Blog & PodcastDealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

Energy Security

The British Energy Security Strategy was published at the end of last week and although it runs to only 15 pages it has caused a lot of controversy. This is Easter Week so there will be no Wednesday Interview this week and no edition on Friday 15th or Friday 22nd. The next Wednesday Interview will be on the 27th of April and I'll tell you about that at the end of this episode.

British Energy Security Strategy

Yes, the government published its energy security strategy last Thursday. It's a policy paper but to me it reads like an election leaflet. The headline is “Secure, clean and affordable British energy for the long-term” and it goes on to talk about “a power supply made in Britain, for Britain.” Although the strategy sets out new sources of energy to be generated in Britain, this energy will still be priced and traded on global markets and will not protect British citizens from world prices.

Supply Strategy

It is a supply strategy, aimed at eliminating the nation’s reliance on importing foreign fuels. It says little about energy demand, which some argue would cut the need to import fuel much more quickly and cheaply than expanding supply.

Criticism

There was widespread criticism and campaign group 38 Degrees launched a petition calling for the government to think again. You’ll find a link below. Greenpeace set out 5 reasons why the strategy wouldn’t work and Left Foot Forward complained that the strategy “fails to address both the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency.”

A criticism that many commentators came up with is that the document does nothing to help consumers in the short term, but to be fair, a strategy is about the long term by definition and let’s welcome politicians taking a long view. For most of the time they seem to be looking ahead no further than the end of next week. 

Energy Bills to Rise

The fact that energy bills are set to rise by up to 54%, and rise again in the autumn, means that it is hardly surprising that people expected a major announcement about energy to include measures to reduce short-term pain. The policy paper repeated the concessions already announced - a rebate to some council tax payers and a £250 loan to help consumers pay their gas bills - but did nothing to increase them despite strong criticism since they were laid out in the Spring Financial Statement. It mentioned the cut to fuel duty which many have criticised as totally wrong-headed; making it cheaper for wealthy people driving inefficient vehicles to waste energy and increase pollution while doing little for the worse off.

Oil & Gas

The proposal to increase oil and gas production from the North Sea also raised cries of protest. Here we are with yet another report from the IPCC laying out a clear and present danger unless we cut greenhouse gas emissions extremely rapidly and on the other hand a government committed to increasing fossil fuel production. The paper makes it clear that gas will still be a core element of the U.K.'s energy mix in 2030. 

Fracking

Fracking is another controversial idea. There have been continual protests against plans to inject high-pressure water deep into the earth to release trapped gas oil. The government finally gave into pressure earlier this year and instructed the operators who had been carrying out test drilling to concrete over their wellheads. This was to be done by June, until the government suddenly called a halt. There was pressure from back-bench parliamentarians to reconsider the decision. The strategy paper announces a review into the seismicity of fracking by the British Geographic Survey to determine whether it can be carried out safely. 

Earth Tremors

The problem is that much has been made of the fact that the exploratory drilling for fracking caused local earth tremors, and that was the main reason for calling a halt. It seems as though the government believes that provided the danger of earth tremors can be avoided then fracking can go ahead. The point at issue though, apart from the possible risks of contamination of the water table, is that fracking produces fossil fuels and if we are serious about net zero in 2050 we need to be cutting back on fossil fuels, not increasing exploitation of the North Sea or fracking in the North of England.

Wind Power

There was support for plans to develop offshore wind power, but the vague and limited commitment to onshore wind power shows the dominance of Conservative party opinion over the reality that onshore wind power is the most cost-effective wind power.

Britain, according to the document, will become a leader in hydrogen production, and once again a leader in the nuclear industry.

Nuclear

Ah, nuclear. Little surprise that the plans to build eight new plants produced the greatest response. 

  • Nuclear power is horribly expensive. 
  • Nuclear stations take 10 years or more to build.
  • Nuclear power is dangerous.
  • Nuclear waste is dangerous.

