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News

Energy Security: Should Your Business be Worried

Energy security is the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price. There are several dimensions to the issue. Energy security can refer to a country’s long-term ability to generate enough power for homes and businesses and the short-term risk of power cuts. One of the most sensational risks to our energy security, the UK defence secretary claims, is an attack on our energy infrastructure that could leave the country without power. Last month Gavin Williamson told the Daily Telegraph that Moscow was watching energy cables and pipelines between the UK and the EU. He claimed that Russia could disrupt these energy exchanges with a cyber-attack, missile or with submarine activity and warned that they could kill “thousands” in the UK. “Why would they keep photographing and looking at power stations, why are they looking at the interconnectors that bring so much electricity and so much energy into our country?” the defence secretary was quoted in the newspaper. Moscow said that the defence secretary’s claims were “worthy of a comic plot or a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch.” Energy experts were dismissive of an attack on undersea power cables. These cables don’t supply enough power to cause widespread disruption to homes. John Feddersen, the chief executive of Aurora Energy Research, was quoted in the Guardian saying: “Electricity is not a major problem, we’ve got a decent amount of capacity. No house lights are going to go out.” But he also added that there is a hierarchy of needs in place for energy shortage scenarios. And large business users can be forced to cut their power demand before homes are affected. If undersea connectors did go down, Britain could rely on gas shipments from Norway but these would take several days to be delivered. Several new power links are proposed with Europe in coming years. Experts were more concerned about a broader attack on Britain’s energy system. Peter Atherton, an analyst with energy consultancy Cornwall Insight told the Guardian: “It’s a very real threat in the sense that all modern economies are very vulnerable to a loss of energy. The energy infrastructure has relatively few very, very key nodes, and if you could take them out through bombing or a cyber-attack, it would be hugely disruptive. “In that sense it’s not scaremongering, but it is something that’s been around for ever [as a threat] and industry takes it seriously.”

Other energy security threats

Aside from Russian meddling, there are some other threats to the UK’s energy security that are more credible.

Brexit

A House of Lords subcommittee warned that Brexit puts the energy trade between the UK and EU at risk, creating the possibility of supply shortages and higher energy bills. The EU supplies about 12% of our Gas and 5% of our electricity. But Lords warned that if we leave the single market then trade is likely to be less efficient after Brexit and this could impact on the UK’s energy security.

Energy imports

As it struggles to replace old coal and nuclear power stations with a blend of renewables and gas-fired power stations, the Government is increasingly relying on imported energy from abroad. Power imports from Europe increased by 52% in the three years to 2016 and could increase further still. In fact, current planning will quadruple our dependency on imported electricity with consequences for price, competition and supply security. Published by the Centre for Policy Studies, ‘The Hidden Wiring’ by Tony Lodge and Daniel Mahoney shows that it is increasingly unlikely that there will be much spare electricity in Europe to send to the UK in future. The researchers believe that increasing electricity imports mask Britain’s failed energy policies that stretch back for a political generation.

New power stations

Repeated delays in the construction of new power stations, particularly the new Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor, could pose a threat to Britain’s secure energy future. EDF, the French state-owned company building Hinkley C said that the project could be more than a year behind schedule and £1.5bn over budget. The power plant is expected to provide about seven percent of the country's energy by the mid-2020s. Hinkley Point C and other future nuclear power stations could be further delayed by a government decision to quit Europe’s atomic power treaty after Brexit. The secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark said this week that Britain could fill short-term supply gaps with government energy auctions. But experts have warned that this seems to be another sticking plaster approach to Britain’s energy security problem.


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