Net Zero equals the electrification of the whole economy

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Ed Miliband took the Climate Change Act through the Commons in 2008, committing us to cut emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.  Only five MPs failed to support this.  In 2019, the May government amended the Act by statutory instrument, increasing the target to 100%.  There was no detailed discussion and it's not clear whether anyone was asked to vote for it.  It must have seemed like a no-brainer to a parliament hell bent on leading the world, desperate to be seen on the right side of history – or at least not to be seen on the wrong side of it – and suffused with plangent cries of regret and remorse over our original climate sins.  There was, however, no plan as to how we are to achieve this.  There still isn't.  We are not unique in this; much of the Continent is in the same boat, the Germans especially so, their predicament made worse by the collapse of their neat economic model: cheap gas from Russia making all those zillion €uro exports to China and beyond.

Slowly, now, the public is paying attention, and waking up to the fact that there is no plan other than, perhaps, that someone (everyone??) is going to have to pay a lot of money.  The PM's announcement last week has helped bring all this to the surface.  Who knows, it might even help kick start a cross-party discussion about a plan.  What a radical idea.

I thought that the most significant aspect of the PM's brief talk, which I listened to in full, was what he said about electricity; that is when he said that we needed a way (perhaps even a plan) to make sure that we had enough electricity to get us to net zero.  Not just in terms of making it at a reliable and realistic price, but distributing it as well.  Currently, as even a cursory glance at the data shows, we are in a muddle.  On my bad days, it makes me yearn for the certainties of the Central Electricity Generating Board when we knew whose job it was to keep the lights on and we could hold them to account.

I'm not making this 'lack of a plan' up.  In North Britain, the Scottish government’s wind energy targets exceed Scotland’s energy needs by over three times.  A letter in The Times (September 28th) noted:

"There is no integrated plan for the infrastructure required (wind farms, pylons or storage). There is also no plan for the excess energy, which is expected to be sent to England. It is a free-for-all, with opportunistic developments threatening to irreparably damage Scotland’s landscape, wildlife and ecosystems. Communities have no decision-making powers because the Scottish government has in effect legislated that it will decide all major projects, with any renewable energy project likely to be approved. What is needed is proven evidence of need and a full explanation of what net zero means for the energy sector, backed up by a well-thought-out, joined-up UK-wide plan. A licensing system is essential to ensure that the infrastructure is regulated and placed in the best location, and it must include community decision-making. It is also critical to nail down the big uncertainties, including the roles of oil and gas, hydrogen and storage."

Just so.  If we're in a mess now – the ludicrous electricity pricing mechanisms illustrate this – imagine what it will be like when, long before 2050, there is huge demand from electric domestic heating and electric transport.  Does anyone know how we're going to manage all that?  No.

It was Jeeves who once got Bertie Wooster out of a tricky spot with the Heralds of the Red Dawn by quoting what Lenin said in 1920: "Communism equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country".  These days, of course, a wannabe Lenin would have to talk about Net Zero as it's this that clearly requires the electrification of the whole economy.  Happily, you might rashly think, we already have the Climate Change Committee's 5-year carbon budgets.  But these aren't actual plans either.

How will we do it?  Maybe schools are the answer.  Maybe all schools should have national planning on the curriculum.  Needless to say, the DfE has no plans to do this.  It doesn't even seem to have a plan for natural history.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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