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UK Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero
Founding Chairman, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Good afternoon, everybody, and good evening for those of our friends in Europe who are—who are joining us today. I’m Dick Morningstar. I’m the founding chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and, among other things, a former US ambassador to the European Union.
And it’s my honor to lead this discussion today on the United Kingdom’s energy priorities with Secretary and Member of Parliament Grant Shapps, who is the secretary of state for the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero.
And I guess to state the obvious, with Russia’s war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis, that’s highlighted the risks of energy underinvestment and dependence on malign actors, and has demonstrated the need for a cohesive and a strategic approach to energy security and decarbonization. And I want to emphasize that the green transition and decarbonization relates directly to energy security because, among other things, it will reduce dependence on single actors like Russia.
And as part of the response to these challenges, the UK government has recently launched its Powering Up Britain plan, which outlines how the government will enhance energy security and deliver on its net-zero commitments. And it’s fascinating that the secretary’s title is secretary for the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, which tells you how important Britain sees the net-zero commitments. But this comprehensive strategy aims to advance energy independence and economic security through a series of multi-pound investments to expand clean energy and to take critical steps to achieve the UK’s goal of zero emissions by 2050.
Today we’re lucky to have Secretary Shapps with us, who will speak on the priorities for implementing this initiative and the department’s plans, and we’ll get into a whole bunch of—a whole bunch of related issues.
Let me remind you we have both an in-person audience and a virtual audience. This is a public session and it’s on the record and that, unfortunately, we can only handle questions from the in-person audience. And so if you have questions there’s a microphone over to the right where you’ll be able to line up or get up and ask the question.
So let’s start. So with that, maybe first, Mr. Secretary, you could tell us about your trip. I realize you had an unfortunate delay at Heathrow Airport which lasted overnight. But he’s in great—you’re in great shape for the session this afternoon.
But what are you going to be doing here in Washington and how important do you think the US-British relationship is—the US-UK relationship—with respect to the topics we were talking about, energy security, the green transition? How can we all work together on this?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. Well, Ambassador, first of all, it’s great to be here. It’s fantastic to be at Atlantic Council and brilliant to be discussing this issue, which is so high up both of our populations’ agendas and, in fact, many people throughout the world, obviously, as a consequence of what happened in Ukraine.
But, actually, on the way here we passed the old post office pavilion and that fantastic statue of Benjamin Franklin is just out to the front and to the right of it, and I was reminded that he was, of course, American British. He had an American mother and a British father.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: And lived in Paris.
GRANT SHAPPS: And lived in Paris, yes, amongst other places.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Right. Yeah.
GRANT SHAPPS: And, obviously, was absolutely critical to—you know, one of the founding figures—central founding figures of the United States. But it did remind me of, you know, that sort of very, very close relationship and everyone will, at least somewhere in their minds, remember that he had that famous experiment. He was an energy pioneer because he put a kite up in 1752 and demonstrated lightning was electricity, which was news to many because it was unproven at the time.
But in 1757 he moved to the UK. He moved to London. I don’t know where Paris was in all of that but at some point he lived in London. The bit of this that struck me, he lived on a street called Craven Street, and Craven Street is right by where this new department for energy security and net zero has its new home and we’re about to move in there in the old war office right on Whitehall there.
So, I mean, you just kind of, you know, perhaps by a quirk of nature get the sense of, you know, our obvious history is stretching back but on the energy side of things throughout history pioneering so many of the big energy breakthroughs including nuclear power on the defense side, obviously, the Manhattan Project on the civil side, the UK created the first—the world’s first nuclear civil power station at Calder Hall in Cumbria.
It was producing a massive forty megawatts, actually, on the side because what it was really doing was producing plutonium at the time for our military nuclear program. But our histories are tied and our approaches to what’s happened with Putin, what’s happened in Ukraine, are tied—closely tied together as well.
And, you know, if you look at by a long way, by a long stretch, the United States has put the resource into, you know, helping to fight Putin’s evil war but the number-two country is the UK and, again, you know, we just share that natural instinct to always be the countries to be in defense of those freedoms and liberties.
