It is clear from the public debate that the citizenry has no idea of the scale of the task to achieve a net zero emissions economy in 30 years, writes Professor Michael Kelly in a recent report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Opinion polls indicate that few are willing, let alone able, to pay more than very modest sums, he states, and nothing like the £100,000 plus per household identified by his report.
But the costs do not end there. The former Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge went on to note that if Europe and North America are to pay for the rest of the world’s Net Zero activities, the cost for each U.K. household could rise to £450,000, and £13 trillion for the whole U.K. Unsurprisingly, Professor Kelly feels this is a “fantasy in practical terms”.
These costs are rarely mentioned. The Paris Climate Agreement seeks to mobilise $100 billion a year from developed countries to fund green projects across the globe. Few countries in the developing world specify their demands for hard cash in public, but when they do, the amounts sought are eye watering. The small Caribbean island of Grenada, with a population of 112,000 people, recently informed the United Nations that it would like $1 billion up to 2030.
Grenada is just one of many countries seeking to profit from the largesse on offer at countless international climate meetings. But in Kelly’s view, the project is being attempted without any kind of roadmap. “The project is therefore more likely than not to veer in the direction of the historical Tower of Babel,” he suggests.
Professor Kelly’s figures will shock those who rely on the advice of the Government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC). In its 2020 Sixth Carbon Budget it reduced the cost of Net Zero from 1-2% of UK GDP to under 1%. By 2030, the annual cost will be £32 billion a year, compared with £10 billion in 2020. The CCC said the “low costs for the transformation” were due to new clean technologies being more efficient. An annual cost of £32 billion a year equates to just over £1,000 per household, orders of magnitude below Kelly’s estimates. The CCC says people can play their part by eating less meat, curbing flying, driving less and installing low carbon heating.
So back in the real world, let us look at this last suggestion. The CCC claims that it will cost £10,000 to insulate a home and install a heat pump system. Kelly is more realistic. Detailing his own practical experience as Chief Scientific Advisor to the then Department for Communities and Local Government in 2009, he recalled a £17 million retrofit of 100 social houses. Knowing the actual costs involved, Kelly scales up to a figure of £4 trillion to insulate and install heat pumps in 26 million U.K. homes. Allowing for economies of scale, but also including another 5.5 million non-domestic properties, he arrives at a total refit bill of £3 trillion. Installing a heat pump and insulating a house is likely to cost £65,000, nowhere near the ludicrously low figure promoted to the general public by the CCC.
The CCC is right, however, about Net Zero knocking flying on the head. At present the amount of battery storage needed to contain the energy for a jumbo jet crossing the Atlantic weighs six times the maximum cargo that a jet can carry. Even assuming 50 more years of battery improvement at the rate of recent years, a jet would only be able to fly without any cargo.
Under Net Zero, Kelly estimates that the electricity grid would need to be 2.7 times bigger in 2050 than today. This involves adding capacity at eight times the rate it has been added over the last 30 years, including all renewables. In addition there will be a need to rewire homes, streets and local substations to carry the extra current. Kelly estimates a cost of £700 billion for this work. Add in the cost of upgrading power lines and it is estimated that the cost for the National Grid of reaching Net Zero by 2050 is £900 billion or nearly £1 trillion.
The cost of the new electricity generating capacity is said to be £500 billion, making a total of over £4 trillion, if the costs of agriculture and rail, sea and air transport are ignored. The headline figure is reduced to £3 trillion by allowing for further economies of scale, and this is equivalent to over £100,000 for every household in the U.K.
But money is only part of the picture. To complete the Net Zero project will also require huge increases in skilled workers. Kelly estimates a doubling of electrical engineers and a workforce of around 500,000 people to retrofit houses. In addition, vast quantities of materials will be needed for wind turbines, solar panels and electric car batteries. Kelly notes that the extraction of oil and gas only has a small impact on the earth’s surface, compared with the opencast mining of the minerals used in wind turbines and solar farms. Meanwhile, if the U.K. converted to electric cars overnight, it would require 207,000 tonnes of cobalt – almost double the annual global production. Kelly notes that “unregulated and child labour is implicated in much mining of cobalt”.
In summary, Professor Kelly writes:
With extra costs comfortably in excess of £3 trillion, a dedicated and skilled workforce, 70% that of the NHS, and key strategic materials demanded at many times the supply rates that prevail today, and all for no measurable attributable change in the global climate, the mitigation of climate change via a net-zero-emissions U.K. economy in 2050 is an extremely difficult ask. Without a command economy, the target will certainly not be met.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor