Clive Moffatt: Ministers are still in the dark over achieving energy security

14 Apr

Clive Moffatt has over 30 years of experience as an energy market analyst. He founded and chaired the UK Gas Security Group (UKGSG) from 2017-19.

The inflated long-term targets set last week for nuclear and wind power generation will not ensure security and affordability. What they will do is fuel a rapidly rising spiral in energy charges and taxation for many years before any new power is delivered. As the founder and former chairman of the UK Gas Security Group, what I outline below is what I believe to be a more coherent and realistic strategy.

Well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the risks to energy security (supply and price) were rising as the UK and other Western countries turned away from coal and became more reliant on natural gas to support intermittent renewable energy. What sort of policies can the Government pursue to deal with this urgent problem?

1. Abolish Price Cap and Rebates

There is no sense in capping retail energy prices when you have no influence over the wholesale market.

Caps benefit larger, better resourced suppliers by making it quicker and easier for them to grow their market share. Better to let the market compete while tightening the financial tests that are applied to existing and potential suppliers. Ofgem’s failure to check on energy suppliers that have now gone bust has already cost consumers some £2bn.

The retail price rebate scheme is based on the false assumption that the future direction of wholesale prices can be expected to fall long enough to allow suppliers to recoup the loans through higher prices. Furthermore, price rebates are a “blunt” policy instrument benefiting all but in particular those who can afford to pay more.

Fuel poverty should be addressed through the existing benefits system and not via blanket rebates on Council Tax and energy prices.

2. Support New Investment in Gas Security of Supply.

Natural gas has a critical role to play in the energy mix up to and beyond 2050. Increasing on and off-shore gas production will reduce the threat of imported gas supply shortages. Moreover, the rationing of gas and electricity and more gas storage (now only 2% of annual demand) will reduce energy price volatility.

More domestic gas production will also be required. The decision to proceed with additional North Sea gas exploration and development should be welcomed but fracking also has a role to play in reducing the UK’s dependence on gas from the Norwegian and EU pipelines and global shipments of LNG.

More gas storage capacity could be built in the next 5-10 years by imposing an obligation on suppliers and shippers to keep a proportion of their annual gas demand in storage linked to a storage capacity auction. The amount auctioned should include an allowance for the possible growth in hydrogen production to fuel heat and transport.

National Grid does not have responsibility for the real-time balancing of the gas market (unlike its role as SO in the electricity market) and so, if shippers refuse to pay high prices, or cannot access LNG when required, and suppliers see a shortfall emerging, the effect is not only to raise prices but to trigger a gas supply emergency.

More could be done now to avoid blanket industrial rationing and increase short- term liquidity in the gas market through a system of Demand Side Reduction (DSR). An option to curtail incentive would encourage some industrial users to agree in advance to curtail demand in advance of any emergency.

3 Support New Investment in Gas Power Generation

In the next 20 years, with the demise of coal and the retirement of existing nuclear capacity, the UK will be short of both regular baseload and reliable flexible power generation to compensate for the planned expansion in intermittent renewable energy.

The answer is not another 40GW of intermittent wind power which would massively increase the system balancing costs: constraint payments and the need to finance back-up fossil fuel generation. Furthermore, there are growing concerns about the “whole life” costs of wind generation linked to reduce productivity of large wind farm clusters off-shore and the costs of repair and maintenance. The target for new off-shore wind capacity should be halved pending a more detailed analysis of a quantum jump in intermittent supply.

Nor is a massive expansion in large or small nuclear capacity the right way forward, despite the attraction of zero emissions. Large nuclear plant takes too long to build and adding decommissioning it is hugely expensive on a “whole life” basis. Taxpayer underpinning of capital costs, and/or penal price subsidies, are required to make large nuclear viable.

Small modular reactors are potentially cheaper to build but, planning concerns notwithstanding, the technology is unproven and there is no established manufacturing base capable of delivering the economies of scale needed to avoid capital cost and/or price subsidies.

To ensure the delivery of affordable cleaner energy in the next 10-20 years and possibly beyond we need new investment in natural gas. In the medium term, probably some 10GW of new baseload gas generation is required and this should be provided by unabated gas via a new capacity market auction and built in the next five years.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) to remove the C02 is still an expensive prototype requiring more gas, raising electricity costs. So, initially, some new large- scale gas plant should be CCS compatible.

In addition, a separate auction should be run to procure smaller scale (eg 300MW units) flexible generation with unabated small-scale gas competing with batteries and Demand-Side Reduction (DSR) with strict bidding rules on network locality, reliability and costs with penalties for non-delivery.

4 Cost of Carbon and Competitiveness

It would help underpin both new gas and renewable generation if the Government sets a long term, gradually rising trajectory for the price of carbon up to and well beyond 2050.

But manufacturing in the UK should be protected by a carbon equalisation tax on countries with more lenient emissions regimes and manufacturers should be able to claim tax rebates or receive subsidies to help fund high energy efficiency processes.

5 No Deadlines on Sale of Gas Boilers

There are some 25 million domestic gas boilers in the UK which are reliable and cost-effective and run on an established network. Decarbonising domestic heating is essential to the 2050 Net Zero target. But, right now, the costs involved in switching to heat pumps or using “green” hydrogen are prohibitive, and user benefits doubtful.

6 Take the Politics out of Energy

Advocacy rather than rigorous analysis has so far dominated the Net Zero energy debate and the time has come to create an independent Strategic Energy Authority (SEA.) The proposed independent ISO for power and gas addresses only one part of the problem – the conflict of interest within National Grid.

An SEA would go further and set long term investment targets for generation transmission and distribution based on the need to balance emissions reduction against security and affordability. It would also create a consistent and cost-effective policy framework to ensure fair competition between different forms of energy supply. Moreover, it would oversee the system operation of the electricity and gas market and facilitate greater liquidity in the short term balancing market. Finally, it would be able to liaise directly with Treasury to define and publish long- term budgets for taxes and levies impacting on consumers and industry.

The Prime Minister asked for a “grown-up” approach to energy. These proposed policies would deliver it.

Rachael Finch: Net Zero and energy security. If we go too fast for the first, we won’t get the second. Indeed, we may get neither.

4 Mar

Rachael Finch is a former British Army Officer and works in the defence sector. She is currently a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation West Midlands.