Station

Country

Output GW

Cost £billion

Cost/GW £billion

Status

Hinkley C

UK

3.2

23.0

7.2

Construction

Sizewell C

UK

3.3

20.0

6.1

Planned

Barakah

UAE

2.8

18.6

6.6

Operational

Flamanville

FR

4.0

16.1

4.0

Part operational

Watts Bar 2

US

2.3

9.2

4.0

Operational

Olkiluoto 3

FIN

3.4

7.1

2.1

Operational

Hanhikivi 1

FIN

1.2

6.3

5.3

Planned

Shin-Kori 4

S Korea

1.4

2.4

1.7

Operational

Let’s look at this in detail.

Expensive

Looking at a selection of recent nuclear plants, Hinkley C currently under construction in SW England is one of the most expensive. The government has already committed to a guaranteed price for its output at about twice the current wholesale price at the time of signing. This figure is index-linked. 

Slow

Some nuclear plants do take more than 10 years to build. Flamanville, a plant in France using the same design as Hinkley C was started in 2007 and should go live this year, 16 years later. Construction of Hinkley C was started in 2018 and is expected to be complete in 2026, well behind the original 2023 plan. 

Safety

Nuclear power is frequently linked with nuclear weapons in the public mind. There have been nuclear accidents but as our interviewee, Sarah Cullen, said on a recent episode of the Sustainable Futures Report, look at the evidence and look at the risks and accidents from other systems of power generation. Do a detailed analysis and comparison. Base your opinions and decisions on facts.

Security

Nuclear waste needs secure storage and control for millennia. Some people would like nuclear energy to be halted to stop the piles of nuclear waste from increasing. But we are where we are, and whether we enlarge the quantities of nuclear waste or not, safe storage will always be needed. So far this has been successfully achieved.

Demand Policy

The other major criticism of this policy paper is that there is no major initiative to cut demand. There are details of subsidies and schemes which have already been announced but apart from heat pumps, biomass boilers and cavity wall insulation it is short on details. In fact it makes the point that insulation should be the individuals choice and that solutions should not be imposed on people. “The British people are no-nonsense pragmatists who can make decisions based on the information,” the paper says. Do people truly have the information? The paper overlooks the fact that while it is possible to insulate houses to cut their energy use by 40%, 50% or 60% or even more, the cost of doing this is beyond the budget of most people and the disruption and redecoration needed is more than most would put up with. The Green New Deal which promised a realistic contribution to the cost of insulation and improved heating for each property, had it been properly implemented by the government, would have made a significant difference to the nation’s energy bills. Putting its management into the hands of a US-based consultancy that insisted on working to US time did little to ensure the scheme’s success.

Cut Energy Demand

My overall view is that the most important strategy should be a strategy to cut demand. If policy is based on supply, every year that supply has to be produced and probably increased. If policy is based on demand, once the investment is made to improve insulation and reduce the energy required, no further investment is needed and the savings continue year after year.

Insulate Britain

Clearly we need a transition, but an insulation program is by far the fastest solution to implement. Wind turbines can be erected relatively rapidly, once all the approvals and plans are in place. Rather than carrying out a review of the potential of fracking we should surely be putting resources into research into all forms of energy storage, to overcome the problem that most renewables are intermittent and don't work either when the sun goes down or the wind drops.

Fracking will take 10 years to produce results and there is no certainty yet of the potential volumes of oil and gas that could be extracted. Increasing production from the North Sea will take years as well, so 10 years down the line we could be 10 years closer to our net zero 2050 target and poised to boost our fossil fuel production. It doesn't really make sense.

What of nuclear?

If we are going to have nuclear power in 10 years’ time we need to start now. The cost is high but the cost of not having energy with the consequences for the economy and the stability of society is arguably very much higher. The strategy document plans for 25% of our electricity coming from nuclear by 2050, amounting to 24GW. That implies a total electricity demand of around 100GW which is twice the current peak. Rather than protecting ourselves from foreign energy suppliers we should surely be protecting ourselves - and educating ourselves - from excessive domestic demand.

