The UK has become more reliant on electricity imported from Europe, latest government figures show, raising fears that a chaotic Brexit could drive up household energy bills.
Net electricity imports to the UK reached their highest ever level in the first quarter of this year,
following the opening of a new interconnector, dubbed Nemo, between the UK and Belgium in January. Electricity imports between January and March were up a sixth from the year before.
Altogether, a record 7% of the UK’s electricity was delivered via four high-voltage power cables that link the grid to the European energy market. And with more international interconnectors scheduled to come online, the government hopes to see that figure rise to 20% by 2025.
The creation of more integrated energy systems is seen as necessary to maximise the utility of intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar.
John Pettigrew, the chief executive of National Grid, described such interconnectors as “increasingly important” to the UK’s energy system and decarbonisation goals.
“There are going to be periods going forward where there is surplus renewable energy, too much wind or too much solar. Therefore being able to take it from a local area and move it around Europe is good for carbon emissions,” he said before the opening of the Nemo interconnector.
However, strengthened energy links to the EU could mean an untidy, no deal Brexit sends energy prices—and household bills—soaring.
Disentangling the UK from the EU’s energy market could be costly and complicated. And no-deal exit could mean the UK faces third-party charges to use the cables connecting it to EU markets.
A spokesperson said the government had been working to ensure energy trading continued as usual. Reportedly, a pan-European network of energy system operators has arrived at a plan to allow the UK to remain in the internal market on a voluntary basis, under the same commercial terms.
However, the plan hasn’t been approved by the European Commission and could be scrapped if Britain leaves the EU without a deal and without paying the £39 billion divorce bill.
Meanwhile, the fall in value of the pound against the euro amidst Brexit uncertainty has already reduced purchasing power and driven up the market price for electricity.
Gas and electricity bills rose by a collective £2 billion in the year following the 2016 referendum, as the pound collapsed in value, according to a report from University College London.
That translated into an extra £35 for electricity and £40 for gas on the average household’s annual energy bill. The report cautioned that energy bills could climb by £61 each year in the coming years.
A report commissioned by the National Grid before the referendum predicted that if the UK left the EU’s internal energy market collective energy bills would rise by £500 million each year by the 2020s.