By Robert Bradley Jr. — March 29, 2022
“Renewables must be put on the same footing as other generators, with no subsidies and no preferential dispatch, and eventually wound down.”
“… the government should be candid with the public and focus relentlessly on replacing the older combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) with new models that are more thermally efficient (and thus cheaper and cleaner) and on increasing UK production of natural gas onshore and offshore.”
The United Kingdom (and EU more generally) is ground zero is the failed war against consumer-chosen, taxpayer-neutral mineral energies. Energy sustainability is affordable, reliable, plentiful energy–and wind and solar are not that.
Net Zero Watch of the Global Warming Policy Foundation is doing yeoman’s work in identifying the UK/EU energy fail in real time. Their latest is “Taking Back Control: Addressing Britain’s Energy Crisis.” Highlights from the primer by John Constable and Andrew Montford follow verbatim. (I do have an editorial comment on nuclear as well.)
• The UK energy system is dysfunctional and on the verge of collapse.
• Further expansion of renewables will make our gas dependency worse; only gas can now support renewables.
• There is no alternative to improving the efficiency of our gas-fired fleet, and diversifying the sources from which we obtain natural gas.
• Radical action is required to stabilise the system and bring down consumer prices.
• Renewables must be put on the same footing as other generators, with no subsidies and no preferential dispatch, and eventually wound down.
• A long-term gas-to-nuclear strategy is wise,  but because of the perilous state of Britain’s electricity grid, the use of ultra-supercritical coal may be necessary to keep the lights on should nuclear fall behind on its timetable.
This paper outlines the policies required to restore the economic and engineering efficiency of the GB electricity system and the energy sector as a whole. These counterintuitive measures would cut costs to consumers in the short term.
They will also improve system stability and energy security, and prepare the sector for a medium- and longer-term reconstruction that will address the systemic failures currently prevailing, returning the system to acceptable levels of reliability, bringing further price reductions for consumers, as well as lowering carbon emissions.
The measures are practical and hard-headed; they recognise that the UK’s current acute exposure to natural gas is, paradoxically, the result of the climate and renewables policies of the last two decades. The plan also recognises that gas dependency is beyond remedy in the short term, since only gas can support the large renewables fleets that we have built, battery storage being wholly uneconomic and likely to remain so. We are overly dependent on gas and must address this dependency by improving the efficiency with which we use this fuel and broadening the range of sources from which we obtain it.
In the short term there is no alternative to gas, and rather than pretending otherwise, with distracting upbeat remarks about nuclear, which is relevant only in the medium to longer term, and naive plans for additional renewables, which will only prolong and deepen the current crisis, the government should be candid with the public and focus relentlessly on replacing the older combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) with new models that are more thermally efficient (and thus cheaper and cleaner) and on increasing UK production of natural gas onshore and offshore.
This will be surprising to many, but it is an unavoidable conclusion from the engineering and economics of our situation. Indeed, the goal of increasing fuel diversity while cutting consumer costs requires that the UK reduce renewable energy infeed and restore the efficiency of the conventional energy system on which we are entirely reliant for security, in spite of vast investment in solar and wind power.
• Rapid and proactive development of all domestic fossil fuel supplies, particularly gas and oil in the North Sea, but also onshore shale gas.
• Rapid upgrade and expansion of the gas generation fleet, improving thermal efficiency and reducing generation costs.
• Use of UK foreign policy and market power to secure long-term natural gas supply contracts from friendly sources.
• Rapid reduction of subsidies and electricity system balancing costs through the imposition of balancing costs on renewables, firm power contracts and the discounted buyback of subsidy entitlements. These measures should be backed up by clear plans, if other measures fail, for compulsory discounted buy-back of subsidy entitlements and temporary state ownership of all previously subsidised renewable energy generation.
• Dispatch of renewables only when economic as a fuel saver, and a progressive reduction of renewable energy infeed to the electricity system as new conventional generation is built, restoring system efficiency, reducing system balancing costs, and obviating the need for underutilised network expansion.
• Firm but judicious support for new nuclear electricity generation in the longer term, and most importantly for new high-temperature nuclear modular reactors to provide industrial heat, reducing natural gas demand.
• Planning for new ultra-supercritical coal generation as a medium-term backstop should nuclear power fall behind schedule. Decisions along these lines are now unavoidable and will have to be taken by a UK government at some point in the future, and the sooner the better if the onset of an acute national economic and security disaster is to be avoided. Unless policy is reformed, system reliability and security will begin to fall precipitately and consumer prices will continue to rise quickly.
The program of measures we outline is daunting and difficult; the consequences of timid inaction will be much worse.
A governing party that recognises the need to reinforce our use of natural gas, nuclear, and current coal, and so restore system efficiency, with a medium-term prospect of more nuclear generation, perhaps with higher-efficiency coal as an insurance policy, will deliver real fuel diversity, security, and lower costs in the short and medium term.
Such a party would survive and be deservedly popular. By contrast, a party that fails to take radical action of this kind now will, at best, only defer the day of reckoning, and eventually be held to account for the consequences.
 Note: I disagree with this statement: “A long-term gas-to-nuclear strategy is wise….” Ditto for “Firm but judicious support for new nuclear electricity generation in the longer term, and most importantly for new high-temperature nuclear modular reactors to provide industrial heat, reducing natural gas demand.” Nuclear must compete in a free market sans subsidies–it should not be given an ideological free ride.
John Constable, the Energy Editor of the Global Warming Policy Forum, has been described as “a vocal critic of the Government’s energy policy,” warning that “the shift to renewable energy will make the economy shrink.” His testimony against the UK’s Net Zero policy is here.
Andrew Montford is Deputy Director and board member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Net Zero Watch.