But shutting down coal-fired power stations as the country’s aging nuclear power stations gradually close has left Britain dependent on gas for about 40 percent of the country’s electricity, far more than any other fuel. (In France, by contrast, nuclear power plants provide about 70 percent of the electricity.) It hasn’t helped that the wind that powers Britain’s wind turbines, which generate about 20 percent of the country’s power on average, has been unusually weak in recent months.
“That success in climate policy is coming back to bite,” said Mr Gloystein.
Britain is not yet far enough in its clean energy transition to escape the spur of jumps in world gas prices.
“We don’t really have enough renewable energy right now to really break through,” said Martin Young, an energy analyst at Investec, a securities firm. “Gas usually sets the price.” Britain’s hefty taxes on carbon emissions also add to electricity costs, he said.
A fire that knocked out a large cable that supplied electricity from France caused even more misery. And unlike other European countries, Britain has not invested in gas storage facilities, but instead closed a large such facility in 2017.
Will consumers get relief?
The rising wholesale price of electricity is being passed on to homeowners, stretching budgets and forcing governments to intervene. In fact, in Spain, the government recently said it would use profits from wind and solar electricity generation to compensate consumers for high gas prices.
About 15 million UK households were recently hit by a 12 percent price hike under a government program to hedge large price increases. The capped rates are reviewed every six months; the next revision, in April, is expected to lead to a bigger jump.
Another problem homeowners face: Many electricity suppliers that offered customers cheap deals were unable to meet their obligations at current prices. Many of these relatively small businesses have collapsed in recent weeks and the accounts of their estimated 1.7 million customers are being auctioned off to stronger companies. No one will lose power because of these business outages, but eventually those customers will pay higher rates, and the companies that take on the customers will be able to pass on additional costs to the payers.