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The Hidden Costs Of Net Zero

August 5, 2020

By Paul Homewood


 John O’Sullivan presents a concise summary of the recent GWPF paper, ReWiring the UK: the Hidden Costs of Net Zero by Mike Travers.



In last week’s column I argued that in dealing with the threats of climate change, our best approach would be to forget labels like "climate denialism” and “climate alarmism,” make a fair accounting of the problems, and set about tackling them practically. When I advocated this approach of “climate practicality,” I was thinking in Big Picture terms: How best should we allocate scarce resources between adapting to climate change and seeking to mitigate it, for instance? Or between generating energy mainly from fossil fuels, as now, or from “renewables,” or from going nuclear? Where will our money get the best results?

Answering those Big Picture questions is obviously necessary, indeed unavoidable, but it’s also very difficult to answer them well, i.e, convincingly, because they contain so many variables. It’s somewhat easier (though still hard) to examine the practicality of specific policies from the standpoint not only of governments which propose and implement them but also of the ordinary citizens who have to live with their impact.

That’s done with deep practical expertise and occasional dry wit in a new monograph from the Global Warming Policy Foundation titled ReWiring the UK: the Hidden Costs of Net Zero by Mike Travers, a distinguished engineer with wide experience in that most practical of disciplines.

I am sure every one of us in the UK supports cutting waste, not polluting the oceans with plastic, collecting our rubbish (though people are still throwing tons of waste out of car windows), reducing discharges of all types into our fragile atmosphere and still maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. To do this we need to plan, engineer and build in a sensible way. What we cannot afford to do is inflate electricity prices and other costs: this will simply result in manufacturing industry leaving the country and the export of our carbon dioxide emissions.

Travers starts with the problem, which is that electricity prices have been rising sharply in the U.K.: “[B]usinesses and consumers have been facing steadily increasing electricity bills for the last 12 years. Average domestic prices have risen from 6p to 16p per unit. That is more than 150 percent in twelve years, faster than any other commodity. This is partly the result of poor planning of the system.”

And why is that? Travers first gives vent to an understandable professional pique that “[e]ngineers have long since lost control of the electrical supply, and the regulators, accountants, and lawyers who now hold sway have conspired to prevent sensible improvements to the system.”

His second explanation, however, goes to the nub of the problem, which is that rising electricity prices stem mainly from government policies to “decarbonize the economy’” (i.e. the hidden costs of the monograph’s title), as the country switches from gas turbines to the much more expensive wind turbines to generate electcicity and move towards net zero carbon emissions.

As we head towards a fully decarbonised grid, the expense will become truly astronomical. We even have to pay windfarms to switch off. These so-called ‘constraint payments’ reached £140 million in 2019.

Rising electricity prices from decarbonization are a major problem, especially so when consumers are facing harder times as the cumulative impact of Covid-19 and the lockdowns kicks in, but they are far from the only negative results. For the U.K. government, though headed by an easy-going optimististic prime minister in Boris Johnson, is committed to requiring ordinary Brits to make major changes in their life-styles that will mean imposing heavier costs on them as both consumers, electricity users, and taxpayers. For instance, the government has already announced that it is making a transition to electric cars compulsory by 2035—and that regulation will include hybrid cars. Nor is it likely to be only such regulation. Brits will also be required to install in their homes such other devices as heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points.

The cost of installing EV charging points alone will be a considerable one. Travers estimates that it will be of the order of 31 billion pounds. But that’s small beer compared to the overall losses from the installation and use of all the additional electric devices needed for decarbonization (italics mine):

The extra demand for electricity will overwhelm most domestic fuses, thus requiring homeowners to install new ones, as well as circuit-breakers and new distribution boards. Most will also have to rewire between their main fuse and the distribution network. In urban areas, where most electrical cabling is underground, this will involve paying for a trench to be dug between the home and the feeder circuits in the street. In addition, increased demand along a street will mean that the distribution network will need to be upgraded too. This will involve installing larger cables and replacing distribution transformers with larger ones. Most urban streets will need to be dug up. The cost to the country of rewiring alone will probably exceed £200 billion, or over £7,000 per household. This figure excludes the cost of new equipment, such as EV chargers, heat pumps and electric showers.

