UK urged to harness ‘quick’ goldmine to ‘bring down energy bills’

Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle sees Hands replace Zahawi

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Grant Shapps, the UK’s newly appointed Energy Security and Net Zero minister, has been urged to invest heavily in renewable energy, which could significantly slash household energy bills. Aside from boosting the UK’s energy security and helping us get to our legally binding net zero commitments, experts note that phasing out fossil fuels like oil and gas would significantly slash bills, as clean sources like solar and offshore wind are far cheaper than the extremely volatile wholesale gas prices. This came as the Prime Minister announced a Cabinet reshuffle and sweeping shake-up of Whitehall with the creation of four new Government departments yesterday.

The main element of the reshuffle saw the business, trade and culture departments restructured into four different ministries. Grant Shapps, who had been the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will now be the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary.

The new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will be tasked with securing the UK’s long-term energy supply, as well as “bringing down bills and halving inflation”.

Following the announcement, anti-nuclear campaign group Stop Sizewell C said: “Creating a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero hopefully means the UK can get on with developing the energy that really matters – cheap, quick, secure renewables.

“Grant Shapps should not plough on with expensive, slow, risky Sizewell C, dependent on its French government builder and on overseas uranium. He needs to look again dispassionately – he will see it is not necessary and he needs the courage to throw Boris Johnson’s legacy on the scrap heap.”

A number of critics have slammed the Government’s decision to back the upcoming Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Somerset, which once completed is expected to power 6 million homes.

The vulnerability of the plant to climate change is a major factor, with the UK’s former Chief Scientific Advisor Sir David King warning that the new £20billion power plant would be “very difficult to protect from flooding” due to rising sea levels on the Suffolk Coast.

Meanwhile, other experts also urged Mr Shapps to focus on renewable energy, with Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) saying: “Net zero and energy security clearly go hand in hand, with British renewables now seen as more secure than gas.

“At a time when the US and EU are going gangbusters for green industry, will this new department be able to work across government to ensure the UK doesn’t get left behind?”

Matt Williams, senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council commented: “If the Government wants to prioritise energy security, it needs to end reliance on expensive, imported fuels that destabilise the climate.

“This includes importing millions of tonnes of wood every year from the world’s dwindling forests, to burn in UK power stations. Instead, the new Secretary of State for Energy Security should focus on homegrown clean energy technologies like wind, solar, and heat pumps, that all help bring down families’ bills.”

Over the past year, the Government has been scrambling to increase its energy security, particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent natural gas prices to record levels, despite the fact that the UK imported very little gas from Moscow.

As President Vladimir Putin began squeezing critical supplies of gas that kept the lights on in Europe, the UK joined the European Union’s efforts to end this reliance by boosting energy efficiency and phasing out renewables.

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Meanwhile, many experts also hailed the inclusion of net zero under Mr Shapps’s department, with Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science, saying: “It is good that the Prime Minister has signalled his commitment to delivering net zero through the creation of the new department, and it shows that MPs on the right of the Conservative Party have failed to win the argument for weakening climate policy.

“However, a more important question is whether the new department will be able to persuade other departments and the Treasury to accelerate action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions across the economy outside the energy sector.”

Professor Anna Korre, Co-Director, Energy Futures Lab, Imperial College London, said: “The creation of a dedicated energy department with net zero at its heart reflects the importance of energy security and sustainability for both economic prosperity and quality of life across the UK.

“This country boasts world-leading academic and innovation expertise in these fields. By leveraging this, we can play a significant role in the fight against climate change.

“As scientists and engineers, we look forward to opportunities to work together with Government and the new department officials to make it a success.”

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