‘Solid groundwork’ or ‘underwhelming’? Green groups react to UK Government’s Energy Security Plan

Reactions are coming in thick and fast to the UK Government’s new Energy Security Plan, with questions over whether measures to scale up renewable energy generation and make homes more energy efficient go far enough. Here, we round up the reflections of key thought leaders.

‘Solid groundwork’ or ‘underwhelming’? Green groups react to UK Government’s Energy Security Plan

The UK Government has today (30 March) published a new Energy Security Plan, which is separate from – and builds upon – last year’s Energy Security Strategy.

Some of the key inclusions in the Plan, also called ‘Powering Up Britain’, are:

  • An extension of the ECO levy, which funds improvements to the energy efficiency of social and low-income homes
  • A new £30m heat pump investment accelerator scheme
  • An extension to the boiler upgrade scheme
  • The creation of a new independent body to oversee nuclear generation
  • A list of the first government-backed renewable hydrogen projects
  • An extra £10bn for UK Export Finance, with a focus on clean energy

You can read our coverage of the Plan here. In addition to these new measures, the Government has reiterated its stated commitments to carbon capture and storage and offshore wind. It has also highlighted its work to reform the planning system to speed up the delivery of large nuclear and renewable projects.

As we wait for the small print, several key figures and groups from across the UK’s green economy have been reacting to the overall Plan. Here, we round up their thoughts.

The Association of Renewable Energy and Clean Technologies’ (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska: 

“Despite positive moves that will get vital renewable technologies delivered, we still need stronger ambitions to cement the UK’s position as a world leader in our sector. The UK is now in an international race for investment and needs to keep pace, as well as urgently delivering on net-zero ambitions.

“Highlighted by the recent Climate Change Committee and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, it could not be clearer that we need to move faster, and today’s announcements leave significant gaps in vital policy that will provide a route to market for the speedy decarbonisation of power, heat and transport, while moving to a circular economy and addressing the joint climate and energy crises. A full range of renewable and clean energy technologies are needed to decarbonise our energy systems, many of which continue to be missing from today’s plans.

“Whilst making this clear, we do recognise that a number of ambitious measures have been released today which highlight that Government are finally committing to several programmes long awaited by industry. The REA welcomes government’s recommitment to net-zero and green industries in Britain. The REA looks forward to working with government to see delivery of today’s announcements and to address the substantial policy gaps that remain.”

The Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho:

“While many announcements move in the right direction, there is still much work to do to meet the economic and environmental ambition called for in the recent Skidmore review and the latest IPPC report.

“The Government has rightly recognised the urgency of removing barriers to the rapid roll-out of power grid infrastructure, but this will need to be accompanied by detailed planning reforms in the near term. The rapid reinforcement and extension of the grid network is essential to both connect the significant pipeline of low carbon power projects needed over the next decade to fully decarbonise the power sector and to support those heavy industrial sectors which will require greater access to electricity to decarbonise, such as steel, cement and chemicals.

“The nomination of new carbon capture and hydrogen projects is also an important step forward in terms of broadening the future options available to decarbonise heavy industrial sectors. The commitment to invest in port infrastructure to support the growth of a floating offshore wind supply chain could, in conjunction with the continuation of predictable project auctions, help accelerate job creation and skills investment in the sector.

“While the new funding announced for heat pumps and energy efficiency measures in homes is welcome, this cannot be a substitute for developing a long-term policy plan to fully decarbonise the UK’s 27 million homes over the next decade.

“When it comes to transport, today’s electric charging infrastructure investment must be accompanied by measures that require manufacturers to increase the supply of zero-emission vehicles and other measures that make these vehicles affordable to consumers: the omission of a zero-emission vehicle mandate on manufacturers was disappointing.”

Corporate Leaders Group UK director Beverley Cornaby:

“Today, the UK had a major opportunity to demonstrate global leadership by setting out clearly how it will deliver its net-zero commitments with urgency, speed and ambition.

“While it has majored on how it will create a more homegrown, lower carbon energy system and these announcements are welcomed, it is not clear what level of emission reductions they will result in, nor whether this will be enough to enable the UK to compete on the global stage for vital private investment. Hidden beneath the headlines in some of the many reports being published, are strong elements. For example, the 2030 Strategic Framework for International Climate and Nature Action demonstrates a world-leading cross-government approach to halving global emissions, building resilience to climate impacts and halting biodiversity loss.

“However, further detail is still needed on how far the UK’s overarching Net Zero Strategy will deliver against the UK’s net-zero targets.”

The IPPR’s associate director Luke Murphy:

“This should be the moment to seize the economic opportunities of the global green race but instead the government’s dithering risks the UK becoming the ‘sick and dirty’ man of Europe once again.

“To compete with our international counterparts, we need a step change filling the close to £30bn annual gap in investment needed to reach net zero and restore nature, and committing to a modern industrial strategy. That means investing in clean homes, transport, and industry.