When Russia is negotiating with Western countries over the crisis in Ukraine, it is doing so knowing it is in control of 41 per cent of the EU’s gas supply. Having also built up its foreign currency reserves to defend itself from Western sanctions, and with no Western political appetite to commit troops to the crisis, Moscow is in a strong position.

In the long-term, Henry Smith, writing for this website, is likely right: Net Zero, by reducing dependence on natural gas, will weaken Russia’s position.

However, in the short-to-medium-term, the transition to Net Zero will transform geopolitics before a world powered by green energy can take shape. When we consider that almost 60 per cent of Russia’s exports comprise petroleum or coal products, it’s hardly surprising that Vladimir Putin is not the world’s most vocal environmental campaigner.

Consequently, the UK Government needs to look beyond the long-term environmental challenges of global warming, and address the nearer-term geopolitical risks that are present. Geopolitical risks create uncertainty in energy markets as reliability is questioned, pushing up prices for consumers and creating resistance to Net Zero goals.

The move away from oil and gas as sources of power will not happen overnight, and during this period, petrostates will continue to profit from their exports of fossil fuels. However, the combination of pressure on investors to divest from carbon-based fuels and the uncertainty about the future of fossil fuels may result in declining investment in oil and gas.

If oil supplies fall faster than oil demand as a consequence, fuel shortages and higher and more volatile oil prices will be here to stay for a while. Notably, the current increase in UK gas prices is due to a drop in gas supply at the same time as an increase in demand.

Higher oil prices result in higher revenues for petrostates such as Russia, or Saudi Arabia. In addition, as the transition to so-called clean energy develops, the overall reduction in the demand for oil combined with the need to keep costs as low as possible may result in higher-cost producers, such as Canada, being priced out of the market. This leaves room for states that produce cheaper oil, such as Saudi Arabia, to fill the gap increasing their geopolitical clout.

The same logic applies to gas markets. And for Europe, this means an increasing dependence on Russian gas: Russia’s importance to Europe will increase in the short-to-medium term if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline eventually comes online. If Putin wants to push back against the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe, now is a good time for him to do it.

However, it’s not only fossil fuel exports that could increase Moscow’s geopolitical clout. According to the International Energy Authority, global nuclear energy generation will need to double between now and 2050 if the world is to achieve net zero emissions by the same date.

Many of the nuclear reactors planned or under construction outside Russia are being built by Russian companies. China is also a relatively large investor in nuclear power, meaning that both Moscow and Beijing will increasingly be able to influence industry norms and impose global standards in their favour.

China also controls many inputs required for clean energy technology, dominating both mining and the processing and refining of critical minerals, such as copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earth metals. An increase in the demand for clean technology will further increase China’s geopolitical influence. China has previously shown its ability to (mis)use this influence when it blocked the export of critical minerals to Japan in 2010 over the disagreement about the East China Sea. It could do so again.

It may seem as though localising supply chains is a way to fix these tensions. Despite the Green Party’s utopic advocacy for reducing emissions in the UK’s imports to zero, the reality is a net-zero global economy will need large supply chains for components, products and global trade in low-carbon fuels and minerals.

Global competition is needed to encourage innovation and to develop new markets, reducing prices for consumers. But, increasing electrification, be it for vehicles or heating, will likely result in more local production due to the difficulties with transporting electricity over long distances. Although local supply chains can be beneficial for security and employment reasons, too much localisation reduces diversification, creates vulnerabilities and raises prices for UK consumers.

Moreover, China’s recent increased use of ‘home-grown’ coal as an energy source is driven in part by the shortage of gas on global markets and the need for more energy security. Germany has also found itself in a similar position after its ban on nuclear power. Localising power supply chains doesn’t necessarily result in a reduction of carbon emissions.

Decarbonisation also poses problems for developing countries. The COP26 highlighted this with lower-income countries calling for developed nations to pay for historical damage allegedly caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, developed and developing nations have diverging future goals which will increase tensions. The latter need growth to raise their populations out of poverty in the most economically efficient way. The former, by trying to stop the use of fossil fuels to deal with global warming, are preventing this happening. When the reality of life is a diesel-generator backed power grid that keeps blacking out, an electric car is not a sought after item.

For many developing countries, the way out of poverty may involve extracting hydrocarbon resources. However, developed nations are putting pressure on financial institutions not to support extractive projects, but by not assisting with an alternative, the tensions will grow.

China, on the other hand, is providing finance to countries like Cote d’Ivoire, helping to develop their extractive industries and by doing so is feeding internal Chinese demand for raw materials. As far as many developing countries are concerned, rolling back globalisation could do far more damage in relieving poverty and living standards than continued global warming.

The transition to a world powered by clean energy is radical and it will be messy. If, on the way to achieving Net Zero, national energy security conflicts with responses to global warming, there is a real risk of friction on the road to a green planet.

International climate leadership needs to mitigate the national security implications of a transition to green energy, in addition to making promises and signing agreements. Nuclear power and continuing investment in oil and gas reserves are essential tools in dealing with energy market volatility and the inevitable periods of disconnect between supply and demand of fuels; it’s good to see the government beginning to recognise this.

Supply chains need to be diversified to reduce reliance on one main provider – competitive markets are essential in this regard, as well as keeping prices lower for the UK consumer. And there will be a need to support communities dependent on fossil fuels, both domestically and internationally.

New green technologies will solve technical problems, but they will also encourage states to maximise their own interests and policymakers would be naive not to recognise this. However, perhaps the greatest risk of Net Zero is that if the conflict between global warming and national security is ignored, that the transition to a greener planet won’t take place at all.

Tony Lodge: Heath, Thatcher, Major, Blair – and the litany of errors that left us dependent on gas imports

22 Feb

Tony Lodge is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies.

Britain and its leaders are learning the hard way. For the first time since the early 1970s, the country is facing an energy cost and supply crisis and – as then – a Conservative Prime Minister is largely helpless as he grapples with the climax of bad policy making which stretches back over a generation.

Whilst Edward Heath in 1972 faced the wrath of coal unions who had been allowed a stranglehold on energy supplies for too long, Boris Johnson endures a far worse situation – Britain’s growing inability to generate and supply the affordable power it needs. This is coupled with a desperate and growing dependence on imports of gas and electricity to keep the lights on, homes warm, and industry working.

