Blog: Why public engagement is so important in tackling climate change

future of energy

Why public engagement is so important in tackling climate change - a blog by Ed Syson, Chief Safety and Strategy Officer, Cadent

Over the last week it has been Cadent’s pleasure to sponsor the British Science Festival. The festival hosted over 100 hugely diverse and varied public events – all with a scientific twist and all absolutely free.

Science, technology and engineering shape our culture so it is vital that we, the public, are given every opportunity to learn, understand and engage with it.

I was invited to take part in a really interesting debate about how we will heat our homes and workplaces in a fossil-fuel free future and with my fellow panel members, architect and broadcaster Piers Taylor and Kate Algate, Chief Executive of Coventry Citizens Advice, we explored issues around insulation, affordability and low carbon gas alternatives to fossil fuels.

It was great to see the level of interest and engagement from the audience in what is a critical issue but one that has ‘gone under the radar’ as far as public debate is concerned. In fact, the discussion sparked so many questions from the audience that we overran our time slot!

The vast majority of us rely on fossil fuels for heat and it accounts for one third of our carbon emissions. If we are to avert catastrophic climate change we need to tackle heat.

For Piers Taylor, part of the solution lies in building design. He argues convincingly that good building design can remove the need for heating systems altogether – the passive house.

Super insulation, air tightness – accompanied by heat recovery systems - and building orientation – facing larger windows south to harness the sun’s warmth - are Piers’ key principles for a heat-free or minimally heated house.

I wholeheartedly endorse the need for better insulation and this has been identified as vital by a raft of expert bodies.

However, the challenge identified by Kate Algate is persuading householders to adopt energy efficiency measures. For the one-in-ten households living in fuel poverty, even a comparatively small outlay on insulation can be unaffordable.

Coventry Citizens Advice have worked with utility companies, including Cadent via our funding of Affordable Warmth Solutions, and as a result have given £4 million back to 44,000 people in terms of energy savings. This is extremely impressive but, as Kate argued, we may need an even wider societal response to ensure a transition to net zero emissions that is affordable to all.

At Cadent we are carrying out world-leading research into repurposing our existing gas network to transport low and zero carbon gases – hydrogen, biomethane and biosynthetic natural gas – to some 11 million customers.

Our HyDeploy and HyNet projects are laying the foundations for a UK hydrogen economy. This autumn a year-long pilot will start, supplying homes and other buildings at Keele University with a blend of up to 20% hydrogen via the existing natural gas networks.

Adopted at scale across the UK, this hydrogen blending has the potential to reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars of our network.

But we know this isn’t enough so in the North West we are working alongside partners to develop the HyNet project. This would see hydrogen generated and transported to power homes and vehicles.

We already have the technology to decarbonise heat. The answer may well lie in a mosaic of solutions, from insulation to alternative sources of energy.

However, public acceptability of these solutions is critical if we are to move forward.

And public acceptability begins with public engagement. This is why ‘The future of heat’ discussion, and indeed all the events at the British Science Festival, are so important.
Ed Syson

More here about Cadent's work with the British Science Festival. 


Cadent is the UK’s largest gas distribution network with a 200-year legacy.  We are in a unique position to build on strong foundations whilst encouraging the curiosity to think differently and the courage to embrace change.  Day to day we continue to operate, maintain and innovate the UK’s largest gas network, transporting gas safely and protecting people in an emergency.   Our skilled engineers and specialists remain committed to the communities we serve, working day and night to ensure gas reaches 11 million homes from Cumbria to North London and the Welsh Borders to East Anglia, to keep your energy flowing. 

Future of Gas: Here at Cadent we support the Government’s plans to reach Net Zero by 2050. That means we’re backing the introduction of hydrogen as a low carbon alternative to natural gas for the future. We know people love the controllability of gas and, with our network already in place, it makes sense to switch to the lower carbon alternative offered by hydrogen, which we believe can keep homes and businesses warm for generations to come.

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