Cost of natural gas
It's official now, British gas is the most expensive fuel in the world. I read it in the news today and cannot say I'm surprised, only last year it went up by some 13% on just one occasion, which I recall in detail as the news made me choke on my coffee (heated with british gas, by the way). Over the previous 2 years the total increases add up to aprox. 40%.
Now, if sitting in our homes that are colder than last year and still spending more than last year again, which has been the energy trend of the decade isn't bad enough, we're also on the brink of running out of gas and having regular black outs. The reason is that bad energy policy, lack of planning and an unusually cold winter are about to collide.
Natural gas as a fossil fuel is not too bad for the environment, the only concerning pollution it causes is CO2. Certainly it's clean burning enough to vent in to your kitchen with a gas cooker and leaves behind no toxic ashes or unhealthy smoke. Also, due to the structure of the methane molecule having more hydrogen-carbon bonds it releases less carbon per thermal unit when burnt. It has done wonders for cleaning up residential air quality. But, it was never a good idea to convert so many electric power plants over to natural gas, the supplies are just too limited and the price too high. It's been a rather short sighted plan from the government that has helped make the energy picture look better, certainly it's curbed the carbon emissions somewhat even if energy use has gone up. Unfortunatly, looking good on paper doesn't allways look good in reality.
Now, both domestic gas and electric come from mainly the same limited, imported and expensive fuel. They both cost a small fortune and a shortage of one creates a shortage of both. I fear it's much the same story elsewhere. The general trend to cut back on pollution and carbon dixoide, particuarly with political interventions such as legislation and Kyoto mean that rather than find good sustainable long term solutions many countries are buying in to seemingly easy solutions. Natural gas, since it releases less CO2 per thermal unit than other fossil fuels is an attractive solution in the short term, it also avoids all the expensive and now required by law pollution controls for coal burning. Political intervention seems to have just shifted the popularity of fossil fuels around a little, and tightening up on emissions has unfortunatly done very little to encourage renewable energy. Only long term will the costs of these easy solutions be obvious.