What effect could Paris have on the UK’s energy security?

Last week we sent two of our intrepid students to the UK energy security: supply, storage and resilience meeting. Mauricio Riveros Rodriguez was one of them and he has written this short post on the effect the Paris Agreement could have on UK energy security.

The recent international agreement on climate change in Paris has generated a discussion on how the UK could achieve its own goals without affecting its development and stability of the energy system. This was the major talking point at the Keynote Seminar organised by the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum, UK Energy security: supply, storage and resilience. The day was well attended by many individuals and organisations from the energy industry, academia, NGOs and key government agencies such as DECC and OFGEM. With all of these people involved it was an amazing opportunity to hear, and understand, the point of view of different stakeholders. I think these can be broadly split into three mains ideas.

Firstly, in order to not exceed the target of temperature rises by 2050, the Paris agreement could create a need to leave unexploited resources of coal, gas, and oil in the ground. This decision could affect the level of energy security of the UK if there are no policies in place to allow the country to produce an accurate mix of technology in the energy system. This is important for both the supply and demand side, ensuring the capacity and security of the system.

Currently, the Government is aiming to build new gas power stations to solve this problem. However, according to some speakers, it is necessary to make a decision considering a policy that ensures the supply of gas, whether this be with Liquid Natural Gas or Shale Gas, due to expected depletion of North Sea resources. Although the gas price is currently low, the situation could change dramatically in the future and this can be risky if the UK does not have enough gas storage to supply the expected increase in the demand due to the electrification of heat and transport. On the other side this reliance on gas could affect the achievement of the decarbonisation target on time if is not undertaken the development of economically viable carbon capture storage.

Finally, another big discussion was regarding whether the system will continue based on the current business model of big power plants and a centralised system. Or maybe it will move towards a more decentralised system based on smart grids with important inclusion of new storage and demand-side response technologies. The next decisions on this matter will be key. The current model is well understood and could make regulation and control easier but a decentralised system allows for the flexibility needed to deploy and appraise new technologies. It is how storage and demand-side response could interact that is one of the big concerns for National Grid, who are studying how they could affect the future transmission business. OFGEM are also analysing which will be the better business model for customers and the security of the system.

What is clear from the discussion throughout the day is that the UK energy system is changing. Through a combination of the expected deployment of renewable energies, the electrification of transport and heat and the UK’s climate targets, the UK will have a very different energy sector by 2050. I think that is storage and demand-side response technologies that will be key to ensure the safety of the electrical system in the future, and their value will depend on the future flexibility of it. Nevertheless, sensible policy and associated funds are needed to reach the deployment of these technologies. It is important to consider big power plants today, but the deployment of them without a clear definition of where the UK is going may threaten the flexibility of the system and the goal of the decarbonisation.

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