The biggest domestic story of 2022 is likely to be energy prices. Forget parties at Number 10, channel migrants, or Covid fraud. The real crisis for Conservatives will be the steep rise in household bills, and the clear and obvious inability of Ministers to do much about it. Expect power company CEO summits in Whitehall, more urgent statements in the Commons and more public spending intervention to artificially fix prices.

On energy strategy, Britons have endured an unrivalled record of bad policymaking since the 1970s. Contradictory plans and missed opportunities have seriously eroded security of supply, affordability and helped drive jobs and key industries overseas. The die is cast for the short term and here is why.

Lessons could have been learned and the right decisions taken in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but were ducked. We are now paying the price. The right policies then would have shielded Britain now from a creaking system which is wildly exposed when the wind doesn’t blow, and we desperately hold out for the next shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as North Sea supplies fall and gas storage remains poor. How did it come to this and what can we do?

Following his mauling in the first miners’ strike of 1972, Heath foolishly rejected a plan to build over 30 new nuclear reactors totalling almost 40 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generation. The first plant would have opened in the early 1980s, started insulating Britain from high oil prices and helped wean the country off unionised coal.

Surprisingly and regrettably, Heath, the great Francophile, had ignored the bold plan and leadership from France to build no less than 40 nuclear plants between 1965 and 1985, which today still generate around 70 per cent of comparatively cheap electricity. Instead, Heath left the field open for Labour plans to increase coal burn via the 1974 ‘Plan for Coal’.

In 1980, Margaret Thatcher announced plans for eleven large reactors totalling 20GW of new electricity capacity, but only one was built at Sizewell. The then huge oversupply of coal, power generation overcapacity, abundant North Sea gas and a deep recession had together hurt the short-term commercial case for new nuclear build.

As coal wasn’t the answer and the case for nuclear lacked friends, Britain turned to its precious North Sea gas resource. It is this choice which is now hurting and will continue to do so for some time. The 1990s ‘Dash for Gas’ has led to Britain becoming one of the world’s largest gas consumers per capita, both for household use and particularly for the generation of electricity. Over 30 years, Britain’s North Sea gas bounty has been squandered to a perilous state where supply is increasingly now met from imports.

John Major and his ministers were warned during the early 1990s that the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) would be significantly run down by the mid-2000s if the proposed fleet of large new gas burning powered stations went ahead. Michael Heseltine reassured the Commons in 1992 that UK gas reserves would last for 55 years. He was wrong.

Many argued, including the then Chairman of British Gas, that North Sea natural gas is a valuable premium fuel and should not be wasted to generate electricity, where 50 per cent of its efficiency is lost in the process, unlike when used for direct heating or cooking. This argument was lost and gas replaced King Coal, generating over 50 per cent of UK electricity for the first time in 2010.

Britain’s gas overdependency and growing electricity import habit is the problem, and I first highlighted this for ConservativeHome 13 years ago. The focus must now be urgently to prioritise more domestic gas exploration and extraction, stop supporting plans to import more untaxed electricity from overseas and now turbo-charge new nuclear power. The latter should receive the same focused policy support as that enjoyed by those tasked with beating Covid.

This strategy must surely be Treasury-led. After all, when gas is produced overseas the Treasury loses huge revenues. When electricity is increasingly imported from Europe (as a result of the EU forcing Britain to close power plants early), its generation does not pay British carbon or transmission taxes because the power plants are overseas. Britain is offshoring its fuel supplies, power generation, and consequently losing billions in revenue alongside the erosion of energy security.

Between 2019 and 2020, liquefied natural gas (LNG) represented 40 per cent of all gas imports compared to an average 14 per cent in 2017/18. Imported gas pays no corporation tax in the UK, but it is perversely treated as producing ‘zero emissions’, despite it travelling thousands of miles by ship and carrying a large carbon production footprint. It therefore doesn’t face the same carbon costs, as UK producers which means gas imports are effectively subsidised compared to home production. This import dependency could reach as high as 75 per cent within the next 10 years, so new price spike crises are guaranteed to increase in frequency.

Britain’s dash for gas was a medium-term fix based around a once rich but now dwindled national resource – which has led to huge over-exposure to volatility and imports. Everything must now be done to invest in new domestic gas production to help us through, whilst prioritising the transition to new nuclear power with which renewables and green storage will co-exist. We must stop offshoring our ability to keep the lights on and keep households warm.

Edward Heath lost in 1974 after his second battle with the miners, the three-day week and soaring prices. Conservativs should beware.

John Redwood: The UK’s energy policy increasingly looks like self-inflicted harm on a huge scale

13 Dec

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

Keeping the lights on should be the prime purpose of energy policy. In the UK in recent years, the first aim – and sometimes, it seems, the only aim – has been to decarbonise our energy supply.

The UK has rushed ahead of others to close all its coal power stations, to avoid putting in new combined cycle gas stations, and to rely on a growing forest of windmills. I asked how we will keep the lights on when the wind does not blow – or when it blows strongly requiring shutdown to protect the turbines. The experts and officials told me they are putting in interconnectors to the continent so we can import. Let’s hope the wind is still blowing there.

Ministers now tell me they will keep the lights on by building more nuclear. That could be an answer for some time in the next decade. They need to recognise that over the next ten years, whatever they now do, the amount of power coming from nuclear in the UK will decline, not rise.

Currently supplying 17 per cent of out typical needs, every nuclear station bar one is scheduled to close this decade. Only one new one opens. It means we need to find even more additional power for most of the years up to the early 2030s to make up for closing nuclear stations. I repeat my question. How do we keep the lights on?

Despite the big push to rely on wind and solar the UK still depends most days on a substantial contribution from gas-powered stations. Here the same decarbonisation policy seeks to manage “transition” or the progressive closure of North Seal oil and gas.

Under half the gas we now need for electricity generation and heating comes from our own sources. Once again experts assure us we can depend on imported gas, as they hastily put in more pipes to allow easier import of this “transition fuel”. Even so we need to use LNG tankers to ship a fuel many thousands of miles which then produces more CO2 when burned than our own natural gas.

This is a kind of madness, a self-inflicted harm on a huge scale. Making us import gas from abroad does not cut the world output of CO2, but it does stop the UK having any of the better paid jobs and investment that comes from replacing our own declining fields with new ones at home.

