This week saw the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publish its 2019 report on progress towards a zero-carbon economy
. Coming hot on the heels of Parliament choosing to legislate for the net-zero target by 2050, the CCC’s report provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress the energy sector has made in recent years, and consider how much further we still have to go.
In many ways, when reading the CCC’s report its hard not to be struck by what seems to be an almost yawning divide between our ambitions for a cleaner and greener society and the reality of how much progress still needs to be made to secure net-zero.
This is especially the case when it comes to decarbonising heat and transport. At Cadent we were pleased when Parliament legislated for net-zero by 2050, but the policy framework to support turning that ambition into a reality, through concrete actions, stands a long way from where it should be.
It is true that positive steps are being taken in terms of policy. For example, we were pleased to see the recent extension of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for another year, something we had been extensively lobbying for. That seemingly simple step will increase the amount of green gas within the grid and help to lower the UK’s carbon footprint. The upcoming publication of the Energy White Paper will also be looked upon with interest by all of those in the gas industry.
However despite some policy progress, the gap between ambitions and reality remains a wide one.
As the CCC explain this week, progress on decarbonising heat and transport has been too slow. At Cadent we are at the cutting edge of developing hydrogen technologies to support those goals. Our hydrogen blending project at Keele University, HyDeploy is already showing promising results, and if replicated nationally could cut the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions by up to six million tonnes per year – the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the roads.
In the North West, the HyNet project in which we are a partner received a huge boost in June this year by securing £800,000 of funding from the UK government. HyNet will capture over a millions tonnes of carbon dioxide from industry and store offshore in depleted gas fields in the Liverpool Bay using Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technology. In many ways HyNet is a game-changer and positions the north-west as a world leader in carbon capture and hydrogen technologies, which will help decarbonise heat in homes and industry, power businesses, and drive clean transport.
Cadent is not alone in developing hydrogen technologies either – across the UK the gas industry is working together to build a better energy future for our country.
However, despite having now legislated for net-zero by 2050, the UK still has a way to go. We can rightly be proud of decoupling economic growth from a rise in emissions but there are still areas where more effort is required. To offer one example, establishing CCUS at scale in the UK is vital if we are to decarbonise sectors for which there are limited and cost-effective alternatives - for example industrial processes, shipping, haulage and heating. The technology isn’t new – indeed there are currently 43 Carbon Capture and Storage facilities either operating or under development across the world. In the UK, there are currently zero.
That simply isn’t good enough, and it is, in part, a result of a lack of policy clarity about what the UK’s future energy system is going to look like. The recent support expressed in the BEIS Select Committee’s report into CCUS (which we were invited to give evidence to) and government funding for further development is, of course, welcome but only a clear commitment from the government will unlock the significant and long-term investment which will be required to bring CCUS forward.
I don’t seek to be too negative, as in so many ways the UK is at the forefront of combatting climate change and building a low-carbon future. But at Cadent we are committed to securing that future for everyone. And as part of that commitment, we will continue to act as critical friends to policy makers everywhere.
So let’s congratulate the government and parliamentarians for their decision to legislate in favour of net-zero by 2050. The magnitude of that step can sometimes be underestimated. Now that brave decision has been made though, we must come together quickly – industry, government and the public – to turn our climate ambitions into realities.
Richard Walsh, Head of Public Affairs and Media