The new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero ‘lacks a delivery plan’ for decarbonising the energy sector — and it could end up costing the public, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed this week.

Speaking last Monday at Chatham House, the recently appointed Energy Security Secretary of State Grant Shapps made the promise that “to decarbonise Britain’s energy” will be a priority for the new department DESNZ.

Yet only two days later, the NAO published a report finding that unclear planning could pull the brakes on the department’s ambition before it has even begun.

The report found that with its current “lacking” plans, the roll-out of green power and the adaptation and expansion of the electricity grid will not happen fast enough to meet the Net Zero energy generation by 2035 target.

It also warned that poor planning could mean the financial burden of decarbonisation will wind up on the shoulders of ordinary people.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, has said: “The longer DESNZ goes without a critical path that brings together different aspects of power decarbonisation, the higher the risk that it does not achieve its ambitions, or it does so at a greater than necessary cost to taxpayers and consumers.”

Over 40% of UK energy comes from renewables, but energy supply is still the second biggest sector responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. So, decarbonising the industry will be crucial for achieving the country’s net zero goals.

But DESNZ, a department created in the Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle and almost double the size of its predecessor, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, “cannot be confident its ambition to decarbonise power by 2035 is achievable,” according to the report.

“Many of the changes necessary to achieve decarbonisation rely on technologies that are not yet available or not yet ready to scale up to the level needed.”

For example, offshore-wind, solar and nuclear power “will require much faster deployment rates than have been achieved before”, said NAO.

Other priorities include creating effective storage systems for surplus energy produced by renewables and improving power and electricity grids, which currently cannot handle the differing levels of energy produced by solar and wind power.

This means that at times when there is more energy being produced than is being used, generators are paid to limit their output. The costs, passed on to the consumers, can reach up to £62 million a day, according to the NAO.

As a result, the public is likely paying higher prices for renewable energy than they would be if grid capacity was a priority in the net zero plan.

The report adds that “[The] lower costs [of renewables] are not currently reflected in the price consumers pay for electricity because current market arrangements for buying and selling electricity were largely developed when gas and coal were the dominant fuels.”

“Generators are paid to limit their output. The costs, passed on to the consumers, can reach up to £62 million a day, according to the NAO.”

The prospect of paying more for energy that should be available at a much lower price than the soaring gas and electricity prices leaves a sour taste at a time when so many households are already struggling with the cost of living crisis.

The NAO suggests an excuse for DESNZ’s lack of planning, claiming the department has been prioritising energy security and reducing energy costs.

Yet the verdict delivered by the NAO report might suggest that the government could be more effectively addressing both issues by making clearer plans on how to transition to cheaper and greener energy on an improved energy grid.

The report underlines that “DESNZ cannot be complacent about the challenges involved in decarbonising”.

But more than this, Shapps will need to encourage some more strategic thinking and foresight in his new department if he wants to deliver on his promises.

Image credit: Ashraf Chemban/PIXABAY