​UK focus on managing the energy crisis could impact the goal of achieving net zero

Posted on 06 March 2023

The National Audit Office (NAO) believe the minister’s efforts to alleviate rising energy bills could impact the country’s net zero goal. The Government said in 2021 it wanted all electricity to be produced from low-carbon sources by 2035, a part of the larger plan to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. The National Audit Office has warned that the current energy crisis exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has meant the government isn’t making as much progress on delivering a long-term plan to boost clean energy.

The NAO warned that the absence of a clear plan and belief there could be adjustments in government policies could deter investors from allocating funds for new infrastructure or result in an increase in rates of return, increasing the overall costs for energy customers. Emissions associated with UK power generation have declined by 73% since 1990, with rises in wind and solar energy and the ending of coal power facilities. Despite these positive figures, around 40% of the UK’s electricity is still generated from gas and producers of gas-power facilities are still acquiring considerable subsidies to maintain the activities of gas facilities when wind and solar sites drop out.

The electricity demand is expected to increase by as much as 60% by 2035, and transport and heating shift away from fossil fuels toward electricity. The UK has announced a target of 2035 to ban the installation of new gas boilers, though plans to encourage people to explore low-carbon alternatives have been relatively slow. At the end of last year, the Government announced plans to subsidise energy bills amid concerns that rising gas prices would leave many unable to pay their bills.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said it makes sense for the government to focus on the current energy crisis, but believes that one consequence of this is the lack of a clear delivery plan for decarbonising power by 2035, which represents the essence of the broader net-zero target. Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, highlighted that the Department for energy security and net zero (DESNZ) lacks a clear delivery plan for decarbonising electricity. While DESNZ has focused on the issue at hand, energy industry experts believe further attention on the long-term net zero plan is required. The government estimated that between £280 and £400 billion of investment is required to decarbonise the power industry.

This excludes the cost of researching new technologies and developing new networks. Ministers also face pressure to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act, which has driven further investment in green energy projects overseas. A representative at DESNZ explains that since the energy crisis, our focus has been on living support and managing energy bills, as this is a priority for households nationwide. At the same time, the UK is continuing to decarbonise faster than any other G7 nation. UK targets may be bold, but energy experts believe there is still good momentum, and the commitment to decarbonise the national electricity system by 2035 remains critical.

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