But energy has become a sort of blackmail. Putin has used energy as a weapon of war to blackmail the West in the hope that we would all crumble. We haven’t. We have managed to see our way through the first very difficult winter, you know, various different ways. I mean, Germany had a pipeline, and a second one on its way, to have 47 percent of their gas was from Putin. The UK was much more fortunate. We didn’t have a gas pipeline. We only bought 4 percent of our gas. So it wasn’t such a big wrench. But nonetheless, we still suffered in our energy prices.
And so we know that our response for this year and going forward has to be the thing that you just mentioned, which is we can have renewable energy which splits us off from the gas reliance, from the hydrocarbons, and nuclear in a renaissance that is going to make us energy-independent. It’s popular at home. I know it’s popular here. It deals with a big concern, which is the cost of living for our citizens in both countries and once again, I mean, just sort of back to the start with Benjamin Franklin, you know, the two countries working closely together. I’ve come here directly from a meeting with your energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, discussing precisely these issues and how we can work in much closer cooperation. And that’s our third meeting in three months to move this agenda forward. So there’s a lot of serious work going on.
But I think that’s the challenge that lays ahead of us—cheap, reliable energy that no despotic leader can prevent us from accessing in the future.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: So, you know, energy certainly is and should be part of the special relationship between the UK and the US. What are some—where can that cooperation take place? How can one and one make three?
GRANT SHAPPS: So I would say, first of all, the UK has had, in the last ten to fifteen years, a big move into renewables. So if you take offshore wind, for example, in the North Sea we have the world’s biggest wind farm. But as you—also in the North Sea we have the world’s second-biggest, the third-biggest. The fourth-biggest is being constructed, and that will then become the largest again. And we’ve got the world’s first floating and the largest floating wind farms. As well, we’ve installed a lot of solar. Surprisingly—here’s a stat that will amaze people. It amazes me even as I repeat it for the hundredth time. The UK produces as much solar power as France, despite France being twice the geographical mass, and also the weather in the UK not being quite as sunny as in France.
So, you know, we’ve managed to do a lot on renewables. We still need to go further. I think, in answer to your question, you have now mechanisms in place to do that transition to renewables with several different acts from Congress, including the Inflation Reduction Act. And so there’s a great—we’re seeing a great requirement for the skills and the knowledge and the technologies that have been built up over the last decade and a half, and we’re keen to work together on that.
And that’s just one example. Nuclear power, civil nuclear power, very obvious areas of deep cooperation, some of which already exist. There’s much, much more to do with natural obvious partners, for all the reasons we discussed.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Do your conversations include cooperating on critical materials? I mean, one of the great concerns has been we don’t want a dependence on Russia to be—you know, we’ll get over the dependence on Russia, but then what about China? And is that an area of potential cooperation?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah, absolutely. Critical minerals are at the heart of actually every form of renewable power and also nuclear power. So, I mean, they are—without sourcing out the supply chain to critical minerals, we can’t make this transition. So it’s not—you know, working with the US, but also other countries; Canada is a good example with lots of minerals, but many others as well, to make sure that we are not—again, change of policy, different world. Who knows what will happen next, as the last few years have demonstrated? We must not be reliant on unreliable partners again.
And, you know, I go back to the very obvious and most extreme example with our German friends finding themselves so reliant on Putin, who’s turned out to be the least reliable interlocutor, whilst actually this last month closing down their nuclear power. They closed down their last reactor last month. And so, of course, critical minerals are at the heart of making sure that, you know, countries who share our values are able to secure the power that they need. So there’s some ideas that we’ve been discussing just in the last hour of my meeting here in Washington about how we further bring the world together to discuss this. Of course, we’ve been doing it at the G7 Energy Conference in Japan, in Sapporo, and elsewhere. But actually, that was one of the subjects which—watch this space. There’s going to be more on this very soon.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: You know, we talked a little bit even before we came in that there are somewhat different approaches in the US and the UK. You know, we have our IRA, which created a lot of angst, which I think is dissolving some on the continent. What’s Britain’s view towards the IRA and the various approaches?
GRANT SHAPPS: Well, the first thing to say is we’re very careful to call it “eye-rah.” We’ve renamed it, in the UK, for reasons of history that some will recognize.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: I guess so.