Instead those jobs and investment go abroad to provide us with the gas from a longer distance away. Importing electricity may well end up importing power from continental generators that need coal or Russian gas to fuel their power stations. It makes us dependent on the goodwill of foreigners like Mr Putin of Russia.

As we are emergency buyers when the wind does not blow or when our own gas resources are reduced, it could also lead to us paying much higher prices to procure energy when we are visibly in a weak bargaining position. This policy fails to deliver a greener answer, puts our own people out of work and undermines national security. Energy is a crucial weapon in world diplomacy, as we see with Russia’s use of its ownership of some important gas taps.

Decarbonisation is also the main driver of much of our industrial and levelling up policies. The main urge is to invest in renewable energy, but not in the sinews that deliver such investment.  Any project that entails activities needing to burn gas or coal as part of the process is at a great disadvantage in the UK from high energy policies and the wish to exit fossil fuels early. We come to depend more and more on imports for steel, glass, ceramics, aluminium, and other basics that need a lot of fuel to produce high temperatures for their creation.

Once again it does not save the world carbon dioxide output, merely shifts where the carbon dioxide is produced. It ensures the UK is at a disadvantage when it comes to making these crucial materials. You do not have windfarms or electric cars or greener buildings without these essentials they are made from. Indeed, by importing you usually increase the amount of carbon dioxide used in their manufacture and delivery. You have much higher transport costs and carbon output from long distance haulage, and often older and dirtier factories for their production. Many of the windfarm towers, blades and turbines were made abroad along with the materials needed to fabricate them.

In my new small book about building back green, I have a simple message for the Government. There will only be a successful green revolution when there is widespread public buy in. Only when the public are rushing to buy electric cars and new heating systems will we succeed in getting carbon dioxide down on a large scale.

For that to happen the new cars and the new ways of heating need to be affordable and visibly better than what they replace. The digital revolution sweeps on without laws to require it or taxes and subsidies to boost it. That is because people think smartphones, laptops and pads offer them new access and the better and wider service they want. They improve on  what went before. I am all for the UK leading a green revolution but it must be a popular one which works for people.

If green policy means bossing us all around, telling us what to do and what to buy it will be resisted by many. If a green policy is based on taxing or banning us from buying existing products we like it will not succeed. If decarbonisation is pushed to the point where power cuts become common or where the prices of electricity and gas are pushed too high because we do not produce enough of our own, there will be few people thanking the green movement or wanting them influencing government.

In the last General Election the Green Party urging us to go further and faster with bans and taxes polled under three per cent. That should be a warning that the state-led version of green policy is not popular. We need a popular green revolution, which must start and finish with keeping the lights on and creating and investing in suitable jobs in the UK. Relying on imports and pretending that means we have decarbonised should suit no-one in this big debate. We need the iconic new cars, the affordable new heating systems and the more efficient industrial processes that can power us to success.

John Redwood: How we can get the public – as well as the world’s biggest polluters – on board with the eco revolution

17 Nov

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

Conservatives and greenery go together. We wish to conserve what is best in nature and our environment. Conservatives have often pioneered legislation to improve water quality, clean up our air, protect our countryside and conserve what is best in our landscape and heritage.

Around the country, Conservative Councils are often struggling with the dilemma of people needing affordable homes whilst many others regret the passing of woods and pastures to grow crops of new houses. Many of us share the passion for clean air and water and for the gentle contours of  English rural landscapes.

The levelling up agenda provides a heaven sent opportunity to do something better. There is no reason why planning policies should continue to direct ever more executive homes to the hard pressed South East, when other parts of the country could benefit from the jobs and investment major new housebuilding creates.

Now that in the post-pandemic world more homeworking and remote working is becoming part of our lives, many more people will be freed from the need to live close to London on a commuter pathway. More small businesses and start-up enterprises could be encouraged to establish away from the lure of the capital city. That requires more attractive housing for the investors, managers and entrepreneurs who will help populate the growth and success of areas that are grasping the opportunity to level up.

Levelling up will be a vast series of personal journeys. For everyone in an area that is improving who does set up a business or brings in a new investment, there will be many others who will seize the opportunity to get a better job, to use and develop their talents to advance the new enterprise.

Every major company siting a business premise in a new area represents an opportunity for smaller companies to spring up to supply everything from the lunchtime sandwiches and coffees through to the technology support, the cleaning and components they will need. Every new housing estate creates first round jobs for the building trades to be followed by all the jobs to support new residents in their new homes.

Government’s role is not only to provide better planning policies, but also to help with high quality education and training. Working with business there can be a new can-do approach in places which have been sidelined by investors in recent years. The main thing enterprises need is talented people to work for them and deliver great customer service and product excellence.

Over the last fortnight the UK government has valiantly tried to craft worldwide agreement over the issue of climate change. It was always a difficult task. India, China, and Russia, three of the largest producers of carbon dioxide on the planet, were never going to agree to curb their appetites for burning coal, oil and gas. China accounts for some 30 per cent of the total world creation of additional carbon dioxide, and has decided to mine more coal and build more coal power stations.

The conference was divided on the very issue of whether coal burning should be completely phased out worldwide or not. In the end the assembled countries could only agree to a diluted sentiment that coal would be phased down, without timetables or pledges from the main users of the fuel.

Germany kept a low profile, though it as an advanced country is holding out to burn coal in power stations through to 2038. The Greens are wanting to form part of the new governing coalition after the recent German  election, and are pressing to bring this down to 2030 to bring Germany a bit closer to other advanced countries and the UN approved policy of phasing out coal quickly. It still shows how difficult it is to agree the end of coal when a major advanced industrial country clings to it as a prime source of enegry.

The problems besetting COP26 were not just the divided world over how feasible it is to decarbonise, nor even just the disagreement over how much money rich countries should send to poorer countries to help them change. Central to the whole debate is the question of people’s buy in to what the transition means for their own lifestyle. It is only when there are sufficient affordable and good products available to heat your home, to travel to work and to fill your plate with carbon free food will the green programme take off.

So far the elites who come to summits have lectured the many that we need to change our lifestyles whilst they themselves fly in jet planes to air conditioned hotels to eat meat diets, as if none of their advice applied to themselves. When challenged they might claim that they have spent money on carbon offsets, whilst seeing no choice for their own purposes but to carry on using jet fuel, gas heating, traditional food products and the rest.

