Blog 05 April 2023

"Powering Up Britain," and the Long Road Ahead for Energy Communicators

Last Thursday saw the arrival of a long-awaited milestone moment for the recently-formed Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ); the launch of its Powering Up Britain plan.

It came with the ambitious aim to "boost the country’s energy security and independence, reduce household bills for the long term and maintain a world-leading position in achieving net zero."

And coming not long after the EU’s Net Zero Industry Act, and foreshadowed by the significant financial commitments of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, hopes and expectations from the sector were high.

In this piece we reflect on the key announcements and what they mean for communicators in the industry.

Carbon capture under the microscope

Perhaps the biggest announcement of the day supported Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), as, building on the £20bn commitment from the Spring Budget, the Government shortlisted eight projects to progress to funding negotiations. Coverage on the day was mixed, as green groups and academics highlighted the "untested" nature of the technology, suggesting its use will "delay real cuts in emissions."

Considerations for communicators

Despite significant financial support for the technology, operators in the industry can’t relax just yet. Many in the academic community – which plays an important role in media and government discourse – and beyond remain unconvinced. Communicating widely as project successes begin to build will be vital, particularly around themes of safety, project reliability and environmental impact.

Funding to be fought for

Financial support was announced for emerging technologies like green hydrogen and offshore floating wind, through the Floating Offshore Wind Manufacturing Investment Scheme and the Hydrogen Business Model (HBM) and Net Zero Hydrogen Fund (NZHF) programs respectively. All brought excitement for the sector. However, commitments don’t quite hit the "big bazooka" levels called for by Alok Sharma MP, who served as President for COP26 from 2021 to 2022. And with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Net Zero Industry Act starting to drive investment into competitor markets, there’s still ground to make up.

Considerations for communicators

Jeremy Hunt positioned the plan as "the first step" in the response to the IRA, and with future steps in mind DESNZ has opened a range of consultations on future technologies, with more money to come in the Autumn budget. Those seeking to develop emerging technology solutions should keep their eyes and ears open for the new funding pots. Political engagement opportunities with the decision makers behind them will be vital in the coming months.

Reassessing your messaging

A consultation on the Energy National Policy Statements, which aims to speed up planning approvals for energy infrastructure, was an important part of the package. That being said it focused on solar and offshore wind projects, with no equivalent move for onshore wind projects, which have been heavily hampered in recent years by a challenging planning process. Many media commentators emphasized this challenge, highlighting that the current de facto ban for projects in the sector remains.

Considerations for communicators

For those in solar and offshore wind, it’s a vital time to get your opinions across. The new consultation offers a great opportunity to help influence the planning process for years to come.

Those in onshore wind, however, will be thinking differently. Given its one of the cheapest forms of energy at a time of strained Government budgets, they will still be hoping for further progress in the coming months. And now that the dust has settled following the announcement, businesses in the industry will be going back to the drawing board to reassess and plan what comes next, an exercise all those operating in the energy sector more broadly could also probably benefit from. Rethinking how positioning statements fit with the new Government targets, funding pots and priorities is a good place to start.