The Johnson administration’s strategy for UK energy security released this morning sets a new 2030 deadline for 95% of Britain’s electricity to be carbon-free. It thus strengthens the existing pledge for zero-carbon generation by 2035.
But observers commented on its failure to address rocketing energy costs immediately afflicting Britain’s homes and businesses. Mass insulation and emerging technologies apart from hydrogen are largely ignored in the paper, the former in the wake of two expensive Conservative failures in eight years.
Nuclear and hydrogen-generated power are the big winners in this morning’s paper, Johnson reportedly having championed trophy, slow-to-build projects against his Chancellor’s cost fears.
New reactors will be built sometime this decade at Wylfa, Sizewell C, and six other locations, pushing nuclear’s electricity share to 25% by 2030, up from its current 18%. Small reactors yet to emerge from Rolls Royce’s drawing board will also feature.
Extended by 10GW to 50GW by 2030, offshore wind’s targets are also strengthened. Half the increase will come from floating turbines.
Last summer’s Hydrogen Strategy set an ambition of 5GW of new production capacity this decade. Today’s paper doubles it. As before, however, Whitehall fails to distinguish between hydrogen’s blue, dirtier variety which relies on fossil fuels, and its cleaner, greener alternative.
Observers saw the document as being long on targets, almost all NIMTO to Johnson; ‘not in his (likely) term of office”, while pledging almost no new public money or other mass incentives.
Prolonged hydrocarbon extraction wins its umpteenth encomium from Whitehall and Westminster, despite environmentalists’ protests that it is incompatible with Britain’s 2050 Net Zero goal.
Licencing of new North Sea fields will start this autumn, informed by advice from a new task force. Industry and energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng defended maximising fossil fuel production alongside increased renewables as ‘the best and only way to ensure our energy independence over the coming years”.
Shell’s Ben Beurden gratefully heralded Johnson’s support for fossil fuel. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure an orderly transition to net zero while bolstering the UK’s energy security”, the CEO opined.
“Shell plans to invest up to £25 billion in the UK energy system over the next decade subject to board approval, and more than 75% of this is for low and zero-carbon technology”, said the hydrocarbon boss. Offshore wind, hydrogen and CCS will all be critical but we need the right policy frameworks in place. We look forward to working with government on the important detail in order to make this a reality”.
Onshore wind is, with solar PV, green generation’s cheapest form, as well as its quickest to deploy. Rural nimby Conservative MPs trumpet turbines as electorally toxic, however.
Energy Secretary Kwarteng appears to have lost his battle with Cabinet nimbys the chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris and Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg to ease prohibitive planning restrictions tightened under Cameron.
On land-based turbines, the paper offers a promise to ‘work with local communities’, saying that consumers living close to turbines will be offered discounted tariffs. Rather than leading opinion, Johnson’s government thus merely follows in the wake of commercial promotions next to turbines such as Octopus’. The generator intends adding 30 more schemes over two years to its existing discounts now trialled in Wales and Yorkshire.
In the government’s perception, solar PV is snagged by planning processes, despite Brits repeatedly declaring it the nation’s favourite green power source. Today’s strategy offers a consultation on planning issues affecting rooftop and ground-mounted deployment.
Mass insulation of Britain’s homes, the lowest of hanging fruit in the UK confronting the world’s nine-month gas crisis, is wholly ignored in today’s paper. Two failed remedies botched during twelve years of Conservative administration– the Green Deal and the Green Homes Grant – may have persuaded energy secretary Kwarteng from seeking luck at the Tories’ third attempt.
Catastrophic climate change is mentioned not at all in the paper, nor is co-operative or citizen-controlled forms of low-carbon energy.
D-BEIS assembled big corporate interests to pass obliging comment on the proposals.
For Energy UK, Laura Pinchbeck said: “We support the Government’s recommendations in the Energy Security Strategy to accelerate the deployment of domestic clean power sources, build a modern energy system, and reduce demand for volatile international gas
For SSE, Alistair Phillips-Davies commented :”It’s clear that the only way to tackle the underlying cause is to ramp up investment in home-grown, clean energy infrastructure; today’s package represents a significant step towards that goal.
“We particularly welcome the increased ambition and commitment to accelerate delivery of offshore wind as the backbone of a cleaner, more secure energy system, but also critically the acknowledgement that accelerating investments into network infrastructure and flexible technologies like pumped storage.
Representatives of emerging green technologies were un-energised, however. Laura Bishop, chair of the Ground Source Heat Pump Association, damned the strategy as “a missed opportunity, providing no new money for consumers wanting to switch to heat pumps”.
“Instead of focusing on immediate measures to reduce dependence on expensive imported gas, including accelerating the rollout of heat pumps, the strategy focuses on the government’s favoured electricity generating technologies, including those with long lead in times. This will do nothing to address the immediate cost of living and energy crises facing UK consumers.”
“We welcome the announcement of a new grant completion for UK heat pump manufacturing and a government information website for heat pumps, but again, this will do little in the short-term to boost heat pump demand, or put the UK on course to delivering the Prime Minister’s target of 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.
Heat networks advocates the ADE said the government’s focus would have almost no immediate impact on helping the UK avoid the worst impacts of the current energy price and geopolitical crises.
Its CEO Lily Frencham noted: “Government plans are largely focused on long-term offshore wind, nuclear and oil and gas development”.
“The government must take immediate action to protect the UK’s energy independence by scaling-up energy efficiency, heat networks and other key decentralised energy technologies,” Frencham urged. “These no-regrets solutions to increasing national energy security and protecting against volatility, whilst also not losing sight of net-zero targets”.
At business energy supplier Npower COO Anthony Ainsworth decried Johnson’s ‘lost opportunity’.
“Today’s announcement does little to help businesses address the short-term issues they are facing right now”, said Ainsworth.
“Helping businesses reduce energy consumption through more innovative efficiency solutions is a real ‘no regrets’ action that could be taken. These can be implemented quickly and would result in immediate savings both in terms of their bottom line and decarbonisation efforts.
“Similarly, incentivising businesses to become more self-sufficient through renewable on-site generation is a win-win solution. It would protect businesses from market volatility as well as helping them decarbonise. In addition, businesses with on-site assets can provide a much needed source of power during times of high demand”.