Premier Rishi Sunak’s Whitehall re-shuffle today revived a ministry focussed exclusively on energy matters, its concerns split away from wider business policy.

Replacing D-BEIS, the new Department of Energy Security and Net Zero has three operational priorities:  securing long-term supply, securing Net Zero and ensuring affordability of energy.

Grant Shapps, pictured, D-BEIS’ secretary of state since September, continues in the same role at D-ESNZ.

The new ministry’s remit evokes its forerunner DECC, created by Gordon Brown in 2008, then abolished in July 2016 under Theresa May’s administration.

Representatives of Britain’s energy industry liked the notion, while voicing reservations about its speed in implementing policy.

From Britain’s biggest pro-renewables group the REA, the welcome was muted, and came with a major caveat.

“An energy department with a focus on Net Zero is welcome, as long as the Government now hits the ground running and avoids the usual delays while new departments are established”. said Dr Nina Skorupska, the association’s CEO.

“Decision making in the sector has already been woefully delayed over the last few years, Dr Skorupska went on.  “A joined-up approach across these new departments is essential, as well as implementing the recommendations from Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Report “Mission Zero”, which clearly stated that “Net Zero is the largest growth opportunity of the 21st century.”

From enterprise power supplier nPower Business Solutions, chief operating officer Anthony Ainsworth welcomed the reform.

More government protection

“The past two years in particular have highlighted the need for specific governmental focus on both energy and Net Zero”, said Ainsworth. “So a secure and sustainable policy framework can be built that supports both businesses and consumers”.

“Last year, nPower’s Business Energy Tracker report revealed that 82% of businesses felt that the government could be doing more to protect them against energy market volatility. While measures such as the Energy Bill Relief Scheme and the new Energy Bills Discount Scheme were welcome interventions, it has become more apparent that a focussed and long-term approach is needed to enable the UK to become more energy resilient.

“Similarly, the launch of the government’s Net Zero Review earlier this year clearly demonstrated that urgent action needs to be taken now if the UK is to hit its 2050 target”, Ainsworth concluded.

Highlighting in the new department’s title the Net Zero ambitions first declared in 2021 under the Johnson government could be seen as prime minister Sunak laying down a challenge to his Conservative back benchers.  A vocal Net Zero Research group increasingly questions the policy’s impact and goals, and their deadline for achievement by 2050.

Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, picked up the point.

“Creation of the new department.. shows MPs on the right of the Conservative Party have failed to win the argument for weakening climate policy”, commented Ward.

“A more important question is whether the new department will be able to persuade other departments and the Treasury to accelerate action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions across the economy outside the energy sector.”

Law firm Osborne Clarke questioned “halving inflation” being in the revamped ministry’s remit.

Energy trilemma

“The new department should give the UK the ability to regain the focus needed to be a leading voice on climate change and to make the case for why it is economically the right thing to do, even in a downturn”, opined James Watson, the lawyers’ energy partner and head of decarbonisation.

“However, it is slightly odd to see the new department tasked with halving inflation”, Watson continued. “It would be worrying if this overall objective prevents the department from delivering on the government’s own Net Zero strategy.”

The UN-accredited World Energy Council claims to have established in the early 1990s the concept of an ‘energy trilemma’, covering sustainability, affordability and security of supply.

Dr Angela Wilkinson, the council’s secretary general and CEO said”  “It is heartening to see government joining the dots across the World Energy trilemma dimensions. We greatly look forward to engaging with the new department”.

“It is encouraging to see such roles so explicitly and visibly combined into a government department. With energy integral to quality of life and humankind, the new department has a vital role to play in UK life”.


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