Good morning to everybody, and welcome to 1 Birdcage Walk, a building that was absolutely state of the art when it was first opened in 1899, as home for the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
It featured such spectacular features, including passenger lifts and telephones, it was well ahead of its time. By 1940, the glamour slipped away. The entrance itself and roof were sandbagged. The windows were netted. And the basement was turned into an air raid shelter.
After all, we are located just across the road from Churchill’s nerve centre, from where he directed the war effort.
Indeed, 1 Birdcage Walk was later to play a profoundly important role in World War II, when it was used by senior army engineers to actually plan D-Day – working out how to launch and then sustain the greatest seaborne invasion ever staged, and certainly one of the greatest engineering triumphs in military history.
At the end of the war, another great British engineer – Frank Whittle – he came here as well, to deliver the first public lecture about the jet engine.
It was particularly thanks to his genius and perseverance that we led the world in the UK in the development of jet technology in the 1940s, and that the first commercial airliner to usher-in the jet age was the British deHavilland Comet, designed and built in my own Hatfield constituency I should say.
UK energy leadership
In those years, this building saw Britain at her very best.
A generation that faced up to the most formidable challenges with guts and determination, but also a generation that capitalised on opportunities once the war was over.
Whittle was just one of a long line of British engineering pioneers who had the confidence to take risks, to innovate and to lead.
But it was a leadership that began almost 2 centuries before, when James Watt’s steam engine fired up the Industrial Revolution.
And it was a leadership that continued into the 1950s, when Britain built the world’s first full-scale nuclear power station at Calder Hall, in Cumbria.
Today we need to regain this leadership, as we embark on a new energy transition.
Because there is a simple, single and very harsh fact… we have neglected energy security for far too long in this country.
And if one event brought that realisation home, it was surely Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
That single, brutal act highlighted our over-exposure to volatile international energy markets, after decades of dependence on often imported fossil fuels…. so it is hastening our energy transition not just here but throughout the world.
So that no one should allow, particularly Vladimir Putin, to hold the British people to energy hostage ever again.
And so this government has stepped in. This winter for example, we have been paying around half the typical household bill.
But to deliver the kind of cheaper, clean energy that we want to see in Britain in future, we must now diversify, decarbonise, and domesticate energy productions, to take control of our energy security.
That’s why in February this year, the Prime Minister created the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. Two sides of the same coin.
And it’s why we’ve wasted no time in publishing our Powering Up Britain strategy – in fact just 50 days after the department itself was created.
This document explains how we’re going to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, how we’re going to replace them with home-grown renewables and nuclear, and how we’ll bring down energy bills – and keep them down – so that energy prices eventually become the cheapest in Europe by the date of 2035.
And just as we did in the past, we will make the best use of British expertise and British assets, to propel that energy transition forward.
Carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS)
We’re already making very good use of the Great British weather.
In fact the UK is a global leader in offshore wind. I don’t think most Brits realise, but not only do we have the world’s largest offshore windfarm – but we have the second largest… and the third largest… and we’re just constructing the fourth largest at Dogger Bank II.
But there’s another colossal opportunity waiting for us in the North Sea.
And this time, it’s not based on extraction and it’s not based on the wind.
It’ll be generated by filling the spaces partially left by oil and gas extraction, and it will be with the storage of CO2 – a process known as carbon capture, utilisation and storage.
Very simply, it involves separating CO2 from industry and, instead of emitting it into the atmosphere, storing it permanently and safely under the seabed.
Now I wage most people in this country have never heard of CCUS.
But they will very soon – because Britain has one of the greatest storage potentials in the entire world.
We have quite literally been blessed with a geological goldmine, waiting to be exploited.
Deep below the North Sea floor, we have numerous and vast storage reservoirs.
To give some idea about the potential, I can explain that the UK Continental Shelf could have enough capacity to store about 78 billion tonnes of carbon.
Now if you’re like me, that doesn’t necessarily mean very much, so I challenged my officials to tell me what that will be in, sort of, real money.
And my officials tell me that broadly, that’s the equivalent to the weight of about fifteen billion elephants.
Or to put it another way, about 234 million Boeing 747s.
By either measure – a jumbo amount of storage space.
At atmospheric pressure, 1 tonne of CO2 has the same volume as about a hot air balloon, but actually when we store it will be under high pressure, to compress it, and use a lot less space.
This could be absolutely huge for the UK, and even in the short term, we’ve got very high ambitions.
By 2030, we want to remove the same amount of carbon dioxide from CCUS as produced by up to 6 million cars on the road – or in effect, taken off the road.
And if we were able to fill the UK’s theoretical potential for CO2 storage, then we could avoid the cost of today’s emissions trading price, about £90 per tonne of carbon, which could in theory provide a sector in the region of £5 trillion.
This means the UK has an opportunity to not only store our own CO2, but also get value from storing other countries’ CO2 as well.
For instance, we could use our reserves, our capacity, to store 100 years of UK CO2 – and 100 years of Europe’s CO2 as well.