That’s the total impact on householders. It’s alarming. But the details of how many of these centrally-imposed regulations will impact the individual householder is where Travers shines. Here he is, for instance, on heat pumps:

The best alternative is a ground-source heat pump (GSHP), which extracts heat from the earth, using a network of buried pipes. However, that requires a lot of space, so they are really only an option for people who own significant plots of land or can afford the alternative of drilling a borehole. The total cost in a new house for installing a GSHP is likely to be £18,000, or four times the present cost of an oil or gas heating system. The alternative is an air-source heat pump (ASHP), which might cost £10,000, gives energy gains rather less than GSHPs, and suffers from major reductions in efficiency in cold weather.

Even an attentive reader of the serious press would not guess one tenth of the upheavals and cost additions that electric vehicles and heat pumps alone by themselves are likely to cause the Brits—and thus to government ministers when voters realize that what these high-sounding moral principles will mean in practice.

If Ministers pay heed to Travers on the costs and practicality of their policies, they will reconsider de-carbonization and look instead at going nuclear or choosing adaptation over mitigation. But practicality and government live increasingly separate lives—the former in this world, the latter in Utopia. And a reconciliation between them is probably a catastrophe away.

John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review, editor of Australia’s Quadrant, and President of the Danube Institute. He has served in the past as associate editor of the London Times, editorial and op-ed editor for Canada’s National Post, and special adviser to Margaret Thatcher. He is the author of The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.

  1. David permalink
    August 5, 2020 10:41 am

    Another thing not mentioned is the fact that air source heat pumps make intolerable noise with their fans. Already living near a house with one is most unpleasant. I don’t think there will be any way of making them silent.

    • Pancho Plail permalink
      August 5, 2020 11:37 am

      Amen to that David. You don’t hear a lot about noise pollution from the environmentalists, but it is a destroyer of sanity in extremis.

      • Athelstan. permalink
        August 7, 2020 3:10 pm

        not to mention the deep vein thrum of bird mincers – it’s a killer in lots of senses

  2. Harry Passfield permalink
    August 5, 2020 10:56 am

    I do wish Boris’s predecessor in Uxbridge, the now Lord John Randall (wonder what he did to get that???) would take heed from this. Instead, he comes up with this sort of guff over at WUWT, where he is hailed as delivering “a message from the British Conservative Heartland”:
    With conservatives like this we don’t need Labour.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 5, 2020 11:37 am

      Another potential influencer suckered by the constant weather is evidence of climate change narrative from the BBC/Met Office.

    • August 7, 2020 12:28 am

      Thanks for that WUWT link, where I read that he says…
      “Additionally, tapping into Australia’s vast renewable energy potential could spark a job boom, generating three times as many jobs as the equivalent investment in fossil fuels. And as the cost of solar and wind power continues to decline steeply, Australia can gain a competitive advantage in energy-intensive industries.

      He’s delusional, alright!
      “Whether your metric is power prices or reliability, SA is hardly the “international model of success for energy transition” suggested by Simon Holmes a Court. Unless, of course, suffering the world’s highest power prices, load shedding and blackouts is all part of what Holmes a Court deems a ‘successful’ “energy transition”?”

  3. August 5, 2020 11:05 am

    “As we head towards a fully decarbonised grid, the expense will become truly astronomical”

    If your objective is not zero but net zero, then you are not heading towards a fully decarbonized grid.

  4. Broadlands permalink
    August 5, 2020 2:35 pm

    The hidden cost of NET-zero is the cost of the capture-and-store technology required to accomplish it. Just to lower the atmospheric burden of CO2 by ONE part per million is 7,800 million metric tons. Multiply that by any plausible cost per-ton (from capture to burial) and you have a huge cost that must be added to all the others. And, the burial of only one ppm does nothing to an atmosphere containing 415 ppm. A totally absurd idea to be added on to the plan of reaching zero emissions first. Can’t be done.

    • Mack permalink
      August 5, 2020 3:19 pm

      You might want to add a a few more million tons to your figures Broadlands. The last time I looked Co2 levels had hit the giddy heights of 416.4 ppm, despite lockdown and a drop in global economic and industrial activity in 2020 of approx 25% thus far. Just goes to show you how really impotent mankind is in affecting headline planetary Co2 levels and the lunacy of our elected leaders in imagining that they can change the weather by bankrupting modern civilisation with their potty and, ultimately, useless green dreams.

