Exploring the meaning of ‘energy security’ in the United Kingdom

By Claire Copeland, Research Assistant, Policy@Sussex

SPRU researcher Emily Cox has conducted a thorough analysis of what is meant by the term “energy security” in the UK. In this policy brief she examines a range of definitions with implications for energy policy.

Most people, certainly in the UK and other developed countries, can understand that a secure energy system is vital for our day-to-day functionality. The UK government are also often using the term “energy security” as justification for particular actions or policy direction. exploring-the-meaning-of-energy-security-in-the-united-kingdomHowever, if asked to define “energy security” people are likely to provide different answers. Emily sought to find the key factors underpinning the meaning of “energy security” with a particular focus on the transition to a low-carbon energy system. The data for her analysis is collated from the literature and interviews with 25 UK energy experts from a range of organisations and backgrounds.

Generally, “energy security” tends to be used in the context of energy self-sufficiency or dependence on energy sources from unstable regions. The transition to a low-carbon energy system – where there will be a higher proportion of intermittent renewable sources – adds a necessary further dimension to the definition of “energy security”.

When presented with the range of factors Emily had found in the literature, the energy experts interviewed could not agree on a single most important element, but felt that a range of issues needed to be considered. There was reasonably strong agreement that factors relating to a low-carbon energy system i.e. flexibility and resilience, were very important. Import dependence and constraints on availability of resources were generally seen as a much less important factor for “energy security”. Some experts also pointed out that measures to improve “energy security” can have co-benefits in affordability and sustainability too e.g. demand reduction measures.

In terms of policy implications, Emily’s research finds that – in order to assess the security of a low-carbon energy system – broader measures need to be taken exploring-the-meaning-of-enerecurity-in-the-united-kingdom-coverrather than traditional ones e.g. import dependence. The need for investment in infrastructure is going to be a key element in the security of a low-carbon energy system and this requires policy stability and long term planning. Interconnections with the rest of Europe will of course be an example here. There is a concern, in the negotiations following the EU referendum, that “energy security” may be reduced to its more traditional focus rather than embracing new broader measures appropriate for a low-carbon energy system.

Download the Research Brief document: Exploring the meaning of ‘energy security’ in the United Kingdom [PDF 719.74KB]



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