Underlining the incredible national asset that carbon storage could become for the UK.
And there’s another huge benefit as well.
To meet our net zero targets, not only do we need to embrace clean energy, we also need to help heavy industry decarbonise.
Industrial carbon capture and storage actually makes that possible.
Indeed, it will be critical to the deep decarbonisation of industries like cement and chemicals, which really have no other way to ensure that they can go green.
So we’re going to create a pathway for those industries so that businesses can carry on investing in Britain, confident that they can still achieve net zero targets.
We can lead the world in safely capturing and storing this carbon dioxide, from industries that can’t decarbonise at the pace they require. And that, in turn, will help provide reliable electricity supplies, ensuring energy security, whilst removing carbon dioxide from our air – so we can even carbon negative.
And we’re ready to act right now, I should say we are one of probably only four or five countries in the world with either capacity, or indeed, according to global rankings, the readiness to get on with this job.
To give industry a real springboard towards this CCUS future, I just announced an unprecedented £20 billion in the Powering Up Britain document last month to invest in CCUS.
We’re going to establish two industrial clusters by the middle of this decade – the HyNet and East Coast clusters in the North West, and North East of England – to form what we’re calling Track 1 of our plans.
And we’ll expand the Track 1 clusters, to include the Humber later in the year, and we’re going to develop a further two clusters as part of Track 2, which we plan to have up and running by 2030.
As a result, CCUS could support some 50,000 jobs by 2030 – particularly benefitting places like the North East, Humber, Scotland, and Wales.
Of course, I should say that very considerable challenges remain, both on technical grounds and in terms of proving the technology, so we’re only at the start of the journey.
We are working with our friends in Europe, to cut the costs of the technology, and remove regulatory barriers to moving CO2 across borders, because transporting it will be a core part of the story.
The UK actually co-leads the CCUS work internationally within the Clean Energy Ministerial group of major countries, so we’re particularly well placed to remove the obstacles and make progress on this.
Wider North Sea industry
Carbon capture is just one of many industries around the North Sea, which caused the Economist to recently say that the North Sea is potentially “Europe’s New Powerhouse.”
On Monday I was in Belgium at a leaders’ summit of nine North Sea nations to discuss co-operation and scaling up these types of technologies.
The variability in wind in the North Sea, for example, can put pressure on different parts of our energy grid.
One way to address that is with interconnectors between different nations, which can produce a balance in production and demand cycles.
So I was pleased to announce on Monday the new “LionLink” interconnector with the Netherlands. It’s capable of producing about 2 gigawatts of electricity for both countries, powering around 2 million homes. When it’s built it will be the world’s largest interconnector of its type – and is able to power the equivalent of Greater Manchester and Birmingham combined.
I also signed an agreement with Denmark to exploit low carbon opportunities, all part of a massive programme of government incentives and support to help Britain tap North Sea resources, at a scale unimaginable until very recently. For example, the new Dogger Bank windfarm will produce 3.6GW when it reaches full capacity in 2026.
3.6GW is about the equivalent of the output of three and a half times the typical nuclear power plant, that gives you an indication of the size and scale of what’s going on in the North Sea. Some of the new wind farms to be built will have a scale that’s so large that a single turn of some of the turbines would cover seven football pitches joined together. The scale of this is perhaps something that the British people are so far unaware of.
Oil and gas
Whilst the energy industry is abuzz with all of this immense change, I just want to stress our support for Britain’s existing oil and gas industry.
It has done an important job, through COVID, through Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
And, in line with our net zero 2050 commitment, we will not shy away from awarding new licences where they are justified, and where they can benefit Britain. It is very important to understand that even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, recognises, we will still need some oil and gas, even in 2050, even when we’re net zero. So it simply makes no sense whatsoever to deny our own oil and gas, and instead import it – with twice the embedded carbon – from elsewhere in the world.
So we remain absolutely dedicated to the North Sea Transition Deal – helping decarbonise the industry whilst protecting thousands of jobs.
It will be worth remembering, when carbon capture and storage is thriving in years to come, that the space we’re exploiting by removing oil and gas is what is partially creating the space to be able to store the CO2 in the future.
So, as we navigate the path through the biggest energy transition since 1 Birdcage Walk was opened in 1899, we remember the innovators and visionaries who went before us, from Watt to Whittle – who saw a changing world and they grabbed the possibilities and the potential to adapt.
We now have the potential to lead the world once again, not just harnessing the wind of the North Sea, but the spaces below the bed of the North Sea, to store extraordinary volumes of carbon dioxide in the very place where fossil fuels laid buried for millions of years.
Now I can’t claim that any of this will rival the fame of D-Day or the glamour of the jet engine, but I’m sure that carbon capture will, in years to come, also earn its place in the history books – not only as one of the great engineering feats of our times, but also as one of the turning points in Britain’s transformation to a very prosperous, net zero nation.
Thank you very much.