      • Broadlands permalink
        August 5, 2020 4:16 pm

        Mack…Impotent indeed but incompetent is a better word. Consider the demand made by NASA guru Jim Hansen to lower CO2 to 350 ppm. Go to That’s 65 ppm to multiply by 7,800 million tons. That becomes 500 BILLION tons. Lunacy on steroids?

    • August 5, 2020 7:00 pm

      Add to all that the fact that most so-called greenhouse gas is water vapour, so ‘capturing’ CO2 is a fool’s errand anyway.

      • Mack permalink
        August 5, 2020 10:31 pm

        Indeed you are right Oldbrew and, Broadlands, I wasn’t nitpicking about your figures, merely emphasizing the ‘fool’s errand’ of current policies on which you regularly, and eloquently, inform us all. Just a shame that no one in a position of power or influence here in the U.K. seems to be listening. Unfortunately, it seems, that we will have to wait for the spectacular crash of our infrastructure before politicians will take this matter seriously. It’s only a matter of time, of course, but the journey will be very painful for those in society least equipped to deal with the consequences.

    • Tim Crawford permalink
      August 6, 2020 5:54 am

      Broardlands , you are a Climate Cost Denier!!! you forgot to divide the total by Fairy Dust and Unicorn Farts, these WILL lower the cost by a factor of about 20.

    • August 6, 2020 12:06 pm

      “The hidden cost of NET-zero is the cost of the capture-and-store technology required to accomplish it. Just to lower the atmospheric burden of CO2 by ONE part per million is 7,800 million metric tons”

      climate action means to reduce fossil fuel emissions and thereby moderate the rate of warming. It does not mean to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

      • Broadlands permalink
        August 9, 2020 2:09 pm

        A late response. The NET in NET zero stands for Negative Emission Technology. That means capture and long-term storage of CO2 by industrial technology. Simply reducing emissions does nothing to moderate warming. It leaves carbon in the ground and the atmosphere where it is. Any rapid lowering of CO2 emissions will create social and economic havoc. The COVID-19 lockdown has illustrated that.

      • August 10, 2020 2:30 am

        Re: “the net in net emissions stands for negative emission technology”. Do you have a citation for that? Here is what climate science says about net zero.

  5. Bertie permalink
    August 5, 2020 8:15 pm

    It has become apparent to me that the current spate of draconian laws are merely a scene-setter for what is to come in the pursuit of ‘zero emissions’. Having scared the be-jabbers out of most of the bed-wetting populace in the name of a virus will make it easier to achieve the same for a global warming scare that is equally nebulous.

    • Gas Geezer permalink
      August 5, 2020 9:33 pm

      You write like a sane conspiracy factualist .

      • Athelstan. permalink
        August 7, 2020 3:15 pm

        it’s a strange and utterly deluded world which cannot recognize cold hard facts.

  6. David permalink
    August 5, 2020 9:28 pm

    If these millions of heat pumps are typically serving a London street of small dwellings with small gardens surely under cool conditions with little wind the cold air (which drops to the ground) will build up so that the local climate is so cold as to make the heaters totally ineffective

    • Steve permalink
      August 6, 2020 7:52 am

      Confirmed in Mackay SEWTHA. I have an air con and reverse heat pump in France near the Spanish border it is useless for heating after September. When freezing outside it doesn’t work at all and we use a paraffin and electric heater.

      • Russ Wood permalink
        August 7, 2020 3:59 pm

        One heat-pump aircon I had in a rented flat in Israel ended up having to use resistance heating in the depths of a MEDITERRANEAN winter!

  7. Tonyb permalink
    August 5, 2020 9:31 pm

    This isn’t the same John o Sullivan, head of Principia and publisher of The sky dragons is it?

    • August 5, 2020 10:56 pm


    • August 6, 2020 9:50 am

      No, I thought that first!

      • August 7, 2020 3:47 pm

        That’s a relief as to me that would have destroyed my faith in what I thought a very good article.

        If you see this Paul I have just got back from the Cambridge botanic gardens complete with photos after being chased off by a gardener for getting too close to the screen and avoiding the water sprinkler irrigating what looked like new grass. Very hot around 32c

  8. Thomas Carr permalink
    August 5, 2020 11:05 pm

    David. Speak to your Council’s Environmental Officer about what is the minimum level of actionable noise nuisance especially at night.

