Renewables are strongest link in UK energy supply chain

Article by Amanda Doyle

Study finds renewables less risky than fossil fuels

RESEARCHERS have developed a method to thoroughly assess the risks associated with fuel supply chains, showing in a UK case study that renewables are less risky than fossil fuels and nuclear power, in contrast to previous studies which imply that renewables carried a greater risk.

The energy crisis has recently dominated headlines, particularly in the UK where a shortage of HGV drivers ultimately led to a shortage of petrol, exacerbated by panic buying. This is on top of rising gas and electricity prices which has occurred due a complicated mix of factors.

Understanding and mitigating risks in fuel supply chains therefore seems more pertinent now, especially as countries look to transition away from fossil fuels. A new study looking at these risks has been published in IChemE’s journal Sustainable Production and Consumption by Colin Axon, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Energy Futures at Brunel University London, and Richard Darton, a Professor at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford.

The study says that many previous models looking at energy security didn’t take all risks into account, often focusing on either long-term risks such as the climate crisis or short-term risks such as powerline failures. The new research performs a detailed analysis for the whole supply chain for each of the 27 fuel categories identified. It includes renewables, fossil fuels, and nuclear, and also includes “demand reduction” – caused primarily by improved energy efficiency and behavioural changes – as a hypothetical fuel.

Looking at each stage of the supply chain

Studying individual stages within supply chains makes it easier to identify where different risks can occur, and the authors divided up the supply chains into six stages: exploration; exploitation; conditioning the raw resource into fuel; converting the fuel into its final energy form; distribution of energy; and consumer use. For each stage, they looked at the activities that take place and how these could be impacted.

Transport risks are accounted for in each stage where it becomes relevant, and the authors note that transport is often neglected in energy system models which can underplay the risk associated with moving large quantities of fuel.

The analysis for the whole supply chain of each fuel showed that some stages are irrelevant for certain fuels, for example, offshore and onshore wind where wind power is converted into electricity at the source.

Identifying risks

The study defined a total of 34 risks falling into seven different categories: economic; environmental; innovation; manufacturing; political; skills; and technical. The environmental risk group incorporates the effects of climate change through risks such as natural hazards and lack of water availability.

They devised a method to calculate a composite score for the overall risk of each fuel, based on a risk matrix looking at both the likelihood and impact of each risk.

Darton told The Chemical Engineer that most people think energy security is mostly related to the political and financial risks in the international markets, and while this is a genuine risk, there are many others that are not considered, such as lack of skills and lack of vocational training in the local workforce. He said that this factor could be applicable to HGV drivers, where there is a current shortage.

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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