Forget all the talk about cars, recycling bins and whether or not we'll be taxed for eating meat, said Robert Colvile in The Sunday Times. The key question when it comes to Britain's net-zero ambitions is whether we'll be able to generate enough power.
If we're going to switch to electric cars and use heat pumps to warm our houses, that means taking "arguably the two biggest chunks of energy demand in the UK and hooking them up to the grid, at the same time", he wrote. That's a tall order as things currently stand.
The UK has been great at decarbonising its electricity supply, but poor at making long-term plans to expand capacity. An "infamous" clip from 2010 shows Nick Clegg explaining that he doesn't support a new nuclear project because it won't come on stream until "2021 or 2022".
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'Already struggling to meet existing needs'
To have any hope of meeting the net-zero target, we'll have to massively increase both our electricity supply and our transmission infrastructure, which won't be cheap. Take the "Holistic Network Design", the plan for rewiring the grid to accommodate 50GW of offshore wind by 2030. The estimated cost is nearly £54 billion – "not for the turbines; just for the wiring".
The government's energy strategy predicts that we'll need twice as much electricity by 2050 as we use today, said Andrew Orlowski in The Daily Telegraph, but nobody believes that. A minister acknowledged last year that it would probably be closer to "four times". That's alarming, given that we're already struggling to meet our existing needs with the help of dependable hydrocarbons.
Today, we need over 60GW of electricity in periods of peak demand, which often requires the purchase of surplus energy from other countries. How will we bridge the widening "energy gap" when both we and our European neighbours depend on wind power and other less reliable sources?
Future savings from green investments 'massive'
It's a daunting prospect, said Sonia Sodha in The Observer. Our leaders have shown themselves capable of rising to such challenges in the past: witness the postwar consensus on social housing,which led to the construction of 4.4 million homes in 35 years. Alas, it's hard to see today's politicians doing the same.
The upfront costs of new wind farms, solar farms, nuclear power stations and domestic pumps are formidable, said Sean O'Grady in The Independent. But the future savings from such investments are massive.
If we're willing to stump up the cash, it will bring down energy costs and lend momentum to further green reforms. Rishi Sunak must make the positive case for reform even while being realistic about the scale of the challenge ahead. "The solution to the dilemma isn't just to go easy and postpone everything."
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