The Hydrogen Age

EIC explores the potential of Hydrogen fuel to decarbonise the UK, its domestic supporters and success it has already enjoyed in the EU.

Hydrogen showing carbon the door

In the wake of COVID-19, economic recovery is now top priority for the UK government. However, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have both staked their flag in making sure it is a ‘green’ economic recovery. As such, industry leaders – particularly within the energy sector – have reopened the conversation on the role of hydrogen in reaching net zero.

The CCC (Committee on Climate Change) published a report in 2018 summarising its recommendations for a UK hydrogen strategy. The hope is to utilise Hydrogen in the UK’s heating systems, specifically by blending it with natural gas, to reduce its carbon footprint.

UK buildings account for 40% of its energy consumption and 70% of industrial building energy is used on space heating and cooling. With these figures in mind, hydrogen’s value is clear to see provided it can get off the ground.

Unfortunately, there are several roadblocks to hydrogen use on a mass scale. The biggest of these is that it would require an infrastructural overall of current heating systems. Blended gas requires plastic pipes while the vast majority of those in the UK are iron.

In addition, the production of hydrogen fuel is highly carbon intensive. Fortunately, this embedded carbon can be offset by CCS (carbon capture and storage) technology into its production.

However, these are costly caveats to making hydrogen a viable fuel replacement. Naturally, there are concerns that the government may opt for cheaper, quicker progress that, ironically, may prove unsustainable.

 “On the one hand, we need to put money where it has an immediate economic impact and in the most affected sectors. On the other, we need to keep in mind the long-term benefits of making our economy more resilient.”

– Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for energy

Private sector rescue

The EU commission announced in June that it would provide €750 billion for its green recovery plan, reserving €1 billion for R&D into green hydrogen. Simson has stated that hydrogen has the potential to capture 10-16 percent of the EU’s energy market by 2050.

Following the EU’s lead, industry leaders in the UK approached the government and questioned the absence of hydrogen in both the spring budget COVID recovery plan.

Last month, a letter from the chiefs of four major unions implored the government to move forward on hydrogen development. The leaders of GMB, Prospect, Unison and Unite cited, in the letter, the massive reductions this could offer in the heat, transport and heavy industry sectors. Of course, the development of any new technological sector would also create thousands of jobs.

However, the letter was only one component of the “Hydrogen Strategy Now” campaign led by firms like EDF and Siemens. These companies, along with others supporting the campaign, have stated intentions to invest £1.5bn into hydrogen development.

The government must now sieze the initiative and provide the necessary funding and support to make hydrogen happen. Firms that desire to adopt a long-term view of their energy and heat use might benefit from EICs services.

EIC’s combined heat and power solution has saved businesses up to 40% on energy costs. EIC can also provide a  carbon management team able to deliver a comprehensive net zero strategy. Full details of these services, as well as others, are on the EIC website.

 

Private investment, public gain: Green investment after lockdown

EIC discusses the Northvolt gigafactory, and how private funding is now flooding into green investment and sustainability projects.

Recharging capital

It began with grassroots environmentalism, then government mandate and finally, major financial institutions have started supporting a green future in earnest. Support in the form of loans and bonds for sustainable economic development and innovation, specifically solar storage options.

One such investment occurred last Thursday as the European Investment Bank (EIB) issued a €350 million loan to Northvolt for its lithium battery plant.

The site is based in Northern Sweden, and is intended to produce the most environmentally-friendly battery storage packs to date. Using 100% renewable energy and locally-sourced materials, it will soften characteristically high environmental cost of the Lithium-ion batteries it produces.

The cells will be used mainly in cars, which are responsible for 12% of the EU’s current carbon footprint.

Northvolt has already secured a €2bn supply contract with BMW and Volkswagen is interested in collaborating on a similar factory in Germany. The latter of these two is no surprise after VW unveiled plans to convert its Emden production plant to electric vehicle production.

Lofty ambitions

The gigafactory will have an initial production capacity of 16 GWh per year and be the first of its kind.

