UK gas imports would be 13% lower if successive Tory-led governments had not ‘cut the green crap’ over the past decade, Carbon Brief analysis shows.
The findings come as the government North Sea Transition Authority announces a new license cycle for North Sea oil and gas, with the stated aim of increasing UK energy security. The analysis also follows news that the UK is at risk of breakdowns if imports of gas and electricity are restricted.
Carbon Brief analysis shows gas imports into the UK would have been cut by 65 terawatt hours (TWh) had government support for energy efficiency and renewables continued, instead of being canceled after then-Prime Minister David Cameron told ministers in 2013 to “cut green shit”.
This saving would have been almost twice as high as the 34 TWh imported from Russia last year. This would have been enough to reduce the UK’s net gas imports by 13% overall, significantly boosting energy security. The economy would have avoided buying 65 TWh of gas at a cost of around £5 billion.
Most of the savings would have come from additional onshore wind and solar capacity, which would have reduced UK gas demand for electricity by 20%. Moreover, the analysis shows that the demand for gas for electricity generation would have been twice as high if the UK did not have renewable energy sources.
“Cut Green Shit”
From 2013, successive Conservative-led governments cutter holder for improving the energy efficiency of the house, discarded a requirement for new homes to be “zero carbon”, ended the subsidies for onshore wind and solar, and actually prohibited onshore wind in England.
This caused a precipitous decline in the rate of home energy efficiency improvements, led to the construction of millions of new inefficient homes, and dramatically reduced the amount of onshore wind and solar capacity built each year, as Carbon shows. Brief. January 2022 Analysis.
The new Carbon Brief analysis aggregates these climate policy rollbacks in terms of the gas demand they would have avoided if the measures had remained in place.
In total, UK gas demand would have been 65 TWh lower if it had insulated more homes (11 TWh), built new homes to zero carbon standards (2 TWh) and continued to add onshore wind (31 TWh) and solar (20 TWh) at historical rates.
This economy of not “cutting the green shit” is illustrated by the red bars in the graph below, relative to UK gas demand in 2021 (grey) and relative to UK net gas imports -United the same year (light blue). The graph also shows direct imports from Russia in 2021 in dark blue.
UK gas demand, terawatt hours (grey bars), as well as gas imports in general (light blue) and those from Russia (dark blue). Reduced gas demand if governments hadn’t “cut the green crap” (red). Source: Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
The 65 TWh savings are almost double the 34 TWh imported as liquefied natural gas (LNG) by ship from Russia last year and would have enabled the UK to reduce its gas imports by a total of 13% .
At the average of £77 per megawatt hour gas price from 2022 to date, that 65 TWh would have saved £5 billion in avoided gas costs.
The majority of the savings would come from continuing to build wind and onshore solar at historic rates, instead of seeing their growth slump due to rollbacks in climate policy.
Carbon Brief’s analysis assumes that onshore wind would have increased in same rate like in 2017, when 1.8 gigawatts (GW) were built, which means an additional 5.4 GW will be built by the end of 2021. It assumes that 10 GW of additional solar capacity would have been added to the during the period 2016-2021. This is conservatively based on adding capacity to 2016 levels, well below the peak seen in 2017.
In total, this 15 GW of additional renewable capacity would have generated some 25 TWh of electricity per year on average. Generating this electricity in average UK gas-fired power stations would require 51 TWh of gas, as half of the energy in the fuel is lost as waste heat.
This saving of not “cutting the green crap” is illustrated by the red bar in the graph below – a 20% reduction in actual UK gas demand for power generation in 2021 ( Grey).
UK gas demand for electricity generation, terawatt hours (grey bars). Reduced gas demand if governments hadn’t “cut the green shit” over the past decade (red bar). Increase in gas demand if the UK did not have renewable energy sources (blue). Source: Carbon Brief analysis. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
This additional onshore wind and solar capacity would have enhanced the UK’s security of supply, increasing the “downgraded margin” between expected peak demand and available supply at 8.1%, compared to 6.3% in the “base case” recently published speak National Electricity Grid Operator (NGESO).
This downgraded margin, which takes into account the expected availability of the different types of power plants, would have been 4.8 GW, instead of 3.7 GW in the NGESO base case.
Also, the graph shows how much extra gas would have been needed if the UK hadn’t gotten 40% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2021.
The UK would have needed to double the 254 TWh of gas used to generate electricity last year had it not had supplies of wind, solar, hydro and biomass power.
This would have increased UK gas demand in 2021 by 29% at a cost of around £10bn.
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