“It’s the whole system, stupid”

17th Sep 2018


The legend surrounding Bill Clinton’s Presidential victory in 1992 centred round the famed war-room, with the bold statement posted on the wall, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Well for those seeking to plot the UK’s future energy pathway to decarbonisation, “It’s the whole system, stupid.”

Simply pulling together a few strands of evidence suggests that the whole system approach is essential to understanding and then resolving the challenges of the energy trilemma. Central to that understanding and key to the resolution, is the future role of gas.

Let’s look at a few of the challenges. This year, we had the ‘Beast from the East’ followed by a summer heatwave. Demand for heat was unseasonably high and it is peak demand that policymakers need to address and yet this summer, despite it being great for solar, has been poor for wind generation of power. The Guardian predicts that the carbon intensity of electricity generation will be higher this year as a result.

Gas proved to be the saviour in the winter, meeting these peak demands, by utilising the flexibilities built into the networks. In the summer, it also proved to be that essential back-up for power generation too. An interesting development, which I suspect hasn’t yet been picked up by politicians, is the number of decentralised gas-powered generators running off the gas distribution networks. Another challenge this summer has flagged up, is how to meet the cooling requirements in buildings when the UK faces not average temperature increases (as predicted by climate change scientists) but those heatwave peaks. Flexibility in the energy system is key to making those hot offices bearable, especially when the wind doesn’t blow.

People like Chris Clarke, from WWU, have been highlighting the whole system approach for a while. I’m delighted he is speaking at the Gas 2018 conference this November. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you need to book tickets ASAP. I’m not sure he’ll say these words (he’s more polite than me) but you have been warned, “It’s the whole system, stupid.”