After weeks of briefings and counter briefings, the UK Government’s Energy Security Strategy has finally been released. It’s been variously described as both “a missed opportunity” and “a vital step forward”. The reality is likely somewhere in the middle.
The media has seized on Kwasi Kwarteng’s admission that the strategy represents “more of a medium three, four, five year answer”. As an immediate response to the energy crisis, this strategy contains few solutions for the short-term. No extra help for consumers facing unprecedented energy price increases. No substantive proposals for reducing demand through energy efficiency and heat pump installations. No rapid expansion of onshore wind and solar; the cheapest and quickest construction renewables capacity available. It is clearly disappointing not to have seen a bolder approach to securing cheap clean energy, or insulating energy consumers and their homes from rising energy bills.
But the medium- and longer-term proposals offer a clearer vision of a future low-carbon UK energy system. The increased 50GW offshore wind and 24GW nuclear target are undoubtedly ambitious. The nuclear target alone constitutes a complete revival of the nuclear sector, with up to eight new nuclear plants proposed. Both these targets require a massive upheaval in leasing, planning, consenting, and financing mechanisms. Beyond the targets themselves, proposals for a Future System Operator and a review of the electricity market are a clear sign that the Government is considering how to align the broader energy system with Net Zero.
Although public debate in recent weeks has been dominated by discussions about different generation options and demand side possibilities, the lasting legacy of this strategy may well be the more technocratic changes to the energy market. Leading figures in the energy and climate community have long stressed that lofty targets mean little without ambitious delivery. Delivering an expansion of low carbon generation will require a plethora of changes to the market, not to mention the ability to reward community support for those affected by infrastructure changes.
Beyond the rhetoric of those dissatisfied that the strategy didn’t go further, these policies do show a clear commitment from the government to decarbonise the energy system. Doubling down on low carbon generation at a time of increased pressure around the costs of Net Zero should be applauded. But there is more than one way of achieving the UK’s energy and climate targets. Achieving Net Zero can be cheap and inclusive, or if done badly, it can be expensive and disruptive. Yesterday’s energy security strategy is a step in the right direction, but the politics around issues like onshore renewables and energy efficiency measures may have to shift to really turbocharge our energy transition.
We look forward to working closely with the Government and wider stakeholder community on how to turn ambition into delivery, reduce energy bills for customers, secure our energy sovereignty, and bring civil society with us on the journey to Net Zero.
Adam Berman, Deputy Director