Cutting the carbon: what the Government needs to do to make the UK’s net zero target a reality

by Steve Scrimshaw, Vice President, Siemens Energy UK&I

At Siemens Energy, we recently invited energy industry experts to a virtual media roundtable exploring how the Government could successfully realise its net zero emissions target.  

 

I was joined on the panel by Dr Jenifer Baxter, Chief Engineer at Institute of Mechanical Engineers; Graeme Cooper, Head of Future Networks at National Grid; and Guy Newey, Strategy and Performance Director, Energy Systems Catapult.

 

Such a line-up was always going to produce innovative suggestions for how the UK Government could reach its ambitious net zero target and deliver a sustainable future for the planet. I’m pleased to confirm it very much delivered. Here are just a few of the suggestions offered by our panelists on the steps the Government needs to take to make the UK’s net zero target a reality. 

 

Electricity Market Reform

The energy system is being transformed by new technologies, from renewables to new ways of using electricity, such as e-mobility or electric heat pumps for heating.

 

Ensuring this system delivers the maximum possible environmental benefit could mean the current system needs to be readdressed to reflect the new technologies which will come forward.

 

Within a flexible market, it will be possible for energy networks to monitor energy flows and send market signals that would allow for the most efficient use of green energy based on supply and demand. Through smart meters and appliances, renewable energy and energy-efficient resources can be allocated most efficiently, with green energy supplied when this is most affordable. 

A hydrogen strategy

The UK will need to create a new market for zero-carbon hydrogen power to realise its target of net zero emissions by 2050. The scale of the necessary increase in hydrogen use is significant, with David Joffe, the CCC’s head of carbon budgets, arguing that the UK will need 10 times the current levels of hydrogen to reach net zero.

 

Currently, the UK only produces around 25TWh of hydrogen every year – equivalent to the power that would be generated by just one nuclear power plant, Hinkley Point C, when it comes online in 2026. We’re only a billion seconds away from 2050, so the process of making up this shortfall needs to begin now, requiring the UK to build several hundred gigawatts of hydrogen production capacity over the next 30 years.

 

The good news is, the UK Government has a target of 5GW of hydrogen production by 2030 and the Scottish Government too has said it is aiming for 5GW of hydrogen production. We anticipate more detail from the UK Government in its Hydrogen Strategy, due to be published in the summer. 

Investing in wind power

The Government has committed to a target of 40 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. It should be noted that it took 20 years to get to our current 10 gigawatts, so increasing this by 30 gigawatts in the next nine years is highly ambitious. 

 

Making this a reality is going to require significant investment. Even if you take away the cost of the wind farms and the wires to the beach, upgrading the grid onshore will cost around £11 billion in the run up to 2030.

 

To meet the 40GW target, ensuring a consistent pipeline of offshore projects will be crucial, as this will provide certainty for the supply chain to invest in people to be able to deliver this.

 

While the Ten Point Plan and Energy White Paper only committed to developing 1GW of floating offshore, this innovation will mean we are able to use deeper waters and coupled with developments which will see hydrogen produced at sea from offshore wind farms, means the wind sector will have a further important role in meeting net zero.

Incentivising the transition

 

Finally, as with any behavioural change that the Government wishes to create, the correct incentives need to be in place. On one level, this simply means that innovators in the decarbonisation space are financially incentivised to deliver solutions.

 

It also means sending the correct signals to consumers to shape their purchasing decisions, shifting these towards zero carbon.

 

In some instances this is already happening – the Government’s decision to ban new petrol cars from being sold from 2030 is already shifting social norms, prompting more people to consider electric vehicles, with global sales forecast to rise by 70% in 2021.

 

In other areas, more needs to be done as it is not only transport which will undergo fundamental change, but the way people heat their homes and cook food too. This will require a huge public information campaign on how these changes will be made in the existing housing stock.

 

It’s clear that the Government’s 2050 net zero emissions target is ambitious, but it’s necessary and – with some of the smart suggestions offered by our panellists put in place – it’s also achievable. 

Siemens Energy UK Decarbonisation Programme

The overriding aim of the UK Decarbonisation programme is to reduce the energy use and carbon emissions from operations to meet our global target to be climate neutral by 2030. Find out more about our work on decarbonisation in the UK...