“There appear to be some welcome though minor measures, consultations and reannouncements announced today, but the Government must urgently bring forward its plans now postponed till later in the year. The UK needs to change course urgently before it’s too late.”

Note: Murphy is referring, here, to reports that the UK is readying a package to rival the US’s Inflation Reduction act and EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act. This did not come at the Budget earlier this month, and Government sources are now stating that it will be announced at the Autumn Statement.

The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) chief campaigns director Syma Cullasy-Aldridge:

“Businesses across the country are raring to go on delivering green growth and making the most of the UK’s potential as a net-zero superpower. The package of measures announced by the Government represents a gear shift to boost energy security, reduce household bills and re-establish the UK’s credentials as a leader in green technologies.

“In streamlining red tape, tackling the cumbersome planning process and identifying ways to catalyse investment, the Government is laying solid groundwork that will allow the green economy to take off. Backing for new technologies like hydrogen and nuclear, where the UK has the capacity to win big, is hugely welcome.

“With the strategy now set, the test is for all parts of Government and business to switch to delivery mode. We need to move at pace to keep up with fierce international competition for green investment.”

The Nuclear Industry Association’s chief executive Tom Greatrex:

“Great British Nuclear will transform the way nuclear projects are deployed in the UK, enabling us to deliver more capacity more quickly. It will help us become a global leader in large and small-scale nuclear, with the SMR selection process offering a real opportunity for home-grown technologies and others to bring jobs, skills and investment to the UK.

“For nuclear to provide a quarter of Britain’s electricity means embarking on an ambitious new build programme, including a fleet of new stations, as well as placing nuclear on par with other green technologies to drive crucial investment.”

Welsh Affairs Committee chair Stephen Crabb MP:

“On the back of last week’s announcement on freeports, it is very welcome that the Government has now launched a funding scheme to encourage investment in infrastructure to support Floating Offshore Wind. This could turbocharge efforts to see open up the Celtic Sea to the green energy revolution, offering enormous economic opportunities for Welsh communities. It is essential that Welsh ports receive a fair share of the £160m package.

“For some time the nuclear sector has called for greater clarity on the Government’s ambitions, and the policy announcements today on nuclear energy is in line with what we have been calling for. The full launch of Great British Nuclear should go some way to reassure the sector and motivate them to invest… It is absolutely right that the Government is looking to match global competitors so we are not left behind in establishing and reaping the benefits of gigawatt-scale nuclear, as well as from small modular reactors.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas:

“The greenest thing about this plan is the recycling of already announced ideas. George Osborne first announced a competition for Small Modular Reactors in 2015. Carbon capture funding was announced in the Chancellor’s Budget earlier this month.

“And these aren’t just rehashed policies, but the wrong priorities.  Our attention should instead be on the opportunities squandered by the Government today. When UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls for a ‘quantum leap in ambition’ to tackle the ever-worsening climate emergency, we needed a bold and visionary package to meet the scale of the climate emergency we face – yet the Government barely moves an inch. There was no announcement to lift the de facto ban on onshore wind; to mandate solar panels on all suitable new homes; or to provide a real street-by-street, local authority-led mass home insulation programme – merely an addendum to an already existing scheme.“

WWF UK’s executive director of advocacy and campaigns Kate Norgrove:

“The UK Government has waited until the last minute to respond to a High Court ruling that found their Net Zero Strategy inadequate. While there is some wheat among the chaff, today’s announcements are a half-baked rehash of existing commitments that fail to meet the strong public call for environmental action we recently saw made in the first ever People’s Plan for Nature.”

E3G’s campaigns director Ed Matthew:

“The world is undergoing the greatest industrial transformation in 300 years as the race to zero emissions intensifies. Most of the policies launched today were announced last year and are not bold enough to keep the UK competitive in the clean tech race or put us back on track to net zero. It is underwhelming.”

E3G’s senior policy advisor Juliet Phillips:

“The new insulation scheme is a welcome step forward, although the Conservatives have still not allocated a third (£2.1bn) of the funding they pledged in their manifesto to energy efficiency and clean heat. Even more retrofit funding is needed to get the UK on track for net-zero. The new scheme will only insulate 100,000 more homes a year which is far too little when there are 17 million homes in the UK with poor insulation.

“While there’s still a long road ahead to decarbonise the UK’s homes and get off expensive and polluting fossil gas, today’s announcements signal that the government is backing clean, electric heat as the major solution. Steps to lower the running costs of electricity and boost the heat pump market help lay the foundations for the take-off of clean heat in the UK.

“Households and industry are now relying on the government’s plans for long-term regulations for energy efficiency and heat, which will provide the certainty needed to invest in the future of the UK’s housing.”

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) head of energy, Jess Ralston:

“The gas crisis has made it clear that real energy security comes from moving away from oil and gas, particularly as the North Sea inevitably declines. With bills still high, no new money for insulation will leave many households in the cold.

