By Paul Homewood
How we laughed at Greta Thunberg’s hairshirt world of loosely-knitted jumpers and long overland journeys, a world in which we learn to do without the luxuries of the oil-fuelled economy and go back to enjoying a pre-industrial existence. That wasn’t what net zero will look like, government ministers assured us; rather, miracle new technologies will arrive to ensure that not only do we eliminate carbon emissions; we will enrich ourselves in the process.
Well, it’s Greta’s world we are living in now. Millions are preparing to shiver this winter. Ministers are feeding us tips on wholesome home cooking. We will have to forgo holidays and evenings out just to pay our gas and electricity bills.
The energy crisis has given us a foretaste of what a world without cheap energy looks like. The immediate causes might be a surge in gas prices due to the war in Ukraine, combined with more general supply issues such as the hangover from Covid lockdowns. But it is a product, too, of decisions we have made as we strive for net zero – however much the green energy lobby tries to deny this.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister became the latest figure to trot out the bogus statistic that wind power is now "nine times" cheaper than gas-produced electricity. It derives from false comparison between the long-term, guaranteed, index-linked prices offered to owners of wind farms and the very volatile "day ahead" prices which energy suppliers have to pay owners of gas stations to spark up their plants for a few hours at short notice in order to make up for the lack of sun and wind power.
We have put all our eggs in the wind and solar basket partly because, notionally, the marginal cost of producing it is very low. But you can’t look at the cost of wind and solar power in isolation. You have to factor in either the cost of energy storage, which is so expensive that few people in Britain want to invest in it – beyond a few token battery installations.
The reason for that is that storing wind-generated power in batteries costs around three times as much as does generating the power in the first place. Instead, we are using gas as a back-up. In reality, wind and solar power have made us more dependent on gas, not less. Twenty years ago, when coal was our predominant source of power, we might have been in a better position, but we have closed down coal plants without a reliable replacement. At the same time, the fixation on net zero has led us to pass over the chance to exploit our native shale gas reserves.
Proponents of net zero tend to fall into two camps. There is the hair-shirt wing, which has jumped on climate change as a vehicle for destroying capitalism and replacing it with what they see as a simpler, fairer, more wholesome society. And there is the ‘have your cake and eat it’ wing, which contends that banning carbon emissions will spur such a rapid and transformative industrial revolution that we will arrive in 2050 not only in a clean world but one which is far richer, too.
I wish I could believe in the latter. Sadly, though, I fear that the first group – the Gretas of this world – are more realistic. If we are determined to push ahead with a legally-binding target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 with no real idea about how it can be achieved we are more likely to end up with primitive socialism, and the deprivation that entails, than in the cakeist world of clean energy and riches. This winter will give us a sneak preview.
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September 3, 2022 at 04:14AM