The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission has this week launched its first ever National Infrastructure Assessment and called on the UK Government to embrace a “golden opportunity” to support renewable energy technologies like onshore wind and solar over nuclear energy.
The National Infrastructure Commission was formed in October of 2015 as an independent, non-ministerial government department responsible for providing advice to the UK Government on the country’s growing infrastructure needs and issues. On Tuesday, the Commission released its first National Infrastructure Assessment which urged Ministers to seize the “golden opportunity” to switch to lower cost and greener ways of generating energy to homes and businesses.
Importantly, however — as pointed out by the Commission’s Chairman Sir John Armitt — the Assessment shows that, contrary to popular belief and ‘wisdom’, a switch to greener energy technologies would not result in a hit on people’s pockets. And while the Assessment did not promise savings, it did conclude that a switch to low-carbon and renewable energy sources for both the UK’s power and heating — as well as a switch to electric vehicles — would result in prices staying the same by 2050 as they are today.
“Whether for cooking, lighting, keeping homes warm or electric cars on the road, where the UK’s energy comes from will need to change radically over the coming decades if the UK is to meet its legally-binding climate change targets,” said Sir John Armitt.
“If we act now we have a golden opportunity to make our country greener, and protect the money in the pockets of consumers long into the future – something few of us expected to be able to do.
“Ministers can seize this chance by investing in renewables and other low-carbon technologies so they become the main players in our energy system – something that was considered a pipedream as little as a decade ago. But they need to act now to realise the full potential of what can be achieved.”
The core proposals set out in the Assessment range far and wide, and include:
- Nationwide full fiber broadband by 2033
- Half of the UK’s power provided by renewables by 2030
- Three quarters of plastic packaging recycled by 2030
- £43 billion in stable long term transport funding for regional cities
- Preparing for 100 % electric vehicle sales by 2030
- Ensuring resilience to extreme drought through additional supply and demand reduction
- A national standard of flood resilience for all communities by 2050
Maybe most importantly, however, beyond the above proactive recommendations, the Assessment explains that “an energy system based on low cost renewables and the technologies required to balance them may prove cheaper than building further nuclear plants, as the cost of these technologies is far more likely to fall, and at a faster rate.” Thus, the Assessment “cautions against a rush to agree government support for multiple new nuclear power stations, and proposes that after Hinkley Point C in Somerset the Government should agree support for only one more nuclear plant before 2025.”
With such a priority on renewable energy and low-carbon technologies, it is no surprise, then, that the Assessment recommended “established technologies like wind and solar power be allowed to compete to deliver the overwhelming majority of the extra renewable electricity needed as overall demand increases,” contrary to current government policy which has effectively banned any and all new onshore wind projects.
“Cheap renewables offer the best deal for consumers,” said Emma Pinchbeck, Executive Director of RenewableUK, one of the country’s renewable energy trade bodies.
“Government has a great opportunity to give bill payers a break by putting renewable energy at the heart of a modern smart energy system. Instead of that it’s inexplicably blocking new onshore wind projects. Why? That’s the question that MPs will have to explain to their hard-pressed constituents. Ministers should be listening to what people actually think and the Government’s own polling shows that 76% of people support onshore wind.”
“Onshore wind is the cheapest form of new electricity generation so it’s no surprise that the Commission is calling on the UK Government to stop blocking new projects,” added Fabrice Leveque, Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables. “Building a low-carbon energy system centred on renewables like solar and onshore wind would not only reduce consumer energy bills, it would also reflect public opinion which is strongly in favour of renewables.”
Similarly, since both onshore wind and solar have been relegated to ‘Pot 1’ for Contract for Difference auctions, and only one Pot 1 auction has been run to date, both technologies have been cut out of the running to support the low-carbon transition.
“Solar power has been shut out of clean power auctions for over three years now, so we are particularly pleased to see the NIC recommend a level playing field going forwards for established renewables, with auctions restarting promptly. Inhibiting fair competition is not in the interest of consumers,” explained Léonie Greene, the Solar Trade Association’s Director of Advocacy and New Markets. “However, the importance of industrial and commercial rooftop solar and onsite battery storage needs to be recognised by all Government advisers, particularly given widespread recognition we need to move towards a smarter more decentralised power system.
“By maintaining artificial barriers to solar, the UK Government risks working against the tide of technological change and market forces, at huge costs to consumers and our economy. We hope they will finally heed repeated and consistent advice from all quarters to act.”
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