Both the investor and supplier share similarly ambitious intentions moving forward as well. Northvolt plans to scale capacity to 40GWh annually while, back in May, EIB stated its intention to increase green investment financing to over €1bn by the end of the year.

China still dominates the solar battery market of course, producing more than five times that amount in 2019 alone. However Northvolt and EIB have just set an important precedent and other banks are now joining the green investment fray.

“I believe that EIB financing support for Northvolt has been a textbook example of how our financial and technical due diligence can help crowd in private investors to visionary projects,”

-Andrew McDowell, VP EIB

The COVID-19 lockdown has wrought chaos in several energy markets, most notably West Texas Intermediate – which went negative for the first time in April.

Projections show global growth shrinking to -3% after such dramatic losses in this market, as well as many others. Fortunately, the immediate crisis of COVID-19 has not blinkered business and political leaders to the looming threat of climate change.

Despite these losses, April saw a 272% increase of ESG (environmental, social, governance) bonds compared to April last year.

Green investment rush

Finally, investment in green infrastructure has become vogue among Europe’s financiers and firms should take notice. Last week Sadiq Khan promised £1.5bn to upgrade London’s water and gas networks and prepare for more electric vehicle use.

 

Beyond our shores, Danish investment bank, Saxo, is already making predictions about renewable technology taking over the global market.

“Governments will increase investments and subsidies for ‘green’ industries, starting a new mega trend in equity markets… We believe that these green stocks could, over time, become some of the world’s most valuable companies”

­– Peter Garnry, Saxo Bank Head of Equity Strategy

Renewable technology rewards boldness and expediency with huge ROI over time. However the endorsement of institutions like BlackRock and EIB helps reduce risk profiles, making it more attractive to investors.

EIC have championed firms renewable interests for over 40 years, buying and managing approximately 12TWh of energy each year.

The EIC sustainability offering provides carbon compliance, utility management and procurement advice. Combining this expertise under one banner, you and your investors will have all your bases covered when outfitting your firm for a low carbon future.

 

 

 

Success is negative: Carbon negative office spaces

EIC explores the carbon-negative office spaces that are emerging, their role in the green recovery and the technology that make them possible.

Favour the bold

The path to net zero is fraught with obstacles and among these is the carbon intensive nature of the mainstream construction sector. Materials like concrete are extremely resource intensive to produce.

While often offset on a citywide scale, some firms are beginning to focus on the buildings themselves and work sustainability into their initial designs.

Blazing the smoke-free trail are Norwegian architects Snøhetta, who will design exclusively carbon-neutral buildings over the next decade.

The aim is then that from 2030 onwards, Snøhetta will focus on creating carbon-negative designs.

Carbon negative structures either generate more energy than they consume, or sequester more carbon than they produce. The figure includes expenses from initial  construction and materials, as well as operation and decommissioning.

Elusive costs like these are problematic, with 85% of building emissions generated by materials and construction, before the structure is ever used.

“For the next 10 years, we have the ambition of having projects on the table that will become CO2 negative in the cradle-to-cradle definition… This means we have to understand the embodied energies and all the materials used.”

-Snøhetta co-founder Kjetil Thorsen

Balancing the books

Since less intensive materials suited to large scale construction are not yet widely available, balancing through generation will be key.  Solar is central to Snøhettas plans, with structures taking about 60 years to hit carbon negative with embedded generation. The architect recently completed its Powerhouse Brattørkaia project, which boasts an identical timeline for net negative. The Powerhouse also sports a cutting edge ‘wedge’ shape designed to maximise exposure to the sun’s rays.

While this may seem like a life sentence for business leaders, it is refreshing that groups like Snøhetta are beginning to think in terms of multi-generational gains.

Bywater Properties are leading a similar development project aimed to create the lowest-carbon workplace in London. The office, named ‘Paradise’ for the road it occupies: Old Paradise Street. Supermarket, Iceland has already secured the majority of this space, planting a green flag for the brand in the minds of its customers.

My generation

It is no secret that the attraction of short-term gains have significantly contributed to the environmental challenges we now face.

