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Britain’s Disastrous Net Zero Emissions Targets Are A Warning To America

As Britain pursues an ambitious net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, the country faces significant economic and political hurdles. Achieving this goal requires massive investments in renewable energy while phasing out fossil fuels, as well as changes that impact jobs, prices, and energy reliability.

While well-intended, the push for net zero has contributed to energy price spikes and supply issues that hurt British households and businesses. There are concerns that the public and political will is waning. Britain’s turbulent experience implementing its net zero mandate offers a cautionary tale for other nations pursuing aggressive decarbonization timelines.

Britain’s Ambitious Net Zero Emissions Target

Britain has embarked on an ambitious plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In 2008, the Climate Change Act set a legally binding target to cut emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

Source: Unsplash/Appolinary Kalashnikova

This was increased to 100 percent, or net zero emissions, in 2019. To reach net zero, Britain aims to decarbonize its economy through initiatives like phasing out coal, investing in renewable energy, and transitioning to electric vehicles.

A Big Price To Pay

While Britain has made progress in reducing emissions, the path to net zero has come at a high economic cost. Britain’s economy has grown slowly since 2008 compared to other nations. Electricity prices have surged, in part due to government subsidies for renewable energy.

Source: Unsplash/Sungrow EMEA

The average price for wind and solar power was over 100 pounds per megawatt hour between 2009 and 2020, much higher than the 50 pounds per megawatt hour for natural gas. These high energy costs have hit both businesses and consumers.

Demand Over Supply

Britain has had to import more electricity from Europe to meet demand as domestic coal and gas plants have closed while renewable capacity has increased. Britain’s reliable electricity generation capacity peaked in 2010 but declined 25 percent over the next decade as coal plants shut down. Over the same time, wind and solar capacity grew by 33 gigawatts.

Source: Unsplash/Nicholas Doherty

Government policies have led companies to overinvest in renewable energy and underinvest in reliable power sources like natural gas. Britain’s major energy companies recorded huge losses on gas plants but earned profits on government-subsidized renewables.

Soaring Energy Prices and Inflation

Britain’s transition to net-zero emissions through increased reliance on renewable energy and reduced investment in reliable baseload generation has led to substantially higher energy costs for both residential and business consumers.

Source: Unsplash/Matthew Henry

According to analysis of renewable energy portfolios of major British energy companies, the average cost of wind and solar generation between 2009 and 2020 was over 100 pounds per megawatt-hour (MWh), while the cost of gas and coal generation fell from 60 pounds per MWh in 2013 to under 50 pounds per MWh in 2020.

Government Subsidies Leading To Overinvestment

In 2020, subsidies for renewable energy allowed major energy companies to earn an average profit of 61 pounds per MWh for renewable energy, while government policies forced them to take large losses on gas generation, totaling 1.6 billion pounds in losses in 2014 alone.

Source: Unsplash/Thomas Richter

These policies have led to overinvestment in intermittent renewable generation and underinvestment in the reliable generation needed to meet demand, resulting in soaring energy prices. Total reliable coal and gas generation capacity in Britain peaked at 88 gigawatts (G.W.) in 2010 but fell by 25.1 GW over the next decade as coal plants closed, while wind and solar capacity rose by 33.5 GW.

Public Backlash and Protests Against Green Policies

The British government’s net zero policies have been met with significant public opposition and protests. Ordinary citizens have borne the brunt of higher energy costs from renewable energy subsidies and decarbonization policies.

Source: Twitter(X)/@nataliavolosin

Anti-net zero protesters argue that the policies disproportionately impact working-class families who can least afford significantly higher energy bills. The increased costs of heating homes and transportation have led to what some call “energy poverty” – families forced to choose between heating and eating.

Lessons Learned From Britain’s Experience

The higher costs of renewables and lower capacity for reliable power have taken an economic toll. Electricity demand fell 10.8 percent between 2010 to 2019 as prices surged. The costs of these policies and higher energy prices would devastate the U.S. economy, which depends on affordable, abundant energy.

Source: Vuk Valcic/ZUMA Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

While the Biden administration and some in Congress push for net zero emissions and renewable energy expansion, Britain’s experience suggests these policies may raise prices, reduce reliability, and slow economic growth if implemented without consideration of these effects.

Managing the Transition to Clean Energy

Britain has invested heavily in intermittent wind and solar energy while reducing coal and natural gas generation. Between 2010 and 2020, wind and solar capacity rose by 33.5 gigawatts (G.W.) as coal and gas generation fell by 25.1 GW. However, the levelized cost of energy for wind and solar remains over 100 pounds per megawatt-hour (MWh), double the cost of coal and gas.

Source: Unsplash/Karsten Wurth

The U.S. must learn from Britain’s experience. While renewable energy and emissions reductions are laudable goals, policymakers must ensure a balanced transition that maintains grid reliability and affordable power prices. The costs of an over-hasty transition to intermittent renewables are too great.

The Need for a Just Transition

The transition to net zero emissions will require a massive transformation of energy infrastructure and economies. As Britain’s experience shows, if not managed carefully, the costs of this transition can fall disproportionately on the poor and middle class. A “just transition” is needed to ensure the benefits and opportunities of a green economy are shared broadly while the costs do not unfairly burden those least able to bear them.

Source: Unsplash/Gonz DDL

Britain’s decarbonization policies have led to skyrocketing energy prices as the costs of subsidies for wind and solar have been passed onto consumers. The impact has been regressive, with low-income households spending a higher percentage of their total income on energy.

Supporting Workers and Communities

Britain’s decarbonization policies have disproportionately impacted workers and communities in industrial areas of the country. Northern England, for instance, was formerly a hub of coal mining and heavy industry. These high-carbon sectors have declined precipitously, leaving many without jobs or economic opportunities.

Source: Unsplash/Rex Roberts

Where job losses are unavoidable, income support and healthcare benefits will be necessary. The scale of disruption caused by a transition to net zero emissions demands an equally ambitious program of state support. Private-public partnerships focused on economic renewal in distressed communities should also be pursued.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

Sally, a dynamic and viral writer, has taken the literary world by storm with her exceptional storytelling prowess. With an uncanny ability to tap into the collective consciousness of her readers, she crafts narratives that resonate deeply and linger long after the last word is read.

Born with a creative spirit, Sally honed her writing skills from a young age, cultivating a unique voice that blends emotion, wit, and social insight. Her work spans a wide spectrum, from poignant short stories that tug at the heartstrings to thought-provoking essays that challenge conventional thinking.

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