The UK government wants to dramatically ramp up production of nuclear power and wind energy, while also drilling for more oil and gas, in a bid to reduce imports and bring down eye-watering prices.
Unveiling its new Energy Security Strategy on Wednesday, the government set out plans to generate 95% of Britain’s electricity from low carbon sources by 2030.
“[The plan] will be central to weaning Britain off expensive fossil fuels, which are subject to volatile gas prices set by international markets we are unable to control,” the government said in a statement.
Global prices for natural gas ballooned last year to record highs as economies reopened from their pandemic lockdowns and demand surged. Fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will lead to a supply crunch have driven up prices again in recent weeks.
Under the new strategy, the government will speed up construction of offshore wind farms by reforming planning laws — and it hopes they can generate enough electricity to power every home in the country by 2030.
The government wants to see as many as eight nuclear reactors built over the next decade. It hopes nuclear energy can supply a quarter of UK electricity by 2050.
France’s EDF, which operates six nuclear plants in the United Kingdom and is the lead investor in a new nuclear power station due to come online in 2026, welcomed the announcement.
“Building more new nuclear will reduce Britain’s dependence on overseas gas and keep energy prices stable,” Simone Rossi, EDF Energy UK’s CEO said in a statement.
But fossil fuels are getting a new lease of life. Government plans include a licensing round later this year for more oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, based on “the importance of these fuels to the [energy] transition and to [the UK’s] energy security,” the government said.
Consultancy Wood Mackenzie estimates that the United Kingdom could produce the equivalent of another 5 billion barrels of oil if it takes advantage of all its resources.
Yet Neivan Boroujerdi, North Sea research director at Wood Mackenzie, said that the country will remain “heavily reliant on [gas] imports in all scenarios” in the years to come.
Oil and gas plans slammed
The government’s plans, and its decision earlier this week to commission a new report into fracking, sparked criticism from environmentalists.
“Onshore wind to boost clean energy supply and energy efficiency measures to reduce energy demand should have been at the heart of this strategy,” said Luke Murphy, associate director for energy and climate at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank,
“But energy efficiency hasn’t been mentioned and the proposals for onshore wind appear pitiful,” he added. “The decision to ramp up exploration of oil and gas and reassess fracking beggars belief.”
Soaring gas and electricity prices have left millions of people facing the worst cost-of-living crisis in 30 years. The country’s energy regulator, Ofgem, lifted its price cap — the maximum suppliers can charge customers per unit of energy — by a whopping 54% at the start of April, raising energy bills for about 22 million households to around £2,000 ($2,616) a year.
The cap is likely to go even higher in October, piling more pain on consumers.