The UK's energy security has been the subject of much media speculation in recent months, with the focus on both securities of price and, to a lesser extent, supply.
The UK is becoming a net importer of energy, with blackouts in power systems around the world – particularly in regions of fast economic growth and surging demand – geopolitical disputes, industrial action and global oil depletion all fuelling speculation about our future energy security.
Devon and Cornwall Business Council have been discussing the future of our energy supplies, with its chairman Tim Jones this week lobbying the Crown estate to find a new investor to take on the de-railed Atlantic Array wind farm.
The focus of DCBC's full council meeting last week – Future Energy Security – was to develop a clearer picture of how secure our nation's energy is, to debate what if anything can be done about the issue at a regional level and to raise awareness of both the issues and possible small-scale solutions amongst the region's business community.
According to the International Energy Agency, there are several ways of measuring energy security: Continuity of individual fuel supplies, continuity of total energy supply, continuity of service supplies and continuity of the economy.
Industry body Ofgem's latest Electricity Capacity Assessment report shows that, in the absence of any policy intervention, there is likely to be an increased risk to electricity security of supply towards the middle of the decade. Gas supply is more secure, partly as a result of a five-fold increase to Britain's import infrastructure over recent years.
Ofgem, although continuing to plan towards low probability but high impact scenarios, feels that the UK's gas supply is resilient to all but the most extreme supply disruption scenarios. However, it is important to note that the gas price is unpredictable and hence brings increased uncertainty to businesses.
A recent report by the Major Energy Users Council (MEUC) highlighted that 88% of business respondents were worried about the security of their energy supply and it seems that perhaps they should be.
Ofgem has warned that, due the planned closure of some coal and nuclear power plants, spare capacity in the system could fall from today's 14% to 4% in just three years, with increased risk of "brownouts" and "blackouts" from the winter of 2015/16.
Future energy security is a complex problem to solve. There are multiple – and often opposing – policy objectives, such as environmental protection, sustainability, international relations and affordability.
Nigel Knee, head of external affair for EDF Nuclear New Build, told DCBC members: "As a nation we need diverse and secure energy supplies and we need to move to a lower carbon society."
If we are to achieve a diverse energy supply, we must not shy away from any of the renewable energy and low carbon technologies and, in particular, larger scale projects like the Atlantic Array. When scale can be achieved on these projects, inevitably, excellent opportunities for the local economy will follow, which must be seized upon.
This sentiment rang true with Regen SW chief executive Merlin Hyman, who said: "We can expect higher energy prices due to insecure supplies of fossil fuels, high levels of energy derived from nuclear fuel and greater insecurity of energy supplies globally."
The transition from our current, relatively dumb energy systems to smart energy systems will certainly form part of any future solution to energy security. According to The Clean Coalition, distributed and renewable energy generation, integrated with intelligent grid solutions, will result in a far more efficient and reliable electrical system. It says: "Intelligent grid solutions, such as demand response, advanced inverters and energy storage, will significantly increase grid reliability by enabling local balancing of supply and demand for energy."
But what can businesses do to mitigate the risks associated with energy shortages or higher prices?
Merlin Hyman suggests that businesses will need to be "more energy efficient, develop more resilience and become an integral part of the supply chain, generating energy to sell". This point was point echoed by Chris Bailey, finance director of Plessey Semiconductors, who has predicted a doubling of his company's energy costs by 2020 if nothing is done to improve efficiency and diversity of supply.
DCBC chairman Tim Jones agreed, adding: "One irrefutable component of any solution involves making progress towards a lower carbon economy."
The MEUC found that the top three actions being taken by businesses are "behavioural change" programmes (60%), investment in renewable energy sources (50%) and installing on-site generation (43%).
On a positive note, the added benefit is that these actions will lead to significant business opportunities within Devon and Cornwall, as the CBI predicts green businesses could boost the UK economy by £20bn in 2014/15.
Devon and Cornwall are well placed to weather the storm of future energy security, but we must not become complacent. We are moving towards a very different future, a future where energy security is far from guaranteed.
We must all, within our personnel and professional lives, take more responsibility for ensuring efficient use of energy through behavioural change, as well as the advent of new technologies and small-scale business and community production of low carbon energy.
We must continue to support and champion those organisations responsible for leading our society and businesses to a more secure energy future.
Tesco's energy performance manager, Andrew McMullen, told DCBC members last week that "making a real difference with energy generation requires real bravery".
It is something I am confident that we have.
Ben Rhodes is chief executive of Devon and Cornwall Business Council.