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Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrats’ Climate Change and Transport Spokesperson and MP for Bath 

What will the UK look like when it is no longer entirely dependent on fossil fuels? 

One hundred years ago, crude oil and gas were first harnessed for power. Since then, they have become not only the primary energy and power sources for the country, but also the building blocks for petrol, diesel, jet fuel, and much more. The latter products are a testament to the revolutionary capacity of using chemicals in the energy production process.

We now have the opportunity to define the next century by using chemicals for energy once more. This time, alongside renewables, for kickstarting a green revolution.

Let’s begin by looking at the well-seasoned tech that will play a key role in this process. Wind, solar and hydro power are the renewable superpowers already at the tip of our fingers. Not only are they sustainable, they offer an affordable and reliable alternative to polluting fossil fuels. The global average lifetime cost of electricity generation for onshore wind was 39% lower than the cheapest new fossil fuel generator in 2021. And these attractive costs will only decrease further as we build more.

So how do we build more? The most effective thing governments can do is to invest, invest, invest. Not only does this make the UK an attractive destination for industry, but it will also contribute to the creation of new jobs in turn. Investment can be done well, such as through the Contracts for Difference scheme, which has been the most successful tool to grow renewable energy at speed in the past decade. This scheme is more easily described as fixed price contracts for the electricity produced for a 20 year period. After 20 years, the electricity from these installations should be cheap, as they will be out of contract.

But the government slashed the 5th Allocation Round (AR5) of the scheme’s budget by a staggering 28% compared to Allocation Round 4 (AR4), falling from £285 million to £205 million. Unsurprisingly, AR5 did not result in a single new offshore wind project.

Despite the fact that both should be at the forefront of their minds, it is clear the Conservatives are not committed to either the green revolution or getting energy bills down. If they were truly serious about mitigating climate change they would give businesses the certainty and guidance they need to build and erect renewable technologies. 

While we can drive cars that can run on a battery and cook food on an electric hob, some problems require different solutions. The government must also realise that the green revolution doesn’t end at electricity. We also need to harness new chemical processes vital for realising our shared sustainable future. 

Virgin Atlantic’s Flight 100 is a perfect example of the importance of chemicals to this goal. The first international flight to be powered entirely by synthetic fuel, Flight 100 signalled the emergence of green tech from the commercial valley of death to the exciting realm of actuality. We can now reasonably hope that synthetic fuels will progressively replace kerosene for domestic flights in the UK. Making the most of this opportunity sooner rather than later could help the UK become ahead of the curve, a global powerhouse for green innovation and a financial beneficiary.

Yet this hope will remain just that, unless the government can see the potential that is crystal clear to so many others. We need current and future UK governments to seize the potential of chemical innovation by the horns and support new industries to scale up. 

The building blocks for a new industrial revolution are there – but Government complacency is preventing us from using them to build our future. 

The irreversible change to our natural world will not get better while we dither and delay. The new industries of the future need government backing as quickly as possible.

The benefits of renewables are unmistakable, as are the benefits of chemical solutions to climate change mitigation. The question now is whether we will harness their potential in tandem, or stay sitting on this golden opportunity. 

The post Wera Hobhouse MP: The building blocks for a new industrial revolution are there – but Government complacency is preventing us from using them to build our future.  appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.


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