The Department of Energy and Climate Change appears to be in the difficult position of being committed to two potentially conflicting strands of policy development. On the one hand it is producing a new strategy to address fuel poverty (its predecessor having conspicuously failed, with fuel-poor households at a historic high), while at the same time it is consulting on proposals to lower energy bills by reducing the surcharges – “green taxes” – that fund fuel-poverty work.
Energy secretary Ed Davey launched a consultation in March with an upbeat speech on the future of the energy company obligation (ECO), the levy on energy suppliers that supports energy efficiency improvements. Extending its reach to 2017, he rightly said that “the obligations under ECO that meet the needs of the fuel poor cannot be compromised”.
The problem is that the programme was already woefully thin. ECO funding supports the installation of energy-efficiency measures such as new boilers, which the energy companies can provide in a cost-effective way. Yet there is no obligation on companies to consider properties as a whole, making them sufficiently thermally efficient so that the household can keep adequately warm at an affordable cost. The benefits of a new boiler will be seriously undermined if a home still has draughty windows and a lack of insulation.
This is the biggest investigation of the British energy markets since privatisation and deregulation began in the 1980s. But the inquiry, triggered last week by a trio of watchdogs led by Ofgem and to be undertaken by the new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) immediately sparked dire warnings that go to the heart of Britain’s energy policy paralysis.
British Gas owner Centrica and a raft of analysts said a probe that could last two years will freeze investment in much-needed power stations and make blackouts more likely. Ofgem and energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey countered that a proper and full investigation would clear the air and rebuild trust among consumers.
Energy bosses, the Government and consumers are at loggerheads over our gas and electricity bills.Customers furious at years of rising prices have fought back by ditching big suppliers, MPs have sought to claim kudos with promises of taking on the energy firms, yet the big suppliers claim they are not profiteering.So how expensive are our bills, why are they rising and will a crackdown on energy firms really lead to the threat of the lights going out? We take a look.
UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 2% last year, as less coal and gas was burned to generate electricity.
But official figures published on Thursday show that because of increases in 2010 and 2012, the UK’s carbon footprint is still roughly the same as it was in 2009 despite government promises to cut emissions.
The fall in 2013 is likely to provide some relief for ministers ahead of a major UN climate science report next week and a renewed push for an international climate change deal in Paris next year.
Last year’s drop appeared to be largely due to a 9% decrease in coal use and a 7% decrease in gas. The share of energy generated from renewables sources was up, as a series of large offshore windfarms were connected to the grid. Onshore wind power generation was up 36.4%, and offshore wind up by 45.8%.
Emissions were up in the residential sector by 2.6% and 2.9% in business, and remain static for transport.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We are extremely pleased to see that greenhouse gas emissions are provisionally down and that electricity generation from low carbon sources is at its highest for at least seventeen years. This was due to record levels of renewables generation and higher nuclear availability. We are on track to meet our longer term carbon and renewables targets which will reduce emissions and improve the environment.”
The UK’s emissions have been falling gradually over the last two decades, by around 21% since 1990, as energy efficiency improved and the use of gas power displaced more carbon intensive coal.
The Met Office said the average temperature in 2013 was 8.8C, a fraction below the longterm (1981-2010) average of 8.9C.
Greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom declined 2 percent last year because of a decrease in the use of fossil fuels, the government said Thursday.
The British Department of Energy and Climate Change issued reports highlighting energy use and emission from 2013.
DECC figures show emissions have been on a general decline since the 1990s. The government attributed last year’s decline to a 9 percent decrease in coal use and a 7 percent decrease for natural gas.
Coal provided 40.6 percent of the electricity generation, though overall production is declining. Natural gas and nuclear power accounted for around 20 percent of the share each, though wind energy generation was increasing with offshore wind accounting for the bulk of that sector, government data show.
The United Kingdom has more offshore wind power capacity than anywhere else in the world.
Fracking will be “good for our country”, David Cameron said as he blamed a “lack of understanding” about the process for some of the opposition to shale gas.
The prime minister said that once wells are up and running later this year, there would be more public enthusiasm, and exploiting shale gas reserves could help Europe wean itself off reliance on exports from Russia.
The Ukraine crisis has increased the urgency of European efforts to find alternative sources of energy to reduce the leverage Russia’s oil and gas supplies give it across the continent.
Speaking after the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Cameron said it was “our duty” to be more energy-independent, saying it should be a “tier one” political issue. He acknowledged people had “uncertainties and worries and concerns” about hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – which involves using high-pressure jets of water to release gas.
Millions of households may be paying too much for their energy, regulator Ofgem is expected to say on Thursday.
The energy sector is likely to be referred to the top competition watchdog to face an investigation into allegations of profiteering.
The Big Six companies have a case to answer over the prices they charge, in particular for customers they inherited from before privatisation, the regulator is likely to say in a “state of the market” report.
Ofgem is expected to say it is minded to refer the sector to the new Competition and Markets Authority, which it can do if it believes “that the structure of the market or the conduct of suppliers or customers is harming competition”.
A inqury could result in the Big Six — British Gas, SSE, Npower, EDF, Scottish Power and E.ON — being broken up to improve competition.
Solar panels have always been referred to as solar cells, but cells of a different kind have been making waves in the solar commercial energy industry at the start of 2014 thanks to some bold new experiments taking place in labs across the world. Most prominently, labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT – have been attempting to create ‘living materials’; bacteria spliced with non-organic material that can do a dazzling array of things with just light. Still in the proof-of-concept stage at the moment, the research team at MIT have already combined bacteria with man-made assets that allow them to conduct electricity and produce light in various colours like an LED.
George Osborne quietly moved to kill off Britain’s renewable revolution in Wednesday’s budget as he stealthily enacted David Cameron’s rumoured call to his cabinet to kill off the “green crap”.
With such stealth that it went almost entirely unspotted by environmentalists and journalists, who were busy focusing on his move to reduce fossil-fuel energy costs for big business, Osborne at a stroke abolished a key tax break that has attracted hundreds of millions of pounds of private money to help build Britain’s green energy future.
Tucked away in the budget’s red book is an innocuous-looking line that Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) tax breaks will no longer be available for companies benefiting from the renewables obligation certificate (ROC) scheme or the renewable heat incentive (RHI).
Of these, the ROC scheme is the big one. It underlies all the big wind, solar and other renewable technologies in the UK. The EIS tax breaks are available to investors who put money into all sorts of start-up companies. Until now that has also included firms building wind and solar farms. Now, after royal assent to the legislation in July, it will not be.
One City fund manager on Wednesday predicted that many funds would simply have to hand back money to investors that they could not deploy into solar or wind projects by then.
This will mean a big slowdown in the deployment of renewables in Britain, a crying shame because renewable investment and deployment have picked up sharply in recent years, after a decade of delay, as Britain finally seemed to be taking European renewable energy targets seriously.
Ed Miliband’s pledge to freeze gas and electricity bills for every home and business in Britain for 20 months if Labour wins the 2015 Election is set to be scuppered by a competition investigation into the sector ordered by the Coalition.
The Labour leader’s pledge at his party conference last year to freeze energy bills within a month of coming to power boosted his poll ratings as households struggled with soaring energy prices.
But last year Energy Secretary Ed Davey commissioned an assessment of competition in the energy supply market by Ofgem, the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition and Markets Authority.