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In a bad situation there are no good moves: What the UK should (but will not) do to address the energy crisis

NZW statement on the energy cost crisis

The United Kingdom, alongside much of Europe, now faces the worst energy crisis in living memory, perhaps the worst in the historical record.

This crisis is very unlikely to be resolved rapidly, since the causes are fundamentally political, yet Europe’s politicians, and the UK is no exception, cannot bring themselves to admit that the renewable energy obsession of climate policies in the last thirty years are to blame for the current over-exposure to natural gas.

So long as politicians fail to understand or shy away from this recognition, they will not take the necessary actions, which entail a return to fossil fuels, and will instead continue to add still more renewable energy capacity to already degraded and tottering energy systems.

The current crisis is not the result of physical fundamentals relating to fossil fuel production – gas, coal, and oil are all plentiful and the costs of production are still low – nor is it solely the result of geopolitical events, though the invasion of Ukraine has made a bad situation much worse.

The crisis is the result of the subsidised adoption of thermodynamically incompetent energy sources such as wind and solar, which only degrade the efficiency of their host economies, while contributing nothing towards security of supply. Indeed, it is because of renewables that European security of supply hangs by the single thread of natural gas, exposing the whole continent to Russia’s weaponization of energy supply.

The situation is now so desperate that only a very limited range of moves are possible, and these are in themselves hazardous. Only very brave and far-sighted governments will set out on this long march to a better energy future, and we are far from confident that political will of this strength exists in any European state.

What the UK must do is simple and difficult:

The government must admit that the 2050 Net Zero target is now not only unattainable but a positive danger to national well-being. It must be suspended until the economy and the fuel supply have been stabilised. More renewables will only serve to further weaken our energy sector and increase critical exposure to natural gas.

The government should recommit to fossil fuels, giving a clear signal to the UK’s energy companies and to fossil fuel suppliers globally. This signal could take the form of

1. The rapid granting of consents for a fleet of new Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGTs) of higher thermal efficiency.

2. The granting of consent for a new fleet of coal fired power stations using the Ultra-Super-Critical technology.

3. The vigorous support of both further exploration in the North Sea, and onshore through hydraulic fracturing for both natural gas and oil.

4. The scrapping of plans for Sizewell C, allocating the public money to fund the construction of two to three Small Modular Reactor (SMR) plants by 2029, awarded by competition. 50% of public support will be paid as progress payments (for agreed waypoints) and 50% as a final payment when the project is fully operation on condition that the final date of end-2029 is met.

Long before these policies begin to yield physical dividends, the hard-headed realism of such actions would calm the international financial markets, and would permit UK traders to secure long-term fossil fuel supply contracts at more advantageous prices.

However, public opinion is so confused and poorly informed by low quality journalism in the print and broadcast media, and parliament so ignorant and unrealistic, that we do not expect any foreseeable UK government to have the courage to undertake such actions. Nevertheless, further delay and self-indulgent toying with renewable energy will only delay the inevitable return to physically superior fossil fuels.

It is almost certain that things will get much worse before they get better.