The Energy Crisis: is disaster inevitable?
In 2013 David Cameron supposedly ordered aides to ‘get rid of all the green crap’ from energy bills in a drive to bring down costs. Far from reducing fuel costs, this ensured the failure of the UK to progress the desperate need for retro-fit energy efficiency measures like insulation and double-glazing in the poorest housing, which would have meant the escalating costs right now would have been far less severe.
This current energy crisis is not just going to be a winter blip. As Nick Lyth, Founder and President of Green Angel Syndicate comments: “If you thought the pandemic was a one-off economic exception, think again. This is in danger of being far worse, far longer and more far-reaching.”
In a GAS Insights event this week Matthew Hannon, Green Angel Syndicate Honorary Member and Professor of Sustainable Energy Business and Policy at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship within the University of Strathclyde’s Business School, and one of the UK’s leading experts in renewable energy policy, offered his expert advice. He made the point: “No-one has considered the possibility of the crisis beyond this current energy crisis. This current inertia, and the failure to understand how the energy crisis and the climate change crisis are interlinked could undermine the best attempts to sort it out and condemn us to something worse in current years.”
No-one has considered the possibility of the crisis beyond this current energy crisis – Matthew Hannon
What kind of crisis are we in?
The UK is facing soaring energy costs, high inflation, a looming recession and the prospect of blackouts this winter. Excess winter deaths are on average 3x higher in average years in the coldest quarter of homes versus the warmest, as the cold increases the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and the decline of mental health. The excess death count can be expected to grow horrifically this winter once the cold sets in.
29 energy suppliers have gone bust in the past 12 months. After Cameron’s ‘cut the green crap’ initiative the rates of domestic green energy installation “fell off a cliff and never recovered,” says Hannon. We are, he says, “addicted to gas” – since 2000 gas has supplied 25-50% of our electricity production and we have relied on it to decouple from coal. There have been stringent planning restrictions for onshore wind and severe delays to the development of nuclear, as well as heavy restrictions for offshore wind and solar PV.
What do we need to do to emerge from this crisis?
Hannon says: “We need to deliver on the government target of the installation of 650,000 heat pumps a year – a tenfold increase in effort.” He also suggests we need to focus on wind – both offshore and onshore – along with solar PV. The irony is that while Sunak and Truss seem to be trying to appeal to Tory nimbys (not-in-my-back-yards), more than 2/3 Conservative members do back onshore and offshore wind energy, and 73% back solar panels, according to an ECIU survey. Solar and onshore wind are the cheapest forms of electricity available to us. Retrofitting insulation in about 17 million homes is key, along with supporting local renewable energy sources. “Green levies are not driving the energy price rises,” comments Hannon. He continues: “This crisis isn’t going to go away soon and another one will inevitably be around the corner, unless we structurally transform our energy system.”
…the failure to understand how the energy crisis and the climate change crisis are interlinked could undermine the best attempts to sort it out. – Matthew Hannon