How secure is our energy future looking?

As we said before, we sent two of our MSc students to the UK energy security: supply, storage and resilience meeting. Shaunagh Duncan was the second of the dynamic duo and she has written a post for us giving a great overview of the day.

On Tuesday 15th March over two hundred energy enthusiasts gathered together at Glaziers Hall near London Bridge to hear an array of speeches by experts in the field, organised by Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum. The topic of the morning’s session was UK energy security, an increasingly important issue in the current energy discourse.

current-599452Attentions were held by Simon Varley, Partner and UK Chair of Energy and Natural Resources at KPMG, who began the morning’s discussions by introducing global trends and implications for the UK energy market. Having highlighted that the UK are a significant importer of energy, a dependency that will continue to grow as the North Sea “dries up” in response to today’s low oil prices, Varley emphasised the importance that must be placed on maintaining a diverse portfolio to ensure UK energy security.

The focus of discussions shifted to demand side management when Dr Nina Skorupska of Renewable Energy Association took to the stage, where she vocalised her frustration at the government’s stop-start attitude in dealing with the energy trilemma. In asking how to move forward from the current confused policy situation, Skorupska calls for capacity market reform with storage, not subsidy, suggesting that cost-effective smart energy accompanied by storage and interconnection will ensure the UK’s future energy security.

Skorupska’s opinions were echoed by CEO and Co-Founder of KiWi Power Yoav Zhinger, who presents the case for demand side management in replacing the top 5-10% of polluting, peak power stations, a huge opportunity the UK should not ignore. Zhinger argues that the UK’s current energy system is antiquated and it should follow the example of Denmark in its transition to a more decentralised energy market. Cordi O’Hara from National Grid agrees that demand side response is intelligent use of energy that requires a different narrative, which places more emphasis on supply side measures in addressing the energy trilemma.

windmills-984137Perhaps alarmingly, it was three hours into the conference before December’s COP21 agreements in Paris were mentioned by any of the speakers, as pointed out by Chief Scientist and Policy Director at Greenpeace Dr Doug Parr. Dr Parr reminded the audience that if we are to keep below the 2 degree threshold then we must keep the majority of known fossil fuels in the ground. So how do we go about eliminating and driving down gas and oil consumption? Parr thinks the best answers will be local, keeping in line with the shift to decentralised energy, but there is not enough discussion about heat. If we have to burn gas, which according to Parr we will for a while, let’s capture heat too through CHP and district heating.

Head of Energy Security at DECC Daniel Monzani concluded the morning by describing his department’s current strategy as a market-based approach with very little government intervention. Despite claiming DECC maintains technology neutrality in Contracts for Difference auctions, following the announcement of UK coal phase out by 2025 Monzani predicts the next auctions will bring forward several new gas projects to guarantee enough capacity to cover winter peaks.

The morning’s discussions mostly focussed on the importance of security of UK energy supply, though speeches also included various strategies in addressing the issues of storage and resilience. The wide-ranging nature of the seminar’s discourse reminds us that only by taking a whole system view can we address the challenges of UK energy security.

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