Why British energy needs an ‘everything’ strategy after Russia’s war

Call it the everything strategy. Great Britain is Elaboration of a new energy plantriggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising oil and gas prices, seems likely to be pretty much everything.

That’s not a bad thing. Discussions about energy and the net-zero transition are tense even among believers: try to mediate between the evangelists of hydrogen versus heat pumps.

But the issue is reaching culture war status in British discourse, fueled in particular by vocal skeptics of Britain’s net-zero target struggling to maintain its zeitgeist relevance in the post-Brexit era.

There should be a reasonable middle ground. Some argue that we have needed large quantities of gas in particular for decades and are now concerned with where it comes from. And there are those who argue that the best investment in our future energy security is in cheaper renewable energy and energy efficiency. Both are correct.

There’s dirty work. That could mean extending the lifespan of coal-fired power plants for closure just to get through next winter. The attitude towards the North Sea, where investments will be made in 2020 dropped to the lowest real conditions Level in almost 50 years has also changed. However, new licensing does not bring quick results. The short-term increase is limited: Norway’s plans to increase production from existing fields this year amount to 1 percent of annual production. But industry group OEUK said last year that less than a third of potential investment in project plans for 2021-25 was made entirely by companies, money that could be freed up by a changing political climate.

This isn’t just about that replace Russian gas, which currently accounts for 4 per cent of UK demand. (Or actually lower prices set in international markets).

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It’s about addressing growing dependence on imports, making the UK increasingly reliant on the expensive spot LNG market. National Grid’s various net-zero scenarios assume gas will be used to generate electricity for most of this decade and for heating well into the next, notes energy analyst Peter Atherton.

What is generating the most heat in the debate is unlikely to generate much in households: fracking. The government is not inclined to lift the ban. But throwing a bone at proponents of the research would be appropriately irrelevant. Bullish forecasts are often used outdated geological surveys: A 2019 estimate for gas in the Bowland-Hodder region cut previous figures by 90 percent. The public is against fracking: the The opposition outnumbered the supporters by 2.5 to 1 in a government poll. This is especially true for many MEPs.

political capital can be used better elsewhere. To avoid an apparent backslide to statutory net-zero targets, the green side of the strategy needs to be all-encompassing.

The UK has a checkered history on new nuclear, which is widely recognized as expensive, risky, but necessary. The existing target of 40GW offshore wind could be increased but is ambitious and requires an overhaul of the planning and permitting process.

Faster gains come in two areas: solar and onshore wind, which have been frozen in England for years, and energy efficiency, marred by repeated policy failures over the last decade.

The government could remove the 5GW cap for solar and onshore wind power in the upcoming auction round, says Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans, with over 600 projects in the pipeline with planning permission. After the Wilderness Years, there would still need to be a controversial push for planning permits to overcome local opposition to large projects – such as than Matt Hancock’s weird suggestion that a solar park in West Suffolk ‘pumps out’ more carbon than it saves.

Efficiency can no longer be the bad side. First of all, high prices improve the economics (or household savings) of the work done. Increasing the efficiency of 1 million homes per year will reduce the UK’s gas needs by 0.45 per cent per year, according to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, an achievable target. Add in the installation of a heat pump according to Government plans and over 10 years the gas saving is a quarter of current household needs and a tenth of total UK consumption.

The ‘everything’ strategy poses a challenge for the Treasury, which in particular needs funding to properly increase efficiency (inevitable) more help for low-income households squeezed by higher energy bills. But it’s the best hope for the beginnings of a consensus that will overcome concerns about safety, climate and affordability.

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Adam Bradshaw

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