While the stretched renewable generation targets are welcome, there needs to be a greater focus on the potential of onshore wind to be rolled out rapidly in the short term, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has stated.
In its latest report, Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies, the cross party select committee has set out its views on how the UK can accelerate decarbonisation and increase the stability of its energy system.
These can be split into three key segments; energy efficiency, low-carbon energy and transitioning away from fossil fuels.
“Bold action is needed now,” said EAC chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP.
“The last year, with Russia’s aggression in Europe choking energy supplies, has shown us just how vulnerable our over-reliance on imported fossil fuels can make us. The Committee has today set out a number of clear recommendations to drive real change: I hope the Government will act swiftly to implement them.”
‘Further and faster’: Low-carbon energy
The EAC praised the increases in low-carbon generation targets seen over the past year, with the British Energy Security Strategy for example setting a new ambition of up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030.
But the government needs to go further to drive the rollout of onshore wind, which could help boost energy security in the short term. Additionally, there should be greater support for tidal energy as well, to ensure it can contribute to the UK’s energy security baseload in the long term.
“The Government’s British Energy Security Strategy and its intervention to cap household energy prices should be praised. But there have been significant missed opportunities in recent months: the Government could have gone further and faster,” said Dunne.
There has been some movement aiding the rollout of onshore, which is one of the cheapest generation technologies available. The sector has been hampered in recent years by planning restrictions, but following a well-received campaign from backbench MPs in 2022, the de facto ban on the development of the technology was lifted in December.
It is hoped this move will aid the growth of the sector, driving forwards the transition to low-carbon technologies at an increasing speed. Despite the challenges within the energy sector, the share of renewables in the energy mix has continued to surge.
According to recent analysis from Imperial College London for Drax Electric Insights, Britain generated a record amount of renewable energy last year, generating 40% of the country’s electricity, up from 35% the previous year.
Just four days into 2023, and the share of low-carbon generation on the grid hit a record high, with 87.6% coming from renewables and nuclear during a period of windy weather on 4 January.
“The UK has enormous renewable energy potential and sectors such as offshore wind are booming,” added Dunne.
“But more must be done to harness the opportunities which onshore wind, tidal and solar technologies provide. Developers should be required to fit solar panels on new homes as standard.”
‘War effort’ needed to push energy efficiency
Drawing increasing focus in the UK is the need for greater energy efficiency measures, with calls for a national mobilisation or ‘war effort’ in the area to help reduce bills and aid decarbonisation.
While the Energy Price Guarantee saved four million households from spending 10% of their income on energy bills, the committee argued that the government missed a window of opportunity to act on energy efficiency during warmer months to save households money as they faced rising bills over the past year.
“To reduce the UK’s demand on fossil fuels, we must stop consuming more than we need,” said Dunne.
“We must fix our leaky housing stock, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and wastes our constituents’ hard-earned cash: we must make homes warmer and retain heat for longer.”
While the introduction of an Energy Efficiency Taskforce as well as further energy efficiency investment from 2025 is welcome, the EAC noted, this will do little to help those facing fuel poverty currently.
There are over 13 millions (or 59%) of homes in England with an EPC rating below C. The number of UK energy efficiency installations has slowed in recent years, after peaking in 2012 at 2.3 million it fell to just 100,000 upgrades in 2021.
The EAC is therefore calling for at least one million energy efficiency installations to be made a year by 2025, and 2.5 million properties a year to see improvements a year by the end of the decade.
To meet this target, funding will be needed, in particular to support transition and training of the workforce. The Committee has argued a proportion of the Energy Profits Levy – the windfall tax of oil and gas companies first announced in May, raised to 35% from 1 January 2023 – should be utilised to fund energy efficiency improvements.
“The Government’s welcome new Energy Efficiency Taskforce can lead a national mobilisation to install energy efficiency upgrades, which we would like to see achieve an initial target of a million homes a year and more than double this by the end of the decade. To help fund this, the Government should funnel some of the revenue from the new Energy Profits Levy to crack on with the task at the earliest opportunity,” said Dunne.
A final date for oil and gas licensing rounds needed
The final core segment of the EAC’s Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies report focuses on the need to end the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels amid the current energy crisis and the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine.
In order to continue to demonstrate international climate leadership, the Committee noted, the Government must set a clear date for the end of oil and gas licensing. This follows concern raised by some witnesses the EAC heard from that the move by former-prime minister Liz Truss to launch the first oil and gas licensing round in the UK since 2019 in response to the energy crisis.
“Fossil fuels have helped keep our homes warm, power our cars and generate the majority of our electricity,” said Dunne.
“Britain will continue to need to access fossil fuel supplies during the Net Zero transition. But Government should consult on setting an end date for licencing oil and gas from the North Sea. We can accelerate this transition by fully harnessing our abundant renewable energy resources, including tidal energy that can deliver a reliable year-round source of clean electricity, and by upgrading our energy inefficient buildings.”
Additionally, the EAC has called for upsteam emissions reductions, with rapid action needed to lower operational emissions from the extraction of oil and gas. The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) should insist on the electrification of all new oil and gas projects in the 33rd licencing round it noted, as well as ban flaring.
The final key point within the report is a recommendation that the Department for Transport consults on measures to improve energy security, reduce oil demand and cut emissions from transport.
Read the full EAC report here.