Climate change is firmly back at the top of the public and political agenda following the Extinction Rebellion protests and high-profile interventions from David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg.
The Committee on Climate Change’s report on decarbonisation has brought even more focus on the issue, with clear recommendations on the path the UK will need to take to achieve the target of ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050.
Naturally, given the growing momentum, the report has generated considerable debate including whether the goal will put the UK at an international disadvantage.
But this needn’t be the case. Approached correctly, there is an economic opportunity to place the UK at the forefront of the global race to decarbonise economies: capitalising on being the first mover in decarbonising our own energy sector, investing in technology and innovation to repeat this across other sectors such as transport, and exporting this capability worldwide.
ScottishPower has already recognised this potential. We were the first mover into renewables and today we stand alone as the UK’s only integrated energy company that generates 100 per cent renewable energy. In addition, our networks have led on integrating these new renewable sources, and today we have more renewable energy connected than any other UK electricity network.
Being a first mover came with risk, but we knew that innovating and developing new systems drives down costs. Fast forward to the present and advances in technology have made renewable energy the cheapest, most cost-efficient form of electricity generation, bringing economic advantages to us and our customers.
This principle of innovation applies to what must come next. As the Committee on Climate Change identified, investing in renewable generation alone is not enough if we are to see significant economic and environmental benefits. Now we need to reduce emissions in other areas of our daily lives, whether that is in transport through the mass adoption of electric vehicles, or decarbonising heating or manufacturing.
For this to happen we need major investment and innovation in our grid infrastructure: the transmission networks that act as energy motorways, linking our windfarms to the rest of the UK through the distribution systems which are the key for millions of homes and businesses to access electric vehicles, and also allow them to export excess energy into the grid.
This innovation is necessary and vital. But it is also a golden opportunity to use the ambitious 2050 net zero target as a lever for developing and exporting green technologies from the UK to other nations that need to make their own transitions.
All this is set against the backdrop of an intensifying debate about the ownership of the UK’s energy networks. Exactly what problem the Labour party is trying to fix with its nationalisation policy is unclear. Future investment to tackle climate change has not featured thus far. But whatever the case, it is hugely important that the issue does not distract from action required here and now.
Spending the next three years debating ownership models for a network that has delivered 99.9 per cent reliability at a cost that has come down 17 per cent since privatisation in 1990 to 35p per day is a distraction from the climate imperative we all face today.
The same can be said for our future regulatory framework, currently under review by Ofgem. The existing system has been successful in driving companies to focus on reliability, service and innovation. It is vital that, under the revised framework, networks are not restricted in their ability to innovate to meet UK demand. Doing so now, when all the evidence points towards the next decade being key in fighting climate change, and when there is an opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in green technology, would be reckless.
We cannot stand still. We cannot wake up in 2030 and wonder why our energy infrastructure has not changed, when the world is demanding clean electricity, to fuel our cars and to heat our homes.
The UK leads the world in surprisingly few industries. It can lead this one. Our simple request is that regressive politics do not prevent the UK from benefiting from an electricity system that delivers a better future, faster, for everyone in the country.
Keith Anderson, CEO, ScottishPower
For more information on ScottishPower visit: scottishpower.com