Energy – a modern business

Posted on: 15/10/2019

Energy is something we tend to take for granted, yet its impact on our modern lives is considerable. Heating homes, powering business, for transport, and keeping the lights on. We have come to rely on energy to fuel our everyday.

By contrast, I can remember the power cuts of the nineteen seventies and the stock of candles at home. I remember the excitement when domestic central heating was introduced -  a luxury, even if we did have to fill the coal-hod every evening!

I looked forward to gas being connected to our home for heating and cooking. Gas was clean, convenient and plentiful, thanks to large finds of natural gas in the North Sea.

But since this time, we have learnt that our extensive use of energy has come at a cost. Our North Sea gas reserves are in decline. So remarkably we liquefy and ship gas from other parts of the world to make sure we have a continued supply.

Indeed, energy has entered a new era. One that requires a more sustainable approach to both generation and consumption. Today’s complex challenge must balance three important priorities.  Energy that's reliable, affordable, and increasing, energy that is kinder to our environment.

After all, the stakes are high. Without reliable energy, potential ‘blackouts’ would compromise our national security. Increasing costs could see fuel poverty rise, putting those most vulnerable at risk. With strict national carbon targets in place, the pressure is on to find greener solutions.

The UK has made good progress in decarbonising electricity. But we must now also look at the more complex challenge of decarbonising heat, transport and industry. Whilst natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal, it too is under the spotlight.

With 80% of today's heat demand met by gas, the challenge is a significant one. Not to mention reliance of gas-fired powerplant to meet peak electricity demand, helping to keep the lights on.

Electrification is one plausible pathway moving forward. But to move to a reliable electricity scenario is likely to increase prices for customers. This is due to the extensive work needed to support electricity networks across the UK. Also, the cost of converting existing heating systems in people’s homes.

Renewables of course will play a significant part. But workable energy storage solutions for times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, is also key. We must also consider how we reduce or shift our energy demand, and make sure community energy schemes are supported where feasible.

Against this backdrop, Wales & West Utilities are working on these difficult questions. And they propose a clear vision for a way forward. Their carbon-free vision: a mix of smart hybrid heating, flexible ‘peaking’ powerplant, and hydrogen and green gas innovations sees the gas network central to meeting customers energy needs. Both now and in the future.

It’s our job, as CEG members, with our collective experience, to challenge the business to deliver energy reliably, affordably and sustainably. Such complex energy challenges and consequences are important issues for us all.

To read more about Wales & West Utilities vision for a Carbon-Free Future click here.

Prof. Phil Bowen

Professor Phil Bowen is a senior academic at Cardiff University with considerable experience in the energy sector