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How the industry has reacted to the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy

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Solar Farms required for net zero

The UK Government has outlined its Net Zero Strategy, with plans for more energy-efficient homes; a cleaner, smarter  electricity grid; and increased adoption of electric vehicles. But what does the industry think about the plans? We wanted to find out. 

Funding for Sizewell C

One of the key indications from the UK Government was that it was gearing up to commit funds towards the development of the Sizewell C nuclear power plant. This has pleased trade union GMB. National Secretary Andy Prendergast noted, “This is an important first step in getting a positive final investment decision at Sizewell C.  

“Time is of the essence and the nuclear supply chain as well as those working to construct Hinkley Point C will welcome this legislation.  

“Of course, the devil will be in the details in terms of how this will shape Sizewell C investment, but this is a significant and important positive step.  

“GMB has long argued there can be no net zero without new nuclear power.

“This, alongside investment in Small Modular Reactors and Wylfa, are all steps in the right direction.’’

Grants for heat pumps

However, while GMB is pleased by the likely investment in Sizewell, it was less enthused by the new heat pump grants. Prendergast commented, “This is the wrong plan that ducks the hard questions on the future of home heating.

“Describing this as a ‘plan to drive down the cost of clean heat’ is blatantly misleading.  

“Heat pumps are unsuitable for many homes and we need to invest far more in realistic clean alternatives like hydrogen.  

“Ministers are letting down customers who will see their bills rocket and the skilled gas workforce who will see their jobs go to the wall

“This isn’t how you take workers and communities with you on the journey to net zero.  

“Without a proper industrial plan, today’s announcement will deliver nothing but rocketing bills and unemployment.”

The sentiment was largely shared by Lindsay Sugden, Head of Heat at Delta-EE, “While overall the grants are a step in the right direction to decarbonising a crucial area in the UK’s overall emissions, these proposals are not sufficient to achieve the government’s decarbonisation goals. The scheme falls short of bringing the costs of heat pumps and gas boilers in line, which would have required a £7,000 grant. Furthermore, the available funding will only support the installation of 90,000 heat pumps over the next three years, significantly short of the 600,000 targeted.

“In addition, while a reduction in upfront costs is important, heat pumps currently can’t compete with gas boilers on running costs, even with a gas crisis as the backdrop. Delta-EE’s modelling suggests that current running costs for heat pumps need to be a third lower than they are today to achieve a payback against a gas boiler. A shift in levies from electricity to gas could go some way to addressing this issue – for example Denmark has seen success through reducing taxation on electricity for heat.”

How will the plan be funded? 

Responding to the publication of the UK Government’s net zero strategy, Professor Peter Bruce, Vice President of the Royal Society, seemed concerned about the funding for all these ambitious plans. He noted, “It is good to see the Government’s net-zero strategy finally emerge; we now need to see it translated into action and delivery. The UK set the bar for ambition on emissions reductions last year, it is their actions that will be the true test. Time is running out if we want to limit the devastating effects of climate change.

“It is encouraging that the Government has highlighted key technologies including nuclear, large-scale long-term energy storage and sustainable fuels for aviation.

“While science and engineering alone will not deliver net zero, there is no realistic path to decarbonisation without advances in research. We have seen how research and innovation have been vital in responding to the pandemic – a response that ultimately delivered vaccines, courtesy of long-term investment and the independence and expertise of the Vaccines Taskforce. To deliver on Net Zero, fast and cost-effectively, we need a living evidence-based roadmap, informed by our best experts working on the science and engineering of low carbon technologies. Such a group can determine which technologies are truly ready to deploy now, which need more development and which more research.

“Delivering net zero will be an incredibly complex undertaking that will require coordination across sectors – from electricity generation to heating and from land use to transport and industry. We will require the ability to switch priorities and change directions. We will need to be able to learn as we go and act on what we learn. How the different technologies will interlink and tensioning low carbon solutions against each other will be vital to efficient delivery. However, to ensure this happens, the Government needs to bring together an advisory group of scientific, engineering, and economic experts from academia and industry to help recreate the ‘can do’ approach seen in the development of vaccines. It is also vital that this group is independent, able to give confidence to public and private investors alike.

“While the Government’s grasp of the technologies is clear, it is unclear how all of this will be funded. The UK has a competitive advantage, especially in areas driven by advanced research and innovation. Capitalising on that advantage with investment and other support, can drive the green economy, skills, and the creation of new well-paid jobs.”

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