The UK government has released its new energy security strategy in full, making pledges to invest in hydrogen and nuclear power, and pursue new fossil fuel projects in the North Sea.
The long awaited policy package sets out how the government aims to cut imports of Russian fossil fuels, make the UK energy supply secure and efficient, and takes into account the legally binding net zero targets.
In his foreword to the document Boris Johnson acknowledged rising energy costs and the role the war in Ukraine has played in fuel scarcity, stating that the “government is already stepping in to help, with over £9bn of help for families struggling with their bills” .
He said his administration is “not going to try and turn back the clock to the days when we choked our streets and our atmosphere with filthy fumes and ever-rising levels of climate-imperilling carbon dioxide.”
Instead, he said the UK must “take advantage of Britain’s inexhaustible resources of wind and – yes – sunshine”.
“We’re going to produce vastly more hydrogen, which is easy to store, ready to go whenever we need it, and is a low carbon superfuel of the future.
“We’re embracing the safe, clean, affordable new generation of nuclear reactors, taking the UK back to pre-eminence in a field where we once led the world,” Mr Johnson said.
But amid the worsening climate crisis, there are already major concerns about the government’s plans to step up fossil fuel production.
This has now been confirmed: “We’re going to make better use of the oil and gas in our own backyard by giving the energy fields of the North Sea a new lease of life,” the prime minister said.
The outline of the strategy, released last night, has already been strongly criticized by scientists and experts, with particular concerns about lack of action on energy efficiency and insulation, as well as the plans to expand oil and gas drilling.
The full document sets out the government’s position on why it will pursue new North Sea projects: “Even as we reduce imports [of fossil fuels]we will continue to need gas to heat our homes and oil to fill up our tanks for many years to come – so the cleanest and most secure way to do this is to source more of it domestically with a second lease of life for our North Sea. Net zero is a smooth transition, not an immediate extinction, for oil and gas.”
However, there is clear acknowledgment of the vital role renewable sources of energy are playing in the UK, and how their future expansion will shape the UK’s energy supply and pricing.
The introduction to the strategy says: “The growing proportion of our electricity coming from renewables reduces our exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets. Indeed, without the renewables we are putting on the grid today, and the green levies that support them, energy bills would be higher than they are now.”
Despite indications in recent weeks the government could clear the path to allow greater levels of onshore wind – one of the cheapest forms of energy generation – the plan has not relaxed planning permissions put in place by David Cameron’s government in 2014.
The document states: “We will not introduce wholesale changes to current planning regulations for onshore wind but will consult this year on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits, including lower energy bills.”
Meanwhile, there are no major announcements on solar power – the cheapest method of electricity generation which has ever been available.
“The cost of solar has fallen by around 85% over the past decade,” the government said, “and can be installed in just one day on a domestic roof. We expect a five-fold increase in deployment by 2035.”
“For ground-mounted solar, we will consult on amending planning rules to strengthen policy in favor of development on non-protected land, while ensuring communities continue to have a say and environmental protections remain in place.”