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Building capacity for big UK energy changes

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Engineer workers at electricity station

•   Transforming energy supply will cost hundreds of billions – report 
•   Imports up, through energy usage down
•   Out with the old – in with what, exactly?

Research from Barclays has put a number to the amount of money needed to transform the UK's energy supply over the coming years, and it's a stern figure: £215billion by 2030

Considering the job at hand, it's not all that surprising. With obsolete electricity-generating turbines in need of replacement and coal being phased out, there's a lot of new technology to bring to the fore. 

Powering down?

There are some signs that progress is languishing behind where it should be. Recent news reports have highlighted that while the UK has cut its energy use significantly over the last few years, it's importing more energy from abroad than ever. It should be pointed out that it's not the only country facing such a conundrum. Within the EU, it ranks in the upper-mid section of the table for energy importers. 

There is a lot going on

But just because others are in the same boat, it doesn't mean there's time to be sitting on hands. So what's being done?

There's little doubt that renewable energy installations have expanded exponentially on (and just off) these shores over the last decade or so, to account for around a quarter of electricity generation and a tenth of all energy supply. The announcement of eight new lithium-ion battery systems to support grid capacity suggests that progress on this front will in no way be slowing down over the next few years. 

Renewable heat still lags behind green electricity, but the government has just set down plans to greatly expand heat networks, recycling the heat energy from industry and transport. Examples of projects set to benefit include heat harvesting from London Underground's Northern Line and pottery kilns in Stoke-on-Trent.

National Grid's new executive director Nicola Shaw has also gone on record to make the case for the transformational potential of smart technologies, and the creation of an 'internet of energy'. 



What is the fifth carbon budget and what are the UK's next steps?

The future of energy efficiency in the UK: Energy Saving Trust CEO explains


Change for all?

It's important that those who benefit from current and coming changes are kept firmly at the heart of energy policy. The Barclays report included who it thought might gain the most from large-scale investment in decarbonising and securing UK energy supply, and suggested that National Grid and SSE would likely be big winners, with key investments in grid infrastructure and wind energy respectively. 

But it cannot be just these big concerns that reap the rewards of effective forward-planning and well-structured support for new generation and transmission infrastructure. Communities, local businesses and individuals need to see that the new ways of doing things are working for them – and long-term cost savings of investments now must be passed on. 

Creating links

That's why it's encouraging to see developments like Good Energy's move to link its business customers to local energy generators, creating the beginnings of a more dynamic, flexible and ultimately egalitarian energy marketplace. For another view on broadening the range of UK energy suppliers, we recently spoke with SmartKlub about its innovative efforts in building capacity from the ground up. 

We're also in the midst of Community Energy Fortnight, which makes it as good a time as any to point out that community projects can have a major role to play in meeting energy demand if given the right support. 

Consider the home front, too

At the same time, tackling the demand side of energy should not be ignored. Energy Saving Trust and partners commissioned a report to analyse the case for the energy efficiency as an infrastructure priority. It found that the benefits of a concerted program of investment in domestic energy efficiency could rival those of projects like the construction of the HS2 rail links. 

Our recent policy paper called for politicians of all stripes to recognise the numerous economic and social advantages of energy efficiency and come up with a bold and joined-up plan to make those benefits a reality. 

'Keeping the lights on' in the UK over the coming years doesn't have to be the epic challenge it is sometimes made out to be. But getting the balance right, in terms of finance, technology and tackling energy both at home and away, is going to require some very well-considered decisions from both the public and private sectors. 

Find out more about Community Energy Fortnight by following @CEFortnight and using #CEF2016. Share your thoughts with us. Post a comment below or tweet us at @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley's picture
Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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Where is Demand Side Management? Why are we getting "Stupid Meters" when we could have "Smart Meters" that allow our power hungry fridges, freezers, washers, dryers and cookers to delay their power usage minute-by-minute to maintain grid stability without users even noticing?

Your information on energy efficiency makes sense. I hope that this change turns for the better. We support any changes as long as it helps the community in the long run.

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Nice post and also very informative.. Thanks for sharing..