The Government has no clear plans to phase out gas in favour of electricity. That is what the Government is effectively saying in its declaration that there will be no bias towards electricity in its energy security bill proposals. Rather, it seems, the UK will waste years trying to protect the fossil fuel industry with failing initiatives to promote hydrogen for heating and power stations with carbon capture and storage.
The Government is proposing to merge the electricity and gas system operators into one organisation, the ‘Future Systems Operator’ (FSO). What needs to happen in the decarbonisation process is that there is a transition from using natural gas to electrification. Electrification will allow energy services to be supplied by 100% clean energy (which should mean renewable energy of course!).
But in its response to the consultations on the FSO (see HERE)the Government states (on page 12) ‘We are mindful of the need to avoid unintentionally building in an electricity bias’.
The Government is planning to have the new FSO in operation by 2024, something that will happen after the passage of the Government’s Energy Security Bill (see HERE)
In the explanatory notes the Government explains: ‘This new body will bring together the planning for the electricity and gas systems, and potentially systems for new technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, into a single institution to enhance our ability to transition to a zero-carbon energy system and reduce the costs involved’. The hydrogen from heating will not even come from renewable energy, it seems. The Government is backing plans for the gas industry to produce so-called ‘blue’ hydrogen from natural gas and ‘capture’ the carbon dioxide that is produced.
Independent experts (ie those not in the pay of the gas industry!) have pretty unanimously reported that repurposing the gas grid to use hydrogen made to supply heating is a hopeless dead end. Jan Rosenow published a review of literature on the subject in the journal Joule which concluded that hydrogen is a bad idea. If, instead, heating is to be electrified, then of course the new FSO would have to be biased toward electricity! The text can be seen HERE.
Of course the ‘hydrogen levy’ making consumers pay for useless hydrogen for heating service should be scrapped. Not only that but the whole line of hydrogen spending should be scrapped and put to better energy efficiency uses, including heat pumps!
Then there are the Government commitments to back a technology – carbon capture and storage for power plant – that are unproven, very expensive, and do not even capture all of the carbon. See our earlier blog post on this HERE.
There may be some uses for green hydrogen for storage and maybe some industrial applications, but they do not involve maintaining the gas grid as it stands. This is clearly what the Government implies by saying that there will not be a bias towards electrification.
So, essentially the Government is just pandering to the obfuscation posed by the fossil fuel industry to its own supposed target of net zero emissions by 2050. Essentially, with the policy favouring hydrogen for heating and carbon capture and storage for power plant hard-wired into Government policy, there is little prospect for the essential process of electrification that is needed. This electrification process involves transition to electrical heating (mainly through heat pumps) and electric vehicles. Meanwhile, it is not clear how the Government is going to deal with the widely reported grid constraints blocking new renewable energy projects being connected to the electricity grid.
An extension to this is the slow pace of creating an offshore transmission system that will avoid every offshore wind project having to build its own connection to the onshore grid. Indeed the problems with the offshore grid were a long time coming. I recall that (in 2010) a coalition of environmental NGOs was warning that the lack of such a plan would slow down the environmental permitting process for offshore wind projects. Which it has. But OFGEM turned down the idea on the basis that there was no guarantee that enough offshore wind projects would be built. That was in spite of the fact that the previous year (2009) the Government had launched plans for issuing 25 GW of offshore wind leases.
The basic problem now, as then, is that government agencies just do not take declared Government policies seriously. Moreover, the Government does not do much to make sure they do! Net zero emissions maybe be the declared policy, but they do not really believe in it, do they?!
In 2019 the ‘Igov’ project based at the University of Exeter put forward a scheme for planning and regulating the energy transition. They noted that current institutions, such as setting the codes governing energy networks were determined mostly by the existing energy interests. They recommended that governance of these codes be switched from being an OFGEM responsibility to an integrated independent system operator. They recommended that an Energy Transformation Commission should oversee necessary system change. In addition, they urged that the energy distribution companies should be given powers and responsibility for regional system balancing. You can see a summary of their report HERE.
None of this type of reform is in evidence in the Government’s proposed legislative proposals. The aims of net zero have effectively been gutted.
By David Toke
You can see the youtube recording of our seminar on 100percent renewable energy for the UK held in London on April 22nd HERE
Speakers at the event were: introduction by Caroline Lucas MP, David Toke, Ian Fairlie (both 100percentrenewableuk), Professor Christian Breyer (LUT University),, Dr Doug Parr (Greenpeace), Alethea Warrington (Possible), Rianna Gargiulo (Friends of the Earth and Divest UK), Charmian Larke (Atlantic Energy), Jonathon Porritt, Professor Mark Barrett (UCL), Professor Dave Elliott, Professor Nick Eyre (University of Oxford), Alison Downes (Stop Sizewell C), Kate Hudson (CND) and Dave Andrews (Claverton Group)