Myth-busting Energy Security

26 Mar 2018

The relationship between decarbonisation and the security of the UK energy system is not as clear-cut as it may sometimes seem.

Energy security is a central goal of energy policy in most countries and with rapid changes occurring throughout the UK energy sector, it remains high on the policy agenda. Recent concerns about UK gas supplies - highlighted by National Grid’s gas deficit warning demonstrates just how fundamentally important it is to have a reliable energy system [1].

Research published by the UK Energy Research Centre [2] explores how the security of the UK energy system will change in the coming decades. Using a number of indicators, ‘The Security of UK Energy Futures’ report assesses aspects of security such as energy availability, reliability, sustainability and affordability to examine how energy security risks will change over time [3].

The report draws three main conclusions:

  1. There is an important role for energy efficiency and energy demand reduction in energy security strategies; by reducing our energy demand we reduce exposure to risks such as price shocks and energy shortages.
  2. The relationship between decarbonisation and energy security is not straightforward. Energy imports are often cited as being insecure, however this can be controversial. Imports can help enhance security by providing additional sources of energy, by lowering costs, or by increasing diversity. What matters most is where the imports are from and whether they are dominated by risky sources or supply routes.
  3. Many of the risks can be mitigated; security of the electricity and gas system can be improved significantly by investing in system flexibility. Increasing demand side response has a particularly positive impact on system reliability.

Whilst there could be energy security benefits from reducing emissions, this does not necessarily mean that the transition to a low carbon energy system will automatically deliver a more secure system.

Some risks to energy security are likely to reduce in importance during this transition, however, other risks could emerge.  Low carbon energy systems are likely to mean more complex electricity systems that require new approaches to balancing supply and demand.

Ioanna Ketsopoulou, UKERC Researcher says:

Energy security is becoming increasingly more topical; with ongoing discussions around Brexit, gas shortages and geopolitical tensions, the findings of this report are particularly timely.

Professor Goran Strbac, UKERC Researcher, Imperial College London says:

This analysis demonstrates that gas and electricity system security can be significantly enhanced not only by investment in conventional supply resources, but also by improving system flexibility through demand side response, gas storage and interconnection, which is also important for facilitating cost effective decarbonisation. Achieving this would require changes in regulation and market rules.

Notes to editor:

[1] National Grid issued a gas deficit warning on the 1st March 2018. https://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/gas/balancing/margins-notices-mn-and-gas-deficit-warnings-gdw

[2] The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) carries out world-class, interdisciplinary research into sustainable future energy systems. It is a focal point of UK energy research and a gateway between the UK and the international energy research communities. Our whole systems research informs UK policy development and research strategy. UKERC is funded by The Research Councils Energy programme.

[3] Indicators were compared against a 2016 ‘baseline’. 2016 was chosen as the UK currently experiences a relatively high level of energy security.

[4] A full copy of The Security of UK Energy Futures report will be accessible on Monday 26th here:  http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/publications/uk-energy-security.html

[5] For further information please contact Jessica Bays

[6] UKERC will be hosting a launch event at 16.30 on the 26th March. To find out more and book tickets here: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/events/the-security-of-uk-energy-futures.html