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Jack Semple, Secretary of the Engineering & Machinery Alliance (EAMA) of which MTA is a member, has reflected on the upbeat speech given by the Prime Minister earlier in the week to the Conservative Party’s virtual conference this week and goes back to the manifesto for the 2019 general election to connect the policy to the current situation.

Although positive, there was little new in the speech - which reflects, perhaps, the unanticipated challenges that have arisen from Covid.  The PM looked beyond the current difficulties to the longer-term future and he invoked the spirit of 1942, when the cabinet looked to an improved post-war future.  The coalition government led by Churchill published the Beveridge Report in November 1942, which anticipated radical reforms in national insurance, education and health, including the formation of the NHS. 

Headlines in the media have made much of the PM’s passage on energy:  “I can today announce that the UK government has decided to become the world leader in low cost clean power generation - cheaper than coal, cheaper than gas; and we believe that in ten years’ time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts.

You heard me right.  Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle - the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.  We will invest £160m in ports and factories across the country, to manufacture the next generation of turbines.”  He added that the UK would be to wind what Saudi Arabia has been to oil.

In fact, the 40GW target for wind was set out in the 2019 general election manifesto, along with the commitment to commercialising new floating wind farms.  Even so, it is clear that marine energy is now seen as a key investment area.  It is worth noting that, currently, the UK’s offshore wind power capacity is just over 10GW and that offshore wind generates 10% of UK electricity, according to the OWIC.

Responses from the energy sector include: 

  • E3G, a European energy think tank: “As the recent Citizen’s Assembly on climate showed this will be very popular with the public.  But [the prime minister] does need to be careful not to overpromise - the wind blows everywhere and many other countries are ahead of us in making the technology - so we will not become a new Saudi Arabia.
  • Offshore Wind Industry Council: “Offshore wind is on track to become the backbone of Britain’s electricity system, providing reliable, low-cost clean power to homes and businesses across the country.”
  • Energy UK, the main energy trade body: “We look forward to the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan for the low carbon industrial revolution, later this autumn.”

Critics have said that homes take less than a third of the UK’s total energy use.  They point to a need for investment in storage of wind energy, and lack of clarity of the future of nuclear.