Climate Change

UK Government Publishes Its "British Energy Security Strategy"

The British Energy Security Strategy ("the Strategy"), published on April 7, 2022, aims to ensure that the United Kingdom has "a flow of energy that is affordable, clean and above all secure." Published against the background of events in Ukraine, it provides little comment on global politics or reliance on foreign sources of energy, but instead focuses on reducing the United Kingdom's reliance on fossil fuels and, in turn, exposure to the volatility of international energy prices. 

The Strategy sets out long-term targets for offshore wind, solar, hydrogen, and nuclear energy, but fails to address concerns relating to rapidly rising energy costs, the net-zero transition, or short-term energy security. The Strategy makes only minor changes to the UK government's "Net Zero Strategy" published in October 2021. Some of the key points arising are as follows: 

Offshore Wind. The UK government intends to "take advantage of Britain's inexhaustible resources of wind" with ambitions of producing up to 50GW of electricity from wind by 2030, including up to 5GW from floating wind farms. To achieve this, the government aims to halve the time for establishing wind farms by: (i) reducing the average consent time from four years to one year; (ii) reviewing environmental regulations and streamlining the habitat assessment process; and (iii) establishing a fast-track consent route for priority cases where quality standards are met.

Notably, the Strategy is devoid of any meaningful commitments relating to onshore wind. There are no proposals to overhaul planning rules which currently hinder development of onshore wind farms. The failure to promote onshore wind is widely considered a missed opportunity as it is one of the cheapest forms of renewable power. 

Solar. The Strategy sets out further support for solar power which it dubs "a globally abundant resource." The government will consult on amending planning regulations to strengthen policy in favor of solar development on nonprotected land. Similarly, the government intends to radically simplify the planning process for rooftop solar by expanding permitted development rights, thus removing the need for bespoke consents for each installation. 

Nuclear. Nuclear energy is a key feature of the Strategy. The ambition is to increase nuclear output threefold to 24GW by 2050, representing 25% of forecast electricity demand. In addition to further government funding, a new body called "Great British Nuclear" will be established and tasked with helping nuclear projects through the development process. The Strategy confirms that the government will work with regulators to streamline the consenting and licensing process. By 2030, up to eight new nuclear reactors might be in progress. 

Hydrogen. The government aims to double existing low-carbon hydrogen production to 10GW by 2030, with at least half derived from electrolytic hydrogen (which does not require the use of natural gas). It will run annual allocation rounds for electrolytic hydrogen, moving to price competitive allocation by 2025, as well as designing new business models for hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure by 2025. 

Oil and Gas. In addition to renewable energy commitments, the Strategy outlines plans for another licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects in the autumn of 2022. The government remains "open-minded" about onshore reserves (i.e., fracking). Whether or not this might jeopardize the United Kingdom's compliance with its net-zero targets, though, and therefore lead to legal challenges, remains to be seen. 

The Strategy aims to secure a clean and green power supply "that is made in Britain, for Britain." However, as the Climate Change Committee comments, for these plans to be realized, "government, business and industry will need to focus relentlessly on delivery at a scale and pace as yet unseen." 

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