Spotlight Activity: UK Government’s Efforts on Energy Transition and Efficiency
As the UK works to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C, it must tackle emissions on two key fronts – where its energy comes from, and how much it uses. However, a slash to funding for energy-efficient homes, as well as mixed progress in reducing reliance on high-emission technologies, highlights the need to place some serious pressure on the government to steer a course for cooler waters.
Energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective means by which the UK could decarbonise, and with household energy usage accounting for 13% of the UK’s total emissions, it can’t be ignored if we are to hit our climate goals. Instead, public investment in energy efficiency has fallen 53% since 2012. After David Cameron’s government ended, all taxpayer-funded programmes in England weakened energy suppliers’ obligations to improve energy efficiency. Two recent reports by Frontier Economics and e3g highlight the economic and environmental opportunities of an improved programme and demand urgent action, but as yet the government shows no signs of heeding their advice.
While the UK has rejected 7 out of 8 plans for fracking this year, the government is still licensing vast areas to oil and gas companies for exploration – 177,000 hectares of which is classed as protected land. Fracking from the surface of protected areas is banned, but the licensed areas in the Weald, South Downs, Surrey Hills, and Isle of Wight are naturally fractured, leaving them vulnerable to other forms of extraction, Acidisation is one such technique, in which hydrochloric acid solution is pumped into wells to dissolve surrounding rock and expand fractures, releasing oil trapped within. The activity has only recently been regulated by the Environment Agency, and may pose a risk to groundwater. Using this or similar techniques, UKOG hopes to extract more than one billion barrels of oil over the coming decades – and the government appears happy to facilitate this statement of intent.
The lack of progress made on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project is also rather disappointing. Tidal power was an essential component of David Cameron’s National Infrastructure Plan, but a government-backed review strongly urging the government to move forward with the technology has been left unanswered for more than a year now. The project may have some hope of receiving subsidy support from the £600m pot on offer next year, but with further subsidies frozen until 2025, it will face stiff competition. For now, it is likely that the project will be left by the wayside.
On a more positive note, plans for one of the UK’s largest battery storage facilities in Swindon are moving forward, thanks in part to a £250m government boost to support battery technology. Batteries store power when the wind is blowing and the sun is high to use when their output falls, helping users like Swindon Council reduce their dependence on the fossil-fuel dominated grid, and vastly increasing the capacity and viability of renewable energy projects, A record amount of onshore wind capacity was installed in the UK in 2017. but the government’s ban on onshore developers competing for subsidies has raised concerns that further construction will experience a cliff-like drop and drive energy prices back up. Battery storage could be crucial in ensuring their continued viability.
Status: Standing Still
The government has made backwards steps on energy efficiency and positive steps on battery storage are being nullified by subsidy restrictions, dumped projects, and continued support for oil and gas exploration. The government could and should be doing a lot more during this critical time in ensuring that the Paris Agreement goals are met.
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