Blind Man’s Buff?

Think tank: Adam Smith Institute

Author(s): Tim Ambler; Peter Edwards; Michael Kelly

November 11, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Adam Smith Institute looks at the UK Net Zero strategy.

This latest discussion paper, written by Tim Ambler, Peter Edwards and Michael Kelly, outlines the uncertainties and challenges facing the UK’s Net Zero by 2050 strategy whilst proposing a potential solution. The UK’s Carbon Net Zero by 2050 target is an excellent aspiration but there is currently no coherent, quantified strategy for its achievement. There are several key areas of uncertainty, including energy generation requirements and likely shortfalls. On current plans, the UK will have insufficient nuclear generation capacity to meet conservative estimates of expected baseload requirements.

Under reasonable assumptions, renewables’ contribution to overall energy needs would need to increase by approximately nine times the current amount; the cost to users of moving to Net Zero by 2050: different estimates of the cost of Net Zero arrive at wildly divergent conclusions whilst often making questionable assumptions; the likely contribution from anticipated new technologies: some future technologies are given undue attention despite lack of feasibility or likely cost effectiveness, whilst working estimates of ‘technological readiness’ for advanced modular reactors require greater scrutiny.

Just as the government set up a panel of scientists (SAGE) to provide advice on an area with a high degree of uncertainty, a similar approach could be taken towards the Net Zero by 2050 goal. If the Government wants to deliver Net Zero by 2050 while maintaining a low-cost and reliable energy supply, they could do so by establishing E:SEAG—the Energy: Science and Engineering Advisory Group. This could bring together top science, engineering, industry and business skills to help identify the best energy strategy for meeting Net Zero 2050 in the most effective manner; It must learn from the failures of SAGE by, for example, increasing external scrutiny and ensuring experts are specifically regarded as such in their relevant fields.