UK Energy Strategy

UK Energy Strategy

UK government is slowly waking up to the need for urgent clean energy reforms

With the arrival of a new government under Rishi Sunak has come the foreshadowing of a potential new energy policy. Currently, oil and gas prices remain a matter of major concern for households and businesses across the world, and especially in Europe, which has been heavily reliant on Russian gas supplies.

The UK government has now provided a level of security to retail consumers with its Energy Price Guarantee, which includes a temporary suspension of green levies – giving consumers of energy in the UK some breathing space.

Just prior to his departure to the COP 27 summit in Egypt in November, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We need to move further and faster to transition to renewable energy, and I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this global movement as a clean energy superpower.”[1]

On the cards for the UK is an aggressive which will see not only the development of traditional sources of domestic energy for the UK – i.e. North Sea oil and gas – but also clean and renewable technologies. The UK government has admitted that energy policy over the past decades has not focused enough on securing supply.[2]

The autumn budget flagged possible new taxation on the renewable energy sector. A levy is now anticipated in the next Finance Bill in the UK.[3] Ministers are now hinting that the ban on onshore wind, which was an early declaration of the Sunak government, may be rescinded. Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News recently that, “where communities are in favour of it”, onshore wind may be permitted again. A growing number of Conservative party MPs are known to be lobbying for more onshore wind, including two former prime ministers.[4]

“Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of renewable power and will help to bolster the UK’s largest onshore wind farm in Whitelee, just outside Glasgow,” said Alok Sharma, who presided over the COP 26 summit in Glasgow and is one of the MPs trying to lift the ban.[5]

More support required for biogas sector

While it is tempting for the government to look to nuclear and wind energy for solutions, biogas is often overlooked as a solution, but it is a constant source of energy, and with the right help from both government and institutional investors, the existing fleet can produce more energy and new plants could be built within the current two-year turnaround time.

The UK government’s April Energy Strategy failed to mention biogas, but biogas/anaerobic digestion (AD) can play a role in assisting with the decarbonisation of the economy as well. This is a critical competitive edge which the biogas industry possesses, and which other sources of clean energy cannot .

Organic wastes that generate biogas and biomethane release potent methane into the atmosphere, as well as potentially causing human health issues. AD technology can remove harmful waste from the carbon cycle and turn it into the gas that can provide the energy security the country is seeking. There is also the additional side benefit of nutrient-rich bio-digestate for farming.

According to the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA), the AD and biogas industry represents a significant solution to these challenges, and fully deployed, it could reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 6%.[6]

“AD is a mature technology which can be deployed within a few years,” said Charlotte Morton, CEO of the World Biogas Association. “What is needed now is the right regulatory framework to be put into place, including the organic waste collection infrastructure necessary to ensure these wastes go to AD for treatment.”[7]

So what does the UK government need to implement to achieve this?

ADBA is calling on the government to accelerate the implementation of separate mandatory collections of food waste across the UK for treatment through AD to produce biomethane. They are also calling for more government support for the rapid deployment of biogas and biomethane infrastructure through the same CFD process applied to turbo-charge the wind and solar sectors.

Another major boon would be the reduction of red tape on biogas producers, including the time consuming and onerous planning processes currently applied to the biogas industry.

In summary, it seems as if the ongoing war in Ukraine and the sheer scale of the energy crisis is providing momentum to much-needed policy reforms. But the government seems to be reaching for short term fixes that can address the situation in the next six months: considerable additional achievements could be in place within 12-24 months via a number of relatively conservative policy tweaks. We will await the government’s more in-depth energy strategy review with interest.

[1] PM pledges to make UK a clean energy superpower ahead of COP27 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[2] Why drilling for more fossil fuels won’t bring UK energy security or cut prices – Carbon Tracker Initiative

[3] Autumn Statement 2022: electricity generator levy a risk to renewables investment (pinsentmasons.com)

[4] UK could allow onshore wind farms to be built, reversing 2015 ban | Euronews

[5] Statement on Twitter – @AlokSharma_RDG

[6]  – Biogas has a key role to play in addressing energy and climate crises, says anaerobic digestion trade body in letters to new government | ADBA | Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (adbioresources.org)

[7] Organic waste – A gold mine in the right hands | ADBA | Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (adbioresources.org)