Time to skill

Britain’s energy system needs a major rebuild to meet the challenges of energy security and tackling climate change. The main challenges are keeping the lights on and a 90 per cent decarbonisation of the economy by 2050. By then the economy could be twice the size it is now but CO2 emissions will need to be one-fifth of the current total. To achieve this by 2050, energy efficiency will need to improve by at least three times and the carbon intensity of energy must decline by one third or more.

Compounding the challenge will be the closure of about 40 per cent of the UK’s generating capacity in the next 15 years or so, as old coal and nuclear plants are decommissioned. The generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure will need a revamp. The rebuild programme for electricity alone will cost around £200bn.

The transport infrastructure will also need a major upgrade to improve energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. Cars will need to be lighter and have more efficient internal combustion engines. New technologies such as more sustainable biofuels and electric mobility will have to be developed and deployed. And new low-carbon methods will be needed to heat buildings.

We can be daunted by this, but we ought to be invigorated. It spells opportunity for new technology and jobs, for a more efficient economy and for greater energy security. It also spells opportunity for UK businesses to develop products and skills that can be sold at home and abroad.

James Smith

James Smith
President Energy Institute
Chairman of Shell UK

BSc in physics, chartered accountant

Employed by management consultancy Accenture and worked as a consultant on Shell’s global financial systems in 1980

1983-2003 Worked in all of Shell’s major businesses and was head of technology, strategy and sustainable development

2004 Appointed chairman of Shell UK

2009 Elected president of the Energy Institute