Fracking and Renewables: Not either/or, we need BOTH!

Poll after poll the data has shown that the UK’s switch to clean electricity chimes with the  public.  Here are the latest figures published this month:

65% in favour of continuing support for the wind industry.

76% in favour of financial support for tidal power; and

79% in favourable to continued support for solar power.

union-turbineThe survey was produced by YouGov for the Sunday Times, which has taken the temperature of public opinion on this issue for several years.  Each time they run the questions, across the political spectrum, a majority of the public backs renewables.

But instead of promoting renewables and celebrating the public support for low-carbon electricity, some elements of the UK  press are trying to create a false tension between fracking and renewables.

Pedaling cliched myths and suspect climate science they serve up a false choice between (a) the hopeless hippies with their windmills and (b) the pragmatic roughnecks with the shale rigs.  The underlying story they want the public to believe is that renewable energy increases your bills, whereas shale gas has the potential to reduce them.

Understanding that their readership will swallow this falsehood hook, line and energy-marcellus-shale05-drill-site-houses_26890_600x450sinker, the right-leaning UK press continues to provide the government with a mouthpiece with which to trumpet the potential of fracking.  This is despite the latest poll showing only 40% of the public are in favour of (with 40% against) the technology.

The reality is that both shale gas and renewable energy offer major opportunities for the UK transition to a cheaper, cleaner, more secure electricity supply in the next forty years.

The UK is blessed with powerful, inexhaustible wind and tidal resources.  Our ability to realise the full potential of both will depend on our engineers and planners, but we already have 10GW of wind generation capacity installed and plenty more to come.  Short-term bill-payer support is required to put the plant in place to generate power this way, but more renewables in the energy mix will help bills come down in the long-term by breaking our reliance on pricey imported fuel.

If we are also lucky enough to be sitting on shale gas, that does not mean we should reduce or replace our support for renewables.  Gas will be a major part of our electricity generating mix for many years to come, and is essential to back-up intermittent forms of renewable power.  On that basis pursuing fracking in the UK could also help reduce bills.  But it does not make harnessing the abundant natural resources at our disposal any less logical.

Renewables and fracking are related but not alternative sources of energy.  A huge number of variable factors will determine how much value we can extract from the technologies.  Instead of trying to set up a false choice of one or the other, the government, the press and the science community should unite to ensure that the public are properly informed of the benefits of both.

Against the best efforts of the right-leaning press, the polls show that the message only seems to be getting through on renewables.

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