Here, we focus on the latest developments in UK energy policy, by looking at initiatives that ensure a secure, reliable, affordable and clean energy supplies for the country
The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire – a role she has had since 2010. She studied Political Science at Warwick University and then moved into a career in banking and finance, in which she worked for 25 years, before working in politics. She was appointed as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on July 24th, 2019.
This article will focus on the energy-related part of her role, specifically her priority to ensure that the UK has secure energy supplies which are reliable, affordable and clean. Other roles are:
- Developing and delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy and leading the government’s relationship with business.
- Ensuring the UK remains at the leading edge of science, research and innovation.
- Tackling climate change.(1)
Clean energy initiatives
In order to achieve the goal of ensuring that the UK has secure, reliable, affordable and clean energy supplies, Leadsome has launched a number of initiatives. One of those initiatives is committing £220 million pounds to allow engineers and scientists to produce a conceptual design of a fusion power station- referred to as the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP). A spherical tokomak is a “compact and efficient fusion devices that could offer an economical route to commercial fusion power”(2) – a form of nuclear power that offers a virtually limitless source of cleaner electricity by copying the processes that power the Sun.
On the project Leadsom says, “Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the UK. This long-term investment will build on the UK’s scientific leadership, driving advancements in materials science, plasma physics and robotics to support new hi-tech jobs and exports.”(3) This is an ideal example of Leadsom working to find and develop new sources of energy for the UK.
This new investment in working towards a cleaner source of energy for the UK also comes with the news that the UK government has ensured that its support for fracking, an unclean source of energy, has been suspended. Fracking was deemed an unsustainable source of energy as there is no way to predict the probability of tremors associated with fracking. Fracking can cause these tremors due to residual wastewater left over from the process, which can cause “induced” earthquakes. It has to be noted that while Leadsom is investing in forward-thinking ideas such as STEP she has previously been described as “evangelical”(4) in her support of fracking and has said on the suspension: “it’s a disappointment but we’ve always been clear that we will follow the science.”(5)
There has also been an aid fund of £1 billion set up to “unleash the talent of British scientists and global innovators to tackle climate change”(6). This fund is known as the Ayrton Fund and the government’s specific goal with this fund is to ensure that UK scientists are incentivised to tackle climate change in developing countries– allowing scientists and governments in those nations to have access to cutting edge technologies that they may otherwise have not had. On the fund Leadsom says, “Having successfully decarbonised while growing our economy, we’re proud to work with the poorest countries, who suffer most from the impacts of climate change, to develop and deploy wind, solar and battery technology to help drive the clean energy transition.”(7)
These initiatives demonstrate The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategies commitment to finding new energy supplies that are sustainable as well as profitable. This falls into the wider goal of the UK becoming a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
While the UK may be chasing this goal of zero emissions by 2050, there is still the occasional issue with power, as demonstrated by a power outage in August 2019. This outage caused widespread issues and on the issue Leadsom said, “National Grid has already confirmed that the incident was not linked to the variability of wind power, a clean, renewable energy source that the government is investing in as we work towards becoming a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. Friday’s (9th August 2019) incident does, however, demonstrate the need to have a diverse energy mix.”(8) From this it is clear that there are challenges ahead for the UK but clear investments are being made.