The government’s consideration of bail outs for energy companies in the wake of the current rise in gas prices is a troubling indication of our flawed energy system.
The energy price cap supposedly “protects” consumers, but it will do no such thing, as government loans would be provided at taxpayers’ expense to bail out companies on the verge of going bust. Meanwhile, consumers will be harmed by the fallout of those companies which are left to go bust. At the same time, increased government spending will result in further inflation, which could reach 5 per cent by Christmas.
The British public will pay directly or indirectly for this, whether now or later down the line. It’s time to take bold steps to break this pattern of the government throwing money at a broken system.
In the context of surging prices for gas and historically unstable prices for oil, we must be willing to make long-term investments in our nation to become energy independent, both to ensure our own security and to throw off the shackles of fossil-fuel dependency which have tied European nations to illiberal regimes such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.
In becoming energy independent (self-sufficient), Britain would become insulated from one of the most fundamental threats to our economy and way of life: energy shortages. We are utterly dependent on energy for every aspect of our lives. Terror attacks, armed conflicts in the Middle East, trade wars and other external factors have threatened our energy supply in the past and will continue to do so unless we begin investing in energy autarky.
This does not require a shift to a state-led, socialist economic model. On the contrary, the British government should encourage energy companies in the private sector to provide the safest, most consistent and most responsible forms of energy to keep our country’s lights on. Britain should not just adopt free market liberalism domestically, but engage in clean free trade around the world, and prioritise low or non-existent tariffs for environmentally conscious products and services.
Britain’s move to level up our energy supply must have Net Zero goals in mind. We must invest in a radical overhaul of our energy system regardless, and so it is a perfect opportunity to incorporate nuclear and renewable sources of power generation into our effort. This effort will take many years, and the current troubles we are experiencing are only further evidence that we must begin taking decisive action.
Why is nuclear a part of this picture? Simply put, renewables are not strong enough to provide us with 100 per cent of the power we need – providing the battery capacity alone would cost an incredible £2.9 trillion.
If we are to truly reach the Net Zero target, we must begin using nuclear power at a larger scale – it is the only feasible way of bringing down emissions without creating a world of darkness and misery for British citizens. Nuclear energy currently provides a fifth of Britain’s electricity – that number is set to decline by 2025, but must increase if we are to switch out fossil fuels while maintaining the standard of living which Britain enjoys.
Government support already goes to the fossil fuel industry, giving them tax breaks and reduced VAT – that lost revenue should be given to suppliers of greener fuel, supporting private sector suppliers who are willing and able to help us pivot towards Net Zero in a realistic manner. Without further investing in nuclear energy expansion, we will lose an enormous amount of zero-carbon energy without providing anything in its place – as electricity demand is set to continue rising, this is an unacceptable lack of foresight from the current government.
Furthermore, energy efficiency should be at the heart of our energy policy. By embracing new methods developed by the private sector in energy efficiency, use and storage, we can promote efficient creation and use of energy to bring bills down, making our energy sources doubly efficient. Consumers as well as suppliers must make fiscally responsible choices to invest in the short-term for long-term gains in efficiency.
Finally, the British government must be willing to endorse and support capitalist enterprise in the energy sector. Eamonn Ives of the Center for Policy Studies argues that the government must “deliver a better business environment for innovation [and] promote research and development in green technologies which are required to decarbonise the economy”. By harnessing the power of the competitive private sector, we can adopt and phase in new technologies such as carbon capture or green hydrogen as and when they become viable, while using established and effective technologies such as nuclear power to become the new foundation of our energy supply.
Britain’s opportunity is evident, and its need is great. Foreign policy in the late 21st century must not be defined by further subjugation to illiberal regimes which do not share our values and interests. Our economy must not be held ransom by our dependence on fossil fuels. We must step away from the table and chart our own independent course to provide the stability and security which our country needs. We are a rich and powerful nation – let’s start acting like it and plan for a brighter future.