The UK government has today published its energy security strategy, detailing plans for cleaner and more affordable energy to help address the challenges of rising global energy prices and volatility in international markets

Commenting on the strategy, Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“The UK’s energy system faces a combination of threats from high consumer costs that threaten to worsen energy poverty, disruptions in the global supply chain due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, increasing risk to energy security and unsustainably high carbon emissions as a result of fossil fuel dependence, which must fall rapidly and immediately in order to have any chance of meeting the Paris goal of 1.5C.

“There are many vital, low-regrets policies that would address all these issues at the same time, particularly:

  • rapid renewables and energy storage deployment alongside energy network investment;
  • home insulation measures which deliver at least half a million retrofits per year, including support for heat pump supply chains; and,
  • measures to reduce energy demand and increase energy efficiency across all sectors.

“We are pleased to see some of this in the energy security strategy, such as further expansion in the ambition for offshore and floating wind power. A focus on the system level architecture is also welcome and a vital step to enable the transformation required in the energy system as a whole to reach net zero. However, there are some unanswered questions that must be addressed. New nuclear could take until 2035 to make a difference and is reliant on the availability of technology and skills, neither of which is guaranteed. We will need more than targets to realise the ambition for 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, not least the requirement for significant investment to rapidly and urgently scale critical infrastructure such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage for blue hydrogen and investment in renewable energy generation and electrolyser roll out for green hydrogen. And in the meantime, we need more short-term measures to increase energy independence or reduce emissions at the scale required, particularly demand-side measures, such as home insulation policies.

“The scale of the skills challenge should also not be underestimated. This demand for massive growth in green jobs comes at a time when engineering skills have largely been stagnating over the past ten years. In higher education, the proportion of students studying engineering has remained at around 5% for the past 15 years, and in certain subject areas such as electronic and electrical engineering, critical to our net-zero transition, there has been long-term decline. The numbers of new apprentices starting engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships has also been in decline. Much of what the government is doing to address the challenge is moving in the right direction, but the tendency towards letting the market dictate pace, scale and detail is still a concern. We need greater consideration of skills as a strategic national asset with more direct government interventions and less reliance on the market to find our future engineers and technicians.”

On 4 April the International Panel on Climate Change published its Sixth Assessment Report on Mitigation of Climate Change, on which Sir Jim commented:

“This IPCC report makes it clearer than ever that we must accelerate progress against our climate change promises and move to decarbonise our economy and infrastructure. Our current trajectory will lead to 3.2C warming by 2100 and we may not have time to respond to further warnings. While the current energy crisis is the first big challenge of the just transition, it brings with it the opportunity to pivot away from fossil fuels towards cheaper renewables and a low carbon energy system as well as to support vulnerable people through home energy efficiency retrofit. The report makes it clear that the cost of the transition cannot be an excuse for delay – the economic case made by the report authors is strong, highlighting that lower cost mitigation options could reduce global GHG emissions by at least half the 2019 level by 2030, while still allowing GDP to grow. All of this means that the solution to both the UK’s short term energy crisis and our long term climate challenge are the same; redoubling our efforts on mitigation policies that focus on shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, reducing demand, and retrofitting buildings.”

Extracted from RAEng - read more here

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