Energy security hits the headlines, for the wrong reasons

19th Aug 2019

 

If we put the news about Brexit to one side, energy security matters have been bubbling under the surface for a few weeks now, culminating in the power blackout on Friday 9th August.

The Straits of Hormuz are always going to be a point of international political sensitivity. When you have naval escorts of civilian ships, you know there’s a problem. When tankers are being impounded for breaching sanctions, it is troubling. That’s the traditional view of energy security concerns.

But in a more complex energy world, the definition of security has expanded. It is no longer limited to the stability of regimes we import energy from but also how we generate the energy we use, given a wider range of sources. As Blackout Friday shows, it is also how these various sources interact.

Energy security is about getting energy to the end users at a time and place when it is needed. The wider consideration brings us to the role of the distribution networks. How, in the face of a grid failure, did the electricity network respond is concerning Ministers. And rightly so.

In a world that is increasingly reliant upon continuous access to power, consumers will rightly demand security of supply. The question arises, can this be guaranteed?  Of course not, but few are willing to be honest and say so. The fragility of the electricity network is something the DNOs grapple with daily. Strong winds, snow, and ice, falling trees – the list goes on. The response by the DNOs to outages is hugely credible; I’ve seen at first-hand their response but there is little they can do with the existing infrastructure and limitations on what consumers and society are willing to pay for.

This brings us to the gas networks. They help keep nearly nine in ten homes supplied with warmth and hot water; nearly half of homes with the means to cook. To even consider replacing them with the more vulnerable reliance on all electric has always troubled me. But let’s end on an optimistic note, and a serious one for Ministers. On average, a gas customer will face an unplanned outage once in their lifetime. And when did you last hear of a million people without gas?

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO