UK energy security review – not enough energy and no security

The agonies of Ukraine continue to dominate the agenda. We are now two months into the war that the Kremlin continues to insist is not a war, demanding that the world denies the evidence of its own eyes, while thousands are killed, millions flee their homes and the gruesome evidence of war crimes keeps mounting. Meanwhile within Russia, Putin has intensified his transformation of that country into a totalitarian dictatorship where any expression of dissent is harshly punished.

The war has exacerbated an energy crisis which has already seen energy bills soar and highlighted the extent to which Europe is dependent on imports of oil and gas from Russia, the payment for which is Putin’s main source of income and which is paying for his war machine.

The issue of energy security is now of prime importance. Reliance on Russian fossil fuels not only continues to give Putin the money he needs to fund the Russian military, it also gives him a powerful way to blackmail the West and keeps adding to global carbon emissions and the environmental destruction wrought by Russia’s notoriously dirty fossil fuel extraction industries. Whatever way you look at it, reliance on Russian oil and gas is a bad thing.

Spurred on by the multiple crises besetting the energy sector, the British Government has published its long-awaited Energy Security Strategy. Although it is called an energy security strategy, industry experts have criticised the British government’s policy, saying that it will fail to provide either enough energy or sufficient security. It has been described as being more of a collection of aspirations than a strategy. The plan, if we are calling it that, aims to end the UK’s reliance on gas and oil, but the decision of Downing Street to ignore quick wins like insulation and instead to favour expensive nuclear power over renewables has been widely questioned. The strategy does nothing to provide any hope of relief in the short term to households which are struggling to pay soaring energy bills right now.

Like many European states, the UK has a heavy reliance on natural gas for heating homes and generating electricity, and so it has been hard hit by the soaring price of gas, which was high even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This was true even though the UK, unlike most European states, has significant domestic production of gas, mostly from the North Sea. Some 44% of UK gas consumption comes from its own resources. However as a result of British Government decisions, the UK has significantly less gas storage capacity than other European states. This reduces the ability of the UK to cope with surges in the wholesale prices of gas. The recent increase of a government-set price cap on energy has left many people struggling to afford to heat their homes.

The British Government’s Energy Security review fails on many levels. The best way to reduce energy bills, whether in the short or the long term is to use less energy. An efficient and relatively quick way to achieve this is by insulating buildings better. Much of the UK’s housing stock is poorly insulated which means that a significant part of those energy bills which so many households are struggling to pay is being spent on heat that escapes through roofs, walls, and windows. For many years, energy experts including the Climate Change Committee, the UK’s official advisory body on meeting climate targets, have been calling for more to be done. Back in 2018 a report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) warned that insulating lofts and boilers was not sufficient and said that instead, the aim should be to completely transform houses to make them “net-zero”, which means insulating an entire house to a very high standard.

So it’s not like the Johnson regime had not been warned, but despite this, the Energy Security strategy includes no major new energy efficiency measures and instead summarises policies previously announced. It claims that “by 2025, around 700,000 homes will be upgraded”, but it is far from clear how this will happen. Last month, the Climate Change Committee warned that the government’s current plans for insulating homes wouldn’t deliver on its targets, and this new strategy sheds no light on how those targets are going to be met.

The quickest and cheapest way to deliver new sources of carbon zero energy is to invest heavily in onshore wind and solar power, the strategy favoured by the Scottish Government. Scotland has a massive potential for renewable energy production which has only just started to be tapped. This potential has been effectively ignored by Downing Street.

The British Government, pandering to the not in my backyard tendencies of Conservative MPs, will not change the planning regulations in England which make it almost impossible to get planning approval for onshore wind farms, even though these can be built and brought into production far more quickly and cheaply than offshore wind, yet it’s offshore wind which the British government wants to expand.

The British Government has instead decided to embark on a massive expansion of nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants are not only eye wateringly expensive, they also take a very long time to design and build. The energy review seeks to have 25% of the UK’s electricity produced by nuclear by 2050, and up to eight new nuclear power plants. This is a highly ambitious, and many would say unrealistic goal. The first new nuclear power plant in Europe for decades, the Olkiluoto plant in Finland, has only just started to produce electricity, 12 years late and €8 bn over its original €3 bn budget.

However even if the UK is able to bring new nuclear power plants on line within the timetable optimistically forecast by the British Government, and without experiencing massive overruns in costs, switching to nuclear energy does not necessarily ensure that the UK is no longer dependent on imports from authoritarian regimes. Nuclear power plants require uranium as a fuel, and currently 41% of the world’s supply of uranium comes from Kazakhstan, whose authoritarian government is concerned to remain in the good books of the Kremlin in case Putin decides to “liberate” Kazakhstan’s large ethnic Russian minority.

The strategy also foresees increased production of oil and gas from the seas around Scotland. This is a backward step as far as moving toward net zero carbon is concerned. It’s also interesting that the British government wants to increase the extraction of North Sea oil and gas while at the same time it tells Scotland that the oil is running out whenever the topic of independence is raised. Professor Michael Grubb ,Chair of the international research organization Climate Strategies, headquartered at Cambridge University, described the review as the “most stunning and cowardly failure in the strategy”, adding that onshore wind and solar power capacity can be installed in just months compared with several years for offshore wind power and could help bring prices down fast for domestic consumers.

What is not at all surprising that the British Government has not consulted with the Scottish Government on either a ministerial or official level in the production of this strategy even though it is Scotland which contains the majority of the UK’s energy potential, whether that’s fossil fuels or renewable energy. Michael Matheson, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy pointed out that Scotland exported 20.4 TerraWatt hours of electricity in 2020, enough to power every household in Scotland for 26 months. In addition Scotland exported 17 Mtoe of natural gas to the rest of the UK in 2019, which accounted for 42% of the rest of the UK’s total gas consumption.

The best and quickest route to energy independence and security for Scotland, the only route which will ensure that the needs of consumers in Scotland are taken into account, is with independence. Otherwise we will forever be held hostage to the grandiose schemes of a Westminster which views Scotland as nothing more than a source of resources to be pillaged. Despite being one of the most energy rich nations in Europe, under Westminster we face a future of soaring energy bills ,continuing energy insecurity, and continuing carbon emissions.

 

Thank you all for your patience during my recent break. I feel much more refreshed now, the break was badly needed.  I am going to have to pace myself more carefully in future in order to avoid hitting a brick wall of exhaustion again. I  did manage to – finally make an application for PIP. I had avoided doing this this for a long time as I am no longer able to hold a pen and needed help to get the form filled in. Unfortunately all our local Citizens Advice Bureaus were closed due to covid, but I eventually got a phone appointment with a local advice centre.

The main reason I had been putting off making an application is because it means psychologically accepting that the stroke has left me with significant and permanent disabilities.  I have been told that the only way I will be able to drive again is with a specially adapted car, and with a successful PIP claim I will be eligible for help with the cost of this or possibly even eligible for a mobility car as my mobility is now significantly reduced due to the stroke. I also require fairly substantial help with basic daily living tasks, and that is likely to be permanent. I have now accepted that I will never regain the use of my formerly dominant left hand and that I will continue to have to deal with weakness and lack of sensation and coordination in my left arm and leg. I will always have to walk with a stick, but at least I can walk, and I no longer need the wheelchair that they gave me when I left the hospital.

However I prefer to concentrate on what I can do rather than dwell on what I am no longer able to do. I may have to slow down a bit but I can, and will, continue to write and blog until the day comes, as it surely will, that Scotland regains her rightful place among the independent nations of the world.

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