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The road ahead: What’s in a date? Will Labour’s 2030 green grid target stand the test of time?

Road Ahead Purpose on Payday
By Imogen Shaw
28 March 2024
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)
Public Affairs

Following a recent report by Aurora Energy Research, an advisory firm founded by academics from Oxford University, a rising tide of media concern has emerged regarding Labour’s commitment to achieving a fully decarbonized energy grid by 2030.
Both Labour and the Conservatives support the existing legal target of achieving net zero emissions in the United Kingdom by 2050. The disagreement between the Government and the Opposition revolves not around the feasibility of a net zero grid, but rather the timeline for delivering one. While the Conservatives have set a target of 2035, Labour remains committed to its more ambitious goal of grid decarbonisation by 2030 – now one of its longest standing concrete policy pledges.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer and Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband are likely to want to resist growing calls for the target to be revised. SEC Newgate understands that Miliband and his advisors have been making the case in private that maintaining the 2030 target serves as a catalyst for progress, even in the event of potential delays, under the premise that achieving a net zero grid by 2032, albeit behind schedule, would still be preferable to reaching it by 2035 on time if the target date were to be revised back.
However, recent media scrutiny has raised concerns about the implications of the 2030 target for UK energy security, following Aurora Energy Research’s findings.  These indicate that achieving a net zero grid by 2030 would mean an additional investment of £116 billion over the next 11 years (roughly £11bn more than it would cost to deliver a net zero grid by 2035), in addition to the £23 billion per annum already being spent across the public and private sectors. Under Labour’s timeline, the costs would also be heavily front-loaded, requiring an extra £15.6 billion annually over the next six years.
In addition to the cost concerns sparked by Aurora’s research, the report identified several key delivery challenges for a net zero electricity grid by 2030. For example, the substantial and much needed expansion of green energy generation plant such as onshore and offshore wind farms is anticipated to strain the availability of skilled labour and essential raw materials, which has knock on implications for the feasibility of decarbonising the electricity grid. Supply chains, already vulnerable due to global instability, would also need to increase deliveries of materials such as steel and glass significantly.
It remains to be seen whether Labour will be able to defend its rationale for the 2030 target successfully. The party does have some arguments in its favour – while the cost of delivering a net zero grid by 2030 is undoubtedly high, when the cost is at the scale we are looking at here, the relative saving of a 2035 target does not look especially significant. Labour also has a strong incentive to push back on criticisms of the 2030 policy – it will not want to be seen to back down on another pledge so soon after the protracted battle over watering down its £28bn green investment policy. However, if it can’t find an effective way to quell concerns and answer critics, the 2030 net zero grid ambition could end up going down the same road.