Lecture: Can we have a low carbon energy system and keep the lights on?

28 Jun 2018

UKERC Director Jim Watson gave his first lecture at UCL last week in his new role as Professor of Energy Policy. He joins the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources after 21 years at the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex. His public lecture explored how energy security is changing as the UK energy system decarbonises.

Can we have a low carbon energy system and keep the lights on?
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Ensuring energy security is a central goal of energy policy in most countries. The UK is no exception. Throughout the increasingly rapid changes in the energy sector, energy security has remained high on the policy agenda. Whilst the government is right to argue that there are likely to be energy security benefits from the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy, this does not necessarily mean that such concerns will disappear.

The lecture explored how energy security is changing as the UK energy system decarbonises. It started by busting some myths. The most important is that ‘home grown’ energy resources are automatically more secure than energy imports. Whilst this may be the case in some circumstances, the reality is much more nuanced. International markets and supply chains have contributed in positive ways to UK energy security. Furthermore, some of the most important risks to security have come from technical failures or industrial disputes within the UK.

The lecture then discussed a recent assessment of future energy security by UKERC. This uses a ‘dashboard’ of energy security indicators to assess the security of the energy system in 2030 and 2050. These indicators range from the risk of public opposition to the risk that electricity and gas supply may not balance on a real-time basis – especially during times of peak demand. Based on this analysis, the lecture concluded with some policy implications, particularly for the implementation of the government’s Clean Growth Strategy.