Energy secretary Amber Rudd has been condemned by the renewables sector for an over-reliance on fossil fuels in her plans for the UK’s future energy mix.
The headline announcement of Ms Rudd’s ‘energy reset’ speech this week was the government’s intention to phase out all coal-fired generation within the next 10 years, as it seeks to create a low carbon, low cost energy supply.
Although a welcome boost to the decarbonisation agenda, environmentalists say it makes little sense to replace one fossil fuel with another, as the government looks to subsidise new gas plants to replace lost generation capacity.
Gas emits roughly half the amount of carbon emissions as coal, but will offer the same challenges of energy security and reliance on foreign imports. Generous support being given for new nuclear power stations has also been branded ‘perverse’ at a time when the government is slashing support for cheaper forms of renewable energy.
The speech also concentrated heavily on supply-side issues, with little mention for reducing demand and increasing energy efficiency – the most cost effective way to deliver carbon reductions.
REA chief executive, Dr Nina Skorupska, said: “We welcome the clarification on the future of coal, but that is mere tinkering around the edges of existing requirements. What the Minister has announced today will lock in more gas than we need at the expense of genuinely low carbon technologies.
“In the lead up to the crucial climate talks in Paris which Amber Rudd has stated she wants the UK to be leaders, but the rest of the world will see a country prepared to subsidise gas whilst simultaneously removing support to renewables.”
Paul Barwell, CEO of the Solar Trade Association, said: “Gas and large-scale solar will soon need very similar levels of support, but unlike gas solar has the bonus of zero carbon emissions, future price certainty and no dependency on imports from unstable countries.
“Solar has grown from providing 0% to the current 2% of UK electricity supply within just the last five years, and could get to 5% by 2020 with very little extra support. There is plenty of room to include solar alongside gas and nuclear in the coal phase out.”
Dave Sowden, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association, said: “Whilst there is an over-emphasis on supply-side solutions, there are a number of welcome remarks in today’s speech.
“The Secretary of State describes energy efficiency as one of the best means to cut bills and carbon emissions and this is to be welcomed. The full range of sustainable energy technologies, applied in buildings are a key route to making our economy more efficient and productive. They remain an insufficiently tapped resource which can assist the Chancellor deliver secure his long-term economic plan.”
John Thompson, chief executive at APHC, said: “We certainly welcome government’s plan to phase out the use of coal-powered stations by 2025, which have such a damagingly polluting effect on the environment. However, it’s disappointing that the energy secretary’s speech didn’t place more of an emphasis on the use of renewable technologies, which after all, are the cheapest forms of power in the long run. The speech clearly confirms the government’s move away from renewable energy sources as a core part of its overall energy policy and its targets to lessen the impact of the damaging effects of climate change.”