The digital revolution sweeps all before it without government requests or demands, without subsidies and taxes to drive it. People want mobile and smartphones, computer pads, entertainment downloads and the other services that the digital giants can offer. For COP26 to succeed it needs to spawn a new generation of products and services that meet the carbon requirements whilst also being affordable and better solutions to the problems of everyday life.

Levelling up can of course help produce the range of new jobs and skills which a popular green revolution could generate. The main thrust is to electrify much more of life and then to generate more power from renewable or carbon neutral sources of energy. As governments bring this about they need to reassure people that there are ways of keeping the lights on when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.

COP26 set up various working groups of countries to explore new technologies to provide better travel, heating and industrial process. The sooner they produce results the better. If there are more breakthroughs with cheaper and better ways of doing these things that cut the carbon, then India, China and Russia will also want to adopt them. If there are not, even the advanced countries will find it difficult to sell the practice of decarbonisation to their own electors.

Sam Hall: COP26 has kept 1.5 degrees alive. But more must be done to keep it well.

15 Nov

Sam Hall is Director of the Conservative Environment Network

After months of media build-up and political focus, COP26 concluded on Saturday with the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The stakes were high, as were expectations. Having agreed high-level goals and a framework for international climate action in Paris six years ago, the Glasgow COP was about action and delivery. But while climate change was never going to be solved at this one conference, the government can justifiably claim that serious, tangible progress has been made on each of their main goals.

Keeping 1.5 degrees alive

Countries were asked to come to this COP with strengthened national commitments to get the world on track for 1.5 degrees – the goal agreed in Paris. Many nations have been publishing new climate plans for well over a year, including, at COP26, India, which committed to getting half its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2070.

As a result of these new commitments, experts believe that we are now on track for between 1.8 and 2.4 degrees’ warming, depending on how effectively countries turn targets into concrete policy. This shows a significant improvement since the UK’s diplomatic efforts began in 2019, when the UN estimated that we were heading for over three degrees’ warming by the end of the century.

Going into Glasgow, the amount by which national pledges would need to have increased was so significant that it was impossible that the gap to 1.5 degrees would be closed completely. China’s refusal to strengthen its 2030 goal of peaking emissions in particular has been a major barrier.

The parts of the final text acknowledging that action this decade needs to be accelerated and committing to reviewing national commitments next year at COP27 are critical, and the UK deserves great credit for leading agreement on this.

Coal and cars 

There has been good progress too on the Prime Minister’s ambitions of ending coal power and the sale of new combustion engines, although these were always going to be difficult areas to achieve complete consensus on.

On coal power, a number of Asian economies, including Vietnam and Indonesia, committed for the first time to stop building new coal plants and phasing out their existing ones. Similarly, South Africa, another major coal polluter, agreed to move away from coal power in return for financial assistance for developing clean energy alternatives and supporting their coal mining communities through the transition.

Impressively, the UK presidency was successful in getting an historic agreement on phasing down unabated coal power in the final agreement, although the language was weakened by India and China at the last minute. Despite China ending its overseas financing of coal plants and India cancelling new coal projects domestically, both countries remain blockers of the global coal phase-out the climate urgently needs.

After COP, car manufacturers responsible for 31 per cent of global car sales have commitments to end petrol and diesel car sales, up from effectively zero at the start of 2021.

In both these areas, the ever improving economics of renewable energy projects and electric cars, which continue to fall in cost and improve in performance, will see the private sector increasingly drive progress rather than governments. New coal projects especially will struggle to attract private investment.

Trees

Probably the highlight of the COP has been the commitment by countries which are home to 85 per cent of the world’s forests, including Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. This was reinforced by agreements to provide almost £14 billion in finance to protect forests, to eliminate illegal deforestation in supply chains (which the UK has led the way with through the Environment Act), and to tackle the financing of illegal deforestation. Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson in particular deserve huge credit for securing this groundbreaking deal.

Cash

While wealthier nations have missed the 2020 deadline for delivering on their commitment to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries, it is now believed that the target will be achieved by 2022 (a year earlier than expected), while the final agreement recommits that an average of $100 billion will be provided each year from 2020-2025.

The failure to follow through on this commitment, which was originally made in 2009, has undoubtedly had significant consequences, given the importance of climate finance to unlocking greater commitments from developing countries.

There’s been a welcome acknowledgement that future COPs will need to deliver much more climate finance beyond the $100 billion a year goal, and that private finance in particular will need to be scaled up. Just as we won’t deliver net zero at home just through state spending, the developing world won’t decarbonise and become more resilient to climate impacts without significantly more private capital.

Conclusion 

It’s easy to be cynical about COPs and their impact, but this one has delivered measurable successes. With over 90 per cent of the world’s GDP now covered by net zero targets (up from 30 per cent in 2019) and financial institutions controlling over $130 trillion dollars’ worth of capital now having climate change commitments, the direction of travel has never been clearer and the momentum behind climate action, particularly from the private sector, has never been greater.

Follow-through will be critical to Glasgow’s legacy. Pledges must be translated into policies and actions. Countries must honour and be held accountable for their commitments. And the private sector must not meet their targets through greenwashing.

While there’s no doubt that we’re closer to a greener, cleaner, safer planet after Glasgow, the real success of COP26 will only be determined in the months and years ahead.

Chris Skidmore: Nuclear power. More small reactors in the future? Fine. But we need more big ones soon if the lights are to stay on.

27 Sep

Chris Skidmore was Science Minister between 2018-2020, and Energy Minister in 2019 when he signed Net Zero into law. 

Over the past week, energy supplier companies seem to have been falling like dominoes: People’s Energy, Bulb, Green Supplier; my own energy company, Avro, went bust as I was drafting this piece. It’s not clear how far the contagion will spread, but what is clear is that we need an urgent rethink of how we shift from an overdependence on gas towards more secure and constant energy provision for the future: one in which the UK won’t be held ransom for by other nations.

The problem has long in coming – and the stresses of the pandemic only compounded a sector under pressure. Energy prices in the UK are currently among the highest in Europe due in part to a wider supply crunch in gas, with wholesale prices currently at some 250 per cent since January. Ofgem has confirmed that customers should expect energy price increases by at least £135 this winter, putting families in tough financial positions right after the pandemic.

