Boris Johnson has few quick fixes to deliver UK energy security

Boris Johnson prepares to unveil “energy supply strategy” to improve UK self-sufficiency as he seeks to decrease Russian oil and gas imports following the invasion of Ukraine.

But industry experts have warned that the prime minister has some quick fixes. For some, the energy crisis, which has exposed households to record prices, highlighted the failures in recent decades of energy policy, which too often relied on market forces.

“We’ve marketed and outsourced our energy security and we understand that in an emergency market signals can be very difficult to deal with,” said Mike Bradshaw, a professor of global energy at Warwick Business School.

One cabinet minister described Johnson’s sweeping approach to greater energy independence as “trying to push every button on the dashboard at the same time.” Here we will consider its options:

North Sea

Unlike many of its European allies, the UK is less dependent on Russia, which provides about 8 percent of the country’s oil And 4 percent of its gas needs. It still draws 40 percent of its gas from local sources.

Johnson hopes to slow down Long-term decline Of the North Sea, one of the world’s oldest hydrocarbon reservoirs, to limit how much Britain will have to compete with the EU for alternative supplies from regions like the Middle East.

The deaths of these fields have made Britain – which relies on oil and gas to supply 75% of its energy needs – a net importer of hydrocarbons since the mid-2000s.

Before the war in Ukraine there were ministers under Increasing pressure Block future oil and gas exploration or risk undermining Britain’s credibility with the world leadership on climate change. At this week’s meeting, Johnson urged companies, including BP and Shell, to increase investment in the North Sea.

North Sea producers have argued that more can be done to slow the rate of decline – output yes Forecast to A decrease of 5 to 7 percent per year – by quickly approving projects that are already in the pipeline.

The UK has not conducted a round of exploration licensing since 2020 and has promised that future rounds will be subject to the “climate suitability” test. The draft text for these tests was written hastily this week to include clauses that allow ministers to circumvent environmental considerations in the event of urgent national security concerns.

There are 10 potential new coastal fields that could be approved this year and next, according to Westwood Global Energy Group, a consulting firm. But economists have warned that Britain’s North Sea is not like younger basins where taps can be opened easily or large discoveries are still expected.

“People don’t seem to understand that this is far from being like Saudi Arabia,” said Peter Cameron, director of the Center for Law, Energy, Petroleum and Minerals Policy at Dundee University. According to the Petroleum and Gas Authority, the period of time between discovery and the arrival of a field for production can reach eight years.

“The North Sea… Is not the answer to the kind of problem Johnson has,” Cameron added. “If anything it might give a sense of false hope.”


The controversial technique of shale gas extraction offers another possible source of hydrocarbons and Johnson asked ministers to reconsider the fracking, which was in fact Prohibited in the UK in 2019.

UKOOG, a trading body of oil and onshore gas companies, told MPs last week that England has significant potential reserves of shale gas. If only 10 per cent of the estimated resources were to be found, it would make Britain a ‘natural gas powerhouse for 50 years’, it was written.

But the science surrounding fracking in the UK is hotly contested. Geologists point out that Cuadrilla, the only company to have been released in the UK partially Checked two Blankshire search wells before the ban, and questioned claims about the size of the reserves.

“Like it or not, the geology of the UK is not good for decomposition and commercial split gas,” said Stuart Hazaldin of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geography.

renewable energy

New destinations are expected for solar and maritime winds, an area where the UK is already a world leader.

But as a result of its leadership, the UK has already been close to the limit of how much marine wind capacity it can bring online by the end of the decade, said Dan Monzani, former director of energy security at Business, Energy. And industrial strategy.

The real problem is “how can we speed up the deployment”, said Monzani, now UK CEO of consulting firm Aurora Energy Research.

The UK already plans to quadruple its maritime wind capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2030. But the sector is interfering because of the slow pace of the regulatory and planning process. Several projects under construction won rights to the seabed in 2009.

Monzani also called for changes in the planning regime to encourage the construction of more wind farms on the coast. Greg Jackson, CEO of power provider Octopus Energy, said lead times for new onshore projects could be cut from 10 years to just two years, if the government adopts emergency measures similar to those for developing Covid-19 vaccines. It’s but it needs the political leadership, “he said.


After more than a decade of government delays in committing to a new generation of nuclear power plants, the overall contribution from this source – which used to be one-fifth of Britain’s total electricity production – is declining.

The engineering complexity means that the transport time to new factories is usually more than a decade. All but one of the UK’s existing fleets of six nuclear power plants are due to retire by 2030, leaving only 4.45GW of nuclear capacity – half the output compared to the beginning of the decade.

This includes the contribution from the one new nuclear power plant under construction. Hinkley Point C in Somerset is scheduled to hit the network in 2026.

Having struggled to get the private sector to fund the new nuclear construction program, the government hopes that access Will attract investors to back up the next project – Sizwell C in Sapok. Ministers are also considering a 20-year extension To the working life of the existing Sizewell B plant.

Meanwhile, a Rolls-Royce consortium is developing “small modular reactors” designed to reduce the costs and risks involved in larger plants. But because it’s a new technology, Rolls-Royce does not Watch Its first SMR operated until the early 1930s.

A chart showing Britain's declining nuclear capacity

Demand for energy

One notable omission in Johnson’s statements on energy security was any mention of reducing demand, experts said.

Business Secretary Kwasi Quarteng last week Rejected The advice of the International Energy Agency to ask households to lower their heating by one degree.

“The best way to lower energy bills permanently is to reduce demand in the first place,” said Simon Wirley, head of the UK’s energy and natural resources department at KPMG.

Previous programs aimed at encouraging households to adapt more insulation and move to alternative heating systems for gas boilers have failed because Poor design.

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