The UK could be facing a gas crisis within 10 years and homeowners and businesses must start reducing their energy use in preparation, the head of a major West Midland sustainable building project has warned.
Tim Pollard, general manager of the Wolseley Sustainable Building Center (SBC) in Leamington Spa said experts were predicting that North Sea Gas will be close to exhaustion by 2020 and the UK would end up relying on imports.
He said that heating and plumbing giant Wolseley was now searching for alternative products in order to ensure the of its future business.
Mr Pollard said: "We are the largest supplier of central heating in the UK and, therefore, we are also the largest supplier of gas boilers.
"Any move away from gas is a threat to our core market and we have to address this threat seriously."
Wolseley, which also has its UK headquarters in Leamington Spa, has designed the SBC to showcase new environmental construction materials and energy-saving products.
Due to be opened in April 2008, the £3 million development is the first of its kind in Europe. It features at least four different renewable energy sources, four different kinds of insulation and four different types of drainage.
All of the devices will be monitored in an attempt to show constructors how they can benefit their own buildings.
Mr Pollard said: "The building, as a building, would never have been built!
"It is a live showcase demonstrating what these products can do. It's been a challenge to implement - no one has looked at how these devices interact before."
Almost 85 per cent of the UK's 23 million homes rely on gas boilers for their heating and that people should be planning ways to reduce their energy use, Mr Pollard said.
"Gas prices have risen 93 per cent in the last three years, but that is going to look mild compared to what we might experience in the future if we do not have a secure supply."
He added that there was an opportunity to import gas into the country, but there was still likely to be a "fuel gap" - where the amount of gas needed exceeds supply.
Mr Pollard said: "We will have to have energy from alternative sources and it will not just be one source, it will be a number.
"I find it frustrating when critics knock wind power or ground-source heating by saying that they will never meet all our energy demands. They are right, but all these technologies will make their contribution."
According to figures from the Energy Saving Trust, £6.8 billion of energy is wasted in the UK every year and one of the biggest contributors is domestic buildings. The average household emits twice as much carbon dioxide every year as the average car.
Recent government legislation on sustainable homes meant that the construction industry was paying more attention than ever to making buildings more energy efficient, Mr Pollard said.
He added that this was vital to secure the economic success of firms in the future.
"Yes, like climate change, some people that are sceptical about the figures and say gas will last a lot longer or a solution will appear like magic. But nothing like that exists at the moment and our businesses do not have the luxury of that fantasy. We need to take a more pragmatic view."
Prof Richard Green, an energy economist at the University of Birmingham, said that while there may not be an energy crisis by 2020, the UK would see a long term rise in the cost of gas. He said: "UK production of gas from the North Sea continental shelf is going to be declining quite sharply in the future, according to Government projections.
"Talk of a crisis by 2020 is far too strong, but the long term trend in gas prices will surely be upwards."