These price increases are likely to decimate small to medium energy suppliers, who will not be able to handle the increasing prices and may collapse – in turn putting pressure on the larger suppliers to fulfil the contracts, straining our entire energy supply network. There are legitimate worries that, of the 70 energy suppliers the UK started the year with, only a mere ten will survive.

The status quo is clearly unsustainable: the UK energy market can no longer afford to be so heavily dependent on the pricing of gas, unreliable weather patterns for wind and solar – and we must not return to coal.

This provides us with both the brilliant opportunity and financial incentive (or perhaps imperative) to invest and grow the UK’s nuclear fleet. We no longer have the luxury of kicking this can down the road, we need investment into new nuclear power facilities as soon as possible.

Already, we have maxed out the lifetime extensions of our current fleet: it is time to build and expand afresh. And we don’t have much time to waste. Currently, nuclear power is responsible for 20 per cent of our energy needs but, by 2025, over half our nuclear power stations will be forced into retirement, leaving a massive gap of in our energy supply capabilities.

This will undoubtably cause the current price run to look like a drop in the proverbial ocean, as wind and solar power will not be enough to cover for this shortfall.

It would not be out of the realm of possibility for government to be faced with the choice between rolling blackouts – increasing our dependence on gas, and forcing Ministers to stomach exponential price increases, or else to return to increased coal power usage.

No option here is even remotely palatable and, thankfully, we still have time to do the correct and environmentally responsible action of investing in the nuclear industry. Yet despite the fact that nuclear power is safe, sustainable and economically beneficial in the long run, the British nuclear industry ,and its potential for providing a clean, sustainable source of net zero carbon energy, remains curiously absent from the policy negotiating table.

It is not too late to have a clear U.K. nuclear plan: indeed, to do so should be a vital mechanism on the transition away from carbon intensive power sources, a transition that cannot rely on wind and solar given their unpredictability. Investing now in the development and construction of new UK nuclear plants is the sensible and rational choice, as nuclear power can run all day and night, whether the wind is blowing or still, and will not be dependent on foreign supply chains.

At the same time, nuclear plants require scarcely any land supply: wind farms require 360 times the land area to produce the same energy as one nuclear facility; solar farms, 75 times the land mass. For an island like the UK, whose constraints on space are more likely to be determined by laboursome and delayed planning wrangling over wind and solar farms, nuclear should be a no-brainer.

Sovereignty is also key here: energy security will be increasingly top of the agenda in energy policy discussions, as our dependence on gas pipelines and interconnectors become newsworthy. New nuclear can provide this if we are willing to set out a clear pathway for an expansion in nuclear provision, including in nuclear innovation that can deliver the low cost, reliable power sources of the future.

Excitingly, Rolls-Royce has also announced plans to develop small modular reactors. Innovative technologies such as these, along with scientific breakthroughs in the research capabilities of nuclear fusion, will allow the government and the industry to secure the UK’s energy supply. Already, the Government has suggested that they will row in behind these proposals, with 20 small modular nuclear reactors in the pipeline.

Fine – but we cannot simply wait for the technologies of the future, important though these are. We need more of the existing large fission reactors now. Without them, we face potential power shortages throughout the next decade, just as our energy supply is expected to double between 2020 and 2040.

This comes at the same time that our previous past failure to invest in more nuclear power replacements is about to be laid bare. Last month, EDF Energy announced that it would close the Dungeness B nuclear plant in Kent seven years earlier than anticipated, amidst fears that the company will be forced to shut down two additional plants in the near future.

Dungeness B had been originally placed offline in 2018 for maintenance, to be restarted to run until 2028 in time for the Hinkley Point C to be finished and capable of providing the necessary energy for the nation to reach Net Zero. The early closure of Dungeness B comes after EDF announced that it would have to shut down Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B by next year instead of 2023.

Additionally, the nuclear power stations in Torness and Heysham 2 could be faced with safety issues which could force their closure well before the originally planned date of 2030.

Our delays to Hinckley C in 2016 nearly turned out to be a dark moment for the UK nuclear industry. With approval finally given, EDF have demonstrated the value chain that nuclear brings to local communities, with well over 50 per cent of the 30,000 jobs created going to the local community.

New nuclear could be the industry which helps to ‘level up’ disadvantaged communities, creating jobs for the future, not just for one generation, but for generations to come well into the next century. The key thing about nuclear industry skills is that they are also highly transferrable: teams learn how to build plants and their skills can then be taken to the next project, reducing its cost in turn.

It isn’t surprising that the government may now turn towards nuclear. What is surprising is that the nuclear industry remains without a seat around the table at COP26. They deserve to be an integral part of the negotiation on how not just the UK, but the rest of the globe can achieve net zero with the aid of nuclear energy.

We cannot afford to ignore the potential that nuclear brings – without it, we risk creating an uncertain future which potentially jeopardises the progress we have made towards a low carbon future.

John Redwood: Our energy policy should start with keeping the lights on and the factories powered up

20 Sep

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

We are living with a desperate shortage of energy. Successive governments and Ministers have ignored the need to ensure adequate supplies of electricity and primary fuels in their passion to close down and move out of coal, oil and gas as quickly as possible. Now we are caught up in a worldwide gas shortage, with fertiliser factories closed – and a Business Secretary summoning a meeting to ask what can be done to limit the spreading damage.

The Business Secretary knows enough economics to understand that, if gas is in short supply, the last thing that would help the UK procure more of it would be a series of price controls over those who dare to buy it on the world market and could sell it here.

We will not like it, but these now unruly global gas markets are controlled by Russia, the USA, and various Middle Eastern countries that have a surplus to export. They do not currently have a big enough surplus to need to take low bids.

The EU is already complaining that Russia is driving prices higher by restricting her large export supply. Why, then, did Germany make the world gas position worse by deciding to centre their energy policy on a further major addition to their pipeline capacity to import gas from Russia, ensuring their reliance on this source? They were warned by both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as other alliesm not to make this obvious mistake.

The UK, too, has made itself far too dependent on energy imports. I have been warning government for years that we need to do more to generate additional power and extract more primary energy at home, endowed as we are with liberal reserves of oil, gas and coal and with access to water power and biomass.

