The usual crumbs for solar in British energy strategy focusing on North Sea oil and gas


Simpler permitting for rooftop solar, best use of public sector rooftops, and low-cost finance for photovoltaics were the only notable aims for the industry outlined by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the British Energy Security Strategy published this month.

The 38-page document, produced in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was more notable for the fact giving “a new lease of life” to Britain's North Sea oil and gas fields was given higher prominence than the section devoted to renewables, which characteristically had more emphasis on wind power than solar.

“We are going to make better use of the oil and gas in our own back yard by giving the energy fields of the North Sea a new lease of life,” Johnson wrote in his introduction to the report, adding: “Net zero is a smooth transition, not an immediate execution, for oil and gas.” The UK, wrote Johnson, would also be “investing massively in nuclear power” to secure its energy security.

Hydrogen aims

The methods by which the nation intends to generate up to 10 GW of hydrogen this decade, “subject to affordability and value for money,” perhaps reflected the government's priorities, with the document stating: “Investing in the North Sea, expanding our renewable[s] capacity, and leading in nuclear power will also enable the UK to produce more hydrogen.”

On solar, the strategy envisages up to 70 GW of generation capacity by 2035, up from 14 GW today, without specifying how that fivefold expansion will be achieved.

North Sea proposals include speeding new permits and reconsidering the ban on shale gas fracking, referred to in the document as a “pause” with a new report into the controversial process.

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Elsewhere in the publication, the government highlighted its decision to reduce fuel duty for the first time in more than a decade and said it could support business by increasing the renewables obligation exemption to 100%. The renewables obligation exemption currently spares energy-intensive industries up to 85% of the cost passed on by generators in power prices to fund the clean energy generation they are legally required to source.

The government wants 50 GW of offshore wind generation capacity this decade, including 5 GW of floating turbines, and said it would work chiefly with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to expand onshore projects.

Hydrogen blending

Of that 10 GW hydrogen ambition, at least half should be green, the document stated, with a decision promised next year on whether to blend up to 20% of the sustainable form of the energy carrier into the natural gas network, and helped along by annual production capacity allocations aiming to reach price competitiveness by 2025, subject to market conditions. By that point, Westminster hopes to have a gigawatt of electrolyzed hydrogen capacity at least under construction.

The modernization of electricity grids also rated a mention, with undated pledges to introduce time-of-use tariffs and grid-scale electric vehicle battery storage, and to have new homes built to be smart-meter ready.

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