The government’s new energy security strategy steps up nuclear and offshore wind ambition but offers little new on improving energy efficiency.
The UK government has published its energy security strategy setting out a long-term plan for the country to achieve energy independence.
The strategy was developed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has pushed up already rising energy costs and compromised security of supply.
The government also needed to ensure the country stays on the path to a net zero economy by 2050 and meets the growing demand for electricity as we transition.
As it seeks to navigate these challenges, here are five key takeaways from the new strategy.
1. Expanding nuclear capacity will be accelerated
Under the proposals, up to a quarter of power consumed in Britain will be from nuclear sources by 2050.
The government aims to accelerate nuclear deployment with up to eight more reactors being delivered, including small modular reactors, subject to conditions.
There will also be a new body, Great British Nuclear, established to develop the pipeline of projects.
2. A mixed outlook for wind power
The strategy raises the government’s target for offshore wind generation from 40GW to 50GW by 2030, including up to 5GW of floating wind.
The government aims to accelerate deployment with a range of measures, including cutting the development consent time from up to four years to one and strengthening the Renewable National Policy Statements.
However, in contrast to this ambition for offshore wind, the measures for onshore wind capacity are more modest.
There will be no major changes to the current planning regulations to enable more large-scale deployment.
Instead, the government aims to develop local partnerships in England with supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for lower energy bills.
3. North Sea oil and gas gets a new lease of life
Under the strategy, the UK will utilise more of the North Sea’s oil and gas supplies to reduce its dependence on foreign imports. There will be a new licensing round in the autumn.
The government argues that this is not contrary to the UK’s net zero commitment but necessary to underpin a stable transition.
It's also remaining “open-minded” about utilising the UK’s onshore fossil fuel reserves. To that end, it has asked the British Geological Society to review any changes to the science of fracking.
4. More ambition for solar and hydrogen…
The strategy also aims to increase the UK’s solar capacity and doubles its hydrogen production ambition to 10GW by 2030.
Solar capacity is currently 14GW but the cost of solar has fallen by around 85% in the past decade, and government sees potential for a five-fold increase in deployment up to 2035.
It will consult on reforming rules to support deployment of solar panels on domestic and commercial rooftops and of ground-mounted solar on non-protected land.
There is also a pledge to 'aggressively explore' other favourable renewable opportunities such as tidal and geothermal.
5. …but not enough to improve energy efficiency
As the government acknowledges, using energy more efficiently is key to reducing demand. However, the strategy offers little by way of new proposals in this regard.
There will be consultations on new minimum standards and labelling requirements for various energy-using products later this year.
The government will also launch a new energy advice service for consumers and small businesses.
In May, we can expect more details about new energy performance standards varying by building type.
A review of planning barriers that households face when installing energy efficiency measures will also be completed this year.
ICE’s view on the energy security strategy
Setting a clear direction of travel
As ICE wrote in a recent blog looking at the government’s options, the energy strategy was an opportunity to unleash a greater push towards a renewable and low carbon energy system.
To some extent, the government has delivered that, building on measures set out in the Spring Statement to mitigate rising energy costs.
For renewables, the proposed planning reforms should accelerate growth in domestic offshore wind, but the restrained approach to onshore wind appears to be a missed opportunity.
There is a strong commitment to boosting solar capacity, more ambition for hydrogen and a nod to tidal generation, all of which we highlighted as key components of the future energy mix.
We also emphasised the need for a blended approach to decarbonised energy generation.
The vision of expanded and accelerated renewable capacity alongside a more ambitious nuclear programme sets a clear direction of travel.
Nevertheless, we would expect any energy security strategy to focus on reducing demand, in particular by retrofitting homes and driving down operational carbon or using energy more efficiently.
Unfortunately, the latest strategy has little new to say about those opportunities.
In short, while the strategy sets out an ambitious vision largely consistent with the UK’s net zero and energy independence ambitions, there are missed opportunities and it is unlikely to bring short-term relief to consumers.
The latter point highlights the need for the government to manage the public’s expectations and build popular support for the net zero infrastructure transition.
Finally, as with so many recent infrastructure announcements, it is key that ambitious policy is quickly turned into action.
Only last month, the National Infrastructure Commission warned that too much inaction is jeopardising long-term national objectives.
Meeting the UK’s future energy needs is a key focus of the National Infrastructure Commission’s work.
Read our submission on the second National Infrastructure Assessment baseline report.Read the report