The UK government’s latest energy security strategy, released on 7th April, puts offshore wind and nuclear power at the heart of its new policy. Forum’s Associate Director of UK/Europe, Martin Hunt, and Climate Strategist, Iain Watt, share key reflections on the latest paper and the change needed to create a just and regenerative energy system.

Heavily trailed within the media as a bold and ambitious plan, the recently launched British energy security strategy feels like a mixed bag of proposed solutions – a plan of action that has taken the UK two steps forwards and three steps backwards for two main reasons. One is that it’s not addressing energy demand, the other is that it’s betting on a range of solutions which are not fully future fit. 

Failure to address energy demand is a missed opportunity 

Firstly, the strategy does little to address demand for energy in the UK, particularly energy efficiency in our homes. Long considered the “elephant in the room”, the challenge of addressing the many millions of energy inefficient homes has been pushed aside in favour of new infrastructure that will do very little in the short-term to reduce energy bills or carbon emissions.

As colleagues at UKGBC rightly point out, the strategy represents a missed opportunity. It includes no major energy efficiency measures that would help alleviate the pressures that households face from soaring energy prices. There is a clear need to invest in an ambitious nationwide retrofit programme, starting with an upgrade of our social housing stock, which would pay back in spades over time. Aside from reducing energy bills and emissions, such a programme would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, huge economies of scale for supply chains geared to delivering low carbon measures like insulation and heat pumps, and would help address the health impacts associated with living in damp, cold housing. 

Are all solutions truly future fit?

Turning to the future supply of energy, the ambitions for some forms of renewable power remain undiminished, particularly wind and solar. Undoubtedly, the continued scaling of offshore wind power will remain one of the UK’s biggest success stories, with an aspiration to quadruple output by 2030.

However, the new strategy continues to undermine the cheapest form of renewable power in the UK, onshore wind. Onshore wind farms are already meeting the annual needs of more than 7.25 million British homes, garnering increasing public support, supporting job creation and local economic growth. Despite this, the new strategy fails to deliver plans for a significant increase in new onshore wind projects. Any emission reductions resulting from the ramping up of solar and offshore wind over the coming decade will be undermined if the proposed North Sea licensing round this summer leads to new oil and gas projects becoming part of our energy mix.

On nuclear power, the strategy proposes a programme for eight nuclear reactors, which will be very expensive to the consumer and won’t help reduce emissions for many years to come. Putting aside the safety and waste legacy concerns, recent history tells us that a new nuclear rollout to the degree proposed is very unlikely to happen without huge public subsidy and a long-term burden on taxpayers. Private finance and public funds would be much better placed elsewhere, immediately delivering solutions that can alleviate the worst impacts of the energy crisis we face today.  

Rethinking tomorrow’s energy system

The UK needs an energy strategy that truly embraces a joined up systems perspective. A strategy that considers energy security alongside fuel poverty; public health alongside skills and job creation; financial viability alongside regulatory risk. Our energy transition will not be easy and proclamations of big, shiny new infrastructure may capture headlines, but the biggest, most impactful energy project of our time remains largely neglected. A future fit energy security strategy that neglects demand will not deliver the deep and rapid transition the UK requires. We need a strategy that is detached from yesterday's solutions, one which rapidly builds on the successes we are seeing with renewables, and places both people and the planet at the heart of tomorrow’s energy system.