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Head and shoulders shot of Dan Cook, Chief Executive, Active Building Centre Photo: ABC
Dan Cook, Chief Executive, Active Building Centre (ABC) Photo: ABC

The UK government’s new Energy Security Strategy is distinctly light on demand-side measures, writes Dan Cook, Chief Executive of the Active Building Centre (ABC), which specialises in local energy solutions that ‘go beyond energy efficiency’.

The government’s long-awaited and much-needed proposal for overhauling the UK’s energy mix, Britain’s Energy Security Strategy (BESS), is here. The strategy has been designed to ‘boost long-term energy independence, security and prosperity’, building the UK’s energy resilience in the face of severe geopolitical instability while accelerating the transition to net zero.

 

If we really want to reach net zero, we need to do more to consider energy demand as well as supply, and the role active homes, offices and industrial properties can play in generating, managing and storing energy. This can provide resilience and a more stable and secure grid. 

 

Strain on the grid

As part of the strategy, the government announced that it will be creating a new publicly owned body to oversee the national energy system. We hope that this will help modernise the grid, which will be vital if we are to effectively move towards an energy system comprising millions of assets, as projected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and energy regulator Ofgem in last year’s Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan. However, this new systems operator won’t itself be sufficient to address the issues we are facing. 

 

Current predictions for the increase in electricity usage, mainly driven by the proliferation of electric vehicle charging points and heat pumps, show a precipitous rise in demand. But increasing and securing supply, as the BESS focuses on, should be only one aspect of our response. If we fail to consider how we can reduce, manage and stagger demand, then we will be ignoring a crucial part of the energy equation.

 

Energy efficiency 

As pointed out by many critics of the strategy, a key missing element is greater funding for improved energy efficiency in our building stock. Boosting insulation uptake would help to cut the UK’s dependency on international fuel and also cut our emissions.

 

Insulating homes and buildings is one simple solution to reduce energy demand and alleviate the strain from the National Grid, while also offering the added bonus of reducing heating bills. The BESS does note that the government will be providing temporary VAT cuts to improve efficiency in heating, but this doesn’t go far enough to provide any additional funding for this urgent task. Failing to tackle our energy demand at the source risks making achieving energy security even more of a challenge. 

 

Localised solutions and active homes

At the ABC we are dedicated to researching and creating localised energy solutions that go beyond energy efficiency. Our work centres on the creation of active buildings that can generate and store their own energy, sell unused electricity back to the grid and help to heat homes in the local area. This, in turn, further reduces energy demand from the National Grid and helps reduce fuel poverty.

 

This naturally requires investment in the technologies capable of capturing some of the renewable energy sources brought direct to buildings, such as solar power. We therefore wholeheartedly welcome the prospect of a five-fold increase in the UK’s current 14 GW of solar capacity floated in the BESS, to be driven by a consultation on solar projects on domestic and commercial rooftops.

 

However, it’s not just a question of reducing demand, but also repositioning it. As well as supplementing national carbon-neutral supply with locally generated renewables, we need to embrace the principle of flexible demand. By investing in storage capacity and intelligent systems, we can smooth out peaks and troughs in demand and shift electricity load to non-peak times, when excess renewable energy is otherwise wasted.

 

We currently work with a wide range of stakeholders, from national government to commercial property developers, to utilise smart technologies and materials that can transform homes into more energy efficient and intelligent net-contributors. The government’s willingness to address the energy issues facing the country, through its BESS in the macro sense, and working with organisations like ours in the micro, is welcome. But it’s time for us all – government, industry and the ABC – to work together to make the changes we can to our energy demand before it’s too late.

 

Time for action

We welcome the proposed increase in funding for alternative energy solutions laid out in the BESS. Overall, we commend the government’s diversification of energy production within the UK, providing greater control over our energy supply and, ultimately, our energy bills. 

 

However, the government needs to go much further and faster. It must do more to think about how the UK can manage its energy demands, as well as the supply. Previous policies from this government have outlined the crucial role that active homes can play in supporting the UK’s energy future – from the Building and Heat Strategy published last year, to the Chancellor’s own Spring Statement only a few weeks ago. We believe it is a missed opportunity not to have done more to manage the other side of the energy equation.

 

These plans bring energy production onto home soil and offer energy security to the country as a whole, but we can expect to wait up to 10 years for some of these solutions to be fully operational, and even longer for some nuclear solutions. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has acknowledged this lag, and it’s an important point. 

 

If we’re to reach net zero by 2050, we need to consider shorter-term solutions as well as the long-term strategy. Without factoring in how to better manage demand by making homes and buildings energy active, the UK cannot call itself fully resilient, and won’t be able to deliver on the government’s promises.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.

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