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Efficiency and decarbonisation are central to boosting the UK’s energy security

3 min read

Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has brought the need for energy security up the political agenda. Lord Teverson, Liberal Democrat Lords spokesperson for energy and climate change, outlines his perspective on energy security.

They say that the first duty of government is to protect the nation from malevolent foreign powers. But, back in the day, ministers knew that the road to certain electoral disaster was letting the nation’s lights go out. The fall of the Heath government after the miners’ strike some 50 years ago, when darkness really did become a feature of British life, can still resonate.

Fast forward to the present. It was a surprise when the long-dead Department of Energy and Climate Change was resuscitated under the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) moniker. Until then, it seemed that our Prime Minister had little interest in the threats of climate or the resilience of our energy systems.

The new name, energy security and net-zero, gives a new slant. For energy, security becomes the prime concern. Why not? Without power, industry halts, commerce ceases and households are literally left in the dark.

Energy market reforms back in 2013 were obsessed by the so-called energy trilemma: how to reconcile the key objectives of squeezing energy costs, decarbonising, and securing supply? How to find the right compromise between the three? What we then underestimated was the radical change that contracts for difference (CfDs), introduced back in the 2013 Energy Act by a Liberal Democrat secretary of state, would deliver.

The result? Renewables have fallen in price to such an extent that decarbonisation is the most cost-effective means of electricity generation. With those renewables being based in the United Kingdom, on our land and seas, we have security. Trilemma solved.

Well, perhaps not.

Electricity only accounts for some half of UK energy consumption. Transport and heating our buildings accounts for most of the rest. Both are dominated by fossil fuels, largely imported, and not always from the most stable regimes.

As we have seen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when it comes to fossil fuels we are dependent on world markets for supply and they determine price. Our own North Sea output is traded globally.

“The cheapest and most secure energy is the energy we no longer need. We must prioritise a drive for national energy efficiency, not least directed at our woefully inefficient building stock”

So how should we deliver UK energy security, while saving households from sky-high fossil fuel induced bills? Let’s state the obvious. The cheapest and most secure energy is the energy we no longer need. We must prioritise a drive for national energy efficiency, not least directed at our woefully inefficient building stock.

Electrification of transport will be key. Postponement of the veto on sales of internal combustion engine vehicles to 2035 is a mistake. And it sends the wrong messages to international investors who are essential for upgrading our grids and making them smarter. The government’s climate policy wobbles are especially destructive.

We must accelerate the pace of our UK-based renewable roll-out. The government’s cack-handed approach to round five of CfD allocations and the non-existent take-up for offshore wind are major setbacks.

But we have a new factor. The destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines has raised the stakes for the protection of offshore energy pipelines and cables in these times of international tension. We must increase our vigilance.

Energy security can be won. The moves to efficiency and decarbonisation are key.

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