In my day job as a Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London I ponder the future of energy. Specifically, how can we generate the energy we need without the carbon emissions? The UK is committed to global action on climate change. The upshot is that we need to stop ALL the carbon emissions from our economy by 2050. That’s a 31-year window to completely transform our country.
Energy, in its broadest sense, comprises the services we require for heating our homes, transportation and the electricity that powers our lives. These ‘energy services’ are responsible for around two thirds of UK carbon emissions. Decarbonising energy is critical if we are to meet our UK carbon targets.
With that in mind, how are we progressing?
There is good news on electricity supply. Nearly one third of our electricity is now generated from renewable resources, like wind and sunlight, with a five-fold increase in renewable generation in the last decade alone. This is thanks to companies like Public Power Solutions (PPS), which is helping Swindon deliver a goal of deploying enough renewable energy capacity to power every household in the Borough by 2020.Looking forwards, National Grid, the company responsible for electricity system operation in GB, thinks it is possible to operate a zero-carbon electricity system as soon as 2025. That’s a massive opportunity for anyone developing renewable electricity projects.
The emergence of electric vehicles (EVs) offers a glimpse of the future of transport. As electricity becomes lower carbon, so do EVs. As of February, there were around 200,000 EVs on UK roads. The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government on carbon targets, suggests that by 2030, 60% of all new vehicle sales will be EVs. Again, a huge opportunity for businesses that can help in this market transformation. And something that PPS is participating in as we work with Swindon and other local authorities on developing EV charging infrastructures with the potential to be powered by renewables.
On heat, the picture is less rosy. Most homes and businesses use natural gas for heating, cooking and hot water. We need to find a better way, without the carbon emissions. Options include electric heating and district heat networks. Whilst progress is slow now, the government is due to publish a roadmap for low-carbon heat later this year, which will hopefully stimulate action.
Whilst there has been excellent progress in decarbonising electricity, the last couple of years have been tough for the industry. This is because most of the key support mechanisms, like the feed-in-tariff support, have been removed. In part this is a success story of the renewable industry, as the costs of technologies like solar photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and batteries, have been falling rapidly.
For companies like PPS, the last couple of years have represented a period of business model innovation and learning. The key question is how to develop renewable electricity and other low-carbon infrastructure in a subsidy-free environment. As a Non-Executive Director, some of the lessons I have learned along the way are:
Clearly, the post subsidy pipeline of renewable projects is gaining momentum. If solar and storage projects are to continue to be a good investment in a subsidy-free world, identifying the right site, grid connection and technology are critical. PPS excels at this – and is working with other public sector organisations to help make the most of their assets too. The public sector owns a huge range of assets such as land, buildings and car parks with potential for generating clean energy and, with access to low cost capital, has a critical role to play in facilitating the decarbonisation of the UK energy system.
Please get in contact with the team if you would like to find out more about how we can help public sector organisations cut carbon and maximise the income potential of their assets through renewable energy, storage and other power solutions.