Cristopher Snowdon

Is the UK really ready to decarbonise?

Is the UK really ready to decarbonise?
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With the Extinction Rebellion protests and the arrival of Greta Thunberg, climate change dominates the political agenda in a way it hasn’t done in years. The news that the UK went a whole week without using coal went viral around the world after Leonardo Di Caprio posted National Grid statistics on his Instagram. Meanwhile, the warnings of what the future could look like if we do nothing grew worse and worse.

These concerns around climate change, and alarming figures for the number of deaths caused by air pollution, have led to mounting pressure on the government to be even more ambitious in its efforts to decarbonise the energy system. Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions are already 43 per cent below 1990 levels, and the country seems to be on track to meet the 80 per cent target for 2050, but much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. With the Committee on Climate Change now recommending a target of net zero by 2050, efforts will need to be redoubled.

The net zero goal is ambitious, to say the least. Can it be achieved? What should the priorities be? How big a priority should energy policy be for the next Tory leader? And what should be in the upcoming Energy Bill?

The UK has made remarkable progress to date, but it will need to do much more to decarbonise areas such as heat and transport. Although renewables now make up a third of electricity generation, wind, solar and hydro still make up little more than 3 per cent of overall UK energy consumption. How can we go further to build on this? And how will such efforts be impacted by the mass consumer transition to electric vehicles expected at some point in the 2030s? And could there be a role for hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in areas where electrification may reach limits of feasibility and cost-effectiveness, for example with industrial heat or heat for buildings on cold winter days?

Meeting the new target will require answers to these questions and strategic focus on a few key areas: the decarbonisation of transport, increasing low carbon electricity, the acceleration of offshore wind, developing a low carbon heating strategy, introducing hydrogen into the gas network in a meaningful way, and developing a domestic carbon capture and storage industry.

These are the issues that will be discussed at the Spectator Energy Summit on 4  June, sponsored by National Grid who occupy a unique position at the centre of our energy system and have an important role to play in addressing many of these questions.

The event has now sold out but you will be able to follow the discussion live on the Twitter hashtag #SpecEnergy.