UK energy strategy misses quick, clean fixes

Nuclear features heavily but plans ‘do not go far or fast enough’


Christine Dawson

The UK’s newly launched energy security strategy has been met with dismay by many who say it has overlooked cutting energy consumption and focused instead on slow, expensive and polluting options.

Nuclear energy features heavily in the strategy, with offshore wind, solar and hydrogen also included. UK oil and gas supplies are set to be expanded – more will be extracted from the North Sea and the schedule for issuing licences for new projects will be brought forward.

The strategy sets out to address rising energy bills and the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels from Russia, following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The UK government has said it is targeting 95% of electricity being low carbon by 2030.

Steve Malkin, CEO and founder of sustainability group Planet Mark, said the strategy, “does not go far or fast enough”. He said the government had missed an opportunity by failing to make progress on onshore wind power. Malkin said this decision appeared to be politically motivated.

“It is cheap and quick to deploy so almost immediately helps to reduce the cost of energy for people and improves our energy security. Clear planning guidelines would have unlocked existing and new projects in many communities happy to embrace onshore wind,” he said.

Sam Tye, green energy partner at Fladgate, reiterated this, saying the strategy had reinforced the status quo for onshore wind, with “continued development in Scotland, limited development in Wales and effectively no development of new onshore wind generation in England.

“All this despite the strategy admitting it is one of the cheapest forms of renewable power,” he said.

Offshore wind, on the other hand, will see the rate of deployment ramped up by 25% and is due to be delivering up to up to 50GW by 2030.

Lack of coordination

Tye noted there were signals for solar developers that there will be assistance for granting planning approvals but there was no mention of battery storage apart from in the context of electric vehicles.

Duncan Goodwin, fund manager of Premier Miton Global Sustainable Growth Fund, asked “while the ambition to provide enough offshore wind to power every home in the UK by 2030 is welcome, how will we ensure that the power gets to those homes when needed and can best stored or utilised when it is not?”

He said there is a “lack of a co-ordinated policy and strategy that encompasses the whole energy and power value chain, from supply to transportation to consumption”.

Nuclear and hydrogen

Nuclear power was a “big winner” in the strategy according to Tye. The government announced plans for up to eight reactors to be delivered by 2030. A 120m “future nuclear enabling fund” alongside a newly formed body, Great British Nuclear, would help speed up the current pace of delivery.

The strategy projected 24GW – or 25% of projected electricity demand – to come from nuclear by 2050.

Hydrogen is due to receive more support in the form of “annual allocation rounds for electrolytic hydrogen, moving to price competitive allocation by 2025” and “designing, by 2025, new business models for hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure.”

The government plans for this to allow up to 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 – with at least half from electrolytic hydrogen.

Oil and gas

The strategy stated it would be giving North Sea oil “a new lease of life” with the North Sea Transition Authority (previously the Oil and Gas Authority) launching a licensing round in the autumn. This means “more domestic gas on the grid sooner” according to the government.

Gas and Oil New Project Regulatory Accelerators will be established to speed up projects, potentially taking “years off the development of the most complex new opportunities” the strategy stated.

Fracking could be back on the agenda with the government saying it is “open-minded about our onshore reserves” and has commissioned a technical review on shale gas by the British Geological Society.

Big omissions

The push for more domestic fossil fuel development as well as the lack of new funding for energy efficiency proved to be the most controversial points from the strategy.

“Promoting energy efficiency and renewables over licensing more oil and gas will create far more UK jobs and skills, and critically these would be spread nationwide and have long-term futures,” said Malkin.

However, Tom Williams, partner and head of energy and infrastructure at Downing LLP, said he does view the strategy as attempting to provide short-term solutions, but at the cost of exacerbating the climate crisis.

“What we do over the next decade will be critical to mitigating or averting a climate crisis but, unfortunately, it seems that a short-term focus on the cost of living and energy security is driving much of the government’s energy strategy.

“Increased emphasis on nuclear energy as part of the solution is a medium to long-term effect; it takes years to plan, commission, build and deliver new nuclear capacity. In the short term, fossil fuel intensive generation will be sweated harder for longer, emitting more greenhouse gases in the process,” said Williams.

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