Will the UK suffer energy shortages after Brexit?

The UK could suffer gas supply shortages and increased energy costs when it leaves the EU, according to industry experts. Not great news when you consider the chaos that is already gripping the country with a week to go until the UK leaves the EU.

It’s thought that the UK’s reliance on gas imports could cause problems post-Brexit, as EU countries could restrict supply during colder periods to cater for their own citizens.

This, in turn could lead to shortages across the UK, alongside higher energy bills for households and businesses.

*Between 1 July and 31 December 2020, people who have switched energy supplier for both gas & electricity with Uswitch saved an average of £216

Image of gas hob ring switched off.

What’s the problem?

In short, the UK is too reliant on imported natural gas supplies, following the winding-down of its own North Sea gas supply and the subsequent closure of much of its gas storage infrastructural capacity.

You may not realise it, but around 40% of the gas we use in the UK comes from Norwegian and other European pipelines, while around 6% of electricity is generated in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

This over-reliance on imported gas is a particular problem, especially during the winter months, as highlighted during last year’s cold snap.

Marco Alvera, head of European industry body GasNaturally, explained: "In the week when we had the 'Beast from the East' very cold spell coming, the system was already under a lot of strain, and the UK was taking a lot of gas from Europe that was stored in Europe."

If this happens again, we could have a situation whereby EU nations strangle the supply to the UK to ensure there is no shortage in their own countries.

Why is a reliable gas supply so important?

Alongside wind, solar and nuclear power, gas is an essential part of the UK’s energy mix, with more than three quarters (80%) of the UK’s 25 million homes powered by it.

Even those that aren’t directly dependent upon a reliable gas supply would feel the effects of any disruption, as over a third (39%) of the UK’s electricity supply is generated from natural gas. Gas-fired power plants are one of the most flexible ways to generate electricity, as they can quickly provide power during periods of high demand.

A shortage in the UK’s gas supply could also affect electricity generation. This, in turn, could lead to shortages of both gas and electricity, as well as an increase in prices, as higher demand is one of the primary drivers behind energy rate rises.

Where does the UK get its gas from?

Over half of the UK’s gas supply is imported, here’s how it breaks down:

  • European pipelines – 47%
    • Russia – 36%
    • Norway – 21%
  • Domestic production – 44%
  • Liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports - 9%

What’s the solution?

Amazingly, there seems to be a relatively simple solution to the potential supply crisis – according to Mr Alvera, the UK could solve it by converting old, out-of-use North Sea gas fields into gas storage facilities.

As far as beating any Brexit price hikes goes, signing up to a fixed-rate deal is the only thing to do. The UK is set to leave in a matter of days, which means you'll need to do one of the following to beat the potential price hikes:

  • Switch to a 12-month fixed rate deal now.
  • Switch to a longer-term fixed rate deal now, to potentially lock rates in for two years or longer.
  • If your current deal isn't due to end, it's still worth running an energy comparison to see how much you could save by switching. Even if your current deal has an early exit fee, it might still be worth switching now if you save enough money to cover the penalty charge.

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Les Roberts - Energy Expert at UKPower

Les Roberts - Energy Expert at UKPower

If you’ve got an issue with your energy supplier, our consumer champion Les is on hand to help. A decade in consumer affairs means Les understands how confusing energy tariffs can be, so he'll cut through the jargon to help make sure you get the best deal.