Despite being forced to self-isolate having come into contact with a covid-positive MP, Boris Johnson has finally unveiled his 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”. With his familiar flamboyance, he describes a new utopia full of clean air and rainbows:
“Now is the time to plan for a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener and more beautiful. Imagine Britain when a Green Industrial Revolution has helped to level up the country.
You cook breakfast using hydrogen power before getting in your electric car, having charged it overnight from batteries made in the Midlands. Around you the air is cleaner; trucks, trains, ships and planes run on hydrogen or synthetic fuel,”
– Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The programme is described as costing £12 billion, with Downing Street saying £8 billion of this represents new commitments, although Labour has said it believes only £4 billion is actually new spending. The plan also claims it will create up to 250,000 new jobs.
What does the 10-point plan say?
There are six main themes in the Government’s new energy plan:
The sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans has been brought forward to 2030, from the previous target of 2040, although hybrid cars and vans that “can drive a significant distance with no carbon coming out of the tailpipe” can continue to be sold until 2035. The government consult on the phase-out of new diesel HGVs. The big investments under the plan are directed at the transport sector with:
- £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of EV charging infrastructure;
- £582 million in grants the purchase of zero or ultra-low emission vehicles to encourage more people to make the transition;
- Nearly £500 million over the next four years for the mass-scale production of EV batteries.
There will also be incentives making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investments in zero-emission public transport, as well as research projects looking at zero carbon aviation and shipping.
The Government wants 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 and aims to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade. Up to £500 million will be invested including trials for domestic hydrogen use, starting with a “Hydrogen Neighbourhood” in 2023, moving to a “Hydrogen Village” by 2025, and a “Hydrogen Town” – equivalent to tens of thousands of homes – before the end of the 2020s. Of this funding, £240 million will go into new hydrogen production facilities.
The Prime Minister announced a target of removing 10 MT of carbon dioxide by 2030. An extra £200 million of funding for carbon capture and storage projects was announced on top to £800 million previously earmarked, bringing total funding up to £1 billion. The extra funding will create two CCS clusters by the mid-2020s, with another two to be created by 2030. The clusters are likely to centre around areas such as the Humber, Teesside, Merseyside, Grangemouth and Port Talbot.
Low carbon electricity generation
The offshore wind target of 40 GW by 2030 was confirmed, with the Prime Minister saying this would support up to 60,000 jobs. £525 million of funding to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, including advanced modular reactors was announced.
The Government would like to see 600,000 heat pump installations every year by 2028. The recently launched Green Homes Grant will be extended by a year with £1 billion of funding next year to make new and existing homes and public buildings more efficient.
Green finance and innovation funding
The Government has already created a £1 billion energy innovation fund which will be used to develop the necessary technologies to deliver its new energy targets, and it would like to see the City of London emerge as “the global centre of green finance”, so private capital can also contribute.
The size of investments reveal the Government’s priorities
Unpicking the numbers in the plan reveals where the Government’s priorities lie:
- Electric vehicles – £2.8 billion
- Efficiency – £1 billion
- Nuclear – £525 million
- Hydrogen – £500 million
- CCS – £200 million (bringing total to £1 billion)
In other words, the bulk of the money is going into existing, established technologies. The amounts directed towards new, potentially game-changing technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen and CCS are too low to generate the break-throughs needed. Interestingly neither onshore wind nor solar features in the plan.
The plan is also very high-level…as always, the devil will be in the detail. Over the coming months a slew of White Papers and strategic plans is expected that should put more flesh on the bones. First up is the spending review which is due next week, and before the end of the year should come the Transport De-Carbonisation Plan, the long-awaited Energy White Paper, the Buildings and Heat Strategy, the National Infrastructure Strategy, the response to the Nuclear RAB consultation, and a comprehensive Net Zero Strategy. Making all of these strands coherent will take some doing, particularly given the financial impacts of covid and Brexit.
Do the plans make sense?
Regular readers will know that I’m a strong supporter of the Wylfa Newydd Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (“ABWR”) project and would have liked to see ring-fenced funding for this. Given EDF’s continued failure to deliver a working EPR in Europe despite £ billions of overspend, the ABWR would be a safer bet in the need to replace exiting baseload coal and nuclear capacity.
I’m also nervous about the all-in bet on electric vehicles. The ingredients of lithium-ion batteries, namely lithium, cobalt and nickel have problems relating to their extraction, being highly polluting processes, and, in the case of cobalt and nickel, being scare in nature and located in places with high geo-political and ethical risks. There are reports of environmental pollution, water shortages and disputes, unsafe working conditions and the use of child labour.
Supporters claim that smartphones and other technologies face the same problems but the difference is that there are alternatives to EVs which are arguably cleaner. Big automotive technologies (eg diesel) have been pushed by the Government before only to be quicky reversed later and there is a real risk the same could happen with EVs as alternatives such as hydrogen mature and the environmental impact of battery production becomes more widely known.
