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What Does Brexit Mean for the United Kingdom’s Energy Policy?

Krystal Maxwell — June 27, 2016

Energy CloudOn Thursday of last week, Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a referendum known as Brexit. The vote to leave won 52% to 48%, with 17.4 million voters in favor of leaving the EU and 16.1 million voting to remain. In the wake of the vote, the world has expressed mixed feelings on the outcome, including rage, frustration, excitement, anger, pride, and sadness. While the vote may not mean a huge shift for in the energy field, it is a historically significant event, not only in Britain, but for the rest of the world as well. One of the largest initial changes to occur as an outcome of the vote is that Prime Minister David Cameron, a leader of stay campaign, will resign. The pound plummeted to its lowest level since 1985, and further economic impacts are yet to be determined. Britain is the first nation to leave the EU, and one thing is clear: the vote means significant global change and uncertainty.

The EU’s Energy Directives

The EU has been a leader in energy efficiency regulations and requires its member states to create and update their own National Energy Efficiency Action Plans every 3 years. The requirements set forth by the EU have pushed member states to proactively create and enforce their own policies surrounding increased energy efficiency, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets, and increasing renewable energy.

Navigant Research’s Global Energy Efficiency Policy Analysis report discusses the role of the EU in driving global energy efficiency policy. The United Kingdom’s GHG emissions target is to reach 80% reductions below 1990 levels by 2050, in compliance with the EU’s minimum regulations of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive aims to minimally fulfill 20% of its total energy needs from renewables by 2020, which is set to be achieved through the accomplishment of individual member targets. Even within the EU’s already notable energy efficiency requirements, the United Kingdom is a leader in many policies, having surpassed many base requirements.

Brexit and the EU’s Energy Policies

The EU’s targets for GHG emissions and renewables are based on all member states achieving their individual goals. The exit of Britain from the EU does not mean the EU will no longer be able to achieve its targets, but increased targets will need to be met in the remaining member states to make up for Britain’s portion. In 2010, only 7% of the United Kingdom’s electricity came from renewables, but this increased to 18%-19% by 2014 and is on target to reach 30% by 2020.

While Brexit would mean the United Kingdom can relax on some efficiency policies, overall, it would not drastically affect the country. The Climate Change Act requires tougher GHG emissions targets than the base EU requirements. In order to hit the 30% renewable goal, many projects, such as new wind farms, have been given subsidy contracts and granted planning authorization. The vote won’t affect the project to build the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, as EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy stated that, “We think that this vote has no impact on our strategy.

Leaving the EU will make it easier in the future for Britain to relax its energy policies and emissions targets, as these changes would only require domestic legislative approval. Even if Britain does not change its policies after its exit from the EU, it will lose other valuable assets, such as negotiating support with Russia, which supplies the country with 16% of its energy imports.

With the all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, there is no way to predict the impact this vote will have on energy policies in the United Kingdom and the EU, but they could become a dominant subject in the years to come.

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