Energy experts at The University of Manchester are urging the government to formulate a comprehensive, cross-departmental strategy to enhance the resilience and security of the UK’s energy sector.
In a collaborative piece published by the university’s policy engagement unit, Policy@Manchester, Professor Maria Sharmina and Timothy Capper emphasise the impact of recent energy shortages and soaring prices in elevating the importance of energy resilience on the political agenda. However, they caution that these issues are merely two of the significant risks confronting the UK’s 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 advocate for a more resilient energy system, emphasizing the need for reductions in energy demand and proposing the targeting of the nearly 60% of homes in England and Wales with low energy performance certificate (EPC) ratings. They explain, “Elevating these homes to an EPC rating of C could yield savings equivalent to the output of six nuclear power stations. Aggregated bill savings are estimated at £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.”
They urge Ministers to establish a “coordinated cross-departmental strategy” to address all aspects of energy resilience and security simultaneously. They continue, “A government body with overarching responsibility for energy security would be able to balance short- and long-term considerations, including risks associated with the energy transition. This agency would also oversee the entire energy supply chain and critical materials supply chain, ensuring adequate fuel and material imports, as well as reliable infrastructure within the UK.”
The article titled ‘Strengthening the UK’s Energy Resilience and Security’ by Professor Maria Sharmina and Timothy Capper can be accessed on the Policy@Manchester website.