As the effect of the gas price shock will begin to seep into the lives of ordinary people in the weeks and months to come – leading to rising bills, bankruptcy of energy suppliers and empty shelves. supermarkets – many will wonder how the government could have allowed this to happen.
While it is true that a global increase in demand, coupled with geopolitical games and problems with the UK electricity supply, has resulted in supply squeezing and subsequent price hikes, this does not is only half the story.
What ministers fail to talk about as they reassure us that they do not “expect” supplies to run out this winter is that this is not the case. supply but the UK’s dependence on gas and the failure of successive governments to wean us off. years ago that left the UK dangerously exposed.
The UK is one of the most gas-dependent European countries: more than four-fifths of homes are still heated and almost half of our electricity is produced by burning it. Government policy that has failed for decades must shoulder a large part of it. The UK has the least energy efficient housing stock in Western Europe. Yet we still don’t have a program in place to isolate the millions of homes across the country that are in desperate need of renovation.
There is a reason for these errors. Earlier this year, the government botched its Green Homes Grant program, scrapping it after just six months. Prior to that, George Osborne scrapped the Zero Carbon Homes initiative after years of development. Before that, David Cameron reportedly told ministers to ‘get rid of the green crap’.
Isolating the UK building stock is essential – it would reduce our dependence on gas, our exposure to such price shocks, reduce emissions, reduce fuel poverty and, as the recent Greenpeace UK report pointed out, create up to 138,000 new jobs and inject nearly £ 10 billion. in the economy.
This latter economic benefit would also require a massive deployment of heat pumps, further reducing our dependence on gas. But again, bad political decisions stood in the way. The UK is last in household sales of these clean heat sources, behind Poland, Slovakia, Estonia and almost everyone in Europe.
Those who demand an increase in domestic supply by increasing production in the North Sea or by reviving hydraulic fracturing are completely wrong. This is a price shock, not a supply shock, so more domestic gas production cannot and will not affect world or regional prices – and does will have no impact on the current crisis. Seeking more supply repeats the mistakes of the past.
It will also not reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, which is fundamental to tackling the climate crisis and what the government is legally obligated to do. Demand reduction is the only option to simultaneously address UK gas exposure issues and the climate crisis.
For the electricity that the UK is sure to consume, we urgently need to push the roll-out of renewable energy projects and the employment opportunities that should flow from them. The government likes to brag about its record on offshore wind, but it has repeatedly stagnated when it comes to onshore wind and solar. The sooner we have a renewable energy sector capable of meeting our energy needs, the faster we free ourselves from the risks of gas dependency.
Investment in renewables must be matched by investments in a smarter, more flexible grid and better storage so that even when the wind is not blowing or the sun is shining, energy supply and prices do not. not become a problem.
The new nuclear power can’t really help. Continued escalation in costs and ever longer delivery times have proven that this is not a viable alternative to fossil fuels. According to EDF, the next British plant that could be approved would not be operational before 2034 and that does not imply any of the usual long delays. We cannot wait 13 years or more for a magic nuclear solution, even if problems like waste can be solved.
In addition to removing barriers to building new renewables, the upcoming spending review is an opportunity for the government to start righting past wrongs in energy efficiency. Rishi Sunak must commit to an additional £ 12bn public investment for the rest of this parliament to improve energy efficiency and green our homes. We also need to properly fund a just transition for fossil fuel workers.
Boris Johnson spoke to the UN this week about his “frustration” with world leaders for not taking climate change seriously enough. He must therefore be furious with his ministries, in particular the Treasury, for the missteps of recent years which have overexposed the electorate and the economy to costly and climate-damaging fossil gas.
Hopefully, in the last few weeks leading up to the vital international climate talks in Glasgow, our political leaders show that while there can be no quick fixes to this crisis, they have finally figured out the way forward.
Dr Doug Parr is the Chief Scientist of Greenpeace UK