How can the UK cut reliance on Russian fossil fuels and curb energy bills?

Options range from increasing production elsewhere to more renewables and reducing energy demand.

07 April 2022

As the Government is set to unveil a new energy strategy in response to soaring prices and a push to reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas, what are the options for the UK to secure supplies and bring down bills?

– North Sea resources

There is still oil and gas under the sea off the UK’s coast, but the levels have been dwindling and what is left is increasingly difficult to get out.

Brent crude oil (price per barrel)
(PA Graphics)

There are about 4.4 billion barrels of oil and oil-equivalent that has been proven under UK waters, according to the North Sea Transition Authority, and there could be more than 10 billion in unproven reserves, according to previous speculative estimates.

North Sea production would be unlikely to push down prices – which are set internationally – but could help with the UK’s energy security.

– Imports

If other countries ramp up production this could have a much greater impact on prices.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) is estimated to be able to increase oil production by around four million barrels a day, something that would significantly impact on prices.

The UK could also get more gas from the US and the Gulf countries. The Grain liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Kent can in theory bring in enough gas to supply 25% of UK demand.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Terminal in Milford Haven
Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal in Milford Haven (David Jones/PA)

But in reality this can only happen if enough ships dock there. In a record set last April the terminal supplied 15% of demand.

This means there is plenty of capacity to ramp up how much comes in through the UK’s LNG terminals, which in turn could also be exported to Europe.

– Fracking for shale gas

Just a few months ago, more than a decade of efforts to develop fracking for shale gas seemed to be over, as authorities ordered the sealing of the only two horizontal drilled wells in Lancashire.

But with the energy crisis there has been pressure to look again at the controversial gas source, and the order to permanently seal the wells has been suspended.

The Government has also commissioned a review into the science around fracking, which could pave the way to lifting the current moratorium on the process brought in over the tremors it caused.

But Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has warned fracking would take years of exploration and development to produce commercial levels of gas and will not bring down prices in the near-term.

It will only get the go-ahead if the latest science shows it is safe, sustainable and causes only minimal disturbance to residents, he said.

– Electrification

By switching to electric cars and electric heating for homes the UK could cut its reliance on fossil fuel imports, as currently around 85% of homes use gas for heating or cooking, and most cars use oil products.

Replacing boilers with heat pumps that run on electricity and use less energy for warming homes, and swapping petrol and diesel cars with electric alternatives, could reduce fossil fuel demand – and greenhouse gas emissions.

A car plugged into a charging point in central London
A car plugged into a charging point in central London (John Walton/PA)

But that will also require investment in low-carbon renewable electricity generation.

Renewables are on the increase, but gas still generates a chunk of British electricity – producing just under two-fifths of the country’s power last year.

– Renewables

Boris Johnson has said renewables are the quickest and cheapest route to greater energy independence, and pledged to boost new wind power, accelerate the rollout of offshore wind farms and use more solar energy.

As gas prices have climbed, renewables are already saving consumers money as they generate electricity more cheaply than gas plants.

They would be curbing costs even more if there had not been an effective moratorium on new onshore wind farms in England under the Tories, according to campaigners.

As more wind farms come online, they will displace more gas. Also, they have contracts to supply electricity at prices well below current high levels, paying money back to consumers.

– Nuclear power

Mr Johnson is also pushing for efforts to get new nuclear power – from large plants to small modular reactors – up and running more quickly and cheaply to provide low-carbon, constant power to the grid.

Hinkley Point nuclear power plant being constructed (Ben Birchall/PA)
Hinkley Point nuclear power plant being constructed (Ben Birchall/PA)

But progress to replace Britain’s ageing fleet of reactors has been slow, with high upfront costs of construction and difficulty attracting investment.

Just one new plant, Hinkley Point C, is under construction, with the start of electricity generation expected in June 2026, and further new plants would not come online for a number of years.

– Reducing energy use at home

Politicians are wary of being criticised for “put on a jumper” messages, particularly when millions more people are facing fuel poverty and even a choice between eating and heating as costs soar.

But there are calls for a public awareness campaign to encourage people to take steps that will cut household energy demand, bills and carbon emissions without compromising on health and comfort.

These can include actions such as turning down the “flow temperature” on condensing boilers to reduce the temperature of the water sent to radiators and turning down the thermostat by 1C – while staying within a comfortable range of 18-21C.

– Energy efficiency

Households can also install energy saving measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation or double glazing, and switch to low-energy appliances, although the cost of these options varies significantly.

How a heat pump works
(PA Graphics)

Analysis suggests that energy efficiency measures installed over the last decade will save British households £1.2 billion this year, or nearly £200 on average for the six million homes which have benefited from the measures.

But home insulation rates fell sharply after cuts to Government programmes to improve energy efficiency in 2013, and ministers have struggled to design successful policies to encourage homeowners to make their homes more efficient.

The Government says it has committed £6.6 billion to improving energy efficiency, and has also slashed VAT to zero on installing energy saving measures including insulation, heat pumps and solar panels for the next five years.

But campaigners want to see an expansion of programmes to insulate homes, with a focus on low-income families.

More from Perspective

Get a free copy of our print edition


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

Your email address will not be published. The views expressed in the comments below are not those of Perspective. We encourage healthy debate, but racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other types of hateful comments will not be published.