The ambition to reach a net-zero level of CO2 emissions for the UK is a reasonable one but setting a date of 2050 for this to be definitely achieved is foolish when there is no plan on how to deliver it.
In this memo we set out some ideas on how to create a credible plan and possible policies for the new government to consider which would contribute to achieving the net-zero ambition.
Developing a credible plan
- Any plan must be driven by the reliable output capability of the national electricity grid combined with off-grid installations such as personal solar arrays.
- The government issued its net zero strategy in October 2021 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uks-path-to-net-zero-set-out-in-landmark-strategy.
Whilst this was a useful set of initiatives it did not constitute a detailed plan showing what would be achieved in each year leading up to 2050. Without such a plan together with the timetable for investment decisions and achieving engineering goals then there is no clear way to track progress and to insure that decisions are made in time to meet the plans objectives.
- Some of the key decisions that have been made by the government are:
- All new housing will have electric boilers from 2030
- The UK’s electricity system will decarbonize by 2035
- All new cars and vans to be zero emissions by 2050 (the majority by 2040)
- What is not clear is what is the demand requirement for electricity if these policies are implemented and how is going to be achieved?
- Driving consumers to use more electricity without being certain we have the capacity to deliver is putting ‘the cart before the horse’.
- We need a detailed chronological plan which delivers the required decarbonized electricity and then when that has been achieved we can implement the policies currently targeted for 2030-2050
Policies to underpin a plan
- Of the typical 40GW of electricity generated by the grid today an average 40% to 50% is derived from fossil fuels (largely gas). Fossil fuels are going to be an essential fuel source for electricity output certainly up to 2050 since along with nuclear they provide the reliable and controllable base load which renewables such as wind and solar power do not. To continue to use fossil fuels and decarbonize them then we must invest in carbon capture, use and storage. A recent Royal Academy of Engineering webcast outlined how this can be done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZWvtPJ0DGY&t=991s
Policy: incentivize and compel the electricity suppliers to install carbon capture now with clear goals by year of decarbonized fossil fuel output.
2.Change National Building Regulations. One of the best ways of reducing electricity requirements form the grid is by generating the electricity in the buildings that use them. Building regulations should be changed to ensure that all future residential and commercial buildings incorporate solar power electricity generation and if possible battery storage. House builders will complain that this will put up the cost of buildings, the government should commission independent studies to show how this policy could be implemented in a cost effective and design efficient manner
Policy: change building regulations so that all new residential and commercial buildings incorporate solar power
Policy: commission a design study to show how this can be done in a cost effective and design sensitive way.
3.Incentivise current property owners to invest in solar power and battery storage. There are vast acreages of particularly existing commercial roof space which could be used to generate solar power electricity. The current export tariffs set by the electricity generators range 1p to 5p per kwhr. This compares to an average cost to the consumer of 23p per kwhr.
Policy: incentivize property owners to install solar power and export to the grid by setting a minimum price to be paid by the energy suppliers
Policy: encourage more investment in the solar supplier industry with UK manufacture of more of the equipment: solar cells, inverters, batteries etc. Particularly the currently enriched fossil fuel companies such as BP, Shell etc
4. Encourage investment in future energy generating technologies. There are many technologies being investigated as carbon free sources of electricity such as:
Blue and Green Hydrogen
SMR Nuclear Fission
Some of these have still to be proven others (such as Tidal) are proven but require investment.
Policy: review with commercial financial and technical sources how these technologies can be developed in a timely manner.