Powering the nation: How the UK energy industry responded to COVID-19 and can lead the recovery

Written by Audrey Gallacher

Since the start of the pandemic the energy sector has been focusing on twin priorities – supporting customers and maintaining reliable services. The energy industry provides an essential service. As such, it has well-established contingency plans to ensure the reliable supply of power to both business and domestic customers, as well as support for those in vulnerable circumstances.


Supporting consumers

This is a difficult time for many people, households and businesses alike. From the very beginning of this crisis, the energy industry acted to quickly to establish new measures to ensure there was support for those who were financially impacted by the coronavirus situation.

Throughout the crisis we have been in close contact with the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments and consumer groups such as Citizens Advice, on what help energy suppliers could provide to support customers. We took particular interest in those in vulnerable situations or in need of additional support – for example those on prepayment meters.

On 19 March, all energy suppliers agreed additional measures with the UK Government to ensure customers are supported regardless of their energy supplier.

During the lockdown, we have also highlighted important information to consumers on carbon monoxide safety in the home, energy efficiency advice, and we joined together with Citizens Advice and the Energy Networks Association to remind the public to stay safe and guard against bogus callers on the doorstep. More information about that can be found here.

Keeping the lights on

Alongside protecting customers, our other priority as an industry has been to maintain supply. On that front, industry has worked tirelessly to ensure no disruption to the supply of energy to customers, businesses and public services. 

Generators, network operators and National Grid have well-established contingency plans in place to ensure that the delivery of services carries on as usual- even in these extraordinary circumstances. The response thus far has meant we’ve been able to maintain supply and keep the lights on.

The lockdown inevitably meant vast numbers of industrial and commercial premises closing, leading to unprecedented low demand on the GB electricity system.  With such reduced demand, the Electricity System Operator has been brokering agreements with parties to either increase demand, or to reduce their generation output. These actions allow headroom to bring on generators that can offer the flexibility and further system services needed, thereby balancing the system and keeping the lights on.

In the UK we have one of the most reliable energy systems in the world, supporting 764,000 jobs. We have worked with BEIS to maintain our system – and ensure our critical workers have access to testing. This has allowed them to continue to operate plant and control rooms, ensuring power is kept flowing to homes and vital community services like hospitals, care homes and supermarkets.

Restart and Recovery

As this crisis now moves forward from its initial phase, we look to the recovery and how we restart the economy in a COVID-safe way.

We have an opportunity following the pandemic to rebuild the UK economy in a cleaner and more resilient way. The UK energy industry is in a strong position to lead the way in delivering investment to support a clean recovery and boost our national infrastructure’s resilience. It is these actions which will help deliver our legally-binding net zero target, alongside creating jobs across the country and decarbonising the economy.

To lead a green and clean recovery, as we head towards COP26 next year, we should be looking towards the opportunities ahead:

  • developing hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage;
  • developing new nuclear power stations;
  • expanding our world-renowned offshore wind industry;
  • developing our solar power projects;
  • increase the UK coverage of electric vehicle charge points to boost electric vehicle ownership;
  • exploring the opportunities to be gained from tidal power;
  • and pushing for greater action on creating a National Energy Efficiency Programme.

As part of our industry’s work to lead a green recovery and build back better, Energy UK will be publishing a report later in June which will look in more depth at these opportunities and why we need to ensure energy and climate policy are essential parts of the economic recovery.

We will be launching this report with PRASEG as a key supporter of the UK’s low-carbon energy sector on 18th June 2020 at 12pm.

You can read Energy UK's early thought piece, Powering the Nation: How clean energy can support the economic recovery' or listen again to its webinar with Chris Stark, CEO for the Committee on Climate Change alongside EDF Energy, Good Energy and PwC.

Audrey Gallacher is the Interim CEO of Energy UK, the trade association for the GB energy industry with a membership of over 100 suppliers, generators, and stakeholders with a business interest in the production and supply of electricity and gas for domestic and business consumers.