Past eras of humanity have been labelled according to their association with the key material used: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age. At present our societies are transitioning from the ‘Oil Age’ to the ‘Electricity Age’, or should be.
Society has to get smarter about how it uses mineral resources. Humanity has stepped into a critical era for energy, for policy, for minerals, and for the planet.
The Electricity Age
Humanity needs more electricity because it is increasingly our means of heating and cooling homes, operating businesses, transporting ourselves and goods, and passing on information. Information runs our economies and helps to disseminate the sound ideas that build our civilization.
Renewable energy generation has to be the focus of our societies if increasing demand for electricity is to be met. This form of energy creation relies heavily upon key minerals that will shape geopolitics. Ensuring that these elements are used in an intelligent way means treating them as ‘critical’.
Frustratingly, with the Welsh Government’s access to cash being heavily reliant on financial handouts from Westminster, the Senedd is curtailed in realising Wales’ route to benefiting from this burgeoning age of electricity. Building electric vehicles (EVs), solar panels, wind turbines, and other transformative fossil-free technologies will require vast quantities of critical minerals.
Were Wales to have sovereignty over its natural resources and energy economy, opportunities would abound.
A world leader in energy generation?
Wales is blessed with both mineral resources and natural features which make the nation an ideal international hub for an electrified future. It is already a net exporter of electricity, according to the Welsh Government.
Any ambition for Wales to become a world leader in energy generation has yet to be realised. But geography and geology position the country to play a leading global role in renewable energy generation; particularly energy derived from Wales’ marine environment. This habitat alone has a generating capacity of at least 6GW – chiefly from wave and tidal stream energy.
The territorial seas of Wales equal 32,000km square, greater than its landmass. There is arguably more reason for Wales to look towards its offshore wind, wave, and tidal stream power than for many other European nations.
There are already tidal and wave projects from Anglesey to Pembrokeshire. From Swansea Bay’s tidal lagoon to the ambitious North Wales Lagoon, proposed for the coastal area between Prestatyn and Llandudno. Carbon-free Welsh energy is increasingly making its way into the UK economy. But this electricity and its financial upsides should be benefiting, and controlled by, the Welsh Government, not private companies and London.
Further evidence of the viability of Welsh marine-based energy projects is reflected in their value being added to The Crown Estate. This is the entity which holds legal tenure over the Welsh seabed and much of its shoreline. Of the Scottish slice of those assets, 40% was devolved to Scotland in 2016. (The remainder was sold off to a “global property giant”, which invested in a retail park in Cheltenham).
Between 2020 and 2022, The Crown Estate saw ‘Wales Highlights’: the value of its Welsh holdings surged from £96.8mn to £603mn. But despite the vast increase in the value of Welsh natural resources, all revenues went to the British Monarch and UK treasury. The people of Wales did not receive the direct benefit of, or control, those “highlights”.
Just as oil and gas did for middle eastern countries, and well-managed North Sea assets did for the people of Norway, the landscape – and especially the seascape – of Wales has the potential to make this nation wealthy. And it would generate vast amounts of sought-after energy, putting us in the vanguard of a green revolution.
This makes it imperative that Wales controls its own natural resources. Sovereignty over the country’s renewable energy would arguably be the most significant and consequential result of an independent Wales. Through focused policies, targeting critical mineral supply to build an economy around energy generation, Wales could become a global leader in the developing ‘Electricity Age’.