No, I’m not referring to the song by Lou Reed and the Velvet Undergroundi, but to this:
“Energy supply and investment inquiry launched by Economic Affairs Committee”ii.
Despite the prosaic nature of the inquiry’s title, it offers up a vanishingly small hope that maybe – just maybe – some Parliamentarians are starting to wake up to the realities of current geopolitical developments, especially in the context of the UK’s energy security.
Unfortunately, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and “net zero” remains a preoccupation – perhaps even a fixation – of politicians, who seem to be unaware that their three main policy aims are mutually incompatible:
The Committee wishes to assess whether the Government’s energy strategy is delivering investment in an energy supply that is resilient, affordable and in line with achieving net zero emissions. The focus of this inquiry is on long-term energy policy and trends in the energy market.
As things stand, it seems to me that resilience has been well and truly stuffed by an obsession with unreliable renewable energy, and a requirement to virtue signal, which has seen us importing fossil fuels rather than using our own. Affordability has fallen at the same hurdle. If we want resilience and affordability, then the third part of the formula (net zero) will have to be dropped.
The Chair of the Economic Affairs Committee is Lord Bridges of Headley. His Wikipedia entryiii doesn’t tell us much other than that he comes from what to most people would be a very privileged background (educated at Rokeby Preparatory School, Eton and Oxford University) and that he seems to be a career politician whose career to date apparently peaked at the exalted heights of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union. He is one of 243 life peers created by David Cameroniv.
The Parliamentary website introducing the Committe Inquiry to us offers up a quote from Lord Bridges which, to be honest, doesn’t fill me with confidence:
Our prosperity and growth depend in part on access to secure and affordable energy. Recent energy price rises show just how important this [is] for every home and business. As we make the transition to net zero, it is therefore critical that the Government’s energy strategy secures sufficient investment in our energy supply, so that it is reliable, affordable and in line with achieving net zero ambitions. This inquiry will examine these long term challenges and opportunities; the Government’s strategy; and the role that financial services and their regulators are playing in the transition.
Still, apparently, absolutely no recognition of the futility of net zero targets given the behaviour of major players like India, Russia and China. Still, self-evidently, absolutely no recognition that net zero targets are an obstacle in the way of reliable and affordable energy supply in the UK.
I’m a bit late in bringing the Inquiry to readers’ attention, since it seems to have been launched on 10th February 2022. I am, however, underwhelmed by the fact that just 29 days have been allowed for the submission of written evidence, with the deadline being 11th March 2022. If you want to make a submission to try to persuade our political leaders that they need to wake up to reality, and that the world has changed in the last ten days, then you’d better get your skates on.
The Committee poses nine questions. Given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an event which took place after the Inquiry was announced, the submissions in response to the third question should be a bit more robust and pointed than might have been anticipated. Here’s question three:
What are the main international and geopolitical factors and risks affecting the security and affordability of the UK’s energy supply? How should the Government work with international partners on energy policy and respond to greater international competition for energy supply?
Three of the Committee’s questions explicitly refer to net zero (though without querying the validity or wisdom of the policy). One refers to “reduc[ing] demand for energy”.The Parliamentary website page introducing the Inquiry has a picture of an offshore wind farm as its header.
Beginning to see the light? Perhaps not. It’s a bit difficult to see the light when you’re wearing a blindfold.
i From their third album, also called “The Velvet Underground”.
As long as everything else is predicated on this, then everything else will necessarily be rainbows and unicorns. The plan does not have to be deliverable – it does not even have to be plausible. All that matters is that there is an answer that will defer the inevitable collision with reality. “We’ll have 190 GW of wind power,” for example. Unfortunately this is like promising to develop the capacity for flight, while sitting on a branch and progressively sawing through it.
A stronger technology would displace a weaker naturally. A weaker technology can only displace a stronger by the dictates of stupid government, and will win and win right up until the branch snaps.
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I’m sorry to sound like a stuck record, but my background colours the way I think about these things. Consequently, the best I can offer here is to repeat what I said in my most recent article. Amongst the many basic risk management errors that are being made, there is the following:
“A failure to understand that the robust decision is not the one that leads to the greatest reduction in risk, it will be the one that remains valid for the widest range of possible futures. It is all about minimising the regret function and, in this regard, it is sometimes the sufficient that is more important than the optimal.”
There is no sign that the UK government has adopted the concept of robust decision making. Had they done so, we would not now be seeing the regret function skyrocketing in the face of the Ukraine invasion. Even now, the only regret in the minds of the likes of Lord Bridges of Headley is that we cannot achieve net zero by teatime.
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“It’s a bit difficult to see the light when you’re wearing a blindfold.”
“Cop27 summit must focus on how world will adapt to climate change, says UN envoy
Mahmoud Mohieldin tells Sydney audience Egypt talks will need to get from ‘summits to solutions’ amid increasing wild weather”
“Mahmoud Mohieldin, the United Nations climate change high-level champion for Egypt, says November’s Cop27 summit must focus on adapting to life in a changing climate and grapple with finance for loss and damage given the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.
Mohieldin told the Sydney Energy Forum on Wednesday adaptation had been “forgotten for many years” at UN climate conferences “because of a generous assumption that we are going to be doing fantastically well on mitigation, so nobody should worry about adaptation”….”.
Maybe worth a read. At last there seems to be some recognition of the importance of adaptation (even if they haven’t yet given up on the futility of mitigation).
Reality also biting here?
“Halt use of biofuels to ease food crisis, says green group
RePlanet calls on EU to ditch organic targets and for governments to lift bans on genetically modified crops”
“Governments should put a moratorium on the use of biofuels and lift bans on genetic modification of crops, a green campaigning group has urged, in the face of a growing global food crisis that threatens to engulf developing nations.
Ending the EU’s requirement for biofuels alone would free up about a fifth of the potential wheat exports from Ukraine, and even more of its maize exports, enough to make a noticeable difference to stretched food supplies, according to analysis by the campaign group RePlanet.
About 3.3m tonnes of wheat were used in 2020 as feedstock for EU biofuels, and Ukraine’s 2020 wheat exports came to about 16.4m tonnes. About 6.5m tonnes of maize was also used for EU biofuels, compared with about 24m tonnes exported from Ukraine the same year.
Supplies of wheat and maize for export from Ukraine are already under serious threat from the Russian invasion, with shipments held up and harvests damaged by the war. Food prices are rising around the world, with the war in Ukraine a key factor.
That makes it imperative for governments to stop mandating the use of biofuels, according to RePlanet, in a report entitled Switch Off Putin.”
The Committee published its report last month:
An interesting read. Despite recognising some obvious truths (e.g. “The UK relies on the spot market for gas imports, and it has no long-term storage facilities.”; “There are many routes to net zero, which makes precise costs of the transition difficult to forecast with precision. The costs will depend on the speed and
trajectory of the transition, and how the Government responds to shocks along the way. These shocks include the current energy affordability crisis”; “The UK currently relies on gas as a flexible back up to renewables”; “One challenge for renewables is the intermittency, or variability, of their supply. If there is calm and cloudy weather, then levels of wind and solar energy generation fall, reducing supply), the ostrich head remains well and truly buried in the net zero sand.
The Government response is due by 21st September. I have no great hopes for it.