Edoardo Pisciotta London -30/05/2018
Energy consumption in the United Kingdom has been declining since 2005, even though the trend seems to be slowing. Energy prices in the UK have always been an issue, with companies in manufacturing industries complaining about Britain uncompetitiveness, compared to its European neighbours. Historical data released by BP shows that the UK is the only country that currently consumes less energy than it did in 1965. The drop is not only due to reduced consumption, but also to improved efficiency, in particular in the industrial sector.
The UK energy policy can be summarised in achieving 2 key targets: transition to a green power generation (cutting greenhouse emissions by 60% in 2050) while maintaining a reliable energy supply. Results so far are encouraging. The share of energy generated by renewables is growing from practically nil in the early 1990s to 29% of total supply in 2017, surpassing nuclear power, at 21%, for the first time in history. “The move to a smart, renewables-led energy system is well underway.” said Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of trade body RenewableUK, commenting these figures.
However, the idea that the future UK energy system can run entirely on renewables is quite optimistic. Researchers from Imperial College in London have warned that all the models of green transition currently being developed are faulty. In particular, they criticize the lack of consideration of reliability. In fact, our electric grid is designed to work with a constant minimum supply. Should the power stations around the country fail to meet this minimum quota, the entire grid would collapse. While renewables are an infinite, and increasingly cheap, source of energy, their output is not constant.
Researchers have estimated that running a UK power generation based 100% on renewables would be "inoperable". Even, adding a backup supply, based on nuclear or fossil fuel power stations, would make around 9% of UK annual demand unmet, leading to power outages and considerable economic damage. The focus, according to the academics, should be on a low-emission and reliant power supply with a consistent share of the power supply to fail on nuclear or low-emitting fossil fuel power stations to support renewables.
Renewables have great public support with 85% of UK citizens supporting the technology. However, transition to a 100% renewables supply will be bumpy and expensive until power storage technology achieves maturity. Moreover, it is still not clear how the UK will cooperate with its neighbours post brexit, as the UK is a net energy importer depending on France and the Netherlands for 5% of its energy needs. This scenario does not bode well for the UK secondary sector, which is the biggest consumer of energy, absorbing up to 38% of the energy used in the UK.
The UK industry sector has always been a champion of efficiency, due to historically high prices of British electricity. Companies must be ready to continue investments in efficiency gains and pressure the government for a policy of stable and reasonably priced supply, if the UK industry is to remain open for business.