The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget envisages UK electricity production as zero carbon by 2035, with low-carbon heat also widespread by the early 2030s.
So how do we achieve this rapid expansion in clean heat and power generation?
More than ambition
We need more than one technology to meet our emissions reduction targets. Offshore wind may form the backbone of the UK renewable capacity, but onshore wind will also have a significant role to play, alongside solar, batteries, and interconnectors.
The latest Carbon Budget recognises that the majority of investment required will come from the private sector. For this investment to flow into the UK, low-carbon developers need to be certain there is a plan to back up the encouraging signs we’ve seen from the government recently.
There is a time pressure here, so decisions need to be made quickly for action to match the ambition.
Certainty on green hydrogen
The CCC has highlighted the many sectors that hydrogen may help shift away from reliance on fossil fuels. But as the group notes, its use needs to scale up enormously by 2050 for it to have the necessary impact.
Vattenfall believes heavy industry and transport should be early priorities for the transition to hydrogen in the UK, as other already-deployable options can start taking a serious chunk out of the emissions from heat. Likewise, if hydrogen is eventually to be used for heating, there needs to be a roadmap for phasing it into the gas network.
We also believe that green hydrogen, produced using renewable power, is the only viable long-term solution if this particular technology is going to help the planet.
But to avoid falling behind Europe when it comes to green hydrogen production, the UK will require both incentives for investment and a plan for stimulating demand for hydrogen use.
Only then will investors be confident there is enough demand to install the necessary infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively.
Backing heat networks
A significant amount of carbon emissions need to be taken out of heating if we are to meet our net-zero targets. The CCC says that every replacement boiler must be zero-carbon by 2035.
Several technologies offer a solution for heat, not least district heating, which connects sources of waste heat with those who need it and could serve up to 30-40% of the UK’s heating and hot water demand.
But against such tight timescales, we need to quickly work out which low-carbon heating technologies should go in which parts of the country. England and Wales can follow Scotland’s lead here, legislating to ensure that local authorities identify zones where developers can then install the most appropriate solutions.
“Zoning” would also bring down the capital cost by 30%, according to Vattenfall Heat UK’s own studies, with the knock-on effect of reducing costs for consumers and providing certainty for investors.
It’s an approach that suits decentralised heat pumps, hydrogen and district heating from waste heat sources, and enables us to move faster by investing in the right solutions in the right areas.
Updating planning guidance
Scaling up onshore and offshore wind, solar, batteries, grid infrastructure, heat networks and electrolysers is a mammoth task, especially if the bulk of this work needs to be done by 2035.
The infrastructure projects we need to build are complex and long-lead. If we’re going to win the race against climate change, then planning and consent processes need to be simplified.
Decision-making bodies, such as local authorities, need more resources to be able to cope with the huge increase in the number of projects coming their way. Many proposals remain at a standstill for prolonged periods. Unblocking planning and consenting, while maintaining community engagement and environmental protections, will make a critical difference to whether we hit net zero in time.
We need to talk about the supply chain
Renewable and low-carbon industries are global, and if new British firms want to be able to compete in this environment they will have to grow very quicky.
So we need to be realistic about our supply-chain strengths — which lie predominantly in high-value, high-tech services — and plan around these, creating an investment breeding ground for new technologies in which we can establish a competitive advantage.
Both established and potential UK entrants to supply chains will benefit from a better understanding of how low-carbon heat and power sectors work, coupled with longer term planning and certainty about where the growth opportunities lie.
And developers must work more collaboratively and engage earlier with the supply chain (something that we are currently focusing on with Vattenfall’s Norfolk offshore wind zone). This will help their preparations for winning and delivering contracts.
Networks are the lifeblood
Networks are one of the most overlooked issues in the public debate. Our power grids need to be more flexible than ever before, they must transition from being network operators to system operators. To do this they have to be able to cope with modern ways of distributing the power from the number of new generators and storage providers
We will need bigger and more efficient data gathering systems to balance the network and reduce costs. We’ll need smart grids to manage multiple requirements – identifying the right source of power, optimising the energy mix, dealing with increased demand for electricity.
Unless we get this part right, none of the other innovations like electric vehicles, replacements for gas central heating, or steel made without fossil fuels can happen.
Helping create a green recovery
A massive scaling up of renewable power. Huge numbers of new green jobs. Clean ways to drive to work and heat our homes. All are within reach and could be cheaper than we thought, according to the CCC.
So let’s get to work because there’s not a moment to lose. At Vattenfall we’re planning £2bn ($2.64bn) of investments across all our markets over the next two years and we’re ready to invest more.
The ambition is clearly there. Now we need to see the plan that will remove the barriers holding back the green industrial revolution.
Danielle Lane is Vattenfall's UK Country Manager, and the new co-chair of the UK Offshore Wind Industry Council.