The British government revealed on Thursday its plan to increase the country’s energy independence as European nations try to quickly reduce energy imports from Russia over the war in Ukraine.
The cornerstone of Britain’s plan is an increase to nuclear capacity, with goals to deliver up to eight reactors this decade. Under the energy security plan, the country will aim to increase its capacity to 24 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050, or one-quarter of estimated electricity demand. There will also be more oil and gas projects in the North Sea and an expansion of offshore wind and solar power. The government said it wanted to wean Britain off expensive fossil fuels.
The plan “will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in statement.
Last month, Britain announced it would phase out imports of Russian oil by the end of the year. Russian gas supplies weren’t affected. But prices for wholesale natural gas, and to a lesser extent oil, had soared even before Russia invaded Ukraine, impeding industrial production and squeezing household budgets. In Britain, energy bills jumped 54% this month for most households and were expected to surge again in October because energy prices were still volatile.
But the government’s plan was met with swift criticism. Industry groups and campaigners said the energy security strategy failed to address the problems households faced now from rising energy costs because it didn’t include a plan for increasing energy efficiency — particularly through housing insulation — or new targets for onshore wind.
This was “the perfect opportunity to set out a decadelong plan to insulate people from volatile energy prices,” Adam Scorer, chief executive of National Energy Action, a fuel poverty charity, said in a statement. “It is silent on that crucial issue.”
The government’s plan includes an incentive to accelerate the manufacture and use of heat pumps, an alternative to household gas boilers, worth up to 30 million pounds, or $39 million.
Others denounced the plan to expand oil and gas projects in the North Sea, even as Britain has ambitious climate-change goals enshrined into law. The government said it would support domestic oil and gas in the “nearer term,” as it hopes to make 95% of electricity “low carbon” by 2030.
The government’s plan is aiming for a fivefold increase of offshore wind capacity by 2030 with expedited planning permissions. But goals for onshore wind were muted amid internal opposition in the governing Conservative Party. The government said it would consult on developing partnerships with a limited number of communities that were willing to have wind turbines. The plan also included a goal of increasing low-carbon hydrogen production capacity to 10 gigawatts by the end of the decade as part of Britain’s efforts to reduce emissions.
“Replacing gas power with more nuclear power is lower carbon, but nuclear isn’t renewable and it isn’t cheap,” Darren Jones, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker and chair of the parliamentary committee with oversight of energy policy, said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that the government has failed to seize the full opportunity of onshore wind and solar once again.”