However, vision extending beyond the next board meeting can help transform the UK and global economy to reach net zero. Carbon negative buildings are a part of that vision.

Unfortunately, that can feel exclusionary to firms that have already established their sites and do not have the luxury of completely retrofitting them.

The complex, modular nature of structures does mean that while carbon negative may not be feasible, ‘carbon-light’ might be possible.

Intelligent building control is one of the most effective ways to improve your carbon profile. Primarily because it streamlines the carbon-producing elements of a building, mainly utility consumption, and shrinks carbon footprint as a result.

A holistic ally in carbon reduction is the addition of green spaces to working environments, since these also sequester carbon.

On-site generation further reduces your reliance on the grid and the subsequent sequestered carbon in meeting demand – particularly across long distances.

Other benefits include improved energy supply security, added leverage in procurement talks and a better carbon profile for crucial legislation.

EIC understands that intelligent building design and frugality around resource-use work in hand in glove. As such, EIC offers a comprehensive carbon service combining building management, intelligent procure and compliance acumen.

Marriage of these three pillars means unlocking the full potential of sites, and leveraging for the benefit of all. EIC’s full offering is on its services page.

 

 

 

 

Summer Economic Update

EIC explores Rishi Sunak’s Summer Economic Update and what it means for businesses looking to gain a head start in the green revolution in the UK’s future.

A brave new world

The build back better campaign received a large, public endorsement from Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak this week, who pledged in the Summer Economic Update that £3bn would be committed to the new green economy. While this is only a drop in the proverbial bucket of the £160bn Covid-19 recovery package, it has been met with great enthusiasm from both business leaders and the public.

An E.on survey conducted earlier this year, polling 500 UK-based business leaders, demonstrated that 72% felt that the pandemic has given them cause to re-evaluate their organisations priorities regarding the environment.

During the announcement, the Chancellor revealed the two major fields of improvement to be energy efficiency in public structures and a £2bn Green Homes Grant for those not in social housing. The remaining £1bn will be invested in improving the carbon usage and profile of public sector buildings through measures including double or triple glazing and smart energy meters.

“Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is crucial for reducing our emissions…. this announcement of £3bn is a welcome first step… This funding needs to be part of a comprehensive plan to improve the whole of the UK’s building stock, creating tens of thousands of jobs for the long term, not here-today-gone-tomorrow.”

UKGBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen

Sunak also announced that £50m worth of funding would be used to support trials into early-stage energy efficiency and flexibility technology for the UK’s least efficient sectors.

The majority of respondents to E.on’s survey believe that the primary responsibility for the UK’s green revolution lies with business leaders, and the UK public, it seems, agrees.

Dancing in the dark

One of the unforeseen gifts of the pandemic has been a heightened awareness both of our potential effects on each other within our society but also the affect that our species is having on the planet. It is no secret that human behaviour is partially responsible for large-scale disease outbreaks and as a result, consumers are becoming ever more cautious about which companies to whom they declare allegiance.

The Capgemini Research Institute has also conducted a recent survey that showed almost 70% of respondents are concerned the effect that their spending habits are having on the natural world. The institute also reports that 80% have altered spending habits in the last year in response to social and environmental issues.

However, while there is clearly a market trend developing in favour of sustainable business practices, ‘greenwashing’ and a lack of transparency threaten to shake consumer trust on a mass scale. Six in ten business leaders consider their clients to be well informed of their sustainability efforts but over half of consumers have stated difficulty in confirming corporate sustainability claims.

“…when baked into an organization’s mission and purpose, sustainability has the potential to entirely change an organization’s relationship with its customers and partners… As businesses focus on transformation in the wake of the pandemic, they should put sustainability at the heart of their efforts.”

Capgemini’s VP for consumer goods and retail Kees Jacobs said.

Getting a head start

Legislation will be one of the major lynchpins in the UK’s approach to a green economic recovery, however clearly signposted legislation could also help to bolster consumer trust.

