Business & Economy
Guest contributor – A powerful plan, or a missed opportunity?
May 12, 2022
Never one to knowingly undersell anything, Boris Johnson was at it again last month.
When not answering questions about his future, the Prime Minister was describing his new British energy security strategy as a gateway to “clean, affordable, secure power…for generations to come”.
It includes plans to build up to eight nuclear reactors and increase hydrogen use to lower the UK’s reliance on gas by more than 40 per cent by 2030.
It also sets a target to make the country the “Saudi Arabia of wind power”, through widescale planning reforms to speed up offshore developments, with Downing Street promising to “develop local partnerships for…supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits”.
Elsewhere, ministers are looking at reforms around the fitting of solar panels on homes and commercial buildings to increase numbers.
Critics, though, say the measures lack clarity.
Some point to what they see as an obvious absence of new moves around building insulation, while University College London Professor Michael Grubb, a former Ofgem senior adviser, told The Financial Times the Government’s blueprint is confused, saying it “doesn’t know what problem it is trying to solve”.
Our region’s place in the energy revolution
After the Government last month unveiled its British energy security strategy, which, among other things, pledges significant investment to ramp up low-carbon hydrogen production and increase offshore and onshore wind developments, Richard Cockburn, partner and head of energy and renewable sector – national at Womble Bond Dickinson, assesses the North East’s role in the promised energy revolution.
Words by Richard Cockburn
Partner and head of energy and renewable sector – national at Womble Bond Dickinson
Aside from ambitions to increase nuclear energy, much of the Government’s new British energy security strategy concentrates on sectors well-established in the North East, such as offshore wind and hydrogen.
It shows there will be more clean energy projects coming online and in the North East, where there are already relevant projects in the pipeline, it indicates there will be even more of a flow of work and jobs. Dogger Bank, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, is being developed from the North East and manufacturer GE is setting up a Teesside plant to make turbine blades. The Government has also set out plans to double the hydrogen target, and this will boost further the development of the East Coast Cluster.
Not only that, but a North East trial was recently completed that showed the role which hydrogen can play in the UK’s journey to net-zero when it comes to heating buildings.
News recently broke that the hydrogen blending trial in Winlaton, Gateshead, has been running successfully for seven months.
It tracked households being heated with a blend of 20 per cent hydrogen and 80 per cent natural gas, and the results will act as a stimulus to UK efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
The next steps of utilising hydrogen in the journey to net-zero will see all eyes turn to schemes such as the H100 Fife project, in Scotland, which aims to demonstrate the safe distribution of 100 per cent hydrogen in the gas network by heating around 300 homes with hydrogen produced from a wind turbine.
Heating accounts for up to a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions when including industrial processes, and these emissions must be reduced to meet the net-zero targets set by the UK and Scottish Governments.
Substituting out natural gas for hydrogen, producing no carbon when it burns, would be a significant step along this path.
Beyond energy generation, other projects in the region are developing innovative solutions to reduce the footprint of the UK’s most carbon-intensive activities.
The recently-developed digital model created to monitor and manage the carbon emissions at Port of Tyne, as part of the Clean Tyne project, which includes partners Siemens and Newcastle University, and funding from Innovate UK, is just one example.
It is clear the North East, which is currently championing its offshore wind capacity and supply chain through the East Coast Cluster, innovative heating pilot projects and various other clean energy schemes, has a significant role to play in the UK’s energy transition.