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What is the UK Government promising in its new energy strategy?

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Nuclear Power and Renewable Energy Strategy
The UK Government is promising to boost electricity generated by nuclear, wind and solar as part of its energy strategy. Image credit: jaroslava V/Shutterstock

The UK Government has finally released its energy strategy, which it promised would secure the energy supply in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Unsurprisingly, this new strategy is unlikely to have any immediate impact. In fact, most of what has been promised within the strategy is years off, but exactly what will the UK’s energy system look like in the future? 

More nuclear

As reported on Monday, nuclear power is expected to play a larger role in the UK’s electrical grid going forward. In fact, while it was initially teased that there could be up to seven new nuclear power plants by 2050, the energy strategy confirms that up to eight new generators could actually be built on existing sites. 

In order to meet the goal of building new nuclear power stations, the UK Government has announced the creation of Great British Nuclear. This body is expected to identify sites for new nuclear reactors and help them cut through the red tape of planning commitments, which should lead to faster construction times. 

With the help of Great British Nuclear, the UK Government expects that there will be a new nuclear generator approved every year up until 2030, with all generators expected to be in operation by 2050. This will include two new reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, which are expected to go before parliament before the end of this session. 

Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire have also been confirmed as candidates to host a new nuclear reactor, although it’s not confirmed whether this will be a large-scale plant, a Small Modular Reactor, or even both. 

If everything goes to plan, the UK Government expects that nuclear power will contribute up to 24 GW of electricity by 2050, which will meet around 25% of the country’s expected electricity demand. However, as reported previously, despite claiming to be a reliable energy source, that’s not always the case for nuclear power

Onshore wind

Those hoping for a revolution in onshore wind will be sorely disappointed by the UK Government’s energy strategy. It turns out the rumours of infighting within cabinet were true, and onshore wind is not currently popular with this Government. That’s despite onshore wind power being one of the cheapest sources of electricity, which has seen further price declines over recent years. 

However, not all is lost for onshore wind. Despite being unpopular with the Government, it seems there has been a compromise. There will be a consultation on developing partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities who are willing to host onshore wind turbines. In exchange for agreeing to host the turbines, the Government says they will be offered lower energy bills. 

Unsurprisingly, given the loose offer of a consultation, the UK Government isn’t promising anything when it comes to onshore wind power. In 2020 onshore wind power accounted for 11% of all electricity generated in the UK, there’s no guarantee that this will be markedly increased under this new energy strategy. 

Offshore and floating wind 

Thankfully, the news isn’t as dim for offshore and floating wind farms. The UK is eager to continue leading the world in offshore wind, with the Government’s energy strategy committing to 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030. That would be a significant boost, as it means that offshore wind on its own would be able to meet the UK’s current needs for electricity, although it will likely need to grow further in order to meet the UK’s future demand. 

So, how does the UK Government plan to supercharge the offshore wind sector? Well, it wants to make it easier than ever to construct new offshore wind farms by reforming planning laws and speeding up approvals. Of course, that doesn’t help those bickering over the same sites

More impressive than the commitment to reach 50 GW of offshore wind is the Government’s promise of reaching 5 GW of floating wind. To put that into perspective, the world’s largest floating wind farm at Kincardine generates just 50 MW of electricity, meaning there would need to be a large-scale increase in floating wind farms to make the UK Government’s target a reality. 

Thankfully, there are already projects in the works that should help with meeting this target. That includes ScottishPower Renewables’ plan to construct a 3GW floating wind farm dubbed MarramWind off the north-east coast of Scotland, as confirmed as part of the ScotWind auction

Solar

The UK doesn’t exactly have the best weather for solar power, not compared to other nations like Portugal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place in the UK’s energy make up. In fact, over the past year, solar power has managed to contribute 4.1% of the UK’s electricity demand, which isn’t a massive contribution, but as Tesco has drummed into the public, every little helps. 

Thanks to the low contribution, the only way for solar power in the UK to go, is up, and that’s exactly what the UK Government is promising. In fact, it’s committing to a five-fold increase in generation from solar panels by 2035.

To achieve this, rules surrounding installing solar panels on homes and commercial buildings could be reformed. Additionally, for ground-mounted solar, the UK Government will consult on amending planning rules to strengthen policy in favour of development on non-protected land, while ensuring communities continue to have a say and environmental protections remain in place.

Natural Gas

As the UK moves towards its commitment of being net zero by 2050, natural gas will be gradually phased out of the UK’s energy grid. However, considering over the past year it has accounted for nearly 40% of the UK’s generating capacity, it won’t be an easy task. 

It’s expected that by 2030 gas will account for just 5% of the electricity generated in the UK, although until then the UK Government knows that it has to stop buying natural gas from Russia – after all, reducing reliance on Russia is the key reason behind this new energy strategy. 

So, how will the UK reduce reliance on Russia? Thankfully, unlike some other nations like Germany, the UK isn’t too reliant on imports from Russia. However, to help reduce even that small amount of gas purchased, the UK Government has announced a licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects, set to take place in the Autumn. It’s thought that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than imported from abroad, while also increasing our energy security. 

Energy Efficiency

While the UK Government has a lot planned for how the UK will ensure more electricity is generated through cleaner means, it has no actual plan when it comes to reducing the UK’s electricity usage. It’s thought that to achieve net zero, the UK will need to make its buildings more energy efficient, but there’s nothing in the energy strategy to make that a reality. 

