Our Prime Minister likes a splash so his Ten Point Plan was published before the long-awaited Energy White Paper, which was duly published just a few days later. The White Paper is the strategic underpinning to the Ten Point Plan, containing more than a few nuggets that didn't make the grade for the Ten Point Plan. As is the way of things these days, many of these points are just as important as the headline grabbers.

Electricity demand to double by 2050. So estimates the White Paper[i], which also says renewables will grow "four-fold" to meet this demand. Existing renewable capacity is around 37GW, wind (24GW[ii]) and solar (13GW[iii]) and a small amount of hydro. All wind and solar will need to be replaced before 2050, inferring a need to install around 148GW of renewables capacity by 2050, or nearly 5GW per year. Worth noting the announcement in the White Paper that CfD auction round four will allocate 12GW of contracts, that's 75% of the total allocated in rounds 1 to 3.

Onshore wind and solar will be key building blocks. This is an important change of policy. Since 2016 onshore wind and solar have been out of favour, but after five years out in the cold, the White Paper acknowledges the importance of their role… "Onshore wind and solar will be key building blocks of the future generation mix"[iv]and "A low-cost, net zero consistent system is likely to be composed predominantly of wind and solar."[v]

The Whispering 20s. The 1920s were the Roaring 20s, so-called for the roar that accompanied the arrival of the internal combustion engine. The 2020s might yet be called The Whispering 20s – the decade when the EV delivers silence to our roads. The Ten Point Plan trumpeted investment in EV manufacturing facilities but perhaps more importantly the White Paper promises to…"invest £950 million … in future proofing grid capacity along the strategic road network, to prepare ahead of need for 100 per cent take up of zero emissions cars and vans."[vi]

Targeting low carbon peaking capacity and long duration storage. The White Paper acknowledges the key missing technologies vital to achieving Net Zero electricity..."We can target the technologies which have a key role in the system of the future, such as low carbon peaking capacity and long-duration storage, which enable us to integrate high volumes of low-cost intermittent generation."[vii]On specifics, the White Paper commits to one power CCUS plant by 2030, proposing an adapted CfD financial support mechanism[viii].

Hydrogen on the bench. The Ten Point Plan gives hydrogen second top billing, mentioning its potential role in heating our homes. The White Paper trumpets its flexibility, but might it suffer the fate of the player good in many positions but excelling in none – ie a seat on the bench? The White Paper places as much if not more emphasis on hydrogen's potential role in industrial applications, heavy goods/maritime transport and providing peak power requirements…"heavy goods transport or a process such as steel production relies on fuel for energy, hydrogen can provide a crucial, low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels."[ix]

Four low carbon industrial clusters. Given the cost of constructing transport and storage facilities for captured carbon, carbon emitting industry outside the favoured areas is likely to become unviable, especially as the price of carbon is bound to rise in the future, and perhaps sooner rather than later, given the ambition to create the "world's first" net zero carbon emissions trading scheme.

Nuclear power caveat. Unlike the 10-Point Plan, the White Paper says new build nuclear is subject to demonstrating "clear value for money".[x]The RAB model "remains credible"[xi]– a downbeat assessment given the White Paper's propensity to proclaim 'world-beating' qualities elsewhere. How credible though? Does it make sense for taxpayers to be on the hook for cost overruns when the only three projects of a similar type are over budget? Not just by a little – the best performing is Hinckley Point at around 15% over budget (so far). And none is yet operational.

Competitive tendering for onshore connections. The White Paper says it will…"enable competitive tendering in the building, ownership and operation of the onshore electricity network."[xii]This looks similar to the OFTO regime for offshore connections. OFTOs are owned and operated independently of both the offshore windfarm and the network. We wonder, in the context of onshore connections, whether it might be simpler to extend the build and transfer model (the contestable works regime) used in distribution connections?

A lease of life for bioenergy. The White Paper promotes both BECCS (bioenergy carbon capture and storage) and biomethane. It says…"Critical to our consideration will be the role of BECCS in our energy system". BECCS may be costly but it can deliver dispatchable power and negative emissions. On biomethane, the White Paper says…"We will increase the proportion of biomethane in the gas grid", supported by the Green Gas Support Scheme.

Hedging bets on heat. Whilst the White Paper acknowledges that the biggest reductions in emissions must come from buildings, there is nothing new on how to achieve this. It continues the current four-fold policy – supporting decarbonisation of the existing gas supply (biomethane support), electrification, expanding heat networks and possibly replacing natural gas with pure hydrogen. The emphasis appears to be on electrification…"Separate networks for electricity, gas for heating and petrol or diesel for cars and vans, which today run independently of each other, will increasingly merge into one system"[xiii]. The Government will test the feasibility of using hydrogen to heat buildings, but also proposes to end new connections to the gas network in 2025, which wouldn't appear to be consistent with re-purposing the gas network for hydrogen.

Bonus point. The White Paper acknowledges that the proposals in the White Paper are not sufficient to meet net zero targets and that more needs to be done[xiv]. It doesn't say how much more. The CCC Report in December 2020 for Carbon Budget 6 advises that the 2037 target emission level needs to be 95.7MtCO2e. The White Paper proposes savings of 230MtCO2e, which would leave emissions 101Mt above the target.[xv]That's a big gap. Expect a couple of eye-catching commitments to be made in the run up to COP26 in November 2021.

And finally, a timetable of promised strategies, plans and reviews, with typically imprecise target dates (and expect some commitments to be delayed until just before COP26):

  • Early 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy
  • Spring 2021 Hydrogen Strategy
  • Spring 2021 Smart Systems Plan
  • Spring 2021 Final Net Zero Economic Review by HMT
  • Spring 2021 Transport Decarbonisation Plan
  • Spring 2021 Consultation on Heat Networks
  • Spring 2021 Green Jobs Taskforce Action Plan
  • Spring 2021 Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy
  • June 2021 6thCarbon Budget
  • End 2021 Strategy and Policy Statement Consultation
  • End 2021 National Planning Statement Review

Just as well there is nothing else for Government to focus on right now.

[i] White Paper page 41

[ii] https://www.renewableuk.com/page/UKWEDhome/Wind-Energy-Statistics.htm

[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/solar-photovoltaics-deployment

[iv] White Paper page 45

[v] White Paper page 43

[vi] White Paper page 77

[vii] White Paper page 44

[viii] White Paper page 47

[ix] White Paper page 127

[x] White Paper page 48

[xi] White Paper page 49

[xii] White Paper page 76

[xiii] White Paper page 69

[xiv] White Paper page 15

[xv] Carbon Brief: https://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-qa-how-does-the-uks-energy-white-paper-aim-to-tackle-climate-change, 7 Jan 2021