We need a bolder Ten Point Plan than the one we have been offered
On 17th November 2020 the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his Government’s Ten Point Plan – a roadmap outlining the steps for the country to take over the next decade to achieve its net zero carbon emissions targets.
The Ten Point Plan is the cornerstone of the Johnson administration’s intent to pursue a ‘green recovery’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – an economic stimulus designed to create thousands of new jobs focusing on decarbonisation and environmental sustainability.
There are certainly some encouraging recommendations in the plan, such as increased support for the offshore wind sector and a goal of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.
There are several absolutely crucial oversights that will undermine the whole initiative. The plan is not nearly ambitious enough to realistically avert global heating of greater than 1.5 degrees (for starters, setting a net zero goal of 2050 is twenty years too late, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated in various reports).
The Ten Point plan proposed is costly for energy customers and UK taxpayers, impacting people in fuel poverty very badly by embedding a high cost for electricity from nuclear power for decades.
Carbon capture and storage is an additional technology, because it doesn’t produce any energy, only allows for polluting businesses to continue their business as usual with the taxpayer picking up the bill for the greenhouse gas extraction.
In response to the Prime Minister’s tokenistic proposals, BHESCo have set out our own Alternative Ten Point Plan, identifying key considerations that were omitted by Mr Johnson, while recommending a clear pathway rooted in proven technologies that does not rely on fanciful, unproven and expensive technological wizardry.
NB: we have kept our suggestions primarily within our field of expertise which is renewable energy and energy efficiency. We acknowledge that the transformation of our food and transport systems is equally as important in achieving net zero carbon emissions, so we leave commentary on these sectors to the experts.
1) Modernise electricity networks
The UK’s existing electricity network is decades old, grossly underinvested and nowhere near capable of accommodating the increase in electricity demand created by heat pumps and electric vehicle charging that is planned to occur over the coming years.
At the same time as pursuing an aggressive expansion of renewable energy generation, we must simultaneously invest in a distribution system that is able to handle significantly increased demand whilst delivering low carbon electricity to consumers with maximum efficiency.
By reinforcing and modernising local networks, we can support the development of a distributed, decentralised system consisting of multiple microgrids that can interact with one another whilst factoring in real-time local, renewable generation backed by energy storage capacity. A huge national infrastructure project such as this would create thousands of jobs in every part of the country, while presenting an opportunity for the partial re-nationalisation of the grid.
As Robert Cheesewright, Director at Smart Energy GB noted in response to the Government’s Ten Point Plan1:
“With the necessary upgrades to our energy infrastructure and the completion of the smart meter rollout, the nation will have a resilient smart energy network with the ability to match supply from intermittent renewables with the increased demand that will come from electric vehicles and electrified home heating.”
2) Reintroduce support for solar power
Despite that fact that it’s projected to become the cheapest power source for years to come, there is no mention of solar power in Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan.
Solar power is the easiest productive form of local energy generation to install. Whilst the Government plan lends support to speculative solutions like hydrogen fuels, we believe that there is insufficient time to invest in an expensive possibility that may fail to deliver. The UK should pursue an energy programme founded upon proven, reliable technologies like solar and wind power.
As 85% of households obtain their heat from mains gas, the hydrogen solution is the means to retain the value of the gas network. However, the electricity grid has a lower carbon intensity, which is continually on the decline.
Hydrogen takes energy to produce, so it is a second hand fuel. It also adds cost because it is highly explosive and leaks are more difficult to prevent than with methane, so a national rollout would not provide value to consumers due to the importance of ensuring that the system is safe. Since methane produced by food waste could supply 25% of mains gas, the electrification of heat should be strategically planned for areas of the nation where this can be done most cost effectively.
We should reintroduce the solar power Feed-in-Tariff which was scrapped in 2019, and create the right market conditions to develop a thriving domestic solar panel production industry.
Because of the Feed-in-Tariff and other subsidy support mechanisms for clean energy, 42% of our electricity is now produced by renewables. This is up from 2% in April 2010 when the Feed-in-Tariff was introduced. As a result, in the summer of 2020 the cost of electricity became negative. This is the best demonstration of value for taxpayers’ money.
As Chris Hewitt, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association has observed:
“Whilst the Prime Minister might have a blind spot for solar, decisions in the market are likely to outpace his thinking. Today the City of London signed a 15-year deal to fund a new solar park, residential solar installations have already bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, all major utilities are expanding their solar ambitions and costs continue to fall.”
3 – We need a revolution in the way we heat our buildings
The decarbonisation of heat presents possibly our greatest challenge when it comes to meeting the UK’s net zero ambition. There are currently around 22 million homes across the UK with gas central heating (of which 1.7 million were installed in 2019). Replacing all of these in the next decade presents a formidable task. The last time we transformed our heat supply, in 1970, it took us 30 years to complete. Thankfully, this time, a tried and tested alternative is available.
