Reducing consumption is key to Britain’s energy security

The British government acted quickly after Russia invaded Ukraine to Energy security strategy. If it goals can be achieved it will do much to expand domestic and green supply sources in the long term. But internal wrangling has left two big holes. By backing away from targets for the cheapest and fastest forms of new generation – particularly onshore wind – the plans do little to improve near-term certainty. And new measures to increase energy efficiency and reduce overall consumption are largely missing.

The government is right Make nuclear energy the core, which sets a capacity target of 24 gigawatts – a quarter of projected electricity demand – by 2050. The expansion of nuclear energy was left to market forces for too long, and several projects failed. There is still a lot to be clarified when it comes to financing. However, the government has acknowledged that state involvement is required as it plans to take a 20 percent stake in Sizewell C, and set up a new government agency. Assuming the technology can work, including small modular reactors in the plans is positive.

Also to be welcomed is the expanded offshore wind capacity target of 50 GW by 2030, up from a previous 40 GW and almost five times what it is today. But it’s unclear whether enough projects can be completed quickly enough to make that happen, despite the government’s goal to halve a planning, permitting and construction process that can take up to 13 years.

Onshore wind projects could be completed much faster if planning was accelerated. But in the face of opposition from Conservative MPs, the government has refrained from setting targets, despite Economy Secretary Kwasi reportedly backing Kwarteng Doubling onshore capacity from 14 GW to 30 GW by 2030.

The policy now amounts to a vague promise to consult on “developing partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities” – although polls show a majority of people support wind farms. But the plan envisages increasing today’s 14GW of solar capacity, which the government says could grow fivefold by 2035, with consultations on the rules for projects, particularly on rooftops.

Although Russian imports need to be replaced, there are plans to open a new one Licensing round for the North Sea Oil and gas – albeit with “climate impact assessment” – has angered activists. It sits ill with the government’s record as the first major economy to pass one Net Zero Law for 2050. The industry insists that gas is still needed as a transition fuel.

The most glaring gap, however, is the lack of initiatives to reduce energy consumption. Apart from the already announced elimination of VAT on household energy saving measures, there is no major program to insulate Britain’s notoriously drafty homes or any new incentive for people to swap gas boilers for heat pumps. Consumption could also be reduced by dumping new energy efficiency rules for some existing homes before they are sold or rented.

The Treasury is understandably resistant to new spending. It was hurt by the mistreated £1.5billion green home voucher scheme for insulation or low-carbon heating, which was scrapped after six months last year. Engineers are also missing. But such an investment would have enormous long-term benefits. In contrast to one-time help with bills, insulation that starts with the neediest households could reduce energy costs in the long term. Given the signs that the war in Ukraine has made consumers more willing to turn down thermostats and delay their lofts, failure to implement ambitious efficiency plans would be a major missed opportunity.

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Adam Bradshaw

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