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The global gas challenge D

URING THE 1990S the UK experienced a ‘dash for gas’ as bountiful supplies from the North Sea enabled the power sector to replace coal with cleaner

natural gas. This process of decarbonisation played a major role in the UK meeting its Kyoto Protocol emission reduction target. Inter-connectors were built to link the UK to the continental gas market, allowing gas to be exported from the UK. Yet in 2000, production on the UK continental shelf peaked and by 2004 the UK found itself a net importer of natural gas. By 2014 the UK found itself having to import half of the natural gas it consumed meaning that in just a decade the UK has effectively ‘globalised’ its natural gas security, leaving consumers exposed to market volatility and geopolitics. A recently completed project funded by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) – which is supported by the ESRC – has examined the consequences to the UK of increased global market exposure. Because of events in Ukraine and the domestic debate over shale gas development, the issue of gas security is seldom far from the headlines, but should we be concerned and is shale gas the answer?

Gas is an important part of the UK energy system but global events and changes in the gas market can rapidly affect our gas imports. What role will gas play in power generation in the future and where will it come from? By Professor Michael Bradshaw

Today, natural gas plays a major role in the

UK’s energy system. According to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), in 2013 natural gas accounted for 32 per cent of the nation’s primary energy consumption and it was responsible for 27 per cent of electricity generation – a share that has been depressed by the return of cheap coal. Natural gas consumption in the UK is shared more or less equally between three sectors: power generation, industry and households. It is important to remember that more than 80 per cent of households use natural gas. Thus, the future of gas demand in the UK is about more than power generation. Although the UK’s import dependence has increased significantly, it benefits from a diversity of supply sources. In 2013, production from Norway accounted for 58 per cent of imports carried by pipeline directly to the UK and a further 23 per cent came from continental Europe via the interconnectors. These imports mean that UK gas security is increasingly exposed to pan-European developments and the policies of the European Commission to create a single European gas market. But in 2013 the remaining 20 per cent


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