“The Chancellor pushing back the response to the US Inflation Reduction Act and EU Net Zero Industry Act to the autumn could be the final nail in the coffin for businesses and offshore wind investors who will simply move investment to where there is long-term policy and regulatory certainty. If Government doesn’t create a level playing field for renewables compared to oil and gas, with inflation running high, this could see new wind farms still much cheaper than gas, but not as cheap as the last round approved.”

Green Alliance’s head of politics Chris Venables:

“The best way to provide energy security, create jobs and tackle climate change is through massive investment in existing green technology. If the US has set the bar with the Inflation Reduction Act, then the UK is falling far short, and still largely focusing on short-term fixes.

“There are some welcome policies here, like the mandate for electric vehicles, but it’s not at all clear that this plan shows how government will reduce emissions at the rate required by its own targets.”

Uplift’s executive director Tessa Khan: 

“The measures put forward today are disappointing, not least the absence of ambitious but easily achievable policies on insulation and onshore wind, which would permanently lower energy bills.

“But today’s announcements are only half of the picture. The government is deliberately staying silent on its oil and gas expansion plans, presumably because Ministers know that they won’t lower bills, will require huge subsidies, go against the UK’s climate obligations and are unpopular with the public.

“How can the Chancellor complain about the huge subsidies the US is giving to attract green jobs and investment, when he is happy to hand billions to the oil and gas industry? The loophole in the windfall tax, for example, will effectively give an £11bn subsidy to the industry for new North Sea projects, which will be mainly oil for export, will have next to no public benefit and will only increase their already obscene profits.

“The Rosebank oil field alone – a decision on which is expected imminently – is being handed a subsidy worth £3.75 billion. It will not make one bit of difference to UK fuel bills. It’s a scandalous waste of taxpayers money.”

Ashden’s cities manager Cara Jenkinson: 

“Unfortunately, the government’s so-called Energy Security Day proposed measures do little to increase our energy security. It is the irony of ironies that these announcements – tellingly rebranded from their original title of ‘Green Day’ – actually further jeopardise chances of the UK meeting our 1.5C climate commitment.

“The UK is particularly exposed to high energy prices because of our housing stock which literally leaks expensive fossil fuel energy out of walls, roofs and windows, and the piecemeal measures announced today fail to fix this. This was a chance to reset policy on energy efficiency but instead the government is supporting further oil and gas exploration and committing £20bn to technologies such as carbon capture and storage which are unproven at scale.

“£20bn could retrofit millions of homes and provide the government and society with huge quick wins – tackling the energy, climate and cost of living crises at the same time.   Unfortunately, the expected £1bn for the ECO+ scheme – unconvincingly branded the Great British Insulation scheme and already announced in November is all padding and no substance. The government have also missed a big economic opportunity – to create 200,000 new jobs to make our homes more energy efficient.

“We welcome the proposed measures to boost the rollout of heat pumps, but unless we insulate first, many people will be left with high energy bills – a crucial detail that has been ignored by government. ”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak:

“These piecemeal measures don’t add up to a national plan on the scale needed. Not for our net-zero target, nor for protecting jobs and industry.

“Conservative ministers can’t even get their act together on the low-hanging fruit. The home improvements scheme to reduce energy use and cut bills covers less than a tenth of the social housing that needs it. And there is no reassurance for energy-intensive industries that cannot cope with spiking energy prices.

“The overall approach is fundamentally flawed because it leaves families at the mercy of the same energy firms that have been ripping them off. The British public should own our future green energy supply. That’s how we can make sure that our energy is secure and affordable for all.”

Zenobe’s director of network infrastructure Semih Oztreves:

“There are some beacons of hope in today’s plan to boost energy security and independence. The proposal to speed up the lengthy process to build renewable energy infrastructure – and connect it to the grid – is certainly a welcome development. As are the plans to drive investment in the electricity storage sector through the UK Infrastructure Bank.

“But financing the sector is just one piece of the puzzle. The real challenge is our outdated energy market design and the regulation governing the system, which were built for the fossil fuel era. In fact, there are regulations that actively discourage energy storage operators from putting assets in the best places for balancing the grid and preventing renewable energy wastage.”

Let us know what you make of the Energy Security Plan in the comments.

Comments (1)

  1. Peter Franklin says:

    Are we seeing yet another major missed opportunity?

    Where is the support for onshore wind – the cheapest form of renewable energy?
    Where is there the acknowledgement that we need to move from the paradigm of individual energy centres (i.e. one gas boiler per house) to large scale energy centres (i.e. district heating). Only at scale can you tap into the heat wasted in our industrial plant, underground networks, rivers etc. You then balance heat requirements with 100% renewables. In Denmark 60% of buildings are heated this way – in the UK <2% – What should our 2050 target be?

    Where is the focus on agrivoltaics – solar farms on agricultural land which can simultaneouly generate electricity and increase agricultural yields. Farming is in crisis – land is abundant – this would enable a profitable and productive future for the farming community.

    and finally why do we continue with the misconception that Hydrogen is an energy source – it is not. It requires energy to produce it. However, it is a storage medium which can ensure that the timing gap between energy supply and energy demand is resolved cost effectively and net zero.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie