Thoughts on Boris Johnson's ten-point plan

Published by Alastair Martin 19 / 11 / 20

Boris Johnson’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution is out, and we’re awash with reactions from industry and pressure groups. Were they all written by Daft Punk?

Work it harder, make it better

Do it faster, makes us stronger

Electric cars, trees, green buildings, “jet zero” (great slogan), even a hydrogen town (this morning I’m starting an office sweepstake on where that will be). Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. No-one wants less of this stuff.

There are variations, of course. Barrett Strong’s Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want)” also makes this particular chart. Government believes that the sums it has pledged will bring forth private sector investment. It’s fair to say that not every item on the list is obviously linked to a business proposition that green investors are ready to back, but several of them are. In fact, the money is already flowing: into offshore wind (point 1), electric vehicles (point 4) and domestic heat pumps (snuggled into point 7 alongside the home insulation – which is exactly how a heat pump should be deployed).

I have no idea how to decarbonise aviation (point 6) or what a small modular nuclear reactor (point 3) really costs. The ten-point plan is just the start – we’re in for a long period of detailed policymaking, including an Energy White Paper. But some things don’t have to wait. Flexitricity has partnerships with several companies who are right now installing the technologies that will deliver some of the biggest elements of this plan, such as EV chargers and smart heating systems. For them, it’s only a question of scaling up.

With wind and nuclear sharing the spotlight, it’s once again time to address the intermittency/variability point. No source of electricity is 100% reliable. Wind energy varies with the weather (it is the weather) and nuclear stations take large lumps of power out of the system when they hit a snag (which they do – not all the time, but often enough). Securing electricity supplies requires fast-acting frequency response, and reserve energy to fill longer gaps. It’s just as important nowadays to be able to turn generation down – too much electricity is as bad as too little. And where there’s a need, there’s a market. There’s money in flexibility.

This plan answers the very question it poses. Just as nuclear and offshore wind create more reasons to flex, we see more flexible capacity coming forward in the form of electrified transport and heating. Customers can adjust when they use electricity in order to put green energy to work and get something back on their bills. By joining smart heating and insulation together in one policy (at last!) we win twice: an efficient building is a flexible building, because thermal inertia in building fabric or heat stores is more effective when the building doesn’t leak heat.

In fact we win thrice. Insulated homes don’t need as much heat, and they work well with heat pumps which are several times more efficient than the kinds of electric heaters that most people are familiar with. This substantially reduces the loading on the “last mile” electricity distribution networks. If we build good buildings, we don’t have to dig up the roads to lay costly new cables. Homes which keep heat can store heat, and do a better job at sharing the existing wires as a result.

Flexitricity’s customers store energy in an astonishing range of forms: electric charge in lithium batteries, hot water tanks at district energy schemes, cold storage sites (where it’s known as “coolth”), pumped water, product stocks at chemical works. The ten-point plan adds another energy storage vector: wind-powered electrolysis producing hydrogen for industry, heating and bulk transport. I don’t know how big this one will get, what it will cost, who will pay for it, or how far into the gas grid it will reach. But green hydrogen production at any scale introduces new flexibility that will help green up the grid that powers it.

The Flexitricity team – who manage flexible electricity customers, batteries and CHPs round the clock to keep the nation’s lights on and make best use of low carbon energy – would recognise the rest of that Daft Punk song:

More than ever, hour after hour

Work is never over

The same is true of the ten-point plan. Ten is a lot of points, and they’re all huge. There’s lots to do. Like the rest of industry, we say: let’s get on with it.

Alastair Martin

Alastair Martin Founder and Chief Strategy Officer

Dr Alastair Martin founded the first demand side response business in Great Britain in 2004. Alongside heading up Flexitricity, Alastair has worked on a range of energy policy developments and participates in several key regulatory working groups and committees with the Association for Decentralised Energy, National Grid ESO and others.

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