Decarbonize the UK, spend just a few £bn, win the next election

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about climate change and the cost of combating it in the UK press. This is all about lining up the public’s attitude, so that their respective favored candidates can become the leader of the ruling Conservative party.

Everyone forgets that the UK has dropped its carbon emissions by 40% and that this has cost a relatively small amount. Subsidizing solar and wind ten and twenty years ago, was making up for a huge distance in price between those and coal. Today it is more about guiding the energy industry towards renewables with minor incentives and parity based dealing – where as long as renewables can live with the prices set by fossil fuels, they are automatically preferred in deals.

Listen to the electricity industry itself – make a regulation that all new build properties from 2022 have to have carbon free heating – most likely electricity based heat exchangers, but equally green hydrogen backed gas  plant if that is economically feasible. It is not for government to “pay” for decarbonization, but to point the direction, punish those who do not follow with inequitable taxation which is then spent on renewables, and reward those who do with tax breaks. Yes it will have some effect on the Exchequer, but far less than the £70 to £100 billion a year that some are citing. And actually the build out of this infrastructure would throw up a huge number of jobs, and salary taxation will then have a balancing effect on the Exchequer.

The big problem is that US processes are beginning to find their way into UK politics. Big oil and fracking players are spending money within politics, to king-make their preferred choice. Conservative candidates are almost exclusively being pointed at “experts” by their industry friends, who Desmog unfrocks as climate change deniers (see piece elsewhere in this issue).

The UK can afford to take a leaf out of China’s book. In the planned economy of China, it has starved the solar industry of subsidies for the first half of this year, parading only parity priced deals, where wholesale energy trading will see zero subsidy solar enter the market up against gas and coal plants. China chooses the technology, does not pay for it, but promises a fair fight. If you prefer to wait 6 months and risk running out of cash, you can have subsidies down the track, but most of those will go to those players who played ball on parity pricing. This is pragmatic, this educates the industry on pricing, and keeps them looking for ways to make renewables cheaper.

In the UK it is more common to offer a high subsidy, higher than the rest of Europe, and that’s purely so the companies in the market can show their shareholders strong profit yields – it should be a case of “jam tomorrow” as long as you back our programs. The tail should not wag the dog, in that industry should not dictate policy to the government, but the dog should be completely in charge of the tail, setting the pace.

Do that, and the UK does not have to flirt with technologies out there on the fringe like carbon capture. Right now we have EDF asking for a £6 a year levy on all electricity bills to build a new nuclear reactor at Sizewell. That is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Instead the government could double the offshore wind allocation, but put out a lower subsidy rate and get that electricity ten years sooner for no extra cost. It could put through an Act streamlining permissions for onshore wind, with no subsidy, and get twice as much power. That will cost precisely nothing.

The Government could order a survey of all the floating solar locations in the country, and then auction them, without subsidy, and it could spend a few £billion with the National Grid to get it ready for as much intermittent energy as possible (one area of cost that probably does have to be undertaken) and offer subsidies on batteries to make unsubsidized solar and wind more profitable, which in turn attracts investors. It could simply increase the renewables obligation targets more rapidly. All of this is the cheap way of getting things done, pragmatic and removing the friction from processes that industry, at least the electricity industry, wants to happen. We do not care what the oil, gas and coal industries want to happen, as they won’t be with us for much longer.

Bringing forward the date for making all new vehicles Electric from 2040 to 2035 will do little harm either, as at the rate that China is dominating this market, there will be many, many vehicles types available from China and other sources by that time. Currently there are 49 suppliers of EVs operating in China and we’re sure China would love to supply us with electric buses.

One of the big things that has been going on in Britain for the past 3 years is Brexit, and the biggest critic of Brexit is the car industry that wants to continue with Just In Time planning, making vehicle components all over Europe, and bringing them together for assembly, as they are needed. This is a complete misnomer. We are seeing jobs lost in this industry under the guise of Brexit, when what is really causing this is the massive miscalculation of the car industry on how rapidly EVs would take off. In 5 years making a car is that much simpler, and the UK could intercept this with regulation, and bring the manufacturing jobs this will create in Europe, to the UK.

EVs are not only ten times cheaper to refuel, but have 18 moving parts to the 2,000 that you need in an internal combustion engine. The old industry is dead. It is no good kowtowing to Ford or General Motors, they will be dead or dying in 5 years and so will the jobs they bring locally. In China new EVs are on the market at £10,000 already. Instead of putting tariffs on them, welcome them, upgrade them to EU safety standards, and partner with the Chinese to bring them in.

Bring forward the date for insisting on them, and perhaps set a rising ratio of sales of EVs to petrol cars in the run up to the cut off date. Then charging ports are not a problem, as every investor in his right mind will want to back a deal to bring charging stations to every town and car park.

Distributed energy resources can be enabled by a smart grid, which will take, as we said a few £ billion, but that stimulates jobs in solar and installing home batteries, at no further cost. Put together a financial instrument for homes to replace boilers with solar plus heat exchangers plus batteries plus EV charger, guaranteed by the government, but not paid for by it.

All the political parties are married to nuclear plus carbon capture plus a bit of renewables, when two of these are fantasy. Back renewables, including massive tidal lagoon projects (which keep getting cancelled by denier intervention). Back them to the hilt with policy, and some low level of financial PPA guarantees and the rest will take care of itself.

So when the government says it will legally commit to ending Britain’s global warming contribution by 2050 – without caveats, don’t hang your head and worry about who will pay for it, think more in terms of exporting the expertise by which we did it, to all those countries who are miles from this achievement, and all the export revenues that will bring.