Factors affecting energy availability in the UK

Factors affecting UK energy supply

Access to energy supplies is affected by:

  1. Physical factors - fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago. New supplies of fossil fuels are sometimes found, but only in places that have the right geology.
  2. Cost of exploitation and production - wages count towards the overall cost of energy production. This has led to some resources being unprofitable, eg the UK has coal supplies, but it is too expensive to exploit them. When the global price of oil increases, drilling becomes profitable in many harder to reach locations.
  3. Technology - improvements in technology can open up new opportunities for energy use. Fracking is the process of extracting shale gas, and this has already proved popular in the USA. The UK is now investigating its potential as a method of increasing energy supplies. An island nation like the UK has an obvious opportunity to exploit wave and tidal power, and as solar panels are becoming more efficient these are also being utilised to help increase contributions from renewable energy sources.

Impacts of energy insecurity

There are many different ways of defining energy security. In the UK, the government aims to ensure that consumers have access to the energy that they require, at prices that avoid volatility. Most countries that use this definition produce their own energy or import it from politically-stable countries.

Energy insecurity is the opposite of this. There are several impacts of this, some of whhich are linked.

  • Exploitation of difficult and environmentally-sensitive areas - in order to find new sources of energy it sometimes means that environmentally-sensitive areas (like National Parks) are utilised for energy supplies. Fragile ecosystems can be put at risk if the desire for energy is greater than the desire for environmental protection.
  • Economic and environmental costs - imported fuel is expensive. Exporting countries set the prices for fuel, leaving importing countries vulnerable. The UK currently imports around 25% of its energy requirements, including most of the gas from Norway, and a third of the coal from Russia. Some fuels cause a lot of pollution, eg coal causes smog and releases greenhouse gas when burnt. Mining for the raw materials for energy can also cause environmental problems with loss of habitats, noise and visual pollution.
  • Food production - exploiting energy resources often uses valuable farmland. The growth of the biofuel market has also led to crops being grown as a fuel, rather than as food. This can cause food shortages and push food prices up as supply falls lower than demand.
  • Industrial output - manufacturing relies on energy. When energy is in short supply, it costs more to buy. This makes manufacturing more expensive. Countries that experience energy insecurity usually have a lower industrial output.
  • Conflict - energy insecurity can cause conflict when countries compete to obtain energy supplies.