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Jordan Lee: We must learn from our energy security mistakes

As the UK rallied international support behind Ukraine, Putin threw European gas prices into chaos by restricting Russian gas exports. With 85% of UK households reliant on gas for heating, consumers faced an estimated £1,300 increase on their annual energy bill. This would have been significantly higher without the government borrowing billions of pounds to pay half of everyone’s energy bill. 

Jordan Lee CEN's Senior Climate Manager

But Europe is not alone in witnessing conflict during this period. The oil-rich Middle East has also faced multiple outbreaks of violence, with war between Israel and Hamas, and the UK and US launching targeted strikes to protect global trade routes against Houthi attacks. 

In these dangerous times, it is vital we tackle our strategic weaknesses, which could be manipulated by nefarious regimes. As the spike in energy bills has shown, we are vulnerable to shocks in the price of fossil fuels. It is more essential than ever - to boost the UK's energy security and maintain the UK’s leadership on the international stage - that we start producing more energy domestically. 

The UK has started on the right track, but we have not yet fully heeded the warnings of the Ukraine invasion. For instance, the increase in the Boiler Upgrade Scheme - which will boost heat pump uptake and move people away from gas - and the lifting of the de facto ban on English onshore wind projects are steps in the right direction. 

But, there is more to do to strengthen our long-term energy security and protect consumers. It was  disappointing that there were no bids for new offshore wind projects in last year’s Contracts for Difference auction. It is very welcome that the government has lifted the cap for offshore wind bids at this year’s auction. Ministers should now set a sufficiently large budget to enable us to get back on track for our 2030 offshore wind goals. Unless we increase our capacity to generate more energy domestically, we risk not learning the lessons from Ukraine and being poorly prepared for the next conflict. 

Although many will want us to turn to North Sea reserves, we must be realistic about the limits of this plan. We should use what we have at our disposal, but North Sea oil and gas is in terminal decline and will run out; we must build clean, secure renewables to shore up our domestic energy supply and ensure our long-term energy security.

Compared with other energy technologies, renewables can be one of the quickest to get built, and start producing energy. Renewables also help reduce the UK’s susceptibility to volatile international gas markets. Indeed, in 2021, renewable energy helped save UK consumers from buying £6.1 billion worth of gas.

However, at the moment we’re not maximising the potential of our homegrown renewable energyMandatory community benefits - where developers are required to offer local households money off their energy bills in exchange for hosting generation and transmission infrastructure - could help to expand clean energy infrastructure. Community benefits bring local communities with us and ensure they are appropriately consulted, provide developers with the certainty they need to invest, and allow for speedy planning permission. 

We should also do what we can to reduce wasted gas from heating escaping through leaky windows, walls, and roofs, by boosting homes’ energy efficiency. The UK has the leakiest, most energy-inefficient homes in western Europe. Offering a stamp duty reduction for energy efficient homes and a stamp duty rebate for retrofitting two years after the purchase of a new home will help incentivise homeowners to improve their houses. 

We can also support farmers to diversify their income and make their businesses more resilient, by cutting red tape around renewable energy schemes. For example, we should extend permitted development rights for new small-scale onshore wind turbines of up to a maximum height of 30 metres, as with new mobile phone masts. 

These are turbulent times we are living in. It is imperative that we are prepared and UK citizens are protected. Following the two year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, it is time to accelerate efforts to unleash renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements in the UK. 


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