Net-zero by design: An industry view 

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Yselkla Farmer, director policy and marketing at BEAMA, highlights some of the challenges facing the UK if it is to achieve its ambitious net-zero target by 2050.

As the first country to legislate for the ‘net-zero by 2050’ target, UK industry are also working to be the first movers in this progressive change to decarbonise. BEAMA was one of the first industry sectors to commit to net-zero, with 25 of our members (manufacturers of electrotechnical products) signing a commitment to this target. This commitment not only sets out their obligations to decarbonise their own business, but also their promise to support government and other sectors in the transformative change necessary to meet this target.  

So, what does net-zero mean for our sector? The Committee on Climate Change net-zero report is the backbone for setting out how net-zero can be achieved in the most cost effective and sustainable way. This clearly sets out the need for renewed focus in the buildings, heat, transport and energy networks sector. A snapshot of figures from their work with Imperial College London gives an indication of the scale of the challenge; the scale will depend on the approach adopted in the UK – hybrid, electric or hydrogen:

  • The cost to the distribution networks could range between £2bn-5.8bn a year by 2050  
  • Estimates imply a switch to low carbon heating in the order of £15bn a year
  • 17 million homes would require a heat pump by 2050 
  • Overall 29 million existing homes in the UK will need energy efficiency measures by 2050.

BEAMA agrees that setting a target in legislation is not enough to deliver this level of change, and clear decisive action is needed from government, who must also show clear leadership to drive investment into the necessary sectors. 

We are starting to see signs that this is being accepted,  for example with the recent announcement to bring forward the phasing out of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, and more work is underway which we hope will lead to a dramatic change in the market potential for low carbon heat, through changes to building regulations and network investment. This includes the current Part L review and consultation on the Future Homes Standard which will be a key marker in the sand in determining the potential to decarbonise the housing stock in the next 10 years. 

Indeed through our work analysing the market mechanisms our sector relies on for investment and market reform (building regulations, network investment plans, incentives for heat and energy efficiency), the next two years will be vital in determining future progress as we are in the midst of a regulatory review for buildings and networks. So, time is of the essence. 

The deadline of COP26 in Glasgow this November places added pressure on the Government to demonstrate clear action in the fight against climate change and we expect the year ahead to be a busy one as we work closely with government departments to determine the best course of action.  

Heat is probably one of the most hotly debated topics (no pun intended) and the debate as to how we move away from high carbon fossil fuel sources of energy for heating UK homes, including gas, is one currently under review. Work that the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy is currently leading on to develop a heat roadmap for the UK will be crucial. This needs to provide the regulatory clarity on the future role for heat pumps and electric heating, setting out its applicability alongside the growth in low energy homes, its role in off gas grid homes, and as part of an electrification strategy – including in combination with MVHR and PV.  

We expect to be at least 10 years away from a viable commercial implementation of hydrogen as part of the potential heat and transport solution, so while this may well form part of the heating mix in the longer term, we cannot afford to delay action while this market matures.  

As an industry we have talked for many years of the need to decarbonise heat, the opportunities in retrofitting UK homes and making energy efficiency improvements. We are also well aware of the shortcomings of existing regulation in facilitating this. The evidence is there, and technologies are available today to ensure net-zero is achievable so there should be nothing stopping us from ensuring 2020 is a year of action in the UK to lead the way in clear and decisive decarbonisation strategies.  

While this is a huge challenge at a policy, regulatory, industry and consumer level, it is also a huge opportunity for all if we get this right and move decisively. Not only will this create new jobs and market opportunities, it will also make UK homes more comfortable, healthy and more affordable.