Of course, the UK Government recently announced that it was scrapping VAT on energy efficiency improvements, such as the installation of solar panels and energy storage, and it also has promised increased investment in heat pump technology to enable manufacturing in the UK, but that’s about as far as it goes. 

It’s rumoured that the UK Treasury was resistant to committing more money than what was announced in the budget, and it seems that is indeed true. In fact, the whole strategy is largely lacking any real Government investment, apart from the new Great British Nuclear body. 

Given that energy efficiency improvements could reportedly save households up to £400 off their energy bills, at a time where energy bills are at a record high, it seems odd to exclude it from the strategy. Especially as the Government has admitted none of what it has announced will begin making a difference on energy bills until the medium-term, rather than the short-term. 

Industry Reaction

Unsurprisingly, the lack of support for energy efficiency improvements has been a key issue for almost everyone reacting to the new energy strategy. 

E.ON UK reacts

Commenting on the publication of the Government’s Energy Security Strategy, E.ON UK CEO, Michael Lewis, commented, “We needed an Energy Security Strategy to set a course for a zero carbon future and to help protect customers from the savage increases in energy bills sparked by the global energy crisis. We got neither. 

“Energy efficiency is the fabled ‘silver bullet’ for a future energy system: it cuts bills and carbon emissions today, it creates jobs and it reduces our reliance on foreign gas. By abandoning any extra commitment to helping people to improve their homes, today’s announcement condemns thousands more customers to living in cold and draughty homes, wasting energy and paying more than they need to for their heating.

“We all know energy bills could rise sharply again ahead of winter. The Energy Security Strategy was a chance to help people prepare and ensure they pay less should the worst happen but there is little in today’s announcement that will deliver a solution this decade, let alone this year. We’ll continue to urge the Government to step up and invest more in an expanded Energy Company Obligation that helps struggling households live in warmer and cheaper homes.”

RenewableUK reacts

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Dan McGrail, noted, “The Prime Minister’s ambitious new strategy puts the rocket boosters under the UK’s transition to renewable energy and will cut consumer bills.

“The new targets mean that our world-leading offshore wind industry will do the heavy lifting in getting Britain permanently off the hook of gas power by boosting our nation’s home-grown energy supply. Reforms to speed up the planning system and how quickly we connect new offshore wind are essential to meet these new ambitions.

“We need to make use of every tool in the box to boost our energy independence, so it’s right that the Government is looking again at planning rules so that onshore wind can proceed in parts of England where there is support, as it’s the cheapest source of new power and the quickest to build.

“Ramping up the roll-out of innovative technologies is vital too, and the increased targets for green hydrogen and floating wind will help us to build up new industries. Producing renewable hydrogen using electricity from wind will provide valuable flexibility to our future clean energy system, replacing gas in a wide variety of sectors like industry, transport and heating.

“In the short-term, we have a unique opportunity to boost renewables by maximising the amount of capacity we can secure in the current clean power auction, and step up in each subsequent annual auction to the hilt. Another key priority is ensuring that the regulator Ofgem has a clear mandate to enable investment in vital new grid infrastructure we need to deliver projects on time and at lowest cost.”

The UK Nuclear Industry Association reacts

The Chief Executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, Tom Greatrex, was also pleased. He noted, “The new nuclear target of 24GW by 2050 is a vital step forward for UK energy security and our net zero future. Investing in fleets of large and small scale stations is essential to securing clean, affordable, British power which will work alongside renewables to cut our dependence on gas.

“This investment will also create tens of thousands of jobs across the country and revitalise a world class skills base right here in Britain. The ambition and determination to do much more and quicker is very welcome.

“Along with removing barriers to projects getting started, building investor confidence by ensuring nuclear is classified as green in the UK taxonomy and making it eligible for green bonds are important next steps.

“We also want to see the money from the promised Future Nuclear Enabling Fund allocated at pace, with good sites being made available for project development. We welcome the government’s leadership and the UK’s nuclear industry stands ready to deliver our part in realising the vision set out in the strategy.”

Powerstar reacts

Alastair Morris, Chief Commercial Officer at battery storage manufacturer Powerstar, concluded, “The energy security strategy does little to resolve the pressing issues currently facing the UK’s energy grid. New nuclear reactors are expensive and very long construction projects and, like most of the measures laid out, will do nothing to help resolve the cost of living and doing business crisis that we are currently facing due to spiralling energy costs.

“A more rapid rollout of onshore wind and solar PV has some potential to support prices in the short term, but risks adding to the issues we are already facing in many places in terms of a highly constrained distribution network. Without balancing mechanisms in place this risks adding to power resilience issues for end users, while the inflexible nature of wind and solar leaves us still reliant on gas for base load. Energy efficiency measures, which have the most potential to both reduce bills and bolster energy resilience in the short term, are notably lacking. None of the measures currently laid out does much at all to address the current energy crisis we are all facing.

“An increased focus on fossil fuel generation risks further undermining our collective efforts to reach the UK’s ambitious net zero targets. Support for solar and offshore wind alone can’t deliver a decarbonised energy mix, and the strategy appears to have partially conceded support for onshore wind over cabinet infighting. The UK’s World Energy Council rating for resolving the Energy Trilemma of energy security, cost and sustainability is largely propped up by our performance in the third category, and we risk compromising that sustainability while doing little, if anything, to support security or cost reductions in the short term.”

You can read the UK Government’s full energy strategy here.

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