Brexit is currently the top concern of energy professionals across the UK – but not for the reasons you may think.
The Energy Institute’s Energy Barometer 2019 suggests the continued political focus on Brexit is taking up too much “political bandwidth” and stopping important energy policy decisions from being made.
In the organisation’s latest annual survey of experts from across the sector, a third of respondents identified leaving the EU as more of a challenge than any other issue – the Energy Institute says its impacts are compounding “perennial concerns” about UK energy policy as a whole and warns it is slowing progress on decisions being made surrounding economics, competition, security of supply, investment risk and the future of the grid.
For example, despite 82% of people supporting incentives for more system flexibility to support more intermittent renewables being added to the grid, there is frustration at a perceived lack of political will.
The report notes despite these concerns, the industry is becoming increasingly optimistic regarding the UK’s ability to meet emissions targets, with 30% of members believing the UK will meet or exceed its original 2050 greenhouse gas emissions target to reduce emissions by 80%, up from 13% in 2015.
The Energy Institute adds the falling costs of wind, solar and battery storage technologies are driving progress towards this goal but highlights that much more needs to be done to clean up the heat and transport sectors.
The Energy Barometer also shows members are divided about the economic impact of pushing to go net-zero by 2050 – Steve Holliday, who is to become the the next Energy Institute President, said: “There’s a huge split about both the ability to hit net-zero by 2050 and the costs of doing so.
“We need to take action pretty quickly, we don’t have the time to do study after study and whitepaper after whitepaper, we need to start taking more action to take carbon out of our system right now.”
The general consensus suggests energy efficiency is the best measure for decarbonising quickly, as it is relatively cost-effective and low-risk.
However, answers to the survey reflect a continuing belief that consumers are often not adequately engaged with their energy supplier, with a fifth fearing the transition to a low carbon economy will push up fuel poverty rates, leaving behind those who are unable to afford the upfront costs of installing new measures behind.
In terms of generation, renewable energy was highly ranked in terms of policy effectiveness and investment risk, while nuclear and carbon capture and storage were judged to be risky and generally unsupported investments.
Louise Kingham, CEO of the Energy Institute, said: “We need to start moving on more policies, coming through more quickly, more choices being made and as we spoke about here this morning, that needs to start tomorrow afternoon. We just don’t have time to delay any further.”