NB: this guest post is by Sophie Hirt, my Parliamentary Intern and the views expressed are her own.
Security is the key issue at the heart of the Government’s energy outlook and will impact on all the decisions made by the Department of Energy and Climate Change for the foreseeable future. Security, it must be pointed out, is not just meant in the traditional, physical sense, though of course, this is a top priority. Security in this sense must be taken to incorporate sustainability, affordability and efficiency.
The Coalition inherited a broken situation on energy from the previous Government. There was no coherent plan in place to ensure that future generations enjoy the same freedom to use electricity as we do, rendering the task ahead even more difficult.
Towards the end of the decade, demand will overtake supply – there will be a capacity gap that must be filled. In order to meet the rising electricity demand, the Government will need to spend £110 billion on infrastructure. In addition to this, the combination of methods of energy production must be decided upon.
Looking ahead, it is clear that new methods will have to be pursued. One third of coal generation will be lost by 2015 and most nuclear plants will close by 2023. Managing demand will require the Government to work in tandem with energy companies, in order to ensure both are working in the same direction. The Government has always had a rather strange relationship with energy companies – it needs them for energy production and supply but it also has a duty to regulate the industry and act on the behalf of consumers.
Among the anticipated spectrum of sources of energy will be solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, each to be pursued to a different extent. The Government must achieve the correct balance in order to maintain security and a plurality of recourses is thus necessary. An important aspect of Government policy will be local involvement and input into decisions. It is extremely important that sources of energy are not only appropriate to the local area but is also desired by the communities it affects.
It must not be assumed that there will no longer be a role for traditional sources of energy, particularly gas and oil. In fact, there may be a significant role for the use of gas as a capacity mechanism which will enable the UK to meet electricity demand, even when supplies fall short. The mechanism will be enabled by a permanent storage of energy kept back for use in exceptional times of demand.
Challenges ahead for the Department of Energy and Climate Change will be numerous. Such strategic changes to our energy supply will require delicate and at times very difficult manoeuvring around carbon reduction targets. Cost-benefit assessments will have to be made in order to achieve this much needed energy balance.