With gas prices soaring, the UK must seize this opportunity to lead a global clean power revolution
We urgently need to end our reliance on volatile fossil fuel markets - transitioning away from gas and towards clean energy is the only sure-fire way to avoid another crisis like this.
With COP26 just a few weeks away, the eyes of the world are on the UK as it seeks to position itself as global climate leader. But even as the PM was sending a stern warning to his counterparts at the UN, at home we find ourselves plunged into an energy crisis that will saddle consumers with higher costs when they can scarcely afford it.
UK power prices have tripled year-on-year from August 2020 to August 2021 and make no mistake, the spike is being driven by the cost of gas. According to analysis by energy experts Ember, the gas price hike is responsible for 86 per cent of the rise in UK electricity price.
As gas prices continue to soar, the case for phasing out gas and moving towards renewable electricity sources only strengthens further. The time for the government to double down on its clean energy ambitions is now.
A pledge to phase out gas by 2035 would pave the way for decarbonising heat, transport, and the whole economy
With 85 per cent of UK homes using gas for heating and 37 per cent of UK electricity supply coming from gas power plants, our reliance on gas is significant. Generating electricity from existing gas plants is now three times as expensive as generation from new onshore wind, and almost twice as expensive as generation from solar, according to research from the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Meanwhile, renewables are rapidly falling in cost, and give the UK far greater control over its energy prices, ending our reliance on countries such as Qatar or Russia that may decide to increase or decrease production.
The recent surge in gas prices could be a tipping point, the moment at which we commit to phasing out fossil gas in favour of renewables and energy efficiency. We urgently need to end our reliance on volatile fossil fuel markets - transitioning away from gas and towards clean energy is the only sure-fire way to avoid another crisis like this.
The sooner we can build an energy system based on clean, home-grown renewables and a smart and flexible electricity system, the sooner we can insulate Britain and British consumers from price shocks.
We have a golden opportunity to face up to the reality of energy geopolitics and seize the economic opportunities that come with clean power, be it jobs across the UK or significant investment in our infrastructure.
But we can’t fix this problem overnight. Government needs to set out a roadmap to clean electricity, and it must follow the advice of the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget in committing to phasing out the use of gas in electricity generation by 2035.
Earlier this year, the IEA’s Global Energy report, commissioned by the UK government, found that the world is falling well short of what’s needed to meet net zero by 2050. Since then, President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau have committed to 100 per cent clean power in North America by 2035. With this crisis threatening British consumers, and with COP26 just around the corner, the government has a golden opportunity to match the PM’s ambitions with action.
A pledge to phase out gas by 2035 in favour of renewable energy would not only pave the way for decarbonising heat, transport, and the whole economy. It would show the world ahead of November’s landmark summit that the UK is willing to do what it takes to meet our climate goals. The last few days have shown us just how needed that leadership is.
Ben Westerman is a Political Advisor for the Green Alliance.
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