The 3 emerging challenges for energy policy makers

With the UK general election coming up, Nathan Richardson from Atkins shares with us his views on the three main challenges around future energy for our policy makers

The energy system of 2030 is being shaped by policy decisions being made today. These policy decisions must be made in a rapidly changing world where we are seeing major advances in our engineering skills; technology and communications capabilities alongside changes in public expectations and a greater understanding of our relationship with the environment.

Against this background how can policy makers working with the wider stakeholder community meet the challenge of ensuring that future energy is available, affordable and environmentally sustainable?

Atkins, as a world leading engineering and environmental consultancy, is at the heart of meeting this challenge and is sponsoring a thought leadership programme on Future Proofing Energy through 2015.

Drawing on our experience in designing and delivering the infrastructure of tomorrow we have identified three emerging challenges for policy makers around energy.

CHALLENGE 1: The question of balance

UK energy policy has three main goals; improving energy security and making sure energy is affordable have been consistently driving policy decisions and investment for generations. However, over the last two decades the third goal of needing to reduce carbon emissions to lessen the scale and impact of climate change has also been recognised.

The challenge we now face, as we set the path for the next generation, is to ensure that we maintain the appropriate balance across all three energy policy goals.

Access to new fossil fuel resources has become possible through advances in engineering and scientific understanding housed in organisations like Atkins. These developments can improve energy security and reduce costs to consumers. But we need the right checks and balances in place to safeguard progress on reducing carbon emissions.

CHALLENGE 2: The question of scale

We have inherited a national energy generating and transmission infrastructure with the “big six” UK energy suppliers responsible for operating much of that system. Whilst there are undoubted economies of scale many observers believe that in the future our cities should be playing a greater role in how energy is generated and used in their communities, integrating decisions around energy more strongly with their local economic, social and environmental needs and policies. The result. A more decentralised, distributed energy system.

How can policy makers encourage new business models and partnerships to emerge around energy, whilst not undermining the long term national energy infrastructure investments we have committed to such as new nuclear? Atkins is working with the Energy Research Partnership looking at this issue and the role our cities can play in our future energy resilience.

CHALLENGE 3: The connectivity conundrum

The explosion in data availability and the systems that can use that data to inform decision makers has been dramatic. It is enabling us to exert far greater and far finer control over how we generate, supply and use resources such as energy, for example through smart grids.

We can make better connections between energy management and how we manage our water resources or transport infrastructure. We have new ways to access, understand and influence consumer needs, behaviours and preferences.

How can policy makers keep pace with the rate of change in this area to ensure that their policies are joined up and reflect the increased connectivity we are seeing in society as a whole?

The challenges and opportunities we all face around future energy are significant. They will require new innovative ways of managing our resources and collaboration across disciplines, sectors and organisations. Atkins is committed to playing its part with all those who share our aims.

If you would like to hear more about Atkins’ Future Proofing series and our thought leadership around Future Proofing Energy take a look at our web-site or get in touch with

Check out some of Atkins' other blogs The water:energy nexus. Business buzzwords or a serious issue? and What will our future energy infrastructure look like?