The last few weeks have served as a stark reminder about the fragility of our supply chain. A 250 per cent rise in wholesale gas prices since the beginning of the year has seen 32 energy companies collapse (at the time of writing) and many others orderly exit the market. In the same month, the UK has been suffering from a fuel shortage caused by lorry driver shortages and subsequent panic buying.
They might seem to be unrelated issues on the face of it but both ultimately result in energy security issues. Natural gas makes up over 40 per cent of the UK’s energy mix and over half of that gas is imported, whilst 90 per cent of cars on the road still run on a combustion energy requiring fuel. So, whether it is the energy companies purchasing gas on the wholesale markets or the drivers filling up their cars at petrol stations, both are subject to interferences that have an impact on our ability to do business or live our lives.
In short, the current model of generation, distribution and consumption of energy is highly centralised and therefore at the mercy of geopolitical forces which leaves us in situations like we’ve been seeing in recent weeks.
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The transition to a cleaner and more self-sufficient energy system is a disrupter to this status quo and recent events should only serve to expedite the pace at which we move along this journey. In a world where there is a higher penetration of renewable generation, storage and on the road, the system becomes far more de-centralised and gives countries and individuals more control.
Now you might be wondering, what a world where you have ‘more control’ actually looks like? Let's take a preview.
It’s October and the year is 2050. It has been a particularly hot summer (again) and winter is closing in. The days are getting shorter and you’re no longer able to rely primarily on your rooftop , as you did over the summer months, to meet your home energy demand.
Fortunately, this week has been particularly windy and given that wind now accounts for around 50 per cent of the UK’s energy mix, cheap domestic energy is abundant. It’s the early afternoon, you’re at work when you receive a mobile alert from your energy supplier. They’re letting you know that electricity will be free for a period of three hours tomorrow afternoon in a bid to help them remove excess supply from the grid caused by too much wind energy. You oblige and schedule your home battery to recharge during this time window whilst also scheduling the washing machine to run, after all it’s free electricity!
That evening, you arrive home, plug your car into your home charger and set it to start charging at 9pm when electricity prices are cheaper again because of low demand. You then proceed to enjoy the rest of the evening “off-grid” by discharging your home battery to avoid taking electricity from the grid whilst demand is high and hence expensive.
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This snapshot might appear as a utopian fantasy, but I can assure you it’s not. Some early adopters are already reaping the benefits of this energy transition and the control that it affords them. Scaling up generation and storage will not only increase our energy security but will empower consumers like you and me from being mere spectators and consumers of energy to active participants in the new system. From generation, distribution and consumption, the energy transition is also about the decentralisation of our energy system and we’re all going to be active participants.
So, whilst you’re sitting in the queue waiting for fuel this week, take solace in knowing that we will be the last generation to live like this. In fact, we might just be looking back at such moments in a not-so-distant future with nostalgia (or relief).
Hersh Thaker is the Co-Founder of the . He works in product development for a global energy company, with a focus on electric vehicle (EV) charging. He's also a school governor at Cedars Academy.
In this regular iGlobal Climate Dialogues , he explores the most pressing discussions related to the planet’s energy transition.