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UK Security of Supply
Based upon figures from BEIS, in 2018 the UK has an inland energy consumption of 192.8 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (MTOE) and an indigenous energy production of 116.3 MTOE (BEIS 2018). This leaves a significant shortfall of approximately 40% to be covered by importing energy and brings into question the security of the UK’s energy supply. The problem is currently resolved by mass imports of energy sources such as oil, gas and coal. However, this approach is not sustainable and does not align with the UK’s Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) (DBEIS, 2019). This leads to national security of supply issues since the UK is heavily reliant on other countries to meet its energy needs.
As the country moves towards a carbon neutral electricity grid, the existing import strategy will become less viable as renewable energy production takes a larger share of the energy production mix. This transition will come with numerous security of supply challenges. For example, wind energy cannot be stored and transported in the same way as oil and gas. Generally, renewable energy is stored and transported as electricity. This presents some issues with current infrastructure yet opportunities for growth and development of what the UK grid can do. The impending ban on new sales petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and resulting electrification of vehicles is a good example of this situation - current grid infrastructure and power generation methods will not be able to deal with the increase of peak electrical demand and will require substantial investment (Ofgem, 2018). Nevertheless, the electrification of vehicles also offers opportunity to use the network of vehicles as a supplementary battery, therefore adding more utility to the grid.
Renewable energy sources have the additional complication of intermittency and unpredictability of power generation. This is currently preventing wind and solar from supplying larger shares of the UK energy mix. If renewables are to be implemented as the main contributor to the energy mix, energy storage must be transformed to deal with the increased magnitude of load and diversity in peaks which will occur when the heat and transport grids are electrified.
Interconnectors are structures which allow energy to flow between international energy networks. As of 2018, 0.9% (BEIS, 2018) of the UK’s energy is obtained via international interconnectors from mainland Europe. Although the UK has good conditions for power generation through wind harnessing (reflected by the significant investment in offshore wind), there are geological constraints for solar and hydropower (Timperley, 2018). Relying on one renewable energy source would leave the UK in a vulnerable position due to the unpredictable nature of wind. To bridge this gap, interconnectors could provide a method of buying energy from other countries who have produced surplus energy sourced from renewables.
To conclude, decarbonisation of the UK grid comes with substantial security of supply challenges. Infrastructure will be the biggest challenge; the grid must be altered to deal with the increased demand, storage must be improved significantly to deal with renewable intermittency and provide more resilience by connecting to other energy networks. However, developing technologies also come with opportunities for improvements to grid functionality and efficiency.
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Energy (BEIS) (2018) ENERGY TRENDS DECEMBER 2018. pp. 12-20. London: Crown.
Timperley, J. (2018) Six charts show mixed progress for UK renewables, Carbon Brief. Available from: https://www.carbonbrief.org/six-charts-show-mixed-progress-for-uk-renewables [Accessed 4 March 2019].
Ofgem (2018) Future Insights Series: Implications of the transition to Electric Vehicles. pp. 5-30. London: Crown.
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (2019) THE UK’S DRAFT INTEGRATED NATIONAL ENERGY AND CLIMATE PLAN (NECP). pp. 20-37. London: Crown.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Energy Institute or its members