Not enough Skilled Workers

My principal concern about nuclear is the availability of skilled personnel. Yes, Britain once led the world in nuclear research and engineering but the industry has stagnated for a generation and those who once led it are mostly retired. Many of the personnel at the Hinkley construction site come from EDF, from France which has a much greater fleet of nuclear stations and plans to build many more to replace them. There’s not going to be enough skilled manpower to achieve that and build eight new stations in the UK as well.

I’m also rather concerned about the commitment to cut red tape which is mentioned in the strategy document. Cutting red tape was examined in the Grenfell Enquiry this week, with suggestions that weakened regulations could have contributed to the disaster. Let’s not apply such a policy to the nuclear industry.

Start Again

You remember that 38Degrees suggested that the government should tear up its energy strategy and start again?

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Just Stop Oil

Meanwhile, Just Stop Oil, the protest group associated with XR, reports that over 800 people have now been arrested for disrupting traffic to and from oil refineries. Loud criticism has come from the Home Secretary and Number 10, but I have to admire people standing up for their principles and for the future of all of us.

Cumbrian Coal Mine

Not only is the government expanding North Sea oil and gas but it is still possible that a new deep coal mine in Cumbria will get the go-ahead later this year.

 

And so we go on…

 

As I indicated, this is the last episode before Easter and the next episode will be the Wednesday interview on the 27th of April. I shall be talking then to Fernando García Ferreiro from the Deep Adaptation Forum. This is an organisation which exists to help people protect themselves from a dystopian future which could be the result of a total failure to control the climate crisis. Some listeners may find his ideas disturbing but for all that I believe it is important to bring views such as these to listeners of the Sustainable Futures Report.

Have a Happy Easter, listen to the interview and let me know what you think.

Here’s a shout-out for all my supporters on Patreon. You’re wonderful, you’re loyal and you’re crucial to the success of the Sustainable Futures Report. You’re so appreciated.

And that was the Sustainable Futures Report.

I’m Anthony Day.

We’ll be back together again after Easter.

 

 

 

Sources

British Energy Security Strategy

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/british-energy-security-strategy/british-energy-security-strategy

Comment and Criticism 

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/money/other/energy-security-strategy-is-more-of-a-medium-term-answer-business-secretary-admits/ar-AAVX3vK

https://www.ft.com/content/3fe73617-5f8f-4b70-8856-ca53e2ec92b3 

https://leftfootforward.org/2022/04/the-governments-energy-strategy-fails-to-address-both-the-cost-of-living-crisis-and-the-climate-emergency/

https://www.cityam.com/explainer-in-brief-energy-strategy-wont-push-prices-down-years-to-come/

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/city-comment-energy-security-strategy-falls-short-of-what-britain-needs/ar-AAW02OV

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/09/britain-was-promised-bold-visionary-energy-policy-sold-a-dud 

Greenpeace

https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/energy-strategy-reaction/ 

38Degrees

https://home.38degrees.org.uk

https://act.38degrees.org.uk 

NOTES by 38degrees:

[1] The Telegraph (paywall): Rishi Sunak blocks green homes plan that would have lowered energy bills 

[2] Independent: ‘Absolutely bizarre’: Dismay from climate campaigners as PM comes out against onshore wind farms 

[3] Independent: Boris Johnson’s new push for oil and gas will ‘blow’ net zero commitment, analysis shows 

The Guardian: IPCC report: ‘now or never’ if world is to stave off climate disaster 

[4] The Guardian: PM to put nuclear power at heart of UK’s energy strategy 

The Guardian: A guide to the UK energy security strategy 

38 Degrees: Please produce an energy supply plan we can be proud of 

[5] Twitter: Charles Hendry 

[6] Independent: ‘Absolutely bizarre’: Dismay from climate campaigners as PM comes out against onshore wind farms 

Sky News: Grant Shapps says he does not support 'a vast increase' in onshore wind farms ahead of the energy security strategy reveal next week 

The Telegraph (paywall): Rishi Sunak blocks green homes plan that would have lowered energy bills 

[7] Twitter: 38 Degrees energy poll 

Twitter: 38 Degrees onshore wind poll 

 

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A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
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