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Keeping the power on: our future energy technology mix

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Nick Bradford, Managing Director of energy storage specialists Atlantic Green, shares his thoughts on the challenges the UK faces to increase its renewable energy capacity and the Government support required.In this guest piece Nick Bradford (pictured left), Managing Director of energy storage specialists Atlantic Green, shares his thoughts on the challenges the UK faces to increase its renewable energy capacity and keep the power on, as well as the Government support required.

On October 25th the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee held the first session of its ‘Keeping the power on: our future energy technology mix’ Inquiry. The Inquiry comes at a pivotal time for landowners, developers and all those associated with the renewable energy industry in the UK. The recommendations made by this Inquiry will shape policy that will impact generations to come and influence the route taken by the UK to reach net-zero targets. The Inquiry must listen to the experts and put aside any predispositions to self-serving recommendations.

It is becoming a prevalent discourse within the industry that to reach the overarching goal of Net Zero, the planning process, which is currently outdated, requires urgent reform much like how the grid requires modernisation and investment.

Government Must Listen

In the runup to the looming general election, the UK’s net-zero target currently appears in a vulnerable position and should not be seen a political football. It is of critical importance that renewable energy does not become a political front line which sees politicians weakening targets and reversing strategies to appease voters and backbenchers. How will we be able to look future generations in the eye if we sit back and allow long term policy to be dismantled and devised for short term political expediency?

Those of us who work in the renewables industry best understand the deep-rooted challenges the UK faces to increase its renewable energy capacity. Policy for the renewables industry must stay unwavering and consistent, be based on advice from industry experts and not be viewed by those in Westminster as subject with any negative political leeway. The Inquiry will become a pointless exercise in bureaucracy if it merely listens to but does not act on the industry experts advise.

The Inquiry must not push aside the role landowners play in the UK reaching their net-zero targets. Since Brexit, landowners have grappled with ambiguous legislation, hastily crafted subsidies, and scheme delays, leaving them in a state of uncertainty under government policies.

The policy outcomes we need

  • Planning system

Much like the views of many politicians, the planning system throughout the UK has become cumbersome and outdated. The impact and dangers of the climate crisis are more visible each year; catastrophic heatwaves, droughts, floods and wildfires are becoming more regular and severe across the globe. Governments must act quickly to phase out the existing reliance on fossil fuels and move to new cleaner energy technologies. However, there are multiple hurdles currently in place inhibiting the ability for this shift to be made, notably the UK planning system which displays inadequacy due to its outdated manner which subsequently limits the UK’s ability to adapt and develop in a fast-moving environment.

We welcome the spatial planning policy and energy hubs outlined by Prime Minister Sunak in his September speech. However, these promises which will move the UK planning policy out of the twentieth century and into the twenty first, must be realised and most importantly, kept.

  • Grid Modernisation

If there is one thing the inquiry must understand above all else, it is the dire need for grid modernisation. it is widely and openly discussed within the industry that currently the UK grid is not fit for the purpose we require it, and the lack of capacity will hinder the UK’s 2035 target of decarbonisation of the electricity system. Due to the ongoing global shift in electricity supply, lack of grid capacity is not a problem unique to the UK, the IEA published a report ‘Electricity Grids and Secure Energy Transitions’ finding that the globe must essentially double the grid by 2040.

Government policy has failed to ensure an adequate grid for the UK. The renewables industry has raised the alarm, and we need to see to policy address our concerns. Developers today face up to 15 years for grid connection and your place in the queue does depend, as one might rationally think, on the readiness of the project.

We welcome Prime Minister Sunak’s announcement on the 20th of September, “we’ll end the first-come-first-served approach to grid connections by raising the bar to enter the queue and make sure those ready first, will connect first.” However, the government’s history of promises and subsequent failure to commit to long term delivery does give our industry cause for concern. The grid must be modernised, and we can’t afford to see delays and long-term delivery failure of upgrades. Widespread investment and modernisation are essential.

  • Investment

The importance of investment for the UK to deliver their net-zero targets cannot be overstated. Regulatory stability and government endorsement through clear ambitious policies or incentives is vital for investors’ confidence. Private investment is crucial to the new age of UK energy infrastructure and for decarbonisation by 2035.

New technologies are exciting and offer investors new opportunities, however the government through policy must ensure that these established renewable technologies which are increasingly becoming the backbone of our energy supply are not overlooked or forgotten.

This Inquiry must lead to policy that looks to the long-term and is not upended by political whims, energy security and price stability is a necessity for the UK. We need to create and put into action, policies that focus on achieving long-term goals. This is especially important because the renewable energy sector has been facing instability in recent years, largely due to factors beyond their control and problems with government policies. If this inquiry leads to anything less, than it will become yet another failure in a long line of inept policy that is more focused on political expediency than the genuine needs of the UK.


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