Energy specialists from The University of Manchester have called on the government to develop a joined-up cross-departmental strategy to strengthen the UK’s energy resilience and security.
In a joint article published by the University’s policy engagement unit Policy@Manchester, Professor Maria Sharmina and Timothy Capper highlight the role recent energy shortages and high prices have played in pushing the issue of energy resilience up the political agenda. But they warn that these “are only two of the major risks faced by the UK energy sector.”
They write: “The transition away from fossil fuels in particular is leading to a more intermittent and less diversified energy mix. The electricity system will become harder to operate, as more electricity will be generated from less controllable renewable sources. The energy sources people use will become less diverse as heating, cooking, and transportation are electrified. Energy systems will become dependent on critical minerals and materials required for electrification, renewables and batteries.”
Sharmina and Capper warn that the UK’s energy security process is “increasingly unsuitable for managing these new risks” and “narrowly focuses on the reliability of the electricity and gas networks.” They add: “Much less emphasis is put on ensuring that there is a sufficient supply of fuels, such as natural gas, or on the materials and skills required for long-term energy security.”
The academics make clear that “a more resilient energy system would require reductions in energy demand” and suggest targeting the almost 60% of homes in England and Wales with low energy performance certificate (EPC) ratings. They explain: “Bringing these homes up to an EPC rating of C could save the equivalent of six nuclear power stations worth of power. Aggregated bill savings are estimated to be £10.6bn per year.”
Sharmina and Capper advise that the UK should increase its energy storage capacity, which is currently very low, adding: “The ability to store energy, and move it back and forth to Europe would give the UK energy system more flexibility to deal with variations in supply and demand over periods ranging from hours to seasons.”
And they urge Ministers to establish a “joined-up cross-departmental strategy” to tackle all issues related to energy resilience and security simultaneously.
They continue: “A government body with overall responsibility for energy security would be able to balance the short- and long-term energy security considerations, including energy transition risks. This agency would also be able to view the complete energy supply chain and critical materials supply chain, ensuring that there are sufficient fuel and material imports, as well as making sure the infrastructure within the UK is reliable.”