Electrically driven heat pumps are a proven, reliable and efficient technology which should be positioned as the primary pathway towards achieving a decarbonised heat system. It should be supported at such a scale as to meet our zero carbon targets.
At present, it can become expensive to install heat pumps in rural locations as this requires a grid reinforcement charge from the Distribution Network Operator (DNO). BHESCo proposes that low carbon installations such as heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points be exempt from these DNO charges and that a separate fund be established to deliver the grid improvements required over and above what is provided in RIIO ED 1 & 2.
To provide some certainty within the renewable heat sector and to encourage the development of supply chains and heat pump installers, we recommend that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) subsidy be extended well beyond its current expiry date of March 2022, at least until 2030.
4 - Remove barriers to onshore wind power
The Prime Minister espouses his great support for offshore wind power (as per his vision for every home in England to be powered this way by 2030) while successive governments have demonstrated intransigent opposition to onshore wind, implementing restrictive planning permission barriers which make the exploitation of our cheapest and most readily available energy resource all but impossible.
Despite such setbacks, onshore wind was able to provide 20% of the UK’s electricity between April and June 2020. BHESCo propose the immediate removal of existing planning restrictions so that interested communities can invest in and install their own local wind turbines (something they certainly cannot afford to do with offshore wind). In addition, the cabling requirements for offshore wind are extensive. Laying this cable can tear up countryside and adds excessive cost to the development project.
5 – Cease all development of new nuclear power
It is phenomenally expensive to develop new nuclear power stations, in measures of both finances and carbon emissions embedded in the enormous amount of concrete required. The radioactive waste that is a by product of nuclear fission remains hazardous for up to 10,000 years, presenting a tremendous burden on future generations.
The debt that taxpayers bear to decommission our existing nuclear legacy exceeds £230 billion2 and will only increase with the planned operation of Hinkley Point C. BHESCo have seen no evidence that suggests the UK cannot meet its heat and power demands through renewable energy alone. At present, nuclear only provides 16% of our electricity anyway. Furthermore, nuclear is highly inefficient with significant amounts of heat being lost in the process, while just keeping our nuclear infrastructure safe costs the taxpayer £3 billion per year.
Since we don’t need base load power any more, we couldn’t think of a logical argument to build new nuclear power plants. However, very persuasive analysis from researchers at the University of Sussex3 have explained that one of the key drivers for the UK’s civil nuclear programme is to support the military’s nuclear programme:
“the intensity of official commitments to civil nuclear power are to a large extent driven by these undeclared military motivations. As a result, a significant part of the costs of military nuclear capabilities are being effectively subsidised by electricity consumers, in ways that are off the public books and away from policy scrutiny”.
What’s more, despite once being touted as ‘too cheap to meter’ nuclear energy comes at a considerable cost to our energy tariffs. EDF has negotiated a price of £92.50 per MW with government, linked to inflation for 35 years for the electricity that will be supplied by the reactor at Hinkley Point C, regardless of whether or not it is used. This is more than double the price of power generated by wind.
6 – Implement a long-term energy efficiency improvement strategy
In September 2020 the Government launched its flagship Green Homes Grant scheme which provides financial assistance to homeowners and Local Authorities to improve the energy efficiency of their properties.
Originally intended to last for just six months, the scheme has now been extended until March 2022 but this is still not nearly enough of a timeframe or support provided to develop the supply chains and pool of skilled installers that is needed to deliver the work required.
BHESCo propose that the Green Homes Grant scheme should last until at least 2030, and that grants should be made available to train new, accredited installers, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In addition, the energy improvement measures eligible under the scheme should be broadened to include solar PV, energy storage, and thermal batteries such as SunAmp technology.
At present, only around 30% of UK homes meet the EPC C standard, leaving approximately 19 million homes to upgrade over the next 15 years – equivalent to around 1.3 million homes per year.
A recent study undertaken by RetrofitWorks found that in order to complete the work required to bring the UK’s housing stock up to a minimum standard of C by 2030, the number of practitioners working in the industry would need to increase by 139% 4.
On a national scale, that equates to an additional 223,387 people working in energy efficiency and retrofit trades (e.g. carpenters, electricians, plumbers, window fitters, roofers, etc).
7 – Introduce a Green Finance package funded by the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle
According to a 2019 report from the European Commission, the UK gives more subsidies to fossil fuel companies than all other European countries. €12 billion is provided to the fossil fuel industry compared to €8.3 billion provided to renewables5. Compare this to Germany, which gives €27 billion in renewable energy subsidies and €9 billion to fossil fuels.
Not only must we phase out all subsidies to fossil fuel companies, we should also introduce a ‘Polluter Pays’ principle, demanding that the fossil fuel industry pay a high carbon tax as recompense for the environmentally destructive consequences of their activity. This would also apply to high-carbon industries such as aviation and industrial livestock agriculture, with the proceeds of the tax being channelled towards ventures that effectively address climate change.
