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Britain's new energy strategy: too long-term and supply-side focus

Kathryn Porter's picture
Consultant, Watt-Logic

Broad experience of both the finance and energy sectors combining technical expertise and knowledge with leadership skills and experience, and author of the energy blog, Watt-Logic. Working...

  • Member since 2022
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  • Apr 8, 2022
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The UK Government's energy security strategy has finally been published. It is underwhelming - while there are some positives around the development of UKCS oil and gas production and a new commitment to nuclear, there is nothing new to address either short term security of supply concerns or affordability.

The focus is almost entirely on more supply-side measures, and despite describing energy efficiency as a priority, there are no new targets or initiatives in that area, meaning that actual measures to reduce heat losses in homes remain largely absent from energy policy.

The strategy is also worryingly vague, with plans to add "up to" XX MW of various technologies rather than "at least". Up to can mean anything above zero, which is hardly encouraging in a strategy which is supposed to be delivering security of supply.

This strategy is likely to fall short in its objective of delivering security of supply, certainly in the short-to-medium term. Of course we need to plan for the future, but capacity margins will be wafer thin next winter, with a capacity market shortfall. This leaves consumers paying more for a significantly less secure electricity system - I suspect the only thing less popular than expensive energy will be unreliable expensive energy.

See my full analysis of the strategy here:

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 8, 2022

The strategy is also worryingly vague, with plans to add "up to" XX MW of various technologies rather than "at least"

Thanks for calling this out, it's such a pet peeve. Do you think that's put in there intentionally for plausible deniability when they miss goals, or is it just not being vetted in the way it should? 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 10, 2022

I think it is good for a national energy plan to be mostly supply-side focused, because the only way we can address the supply side is by acting collectively; energy systems have large economies of scale.  People are free to reduce their energy consumption (e.g. via efficiency improvements and life-style changes) at any time, with no participation by others or the government required.  And to the extent that governments can help people to reduce their energy demands, as you suggest in your article, local government serve effectively in this role.

But good point about "up to" and "at least" for clean energy deployments.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 10, 2022

Here are some points I found interesting from the British Energy Security Strategy document:

This sober admission about fossil gas consumption: "… the flexibility of gas has underpinned our world-leading rollout of offshore wind …".  And “In meeting net zero by 2050 we may still use a quarter of the gas that we use now.

As much as they’d like to stop buying Russian fossil fuel, they are not yet ready to turn-off the gas spigots (maybe they require more proof of atrocities in Ukraine?).  “Committing to phase out the use of Russian oil and coal by the end of 2022, and end imports of Russian liquified natural gas as soon as possible thereafter.”.

They are pushing forward on CO2 sequestration: “… we must fully utilise our great North Sea reserve, use the empty caverns for CO2 Storage …”.

And to put a clever bit of lipstick on the fossil fuel pig: “…electrifying offshore [gas] production, to ensure our gas remains the low-carbon choice.”.

Apparently, on-shore wind does not enjoy broad support among the English public: “In the more densely populated England, the Government recognises the range of views on onshore wind. Our plans will prioritise putting local communities in control.”.

Strong statements in support of new nuclear power: “We can only secure a big enough baseload of reliable power for our island by drawing on nuclear.”  And “For decades successive governments have failed to make the necessary investments in British nuclear.

Specific nuclear commitments: “… our existing investment of over £2 billion this Parliament in new nuclear, including £100 million to support the development of Sizewell C, and £210 million to bring through small modular reactors.”

I was disappointed at the lack of attention to district heat networks.  Space heating for homes and businesses is a signification fraction of fossil fuel usage, in the UK and US.  Heat-pump heaters can boost efficiency and nominally utilize renewable energy; however heat demand is highly seasonal and peaky, so in practice, they strain the grid when demand is highest, so their marginal load is mostly powered by the oldest, dirtiest, and least efficient fossil fuel peaking power plants. 

Heat networks can utilize any primary energy source, including not only waste heat and geothermal energy, but industrial scale electric heat pumps.  Because they use water as the energy carrier, they offer the cheapest form of energy storage: tanks for daily storage, or underground aquifers for seasonal storage.

The strategy document made reference to the Green Heat Network Fund, which provides capital grant support for low and zero-carbon heat networks.

In contrast to heat networks, hydrogen fuel strikes me as a scheme to wedge more fossil fuel into a low CO2 emitting energy system.  The plan for the first 10 GW of H2 production has a goal of “50% electrolytic”, which is different than “certified green H2”, in that electrolyzers are most cost effective when run on baseload power (i.e. a mix of clean and fossil fuel power, which means the hydrogen is both expensive and dirty).  They want to use that dirty hydrogen as a 20% component of the natural gas grid and use hydrogen in a neighborhood heating trial for 2023.

So some good, some bad.

Kathryn Porter's picture
Thank Kathryn for the Post!
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