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Is the UK Energy strategy a case of “more jam tomorrow”, when we need jam today?

Where are we now, and what could we achieve?

The Government has published its Energy Security Strategy with an expectation that the measure will deliver a 95% low carbon electricity mix by 2030. 

The focus on clean energy is welcome – there is a move in the right direction over the mid to longer term particularly (subject to the detail, especially on amending planning rules) for the delivery of new nuclear, offshore wind and solar and ambitions to bring them forward quicker and more effectively. But, could the Government go further and be bolder in its policy objectives if it wants to see a tangible impact in this Parliament or the next?

To unlock our potential and deliver more immediate solutions likely means greater focus on cheaper and quicker to implement renewable energies like solar and onshore wind, alongside investment in energy efficiency solutions.     

The outline strategy seems to look at longer term solutions and those critical to issues such as energy security and uninterrupted supply.  However, some of the long term issues could also be resolved through solutions that will have a more immediate impact as well. 

Both onshore wind and solar projects have proven track records, are relatively inexpensive to develop and neither require tax-payer money to prop them up; subsidy free wind and solar projects have been developed for a number of years.  

They also have the advantage of being quick to develop; these projects can generate renewable energy within a matter of months rather than the decades that nuclear plants take before they generate energy.

Kwasi Kwarteng has also previously talked about scaling up cheap renewables. But it feels like finding solutions to the issues preventing current developments has been left squarely with the developers, which seems a missed opportunity. 

In an ever changing geo-political and environmental climate, there will no doubt be further steps taken by Government to develop this strategy. Here are (six) things that the Government could consider doing to help meet some of the immediate energy challenges and its 2030 target for a 95% low carbon electricity mix:

  • Government support – the statements released so far are largely a reiteration of the previous policy objectives. We need clear, top down policy support for solar (e.g. changes to the NPPF) and whilst onshore wind will be subject to a further consultation, clear support for this technology as well will contribute towards solution to our energy security and net zero challenges.
  • Clear targets – There are no clear targets for solar, albeit it could lead up to 70GW of new projects. Targets set nationally could be a pre-cursor to introduce a presumption in favour of developing solar  projects - de-risking projects for developers and helping kick start investment and delivery.
  • Planning changes – there are several actions that could support quicker delivery of clean energy First, the consultation response to streamline the DCO process for larger projects should be released and measures implemented quickly (it will be interesting to see how the Government expect to deliver offshore wind farms within a 1 year timescale)..   The Government could also consider making solar up to a certain threshold permitted development so that there is a lighter approach to consenting, which would help get them built and operational quicker.   
  • Policy detail - the Government’s stated commitment to develop partnerships with a limited number of communities to drive onshore wind developments does not move us forward. The need for community engagement and support is a big hurdle (and not something required for other technology e.g. new nuclear). Current onshore wind policy  has led to a circa 96% reduction in onshore wind development in England.  The Government needs to be clear how this is going to work and how it will drive more onshore wind projects into operation.  If there’s a consultation on how the changes are to implemented this needs wholesale industry backing to ensure an overly restrictive framework is not adopted.  The ‘lower energy bills’ approach for host communities has previously been something driven by utility companies with a development arm; it’s not clear how this is feasible for developers to provide unless they use virtual PPAs;  
  • Tax incentives – for energy efficiency, currently a VAT rebate brings the cost down on ground source heat pumps to around £6k – this is still too high for most households – government should address this to incentivise take up of new technologies.
  • Efficiency – prices at the moment are being driven to a great extent from the rising gas prices. Encouraging heat pumps through the investment accelerator, grants and reduction of VAT, is welcome news to mitigate this and get the “security and independence” sought, but could be further supported by reducing the amount of energy we actually consume in the first place and so further support for energy efficiency schemes would certainly help.

For more information on this article, please contact our Energy & Resource Management team.

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