GRANT SHAPPS: So the Inflation Reduction Act. But I think—I think the fundamental issue is this: In the UK we have a political consensus around the need to secure national energy security. And that one of the ways to do that is you actually very accurate, I thought, summed up in your introduction, is to move to renewables so that we’re not reliant on hydrocarbons that all too often—not always. You know, we have not seen all the gas. You have a lot of LNG, and other places are good partners. But actually, all too often we end up too reliant on a single form of energy, and then the world changes geopolitically, and we end up in difficulty.
So in the UK, we have a political consensus that actually several years ago, and actually under this Conservative government which will sound odd to an American ear, we passed legislation that said we had to get to net zero by 2050. So that was a cross-parliament agreement. Just a small twist to that is they also legislated essentially that the energy secretary could go to jail if we don’t do it. So when I say I’m working on this night and day, I mean night in particular because that’s when you start to worry about this stuff. For truth, it would have to be for a contempt of court. It would have to be because I wasn’t seriously addressing the issues. But, nonetheless, we have that political consensus.
In the US, clearly it creates a big dividing line. And because it creates a big dividing line it seems to me—I mean, correct me if I’m wrong because I’m just saying this from observing the US political scene—Congress actually in the end sort of got to the same place. But not by using mandates and laws and—but instead by using tax breaks and, you know, on the other side of that, obviously having to raise the tax in the first place or add it to debt. But that’s the consensus that has come about and created not just the IRA but also some of the other large acts which have now passed.
Frankly, I think, on balance, the world needs to get to this position of energy security. So, you know, whatever wills—means to the ends, I think is right. There are one or two rough edges that we’ve been talking about, including critical minerals, which we’re working through. But I think the world will be a better place for the biggest economy in the world actually being, you know, in the driving seat as far as switching to renewables and more nuclear, which I think is a very big part in this story.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Are you concerned about issues that—again, I think they’re beginning to dissolve some—but competition issues related to IRA or other, you know, issues that might put Britain or other countries at a disadvantage, or?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. So there are a couple of parts of guidance which have now been issued, which have helped sort of take off some of these rough edges, as you know. And we’re just working with the administrations in London and in Washington to deal with the final parts of that jigsaw. But, as I mentioned in the kind of intro, the opportunity is not just at a global to have the world’s biggest economy actually moving towards this energy transition in a big way, but then also from an entirely national point of view to have so many businesses and organizations asking for assistance, help, experience by British expertise. And I think British companies coming here are doing it.
I mean, a lot of—a lot of time I spend talking to companies who are, you know, for example, going to the West Coast—which is where I’m going tomorrow, to California—because, you know, we’ve got, you know, gigawatts of offshore wind now and we want to get to fifty gigawatts in the next six-and-a-half years off our coasts. You know, California wants to—I think I saw their figure was forty gigawatts or forty-five, something like that. They need the expertise. So it’s a massive opportunity to work together and, you know, to provide goods and services to each other as well.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Let’s talk a little bit about the EU. We’ve talked about the US-UK energy relationship and areas of cooperation and so forth. Post-Brexit relations with the EU, how closely do you work with Brussels on energy issues?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. Well, let me be completely candid with you. They weren’t happy that we left the club. We wanted our independence. I didn’t actually happen to vote for Brexit personally, but I am a democrat and I believe in democratic outcomes. The country voted to leave. And actually, I was always torn on it because, you know—you know, to an American audience, I ask you: Would you—would you give up control over your borders, many of your laws, you know, finances? Although we weren’t in the euro itself. Answer, definitely no. You know, and actually, why would Britain do something like that as well? Which is gradually what the EU was becoming, ever more so.
So, yes, it’s been—I think it’s fair and candid to say it’s been a little bit tricky for a while. However, very, very pleased to report since Rishi Sunak became prime minister and he helped to settle the Northern Ireland protocol issue through this thing called the Windsor Framework, it’s been transformative. So just last month I was out in Belgium, for example, at a leaders summit on energy, to which Britain wasn’t actually invited last year. Actually, a number of other countries weren’t as well, so it wasn’t just us. But now we are very much more working together. I have constant contact with my French, you know, counterpart, my Belgian counterpart, my, you know, Netherlands, German, et cetera. So we are now working very, very closely.
