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Government must speed up decarbonisation, analysts say

Trade bodies, renewables entrepreneurs, researchers and expert analysts have said that Government policy is holding back a net zero energy system.

Danny Halpin
Thursday 09 March 2023 13:14 GMT
Renewable energy could produce around 70% of Britain’s electricity by 2035 if the Government changes planning regimes, the Climate Change Committee said (Tom Leese/PA)
Renewable energy could produce around 70% of Britain’s electricity by 2035 if the Government changes planning regimes, the Climate Change Committee said (Tom Leese/PA) (PA Wire)

The Government must listen to the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and enact policies to speed up the decarbonisation of the power sector, energy analysts have said.

In a report published on Thursday, the CCC said that an energy system dominated by renewables is achievable by 2035, but the Government needs to remove regulatory and planning barriers to allow investors to take advantage.

One boss in renewable energy said businesses, investors and consumers are “raring to go” on becoming net zero.

Nigel Pocklington, chief executive of Good Energy, said: “The only obstacle to a decarbonised power system is a disinterested Government which has consistently failed to recognise the urgency of the climate crisis and dragged its feet on implementing the right policy to unleash a renewable revolution in Britain.

“This is why we remain too reliant on polluting and expensive fossil fuels whose volatile prices have caused such serious problems for households and businesses across the country.

“The Government needs to unlock investment in cheaper and greener sources of energy, unblock the barriers to onshore wind and help pave the way for flexible storage and shifting of demand – as well as take the wider issue of energy efficiency much more seriously – if we’re to have any realistic prospect of achieving net zero.”

Decarbonising the power sector, the CCC said, would pave the way for other industries to do the same by providing them with renewably generated electricity.

They also said that reducing Britain’s reliance on gas imports would make the country less vulnerable to volatile international prices.

Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “There is a huge investment opportunity in a cleaner, cheaper electricity system that isn’t blown about by international gas markets, but Government needs a clearer plan for investors to pile in.

“The additional costs involved in balancing a renewables grid are minimal, particularly when compared to the cost of gas power.”

Other analysts praised the CCC’s endorsement of heat pumps and its recommendation that the Government should invest in “low-regret” hydrogen technology, that will still be relevant in a decarbonised energy system.

Professor David Cebon, an engineer at Cambridge University and member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition, said: “How much more evidence do we need that hydrogen should not be used to heat homes?

“This latest UK-led analysis by the CCC joins the ranks of 37 other independent studies that show hydrogen is not a viable decarbonisation solution for homes.

“This analysis should be a wake-up call for the UK Government who continue to push for hydrogen village trials, despite the clear consensus from independent experts that it will play a very limited role in a net zero world.”

The Government is currently planning a trial, led by the gas networks, which would see 1,000-2,000 properties heating their homes with hydrogen instead of natural gas.

A spokesperson for Northern Gas Networks, the gas distributor for the north of England, welcomed the CCC’s recognition of a flexible power system with both electricity and hydrogen.

They added: “We need to offer people choice and end this obsession with a ‘one size fits all’ solution to net zero.

“Heat pumps are an important tool in decarbonising our homes but can only be installed by those who have thousands of pounds of spare cash and lots of space.

“We must act now, and we are ready to work with the government and its partners to set up a future energy system that works for everyone, not just those who can afford it.”

Jan Ronseaw of the Regulatory Assistance Project – an energy NGO – said: “The CCC report is yet another example of independent research which reinforces that hydrogen is unlikely to ever play a significant role in heating our homes.

“For domestic heating, a major use of fossil gas at the moment, better and cheaper alternatives exist such as heat pumps, district heating and energy efficiency.”

“Crucially, the [CCC] report highlights that the UK is currently a long way off producing large quantities of clean hydrogen.

“With rising fossil gas prices, expensive blue hydrogen produced from fossil gas is the most likely option to fill the supply gap should the UK use hydrogen for domestic heating. This would further compound the rising cost of energy prices in the UK.”

Lawrence Slade, chief executive of Energy Networks Association, the industry body, added: “If we are to hit the government’s decarbonisation targets, secure energy investment in an increasingly competitive global market and protect long-term energy security for customers then the government needs to be acting faster now.

“The CCC’s report makes clear that the solution to this challenge must involve both gas and electricity, yet policy progress is lacking.

“While we welcome the CCC’s assessment of the importance of hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure in delivering decarbonisation, we need to see rapid progress across both renewables and hydrogen deployment to make the 2035 target achievable.

“The networks are ready to invest, innovate and deliver but a lack of political action risks holding decarbonisation back.”

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