Energy Security – How secure is the UK’s energy supply?

The current energy crisis has raised questions with many who were previously unaware of the UK’s reliance on bought-in energy. Increasing the UK’s energy security would safeguard our economy, ensuring it functions without interruption and that British people have access to adequate, reliable –and affordable – supplies of modern and clean energy.

energy security - energy pipeline

The UK is using a lot less energy than it did previously. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there was a 17% fall in the amount of energy used in the country between 1998 and 2015. This is partly due to the fact that technology has enabled more energy-efficient practices to be used, such as the development of smart devices and the rise in energy efficiency initiatives.

However, almost 60% of the fuel used to generate the UK’s energy comes from overseas, as a country the UK imports its coal from Russia, its gas from Norway, and its uranium from Kazakhstan. This fuel travels an average distance of over 2,500 miles before it even reaches us adding to its overall carbon emissions bearing in mind the fuel is burnt to generate energy.

Generating energy in the UK

In fact, the UK is the only one of Europe’s five biggest energy users to be increasing its reliance on imported energy. Our dependence on imported fuels is now at a level not seen since the 1970s.

UK energy demand

Although historically relatively self-sufficient in covering domestic energy demand, the UKs dependency on energy imports has increased in recent decades. With oil and gas fields on the continental shelf diminishing and the closing down of the coal mines, as a country, we have grown increasingly reliant on supplies from outside of the UK.

Where does UK energy come from?

Like most European countries, the UK imports the majority of its traditional fuel supplies, especially gas. We do have our own home-grown resources, but they are not as plentiful as they need to be this is why we need to rely on external suppliers. The additional gas is mainly sourced from Norway, some gas is also piped under the channel, from countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, we also source some from Russia which has caused problems of late.

The UK’s electricity is produced using an array of different fuels including coal, gas, wind power, and nuclear power. Only a percentage of these fuels originate in the UK, the rest are imported. Due to the pipeline network which runs between Norway and the UK, Norway is a key provider of our crude oil, accounting for 61% in 2015. However, our reliance on Norway has fallen in recent years, with more being sourced from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which is made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. By 2015, 36% of crude oil imports came from OPEC.

Cables called interconnectors connect the UK electricity network to systems in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland. The UK uses these cables to import or export electricity as required.

Impacts of energy insecurity

There are many ways of defining energy security. In the UK, the government aims to ensure that consumers have access to the energy that they require, at prices that avoid volatility. Most countries that use this definition produce their own energy or import it from politically-stable countries, however, it isn’t always possible to predict the stability of these countries and shocks can easily push up energy prices as we have seen recently in the UK.

The current energy crisis has highlighted to many the UK’s reliance on bought-in energy, and how easily energy price rises can affect supply and demand. There was a lot of talk at the COP26 conference about energy security and clean energy production, so as investment in clean energy increases we may see the UK become more energy efficient and energy secure.