Is UK’s net-zero 2050 target achievable?

With less than 1 billion seconds to achieve this target, we listened into All Energy’s recent Speed and Scale webinar to hear the discussion and capture the key points to share with you.

What needs to be done

Dame Julia Brown, vice chair of the Committee on Climate Change succinctly set out the changes required to replace the UK’s existing energy system with something twice the size and greenhouse gas-free within the next 30 years. Some of the actions included:

  • Retrofitting the existing housing stock (29 million properties) with low carbon heat
  • Doubling and then quadrupling the electricity system
  • Increasing hydrogen production from 27TWh to 370TWh
  • Increasing afforestation from 10,000 to 50,000 hectares pa
  • Increase zero carbon cars from 250,000 to 35 million
  • Major changes in diet: halving meat and dairy consumption

For this to happen, people need to be engaged alongside Government and industry to achieve this ambitious goal.

What is being done

In relation to retrofitting the UK’s 29 million housing stock, Charlotte Owen, policy manager, The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) outlined the work that is underway with energy suppliers and local authorities on local heat pathways. It is acknowledged that the best way to transition from existing gas and oil heating is by doing so at a local level. Bristol is a good example of a local authority making progress on local heat networks.

Graeme Cooper, project director, transport decarbonisation, National Grid explained that much progress has been made in the past decade in terms of cleaning up the UK’s energy generation. Prior to 2016-17, the UK’s dirtiest industry was generating electricity because it relied on fossil fuels. Since renewable energy has significantly increased its contribution, transport has become the UK’s dirtiest industry. This is set to change with the Government’s ban on new diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles being sold from 2035. There is also a  push for hydrogen to fuel aviation, maritime and heavy good vehicles such as buses and trains.

Matthew Knight, head of business development, gas and power, Siemens Energy further provided a roadmap on building a UK hydrogen economy. He outlined the need to move from small scale 1-20MW electrolyser projects in 2020/21 to 50-100 MW electrolyser projects in 2022/23 to eventually 6-10GW H2 production by 2030. Knight acknowledge that this could only happen by investing in skills and supply chain, and by making amendments to gas regulations.

All four panellists are optimistic that the UK can meet its net-zero target if the Government seizes the opportunity now to invest in the green economy in response to the fallout of Covid-19. In summing up, Dame Brown reminded us of the words of Greta Thunberg: “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

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