The UK government has come under fire from the House of Lords over its recent record on energy security.
In a report, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said that “the government has managed to keep the lights on, but buying in extra ‘safety net’ capacity at short notice has brought costs for the taxpayer and the environment”.
The committee declared that the government “should not be congratulated on keeping the lights on. It is not acceptable for an advanced economy, hugely dependent on electricity, to sail so close to the wind.”
The report states: “There has been no national blackout so far this winter…nor do we expect the lights to go out next winter. It would take an improbable concatenation of events to put the lights out nationally. National Grid has tools at its disposal to increase capacity or reduce demand, and we are confident that it has the ability to maintain national electricity supply.”
It adds: “National Grid procured extra capacity to raise the capacity margin from 4.1 per cent to 6.1 per cent this winter and guard against a potential shortage of electricity. It is a matter for concern, however, that this extra capacity was put in place at short notice, at considerable cost, and in a way which conflicts with the decarbonisation agenda.”
The committee is now urging the government to improve its long-term planning to avoid “squeezing the capacity margin”.
Committee chairman Lord Selborne said: “We chose to look at this issue because, such is our increasing reliance on electricity, any blackouts have the potential to bring our communications and vital services to a grinding halt.
“We’re entering new and unchartered territory. As we strive for more decarbonised electricity provision, it will become harder and harder to keep electricity affordable and to guarantee security of supply. These are the three irreconcilable pressures of the ‘energy trilemma’, and we feel that there is more the government needs to do to inform the public about potential higher prices.
He added that as the electricity system undergoes radical change, the government “must stay ahead of the game, with dedicated investment into research and development across a wide range of technologies, and constant alertness to cyber‑threats”.
“Only then can the government ensure that it can weather any storm, and continue to keep the lights on in the long‑term.”