How do we solve the energy crisis?

We’ve been warned for months about a looming ‘winter of discontent’, but now as the weather’s set to get chillier, we know the cost of living crisis - mainly caused by skyrocketing energy bills - is going to hit people hard all too soon.

As many as half of us (49%) say we’ll be making cutbacks in order to pay our energy bills and over two fifths of us - 43% - say we’re wondering whether we can afford Christmas food and gifts.

Though many of us will look to our politicians to clear up this mess, a whopping two thirds of people (67%) say they do not trust the UK government to handle the energy crisis, according to the pollsters Find Out Now in research commissioned by PPAYA.

But I would argue the problem we’re facing isn’t about politics, it’s systemic: running right through the core of our energy infrastructure and how we power Britain.

The meteoric rise in energy demand has been the primary reason for providers going bust and prices rocketing. However, many of the problems with our energy system are long-standing, such as our out-dated regulatory architecture and our haphazard commissioning of nuclear sites.

Two new factors however undercut all others: Brexit and net-zero. Having left the EU’s Internal Energy Market, there’s little doubt that the supply process is now more cumbersome than it was before. How do we live up to our climate duties to future generations when we are still set adrift from our key energy partners in Europe?

Energy infrastructure is horribly complex, and commentators have been tripping over themselves to pitch simple solutions: should we just renege on all our climate commitments? Should we just drill the North Sea to smithereens?

What everyone seems to agree on is that energy is a geo-political issue, and if relations with our neighbours are on ice, we need to find new ways to warm ourselves up. That’s why enhancing our domestic energy production is crucial.

Given the challenges are far greater, our plans must be far bolder. The Government has been stabbing around in the dark for answers. But we’ve had solutions since 2017, with the Cost of Energy Review laying out in excruciating detail how we can achieve security of supply and decarbonisation simultaneously.

In short, a robust, decarbonised energy system will cushion us from volatile energy markets in future. Our path to net-zero and energy security will be rocky, and change will take time, which means compromises must be made.

We must therefore focus on how we transition safely. Increasing the capacity of our gas storage capacity is key: we have some of the lowest gas storage capacity in Europe, with Germany able to store 16 times more gas than we can. This means our supply lines are always precarious and we are at the mercy of market fluctuations.

It also means we are dependent on foreign gas being shipped in from abroad which places us in a position where hostile states such as Russia can theoretically decide if we can keep the lights on. We therefore need to keep our foot on the gas, ensuring that our relationship with continental gas remains strong as we build our renewable capacity.

A safe transition strategy will allow us to invest time and energy in a sustainable future. Ambitious projects for renewable power production and the infrastructure to store it, will reduce our reliance on foreign energy to a bare minimum. We must also invest in large-scale lithium-ion batteries, which we should require builders to use in new commercial and residential developments, as California is doing.

As we dither, our economy will wither. We might weather this storm, but there will be others – new winters of discontent that won’t subside. Let us renew our thinking on energy infrastructure now.