The writer is a professor of energy and climate change at University College London and a former senior advisor to the energy regulator Ofgem.
The defining feature of UK energy strategy its incoherence. It doesn’t know what problem it’s trying to solve – and therefore it doesn’t solve it. By not increasing energy efficiency and putting the only possible short-term supply option – cheap onshore wind – into the long grass, it certainly won’t help those struggling with energy bills in the coming winters.
Offshore wind was the big success story of the last decade, and capacity has increased dramatically in recent years. The strategy increases the offshore fishing target for 2030 from 40GW to 50GW. That is very ambitious but possible. However, offshore wind involves large and complex kits from only a few suppliers, often taking three to five years from tender to completion, and the rate of expansion can be stressful. straight to the supply chain and increase costs. If it were all concentrated in the North Sea, there would be enormous challenges for the grid – both in terms of transmission and management of peaks and troughs. Wind is best when distributed more widely.
The most cowardly failure involved the wind on the shore. Not only is it our cheapest source of energy – it usually costs about a third to a quarter of what people will soon pay for their electricity – but with solar it is can only create a short-term drop.
Any energy company or local government can buy wind turbines off the shelf. It will take weeks or months to install. But getting planning consent will take years – as zoning regulations were redesigned in 2015 to prevent that. To “consult” a “limited number of advocates” on the cheapest and fastest option is hardly a Churchillian response to Britain’s national energy crisis.
The strategy outlines a plan for nuclear by 2050, starting with a new plant that will be funded before the next general election. If it takes an energy crisis to really make a decision, so be it, but it won’t help solve the crisis. Not only is nuclear slow and expensive, it needs to be flexible to rise and fall according to changes in demand, wind and solar. This further weakens the economy. The introduction of a 30-year plan for nuclear also raises the question – why can’t the government put in place even a strict 30-month plan for energy efficiency?
In another development, the strategy confirms plans to issue permits this year to produce gas from existing discoveries in the North Sea. But there’s a reason Britain’s production has been falling – a lot of Britain’s reserves are already exhausted, and it’s going to be harder and more expensive to get more out. In the aftermath of IPCC Report on climate change, it’s also a tough pitch to tell the world that we need to move away from fossil fuels while we, in the richer countries, aim to save every last drop.
The government has reassured us all that it will not consider the allocation of gas supplies, unlike some other European countries that have begun to lobby contingency plan. But consumers, and the Treasury, should worry. In the Russia-EU confrontation, if either side actually cuts off gas, all international markets will collapse and the UK will have to outbid both the EU and Asia in terms of supply. That won’t be pretty.
The ultimate irony of a strategy born of crisis is that by the time most of its proposals work, if they do, the crisis will be long gone. Global energy markets will be back on track and back to normal, and Vladimir Putin may not even be in power anymore.
But a lot of consumers and companies will suffer the terrible consequences. We also risk eroding much of what the UK has already achieved on climate change. By not focusing on a strategy to work together to solve these twin crises, the government has failed to provide the energy sector with the consistent signals investors need and may even worsen the situation. short-term bills.