    Articles like John O’Sullivan’s badly need graphics to resonate with the wider public. Regarding domestic electricity prices, for instance, a graph showing cost against time with the incremental increases added in their own colours so that the components that make up 16p per unit can be easily seen.
    Speculative costs do not really deserve graphics as they are too tenuous and easily dismissed by the true believers .
    Dense text however erudite but unrelieved by illustrations does not attract editors and think tankers or politicians, for that matter, who of course need easy access to the facts.

  9. Gamecock permalink
    August 5, 2020 11:42 pm

    ‘I am sure every one of us in the UK supports cutting waste, not polluting the oceans with plastic, collecting our rubbish (though people are still throwing tons of waste out of car windows), reducing discharges of all types into our fragile atmosphere and still maintaining a reasonable lifestyle.’

    Fragile atmosphere? FFS.

    These things are NOT a problem. They’ve been addressed.

  10. Geoff Sherrington permalink
    August 6, 2020 3:42 am

    Here is a graph from Australia’s Bureau of Statistics, a government department. Geoff S

  11. Geoff Sherrington permalink
    August 6, 2020 3:51 am

    Please help!
    The Australian Energy Market Operator released a report on Jul 30, 2020, for the road map for electricity 2020-2040 for the main eastern part of the grid named NEM.
    This report fails to report on experiences like Energiewende as it propels the nation to a deamy future of renewables penetration of up to 90%.
    In my book, based on experiences like the intermittency of wind and solar reported on this blog, the AEMO report (easy Google) is close to sedition.
    Can you please refer me to people who might be willing and able to refute parts if it, with examples and publications? Thanks. Geoff S

    • Mack permalink
      August 6, 2020 10:53 am

      Hi Geoff, Anton Lang might be your man. He’s just done a highly authoritative hit piece on Aussie wind farms for Pundits International that Jo Nova has just covered on her blog. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject of electrical generation in your part of the world, particularly renewables and should be easy to track down.

  12. Thomas Carr permalink
    August 6, 2020 11:02 am

    Geoff. I am no use in answering your plea. The graph you show is very much what the text of our argument needs. Plus trace lines for the non-generator elements relating to subsidies and premiums.

    If our kind of manufacturing capitalism is to become non-viable it will be because the power available to Chinese and Indian manufacturers is so much less than in our domestic markets The greens and renewable constituency are perverse in their refusal to understand this.

  13. MrGrimNasty permalink
    August 6, 2020 12:18 pm

    Forecast has gradually upgraded the intensity and duration of the incoming heatwave, might persist at 35C level for at least 5 days, hold on to your (sun) hats, expect some record claims.

  14. Coeur de Lion permalink
    August 6, 2020 1:20 pm

    Stupid question but whose carbon dioxide are we capturing? If from the free atmosphere it’s China’s. Rather a lot.

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      August 6, 2020 11:50 pm

      I expect there will be a few molecules from Julius Caesar when he spoke those famous words (captured by William Shakespeare), ‘Et tu, Brute?’.

  15. August 6, 2020 6:46 pm

    Kwasi Kwarteng, The-Crazy-Wind-Man
    has been Hull today banging on about
    how committed his BlueSocialistParty is to offshore wind power
    He’s done an article in the subsidy-mafia’s main newspaper

    On @ITVcalendar @vicwhittamITV did a fawning article which let him do he his two sentences of PR and then moved on.
    “We have 10GW of offshore wind now and we want that to be 40GW in 10 years time”
    The same lines were used on BBC Radio Humberside at 4:40pm
    and will probably come up on local BBC 1 at 6:40pm
    ah 6:43pm actually
    the same lines plus
    KK “the UK has 460,000 green jobs now
    we want two that to be million by xxxx”
    Quickly ended.

    • August 6, 2020 10:01 pm

      “we want that to be two million by 2030”

      Ah, the Local BBC Radio Humberside does actually ask sone proper questions about the negatives of wind power … but not enough
      3 minute audio
      He also went to visit Centrica’s , Rough Gas platform , but she didn’t mention that.

