The first half of 2022 brought with it mixed feelings. On the one hand, those early months were defined by a strong sense of hope as Covid-19 finally began to grow weaker, and many of us began to feel a more recognisable sense of freedom and positivity. On the other hand, however, a growing threat began to loom on the horizon, and we quickly grew accustomed to seeing a new crisis surrounding the world’s energy supplies make headlines.
In some ways, this crisis is a result of those two years we spent in the grip of the pandemic – but, as we have explored in the past, there are other factors at play. Together, they have created an acute problem across the globe. Rising fuel prices, devastatingly high energy bills, and a widespread cost of living crisis has taken the seat left warm by the coronavirus.
At the same time, the UK’s unsettled political landscape has raised some important questions – and some pressing concern – about the country’s plans for embracing renewable energy and gradually emancipating itself from the volatile energy sector. The war between Russia and Ukraine continues to prove to us how dangerous a reliance on the global market can be.
There are, however, some positives to hold onto. As individual households and businesses are forced to confront the climate and energy crises head-on, the shift toward renewable alternatives is gaining significant momentum. The general public is pushing forward and proving quite how simple the best solution to the current crisis can really be.
Here is our forecast for the next six months.
The Cost-of-Living Crisis
Since Ofgem raised the energy price cap in April, we have seen a dramatic – and, put simply, distressing – increase in the number of people who are struggling to make ends meet. Foodbanks have seen record levels of demand and, in some cases, are running out of food to give to families in need. In Liverpool, one food bank was forced to shut their doors to more than a hundred people who unable to feed afford the basic necessities during the school holidays, while, this past July, the Bournemouth Echo reported an 80% rise in demand for foodbanks in July.
Stories such as these are incredibly troubling in and of themselves, but, for so many, it is hard to focus on the specifics as they stand now, in August. Over the past few weeks, parts of the UK recorded record temperatures and, as a result, the more significant ramifications of the energy crisis have been out of sight and, to some extent, out of mind.
But, as the first glimpses of Autumn begin to interrupt those bouts of sunshine – and headlines begin to look ahead to the colder months – the real difficulties are only just beginning to make themselves known.
October will mark six months since Ofgem raised the price cap on energy bills. As a result, we should expect to see them being raised higher still. By some estimates, this cap will increase by 70% -- unfathomable news to so many households who are already feeling hung out to dry by the increase we saw in April.
Government action has been slow. In July, they announced plans to provide £400 to billpayers, which will be provided in six instalments, in order to help with the crisis this October. For families who are already struggling, however, this provides little comfort.
Some have vowed to stop paying their energy bills in a bid to force the providers into a corner, but charities are warning against it. The government still have time to step-in but, with so much unrest in the Houses of Parliament right now, the promise of drastic action feels remote.
Norway ‘Rations’ Threaten More Potential Energy Shortages
On 8th August, it was announced that Norway is considering ‘energy rations’ this winter. As one of Europe’s top energy exporters, the UK has a significant dependence on their exports. This, combined with the ongoing gas supply cuts from Russia, could make this winter even more intolerable throughout the UK, and Europe.
Fresh Uncertainty for Renewable Energy
Since Boris Johnson announced that he would resign from his position as Prime Minister in July, the political world has been gripped by the race between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to fill his shoes. Their debates have covered a broad range of topics and concerns but, for obvious reasons, the most compelling have been directed toward the cost of living and energy crises, and the necessity for the UK to augment its efforts toward increasing its capacity for renewable energy.
Unfortunately, recent statements made by both Truss and Sunak have caused alarm within the solar industry. Both politicians stated that they would looks to restricting the development of solar farms, in favour of maximising the land available for agriculture, and proved their inability to get ‘in-step’ with the general public’s hopes and expectations.
The hope remains that our next prime minister will strike the optimal balance between on-shore and off-sure solar and wind developments but, at this stage, the reality remains that our country’s future leader is grappling to state their distaste for a green recovery.
Legal Challenges for a Potential New Nuclear Plan
Just recently, we wrote on the major risk to the UK’s renewable energy efforts if the plans for Sizewell C, a new nuclear power station, were to go ahead. The cost to the general public, along with the fact that nuclear power does not represent a real step forward toward the country’s net zero target. The project is currently estimated to cost around £20 billion, but history tells us that these projects tend to exceed their expected cost and turnaround time significantly.
Now, however, the project has run into fresh trouble, thanks to the work of campaigners (many of whom live in the area, and fear what a new reactor will do to their water supply, which is already struggling).
The group Together Against Sizewell C have argued that the plans for build the plant were approved illegally, and that a full inspection into the impact this project will have on the local water supply – and how long nuclear waste will remain in the area – must be undertaken before approval can be granted.
The government feel that the benefits the plant would bring to the country’s energy capacity far outweigh the negative environmental impact to the immediate area surrounding the site. To those who understand the clean, safe, and sustainable benefits of truly renewable technologies like solar and wind, however, the price the government are willing to pay for another nuclear plant – temporary, and far from ‘clean’ – feels absurd and, for the locals, devastating.
If you’re interested, you can read more about why nuclear power poses another risk to sustainability.
Hope from Business- and Homeowners
While the UK’s leadership leaves much to be desired in terms of reassurance and actionable change in the face of mounting issues, the outlook is not totally bleak.
With the disadvantages of our dependence on fossil fuels and the global energy market being thrown into stark relief, more and more homeowners, landlords and business owners are looking for ways to distance themselves from the volatility of the market – the political one-upmanship that is costing billpayers hundreds more than they should have to pay.
When it comes to solar PV, the length of time homeowners can expect to spend ‘recouping’ the upfront costs of installation have grown significantly shorter – and, with energy bills expected to continue rising into next year, all signs point to that time growing shorter still.
It is incredibly rewarding to see the public’s response to the crisis. As climate change and its impacts grow more and more significant, and the true toll of importing dirty energy from around the world, the general public have not hesitated in embracing what is, ultimately, the perfect solution to the problem. Even if the government continues to prevaricate and postpone a green recovery – and real climate reform – homeowners and business owners are proving that it is possible to embrace renewable solutions with open arms.
At-home and commercial solar PV means being able to draw energy straight from its source – a source that is as natural, clean, and freely available as it gets – without any middleman who can decide upon the cost of powering your home. Fortunately, the technology behind these panels has progressed significantly over the past ten to fifteen years; lithium-ion batteries make it possible for homes and businesses to store the energy they generate during the day for use at night.
All signs point to the next few months representing an incredibly difficult time for so, so many people around the UK. We are, at present, in a ‘perfect storm’ of different crises – all of which are debilitating in their own right. We can only hope that those pioneering a safer, cleaner, and more affordable future continue to make progress, and that, under new leadership, the country can begin to realise the true benefits of a green recovery.