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Energy: Self-sufficiency

Volume 739: debated on Monday 15 October 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the UK could again become self-sufficient in energy.

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend for his contributions and consistency in bringing this and similar Questions to our attention. The Government are committed to maximising all UK energy resources, including from the UK continental shelf and from UK-based renewables. However, all plausible scenarios of future energy use up to 2050, such as those set out in the Government’s carbon plan, require some fossil fuels. The amounts of oil and gas produced from the UK continental shelf are declining year on year. This means that it is unlikely that the UK could become completely self-sufficient in energy. However, import dependence is not new to the UK. We were heavily dependent on imports until the 1980s. We work closely with international partners such as Norway.

My Lords, as the House knows, historically this country was self-sufficient in energy supplies thanks to coal, natural gas and oil from the North Sea. However, as my noble friend mentioned, we had to import no less than one-third of our requirements in 2011. Does my noble friend agree that it will remain a major plank of the Government’s energy policy to reverse this trend as soon as possible? Secondly, will she confirm that there will be adequate electricity supplies and generating capacity, in view of the recent report of Ofgem that stated that there might be a reduction in capacity in the next four years?

My noble friend is absolutely right that we need to try to maximise the economic recovery of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf, and our most recent licensing round has been the most successful ever. We are committed to working with industry to create a new world-leading, cost-effective UK carbon capture and storage industry, and policies such as the Green Deal and the introduction of smart meters will reduce our energy demand and ensure more efficient use of the fuel that we use. Our ongoing work is to achieve renewable targets which significantly increase the proportion of clean domestic energy in the mix. Ofgem’s recent report provides a comprehensive analysis of the security of supply. We are looking at it very carefully and will respond formally by the end of the year.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, by making the most of the wide variety of renewables that our islands are blessed with, we will move further towards self-sufficiency in energy and will effectively then disconnect ourselves from the threat of ever-accelerating fossil fuel prices?

My noble friend raises a very important point. We are trying to make sure that we have greater self-sufficiency through our renewables but this means only that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and, although it is helpful to say that that is what we want to do, we are not currently at that stage. However plausible our scenarios of future energy, I think that there will still be a place for some fossil fuels.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is an illusion to pretend that we can ever attain self-sufficiency in energy without showing a rather more robust and urgent approach to the nuclear industry than the present Government are doing?

My Lords, I refute the noble Lord’s point that we are not taking a robust approach. We are, but we also need to make sure that we are able to decommission safely and dispose of the decommissioning waste that we have.

My Lords, can the Minister elaborate on the potential for the commercialisation of shale gas in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, we need to make the most of all our domestic energy resources, and exploitation of shale gas reserves is just one way we can do this. We must also ensure that any development is sensitive to community concerns and consistent with our carbon objectives.

My Lords, if we are to continue with the aim of trying to achieve self-sufficiency, has not the time come to have another look at the Stern review, not because there is anything wrong with renewables but because the cost platform has so escalated in that area that it is highly questionable that we can now afford the proposals in that review?

My Lords, the Government are very mindful of the points that my noble friend raises but, as I said earlier, we are looking at all forms of energy, including renewables. We may well revisit previous reports but the most important thing is that we look at how, in the future, we are going to have a sustainable energy system which ensures that all our homes constantly have light.

My Lords, in light of the fact that the Minister has admitted that it is inevitable that we use fossil fuels, how are we doing in our sequestration projects, which are designed to demonstrate the financial feasibility of the sequestration of CO2?

My Lords, the noble Lord’s question is a very technical one, which will require a very technical answer. I think it would be more helpful to the House if I were to write to him with an in-depth response to his very in-depth question.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that renewables are the way to reduce our dependence on foreign imports of fossil fuels, and would she care to comment on the Crown Estate’s recent report into our tidal energy capacity, which is estimated to be the best in Europe?

My Lords, I welcome the Crown Estate report, which helps to refine our understanding of the wave and tidal energy resource in the UK. We have always known that we have an outstanding marine energy resource around our coastline and that is why the Government are fully committed to the development of wave and tidal energy. We have put in place the world’s most comprehensive support of the sector’s development, including innovation funding.