Nothing in the Energy Security Strategy to insulate Britain against rising bills. And lots of dangerous distractions.
The strategy contains nothing new on energy efficiency or demand reduction - or communities taking control of their energy. Instead, as in his 10 point plan, the Prime Minister focusses mainly on big-cheque, centralised, supply-side measures that will be owned and controlled by big business, for profit.
This does not enable the localisation and democratisation of energy that is critical to increased efficiency and achieving net zero - or the urgent improvement of Europe’s leakiest houses which would put pounds back in people's pockets, generate jobs, save carbon, lives and health costs. The New Economics Foundation calculated that £10bn invested in retrofit would pay off in seven years from health cost savings alone.
Some of these interventions are heading directly in the wrong direction, such as increasing exploitation of north sea oil and gas and expanding blue hydrogen, which is dependent on gas and carbon capture and storage - a ‘future technology’ that is unlikely to deliver in time, if at all. Building an expensive ‘transitional’ bridge to where we shouldn’t be going is folly. We should be spending that money in speeding up moving beyond burning permanently, by investing heavily in energy efficiency, retrofit, heat-pump installation capacity, cheap, quick renewables to power them and flexibility and storage to enable greater penetration of variable renewables. Gas and oil are sold on international markets so increased production will not reduce UK prices or lead to “cheaper prices” as the PM claims.
The IEA has said we cannot exploit any new fossil fuel reserves if we are to achieve 1.5 degree goals. The IEA World Energy Outlook 2021 stressed that improvements in energy efficiency have not accelerated quickly enough.
Building new nuclear is much more expensive than renewables and will not deliver low carbon electricity below the Climate Change Committee’s 50g p kWh threshold. It uses huge amounts of fossil energy in the construction stage, front-loading emissions at a critical time when we must be reducing them. It is not safe in increasingly unstable times, as the war in Ukraine has demonstrated. Waste must be safeguarded for longer into the future than human civilisation has existed to date. Many of the sites, especially Sizewell C, are directly threatened by inevitable sea-level rise. Additionally we do not need the ‘firm power’ that nuclear delivers, certainly not 25% of total capacity. We need to invest in flexibility and storage to enable greater penetration of genuinely low-carbon variable renewables.
We support the increased emphasis on wind and solar which can deliver genuinely low-carbon, low-cost home-grown energy. But onshore wind, the cheapest form of renewable energy needs more support and enabling than a limited number of communities being bribed to accept it. Planning blocks in England must be removed and community energy must be enabled by extending and expanding the successful Rural Community Energy Fund into a National Community Energy Fund to enable communities to take advantage of decarbonisation and renewable energy opportunities as and when they occur. This fund enabled £1 of development funding to mobilise £69 of community investment to make projects - often of no interest to commercial developers - happen. These projects, done by, with and for communities, rather than to them, deliver up to 34 times more social and community benefit than commercial projects.
We welcome the ambition for a five fold increase in solar and the emphasis on domestic and commercial rooftops. This is exactly the field where community energy has a huge track record and can deliver projects that are of no interest to commercial players, yet will deliver benefit directly to vulnerable communities. Community energy focusses strongly on fuel poverty and energy efficiency in their local area, delivering at least £10 of social benefit for every £1 invested
The dislocation of priorities is stark.
Nuclear gets the Great British Nuclear Company and £120m Future Nuclear Enabling Fund and the promise of further government funding. Community energy, despite recommendations from the Environmental Audit Committee to remove barriers, emphasise the importance of community energy in the Net Zero Strategy and ‘practical support measures’ to enable the growth of the sector, gets no plan, no support and a Community Energy Contact Group.
CCUS received £1bn in the Spending Review for a technology that has failed to move significantly nearer large scale implementation over 30 years and with billions of investment. Expanding domestic heat-pump manufacture gets £30m. But there is nothing to increase sector installation capacity beyond the Heat and Buildings Strategy pledge of £450 million over 3 years in grants. At £5,000 per home this enables only 30,000 installations per year, way short of the government's target for 600,000 per year by 2028 and the CCC’s recommendation of 900,000 installations a year.
Energy Intensive Industries get an extended compensation scheme ‘to protect manufacturing sectors from high electricity costs’ but householders get less than half of current energy bill increases - and no short-term help or advice to reduce energy wastage in their homes.
We cautiously welcome the new Future Systems Operator and will seek to ensure community energy is factored into their thinking and planning. Current code modifications and reforms are dominated by the big energy companies and consequently mostly designed to benefit them.