UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has opened himself to accusations of hypocrisy after touting Britain’s success in wind and solar power, despite the Conservative government effectively put a near stranglehold on both technologies in recent years.
In his maiden speech as prime minister to the Conservative Party conference, he said: “Remember it was only a few years ago when people were saying that solar power would never work in cloudy old Britain and that wind turbines would not pull the skin off a rice pudding. Well there are some days when wind and solar are delivering more than half our energy needs."
He then added, presumably in reference to the government’s aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050: “We can do it, we can beat the sceptics.”
Johnson was effectively chastising himself — in 2013, as part of an argument for more shale-gas exploration in the UK, he had said: “Labour put in a load of wind farms that failed to pull the skin off a rice pudding.”
The UK government, under Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, controversially ended subsidy support for onshore wind and solar power in 2015 – days after signing the Paris Agreement on climate change and ending a programme that over five years had helped the renewables sector see exponential growth, with wind rising to supply 5.6% of the country’s total electricity in 2014 and solar some 4%.
Both sectors’ build-outs have stalled since, with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, underling a joint statement from several British renewable industry bodies at the time that called the decision “bad for business and bad for energy security”.
The renewables industry is still waiting for a long-promised roadmap from the government on its plans to propel the UK toward reaching net-zero emissions in the next 30 years.
In a speech that was big on optimism, but light on policy detail, Johnson claimed that a UK nuclear fusion plant is nearing commercialisation.
“Thanks to British technology there is a place in Oxfordshire that could soon be the hottest place in the solar system – the tokamak fusion reactor in Culham – and if you go there you will learn that this country has a global lead in fusion research.
“And that they are on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world, delivering virtually unlimited zero-carbon power.
“Now I know they have been on the verge for some time. It is a pretty spacious kind of verge.”
Experts believe that this technology is unlikely to be commercially available before 2040.