What do we mean by 'energy security'?

Energy security means that sufficient supply of energy is available when we need it to heat and power our industry, our homes and our lives. This energy must be affordable so that it’s accessible to all, ensuring wellbeing and prosperity, enabling society to thrive. Ideally, it would be supplied with minimal environmental impact. Unfortunately, the UK Government’s recently released energy security strategy is not fit for this purpose.

The government’s energy security strategy dusts off the old plans from 2006 to build eight new nuclear power plants. Since then, only one nuclear power plant, Hinkley Point C (HPC), is due to be completed in June 2026.

Its 49,000 tonne concrete base and 25,600 tonne concrete intake and outfall heads has released 6,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, the carbon emissions equivalent of 1,187 round trip flights from London to Sydney Australia, or planting 98,929 trees, more than 7,000 acres of forest, negating the emissions saved from operating the plant. 

In an unconscionable leap of faith, the energy security plan disregards the absence of a Geological Disposal Facility to store the high-level radioactive waste that it will produce over its estimated 60 year lifetime. Nor is there any consideration given to how to safely dispose of plutonium that remains toxic for thousands of years.

saddling consumers with the giant costs of new nuclear power - frederic-paulussen-unsplash
Saddling consumers with the giant costs of new nuclear power. Photo by frederic paulussen at Unsplash

The high cost of Hinkley Point C has been funded by government subsidies, i.e., unwittingly by the taxpayer. In addition, the average household energy bill will increase by approximately £15 per year as a result. 

The taxpayer will also pay the cost for the 100 years required to decommission the plant and the cost of the envisioned Geological Disposal Facility of up to £53 billion. This is a sunk cost, not an investment in the creation of energy, like renewables. 

One may conclude that nuclear power does not provide energy security because there are other, more affordable, sensible and quicker solutions to deliver this by installing wind, solar and tidal generation combined with hydrogen and other longer term storage technologies, like vanadium flow and of course, the unsung hero of them all… energy efficiency.

How energy efficiency can deliver real energy security

Considering that 80% of todays buildings are likely to still be standing 100 years from now, it is logical that conserving energy is cheaper, more prevalent and faster to achieve than developing new energy generation facilities. 

It is difficult to unpack the real financial commitment that Her Majesty’s government has made to ensure our homes retain more heat. The government claims that it is investing £6 billion to decarbonise homes and buildings that will support 500,000 people. 

This represents an investment of £12,000 per household, reaching 1.8% of total households. £3.9 billion was committed as part of the Heat in Buildings Strategy of which £1.8 billion was targeted at low income households. £1.4 billion was committed to public sector buildings, which won’t support most energy bill payers with the current energy crisis. 

The £1.8 billion for low income households through the Home Upgrade Grant and the social housing decarbonisation fund, will only receive £179 million this year by 66 councils, or 20% of the total of 333 in the country.

80% of the buildings standing today will still be around in 100 years time. Improving the energy efficiency of these buildings is essential to achieving energy security. Photo - Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

15% of all homes in England (23% in Wales) were built before 1900 and 46% of homes in England (39% in Wales) were built between 1930 and 1982). 29% of people who are struggling to pay their energy bills live in rented accommodation, and it is very unlikely that these policies will gain any traction with private landlords .

People living in older homes, especially elderly people in rural communities, will be left out of these programmes. Finally, insufficient effort is being made to support the 28% of all people who believe that making changes to their home will cost too much money.

What can be done to deliver greater energy security?

The Green Finance Institute was established in 2019 to develop solutions to financing energy efficiency in the built environment. 

To date, none of the public/ private finance initiatives envisioned have been introduced, nor has the finance industry had much impact creating equal access to what has become a fundamental human right – access to electricity and heating to stay warm and healthy. 

Local authorities are receiving all government subsidies with no consideration given to the power of community energy groups to deliver the rapid change required.

energy efficiency insulation improvements in a cold home in the UK
A reform of the planning law could make energy efficiency improvements more realistic for millions of homes throughout the UK. Photo - Erik McClean on Unsplash

There is a better way. 

Since the Green Deal was introduced in 2012, then scrapped only three years later, the government has been on a consistent campaign to disincentivise any activity by the social enterprises in communities to improve their ability to control their energy costs. 

Many insulation installers, solar panel installers and energy efficiency contractors went out of business because of inconsistent subsidy support which created business uncertainty, inhibiting growth in the industry. They simply couldn’t earn back the investments made in hiring and training staff. 

The Green Homes Grant was a repeat of the errors made by government in overly prescriptive frameworks and burdensome administration.

Conclusions - implementing real long-term energy security for the UK

The way forward in financing energy efficiency is to reform planning so that the changes we need to make energy efficiency improvements in older properties are permitted, to address energy efficiency at scale by employing the power of local communities to lead the process and to make funding more easily accessible, applying the savings to be earned over time to the amount of funding available. 

At the huge prices now charged for energy, this should be much easier to achieve. This is a plea for policymakers to support the power of community energy to drive forward the energy efficiency required to create real energy security.

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