A new report from the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has set out how the UK can accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and secure energy supplies to tackle the energy affordability, security and sustainability crises facing the UK.
According to the report, the UK remains dependent on fossil fuels for 78 per cent of its energy needs. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK has been exposed to the biggest global fossil fuel price shock since the 1970s. While the Government’s British Energy Security Strategy sets out ambitions for low-carbon electricity generation, there remain significant gaps.
From offshore wind to solar energy, the proportion of the UK’s energy mix from renewables has been increasing substantially in recent years. The Committee said that it welcomes the stretching targets the Government has set in its British Energy Security Strategy for low-carbon energy technologies like offshore wind and solar. But it is calling for greater focus on the potential of onshore wind to be rolled out rapidly in the short term, and tidal energy to contribute to the UK’s energy security baseload in the long term.
When the Government publishes its updated Net Zero Strategy in the Spring, ambitious targets for onshore wind and tidal energy would be vital to send the right demand signals to industry. Further, developers should be required to fit solar photovoltaics (PV) on homes to help achieve the Government’s ambition of 70 gigawatts (GW) of solar generating capacity by 2035.
The Committee also said that ending the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels will spur net zero and low-carbon energy generation, while reducing exposure to the energy price crisis that Russia’s war in Ukraine has provoked. To continue to demonstrate its international climate leadership, they are calling for the Government to set a clear date for ending new oil and gas licensing rounds. The upstream emissions reduction targets currently set under the North Sea Transition Deal are not stretching enough, and more rapid action will be required to reduce production emissions by 68 per cent in line with the Government’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Finally, the report said that the Chancellor’s recent announcements of an Energy Efficiency Taskforce and further energy efficiency investment from 2025 are welcome, but those in fuel poverty cannot afford three winters of delay. In England alone, over 13 million (or 59 per cent) of homes in England are below EPC rated C. The number of UK energy efficiency installations peaked in 2012 at 2.3 million, yet in 2021, fewer than 100,000 upgrades were installed. The Committee is calling for at least one million energy efficiency installations a year by 2025, with an ambitious target of 2.5 million properties a year by the end of the decade.
Such an effort would require funding, including investment in people to deliver this step change. The new Energy Efficiency Taskforce should be directed to estimate the levels of funding and workforce skills which will be needed. A proportion of the Energy Profits Levy should be allocated immediately to help fund energy efficiency improvements.
“Fossil fuels have helped keep our homes warm, power our cars and generate the majority of our electricity. Britain will continue to need to access fossil fuel supplies during the Net Zero transition, but Government should consult on setting an end date for licencing oil and gas from the North Sea,” said Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne MP. We can accelerate this transition by fully harnessing our abundant renewable energy resources, including tidal energy that can deliver a reliable year-round source of clean electricity, and by upgrading our energy inefficient buildings.
“The Government’s British Energy Security Strategy and its intervention to cap household energy prices should be praised. But there have been significant missed opportunities in recent months: the Government could have gone further and faster.
“To reduce the UK’s demand on fossil fuels, we must stop consuming more than we need. We must fix our leaky housing stock, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and wastes our constituents’ hard-earned cash: we must make homes warmer and retain heat for longer. The Government’s welcome new Energy Efficiency Taskforce can lead a national mobilisation to install energy efficiency upgrades, which we would like to see achieve an initial target of a million homes a year and more than double this by the end of the decade. To help fund this, the Government should funnel some of the revenue from the new Energy Profits Levy to crack on with the task at the earliest opportunity.
“The UK has enormous renewable energy potential and sectors such as offshore wind are booming. But more must be done to harness the opportunities which onshore wind, tidal and solar technologies provide. Developers should be required to fit solar panels on new homes as standard.
“Bold action is needed now. The last year, with Russia’s aggression in Europe choking energy supplies, has shown us just how vulnerable our over-reliance on imported fossil fuels can make us. The Committee has today set out a number of clear recommendations to drive real change: I hope the Government will act swiftly to implement them.”