The other thing which has changed is not just the Windsor Framework. This winter, when Putin was holding Europe in particular hostage to energy blackmail, Europe as in the EU, continental Europe, discovered that Britain, as ever, was the absolutely indispensable, reliable partner. France happened to have a lot of their nuclear power down over the summer, some scheduled, some not. They power most of their electricity from nuclear. Their fleet was down. We were exporting renewable energy to France through the interconnectors. And they saw that, you know, we left the EU but we didn’t leave Europe, and we’re still there as partners. And did so, actually, with the war in Ukraine, where, as I mentioned before, our response has, I think, been foremost in the European countries.
So, you know, very much better is the simple answer.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Speaking of Ukraine—and I don’t know whether this is within your—you know, your area, but on sanctions questions, energy sanctions questions, are there any differences in approach between, you know—there’s sort of a consistent G7 approach, but looking behind—you know, behind the scenes, are the views towards sanctions pretty much consistent with the US, Britain, with the—Brussels and the member states, key member states?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. I think—I think, actually, broadly speaking it’s been one of the surprising—I think people may have doubted before February 24 last year whether the West would come together and properly react to what Putin’s done. But I think beyond any shadow of a doubt, that’s what’s happened.
And I mean, in terms of the UK’s position, at the time I happened to be transport secretary. And you know, I made sure that we were the first to ban Russian aircraft in our skies, the first to ban Russian ships from our ports—and not just Russian ships, but ships that were being leased or had some funding behind them or were flagged or, you know, whatever else. And again, actually, one of the things about being able to make those policies independently is that we can be more fleet of foot, we can move faster. And we tried to do that through transport, but also through energy policies where I’d say we weren’t actually buying very much Russian hydrocarbon but we immediately suspended the sale—announced the suspension of the purchase, rather.
But I—you know, actually, frankly, the EU got there, slightly slower timescale but not critically. The US got there. I remember the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, calling me and saying it’s going to be in the—I think it was in the State of the Union, actually, as I recall—it’s going to be in tonight’s State of the Union. I’ve been pushing to make sure that, you know, the same things that we had already done on transport were matched.
So, you know, I think actually the West has impressively moved in lockstep and that’s exactly as it should be.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Well, you know, sanctions are never a zero-sum game. How do you think they’re working? Are you happy with how the energy sanctions are working with the price caps and other sanctions?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. So I think you’re absolutely right. I think sanctions are rather like this. If you put a sanction here then, you know, the thing, whatever it is—it could be energy but it could be anything else—finds its way around that, you know, and if you just give it enough time a new avenue, a new pathway—it’s like business. It’s very—you know, it’s very enterprising and it will find its way around that sanction and I think we see evidence of that in the way that the Russian economy has responded over a period of time. I think we have to be honest about the limitations of that.
Having said that, when the world acts in unison I think it still matters. It matters hugely because—not just in the case of Putin, Russia, and Ukraine but also what other countries might think if we don’t respond convincingly and together.
So I have no doubt that oil still finds—somehow finds a way around. I know that there were many arguments in favor and against a cap and floor prices and all these other—these other things. The important thing, I think, is not the exact measure. I think the important thing is the cooperation in those measures and I think we’ve seen terrific cooperation.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Right. And it’s, certainly, been better than not having them.
GRANT SHAPPS: Definitely. Oh, yeah.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: So, again, thinking about Ukraine, it’s been a pretty good—I think we all would agree, better than expected winter, part of it being luck, part of it being good policy. Concerns about next winter—how concerned are you?
GRANT SHAPPS: Well, as I say, I spend my day and nights thinking about these issues. But we got through the first winter and that will have been the hardest one because we had to divert or find replacement for all of that Russian hydrocarbon.
So logic tells you that winter 2023-24 should be better but we should not rest on our laurels and that is one of the reasons why, you know, I think, pay tribute to the United States the way that the US has responded with LNG, the way that we already had LNG ports and so we brought it into the UK and then exported to Europe, the way that Germany now has built new capacity to bring LNG and other countries now—the United Arab Emirates, for example, will be coming on stream, if not this year next year. So the world has found its way around these things.
What I think now is really important—and I’m going to be saying and doing more on it, and this is what I’ve been speaking with my American opposite number with today—is thinking about the more medium term. So in the UK, as in the US, we’ve allowed nuclear civil power to reduce as a proportion of our power partly because we both have oil and gas. It became unfashionable. There were lots of protests about it.
