How we can accelerate Britain’s renewable energy capacity
With low carbon power sources delivering positive results, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne MP, sets out how net-zero Britain can go further and faster.
From solar energy to offshore wind, net-zero Britain has advanced faster than peer economies in delivering homegrown, low carbon power sources. In the first quarter of 2023, a third of our electricity came from wind farms, and April saw records in solar energy generation. But we can go further and faster. We need more ground-mounted and rooftop solar, onshore wind must be revived and we must harness geothermal and tidal energy: we are, after all, an island nation.
Pressing ahead with renewing our nuclear fleet and designing new small modular reactors are vital for baseload generation from the 2030s onwards.
But there is a frustrating issue stifling progress. The Environmental Audit Committee, which I chair, has found a theme in our inquiries examining renewables: delays in securing grid connections put new projects at risk. If addressed, Britain’s renewables capacity would accelerate.
Planning constraints and a ‘queueing’ system for projects to get connected to the National Grid are critical obstacles. A solar farm’s grid connection may take 10 to 15 years to achieve. Estimates suggest that renewable projects worth up to £200bn are stuck in the queue. This is unacceptable: our Committee aims to make recommendations on solving this issue through our new inquiry into sustainable electrification of the UK economy.
The 2050 net-zero deadline is not the only factor spurring progress. Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine and the resulting ‘tidal wave’ effect on global fossil fuel prices has brought the need for energy independence into sharp focus.
Energy security also requires us to reduce energy wastage by improving our building stock’s energy efficiency: our homes leak an astonishing 20% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Net-zero Britain will fail unless the nation tackles older properties’ insulation and promotes the household installation of low carbon energy measures, such as rooftop solar, ideally with batteries, and heat pumps.
The government must work with property owners and industry to enable every British home capable of achieving a (credible) energy performance rating of C or above to do so by 2035 and the construction industry should implement the Future Homes Standard energy efficiency measures for new builds immediately.
For the UK to attract and retain technologies and talent, and to prevent investment and capacity moving elsewhere, the government needs to respond with an ambitious plan, sending signals quickly
Ministers must continue to present a clear path for the country to achieve net-zero. This will give the sector confidence to invest in technology, skills, and people, and help both large and SME contractors invigorate supply chains, strengthening local economies. It would stimulate ‘levelling up’ on the road to net-zero.
International competition to install renewable energy capacity is increasing. The US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s response with generous green energy subsidies cannot be ignored. For the UK to attract and retain technologies and talent, and to prevent investment and capacity moving elsewhere, the government needs to respond with an ambitious plan, sending signals quickly.
Recently, in Japan, the Prime Minister secured commitments for £14bn in investment in UK renewables. The Chancellor’s Autumn Budget must capitalise on this opportunity, offering a robust challenge to international competitors. This will demonstrate that the UK is open to green investment at every level.
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