    • mikewaite permalink
      August 7, 2020 6:06 pm

      What sort of jobs are these 460,000 green jobs . Are they jobs requiring a degree in engineering, a qualification in accountancy to add up all the subsidy payments and stash it in some offshore account, or a hard hat and the ability to pour concrete without killing anyone ?
      Last week it was reported on BBC TV that the owner of an engineering firm had advertised for a professional engineer for a new project. Normally this would attract about 100 applicants . He had 15000 in the first 24 hours. The damage that the Covid response has done to people’s lives and careers , and their future contribution to the UK tax income, is appalling and I doubt if the renewables mania is a long term answer.

  16. MrGrimNasty permalink
    August 7, 2020 11:54 am

    Looks like Heathrow is heading for 38C or more unless something changes. It’s not significantly out of step with other places at 32C currently but the concrete storage heaters are still charging……..!

    There’s a hint some showers or at least cloud might make it to London just in time to prevent the late afternoon surge.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 7, 2020 1:47 pm

      BBC weatherman Chris Fawkes “Global Heating – It’s Happening” depressingly predictable, he’s obviously been assimilated.

      This declaration was because tropical nights (night temp. fails to drop below 20C somewhere) used to be rare he said, but now we will have several all at once.
      How many outside the influence of storage heater conurbations though?

      “Overall, the average difference in minimum temperatures between London and the surrounding country is 3.4 °F (1.9 °C), but on individual nights the difference can be as much as 16.2 °F (9 °C).” [Britannica]

      Trumps the influence of global heating one would suspect.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 7, 2020 5:18 pm

      Well Heathrow peaked at 36.3C so far, and cloud has rolled in which will reduce/prevent the late second surge you often get under these conditions. Does seem to be cooling off there now.

      Cambridge Lab Roof half hourly peak was 34.4C and the readings either side are the same so the real peak was probably about that level. From previous experience the garden will have registered 35C to 37.3C, so no cigar.

      “The increasing number of tropical nights is linked to climate change, according to BBC Weather.”

      Whilst according to MO who have scraped an extra 0.1C out of it:-

      “Heathrow and Kew Gardens have now reached 36.4°C, making it the hottest August day since 2003.”

      Don’t you think a serious scientific organisation would question why it is always the same places?

      • Mack permalink
        August 8, 2020 2:26 am

        Spent the day travelling from rural Northants (32C when I left) to rural Galloway (16C when I arrived). No one seemed to have died from sunstroke on my travels. No animals, flora or fauna seem to have been overly perturbed over my 350 mile journey and a bumper harvest seems to have been collected by our farmers en route. Anyone got anything else to worry about?

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 8, 2020 2:58 pm

        Doesn’t look like today (Saturday) will trouble any main records, the main heat dome has been squashed south, Cambridge is almost 10C cooler than yesterday and Heathrow not a front runner but still hot.

        The result is this is one of the hottest days I’ve ever experienced right on the South Coast. I didn’t even hit 30C here when previous records were set, but it’s currently into the low 30s chez moi.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      August 7, 2020 6:34 pm

      Weird, Fawkes just did the main forecast on BBC1 6 o’clock news, no mention of climate change , and he used the storage heater line!

  17. Coeur de Lion permalink
    August 7, 2020 1:19 pm

    Why doesn’t the BBC do an ‘investigative’ Panorama into the whole Net Zero scam and expose the profiteers. Just up their street. I’ll suggest it to them.

  18. EyeSee permalink
    August 8, 2020 12:27 pm

    Lots of objections to detail, but the actual question is, why are we doing anything? Fight pollution, increase efficiency by all means, but don’t try to take on Nature. The planet has warmed, which is lucky, because a mini ice age isn’t a pleasant thing, but we had one for 300 years. The lazy, no other challenges First World problem-seekers invented Man Made Global Warming and in a world more akin to Sodom and Gomorrah, the well off Westerners believe it as their new religion and seek to prove their virtue. By being morons.

    Our output of CO2 barely registers with the planetary systems and affects the climate in no measurable way. Our inability to manage critical processes has also led us to hide from a virus, that isn’t a problem any more. But only in reality, a place not many people live these days.

    • David permalink
      August 8, 2020 2:40 pm

      I believe the planet is significantly greener (caused by CO2) Than it was when I was a child in the 1940’s so it is having an effect – and a good one!

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