But, actually, we are reversing that policy. We want a quarter of our energy to be nuclear civil and we want to exploit not just the gigawatt size of it but also the small modular reactors, and, you know, there are many different designs from Rolls Royce to Westinghouse and others and we think the time has come for those things.
I’ve just set up something called Great British Nuclear to take this forward. I’ve appointed a minister in the British government in my department who for the first time ever is responsible as the minister for nuclear. We’ve never had somebody with that title and wakes up every day and that’s what he focuses on.
So I think, again, with caution, if last winter was OK then this winter will be but nothing is set in stone. We could have terrible weather or something else. We need to keep making sure that we make sure the markets work properly. The price of, you know, gas has fallen dramatically at the moment. Again, we have to keep an eye on these things. But the medium term is where my focus is shifting to because we need to get the energy mix right and secure in the long term.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: On nuclear, are you sensing a shift of opinion on nuclear? I mean, Britain and other places as well, the US and Europe, or at least certainly parts of Europe, other parts of the world. Do you believe that in 2050, when you need to be at net zero—unless you’ve gone to jail in the meantime—do you think that nuclear is going to be a major part of the clean-energy world?
GRANT SHAPPS: I do. And I think, to answer the first part of your question, yes, attitudes have changed tremendously. You know, for example, of all the nuclear reactors—we’re producing about 16 percent of our electricity through nuclear right now in the UK. It’s fairly similar to the US. Of all the reactors that are still operational right now in the UK, every single one of them was commissioned under a conservative government, under the Tory Party, my party.
Now, I’m not making that as a political point. I’m making it because it demonstrates the fact that this was a deeply politically divisive issue in the past. It isn’t now, and partly because of the war in Ukraine and the need for energy security, but also partly because of climate-change issues and the rest.
We have reattributed the taxonomy to say that nuclear power is clean power in order to get the finance into that area as well. So I think, yeah, I think there is a general acceptance. I think with things like—with technologies like small modular reactors, more countries who weren’t using nuclear civilly, for civil power before, I think are likely to in the future. And it’s becoming much more practical than it was in the early days because the technology has moved in in seventy years.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Two more quick questions on nuclear come to mind. Is there cooperation today between either UK and US companies or UK and US laboratories on small modular reactors? And then I guess a somewhat unrelated question: Is the argument that nuclear development in the West is critical from a national-security standpoint, relating to things like nonproliferation, concern about how nuclear power may be used by, you know, Russia, China, maybe other countries, is that a salient argument? And also then the cooperation with the US
GRANT SHAPPS: Yes. Yeah. Well, on the cooperation front, yes. I’ll tell you openly, it’s one of the subjects we’ve been discussing today. Actually, I think there’s a really interesting part of this which harks back to one of your previous questions on the supply-chain side of things. We talked about supply chains of, you know, hydrocarbons. But actually there’s also a supply chain in uranium enrichment and so on and so forth. So there’s lots of work to go on there.
Both the UK and the US have pretty unique skills and knowledge in these areas. And very few countries in the world are in a position to carry out the enrichment and some of the processes that come after enrichment. We’re both signed up to nonproliferation. So it’s very important. The way this is done is internationally responsible. And again, I think it’s one of the very good reasons why the UK and the US should and are starting to work very closely together on nuclear.
And, you know, uranium has to be enriched to a very different level for nuclear and some of the SMRs, and then advanced modular reactor, AMR, technologies in particular to—if you want to turn it into a weapon at 80 or 90, 95 percent enriched, so that we’re talking about two very different things.
And I think some of these new technologies are incredibly exciting. I was with a British firm who are working on a Magnox system, which is technology which has been around for a while. But the advantage of Magnox is if you had a leak, it comes into the air and it freezes immediately if it’s anything less than 550 degrees C.
So there’s lots of very interesting work going on, lots of great science going on. And, of course, even way beyond that, I just—quick—we’ve talked about fission. If you just talk about fusion, I went with the prime minister when I launched the document you mentioned, Powering Up Britain, to Oxford, where we have a research center in Culham, and we stood next to the hottest place in, certainly, the solar system, ten times hotter than the Sun at Tokamak there. So, you know, it’s always twenty years away to get to fusion…
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: You know, and I want to get to audience questions. If anybody has a question, please come up—come up to the microphone over there. I mean, I’ve got enough questions to last for the next hour and a half, but we’d like to—we’d like to get some questions.
