The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) latest progress report has shown that emissions rose 4% in 2021, warning that policy gaps now make it unlikely the UK will hit net zero.
Following on from the behemoth 600-page report, Current± caught up with the energy sector to see how it was responding to the call to action for government.
Energy UK’s director of advocacy, Dhara Vyas said: “The Climate Change Committee’s latest progress report serves as a sharp reminder that the government’s ambitious net zero target must be backed by policy and action to deliver.
“Taking action to reach net zero emissions will help reduce the impact of the cost of living crisis – a crisis that has been fuelled by record high gas prices and concerns about energy security due to the war in Ukraine.
“It’s essential that the government acts to radically improve energy efficiency, decarbonise heat and continue to decarbonise transport. This has to be accompanied by well planned, coordinated public engagement to help and support people with the changes that are coming.
“These changes require a stable regulatory and policy landscape that encourages investment in low carbon generation and unlocks innovation from energy retailers. To deliver this, the government must ensure its plans for energy market reform do not risk future investment in the UK.”
One of the areas that has most successfully decarbonised is energy generation, with the growth of renewables and the decline of coal leading to emissions from generation falling by 69% over the last decade. But more still needs to be done, in particular in light of the current energy crisis, driven by surging gas prices.
“The CCC is right to point out that building more onshore wind and solar projects is the fastest way to cut people’s bills by reducing the use of gas,” said RenewableUK’s CEO Dan McGrail.
“The CCC also highlights the fact that bottlenecks need to be tackled. Although offshore wind deployment has been strong, we must ramp up capacity significantly to stay on track to reach the government’s target of 50GW by 2030. So the Committee’s call for Ministers to take action to enable new projects to connect to the grid faster is a timely one”.
While good progress has undoubtedly been made, there is still further to go with potential barriers including planning, network capacity and supply chains, with limited scope to catch-up on delays created by the above challenges.
“There are also risks to the power sector transition. Decarbonising power generation is vital for achieving net zero as it enables the take up of technologies such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, which are core parts of the plan to decarbonise in other sectors,” said Anesco CEO Mark Futyan.
“I agree with the CCC that this transition is currently at risk due to new challenges in planning delays, supply chain bottlenecks, and grid constraints. It’s essential we take early action to mitigate these risks to maintain momentum. I hope the report’s conclusions will be recognised and acted upon.”
While supply-side decarbonisation in the energy sector has broadly been a success, demand-side is becoming one of the biggest sticking points of emissions reductions. In particular, given the soaring bills due to record high gas prices which have been further exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “there is a shocking gap in policy for better insulated homes” and other energy efficiency measures, the CCC’s report said.
“There remains large gaps in energy efficiency policy and, while there has been good progress on the decarbonisation of power, it is clear that much more needs to be done on land use, heat and transport too,” said Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, chief executive of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology.
“In short, we agree with the CCC – the government’s current strategies will not deliver net zero. The targets are there, but the government now has to get on with delivery.”
The call to do more to boost energy efficiency has been growing in recent months, in particular following the British Energy Security Strategy, which increased targets for renewables and nuclear but missed demand-side measures.
“For the UK’s targets to be achieved, a bold and ambitious plan for energy efficiency is needed, with a balance of incentives for business and consumers,” said Rob Doepel, EY’s UK&I managing partner, sustainability.
“Following the publication of the Climate Change Committee report, it is hoped that that this will refocus efforts on the practical steps and actions required to make the UK the leading light in sustainability globally.”
Other potential barriers for decarbonisation of energy include network readiness and resilience. With the CCC calling on the government to publish a strategic framework identifying the network requirements for net zero and the changes needed to ensure investment.
Regulator Ofgem released its RIIO-ED2 draft determinations today (29 June), which highlight that network operators will be faced with “tough efficiency challenges” over the five years of the next price control period.
“Today’s announcement from the CCC is a clear sign that despite the progress made so far, there is a long way to go before we hit net zero and that the focus must remain on the long term,” Ross Easton, director of external affairs at Energy Networks Association.
“Network companies are a central pillar to enabling net zero but we will need sufficient certainty and ambition around investment to meet the scale of the challenge ahead.”
The sentiment was echoed by Sanjay Neogi, head of UK and Europe at Enzen, who highlighted that networks operators will need to “undergo rapid transformation” to enable to the UK to reach net zero, but we are already seeing the “foundations being laid for this”.
“As the CCC highlights, policy and delivery gaps still remain. The focus should now be on the government accelerating its drive to net zero with robust measures and detailed delivery plans. As a country we have a strong vision, but we now need to execute this exceptionally well to build a more resilient, self-sufficient energy system.”