Boris Johnson aims to increase offshore wind capacity fivefold

Boris Johnson is set to announce plans on Thursday to quintuple Britain’s offshore wind capacity by the end of the decade, aiming to make 95 per cent of the country’s electricity “low-carbon” by 2030.

But the Prime Minister has backed away from setting firm targets for other cheap renewable technologies as he unveils plans to strengthen the UK’s energy security.

The long-awaited strategy document, which aims to increase domestic energy supply after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also include plans for more nuclear power plants to meet 25 percent of projected electricity needs by 2050.

The strategy was delayed for several weeks after Downing Street and the Treasury disagreed over the cost of some policies.

Among the more eye-catching targets in the document is a commitment to increase offshore wind capacity to 50 gigawatts by 2030, up from just over 10 GW currently. The goal had been 40 GW by the end of the decade.

Johnson will say the strategy would reduce the country’s “dependence on energy sources exposed to volatile international prices that we cannot control” and promise “greater energy self-sufficiency with lower bills”.

The Prime Minister also wants to expand Britain’s solar power generation capacity from its current 14GW, although he hasn’t set a firm target yet. Instead, the strategy will set a target that solar capacity “could grow five-fold by 2035.” The 2030 target for low-carbon hydrogen production capacity will be doubled to 10 GW.

Plans for 24 GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, up from the current 6.9 GW, would first involve the approval of a new facility, which is expected to be the proposed £20 billion Sizewell C project in Suffolk the next parliamentary elections.

The approval of two more nuclear projects would then follow, possibly involving “small modular reactors”. This new technology is being developed by companies like Rolls-Royce, the aircraft engine manufacturer that also builds the nuclear power plants that power Britain’s submarine fleet.

However, Johnson has held back refrained from setting his government on a target for more onshore wind capacity, despite initially signaling support. When the weather is favourable, technology is among the cheapest ways to generate electricity in the UK.

Instead, the strategy will promise to consult on creating “local partnerships” in a “limited number of supporting communities in England” who may want to host new onshore wind infrastructure in exchange for guaranteed lower energy bills. Johnson withdrew after strong opposition from some backbench Conservative MPs.

Several other elements of the strategy will anger climate activists and some scientists, including plans that first oil and gas licensing round in the North Sea since 2020 this year. Energy experts are also likely to denounce the lack of a new, well-funded program to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, which rank among the worst in Europe.

Few if any of the measures in the strategy will ease the immediate financial pressures on UK households from skyrocketing energy bills. Wholesale energy prices were already high before Russia invaded Ukraine, but the war has increased volatility in global commodity markets as countries across Europe struggle to reduce their reliance on imports.

Bills for 22 million British households rose 54 percent in early April to an average of almost £2,000 a year. They are expected to rise to at least £2,600 and possibly up to £3,000 a year in October, when the ‘energy price cap’ is next adjusted.

Energy experts have also questioned how much the new strategy will add to energy costs over the long term. Alasdair Grainger, net zero director at Grant Thornton, said it was “crucial” that new targets “are matched with greater transparency about how they will ultimately be funded and how much bills will be funded [the] increased ambition”.

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Adam Bradshaw

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