While you’re going up, you know, it sounds like, you know, that you take—I think what we do—an all-of-the-above approach towards and maybe agnostic on technologies as to—as to how we’re going to achieve net zero. Do you have priorities? I mean, as you’re thinking about what you have to do, do you have a list of priorities like—and I’m not saying it’s this—but, like, nuclear first, or hydrogen second, and something else third? Or is it sort of like we’re going to look at all of these things and see how they develop?
GRANT SHAPPS: I do. But the overriding principle is we must never be in—we must never be driven by a single technology, right? If it’s oil and gas—and we went a long way to oil and gas, not least because we were producing a lot of it in the North Sea—then, as that starts to run down, we’re starting to import it, and then you start to get reliant. Or in France, nuclear. They have a terrific nuclear industry. They’re building two of our nuclear power stations at Hinkley Point and at Sizewell, and they’re running the rest. But actually, you know, as they would say, this summer a lot of them are down for scheduled and, unfortunately, some unscheduled maintenance, and suddenly they’re short in power. And so on and so forth: the wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine. So we have the—you know, we produced last year—57 percent of our electricity in the last twelve months has come from renewables and nuclear together. That’s great. But if the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing, you need to rely more on that nuclear, and so on and so forth. So—
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: I though the sun always shined on the—
GRANT SHAPPS: Of course. I know, I know, I know. But amazingly, there are occasions. So I think, first of all, energy mix.
Secondly, you ask: To what extent are we directing that? Well, we have set out in a lot of detail how much of our energy we want to get from these different forms. So offshore wind, fifty gigawatts by 2030, in six-and-a-half years’ time. You know, we’re saying we want on hydrogen ten gigawatts, half—at least half of which has to be green rather than blue. We set out on nuclear twenty-four gigawatts into the future to get to a quarter of our power. So, yeah, we’re doing that.
And probably the most exciting thing—I just want to say this before we take the questions—carbon capture, utilization, and storage, CCUS—four initials that I bet actually if I polled at home in Britain most people won’t have heard of—could be a trillion-pound/trillion-dollar industry. And I’m very excited about that, not least because geographically or geology—from a geological point of view the North Sea, in fact in many cases where we took the oil and gas out of, has a lot of storage potential.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: That’s great.
Well, let’s get a question from the audience. If you could identify yourself and ask the question.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I’m George Pickart with the General Electric Company. We’re very pleased to be deeply embedded in UK’s electricity sector, working across all of the technologies that you’ve mentioned whether it’s onshore or offshore wind, or nuclear SMR, grid equipment, technology, et cetera.
You couldn’t have teed up my question any better. You know, we’ve been spending a lot of time and investing a lot of money in how you decarbonize gas because we don’t see a future of the electricity system without that large rotating equipment on the grid. So the issue is, how do you produce that with fewer carbon emissions? And so we’re pursuing both expanding our hydrogen capability and also working with a number of different collaborators on carbon capture and storage.
And I wanted to commend you and your government for the strategy that you’ve put in place on carbon capture. We’re quite interested, as you probably know, in collaborating on the Net Zero Teesside project, and you’ve put together a very good vision, a strategy, the financial mechanisms, the funding. I think what’s missing, really, is sort of the timebound element of it. I just wondered if maybe you could tell us, do you expect a decision on these projects to go forward within the next year? And can we look forward to that?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. So, well, I should explain. Thank you for the question. And thank you for what GE does, as well, because it’s a great partnership. It’s a very good example.
The strange thing is I spend my time going around the world to countries saying how have you done it, and that’s actually largely with the help of your businesses who have come in and invested in these renewables and much else. And that is a great—I mean, you know, we’re capitalists. We believe this is the way to bring the best technologies together, and then often re-export them as well. So, you know, thanks for that.
