Britain faces catastrophic power cuts because of an increasing reliance on electricity to run everything from cars to home boilers, the Committee on Climate Change has warned.
Decarbonisation plans, which involve switching transport and heating away from petrol and gas, will mean outages in the future have a greater impact, the Government’s independent advisory committee on climate change has said, as it urged the Government to make sure the system could withstand extreme weather.
Incidents such as floods and storms, potentially made more intense by climate change, could leave thousands without power unless the Government prioritises adaptation, something it has so far failed to do, the committee said.
Electricity currently provides 15 to 20 per cent of the UK’s energy, but by 2050 this could rise to 65 per cent, a trend mostly driven by a switch from petrol and diesel-fuelled transport to electric power, and from gas boilers to electric alternatives such as heat pumps.
Power cuts such as those seen across England and Wales in August 2019 could become more frequent, and the risk of this is "not currently being managed," the report found.
In that incident, caused by a lightning strike on an electricity circuit, more than a million people were hit by blackouts, with many more stranded on trains or at stations after the network ground to a halt.
"These risks will become more common and more damaging as our dependence on electricity grows and the variability of our weather increases," the report warns.
Coal has been steadily overtaken by renewable energy sources and natural gas
The analysis of Britain’s readiness to deal with climate-related risk was compiled by over 450 scientists and reviewers from around the UK, and comes ahead of the Government’s upcoming risk assessment around climate change, which is due to be laid before Parliament early next year.
Prof Dame Julia King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, and deputy chair of the committee, said: "Somebody needs to be taking an overview of the whole system, right from our house and our car through to the new renewable energy that’s going to be built, and not the individual pieces of the system that different private companies run.
"Planning for our all-electric world has got to take into account the much bigger impact a failure in any part of the system can have."
The risk was one of many identified by the committee, which also said buildings should be designed to cope better with heatwaves, and warned that the UK was less well-prepared for climate change than it was five years ago.
Further climate change is "inevitable" even if emissions fall, it said, and the Government needed to be "realistic" about threats to food and water supplies, infrastructure and public health.
Chris Stark, the chief executive of the committee on climate change, said: "Our preparations for climate change in this country are not keeping pace with the extent of the risks that we face.
Electricity generation in the UK by fuel type
"That is a very concerning conclusion, particularly since we’ve been raising our concerns consistently with the Government for some time now. They find it, I think, far too easy to dismiss those concerns. And we would like to see that change."
Dr Doug Parr, policy director and chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: "It’s time the Government pulls its finger out to ensure we’re ready to face the challenges the climate crisis poses.
"That means bringing forward detailed, well-funded measures on everything from proper housing standards making them fit for living in a warmer world, to investment in soils and nature restoration."
Responding to the report, a Government spokesman said: “The UK was the first major world economy to set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Our plan to further reduce emissions in 2035 by at least 78 per cent compared to 1990 levels is the highest reduction target by a major economy to date.
“As we work to eliminate the UK’s contribution to climate change and build back greener after the pandemic we will increase biodiversity, protect and restore our peatlands, clean up our country’s air, and help protect our waterways through our landmark Environment Bill.
“We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations closely as we continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change ahead of COP26 in November.”