Our fixation with net zero carries great risk

The principle behind the Government’s new energy strategy is a good one. Successive administrations have failed to take resilience and security of supply seriously, leaving the UK overly reliant on international markets and foreign expertise. The invasion of Ukraine has again highlighted the foolishness of countries being too dependent for their energy requirements on hostile states. While Britain is much less exposed to Russian oil and gas than the likes of Germany, that has not saved businesses or consumers from unsustainable price rises.

The strategy, therefore, anticipates a big increase in nuclear power to reduce reliance on oil and gas, with the hope that by 2050 up to 25 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs could be catered for from that source. There will be an expansion of wind and solar generation, too, although in the case of wind it will be focused on offshore generation. More ambitious targets have also been set for alternative fuels such as hydrogen.

But these are all medium to long-term ideas that will do next to nothing to help households with the immediate problem of surging energy bills. They also themselves carry great risks, not least that the proposed new nuclear capacity may prove extremely expensive within the timeframe set out. Ministers will admittedly launch a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas. But there is concern that the Government’s fixation on net zero and its tendency to appease environmental activists has prevented it from taking more radical measures in the short term, including lifting the moratorium on fracking now.

In recent years, the energy industry has been wrapped in red tape, a maze of environmental obligations and green levies. Governments have also developed a habit of attempting to pick winners and have not necessarily been honest with the public about the actual cost of some renewable energy sources, which have enjoyed generous subsidies. Over-regulation has also made it more difficult for the market to adapt to meet changing demand.

It is all very well setting ambitious targets and goals, but much greater thought is needed on how they can be achieved without further loading consumers and businesses with extra cost. A lot of faith is also being placed in new technologies that promise no damage to living standards while shifting us away from fossil fuels. Let us hope that those technologies can actually deliver the goods.

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