Secondly, on CCUS, in that Powering Up Britain document we announced a twenty-billion-pound initial program. This is track one of our CCUS clusters. And, as you mentioned, Teesside, which is in the northeast, and the northwest are the two kind of areas where this has developed. And then we’re going to have expansions to those, and there’s clusters in Scotland and also in Humber, also on the east coast. Track one expansion will be this year, and then we’re actually going to have track two as well. So that is—you know, the 20 billion is the first part of it over 20 years.
So we’re—and the reason, I should just explain, actually, Ambassador, to our audience. The reason that I’m saying all this, and so excited about it, and why the question is so relevant is that we know that by 2050 we will still need oil and gas. This isn’t just me saying this. This is because the IPCC, the—you know, the global sort of experts say that there will still be oil and gas being required. In which case, you got to deal with the CO2. We have enough space in the North Sea for seventy-eight billion tons of CO2. Now, what is seventy-eight billion tons? It’s fifteen billion elephants, well-fed ones. It’s two-hundred million St. Paul’s Cathedrals, for the British audience here online. It’s a lot of space. It would take probably one-hundred-years’ worth of British CO2 and one hundred years of all of European CO2, which we can bury under the North Sea.
So this is very much in line with the overall mission of both energy security and net zero. And, you know, projects which look to help with that are already getting our backing. So, I mean, I’m not quite sure on the project that GE’s particularly interested, but it may be that it’s, you know, track-one expansion or track-two path right now, I guess.
Q: Thank you.
GRANT SHAPPS: Thanks.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Thank you.
I think we have two more questions that I see right now. And we’re running—we have about four or five minutes left. And I also think it’s important before we finish, I don’t know if 3:45 is an absolute cut off, but Ukraine reconstruction. And there’s a conference on the 21st to 25th, and your views on that. Maybe we take these two questions—why don’t we take the two questions and then answer them together, and then if you have any comments on Ukraine, and then we’ll call it day.
Q: Yeah, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. My name Kevin Gundersen. I’m with Huntsman Corporation. And we are the world’s leading spray foam insulation company.
And in your remarks, you discussed many options for energy security. But your government has done the one thing that no other government has done, which is make insulation the centerpiece of its energy policy. When you talk about medium- and long-term solutions, we feel very strongly and are very supportive of what you are doing, that insulation is a short- and medium-term solution to the energy crisis. It’s a relatively old technology and people don’t really think about it, but it does work in lowering greenhouse gas emissions and lowering utility bills.
The British government has had various iterations in the past of insulation schemes. And given the amount of funding and the support this time around, what are you and the government doing to make sure that the execution of this program works this time around, given the importance of the issue at the moment?
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Thank you. Let’s have Lee’s question, and then maybe you can respond to that, and maybe say a little something on Ukraine.
Q: Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. My name is Lee Beck. I’m with the Clean Air Task Force. We’re a global climate organization.
Thank you so much for your fantastic remarks about technology optionality and next-generation technologies, carbon capture, nuclear, fusion. It’s really, really fantastic. And you said something really important, that oil and gas will likely be around still by 2050. COP26 saw the launch of the Global Methane Pledge. COP28 will be where we’re going to be really talking about the decarbonization and reducing emissions from the fossil fuel sector. What are—what is your vision for methane mitigation, one of the fastest ways to act on climate in the near term?
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: Great, so I’d say let us—yeah, why don’t you just take those two and then if you could say a little bit about Ukraine.
GRANT SHAPPS: Sure. So, first of all, I love your point about insulation. I mean, the best energy is the energy you don’t have to use in the first place. And it’s kind of—the high energy bills that people are being paying has suddenly both changed the maths—or, math, as you would say—and it has also changed the—you know, made people have another fresh look at, even though the technology, as you rightly say, has by and large been around. But so I think it’s enormously important.
We’re always being pushed to go further, but it’s worth saying that when we came to power, this conservative administration, which is in 2010, only about 14—one-four—percent of homes were adequately insulated, A to C on an energy rating. It’s now just approaching half of homes. So we’ve done half the job. Right now, in terms of size and scale, we have twelve billion pounds in the current periods going into this, I think up till 2028. And we’re working on new ways to target that. So we’re about to launch something called the Great British Insulation Drive, which you’ll be hearing more of very soon.
But, yeah, massively important, obviously, when new homes go up they’re much better insulated. We have a lot of Victorian housing stock. And they were very good builders, the Victorians, but not very good at building well-insulated, warm buildings, necessarily. So, yeah, more to happen on that front.
