Outline the Level of Engery Security in the Uk
Assess the level of energy security in the UK Energy security is defined as the extent to which an affordable, reliable and stable energy supply can be achieved. Over the last few decades, the energy situation in the UK has constantly been changing, from producing enough oil and natural gas to be a net exporter of both fuels to now being on the brink of not importing and producing enough energy to meet the nations’ demands.
The past decades of the UK’s energy were probably brighter days than what we can look forward to in the future, with one researcher from Cambridge University, Professor David MacKay, suggesting the UK could face severe blackouts by 2016 (UK ‘could face blackouts by 2016’ – BBC News Sept 2009). Although the general use of energy in the UK has not increased huge amounts, with per capita usage in 1965 at 3. 6 tonnes oil equivalent per year and in 2005 at 3. 8 tonnes oil equivalent, the energy security of the UK has worsened considerably.
As global population increases and more countries are using larger amounts of fossil fuels to meet their energy demands, the UK is limited to the amount it can import and is put under pressure to use more renewable sources of energy. Problems within geopolitics has also caused problems for the UK’s energy security as prices fluctuate, changing the amount of oil we can export and how much we have to pay for our imported energy. Past When BP records began, the UK was getting 98% of its primary energy from burning fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal mainly due to the increasing transportation and power generation sectors.
Pre-1976, the UK was a large importer of oil due to the fact there were very few known oil sources that could be used domestically. In the following years North Sea oil was discovered and production got underway, meaning the UK could gradually reduce their imports and rely more on domestic oil. Within a few years, in 1981 the UK had become a net exporter of oil showing that at this time there was no major issue with energy security but instead that there was a surplus and a chance to make some money. The use of natural gas in the UK did not get started until 1968 and production was thriving for 30 years ntil its peak in 2000 and then saw a gradual decline. The UK imported very little gas, and most of the gas produced from the North Sea was consumed in the UK and only for a brief period did the UK actually export natural gas. During the peak times of natural gas production, it was introduced as a replacement for coal for home heating and power generation as it’s a much cleaner source of energy and could help to reduce the air pollution in cities. Up until 1995 the UK imported some natural gas from Holland and Norway which could also be an important connection for the future.
In the 60s, coal was the UKs main source of primary energy, accounting for around 60% of the daily consumption, but by 1999 this number had declined to just 16%, showing how the UK had found other sources of energy giving a much larger diversity to their energy consumption. If you were to give the UK a score for the energy security index for this period, it would probably be a similar score to today but for different reasons. The diversity score would be much lower as it is clear that the UK relied on coal, oil and gas and got very little energy from any other sources.
However, the availability score would be much higher because we relied much less on imports and the majority of energy consumed was produced domestically. Present In 2006, the percentage of primary energy that comes from oil, coal and gas had reduced from 98% to 92%, showing that UK had introduced new renewable schemes and were increasing their diversity. Over the past 4 decades, population has increased from 54,350,000 to 60,245,000 but the per capita consumption has remained fairly constant with a slight increase to 3. 8 tonnes oil equivalent.
Although the UK was relying less on oil and gas consumption, we had once become a net importer of oil in 2006, when North Sea Oil production had started to decline. The falling production and rising prices of oil are predicted to have a huge negative effect on the UK’s economy. We could see a ? 5 billion profit in 2000 to a deficit of over ? 20 billion by 2012. It is estimated that there are still 20 billion barrels of oil available to exploit, but there is a worry that in the competitive market, investment is likely to go to other places in the world and this oil could go to waste. There are also worries that with the declining production nd increased reliance on imports that our oil supply could be limited. There is hope that drilling in the Falkland Islands will produce enough oil to pay-off the billion pound deficit. The UK is also having serious problems with coal and gas production which is leading to even more imports. We have once again become a net importer of both fuels, and as the market becomes more competitive these fuels will sell themselves to the highest bidders meaning that everyone in the UK will have to start paying more for their energy. Many people are starting to question why we do not use more renewable energy sources like wind, solar or nuclear energy.
Critics say that we shouldn’t rely on wind energy because of its intermittent nature and it would make more sense to spend the money on improving nuclear technologies. The argument for nuclear energy is a controversial one however as people have heard worrying things about nuclear power plants. ‘As long as you don’t mention the words Chernobyl, or nuclear waste, or planning permission’ (Association of Commercial Energy Assessors (ACEA) 2011) nobody would have major problems with nuclear energy but would instead see an opportunity to produce lots of cost-effective, clean energy.
A report from the Lords economic affairs committee has also suggested it would be worth while spending money on new power plants that are ‘connected to carbon capture and storage schemes’. This report also attacked the government’s plans of relying more on clean energy sources, saying that it is a way of ignoring the UK’s energy crisis and could also start costing households and extra ? 80 per year. It is clear that at this moment in time, the UK is fairly energy insecure as it has a massive reliance on foreign imports and the diversity of energy sources is fairly limited.
Energy security has become a key issue for the government and there are plans in place to try and sort the problem. Future/Key Concerns Perhaps the biggest worry for the UK’s energy future is highlighted in the book ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’ by Professor David MacKay, where MacKay says the UK ‘could face blackouts by 2016’. The book concluded with the fact that the projections for power stations and new technologies does not add up and ‘not enough power capacity is being built’. He told BBC
News this could happen while coal and nuclear power stations come to the end of their productive lives and are phased out. Professor MacKay believes we need to invest more money into renewable and blames the public, for rejecting proposals of wind farms and nuclear power plants while demanding a unchanged lifestyle, for the possible energy problems. He also says how he thinks the blackouts could be the only way to get people to realise that we need to invest in modern nuclear technology and other clean sources of energy, rather than relying on the limited supplies of coal, oil and gas.
In another report, written by Ian Fells (a professor at the University of Newcastle), the point about the blackouts was reinforced and the extent to which it could cause huge problems for the UK was made evident when he said ‘We had a power cut in 2003 for about 12 hours in the City of London – the consequential loss was about ? 700m because everything stops. All you IT stops, the stock market doesn’t work. ’ This shows the economic losses of 12 hours of blackouts in just the City of London, so the threat of national blackouts for days would cost the UK economy billions of pounds.
Fells’ report shows the same gloomy future as Professor MacKay’s book, with worries that over the next decade the UK will lose one third of its electricity producing capacity as we won’t have the renewable energy to cope and nuclear power stations won’t be ready. Fells also makes a point about how we will have to keep many nuclear and coal-fired power stations open long past their ‘sell-by-date’ which would not be good for the environment. Fells believes the controversial Kings North power station in Kent could also be needed, but it would need to be fitted with carbon capture and storage technology before it was brought into use.
Ofgem have produced a major report on Britain’s energy supplies, to which it was concluded that by 2015 we will be hit by a ‘perfect storm’ that could cost the UK at least ? 200 billion to secure our energy supplies but to also meet carbon emissions targets set by the Kyoto Protocol. Conclusion Over the past 5 decades, the UKs energy situation has never been great, we have always relied on some foreign imports and we have never really introduced any major renewable energy schemes.
However, our energy security has become progressively worse and is predicted to get worse still. If we do not start to introduce some more nuclear plants or renewable energy schemes then we will have very little energy available to us as oil prices rise and supplies run low. Power is soon to become a very expensive commodity as we try to cope with the challenge of rapid growth and so it is certain that very soon everyone in the UK will have to start paying more for their power.