Let’s start with the broader picture. Today’s economically and environmentally illiterate Energy Security Strategy represents one very small step forward and several giant leaps back.
It proposes new North Sea oil & gas fields, which do absolutely nothing to lower household bills; a review to lift the ban on climate-wrecking fracking; and a swathe of painfully slow to construct and vastly expensive nuclear reactors.
But what is most revealing about this document is what is missing – a gaping wide hole on energy efficiency and demand reduction. And it includes absolutely no new money at all.
This is baffling, considering the Tory 2019 manifesto said: “We will help lower energy bills by investing £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools, and hospitals.” Yet only £4 billion has materialised. On the media round this morning, the business secretary struggled to explain why energy efficiency plans were omitted almost entirely from the Strategy. We know it’s because the chancellor obstinately refuses to loosen the purse strings.
Clearly Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Kwasi Kwarteng are not all singing from the same hymn sheet on this. And it’s resulted in a Strategy which doesn’t deserve the name – it’s riddled with mixed messages, ill-judged priorities, and a lack of focus on the immediate issues we face. A genuine Strategy requires a clear diagnosis of the problem; a vision to overcome it, backed up by solid evidence; then the necessary actions to achieve it.
So allow me to fill in the blanks for the government.
We face three very clear problems: we need to end our dependence on Russian fossil fuels; we need to slash household energy bills; and we need to avoid our current “fast-track to climate disaster”. Meanwhile, we have the leakiest housing stock in Europe – a bucket in every household with a giant hole in it.
The vision? A retrofit revolution, based on a mass roll-out of improved insulation and electric heat pumps across energy efficient homes. We’re talking large-scale, and long-term – but we can get started right now, to reduce our dependence on Russian fossil fuels; keep homes warm and slash household bills; and, alongside renewables, bring us back on track for net zero.
The evidence? The cheapest, greenest energy is the energy we don’t use. Energy efficiency in homes, buildings and industry could provide 3 times our current Russian gas imports by 2025. This is by far the best tool to reduce our reliance on Russian gas, and provide the most significant savings to household energy bills. Simple loft, wall and draft proofing insulation could cut household gas demand by twenty%, which is a saving three times greater than opening six new oil and gas fields. And heat pumps can cut bills by up to £500 a year when switching from a gas boiler – which makes it all the more ludicrous that the Chancellor has failed to invest.
The act? Where to start! We could bring forward the Future Homes Standard from 2025 to now, which will guarantee all new homes have sufficient insulation and low-carbon heating compulsory in new homes. We could introduce a heat pump training program to ensure the supply chain is revolution-ready – we need 50,000 trained installers by 2030, yet we currently have just 2,000.
Not only are these solutions staring us in the face, but the public are crying out for them too. 84% said in a recent poll that insulation was the very best way to reduce the use of Russian gas.
We are at an unprecedented moment for energy security, climate stability and a mounting cost of living crisis. Yet all three challenges demand the same solution: a war-time mobilization to pivot away from dependence on dirty fossil fuels, towards a future that’s energy-efficient and powered by our abundance of homegrown renewables.
But this kind of ambition and vision was totally missing in action from today’s Strategy – yet another open goal missed by this government.