Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the UK government has taken swift action to develop a strategy for energy security. If its goals are achieved, it will go a long way in expanding its indigenous and green supply sources in the long run. But internal strife has left two big holes. Plans to stay away from targets of the cheapest and fastest forms of the new generation – especially coastal winds – rarely do much to increase short-term security. And new measures to increase energy efficiency and reduce overall costs are largely missing.
The government has set a target of 24 gigawatts of power by 2050 – one-fourth of the expected electricity demand – to turn nuclear power into a focal point. There is still much to be done about financing. But the government has acknowledged that state involvement is needed in plans for a 20 per cent stake in Sizewell C and the formation of a new government agency. It is positive to assume that technology with small modular reactors can work in the plan.
We also welcome the increased target for 50GW offshore wind power by 2030, which is almost five times higher than the previous 40GW and the current one. Despite the government’s goal of halving a plan, compliance and construction process that could take up to 13 years, it is unclear whether enough projects can be completed quickly to achieve this.
Coastal wind projects can be completed more quickly, if the plan is fast-tracked. But, in the face of opposition from Conservative MPs, the government has backtracked on setting targets here, although Business Secretary Quasi Quarteng is understood to have doubled the capacity from 14GW to 30GW by 2030.
The policy is now a vague promise to “develop partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities” – although polling shows that most people support wind farms. But the plan calls for an increase in today’s 14GW solar capacity, which the government says will increase fivefold by 2035, especially through consultations on rooftop project regulations.
Though Russian imports will need to be replaced, plans to open a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas – albeit a “climate compatibility test” – have angered campaigners. It sits poorly with government records as the first major economy to pass a net zero law for 2050.
But the most obvious gap is the lack of initiatives to reduce energy consumption. Aside from removing the VAT on already announced household energy-saving systems, there are no major programs to help insulate Britain’s infamous rugged homes, or any new temptation for people to replace gas boilers for heat pumps. Costs can also be reduced by introducing new energy efficiency rules for some existing homes before selling or renting.
The Treasury is understandably resistant to new spending. It was wound up by the 1.5 1.5 billion Green Homes grant voucher project for insulation or low-carbon heating, canceled six months later last year. There is also a shortage of engineers. Yet such investments will have huge long-term benefits. A preventative effort can reduce long-term energy costs as opposed to one-time assistance with bills starting with the poorest families. With the signs of the war in Ukraine that have made consumers reluctant to reject thermostats and push back their lofts, failing to follow ambitious efficiency plans will miss a great opportunity.
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