UK Energy Minister Amber Rudd has set out her vision for an energy system that puts consumers first, delivers more competition, reduces the burden on bill-payers and ensures enough electricity generation to power the nation.
Speaking at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London today the Energy Secretary revealed her policy priorities and her strategy for putting them into action. Key points comprise:
- Consultation on ending unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025
- New gas-fired power stations a priority
- Commitment to offshore wind support completes commitment to secure, low-carbon, affordable electricity supplies
- Move towards a smarter energy system
Setting out the challenges facing the British energy system, Rudd said: “No government should ever take a risk on security, whether it be keeping our citizens safe or building a more resilient economy.Our modern society simply cannot function without power. Energy security has to be the number one priority.
“But no responsible government should take a risk on climate change either. Because it’s one of the greatest long-term threats to our economic security.
“So the challenge we face is how we make sure that energy remains as the backbone of our economy, while we transform to a low carbon system.
Gas / shale
In some areas the system works well. The gas used to heat our homes is amongst the cheapest and most secure in Europe. And this is despite the decline in our domestic gas production from the North Sea.
Of course we can’t be complacent. We currently import around half of our gas needs, but by 2030 that could be as high as 75%.
That’s why we’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports. There are also economic benefits in building a new industry for the country and for communities.
Our North Sea history means the UK is a home to world class oil and gas expertise, in Aberdeen and around the UK – we should build on that base so that our shale potential can be exploited safely.
But we do need to do more. In the next 10 years, it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built.
We now have an electricity system where no form of power generation, not even gas-fired power stations, can be built without government intervention. And a legacy of ageing, often unreliable plant.
Perversely, even with the huge growth in renewables, our dependence on coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel – hasn’t been reduced. Indeed a higher proportion of our electricity came from coal in 2014 than in 1999.”
One of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal fired power stations with gas.
I am pleased to announce that we will be launching a consultation in the spring on when to close all unabated coal-fired power stations.
Our consultation will set out proposals to close coal by 2025 – and restrict its use from 2023. If we take this step, we will be one of the first developed countries to deliver on a commitment to take coal off the system.
“But let me be clear, we’ll only proceed if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales.
She also explained that nuclear power had a central role in the UK’s energy future:
“Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable. The challenge, as with other low carbon technologies, is to deliver nuclear power which is low cost as well. Green energy must be cheap energy.
“We are dealing with a legacy of under-investment and with Hinkley Point C planning to start generating in the mid-2020s, this is already changing.
“It is imperative we do not make the mistakes of the past and just build one nuclear power station. There are plans for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including at Wylfa and Moorside. It also means exploring new opportunities like Small Modular Reactors, which hold the promise of low cost, low carbon energy.”
This could provide up to 30% of the low carbon electricity which we’re likely to need through the 2030s and create 30,000 new jobs.
Rudd went on to commit Government support for offshore wind – on the condition that it comes down in cost:
“We should also support the growth of our world leading offshore wind industry.
“If, and only if, the Government’s conditions on cost reduction are met – we will make funding available for three auctions in this parliament. We intend to hold the first of these auctions by the end of 2016.
“On current plans we expect to see 10GW of offshore wind installed by 2020.
“The industry tells us they can meet that challenge, and we will hold them to it. If they don’t there will be no subsidy. No more blank cheques.”
Around 14,000 people are employed in the sector and this expertise has helped the costs of contracts for offshore wind come down by at least 20% in the last two years.
“But it is still too expensive. So our approach will be different – we will not support offshore wind at any cost.
Climate change/ environment
The Government is also committed to taking action on climate change and to meeting the UK’s 2050 target.
Looking ahead to the conference in Paris in December where an international deal is expected to be agreed, Rudd said:
“Action on climate change is linked to the action we’re taking now to reduce the deficit. It is about resilience now and in the future. But climate change is a global problem, not a local one.
“Action by one state will not solve the problem. It’s what we do together that counts. And that is why achieving a global deal in Paris next month is so important.
“But climate change will not be solved by a group of over-tired politicians and negotiators in a conference centre. It will take action by businesses, civil society, cities, regions and countries.
“Paris must deliver that and help unleash the levels of private investment needed. Our most important task is providing a compelling example to the rest of the world of how to cut carbon while controlling costs.”