Ministers must seize the “golden opportunity” to switch to green energy without increasing prices, independent advisers on infrastructure have urged.
There have long been concerns that changing the energy system to tackle greenhouse gas pollution hits the pockets of consumers, the National Infrastructure Commission said.
The National Infrastructure Commission is an independent group established in 2015 by former UK finance minister George Osborne to advise the government on infrastructure challenges.
The commission said that renewables had undergone a “quiet revolution” in the past decade, leading to falling costs.
Sir John Armitt, the Commission’s chairman, said: “I don’t think anybody’s pretending you can take forward a new nuclear power station without some form of government underwriting or support. Whereas the amount required to subsidise renewables is continually coming down.”
A move to low-carbon and renewable sources for power and heating and a shift to battery-powered vehicles (BPVs) would see consumers paying the same in 2050 for their energy as they do today, it added.
In its first five-year assessment the commission also set out proposals for three quarters of plastic packaging to be recycled by 2030, rolling out fibre-optic broadband nationwide and making homes more energy efficient.
Half the UK’s power should be provided by renewables by 2030, up from 30% today and 12% five years ago, it said.
The National Infrastructure Commission said the Government should support established technologies such as wind and solar should supply the majority of extra renewables to meet demand.
Most should be delivered by established wind and solar – which ministers have failed to back in recent years – with “measures to move them to the front of the queue for Government support”.
The commission also said falling costs may mean an energy system based on renewables may prove cheaper than nuclear, and ministers should agree support for only one more new reactor before 2025.
The Government should also prepare for 100% BPV sales by 2030, instead of its current ambition for at least half of new cars to be “ultra low emission” by that date, the commission said.
Electric cars will soon have the same range and be cheaper to buy and maintain, the commission launched in 2015 to advise the Government on delivering on long-term infrastructure said.
It called for local councils to be required to set aside 5% of parking spaces for BPV charge points by 2020, and 25% by 2025, Government subsidies for installation where private sector will not build them and for the energy system to be prepared for an increase in demand from BPVs
An alternative is needed to natural gas for heating, it said, and the Government should push forward with a trial to supply at least 10,000 homes with hydrogen gas by 2023.
The commission said there should also be £3.8 billion investment up to 2030 to boost energy efficiency in social housing, trials to encourage homeowners to green their homes and tighter regulations to make private rented homes more efficient.
It recommended that by 2020 there should be 21,000 energy efficient improvements from loft insulation to double glazing going into UK homes every week.
The recommendations are not an “unaffordable wish list” but can deliver without increasing bills.
The same services could be delivered at the same cost in today’s prices in 2050 with low carbon energy if the right decisions are taken now.
Sir John added: “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.”
Longer term, the government needs to consider the implications of autonomous vehicles – such as making traffic lights unnecessary and allowing for higher speed limits – when planning for future road projects.
A spokesman for Renewable UK commented: “Cheap renewables offer the best deal for consumers. 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”.
Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary for Energy, commented: “The National Infrastructure Commission is right that there should be greater investment into green hydrogen gas and energy efficiency saving measures for buildings.
“Where the National Infrastructure Commission is wrong is to suggest Britain can in some way ‘get by’ without a balanced energy mix which includes the reliable base load electricity capacity that comes from zero carbon new nuclear power stations and lower carbon gas.
“If we are to address the reality of climate change – whilst keeping our country’s lights turned on, our homes heated and our economy working – then we have to face up to the fact that we need a mix of energy which combines increasing renewable sources, like wind and solar, with new nuclear and gas.
“To do this, we must also carry the 27m energy bill-payers with us and move to increasing energy self-sufficiency in an uncertain world.”
Jane Lucy, chief executive of Labrador – a private-sector start-up smart-switching service provider – commented: “Cheaper energy should be a priority for us all.
“This shouldn’t be looked at as a green vs nuclear argument, but an economic discussion that impacts the critical mass of society.
“The greater distribution of supply within the energy market should begin to break the monopoly of the Big Six, and put the power back into the hands of the people. Investing in new technologies today, will protect the pockets of future generations, ensuring that they are not penalised for today’s inefficiencies.”
The Solar Trade Association also welcomed the national infrastructure assessment.
Leonie Greene, the association’s head of new markets, comment said: “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.
“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.”
Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy UK, added: “We have long called for this to be a national infrastructure priority as by far the most effective way of keeping bills down for customers in the long term – whilst of course helping to reduce emissions.
“At the moment too many households, including those who can least afford to, are literally wasting money as they try to heat draughty homes.
“When households can make typical annual savings of £270 from energy efficiency measures, the case for an investment that would pay such dividends is overwhelming. “
11 Jul 2018