SECR stands as not only an ethical benchmark for firms that are invested in a cleaner economy, but also a declaration of intent to consumers. Compliance to such legislation demonstrates to consumers that emissions reductions is a company-wide objective and therefore representative of your brand as a whole.

The palatability of SECR is also a major benefit, while it is a complex piece of legislation; the objective is simple and easily explained to non-energy professionals. Employment of the strategies necessary to ensure compliance, be they energy efficiency measures, supply chain reorganisation or on-site generation raises a green flag to would-be clients.

Fortunately, each of these listed strategies is covered under EIC’s carbon management team, who are able to utilise over four decades of experience to create a bespoke carbon strategy for your firm. The EIC services page contains full details of its compliance offering.

 

 

 

Pause for thought: CCA extension consultation closes

Following the closure of the government’s consultation on reforms and an extension to the CCA scheme on Thursday, EIC explores the success of the scheme so far and the opportunity that this extension presents to business leaders.

Laying a foundation 

During the Spring Budget announcement, Chancellor Sunak made it clear that while the economy would be strained during and after lockdown, its recovery could not come at the expense of UK climate goals.

Little over a month after the budget announcement, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) proposed an extension to the Climate Change Agreements (CCA) scheme.

No doubt, this move was designed to engage with businesses that already fit the criteria of the scheme but were unable to join it previously and in doing so allow them to benefit from the reduced CCL cost and the environment to benefit from reduced carbon emissions.

2017 saw the Government aim its sights at a 20% improvement in commercial and industrial energy efficiency by 2030, this goal has informed the consultation with that target being upheld in regards to the extension.

The popularity and effectiveness of the scheme are undeniable, with recent analyses demonstrating that 80-100% of businesses were participating in most eligible sectors.

A consensus of this magnitude inspires hope for the UK’s climate goals, given that, of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, 25% are business driven. An evaluation for the 2017 Clean Growth Strategy also showed that up to 22m tonnes of CO2 could be saved through investments in energy efficiency technology.

An open forum

The BEIS has made clear that facilities that do meet the current criteria would now be able to join the scheme for the first time since its initial closure in October 2018.

The Target Period being proposed, in addition to remaining in line with periods 1-4 of the scheme (running from the 1st January 2021 until 31st December 2022), will be supported by a variation of the certification period. Initially planned to end in March 2023, it would be pushed back to June of the same year to allow participants to gain certification for CCL discounts between April and June 2023. The added certification period, for which facilities will only be certified having met obligations in Target Period 5, will begin on 1 July 2023 and end on 31 March 2025.

The CCA’s closing in 2018 had shut out new entrants to the scheme; however, businesses fitting the eligibility now have an opportunity to recoup up to 92% on electricity and 83% on gas CCL charges.

Applications to the CCA can be long-winded and complex, however the return on an initial investment of time is huge, especially considering that an average energy intensive business the added certification period, for which facilities will only be certified having met obligations in Target Period 5, will begin on 1 July 2023 and end on 31 March 2025.

Based on these figures, the opportunity presented by Sunak and the BEIS has the potential to dramatically change the landscape of the UK energy industry post COVID-19. Alongside legislation like ESOS, MEES and SECR, the CCA calls for expertise rather than direct action. EIC oversees the entire CCA application process and subsequent management of the service following approval of the application. We will be able to show the fiscal savings based on individual business’s energy consumption and ROI against our typical fees.

Moreover, EIC offers a comprehensive range of compliance services as well as ancillary strategies that can help improve your carbon profile while reducing utility costs.

 

A road map for change: UK climate goals post COVID-19

EIC outlines the call to action the UK government has received from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to ensure that the road map for economic recovery post COVID-19 aligns with existing environmental targets.

Forging a path

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced proposed easing on several lockdown measures and made it clear that an exit strategy from COVID-19 was being developed to prevent further infection and revive the UK economy.

While the lion’s share of Johnson’s speech was devoted to these adjustments, he reiterated that maintaining social distancing would be critical in ensuring their success.

