As the political skirmishing gets underway in earnest over the independence issue, it is clear that the issue of North Sea oil is still a key element of the independence strategy.
We therefore all owe it to ourselves to research the whole issue of energy security to assess the long term strategic significance of North Sea oil, bearing in mind that a vote for independence is not like voting in a new government which will be thrown out in five years if it makes a mess. Whatever the outcome, we will all have to live with the consequences for generations to come.
According to Wikipedia,North Sea oil production peaked in 1999 and at least 60% and possibly as much as 76% of proven North Sea oil reserves in the UK basin have already been extracted.
Professor David McKay, who is the Chief Scientific Officer to the Department of Climate Change, has written an outstanding book called “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”. It may be purchased in hard copy and is also available as a free download. Professor McKay has costed out and assessed the environmental consequences of all available types of energy. He concludes that, if we were to rely exclusively on off-shore wind, the entire coastline of the UK would have to be covered out to a distance of about four kilometres. If we were to rely on on-shore wind, the turbines would take up about half of the entire land mass of the UK. Professor McKay concludes that renewables alone will not meet our energy requirements and that the lights will start going out in 2016 unless we are willing to start importing nuclear energy from England or North African sunshine or a combination of the two.
To understand what I mean by North African sunshine, have a look at the Desertec Foundation. This is the most visionary business proposition I have ever seen. At a conceptual level it involves installing solar thermal power plants in the North African desert, possibly using sea water which would provide desalination as a useful by-product. Electricity would be produced from steam turbines and then pumped across the Mediterranean into Europe using high voltage direct current cables which enjoy a very small power loss in transmission. All of this could be done using existing technology which is all proven and widely available. All that is required is the capital and the political will to make it happen. The process is already underway and the first plant will be built in Morocco this year. Looking to the longer term therefore North African sunshine and shale gas from Poland are likely to play much greater strategic role in our energy mix than North Sea oil.