Scientists, climate campaigners and politicians alike have warned that the government energy strategy, geared to weaning the UK off fossil fuels and creating half a million jobs by the end of the decade, is a ‘recipe for disaster’ and will do little to cut fuel bills or boost the country’s long-term energy independence, security and prosperity.
The government’s British Energy Security Strategy sets out how Great Britain will accelerate the deployment of wind, new nuclear, solar and hydrogen, whilst supporting the production of domestic oil and gas in the nearer term – which could see 95% of electricity by 2030 being low carbon.
The strategy will see a significant acceleration of nuclear, with an ambition of up to 24GW by 2050 to come from this safe, clean, and reliable source of power. This would represent up to around 25% of our projected electricity demand. Subject to technology readiness from industry, Small Modular Reactors will form a key part of the nuclear project pipeline.
A new government body called Great British Nuclear, will be set up to bring forward new projects, backed by substantial funding, and the £120m Future Nuclear Enabling Fund will be launched this month, potentially delivering up to eight reactors, equivalent to one reactor a year instead of one a decade, accelerating nuclear in Britain.
Other plans also include:
- Offshore wind: A new ambition of up to 50GW by 2030 – more than enough to power every home in the UK – of which we would like to see up to 5GW from floating offshore wind in deeper seas. This will be underpinned by new planning reforms to cut the approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one, and an overall streamlining which will radically reduce the time it takes for new projects to reach construction stages while improving the environment.
- Oil and gas: A licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects planned to launch in Autumn, with a new taskforce providing bespoke support to new developments – recognising the importance of these fuels to the transition and to our energy security, and that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than imported from abroad.
- Onshore wind: developing partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills.
- Heat pump manufacturing: A Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition in 2022 worth up to £30 million to make British heat pumps, which reduce demand for gas.
Attempts will be made to increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity, consulting on the rules for solar projects, particularly on domestic and commercial rooftops.
The scheme also aims to double the ambition to up to 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, with at least half coming from green hydrogen and using excess offshore wind power to bring down costs. This will not only provide cleaner energy for vital British industries to move away from expensive fossil fuels, but could also be used for cleaner power, transport and potentially heat.
This plan comes in light of rising global energy prices, provoked by surging demand after the pandemic as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This will be central to weaning Britain off expensive fossil fuels, which are subject to volatile gas prices set by international markets we are unable to control, and boosting our diverse sources of homegrown energy for greater energy security in the long-term.
In total, the British Energy Security Strategy builds on the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, and, together with the Net Zero Strategy, is driving an unprecedented £100 billion of private sector investment into new British industries including Offshore Wind and supporting 480,000 new clean jobs by the end of the decade.
Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “We have seen record high gas prices around the world. We need to protect ourselves from price spikes in the future by accelerating our move towards cleaner, cheaper, home-grown energy.
“The simple truth is that the more cheap, clean power we generate within our borders, the less exposed we will be to eye watering fossil fuel prices set by global markets we can’t control.
“Scaling up cheap renewables and new nuclear, while maximising North Sea production, is the best and only way to ensure our energy independence over the coming years.”
Dr Shaun Fitzgerald FREng, Director of the Centre for Climate Repair says ”
“The Energy Strategy launched by the government today is just 3 days after the harrowing IPCC AR6 WGIII report as to what is happening climate-wise and the urgency required for measures to change course. On Monday we learned that emissions need to peak no later than 2025. That is three years from now.
“We need to see change, and we need to see it fast. Does the Energy Strategy launched today deliver these changes in the timescales required?
“A big story in the strategy involves the procurement of new nuclear stations. Whilst these will be low carbon in operation, they won’t be delivering electricity in the timescale required. It is at least 10 years hence for a new power station.
“Furthermore, an Energy Strategy should involve significant efforts in both supply and demand. The Energy Strategy today talks a lot about Energy Supply, but much less on Demand Reduction. Reducing demand (by increasing efficiency) has an immediate benefit not just in terms of the climate, based on the assumption that some of the energy is still provided by fossil fuels, but also in terms of bills. And energy bills are a huge issue for many people right now. The Energy Strategy launched today is really an Energy Supply Strategy. We need more investment, urgently, in energy savings schemes. This would also help reduce our reliance on energy imports.
“The pace of change associated with today’s Energy Strategy is nothing like that which we need. And the climate won’t wait.”
Prof Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: “The UK’s energy system faces a combination of threats from high consumer costs that threaten to worsen energy poverty, disruptions in the global supply chain due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, increasing risk to energy security and unsustainably high carbon emissions as a result of fossil fuel dependence, which must fall rapidly and immediately in order to have any chance of meeting the Paris goal of 1.5C.
“There are many vital, low-regrets policies that would address all these issues at the same time, particularly:
- rapid renewables and energy storage deployment alongside energy network investment;
- home insulation measures which deliver at least half a million retrofits per year, including support for heat pump supply chains; and,
- measures to reduce energy demand and increase energy efficiency across all sectors.
“We are pleased to see some of this in the energy security strategy, such as further expansion in the ambition for offshore and floating wind power. A focus on the system level architecture is also welcome and a vital step to enable the transformation required in the energy system as a whole to reach net zero. However, there are some unanswered questions that must be addressed. New nuclear could take until 2035 to make a difference, and is reliant on the availability of technology and skills, neither of which is guaranteed. We will need more than targets to realise the ambition for 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, not least the requirement for significant investment to rapidly and urgently scale critical infrastructure such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage for blue hydrogen and investment in renewable energy generation and electrolyser roll out for green hydrogen. And in the meantime, we need more short-term measures to increase energy independence or reduce emissions at the scale required, particularly demand-side measures, such as home insulation policies.
“The scale of the skills challenge should also not be underestimated. This demand for massive growth in green jobs comes at a time when engineering skills have largely been stagnating over the past ten years. In higher education, the proportion of students studying engineering has remained at around 5% for the past 15 years, and in certain subject areas such as electronic and electrical engineering, critical to our net-zero transition, there has been long-term decline. The numbers of new apprentices starting engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships has also been in decline. “Much of what the government is doing to address the challenge is moving in the right direction, but the tendency towards letting the market dictate pace, scale and detail is still a concern. We need greater consideration of skills as a strategic national asset with more direct government interventions and less reliance on the market to find our future engineers and technicians.”