The Business Secretary could do more than pose as concerned at his meeting if he puts in train work to find longer-term solutions to our chronic dependence on unreliable overseas sources of energy. He could ask why the Rough Field gas store was closed down, greatly reducing our stocks of gas which we now need. He should bring in more gas storage. He could review North Sea oil and gas policy, and see how the industry can be encouraged to tap more reserves from our own fields. He should keep the remaining coal power stations available with secure coal supplies for them, until there is sufficient greener power available to replace them on a reliable basis.

He should know that, at exactly the same time as we hit a world gas shortage, the UK electricity supply is under extreme stress. The remaining three coal power stations have been fired up, because there has been a marked shortage of wind for some weeks.

In recent years I have been wearing my keyboard out raising with Ministers and the wider public the issue of our need for more reliable electrical power to keep the lights on. The overriding preference for wind power was bound to leave us vulnerable to periods of calm weather.

If these coincide with cold winter days, the consequences could be disastrous. A modern sophisticated economy needs electrical power for most things. How would food factories keep working, vulnerable people stay warm at home, hospitals look after patients without sufficient power? It is particularly worrying that the current shortage takes place against a background of limited demand thanks to mild weather. The cool summer in the south did not help, as heating thermostats were triggering as late as May and even in August, needing more gas-fired power even then.

The UK’s passion for imported electricity has further weakened our position. The French interconnector in Kent was badly burned this week, taking out a potential imported supply of top up power which we rely too much on. We may discover soon that, if the shortages worsen, overseas suppliers will see exporting to us as an easy cut to make to husband their own limited supplies for domestic use.

When electricity was first privatised, we made security of supply the prime issue in the new system. There was a substantial margin of extra domestic capacity available to bring on stream if one or more of the baseload generating plants had problems. We did not need imports.  We made price the second important issue, with a system which always ensured the next cheapest power was brought on stream as demand picked up. In the early years of privatisation we both had plenty of capacity at home, and experienced falling prices. The dash for gas, with many new combined cycle gas plants going in, took feedstock from a healthy UK North Sea and replaced some older less fuel efficient and dirtier coal capacity, so the policy was also green.

Today, the Business Secretary needs to review the complex mesh of subsidies, regulations, penalty taxes and import arrangements that passes for an energy policy. It is delivering a shortage of power. It is holding up a good industrial strategy, as industrial expansion needs access to plenty of reliable competitively priced anergy. It is now threatening consumers with much higher electricity and gas prices.

He should order changes that will open up more UK primary energy for us to use. He should want an electricity system that has more reliable renewable power which may take the form of hydro, pump storage and battery, but which also has enough back up capacity from biomass or gas, so we can be sure to keep the factories powered up.

Elimination of our dependence on imported electricity and a substantial reduction in our dependence on imported gas should be a minimum objective. The market would do this if it were allowed to function but, because of the comprehensive muddle of government-inspired past interventions, it now needs dramatic government action to put it right for the future.

In the meantime, we rely on the goodwill of the gas and electricity exporters and will have to pay up to secure supplies. It is the perfect storm, with both gas and electricity scarce. At home, an absence of wind leaves us short, and abroad Hurricane Ida closed down some important US gas capacity. Relying on the wind is a dangerous way of living.

Bim Afolami: The politics of Net Zero are more perilous than we think

14 Jun

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchen & Harpenden.

I was in the chamber of the House of Commons when Theresa May’s government legislated for a legally binding target for the UK to reach Net Zero by 2050.

It felt momentous at the time, and it was a big moment. Strangely, though, during the debate in the chamber, the remarks were uniformly positive, from all sides.

Now let me be clear: I strongly support the Net Zero target and did at that time – it is the right thing to do. But in politics when you see something as momentous as this go through without a dissenting voice, an alarm bell should ring that says: “have we thought through all the implications of this?”

There are two areas where we may be politically vulnerable in the coming years on the environment, and on reaching Net Zero by 2050 in particular.

First, the need to significantly limit, and preferably nullify, any direct economic cost on working people, or else risk a considerable political backlash. With the threat of inflation rising, the cost of living agenda is likely to return to the front and centre of British politics very soon. This will be politically resonant for the sort of middle income, Red Wall voters who have been increasingly supporting the Conservatives in recent elections.

Second, there is the twin threat from the other side of our political coalition. For many liberal-minded, Remain-leaning Tory voters in the south, our strong support for the environment is one of the key reasons for their support. If there is any hint that we are rowing back, their loyalty will be severely tested – especially if Labour and other opposition parties can effectively make the case that we are failing to reach our own carbon emission targets.

Our record on reducing UK carbon emissions whilst growing our economy is the best in the G7, and one of the best in Europe. Yet the vast majority of actions we have taken are about decarbonising power generation. Aggressively moving towards renewable energy since 2010 has been remarkably successful, but we have barely begun to tackle many of the aspects that affect people’s day to day lives – for example, the need to retrofit homes in order to make them more fuel efficient, ensuring traditional boilers are replaced, or ensuring electric vehicles are affordable to the ordinary family.

To be frank, these actions will require a lot of money, up front, from the Treasury. We cannot think it will be sufficient to cover the costs just for the lowest income voters – most voters will need environmentally sustainable options to be heavily subsided and affordable. Most middle income or even wealthier voters are not remotely prepared or willing to pay significantly more tax on fuel, or on flights, or to rip out their existing heating systems, or many other invasive things that academics and policy experts suggest will soon be required to reach Net Zero.

The Committee on Climate Change envisage phasing out oil and coal heating by 2028, gas boilers in homes by 2033 at latest, and by 2030 in public buildings. Lots of change is coming. The new upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy and broader Net Zero strategy (both expected this summer) will be scrutinised heavily on the twin axes of both policy effectiveness and additional costs.

The cost of living used to be a major issue in our politics. It was a dominant issue during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The 1990s and 2000s saw benign economic circumstances until the financial crisis.

After it, something strange happened to our economic debates. We stopped talking about economic policy in relation to ordinary people – real incomes, prices of goods and taxes, and focused our political capital on getting public support for measures to reduce the deficit. Although May’s government started to home in on cost of living as a potential issue for the “JAMs” (voters “just about managing”), this issue was soon subsumed within the Brexit fog.

I believe that that the politics of cost of living is about to return, and it presents a real political danger for the Government and the Conservative Party.

Andy Haldane, the hugely respected former Chief Economist of the Bank of England, has openly talked about the “tiger” of inflation stalking the land. The economy is recovering quickly, and the immediate consequence is that too much money (from extremely cheap debt and accumulated savings built up over Covid) is chasing too few goods and services.