I’m also apprehensive about the energy efficiency piece. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is essential, but the key is to do it effectively, and this is where my concerns lie. A 2017 study by the University of Bath found that efficiency experts actually have few insights into which measures are the most effective, and the negative gap between what is promised in the deign phase and what is realised post-construction, known as the Performance Gap, is significant. Energy consumption of new buildings can be an order of magnitude worse than was predicted prior to construction.
“It’s a serious scandal. It affects all new buildings as well as the refurbishment of older ones. When one school in Plymouth was rebuilt, the energy bills for a month ended up costing the same as for an entire year in the old 1950s building. The problem is nobody checks that the building is performing as promised. There is very little regulation. They can’t be sued. It’s like a surgeon not being bothered about whether their patient lived or died,”
– David Coley, Professor of Low Carbon Design, University of Bath
Post-construction testing of the energy rating of buildings should be mandatory to ensure that promised efficiencies are delivered and that they actually work. Otherwise, consumers suffer and the industry as a whole is unable to learn what works and what doesn’t.
Overall I’m not that excited by this new plan. The £12 billion could be spent better, and while I support some of the non-energy plans around tree-planting and (to a certain extent) re-wilding, I don’t think the thrust of the energy plan is pointing in the right direction. This is bad news for consumers who will inevitably foot the bill.
Don’t just dabble with nuclear power, Boris! Decarbonise all UK energy use with massive build out of nuclear power plants (NPPs). You’ll do it for less than 1/4 of the capital investment needed per GW than attempting it with wind and solar plants (WASPs).
The basket case energy economy of Germany, with their WASP obsession, have committed €9 billion to the manufacture of green hydrogen. But €2 billion of that is going to Morocco, because Germany can’t build out enough WASPs to manufacture their own. How lunatic is that???
NPPs combined with electrolyser plants are the combination made in heaven. The NPPs can generate 24/7/365 electricity at 100% availability and load follow electricity and/or green hydrogen demand.
Not only can it be done on a daily basis, but also across the seasons of the year, by switching between grid electricity supply and green hydrogen manufacture.
It doesn’t matter how many TWh per year needs generating, this proportion of £18.47 billion every year for WASPs, against £4.06 billion every year for NPPs will apply:
Completely agree about the need for nuclear, and although I’m sceptical about a full conversion from methane to hydrogen, co-locating with hydrogen does turn nuclear into a flexible source of power (and the hydrogen can be blended with methane, used in electricity generation, or used in industrial applications).
The target is to decarbonise all sectors by 2050, meaning the use of methane disappears and green hydrogen (hydrogen manufactured using low-carbon electricity) powers some heating, most or all transport heavier than BEV cars and industry. Germany is going the green hydrogen route from the start, but the UK will waste £billions sticking with SMR manufacture of ‘blue’ hydrogen from methane + CCuS for a decade or two, before having to set up the green hydrogen technologies, to get to where Germany will be from the start.
I know that’s the target, I just struggle to see how it’s achievable. CCS doesn’t exist for a start – there are no large CCS projects anywhere in the world that don’t rely on hydrocarbon fuel production for their economics, and since that would be going away as well in a netzero world, things are going to get very expensive.
The link in my comment shows that the Rolls-Royce nuclear power plants (NPPs) would supply 480 TWh of low carbon each year for a capital investment of £4.06 billion per year. That’s almost 80% less than trying to generate the same amount of electricity using wind and solar plants (WASPs).
Do decarbonise all of the UK’s energy use using these NPPs to manufacture green hydrogen also, would require double the number at the most, which would take the figure up to £8.12 billion per year. Adding the lower cost electrolyser plant on top would take it up to, maybe, £12 billion per year – for a virtually pollution-free nation.
You may think this is expensive, but present day pollution in our major cities is costing the UK £20 billion per year (Page 85) and that’s real money out of the pocket of every income-earner. So the children of today get a pollution-free country and security of energy supply, with the most microscopic of environmental impact possible:
I agree: net zero is unattainable. Even the previous 80% cut would have been a real struggle, and probably not attainable either. The real problem is that we will kill the economy in the attempt, leaving us a deeply impoverished society. We are already living precariously, dependent on massive trade deficits to keep us supplied with things we no longer make or grow or have available to trade – these are financed by selling and mortgaging our assets, which means that the interest, profits and dividends go to the new overseas financiers and owners, instead of recirculating in our own economy. Every time we “invest” in green technology that has negative economic returns we make the picture worse. When we run out of things to sell, and when we start defaulting on mortgages because we can’t afford the cost of insulation mandated by law things will rapidly become unstuck.
I sincerely hope that the monitoring of the “Hydrogen Neighbourhood” in 2023, will include measuring ammonia (NH3) and NOx in the domestic environment as the hydrogen will be burnt in air, not oxygen. At flame temperatures, the nitrogen in the air is not inert.
