Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeNewsJohnson’s energy call – sorry, wrong numbers

Johnson’s energy call – sorry, wrong numbers


OUR innumerate government is at it again, with Bozo getting excited about a plan that is incoherent, under-costed and contains more soundbites than sense. As ever it uses the wrong numbers and provides no context. Allow me.

According to the government’s own figures in 2019 (latest available are here) the UK consumed 1,650 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy. (A TWh is equivalent to 85,000 tons of oil, a small tanker load). Just 10 per cent of this came from renewable and nuclear power. The associated emissions were 325million tons of CO2 equivalent. To get to ‘net zero’ by 2050 we have a mountain to climb.

Bozo claims that installing a further 40gigawatt (GW) of offshore wind will provide sufficient green electricity to power every home.  Really? In 2019 domestic energy consumption (electricity, heating and petrol vehicles) totalled 633TWh. 40GW at the measured load factor of 40.1 per cent will produce 141TWh, just about 22 per cent of the energy required. Sure, it’s sufficient to cover the UK’s current domestic electricity use, but the vast majority of domestic energy use is in heating homes and private car usage.  Oh, and commerce and industry use more electricity than homes. 

Bozo (probably rightly) announced that the government is seeking to boost hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas.  But making hydrogen requires energy. Lots of it. The cleanest method is electrolysis, but that needs electricity too. The 22million gas-heated houses in the UK consumed 310TWh. At best the conversion to hydrogen is 79 per cent efficient, so just to heat the UK’s houses needs another 390TWh of electricity.  That would be another 120GW of offshore wind (assuming that there is sufficient seabed space).

It makes sense to reduce the heat demand and so Bozo is providing £1billion per year for insulation grants. Ignoring the (undisclosed) part of this funding that is allocated to public buildings, that comes out at £40 per house per year – not even one double-glazed window per house.

Of course, wind is not the only source of clean energy: there is nuclear too. Bozo has promised £525million for small modular reactors. Great. But the 16 plants that Rolls-Royce envisages installing will produce just 7GW (about two Hinkley Points), contributing 60TWh per year between them. That’s 5 per cent of the energy that Bozo needs to produce the hydrogen to heat homes.

Another strand is to reduce emissions by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. Bozo is throwing another £200million at ‘carbon capture initiatives’. Someone needs to tell him that these often need more energy – fitting carbon capture to a power station consumes about 30 per cent of the power generated.

Finally he’s going to plant lots of trees, 30,000 hectares a year. That is 1 per cent of the UK’s land area being forested every year. Now, the amount of CO2 sequestered by trees is variable and complicated (the trees grow, but also breathe and eventually die and decompose). Government data for 2019 reckons that the UK’s current 3.4million hectares of woodland captured 28million tons of CO2, which comes out at 9 tons of COper hectare. So the extra forest will chip in an extra absorption of 270,000 tons of CO2 per year. If the programme runs for 25 years it will absorb less than 2 per cent of the UK’s emissions.

I could go on. Where is the electricity for cars and trucks to come from? What about replacing the current nuclear power stations (six out of seven are due to close by 2030)? 

But what’s the point? Until the government gets its advice from people who understand what they are talking about (that’s not you, Carrie) and who have the authority to challenge the PM and his ship of fools (sadly that is Carrie), we’re doomed to expensive gestures intended to deflect attention from reality. That always ends in tears.

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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