In March 2018, as a result of extended cold temperatures, the UK National Grid issued a gas deficit warning and gas wholesale prices reached a 6-year high, highlighting energy security concerns as demand increases (DRAX, 2019). Energy security is the availability, accessibility, affordability, and acceptability of sustainable energy supply. This is a key sustainability issue as demonstrated through the Sustainable Development Goal 7 to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Fossil fuels currently make up most of the energy demand globally but due to their eventual expiration and associated greenhouse gas emissions, this does not equal a sustainable secure source that will meet this ambition. In addition, the numerous impacts encountered throughout the energy supply chain contradict the aim of SDG7, such as harmful extraction processes, exploitation of vulnerable areas, and high greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Further to this, through the Climate Change Act of 2008, the UK had initially committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, but has since increased this commitment to net zero emissions by the same date. This further emphasises the need for a secure, sustainable energy supply chain to achieve this goal.
A sustainable energy supply chain must limit
environmental degradation, be socially responsible throughout, and be economically
viable. Figure 1 shows the electricity mix required to limit us to the 2
degrees warming target set in the Paris Agreement. An option to deliver energy
security identified in this mix is the use of solar PV technologies amongst
other renewables. Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial
Strategy has predicted that renewable energy technologies will become cheaper
per kW produced than all other fossil fuels between 2020 and 2025 (BEIS, 2016).
However, it should be considered that the International Renewable Energy Agency
(IRENA), 2016, estimates that there will be 78 million tons of solar PV panel
waste by 2050. The extraction process of rare earth metals required for these
panels can have high environmental impacts, including the formation of toxic
lakes in the areas it is mined such as China, which produces 85% of the world’s
neodymium. Not to mention the emissions associated with the transportation of materials
and technology globally.
mentioned above, due to the need for energy security and our commitment to net
zero emissions by 2050, the sustainable sourcing of energy is an important
issue to the UK. The UK is making positive progress to decarbonising the National
Grid to achieve these ambitions and targets; however, rapid growth in low
carbon energy generation is still required.
technologies, as listed in figure 1, that can achieve low carbon energy
generation can also have some negative impacts. These need to be addressed to
provide truly sustainable energy sourcing. Traceability through the supply
chain could ensure that production is both environmentally and socially
responsible. Meaning that the expected future expansion of the industry has not
come at the expense of biodiversity, ecosystems or communities (Koh and
Ghazoul, 2008). Feedback loops are required to ensure that resources are
responsibly sourced, and governance in the supply chain can produce better
relationships between actors.
Adopting a more circular approach means
that a large portion of the technology involved along the renewable energy production supply
chain would be recycled; reducing the waste produced,
decreasing the need to extract virgin material, and minimising the impacts in
the supply chain.
The built environment can play a significant role in the sustainable
supply of energy in the UK. Increasing the deployment of appropriate on-site
generation technologies, such as solar PV, and greater uptake of
micro-generation technologies such as heat pumps, could shorten the supply
chain, reduce land-use conflicts and benefit from more public support.
Installing systems on homes create prosumers that generate and consume energy
while reducing the running costs of their home, protecting them from variable
energy prices. Emerging technologies in this market such as grid-connected
electric vehicles which feedback into the system when idle can also form part
of a distributed energy supply chain that offers flexibility.
Adopting a flexible approach to not just
manage the energy demand baseload but the peaks and troughs of energy usage are
crucial, to maintain a secure sustainable supply chain. The growing shift to
the electrification of historically gas heating systems and the use of heat
pump technologies will increase electricity demand, as such supply must
instantaneously match demand to maintain robustness. Introducing smarter
systems into the supply chain such as long term and flexible energy storage
options, integrating demand-side response to match supply, and demand and
feedback, allows for more efficient energy supply and demand interaction.
The final stage of the supply chain to
achieving energy security is the efficient use of energy consumption leading to
the reduction in total energy usage by consumers and businesses. Improving the
energy efficiency of the building stock of both commercial and domestic
buildings in the UK would significantly reduce the energy demand and therefore
require less energy generation. This can be done by improving the thermal
specifications of the fabric of the building and introducing building
management systems to run the core services more efficiently.
Sustainability certification of the built environment such as BREEAM and HQM benefits investors, owners, landlords, facilities managers and occupiers by reducing operational costs and increases the efficiency of the building. The energy category encourages the specification and design of energy efficient building solutions, systems and equipment that support the sustainable use of energy and sustainable management in the building’s operation. This contributes to national and global targets, while progressing towards secure energy supply that is affordable and builds resilience into the supply chain.
This article was written by Jordan Magee, Technical Consultant at BREEAM
Koh, L. Ghazoul, J. 2008. Biofuels, biodiversity, and people: Understanding the conflicts and finding opportunities. Biological Conservation. Volume 141. Pp.2450-2460.
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