I find this far more frightening than anything the EU could do to us. I have supported Brexit on the basis that it would once and for all allow us to frame a sensible energy policy outside of the EU’s ridiculous and frankly corrupt ‘renewable obligation’ .
But this looks like Princess NutNuts has got his privates in a vice, And we will ruin Britain before the consequences of this idiocy are revealed.
None of this makes economic or engineering sense. It is pure virtue signalling, and crony capitalism. Boris has juts thrown away any advantages that Brexit might have given us,
Brexit also gave the means to get away from the crippling state aid restrictions.
I don’t know who exactly is responsible for all this, but there’s so much groupthink going on among people that lack the analytical skills to properly understand all the angles. Unfortunately we have the exact same issues with covid – blind belief in “The Science” and an inability to interrogate the data, challenge the assumptions and question the conclusions.
“the negative gap between what is promised in the deign phase”
It does seem that the ten points have not had too much thought thrown at them.
All this talk about EV for cars; what about lorries? – going the hydrogen fuel cell route seems most likely for them (rather than electric batteries) – but no mention of such necessary vehicles.
CCS technology – enough has been said about that!
Enough energy for all households — until the wind drops.
I did think that the transatlantic flights/shipping might be achievable. Using SABRE (hydrogen) powered aeroplane – and some sort of wind powered ship….?
Thermal storage for energy is possible… but research needed to grow its scale – and use of liquid air has already been attempted – back in 2010-2012 at a power station (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19785689) – with not too high an efficiency.
Some of the others leave me a bit puzzled (miles of cycle ways…perhaps for commuting to London??)
And the planting of trees; perhaps if the greenbelt is maintained???
Rewilding sounds intriguing – as it often used to describe the re-introduction of (locally) extinct animals – wolves to Westminster ?
Call me crazy, but I have some vague notion that we used to have wind-powered ships for freight?
Thermal storage is definitely interesting. I haven’t looked at it in a while, but from what I remember the main challenge was to find a material that changed phase at the right temperatures to be useful, but there was some promising research going on. Cryogenic and compressed air storage also have potential.
Tree planting is a good thing in principle, but it has to be the right type of trees in the right area. Recently some important peatland was destroyed when the Forestry Commission accidentally planted trees on it.
The London cycle ways are a nightmare. Until recently I lived in London and still spend a lot of time there and many cycle lanes are barely used. There is a long one that runs along the Embankment and it wsa typically full of joggers with the cyclists using the road, which had been reduced from two to one lane with the resulting increase in congestion. These cycle lanes also make life much harder for taxis and in London, many mobility-impaired people rely on taxis and have to negotiate cycle lanes to access them. Of course the fares are higher because routes are restricted and congested.
One of the big problems with all of these plans is that they ignore the needs of vulnerable people. Energy will become more expensive, pushing more people into fuel poverty, and there are real risks people will be left behind by the ban on new fossil-fuel cars, or the push to convert to hydrogen-ready boilers and other appliances. And the tax rises that will be needed to fund much of this as well.
Coming on top of covid and Brexit I don’t see how it can be affordable.
Nuclear for heating makes sense and solves the hardest problem of seasonal heating
Heat water and pump that into homes and businesses in an insulated distributed heating grid
100 percent efficient and would only need 50 x 2GWt reactors for the uk
A heat only reactor would be about 10x smaller and 10x cheaper than an electricity generating nuke
Might be below 1p/KWh for heat but of course the distribution grid would be expensive but as long as its equal to or less than natural gas that would be okay
Could be on for 6 months off for 6 months or even on for 11 months and refueled in the hottest lowest demand month
UK demand for space heating is about 300TWh yearly so this is a potential huge market for nuclear energy and the competition is the ridiculous idea of hydrogen…..or the nice but unrealistic idea of costly heat pumps which get less efficient as the temperature gets colder
Heat pumps or resistant heating will cause a Texas type blackout in the Once a decade extra cold snap frying the grid
Hydrogen is sub 50 percent efficient and requires mass storage and also oxides of nitrogen are produced
Also technically no waste whatsoever as the used fuel rods can be used as low power infinite life power for the heating
Bulk Hydrogen manufacturing is an option for off grid solar in sunny locations
With PV panels at just 20 cents per watt each watt of panel would generate ~60KWh over 30 year life
That is just 0.33 cents per KWh at the DC panel level
Yes you need mounting system and electroliser and yes the efficiency is only realistically just 55% but who would have believed that a 300 watt panel would fall to just $60? for comparison the same 300 watt panel was $180 four years ago
If the 0.33 cents/KWh can be turned into hydrogen at 1.5 cent /KWh that would solve a lot of the problems of green power
I would have ridiculed anyone who suggested hydrogen for as cheap as NG but it now looks maybe possible this decade
The same could potentially be true for offshore wind if the off grid farms costs can get below 60 cents per watt or about £6.5 million for a 15MW turbine no idea if that is possible anytime soon