COMMENT - UK needs business environment rewarding climate change solutions
Author: Portland General Electric. License: Creative Commons, Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.
‘Further’ and ‘faster’ are the two fundamentals declared by the UK Government, in relation to its new climate change strategy. This was the official response to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations that were published some months ago, as well as the public pressure from Extinction Rebellion and environmentalists across the country.
With the UK now set to host the UN climate change summit, the COP26, it is clear that this country wants to establish itself firmly as a leader on climate change – now is therefore the time to take rapid and urgent action. That much has been acknowledged now, at least.
The ‘further’ might well be the Environment Bill and the proposed National Infrastructure Strategy, both of which were included in the Queen’s speech last week. The Bill aims to make provisions for our emissions targets, plans and policies for improving and protecting the environment, as well as focusing on waste efficiency, air quality and regulating chemicals and products that fail to meet environmental standards.
With the National Infrastructure Strategy, the government has alluded to expanding the use of electric vehicles, including reviewing charging point provision, with a priority for the strategy being achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. As the current government plans to go ahead in addressing these issues, which could include reforming our railway systems, building more airports or indeed the most obvious, improving our road transport, it is positive that the environmental implications will sit front and centre.
Leading the charge
Since 2016, transport has been the largest polluting sector, contributing 34% of greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to take the 2050 net-zero emissions target seriously, it is therefore essential that transforming our transport networks is a top priority in any national infrastructure strategy – electrifying transport systems and services first.
In fact, the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers are making moves to corner their share of the rising EV market, which is forecast to take a far bigger share of the global light motor vehicle market in the coming years. Aside from the higher cost of opting for an electric car, one of the major factors putting people off is range anxiety. A clear deployment plan is needed to address the need for charging infrastructure and alleviate customer concerns, so plans to review this issue should be welcomed.
Pressures on the grid
However, lack of charging infrastructure is just one aspect of a much bigger issue when it comes to electrifying our systems.
In order to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicles and tackle the largest polluting sector in the UK, we must invest in new technologies, such as energy storage solutions, to deal with the demand of more electric vehicles. These solutions will also help bring renewable sources of energy onto the grid, such as solar and wind, as they will offset the intermittency issues that come with renewable energy sources.
Regulations, regulations, regulations
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently announced that it would be reviewing one of the main barriers to utility-scale storage sites, by proposing changes to planning regulations, which would allow projects over 50 MW to go ahead without government approval. This is a positive step which demonstrates the government’s understanding of the benefits energy storage can bring to energy supply, as well as efficiency and flexibility.
Despite this advancement, the ongoing Charging Reforms being undertaken by Ofgem are seriously misaligned with environmental considerations. The current regulations are creating a hostile business environment when it comes to new, innovative solutions that tackle climate change. The lack of coherence between government messages around decarbonisation and the actual policy framework means new energy and technology companies are unlikely to enter the market and bring vital ways of storing energy to the UK grid. This undoubtedly contradicts the government’s ambition to tackle climate change and its aim to lead in green energy storage areas such as batteries.
Parliament and central government must ensure that environmental policies are front and centre across Whitehall. This means government departments, such as BEIS, and regulators, such as Ofgem, must be aligned to create a business environment that rewards organisations and individuals who are seeking green alternatives, rather than penalises them.
The plan announced for an independent environment watchdog, in the form of the Office for Environmental Protection, could be exactly what is needed to address this, and align interested parties to create greener energy and transport systems. Government must ensure that the introduction of this watchdog does not conflate the issue further, if we are to transition to net-zero in time.
The author of the text, James Basden, is founder & director at energy storage specialist Zenobe Energy.