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Cleaner Energy Technologies

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what form of carbon reduction costing or pricing they use to assess the relative merits of different cleaner energy technologies in reducing the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, published carbon values are used across government for valuing the impacts on emissions resulting from policy interventions, including options for different clean energy technologies. Those values are consistent with the UK’s domestic and international climate change targets.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer. In light of third-party research suggesting that atmospheric carbon units would need to be at an unaffordable price of several hundred pounds per tonne, even many years into the future, for electrolytic hydrogen to make economic sense, can he reassure the House that the Government are confident in the economic case for its support and that the economics will remain under review?

I understand the point my noble friend is making, but the potential of hydrogen to support the global transition to net zero is widely recognised, with international partners, such as the US and the EU, also having set out significant support for hydrogen. The Government are supporting multiple hydrogen production technologies, including both CCUS-enabled and electrolytic hydrogen, to get the scale and cost reductions we need.

My Lords, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit released a report last week that stated that, when it comes to green steel, the EU has some 38 projects, while the United Kingdom has one—and eight of those in Europe are already functioning. Does that mean, for the country that invented the Industrial Revolution, that we are about to see the extinction of our steel industry?

No, I think the noble Lord is being too pessimistic, as he often is. We have ambitious projects supporting steel. The noble Lord is right that hydrogen is probably one of the technologies that will be required to decarbonise the steel industry and we are working closely with the industry on that.

My Lords, in 2021 the Government set out in guidance a revised approach to valuing greenhouse gas emissions due to the more ambitious goal in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise and the UK’s legal requirement to achieve net zero by 2050. Can the Minister say what steps the Government have taken since this adjustment to ensure that the revised approach is meeting its intended goals?

We give a value to carbon and use that to inform our policies, not least through the ETS. We have supported a number of early-stage technologies. Offshore wind was extremely expensive when we first started supporting it; now it is very cost-competitive and we are confident that we will end up in the same position on hydrogen.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the only way even to get close to the net-zero targets is to make major changes to the current energy policies to enable a substantial increase in both the number and speed of deployment of nuclear reactors?

I certainly agree with my noble friend that we need to expand both the potential and the deployment of nuclear reactors, and we are doing just that. We recently passed the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, for which I am grateful for the House’s support. We have invested several hundred million pounds in the new Sizewell plant and are supporting Rolls-Royce to develop the next generation of small modular reactors.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I think the Minister would be disappointed if I did not raise with him one established clean technology: onshore wind. Can he tell the House what progress we are making with the consultations about lifting the effective ban on new onshore wind developments? Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, referred to the parliamentary pension fund and its investments and report. As a pensioner, I read its report and was delighted to see a photograph of a wind turbine in which the pension fund had invested. My disappointment was that it was in Sweden, not the UK. When can we get some investment and some jobs in onshore wind in this country?

I would indeed be disappointed if the noble Baroness did not raise the subject of onshore wind. She partly answered her own question in that she knows that we are consulting on revising the planning policy framework. I think she is doing us a bit of a disservice. Sweden has a different topography and interests from those of this country. Where we have a world-leading operation is, of course, in offshore wind, where we have the biggest offshore wind farm in the world—and the second, third and fourth. We are truly world leading.

My Lords, has my noble friend made an assessment of the amount of water needed to create hydrogen for use in energy technology? Is this going to be an issue in areas of the UK that might be water-stressed at this time?

If there is one thing many parts of the UK are not short of, it is water. The noble Baroness’s point is partly valid in that we need substantial quantities of water for producing electrolytic hydrogen, which is fundamentally electricity and water, so that is something we need to bear in mind in terms of location.

My Lords, as the Minister fully appreciates, we do not necessarily get the energy at the right time from some of the alternative sources and that brings into play the importance of pumped-storage schemes. Is he aware of concern in the industry that the regulations the Government are abiding by are holding back the development of pumped storage and will he please have a look at this in association with those in his department?

The noble Lord is of course right in that renewables are good, available and cheap but they are intermittent so we need technology such as nuclear, which has already been referred to, and pumped storage, of which there are excellent examples in Wales. We will certainly look at removing any future barriers to the deployment of further pumped storage.

My Lords, on an earlier occasion, the Minister referred to the possibilities of nuclear fusion. Is he in a position to say whether the contribution that British scientists have been making to this exciting possibility are inching forward in any way? Given the earlier exchanges about the importance of lithium in making batteries for electric cars, how does the Minister respond to reports today that China already possesses 25% of the lithium market and within a decade will have 30%? Of course, it relies on child slave labour in countries such as Congo to make those batteries.

The noble Lord had two questions there. I completely agree with him about fusion. We need to support it, but of course it is at a very early stage. It has great potential, but it seems to have had great potential for many years now. The noble Lord’s other point on the use of critical minerals is important, of course, which is why we have a critical minerals strategy. There are also lots of exciting new battery technologies which might perhaps not need so much lithium—so the Chinese need to be careful that they are not investing in the wrong technologies.

Has the Minister seen the recent report from the Climate Change Committee, which says:

“A reliable, secure and decarbonised power system by 2035 is possible—but not at this pace of delivery”?

Indeed, it went on to say that there had been a lost year in which politicians had not acted with the necessary determination and delivery. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government are on target to meet the targets that have been set? The committee really does not think that they are.

Well, if the noble Baroness is referring to the legally binding carbon budgets, of course by their very nature they are legal targets and we have to meet them. We have met all our carbon budgets so far—in fact, we have exceeded them—but of course as we go on it gets more difficult. We have lots of ambitious policies to continue rolling out renewables and other carbon-reduction technologies, but we will respond to the CCC report in due course.

Yes, well, however many times the noble Lord asks me that question, he gets the same answer. We are supporting tidal stream technology under the latest CfD round—and of course we keep the technology under review and, if the costs come down, we will want to continue to support it and roll out further projects.

It depends on which projects the noble Lord is referring to. He might hear some good news in the near future with regard to the track 1 cluster announcements.

Could my noble friend tell the House what the Government’s estimate is of the social cost of carbon?

I am not quite sure where the noble Lord is going on that question. Perhaps we should have a more detailed discussion outside the Chamber.

My Lords, given the energy trilemma of the cost, the mix and security of supply, and given the year that we have had, should security of supply not be given more prominence in energy policy?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. Security of supply is vital, and it is one reason why we want to continue to roll out the deployment of renewables in the UK—because, of course, if it is generated in the UK, it is secure. Part of the problem that we have seen over the past year has been our exposure to the vagaries of international markets. Sadly, we get only 40% of our gas supplies now from our own resources in the North Sea, and the rest we have to import, either by LNG or by pipeline. So we want more secure, reliable power generated here in the UK, because of course that is the most secure.