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  • Lord Copper

Ready to be cold?

I don’t like to be the harbinger of bad news (and I apologise for returning yet again to a subject which all our politicians claim to take seriously, yet none appear to have the ability to do it), but if you live in the UK you had better prepare to get cold and spend a lot more time in the dark. Oh, and you’ll probably be poorer, too.

Yes, we’re back to energy security again. Whichever party wins the next election, they will find themselves almost certainly unable to fulfil the promises they are making. The ones whom the current polls suggest will win the upcoming election have re-emphasised their ideological commitment to a decarbonised energy grid by 2030. Just for the avoidance of doubt, that means no coal, no oil, no gas anywhere in the UK’s power generating industry. There’s a very respectable consultancy sprung out of Oxford University, called Aurora Energy Research, which has just concluded that the cost of meeting the current government’s deadline of 2035 would be something like £104 billion over the next 11 years; the 2030 target of the Labour party would cost an additional £116 billion over the same period, front loaded in such a way as to cost an extra £15.6 billion a year for the next six years. That’s the bit that’s going to make you poorer.

But it gets worse, because the likelihood of establishing a net zero grid in the next six years is vanishingly small. The necessary expansion of solar and wind - both onshore and offshore - generating capacity, the similar expansion of transmission: all of that would require something like a quadrupling of the supply of raw materials, such as copper, steel, glass and so on. And we know - from the bitter experience of Covid and the Ukraine war - how fragile the global supply chain is. There are also labour considerations - the skilled workforce needed to build all this stuff is not currently sitting on it’s backside waiting for Keir Starmer to give it the green light to transform the power landscape of the country in six years - it’s not really there in sufficient numbers at present, and needs to be built up and trained. All of that is the bit that’s going to make you cold and need candles; if our political masters seriously start trying to meet these targets, power outages like we haven’t seen in this country will become a feature of our lives.

Welcome to year zero - cold, dark and poor. Still, maybe it won’t all come to that. Maybe we’ll discover some political leadership that actually bothers to try and understand how all this stuff works, instead of trotting out facile drivel about what they’re going to do; maybe we could for a change even have some who had the scientific knowledge to be able to approach the whole subject of energy security intelligently, rather than just treating it as a political football.  Who knows?

And since I wrote most of this last week, it’s now becoming clear that people are perhaps voting with their feet, as we learn that sales of pure electric vehicles have pretty much stalled, while petrol, diesel and hybrid sales are continuing to grow. That would appear to be because the roll-out of charging points is lagging well behind governmental promises (and the patchy mobile phone coverage in some areas, which means the phone app is useless and therefore won’t connect the car to the charger - I’ve experienced this more often that I would like). Also, by 2028, the government aims to see 600,000 heat pumps installed annually; this year’s forecast is 80,000, so good luck with that.

Realistically, if the UK were to continue to use the oil and gas on our doorstep - and frankly, even the coal - as part of a seriously, properly planned transition period, and simultaneously actually did something in nuclear, rather than just endlessly talking about it, the effect on global emissions would be minimal: just look at the numbers. But no. Let’s just signal our virtue and let the populace get cold and poor; that’s the way to let the state control them.




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