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The 2050 Pathways Calculator and Shale Gas

In December last year, we updated our 2050 Pathways calculator to include costs estimates for the different choices facing the UK’s energy infrastructure . Although there are inevitably uncertainties about predicting costs of anything decades in the future, we felt that in order to have an honest and fair discussion about the UK’s energy future we needed to reflect the potential costs.

Since then the 2050 Pathways team have received comments about how shale gas is treated within the 2050 Pathways Calculator, with some people expressing concern that we were ignoring this source of energy.

Shale gas is a natural gas (predominantly methane) found in shale rock. Natural gas produced from shale is often referred to as ‘unconventional’ and this refers to the type of rock in which it is found. ‘Conventional’ oil and gas refers to hydrocarbons which have previously been in sandstone or limestone, instead of shale or coal which are now the focus of unconventional exploration.

The 2050 Pathways Calculator does not distinguish whether natural gas in the pathways originates from ‘conventional’ or ‘unconventional’ sources. It takes natural gas as a primary energy source. If the Calculator user believes that shale gas will significantly lower the price of natural gas in the UK in the future, he/she can choose lower cost assumptions in the Calculator section ‘costs sensitivity’. The 2050 Pathways Cost analysis is in a Call for Evidence phase and we look forward to hearing ideas and comments on how to make the tool better.

4 Responses to “The 2050 Pathways Calculator and Shale Gas”

  1. Paul Steverson says:

    Shale gas reserve numbers seem to becoming quite large (especially in the USA), and the Americans are discussing changing over their LNG import terminals to export terminals. This could fundamentally change the energy market and gas pricing for the rest of the world over the next 20 – 40 years (as North sea oil and Alaskan oil did). The payback period of renewable investments and CCS will possibly become so long as to be a daft option. (if we wish to compete in the world market).

    While it is very ‘nice’ to use renewable energy, we need to be cogniscent of the economic reality, and only invest in the best options, and that includes energy ‘security’ for a large percentage of our requirements.

    Maybe a ‘value’ should be placed on the security of supply as well as the carbon reduction target to achieve the best overall result for the UK, and maybe we should not be too ‘hung up’ on our ‘legal’ obligation to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050 providing we do ‘other’ things to help the environment instead. I do not believe many other countries will be taking this 80% CO2 reduction target too seriously. (however damaging their actions may be on the environment)

    While we still will need nuclear power for base load low CO2 electricity supplies, in the absence of a fundamental breakthrough in fusion technology I believe that we should look more seriously at developing Thorium reactor options so as to reduce the rate that actinides (long lived wastes) are generated, Molten salt reactors could also be used as Actinide burners to reduce the nasty legacy wastes from the uranium plutonium cycle reprocessing industry [e.g. 100+ tonnes of Plutonium plus Americium and Curium] which will be a hazard for ½million years.

    It is a more complex problem than just reducing CO2 emissions, we need to look at the big picture.

  2. Drew Spencer says:

    David above says shale gas is not something we should use as it COULD be detrimental to the environment. ‘Could’. Gas prices have recently halved in the US and many areas are experiencing economic growth from investment in shale. There is very little evidence to support your claims about the pollution – the liquid is mostly water and contains less harmful chemicals than we all put down our sinks every day. The fact is that the government has already staked its energy plans on the fact that fossil fuels are running out and will become more expensive, and does not want to see shale as an option as it means cheap gas.

    Mr Huhne is already planning 32,000 turbines, which have been PROVEN to be ineffective in cost, only produce 30% of their capacity at the best of times, and they need gas as a backup source too so you end up emitting more carbon than you would just using gas. Plus you ruin the countryside and seas. That definitely will harm the environment.

    As for your alternative. Solar companies are going bust the world over. We don’t have much sun in the UK anyway, even if the technology were at a point where it was economically viable. How are you going to get many gigawatts from solar panels? It’s impossible and people need to wake up to the fact that we need lots of new nuclear and gas power stations now.

    http://utilitiessavings.co.uk/2012/01/5000-solar-firms-go-bust-in-germany-in-2011/

    http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2105952/solyndra-solar-company-bankrupt

    http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2011/08/31/once-a-shining-light-for-solar-power-solyndra-goes-bust/

  3. David Yearsley says:

    Shale gas is not something that U.K should use as a power souce as it could be detrimental to the environment, they use hundreds of chemicals in the extraction process that are none biodegradable. Then they mix these chemicals with upto a million letres of water and pump it into the earth, only 50 percent is recoverd at the end. the process will damage the water system and can cause earth quakes. solar is a much better option

  4. Jennifer Powers says:

    Makes sense, thanks for the clarification!

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