The mixed response to the UK’s Energy Security Strategy
'Undoing the mistakes of our past': A new energy strategy has been announced by the UK government to a mixed reception, ITV News Science Editor Deborah Cohen reports
The question of where we get our energy from is under the spotlight more than ever before.
And today, the government sought to shore up our future independent supply in their energy security strategy.
The plans received praise from some quarters for relying largely on low carbon sources, but there are questions over how it will help us in the short term.
Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, agreed it would do nothing in the here and now to reduce bills.
Nuclear power currently forms the backbone of the plans.
The UK led the world when it came to commercial nuclear power.
But the industry declined in the 1980s before seeing a renaissance in the late 2000s.
Previous prime ministers have failed to deliver on nuclear aims - and now the government has said it wants it to provide 25% of our projected energy demand by 2050.
But some experts have signalled a note of caution on several fronts.
One concern is whether the small modular reactors favoured by the government will be up and running in time.
Others point to the costs of nuclear and the fact that recent projects have not run to budget nor been finished on time. Even proponents of a nuclear future are cautious about the timescale - although they do say it will provide a clean source of reliable energy in the future.
“This won’t solve the problem now,” Professor Karl Whittle, nuclear energy expert at the University of Liverpool, says.
“To change things now, nuclear is not the option. If you want to rapidly change energy costs you would move to things that can be built more quickly,” he says.
Many experts say that technology is wind power.
To a certain extent, the government has signalled that too - although its focus is offshore turbines.
The government wants enough to power every home in the UK by 2030 - an ambitious target that they hope is achieved by cutting approval times from four years to one.
Some of this extra offshore power will come from floating wind platforms in deeper seas.
But there’s little in today’s strategy that makes building onshore easier.
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Emma Pinchbeck, CEO of Energy UK, welcomes the inclusion of wind in the strategy, but questions the lack of emphasis of onshore wind.
“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of generation we have. If we’re serious about reducing people’s bills and having domestic sources of power, not going after onshore wind at the same level as we’re going after offshore wind does seem a bit odd,” she says.
If there’s another area of contention about energy supply - particularly for climate scientists - it’s the new licensing of drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea. Some do acknowledge the need for gas as an energy source during the transition period to a low carbon future.
But the timing couldn’t be worse. The announcement has come just several days after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we needed to urgently move away from fossil fuels to stem global warming.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, accused “high-emitting governments” - of which the UK is one - of adding fuel to the flames of the impact of climate change.
“They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels,” he said.
And it's the UK’s role as the recent head of COP26 that perhaps causes extra pause for thought.
“The UK has built up a good reputation,” says Professor Michael Grubb, energy and climate change policy expert at University College London.
But he worries that we can’t tell others not to exploit their reserves if the UK is. “If we’re extracting the last drops out of the North Sea [it] is going to seriously undermine the UK’s credibility,” he says.