold days.”
“The UK is dependent on a steady flow of natural gas from continental Europe…to supply our domestic needs for both residential and commercial (needs),” Field said.
But he said Britain had for years given up a large part of its storage facilities, making the country dependent on a steady flow of imported gas.
“This has put us in a slightly vulnerable position” because with the conflict in Ukraine, the Russian gas is being embargoed, he said.
“One of the main sources, not just for the UK, but for the entire globe, has now been essentially cut off, which has driven up prices dramatically,” added Field.
Regarding who is responsible or to blame for the present crisis, he didn’t think there’s any one person, one agency or one company, but attributed it to “a combination of things.”
“In terms of the price problem, what we’re facing right now, this acute price spike, this really comes down to a lack of planning and vision and imagination in the last 20 years to really make our energy supply mix.”
Right now the majority of houses in Britain depend on natural gas for heating. “So we don’t have the most resilient and most flexible energy supply mix. There’s no short-term solution to that. To change that is going to take years and years. But this is a combination of both corporate responsibility and policy planning at the highest levels,” said Field.
Field said nobody could have anticipated the crisis in Ukraine, but Britain could have imagined and planned for an acute price spike, and the kind of supply crisis now potentially being faced.
“It was possible to plan for that. And what’s evident is that we haven’t. So, without pointing any fingers, this is attributable to policy makers at the highest levels,” said Field.
In terms of learning lessons from this, he perceived the lessons “as both short term, medium term and long term.”
“The short-term lessons would be that we need supports and planning in place. If we were to have an acute price spike or a supply crisis, how are we going to support the most vulnerable people,” he said
In the medium to long term, Field suggested that Britain should “really think carefully about our energy supply mix or to make a diverse, sustainable and flexible energy mix.”
This crisis, he said has really taken people by surprise.
“It’s a very strange time,” Field said, “when people are turning to firewood, and planning to get warm and community centers because they can’t heat their homes in one of the richest countries, one of the richest regions in the world.”
As to whether he could see an end to the crisis, Field said: “There seems to be consensus that by the spring or early summer we should start to see energy prices come down. So my hope is that…this will come to an end sometime in the future, perhaps next year, but nobody really knows when. The real unpredictable part is how long the geopolitical turmoil that we’re seeing right now in Europe goes on.” ■