With the dust having settled on the UK Government’s Energy Security Strategy and the first substantial piece of legislation affecting the energy sector since the Energy Act 2013 being put forward in this week’s Queen’s Speech, now is an opportune moment to review a fuller gamut of UK energy policy.
It is first important to note that without the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, it is unlikely that the Energy Security Strategy would have been published this year. The Government had intended that the raft of Net Zero policies post-COP 26 would provide the coherent roadmap and long-term vision to deliver Net Zero by 2050.
However, as ever – “events, dear boy, events”.
The original aims of the Strategy were laudable: to confront rocketing energy bills and transition away from Russian fossil fuels after the invasion of Ukraine. Though significantly at this stage in the electoral cycle, judged against these metrics, the strategy is unlikely to deliver in the short term.
The winners: nuclear, offshore wind, and hydrogen
The losers: onshore wind and fracking
The glaring omission: a demand-side strategy
The Strategy is silent on one fundamental issue – reducing energy demand. The first step for any energy security plan should be to reduce demand, by retrofitting homes or using energy more efficiently, but these measures are said to have been vetoed by the Treasury.
A national retrofit strategy may not be as glamorous as wind turbines or hydrogen, but it would be an essential piece of the energy security puzzle that has again been overlooked.
The Government urgently needs to strike a balance between increasing supply and reducing demand – it is vital that we swiftly see policy turn into action or there will be no change.
A missed opportunity
In the near term, the Strategy does little to assuage the concerns of the electorate about soaring energy prices. In the longer term, it sets ambitious targets for green technologies, yet fails to provide a coherent plan for delivery.
The result is a strategy that fundamentally does not address what it was created for in the first place: to confront rocketing energy bills and transition away from Russian fossil fuels.
Recent polling from the centre-right think tank Onward reveals that despite the ongoing cost of living crunch, voters still overwhelmingly support the Government’s Net Zero policies, finding that two-thirds of voters (67%) think the Government is not being bold enough in tackling climate change.
This should empower the Government to go faster and further, and the pursuit of both goals need not be mutually exclusive. The rapid roll-out of renewable infrastructure is our best course of action to future-proof the UK against external shocks to the energy market. There may be political benefits for the Tories as well as economic ones for voters if they act on this.
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