The impact of the British energy security strategy

Yesterday, UK Government published its British energy security strategy. It was a rallying call to create a power supply ‘that’s made in Britain, for Britain’, taking back our energy self-sufficiency and non-reliance on foreign sources.

Andy Clifton, Managing Director - Environment
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08 Apr 2022

It looks like a positive step in the right direction. And if each element within the strategy comes to pass, the UK’s energy supply landscape will look very different in the decades to come.

But is it enough? And with the plan already being accused of missing opportunities and being incoherent in its outlined intentions, is the government making the most of all the natural resources available to them?

Andy Clifton, RPS Managing Director – Environment, discusses the impact of the strategy, and its long-term approach. 

Key takeaways

The UK was already moving towards a net zero target. And so perhaps unsurprisingly the strategy places a heavy reliance on a renewable and low carbon energy supply to help fulfil its goals. The scale of the plan looks bold, but as a long-term plan time will be the judge of whether the ambitious targets are realised.

  • Increasing offshore wind energy generation to 50GW by 2030. This is up from the previous target of 40GW by 2030, with the new target including 5GW of floating offshore wind
  • Supporting the construction of up to eight new nuclear plants to supply 25% of the UK’s energy supply by 2050 – which includes reducing the time it takes to build them from 10 years to one
  • Increasing solar generation by five times its current level by 2035
  • A leasing round for North Sea Oil and Gas projects during 2022, with the aim of supporting the energy transition and reducing our reliance on imports. Doubling current generation targets to 10GW from green (renewable), blue (natural gas) and pink (nuclear) hydrogen plants by 2030
  • Establishing a Future System Operator to help drive the energy transition and oversee the UK energy network
  • Heat pumps - there will be a £30m "heat pump investment accelerator competition" to make British heat pumps which reduce demand for gas. Further commitment to Carbon Capture and Underground Storage (CCUS) including £1B investment in four CCUS clusters by 2030.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coupled with rapidly rising energy costs, has clearly underlined the necessity for UK Government to look at energy security. It wants and arguably needs to insulate the UK from erratic global energy prices and intermittent supplies.

What didn’t the government highlight?

Insulation wasn’t a topic that seemed, or seems, to be on the UK Government’s agenda. The strategy instead focuses heavily on how we will generate and transmit energy, rather than go big on the detail in reducing energy consumption, especially in the short-term. That omission inevitably attracted a lot of criticism by green groups. Even the Climate Change Committee (CCC), reacted by stating ‘it is disappointing not to see more on energy efficiency’1.

There also seems to be a lack of ambition around onshore wind energy use, despite it being one of the cheapest renewable energy sources. This strategy doesn’t provide any figures on how much additional onshore wind the government hopes the UK will produce. But as more of an afterthought, ‘recognises the range of views on onshore wind’.

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The (lack) of public influence

This almost goes against data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)2, where only 4% of the public oppose onshore wind, in comparison to 14% that oppose nuclear, which sits as a major part of the strategy.

It doesn’t feel like public opinion has been taken into consideration. Should it have? That may well be another argument in itself. But this lack of consideration is highlighted even more when 44% of the public is opposed to shale gas (‘fracking’), and yet, the government claims to be ‘open-minded’ about implementing it as an energy source.

The intended consenting and approval changes

The strategy makes several references to potential changes to UK environmental planning regimes. This is to reduce the time it takes to get energy infrastructure consent. To highlight:

  • The intention to modify existing legislation, such as the Planning Act, to shorten planning timeframes. An example would be shortening consenting times of offshore wind from four years to one.
  • Strengthening Renewable National Policy Statements and making environmental considerations at a strategic level.
  • Reviewing the way Habitats Regulations Assessments are carried out, which is now possible as the UK ‘Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations’ is no longer bound to the EU Habitats Directive.

All three points above will inevitably raise concerns over inadequate protection to environment and health during construction and operation of new energy schemes.

What's next?

This direction of travel will bring big change to the UK’s energy supply, with renewable energy rightly at the forefront.

But with big opportunities, come big challenges. The streamlining of planning regimes, the balance to ensure more time-efficient processes, and implementing sustainable infrastructure development, are just a few important concerns that need to be addressed.

The inclusion of Hydrogen and Floating Wind also gives us a view of the future. Presenting such openings to these industries is, in its own right, for the UK to lead in the same way it has for fixed offshore wind.

On top of all that having enough skilled resources to plan, design and construct projects against the backdrop of the already extremely busy renewable sector, and long declining nuclear sector, will be a major hurdle to overcome to meet the government’s ambitions.

One central issue however is reducing energy demand. Without serious consideration of how we approach a reduction in our energy demand or fast-tracking renewables, there’s a question of whether this strategy even addresses what it was designed to achieve.

Technical innovation will play a vital role in the realisation of the strategy’s ambitions. But will the government address the concerns of what’s been left out of the strategy, rather than what’s been included? Only time will tell.

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