To encourage greater private sector investment into environmental and sustainability focused businesses, the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) should be expanded to once again include community energy groups instead of only to commercial enterprises.
8 – Redesign the way that heat is delivered to our homes and businesses
The Government’s Ten Point Plan sets an admirable target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028, however the need to address how this heat is delivered to properties was not acknowledged. There should be a public education campaign to inform consumers that heat pumps work differently than oil or gas boilers.
Heat pumps are highly efficient, supplying the home with consistent heat. Some or all radiators may need to be replaced with larger ones that operate at lower temperatures, between 35-55oC as opposed to oil and gas that operate at 80-90oC. It is wasteful to generate heat at high temperatures to keep ourselves warm when a large share of this heat escapes through the draughty windows, floors and walls of our homes.
Communities may wish to investigate the feasibility of installing shared heat networks to generate economies of scale in the deployment of heat pumps to replace dirty oil and gas systems.
9 – Account for the UK’s ‘imported carbon emissions’
To truly become a net-zero carbon emissions country, the UK must account for the emissions generated by imported goods and services. Bringing our own carbon footprint down will not be effective in alleviating climate change if we are simply re-locating the emissions produced by the goods we consume to other parts of the world.
We must adopt holistic accounting of our collective carbon emissions if we want to be honest about the UK’s environmental impact. According to a report published in 2020 by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF)6 around 46% of the UK’s annual carbon impact comes from the emissions of overseas manufactured goods which are imported into the country.
We should adopt an international trade policy which makes it unlawful to import products from companies or countries who do not meet minimum environmental responsibility criteria, and we could also introduce procurement practices which encourage sourcing items from the nearest supplier
10 – Embrace and amplify natural ‘carbon capture and storage’ systems
At BHESCo, we have no time for a net-zero emissions strategy that is reliant on untried, unproven technologies that may never deliver the emissions reductions that we so vitally need.
This government’s Ten Point Plan pins its hopes (at great taxpayer expense) on Carbon Capture and Storage technologies (CCS) which intend to suck the carbon produced by combusting dirty fuels out of the air so that it can then be buried under the North Sea bed.
It is our belief that nature offers a much more reliable and affordable solution to capture carbon emissions. By embracing ‘regenerative agriculture’ practices in farming and reducing levels of meat consumption, livestock can graze freely on farmland, moving around on the land, naturally fertilising. We have a unique opportunity to sustainably grow much of our own food, since Brexit takes us out of the EU farming subsidy regime.
Implementing rewilding principles, planting more forests, as is actually mentioned in the Government Ten Point Plan, combined with the restoration of 50% of UK peatlands, would result in the capture of around 47 MtCO2e on average every year.
One extra for good luck - Develop a truly ‘Circular Economy’
In a world of finite resources, it is imperative to get as much value and use as we can out of the products we create. We must develop a long-term strategy that promotes the re-use of materials after they have served their initial purpose. Solar panels, wind turbine blades and energy storage batteries must all be adapted to serve new additional purposes.
As Dr Amrit Chandan, CEO and co-founder of Aceleron points out:
“We need innovative policy and creative engineering to ensure we don’t end up with a glut of expensive car batteries going to waste in 10 years. By 2030, it is estimated there will be 11 million tonnes of EV battery waste alone, enough to fill Wembley Stadium almost 20 times.
We are calling on the government to engage with industry and invest in circular economy infrastructure that will support the reuse and repurposing of batteries to minimise waste and maximise the potential of raw materials”.
Conclusion - A Ten Point Plan for communities
It is abundantly clear that there is a phenomenal amount of work to be done if we are to achieve a target of net zero emissions within the next decade.
Thankfully, BHESCo believes that as a nation we already have the resources and technologies available to transform our society to one where we can all live in affordable efficient homes which are powered by 100% clean local energy.
We must not waste time exploring vanity projects and technologies that are not guaranteed to deliver the results we urgently need.
We must implement a plan of action to train thousands of new apprentices, retrain thousands who need work, provide thousands of new jobs in the green economy, and create the market conditions that will enable this plan to succeed and for society to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
It is also vital, given the extent of unprecedented debt that we are incurring due to the pandemic, that we hold this government to account for their investment of our money in our clean energy future.
When communities work co-operatively on an inclusive, shared vision that benefits everybody, inspired by a workable strategy and sufficient financial support from government, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
7 – https://www.cat.org.uk/info-resources/zero-carbon-britain/research-reports/zero-carbon-britain-rising-to-the-climate-emergency/6 – https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-04/FINAL-WWF-UK_Carbon_Footprint_Analysis_Report_March_2020%20%28003%29.pdf