Tuesday January 03 2023.
3 minute read
Does the UK have an oil-free future?
60 years ago, oil was the lifeblood of the world.
It kept the planet’s machines pumping, fed our transport system and lit and heated all of our homes.
But with the realities of the climate crisis now so stark, oil is having something of a PR crisis. Rather than powering the planet, it is being seen increasingly as a poison we can’t stop using. But is stopping all use of oil realistic? When it comes to generating energy, Britain is well on its way to a renewable future – at the end of 2022, for the first time, environmentalists celebrated the milestone of 20GW of power being generated by wind, meaning that it provided 53% of the nation’s energy at the point when the record was set. And with recent developments in using nuclear fusion to develop energy and the U-turn on onshore windfarms, maybe the prospect of 100% zero-carbon energy generation by 2035 and an oil-free future isn’t so far out of reach?
But as we know, crude oil is used for a lot more than purely energy production. It is an integral part of our lives - beyond transport, we need it for all manner of things, from plastic, and nylon production for clothes, through to the propylene glycol in so many moisturisers and hair products. While there are alternatives to these derivatives, they are not as affordable and are harder to find – the cheapest sofa without polyurethane stuffing that can be found with a quick google starts at £1,000 more than its comparable oil-based versions. And although Rolls-Royce made headlines in November for testing a hydrogen battery for an aircraft, developments of that level are still a long way off becoming a reality. Finding and making alternatives to every single use of a crude oil derivative will be expensive and take time. While this science is being debated and studied, the priority needs to be how we can use oil more sustainably today, in order to ensure we protect our planet. One thing we do know is that we don’t have time on our side.
One way we can protect our oil reserves and make its use as sustainable as possible, is through the upkeep of the infrastructure we already have. Making repairs and keeping on top of the upkeep of mining and drilling structures extends the lives of these buildings and saves the energy output of building new infrastructure, as well as protecting from polluting events such as oil spills. While dedicating time and money to the repair of oil rigs does not sound like the most environmentally friendly idea, it is these sorts of long-term decisions that will have a real impact on the quality of living we have in the future.
We have made great strides forward in renewable energy and clearly need to continue the march. A big part of the mission is not only investing in projects such as Sizewell C, and building more windfarms, but also developing the best possible energy storage facilities, to allow us to capture the energy when the wind or the sun is strong, and use it when the country needs it the most.
Ultimately, most of us will agree that we have to reduce our dependence on oil as soon as possible, not least because of issues around energy security. We need to have a serious reassessment of the way we use oil in our lives, where we can reduce that, and where we can switch to alternatives. When that cannot happen, we should prioritise using oil for those specific and necessary purposes. We are unable to ‘just stop oil’, but there are certainly things we can do to use it more sustainably.
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