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How Will Growth in Renewables Change the UK’s Approach to Energy Security?

The UK’s transition to a wind- and solar-dominated electricity system over the coming decade has major implications for energy security in both the short and long term.

New era: the shift to renewables will have a transformative effect on UK energy security

The International Energy Agency defines energy security as ‘the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price’. Climate events all over the world in recent years added ‘resiliency’ and ‘the ability of an energy system to ‘bounce back’ from unexpected but more frequent climate events’ to the definition of energy security. Entering 2022, system resiliency in the face of climate events was a bigger worry than the possibility that our energy supply would be interrupted. The Russia–Ukraine war was a harsh reminder that our energy supply can and will be interrupted by wars and geopolitics.

The response to the energy crisis we are experiencing has included a mix of doubling down on exponential solar and wind expansion, protecting segments of the population against irrationally high energy prices, and increasing and diversifying short-term fossil fuel supply.

By 2030, the share of electricity in the UK energy mix will be more than 70%, up from around 20% today, and the UK’s Net Zero and Energy Security Strategy includes the target that by 2030, 95% of this electricity will be low-carbon, with more than 60% variable renewables (offshore wind, onshore wind and solar), compared to about 35% at the end of 2022. In parallel, there will also be a significant change on the demand side. By 2030, there could be more than 10 million electric vehicles (EVs) and over 1.1 million heat pumps installed. So, in the next eight years, we will move from a system where electricity is dispatched to meet demand, and where transport and heating largely use other fuels (including gasoline, diesel and natural gas), to a system where electricity is used and networked to most of our consumption, with much of that electricity variable (wind and solar), distributed and multi-directional in flow.

There are three main ways in which a high proportion of wind and solar will change how we think about energy security.

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