UK unveils multi-million-pound green energy scheme

The government has unveiled an “ambitious” plan to strengthen Britain’s long-term energy security and support green industries.

The UK has presented a new, more detailed plan for investing in affordable, clean, homegrown power to mark what has been informally dubbed ‘Green Day’. 

The government was required to present one such scheme after a court ruling found that the country’s net-zero strategy is “unlawful”, as it failed to show how the policies included in the plan would contribute to achieving the legally-binding 2050 emissions targets. 

Nonetheless, the government has aimed to downplay the “green” aspect of the strategy, preferring to centre the focus on energy security.  

“We are stepping up to power Britain and ensure our energy security in the long term with more affordable, clean energy from Britain, so we can drive down energy prices and grow our economy,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“That’s why we’re driving forward plans to boost renewables, revive nuclear and build new thriving industries like carbon capture, which will, in turn, create good jobs across the country, provide new opportunities for British businesses at home and abroad, and maintain our world-leading action to reach net zero.”

The plan to “power up Britain” stressed the government’s already-announced £20bn investment in carbon-capture technology as well as the launch of a £160m fund to support offshore port infrastructure projects for wind energy.

The government also opened the fifth round of its £205m scheme to incentivise investment in renewable electricity, backed the first round of hydrogen projects under the £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund and announced a future competition for small modular reactor technologies, organised by Great British Nuclear.  

Officials also announced a £380m investment into EV charging points and infrastructure and a new £30m Heat Pump Investment Accelerator, designed to boost manufacturing and supply of heat pumps in the UK. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which offers a £5,000 grant to anyone buying a heat pump, will be extended to 2028.

“Access to cheap, abundant and reliable energy provide the foundation stone of a thriving economy with our homes and businesses relying on it to deliver our future prosperity,” said Grant Shapps, energy security secretary. 

“Following our unprecedented cost of living support this winter, which continues, this plan now sets out how we fix this problem in the long term to deliver wholesale UK electricity prices that rank amongst the cheapest in Europe, as we export our green growth expertise to the world.”

Shapps also insisted that the government’s new green power strategy was not a “rip-out-your-boiler” plan, despite measures aimed at making it cheaper to buy and run a heat pump rather than a traditional gas boiler.

“We’re not forcing anyone to remove their gas boilers,” Shapps said, adding that households would make the move from gas to cleaner energy “over the next decade or two”. 

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also played down suggestions that the UK was trying to compete with Washington or indeed follow its lead by implementing subsidies for green technologies similar to those offered by the US Inflation Reduction Act. 

Writing in The Times, Hunt said the UK would do things “the British way”.

“We are not going toe-to-toe with our friends and allies in some distortive global subsidy race,” he said.“With the threat of protectionism creeping its way back into the world economy, the long-term solution is not subsidy but security.”

However, the initiatives have raised criticism from campaigners, who believed ministers had missed the chance to pursue a more radical green industrial strategy. 

“Friends of the Earth successfully took legal action against the government’s previous net-zero strategy because it failed to show how legally binding climate targets would be met,” said Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth. 

“With these policies looking dangerously lacklustre and lacking on climate action, we will be combing through the detail of the amended strategy and are poised to act if ministers have fallen short once again.”

Professor Nick Eyre, of the University of Oxford, added that the government has “missed an open goal” by ignoring “the most effective and lowest-cost measures”: investment in renewable energy and energy demand reduction.

“These are precisely the same measures that the latest IPCC report shows are central to achieving net zero,” Eyre said. “Yet the Prime Minister, chancellor and secretary of state all fail even to mention the key role of energy saving.”

Avinav Nigam, co-founder and COO at IMMO, said: “Though welcome, today’s announcements are a drop in the ocean when it comes to the scale of the challenge of renovating our housing stock, particularly within the private rented sector.

“We urgently need more policies aimed at harnessing institutional investment in the private rental sector at a greater scale, and why IMMO plans to spend £1bn on upcycling the UK’s rental homes on behalf of investors.”

Labour also highlighted the “glaring omissions” in the government’s announcement, mainly the removal of the onshore wind ban or a response to the Inflation Reduction Act. 

“What was billed with huge hype as the government’s green day turns out to be a weak and feeble groundhog day of re-announcements, reheated policy, and no new investment,” shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said. 

Alex Taylor, Head of Policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said: “The UK has substantial renewable energy development opportunities, yet they have not yet been exploited at scale. We also have important deployment choices to make, many of which will require changes to personal lifestyles, so societal engagement alongside technological and commercial innovation is required.

“The formation of GB Nuclear with associated appointments is a crucial step towards energy security, net-zero ambitions, and potential economic development opportunities.

“However, this and the strategy outlined for specific sectors needs a governance framework and delivery plan to incorporate an effective energy grid. Without these we either will not get there in time or will do so very expensively and may not deliver the resilience that is the purported reason for this plan.” 

Downing Street responded by saying the UK did not need to enter a “subsidy race” with other countries such as the US on green investment but said that chancellor Jeremy Hunt would return later this year with a response to the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We would say we have acted in advance of the US in terms of our approach to reducing our carbon emissions,” an official spokesperson said. 

A new report from the Climate Change Committee, published yesterday, said there is a “striking lack” of climate preparation efforts from the government as the UK braces itself for ever-more extreme temperatures.

Earlier this week, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) warned that the global energy transition is “off-track” and in need of a “fundamental course correction”, which would include a significant increase in funding.  

In 2021, $1.3tn (£1tn) was invested in renewable energy sources globally. However, IRENA claimed that this figure must rise to around $5tn (£4tn) annually to reach the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2030.

Edited at 15:43 to app comments from The IET.

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