The British government on Thursday announced its plan to increase the country’s energy independence as European nations seek to quickly scale back energy imports from Russia over the war in Ukraine.
The cornerstone of the UK plan is an increase in nuclear capacity, aiming to deliver up to eight reactors this decade. As part of the energy security plan, the country is aiming to increase its capacity to 24 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050, equivalent to a quarter of estimated electricity needs. There are also other oil and gas projects in the North Sea and an expansion of offshore wind and solar energy. The government said it wants to wean Britain off expensive fossil fuels.
The plan “will reduce our dependence on energy sources subject to volatile international prices that we cannot control,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
Last month Britain announced that it would stop importing Russian oil by the end of the year. Russian gas supplies were not affected. But wholesale prices for natural gas, and to a lesser extent oil, had skyrocketed even before Russia invaded Ukraine, hampering industrial production and straining household budgets. In the UK, energy bills rose 54 per cent this month for most households and were expected to rise again in October as energy prices were still volatile.
But the government’s plan met with fierce criticism. Industry groups and activists said the Energy Security Strategy failed to address the problems households are now facing due to rising energy costs because it didn’t include a plan to do so Increasing energy efficiency – especially through building insulation – or new targets for onshore wind.
This is “the perfect opportunity to unfold a decade-long plan to protect people from volatile energy prices,” Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action, an energy poverty charity, said in a statement. “She remains silent on this crucial issue.”
The government’s plan includes an incentive to speed up the manufacture and deployment of heat pumps, an alternative to domestic gas boilers, worth up to £30million or US$39million.
Others condemned the plan to expand oil and gas projects in the North Sea, despite Britain’s ambitious climate targets being enshrined in law. The government said it will support domestic oil and gas “in the near future” as it hopes to make 95 percent of electricity “low-carbon” by 2030.
The government’s plan aims to increase offshore wind capacity fivefold by 2030 with accelerated planning approvals. But targets for onshore wind have been muted amid internal opposition in the ruling Conservative Party. The government said it would consult with a limited number of communities willing to have wind turbines to develop partnerships. The plan also included a target to increase low-carbon hydrogen production capacity to 10 gigawatts by the end of the decade as part of Britain’s effort to cut emissions.
“Replacing gas power with more nuclear power is lower-carbon, but nuclear power is non-renewable and not cheap,” Darren Jones, an opposition Labor MP and chair of Parliament’s Energy Policy Oversight Committee, said in a statement. “It is disappointing that the government has failed to once again fully realize the potential of onshore wind and solar power.”