On 7 April, the BBC announced that the government had launched its “much delayed” energy strategy. The article listed what it felt were they points in this (see below). I was interested to know what WBC’s environmental portfolio holder Steve Ardagh-Walter (SA-W below), LD spokesperson Adrian Abbs (AA) and Green Party spokesperson Steve Masters (SM) thought about the plans at first glance. In the middle of busy days, all were good enough to come back to me very quickly with their thoughts. So, without any comment from me (for a change), here are their reactions. Please feel free to add thoughts of your own in the “Leave a reply” box at the foot of the post.
Key points of the new energy strategy
BBC summary: The government plans to reduce the UK’s reliance on oil and gas by building as many as eight new nuclear reactors, including two at Sizewell in Suffolk. A new body will oversee the delivery of the new plants.
SA-W: Absolutely right: indeed this should have been started long time ago. While a 100% renewables + storage strategy without nuclear would be more environmentally (and perhaps economically) attractive, I don’t believe this could be delivered quickly enough to get reliable carbon-free electricity in the required timescale (bearing in mind we will need a lot more electricity for transport and heating).
AA: The Lib Dems voted to accept nuclear power as part of a low-carbon energy strategy after being urged to do so by Ed Davey when he was Energy secretary back in 2013. This changed a previous position and came about having listened at length to the low carbon argument – We have not changed that position, so the current administration setting a target to deliver some is in-line with Lib Dem policy of the past decade. If I have an issue, it is the length of time needed to go from concept to delivering power. Even with the new body I am sceptical about enough being delivered fast enough to have any sizeable impact on the coming decade in terms of energy security.
SM: Nuclear is too expensive, too slow and presents a clean-up problem in the future. Not the answer to our needs right now.
BBC summary: The government aims to reform planning laws to speed up approvals for new offshore wind farms. For onshore wind farms it wants to develop partnerships with “supportive communities” who want to host turbines in exchange for guaranteed cheaper energy bills.
SA-W: Speeding up offshore wind approvals is definitely the right thing to do. I’d like to see more detail on the onshore partnerships element: in principle this is a good idea, but what will the ground rules and definition of ‘supportive’ be ?
AA: On-shore wind is the cheapest and fastest to implement of the alterative energy techs we have right now. We would be in a better scenario if Conservatives had not been opposing it. It really shows just how much the Conservatives focus on short-term and staying in power rather than the long-term needs of the country.
SM: This is a positive step, incentives for real local benefits, but must ensure people see tangible reductions in their energy cost, not just profits for energy companies.
BBC summary: Targets for hydrogen production are being doubled to help provide cleaner energy for industry as well as for power, transport and potentially heating.
SA-W: Good in principle: green hydrogen is currently extremely expensive, it will need sustained commitment for increased supply and demand to change this. Hydrogen has many useful roles to play, but it’s not a panacea for the climate crisis.
AA: Blue or green? If the detail does not focus on delivery of green hydrogen then environmentally we will have gone nowhere or backwards. Green hydrogen comes into its own when you have enough green energy to create it. The amount of energy needed is vast which may explain why they are saying eight Nuclear power stations. When we can produce enough cleanly and cheaply then it will be a valuable part of moving heavy industry, trucks and potentially heating. Doubling production will have almost zero effect. We need 10 to 100 times to have a chance of affecting heating.
SM: Any transition to hydrogen needs to be truly sustainable, not ‘blue’ Hydrogen pushed by many existing fossil fuel companies as it is often worse.
BBC summary: The government will consider reforming rules for installing solar panels on homes and commercial buildings to help increase the current solar capacity by up to five times by 2035.
SA-W:Again, this sounds good but I’d like to see details before commenting further.
AA: Changing rules will do little to help as the rules are not the real problem; which is the extremely bad way FITS was ended which effectively reduced the industry to a fraction of what it would be today. This is evidenced by the cumulative installed capacity over time which shows just 10% more than it was in 2017. We need some kind of FITS II scheme to allow individuals, communities or commercial entities to go back to installing solar on roofs at the type of rate seen in 2014-15. We have enough roof space to tackle a huge % of our need, but it must be matched with energy-storage capacity on the consumer side of the national grid. It’s also amongst the fastest action we can take.
SM: Every new house and existing commercial building should have solar – it’s an easy win.
• Oil and gas
BBC summary: A new licensing round for North Sea projects is being launched in the summer on the basis that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than doing so abroad.
SA-W:This seems a sensible short term step but will not affect fuel prices (which are driven by the global market). It is disappointing not to see any sign of increasing UK gas storage, which would help to reduce price volatility over the next decade or so. Despite the inclusion of oil and gas in this strategy, I believe the government remains – quite rightly – committed to net zero by 2050.
AA: I don’t agree with the statement that it has a lower carbon footprint because it’s not easy to extract compared to other places around the world. However to have zero local supplies of gas and oil would be a strategic mistake for decades to come. We just need to ensure we do only the minimum of what we need and focus first on the cheaper and cleaner alternative sources like solar, wind and tidal.
SM: Total madness. We already have extracted more fossil fuels than is required to pass the 1.5 degree rise. We need to halt new fields and reduce energy consumption through insulation and reduced consumerism.
• Heat pumps
BBC summary: There will be a £30m “heat pump investment accelerator competition” to make British heat pumps which reduce demand for gas.
SA-W:As a start-up accelerator proposal this is reasonable, but on its own it will be far too small to drive increased take-up. I look forward to seeing substantial support for other enablers for heat pump usage: for example a sustained focus on increasing installation skills and capacity and appropriate levels of subsidy.
AA: Heat pumps require good installation and to get a grant you need to have checked those boxes first. Better for the government to concentrate on encouraging insulation rather than worrying about switching away from existing forms of heating. On new builds and large builds that’s a different story because if it’s done to start with it is only a small addition to existing costs.
SM: This will only be effective if preceded by a national retrofit scheme of insulation across the country. Say whatever you like about the methods but ‘Insulate Britain’ is correct. We need real action to reduce both emissions from old housing stock and also reduce household bills through reductions in consumption of energy. A windfall tax on the current explosion of profits being made while ordinary people struggle would go towards funding this.