Boris Johnson wants to turn your house green. This week, he published the plan for doing it. In fact, the strategy for delivering net zero carbon emissions is, in essence, to convert the whole economy — including your home — to electric power and then to deliver most of that power using offshore windfarms.
The fundamental problem with this approach, however, is what we will do when the wind isn’t blowing, or, just as importantly, when it unexpectedly stops blowing. The failure to address this issue upfront means that net zero is likely to fail, expensively. The stubborn refusal to do so, even now, means that failure may well be a catastrophic one.
As Steve Baker recently pointed out, successive governments have chosen to ‘wing it’ over the tricky details of net zero; energy storage is the trickiest detail of them all. Ministers sometimes mention batteries as part of the answer, but this is simple deception. The grid already uses batteries for stabilisation of grid frequency, but they are simply not plausible for bulk storage — Professors Peter Edwards and Peter Dobson of Oxford University recently noted that sufficient batteries to see us through a ten-day wind lull would cost around £160,000 per household. In reality, we’d need enough to get through lulls much longer than that.
Each and every new decarbonisation strategy, therefore, needs to be assessed by how it will work when the wind dies.
Electric heat pumps, which form the core of the UK’s strategy to decarbonise homes, are not going to be immune. Unless the electricity storage issue is solved, a lull in the wind will inevitably mean that demand from homes will need to be reduced. This could be done through smart meters, which an increasingly desperate government is trying to force every home in the country to install.