Utility Regulator Points to Exciting but Challenging Times Ahead for Energy
Our energy system is going through a radical transition involving a scale and pace of change we have not seen for over a century. At our recent energy strategy seminar with the Northern Ireland Energy Institute, Dieter Helm called it, “a revolution!” The questions is, are we ready for revolution?
Energy transition is about new and changing patterns of both energy supply and demand, as we transform from carbon-based fossil fuel systems to a low carbon future. It will see the current fossil fuel sources giving way to an energy system based on renewable energy. It will also see technology play more of a role in terms of storage and consumer choice. As the Utility Regulator, we must make sure that the energy system in Northern Ireland is secure, accessible, sustainable and affordable for all energy consumers.
We do know some of what is coming as part of this revolution. The way we heat our homes and fuel our transport will need to change in order to meet climate targets, including the UK Government’s recently announced ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The Utility Regulator is playing its part in facilitating the energy transition. Our new Corporate Strategy set out our vision for the future by enabling: (a) 21st century networks and (b) a low carbon future. In achieving this, we must be mindful of the short and long-term interests of consumers and that is why protecting and empowering consumers is at the heart of our strategy and must also be central to the energy transition.
The majority of consumers only think about their energy use when their electricity or gas bill goes up or down, or when their lights go out. We want future energy consumers to be able to play a more active role in how, and when, they use energy, facilitated by technology and available choices. However, all energy consumers need to be protected, particularly the more vulnerable and those who cannot, or chose not to, actively participate in the energy transition. We do not want to leave anyone behind or make anyone worse off – it must be a ‘just’ transition for all.
Our existing energy frameworks, policy and regulation need to be fit for purpose for this radical transition. Important decisions on our future regulatory pathways need to be taken. For example, how we fund and charge for our energy infrastructure; how our licenses and codes need to change to facilitate new technologies and business models and how we create an optimal integrated whole energy system. By this we envisage a system not just about electricity and gas, but also clean energy in all its different uses, for example heat, power and transport, and its integration, to deliver value for our conusmers. These regulatory decisions are also likely to contribute to wider benefits such as new economic opportunities, a cleaner and healthier living environment in Northern Ireland and initiatives that will positively impact on global climate changes.
We are preparing for the revolution. Making the energy transition happen requires co-operation and collaboration, and we stand ready to work with energy consumers, policy makers, the energy industry and others to ensure that we maximise the benefits of the transition for all.