UK unveils plan to keep the lights on

The UK has outlined a strategy to maintain energy security, built around reliable networks, improving the reliability of global markets and fast-tracking the transition to low-carbon systems.

“Britain’s low-carbon investment pipeline has never been so large. We’re heading the world in terms of investment opportunities in offshore wind and marine energy,” energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey told the Economist Energy Summit in London.

“The energy-security challenge is one more reason for going green – for maximising energy efficiency and low-carbon generation in the UK.

“But we all know the transition to a low-carbon future will take determined efforts over several decades. So Britain will have to worry about our access to fossil-fuel supplies for many years to come, even as we speed towards a green energy future.”

Meanwhile, National Grid has released details of a plan to pay companies to curb their electricity consumption to help prevent the lights going out.

The company, which runs the power network in England and Wales, is asking the largest energy users to cut their usage at peak times over the next four winters.

Regulators warn that the Britain’s reserve margin – the safety cushion of available generation over peak demand – will tighten significantly in the coming years, falling to as low as 2% by the winter of 2015-16 from more than 15% in 2011-2012.

Davey says more than £16bn ($26.8bn) has been invested in building and upgrading transmission and distribution networks since 2010, with a further £35bn expected over the rest of the decade.

The Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG), which represents major industry, says the energy-reduction measures were avoidable.

“EIUG has warned for many years, the reason we are facing this situation is because of the flawed energy policy followed by successive governments, overly focused on costly intermittent renewables like wind and solar, which are inherently incapable of providing secure electricity supplies,” it says.

From 2015-16, National Grid is also looking to boost capacity from electricity generators that would otherwise be closed or mothballed between 6am and 8pm on winter weekdays.

Worries about power shortfalls have grown in recent years following the closure of older generation capacity under tougher European emissions rules.

Threats of oil and gas supply disruptions remain a concern, given limited storage space, while energy firms have warned that their levels of infrastructure investment are unclear in an environment of hostility over rising household bills.