Response to the key points of the new energy strategy

United Kingdom


Response to the key points of the new energy strategy by Adrian Abbs Lib Dem Portfolio Holder for the environment and public protection

An energy strategy looks into the future and should therefore contain both tactical and strategic elements. The strategy also needs to encompass what we want to achieve as a society and what we need to achieve.

Therefore, the strategy needs to achieve 4 things. 1) Provide energy security 2) a path to clean energy 3) ensure both businesses and consumers can afford the energy and 4) that we have enough energy to support the needs of society as a whole.
Having looked at the key points announced in the strategy and evaluated against the above criteria there are some parts that are easy to support and parts that seem less than optimum.

Nuclear - The government plans to reduce the UK's reliance on oil and gas by building as many as eight new nuclear reactors, including two at Sizewell in Suffolk. A new body will oversee the delivery of the new plants.

The Lib Dems voted to accept nuclear power as part of a low carbon energy strategy after being urged to do so by Ed Davey when he was still Energy secretary back in 2013. This changed a previous position and came about having listened at length to the low carbon argument – We have not changed that position, so the current Conservative administration setting a target to deliver some is in line with Lib Dem policy of the past decade.

My main issue is the length of time needed to go from concept to delivering power. Even with the new body, I am sceptical about enough being delivered quickly to have any sizeable impact on the coming decade in terms of energy security. It is also very expensive to implement a strategy overlay reliant on nuclear. It would fail the cost criteria but can help with the other 3 objectives.

When (progress is being made) fusion rather than fission arrives we lose the dangerous element often associated with Nuclear. Significant extra investment here is missing from the strategy which is odd given the promise it offers.

Wind - The government aims to reform planning laws to speed up approvals for new offshore wind farms. For onshore wind farms, it wants to develop partnerships with "supportive communities" that want to host turbines in exchange for guaranteed cheaper energy bills.

On-shore wind is the cheapest and one of the fastest to implement in terms of the energy techs we have right now – We would be in a better scenario if the Conservatives had not been opposing it for so long and had not introduced the laws that effectively banned it. As a tactical solution it's a no brainer, but given the intermittent nature of wind, it needs linking up to some energy storage solutions. It does come out positively on all 4 of the objectives mentioned at the start.

Hydrogen - Targets for hydrogen production are being doubled to help provide cleaner energy for industry as well as for power, transport and potentially heating.

Blue of Green Hydrogen? If the focus is not placed on the delivery of Green Hydrogen, then environmentally we will have gone nowhere or backwards. Green hydrogen comes into its own when you have enough Green energy to create it. The amount of energy needed is vast which may explain why the Conservatives are saying 8 Nuclear power stations. When we can produce enough energy cleanly and cheaply then it will be a valuable part of moving heavy industry, trucks and potentially heating. Doubling production will have almost zero effect w.r.t heating change. We will need 10 to 100 times what is planned to have a chance at affecting heating and taking ourselves off imported gas. Also, keep in mind that 1) electric boilers and induction hobs are already common and offer a viable alternative to heating using gas. 2) When you convert energy from one form to another there are losses. Using green energy to produce hydrogen and then using hydrogen as part of the gas mix will not be as efficient as simply using the green energy to power electric boilers or other forms of electrically powered heating.

In terms of delivery, it is not a short-term win and could easily fail objectives 2 and 4

Solar - The government will consider reforming rules for installing solar panels on homes and commercial buildings to help increase the current solar capacity by up to five times by 2035.

First, let’s remember that it’s this government that stopped FITS (Feed-In Tariffs). Let me explain why that is important!


The above shows cumulative installed capacity (see data set here

FITS ended 31st March 2019 but the Conservatives really took down FITS payments rapidly so that by Mid 2017 it was just a few pence per kWh being paid to generate on a typical 4kW system fitted to homes.

The UK had 12546MW in March 2017. Today we have 13743MW (Feb 2022). So just 1197MW added in the past 5 years compared to 11234 in the previous 5 years (just 10%)

Cutting FITS, as they did, meant many firms, installers etc all disappeared and now we must rebuild that pool of talent. So, whilst reforming rules might help it will be the huge rise in the cost of energy that will re-stimulate the installation of solar in homes and on commercial property.

We need a scheme that boosts installation where we can already (i.e. FITS II) even if that means being owned and managed by councils and government.

Solar easily meets all objectives assuming we encourage the use of existing roofs. It does need to be matched to energy storage for the same reasons as wind. This is even faster to deploy than wind and has Agri solar options to ensure we meet other objectives such as security in food

Oil and gas- A new licensing round for North Sea projects is being launched in the summer on the basis that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than doing so abroad.

I don't agree with the statement that it's less carbon footprint because it's not easy to extract compared to other places around the world. However, to have Zero local supplies of Gas and Oil would be a strategic mistake for decades to come. For the future of all, we must ensure we extract the minimum needed and focus on the cheaper and cleaner alt energies like solar, wind and tidal first.

This type of energy only supports objectives 1 & 2 in the near to mid-term. It cannot be the future if we want a planet to live on.

Heat pumps- There will be a £30m "heat pump investment accelerator competition" to make British heat pumps which reduce demand for gas.

For heat pumps to work well they require good installation for the home. To get a government grant homeowners must show Ofgem an EPC with the "minimum standards of loft insulation and for cavity walls" having been met. The technology has been accelerating for a while so I can’t see what the competition will achieve.

Heat pumps are about efficiency improvements when converting one form of energy to the heat we need to be comfortable. It can help with objectives2 and 4.

I would personally say that it’s better to spend 30M on installation. In fact, I would go much further and say we need a scheme with billions available for improvements to insulation. It has a faster and much more direct effect on the heating energy we need as a nation.

Insulation can help across all 4 objectives and is something tactical we can do.

On new builds and large builds heat pumps are a different story because it’s just a small add on to existing costs. However, community energy schemes are also a great way to ensure we stop building more problems. Since the Conservatives have not replaced the code for sustainable homes, we have had builders continue to provide homes that add to the problem rather than contribute to a solution.

If we should have a moratorium on anything, it's that no new homes should be completed without them being net zero. Also, any buildings yet to get planning permission should be built with 5-10% better than net-zero so they can contribute to those that will never get there due to their construction

I also think as a nation we are missing out on our largest predictable and uninterruptable energy source (Tidal). We have more energy flowing around our coastline than we can ever use, most is the tidal flow that is quite slow (just a few knots). Why not run a competition to work out how we extract energy from this energy source?