I’m just furiously looking at my notes actually on methane, because I noticed a stat when I was having to think about this earlier, which I was blown away by, which was something like a 60 percent reduction in our methane. But I’m afraid I cannot spot the exact number right now. But that pledge from COP26—our 60 percent reduction is not from COP26, it’s from earlier than that—but that pledge is incredibly important. And we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we will go without CO2, but there are many other forms of greenhouse gases, and there are a lot of different responses that we need to take.
The brilliant thing about all this stuff is, you know, again, Ukraine and the high prices has made us look differently at it. Energy security—national energy security—you know, in my case, I say it’s powering Britain from Britain, I always say. You know, it’s just the flipside of the coin of net zero. That’s why we named the department Energy Security and Net Zero. They’re actually the same thing. You know, to get there, to be really secure, you know, we need to go through that whole transition. So and that’s our stated direction.
And you very kindly asked about the Ukraine reconstruction conference. It’s in London this summer. I actually took over the presidency on behalf of the UK from the Swiss, who ran the conference last year. There’s a huge amount of activity going into that. I’m speaking to my Ukrainian counterparts. I know the whole world—the whole civilized world will be there to help and support Ukraine, which we must do because, in my view, Ukraine could be lost in two different ways. We could lose it because we don’t stick together, we don’t have these different sanctions, we don’t respond to the energy crisis. But we could equally lose it by allowing Ukraine to be destroyed, even if they win. And that would be completely and utterly unacceptable.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: And, just very briefly, because we have run out of time, how would you—how would you begin to approach Ukraine energy reconstruction? And, you know, with the potential of ultimately Ukraine becoming a real energy powerhouse in Europe?
GRANT SHAPPS: Yeah. Well, I think—I’ve been speaking—on a personal basis, I’ve been speaking to my opposite numbers. Initially Oleksandr Kubrakov, who was minister for reconstruction and infrastructure and transport, at the time, now deputy prime minister. And also my opposite—direct opposite number, and actually I’m speaking to them—the first thing I do when I get home is speaking to them again in advance of this conference as well. And Ukraine has huge potential assets. I mean, in the same way as they’re the breadbasket of the world, or certainly of Europe and perhaps Africa, they also have the potential to be both in renewable energy but also in modernized nuclear civil energy as well.
So, you know, we’re very keen to make sure for their sake, but also, I think, for the world’s sake, that they are assisted in being brought back to what they’ll need to be to rebuild that industry and rebuild the country’s economy as well. It’s very close work. I’ve been personally very committed to all this. I’ve had Ukrainians living in my house for the last year, a family of three, and their dog as well, Mad Max. So every time I’ve gone home, I’ve been reminded of how evil that war has been. And Britain, and I know America, are committed to Ukraine’s future.
RICHARD MORNINGSTAR: And I can assure you, everybody here, I think, is likewise committed.
You know, unfortunately, we have come to a close. I’ve been getting sort of dirty looks from our events staff because I think we’ve gone over time. But—and we could have—I think we could have gone for another hour or two. But it’s been great. And I really want to thank Secretary Shapps for joining us and offering his insights on Britain’s path forward on energy and climate—not just Britain; you know, looking at it from a more global standpoint. And I hope you’ll be visiting us many times and maybe come back to our Global Energy Forum.
But I also would like to thank all of you who joined us in studio, as well as those around the world who are watching this virtually. And I would remind everybody that there is a recording of this conversation that’s available or will be available on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and the Atlantic Council webpage.
I’d also like to thank those here who made the event possible: Olga Khakova, who’s the deputy director at the Energy Center responsible for European energy security; Katie Kenney; Paddy Ryan; Frank Willey; Max Zandi; and our events—wonderful events staff.
So please join us for future events, Atlantic Council events. We will be having our eighth annual—I’ve been here eight years, so I guess I started it the first year—eighth annual Central and Eastern European Energy Conference—Energy Security Conference. That takes place on June 15 in person and online, and there will be more information on that on the webpage. And just, you know, keep watching our webpage for events.
So, again, this was on the record, and take care. See you next time.
GRANT SHAPPS: Thank you very much.
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