The next steps, beyond decreased restrictions on travel and exercise, will be in allowing non-key workers to return to work if their role was site-restricted but to remain working at home if possible. Thus the first sparks of economic resurrection appeared.

COVID-19 has ushered in one of the greatest economic cooling periods in modern history, in combination with geo-political tensions it has brought the oil industry to its knees and exposed many of the frailties in existing energy infrastructure.

In his speech, Johnson expressed the gravity of COVID-19, describing it as follows:

 

“The most vicious threat this country has faced in my lifetime…. [of a] kind we’ve seen never before in peace or war.”

 

However fears are now circulating that we will see a retreat away from renewable energy sources as both governments and investors move to revitalise that sector, perhaps at the cost of UK climate targets.

 

An opportunity in disguise

The CCC, among others, have stated that there is no reason that the economic recovery plan cannot be inclusive of UK climate goals. 

 

“Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. The government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.”

Lord Deben, CCC Chairman

 

Historically, Lord Deben is correct, perhaps the most dramatic green energy success story in recent history is that of the United States. Immediately after the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. prioritised funding for clean energy which generated 900,000 jobs in a five-year period.

According to a recent insight from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in excess of 17m jobs could be generated globally by 2030 through similar investment now-effectively doubling that work force.

Additionally, IRENA have calculated that this model could yield a global GDP gain of approximately $98tn by 2050, returning in the range of $3 to $8 on every dollar spent.

 

“Things have changed markedly since the last global economic downturn a decade ago – renewables are now cheaper than the alternatives” 

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit

 

The global picture shows many benefits to leveraging COVID-19 for the purposes of green transition however these gains are logistical as well as financial. As Fatih Birol, head of the IEA, implied, renewables have also proven far more resilient during this crisis:

 

“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use…”

Fatih Birol, head of the IEA

 

Upon this rock

The responsibility now falls to the UK government to create and enact policies that reflect its commitment to carbon neutral and to an economy for the future instead of simply offering life support to fossil fuels.

Despite not presenting a comprehensive strategy, the prime minister did comment on the UK’s green trajectory while responding to questions after the announcement. Johnson declared the UK’s resolve in meeting net zero by 2050, pandemic or not, saying “…we know we can do it”.

 

 

Although COP26, this year’s proposed Glasgow climate talks, are unlikely to go ahead, the UK is still considered a global leader in the fight against climate change, however actions taken now will dictate the fortitude of both our economy and reputation in years to come:

 

“The UK now finds itself in a unique position to ramp-up climate action at home and supercharge the international response to climate change abroad…” 

Baroness Brown of Cambridge,CCC Adaptation Committee chair 

 

Thankfully, while the costs of climate inaction are all too apparent, the benefits of a green transition are more and more becoming a matter of consensus, as Richard George of Greenpeace UK states:

“…200 top economists told us that transitioning to a low-carbon economy was the most effective form of economic stimulus… Now the UK government’s climate advisors have reinforced that message… the debate is over.”

The question then becomes how individuals and businesses can contribute to, and take advantage of, this new green trajectory?

No doubt new legislation will be introduced to further incentivise greener business practices, and the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) has made suggestions along those lines in a strategic document. 

One such suggestion is that the second wave of financial support to UK businesses be conditional on their commitment to climate-friendly policy and practices. 

Leveraging the pandemic in order to pressure businesses into adopting sustainable practices may seem extreme however it is in order to prevent a much greater catastrophe and as such might be viewed as both timely and reasonable.

That being said, legislation and compliance will likely become the government’s major tools in achieving carbon neutral within the industrial and commercial sectors. As such, the value of compliance becomes even more pronounced, particularly given the need to reduce costs during and after a period of low income.

Carbon management then, becomes a vital priority as businesses and management professionals try to anticipate and navigate this possible transition. Not unlike the lockdown itself, social responsibility and personal accountability are at the heart of Carbon management and EIC will develop a bespoke plan for your business that reflects that. 

Combined with in-house compliance and IoT empowered facility management services, EIC can integrate many of the elements of your carbon strategy into a single cohesive framework for the benefit of your shareholders, team members and clients.