We’re all talking about it- Net Zero has become the new buzz word. Climate Emergency has been declared by the majority of Councils and Universities and, with the recent world and local weather events, it is a brave (or stupid) person who denies the need to take action quickly.
Agreeing that it's critical and that we need to get on with addressing it pdq is the easy bit. Then you start hearing about the potential cost.
To give an idea of scale, according to the FT today, the EU Commission estimated that it would need to invest £260bn a year to 2030 to achieve 40% carbon reductions. That’s now gone up to 50%. The infrastructure and associated investment required is enormous.
As a starting point, decarbonising (and the electrification) of transport requires the installation of an inter-connected and inter-operable network of charging points for electric vehicles.
The electrification of transport will drive up the need for additional electricity and require the building of significant additional generating capacity- which will all need to be low carbon. But in reality, as well as renewables, we need security of supply if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, so new gas plant and associated carbon capture & storage will also need to be built (because it doesn’t look like nuclear will get there in time to fill the gaps).
The resulting volume of intermittent generation on the overall system means that the network will need to grow to connect all the new assets, but more importantly we will need flexibility (ie short term turning up/turning down) to make sure that the system stays in balance. This is where new batteries, hydro and ways of enabling consumer response all need to be developed and deployed.
Moving onto heat- we haven’t really got out of the starting blocks yet.
The answer is probably a combination of mixing hydrogen into the gas network, electrifying existing heating and converting cities onto district heat networks so that we can both use efficient schemes and utilise waste heat. The scale of investment and behavioural change to move the dial, is huge.
And the best saving of energy (and hence carbon) is the stuff that you don’t use or lose in the first place. So converting our building stock to zero carbon standards is an investment that cannot be ignored.
All of which makes this week’s government publication of renewable asset database a real signal of how far we have to go and a reason to run the red flag up the pole. According to the database the UK currently has under construction:
- 17 solar farms
- 12 onshore wind farms
- 3 small hydro schemes
- 4 Battery schemes
- 14 Energy from waste plants
And lots of offshore wind.
At that pace- and at a rate that has fallen off a cliff since the removal of support, we’re deluding ourselves to think that 2050 is even remotely possible.
So being a woman who likes to solve problems with a list- I’ve started my shopping list to government for 2020, from whom we have heard nothing tangible relating to energy for a long time. Please feel free to add or argue:
1) Prioritise delivery of clear standards for EV charging;
2) Re-instate support for onshore wind and solar through CfDs
3) Be really clear about your renewed commitment to CCS
4) Address the key policy gaps on heat networks so that they can properly compete against electric heating
5) Remove planning barriers to heat, CCS and other technologies
6) Allow suppliers to make money- they are the ones who have the experts who can develop and provide consumers with low carbon solutions- but only if they have enough in the coffers to invest in the journey.
7) Acknowledge through action, that whilst offshore wind is critical- we need growth in all technologies.
It all needs to happen- and there is no one right answer. But we need to stop talking and start building. The good news is that the industry is desperate for some clear signals from policy makers. Once given, I can guarantee a rapid and energetic response.
EnergyBridge helps businesses, investors and local authorities navigate complexity, unlock value and reduce carbon in the UK energy market with a combination of deep market and operational expertise and experience. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 07464 949975