Against a backdrop of UK reliance on imported energy and sharply rising energy costs, brought into sharp focus by the crisis in Ukraine, the UK Government made much of its Energy Security Strategy, published earlier in April. Now that the dust has settled on the headlines and we have analysed the strategy, is there anything in it for CLA members?
Set the controls for net zero
Overall, the direction of travel hasn’t changed. We are still on a decarbonisation ‘journey’ as set out in the December 2020 Energy White Paper and the Net Zero Strategy, published before the COP26 Climate Change Conference in November 2021.
What this new strategy does is ‘turn the dial up’ in certain key areas to accelerate progress towards a low carbon energy system, set some more ambitious targets and makes some new announcements as well as re-stating existing commitments.
The main emphasis is on growing UK nuclear power capacity and expanding offshore wind and North Sea natural gas production, with expansion also planned for solar power and strategic planning and investment in the grid networks, storage and flexibility.
More onshore wind
In the run-up to the publication of the strategy, there were media reports that a significant expansion of onshore wind could be back on the table. But, with wind power being so divisive, the government is treading carefully. Scotland – and the North Sea - will continue to host most of the new turbines. New onshore wind in England will only happen with local support. The government says it “will consult this year on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for lower energy bills”.
More solar - on land and roofs
In contrast, the government expects a five-fold increase in solar deployment by 2035. For ground-mounted solar the government will “consult on amending planning rules to strengthen policy in favour of development on non-protected land”. Co-location with agriculture, wind power or battery storage will be encouraged. For rooftop solar, it wants to “radically simplify planning […] with a consultation on relevant permitted development rights”.
The role of hydrogen is also acknowledged in the strategy, with the potential for it to be used in vehicle fuel cells, blending with natural gas in the gas grid for heat and as a means of storing energy, which can power the grid when required. A final decision will be taken by the end of next year on blending up to 20% hydrogen into the natural gas grid.
A fit for purpose grid network – eventually
Power grids are hugely complicated systems and, as many CLA members will know, adding in new power generation in a rural area, or even upgrading a demand connection, can come with prohibitively high charges to strengthen the surrounding grid. All this new decentralised power generation and storage will require extensive re-engineering of the grid and overall strategic planning for it to work.
The strategy makes several high-level commitments to help make all this happen, including publishing a strategic framework this year with Ofgem setting out how power networks will deliver net zero and appointing an electricity networks commissioner to advise the government on policies and regulatory changes to accelerate progress on network infrastructure.
The scale of the task – to transform our power networks into a modern, robust yet flexible grid – cannot be understated. It will take many years and many billions to be achieved - something that the strategy stays a bit quiet on.