There are also labour shortages and supply chain difficulties in many sectors, which is constraining supply. A resurgence of inflation is the central scenario for growing numbers of businesses he says. By way of comparison, inflation in the USA is already at 4.7 per cent, up from 4.2 per cent for April, reflecting the overheating US economy. And the recovery, in both the USA or the UK, is nowhere near complete.

You can see where I’m going with this. Increased costs from Net Zero policy, combined with general inflationary pressures, looks like significant cost of living increases for ordinary people. Even with a growing economy, that will present real challenges to our well-earned reputation for economic management.

From a Net Zero perspective, then, how do we do the right thing and insulate ourselves against political attack at the same time? There should be three principles underlying our approach.

First, we need aggressively to embrace the long-term economic opportunities of getting to Net Zero by 2050, and we need to communicate that clearly so that people understand what this means for their day to day lives. Households living in energy poverty typically spend a higher proportion of their income on their energy bills. Improving the energy efficiency of dwellings by installing insulation, more efficient heating and cooling systems and more efficient building fabrics can decrease energy costs, and enable higher levels of disposable income.

Energy poverty also has a negative impact on the NHS, with more avoidable hospital admissions and use of non-primary health care services. Living in energy poverty increases the risk of acute respiratory, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal problems, which often result in lengthy hospital admissions, particularly in winter. The Treasury is going to have to be brave and invest a lot of money up front.

Second, the cost impacts on the vast majority of voters must be minimal. If we try and force voters to retrofit their homes with new insulation, or install new low carbon boilers, at the personal cost of thousands of pounds, this will be a political disaster. Even for the voters who can afford significant expenditures, this will be seen as unfair and heavy-handed, and large numbers of them will either refuse (or be unable) to comply.

The third principle is this. We need to face down those who are starting to say that the costs of Net Zero are too much, or it is too difficult. In a world where countries are becoming more and not less committed to the need to limit global temperature rises, the UK cannot afford to hold back. The macro economic opportunities for reindustrialising huge parts of the North and Midlands – creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, whilst using the traditional strengths of the service economy in the South – is too great to ignore. We can not only be international leaders, but help the domestic economy go through a job rich transformation.

The debate how we reach Net Zero by 2050  will define our politics over the coming decades. We must ensure that we have an ambitious, world-leading approach that builds on our strengths. But we must also ensure that we don’t alienate voters along the way.

Clive Moffatt: The Government should come clean – and explain that reaching the net zero target by 2050 may not be possible

4 Jun

Clive Moffatt is an energy market analyst and former chairman of the UK Economic Security Group.

Back in April, the Government set the world’s most ambitious climate change target to reduce carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels) with emissions targeted to fall to net-zero by 2050.

Cutting out coal from the electricity generation mix was the main reason why in 2020 the UK was able to slash emissions to a level 51 per cent below 1990 levels, but this had little economic impact and was only made possible by the existence of plentiful and cheap natural gas. The next stage will be far more difficult and costly.

Realising the targets will require nothing less than a complete overhaul of the energy network, the removal of natural gas from the energy mix – not to mention the plans to change dramatically how we move about and what we eat.

Looking at the energy sector alone, there are so many technological uncertainties that estimates of the costs of transition to zero vary considerably, with capital cost estimates alone ranging from £50 billion per annum for the next 30 years (Climate Change Committee) to £100 billion per annum (National Grid). Furthermore, the bulk of the costs in terms of consumer levies and/or taxation is likely to fall on those less able to pay.

What has been sadly missing from the debate so far is a clear and agreed set of policy guidelines and criteria to evaluate policy options and replace advocacy at any cost.

For a start, the UK cannot afford to go it alone and what we do should be based on what others do to meet the global challenge.

Second, there is no point transitioning to net zero if there is an increased risk of energy shortfalls – heat and light – and so the security of affordable supplies must be considered.

Third, the Government’s does not have a good record at picking technology winners and so the market must be allowed to deliver least-cost solutions.

Finally, natural gas supplies the bulk of our domestic heating and power requirements and will continue to have a critical role to play in the energy mix up to and beyond 2050.

On this basis, a slower but more secure and affordable route to net zero is possible and the following 10 action points could form the basis of a detailed policy framework to be announced in a white paper ahead of the next General Election in 2024 or earlier.

  1. A longer and more gradual rising CO2 price to underpin new investment in “green” energy and allow time for industry to become more energy efficient.
  2. Incentives eg tax rebates and/or subsidies to allow heavy industry to cut emissions – based on agreement at a sector or company level.
  3. Carbon equalisation tax on imports – to offset unfair competition to UK industry from imports from countries with less onerous emissions restrictions.
  4. No more nuclear fission after Hinkley C – the costs of large scale nuclear far outweigh the economic benefits in terms of both additional baseload capacity and emissions reduction.
  5. Cut wind capacity target from 40GW to 20 GW by 2040 to avoid incurring massive transmission constraints and system balancing costs associated with intermittency.
  6. To underpin baseload power security of supply, use capacity payments to support the construction of efficient CCGT capacity with potential for carbon capture but not imposed at the outset.
  7. Gas (without CCS), Demand Side Reduction (DSR) and batteries to compete in open cost/reliability based auction to deliver peak flexible supply at key points in the local distribution network.
  8. Evidence to date suggests that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) would increase power prices sharply, The Government should support prototypes pending a more detailed impact assessment.
  9. We will be reliant on imported natural gas for heat and power up to and beyond 2050. So we need to underpin new investment in flexible gas storage – currently less than two per cent of annual gas demand.
  10. Date for outlawing new gas domestic boilers to be no earlier than 2035 and dependent on a detailed welfare assessment of the reliable options available to replace natural gas.

Looking ahead to COP26 later this year, the UK and a very hesitant EU are the only ones among the world’s 18 largest greenhouse gas emitters to have submitted detail emission reduction plans.

So now would be good time for the Government to come clean and “tell it how it is”, namely that for very good reasons – such as technological constraints, security of supply, industrial competitiveness and especially affordability – reaching the net zero target by 2050 might not be possible.

Boris Johnson would be criticised for being a COP26 “party pooper”, but industry and consumers would probably breathe a sigh of relief.