The global recovery has finally begun, as China has taken steps to soften its zero COVID strategy and reopen its borders. In Europe, the EU has successfully reduced its dependency on Russian oil and gas, ensuring uninterrupted essential services throughout the winter months without any major shutdowns in member states.
While the EU’s robust purchasing power has prevented catastrophic blackouts, it has resulted in a substantial surge in short-term energy costs. The EU had to secure energy supplies on short notice, inevitably leading to high prices. This is why finding and driving renewable energy sources is critical for the UK’s long-term future stability.
Inflation has been the price paid by the people of the UK and EU in support of Ukraine. However, there is optimism that inflation has reached its peak and will gradually return to more normal levels within the next 12 months.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has underscored the urgency for the EU and the UK to intensify their efforts in transitioning to secure renewable energy sources and accelerating the journey towards a net zero economy.
Clean tech is the (renewable) answer
Green technology is the solution we’ve been waiting for. When it comes to achieving a net zero economy, the power sector has always been the easiest target, offering quick and cost-effective victories. The introduction of fast-build wind and solar projects has revolutionised the production of renewable energy, surpassing the speed and affordability of fossil fuel or nuclear options.
The renewable energy sector has shown remarkable innovation and creativity. It started with small-scale micro and mini rooftop systems and has now scaled up significantly. Impressive renewable energy plants with multi-megawatt capacities are emerging in Europe’s seas and stretching across vast areas of previously unused land. However, realising a net zero economy requires more than just renewable generation; it demands the widespread adoption of green technologies across industries, transportation, and residential areas.
While technological solutions are vital, achieving a net zero vision also relies on consistent government policies and unwavering commitment. If we are to reach our renewable energy goals for 2050, it is crucial to remember that sustained progress depends on these factors.
In the UK, we sometimes suffer from short-term memory loss, forgetting the groundbreaking ideas we had just a few years ago. The next phase of attaining net zero necessitates remembering, reimagining, and scaling up our ambitions.
1. Energy-efficient homes are crucial
… The big, fat elephant in the room!
The state of UK housing stock is among the most inefficient in Europe. Surprisingly, the 25 million homes in the UK collectively produce more CO2 emissions than the country’s 27 million cars.
UK homes emit a staggering 58 million tonnes of CO2, surpassing the 56 million tonnes emitted by UK cars (source: National Housing Federation). This situation could have been avoided.
The Code for Sustainable Homes was initially introduced by the Labour Administration in the early 2000s, aiming to enhance the sustainability of UK housing stock. By 2008, the UK was on track to ensure that all newly constructed homes would be 100% sustainable by 2020.
During this period, new developments primarily relied on communal combined heat and power schemes, which were highly efficient. Improved insulation standards and reduced water usage were key components of the Code.
Unfortunately, progress was hindered under the coalition government and ultimately abandoned when the Conservative party took sole control, ousting the Liberal Democrats from power.
Fast forward to 2023, and the majority of new homes built in the UK still fall short of the 100% sustainability target.
To make matters worse, over 20 million older owner-occupied homes suffer from significant energy leakage. Addressing this issue will require substantial investment to enhance insulation, install triple-glazed windows, and introduce heat pumps where appropriate.
SOLUTION: A government-sustained focused 10-year programme offering cheaper green loans or grants directly to homeowners is required, to cut emissions drastically and relatively quickly. While it sounds potentially expensive, as a country we have done this and much more before.
2. Electric vehicles have a significant role to play in clean tech
In 2020, the UK government made a significant announcement that all new cars sold in the country after 2035 would be required to be 100% non-fossil fuel vehicles. However, convincing petrol and diesel car owners to part with their beloved CO2-emitting vehicles will be a challenging task.
A considerable number of UK homeowners lack driveways, which poses a problem for potential electric vehicle (EV) converts. These individuals will only consider giving up their cars if the process of refuelling an EV becomes as quick and convenient as refilling a petrol or diesel vehicle today. To achieve this, it is crucial for the government to mandate that all new EVs are equipped with high-capacity DC-to-DC charging systems, offering a refuelling experience comparable to the current petrol and diesel filling stations.
Furthermore, a widespread network of EV service stations, providing these high-capacity DC-to-DC charging services, needs to be implemented across the country to support the adoption of EVs. This undertaking will require government intervention on a scale not witnessed since the transition from town gas to natural gas in the past.*
SOLUTION: Ensuring the availability of rapid charge points throughout the UK, spanning towns, cities, and villages. These charge points should enable ultra-fast charging of electric vehicles, facilitating convenient and efficient EV usage nationwide.
*(From 1967 to 1977, the UK embarked upon a massive intervention that was staggering in the scale of its imagination and implementation. Every city, town and village was converted to natural gas, street by street, home by home, metre by metre, appliance by appliance. 14 million homes and their pipework were converted. A new gas transmission system was also built to link the towns, cities, and villages.)
3. Hydrogen power could be a gamechanger for renewable energy
Electric vehicles (EVs) are just one of the solutions to reducing transport-related CO2 emissions. Another promising alternative is hydrogen power, which is already in use in certain parts of the USA. For instance, California has approximately 15,000 hydrogen-powered cars on the road. Despite common perceptions, both Democrat-led California and Republican-led Texas are at the forefront of green technologies, including renewable generation, carbon sequestration and transportation.
Hydrogen has several advantages over electric battery power, primarily due to its abundance in the universe. Through green technology processes, hydrogen can be extracted from water, and nature naturally converts it back into water—a highly abundant element with virtually limitless energy potential.
Clean-tech hydrogen has the ability to power various types of vehicles, such as cars, trucks, lorries, trains, boats, and ships. However, realising its full potential requires significant investment, similar to the scale of investment made by oil companies in oil drilling.
In contrast, oil companies receive substantial tax breaks for their drilling and oil production activities, while green hydrogen only receives limited-value loans and grants. The financial resources of the UK’s green lobby are not as robust as those of the oil lobby.
If the UK were to provide incentives comparable to what it offers to oil producers, the emerging hydrogen production industry could leverage affordable off-peak power without facing prohibitive grid charges. This would enable hydrogen to become a cost-effective renewable energy solution that the country needs.
SOLUTION: To accelerate the adoption of hydrogen power in the UK, it is essential to provide substantial incentives and investments comparable to those given to oil producers. This support would enable the development of cheap off-peak hydrogen production, free from prohibitive grid charges, ultimately making hydrogen a cost-effective and abundant renewable energy solution for transportation and other sectors.
Clean tech, green technology and renewable energy: How do we make them a reality?
Clean tech has come a long way, but some of the fundamental tools to make the biggest changes need government support to fund their development. More needs to be done to address the UK housing stock to improve energy efficiencies. Simultaneously, the government need to do more to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles with greater availability of high-speed charging options. We also need to be supporting hydrogen power technology development cost-effective for companies to invest in.
The UK has completed bigger energy projects in the past. Today, what is needed is focus and determination to make the next generation of power supplies the route to our net 2050 goals.