Net zero: can the UK reach its 2050 target?

In June 2019, parliament passed legislation requiring the government to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. This would make the UK a ‘net zero’ emitter.

This was once seen as a fairly ambitious target. Especially considering the previous commitment to an 80% reduction within the same timeframe. However, it has now become clear that achieving net zero by 2050 is imperative to tackling the catastrophic effects of climate change.

How close is the UK to reaching net zero?

To reach ‘net zero’, the UK must significantly reduce its emissions while simultaneously offsetting those that can’t be avoided. In this effort, the pandemic served as a hidden blessing. Thanks to reduced traffic, travel, waste and energy consumption, there was a record-breaking 10.7% fall in the UK’s carbon emissions in 2020. This resulted in a 48.8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, a milestone in the country’s net zero journey.

Yet despite this, the UK is set to breach its fifth carbon budget by at least 313Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) according to research done by Green Alliance. And as workplaces open and travel resumes again, emission levels could return to pre-Covid levels. This could make meeting the sixth carbon budget, which recommends a reduction of 68% by 2030, challenging.

Is this achievable?

A recent report by The National Grid Electricity Operator (ESO) outlines 4 potential scenarios for decarbonisation in the UK. These were designed in part to lay out steps to meet the sixth carbon budget, and 3 of the scenarios see us reaching net zero by 2050. But, while this sounds promising, the report also explains that drastic changes are required to achieve future emissions targets.

The National Grid ESO’s head of strategy and regulation Matthew Wright said, “Our latest Future Energy Scenarios insight reveals a glimpse of a Britain that is powered with net zero carbon emissions, but it also highlights the level of societal change and policy direction that will be needed to get there.

“If Britain is to meet its ambitious emissions reduction targets, consumers will need a greater understanding of how their power use and lifestyle choices impact how sustainable our energy system will be – from how we heat our homes, to when we charge our future cars – and government policy will be key to driving awareness and change. 

“Britain is making significant progress towards achieving net zero. The fundamental changes outlined in our latest FES insight show just how important a coordinated approach will be between policymakers and industry if we’re to capitalise on that momentum.”

What does this mean for businesses?

The UK ramping up its decarbonisation efforts will impact businesses and communities of all sizes. If the recently published Transport Decarbonisation Plan is any indication of policies to come, the general public should prepare for drastic changes. The plan outlines the Government’s approach to decarbonising the highest-emitting sector. It includes bringing the ban on petrol and diesel cars and vans forward from 2035 to 2030. As well as a consultation on zero-emission bus fleets and lorries by 2040.

Other expected changes could include higher energy efficiency standards and extended mandatory carbon reporting. A recent example of this is the extension of mandatory display of annual energy certificates in all larger office buildings. This means that businesses will have to prioritise their energy management in the future. Fortunately, reducing waste and boosting your green credentials often results in both financial and reputational benefits.

How can EIC help?

At EIC we help businesses monitor and manage their energy and carbon with sustainability in mind. Our in-house team can guide you through energy monitoring, carbon footprinting, green procurement and compliance legislation. We are already partnering with leading UK private and public sector organisations – supporting them to transform their operations in line with ambitious targets.

Our aim is to provide you with holistic energy management and sustainable solutions. Helping to carry your business into a green future.

Contact us at EIC for a bespoke net zero roadmap for your organisation.

UK Energy Policy in 2020

Following the results of the UK General Election, it will be the Conservative Party responsible for delivering the net zero target and a green economy. The Conservatives made positive pledges to invest in green jobs, low carbon infrastructure and investment in energy efficiency.

Their Manifesto promised that the first Budget in 2020 will prioritise the environment and contain investment in research & development, decarbonisation schemes, new flood defences, electric vehicle infrastructure and clean energy. The Budget date is to be confirmed, but will likely take place in early Spring.

White Paper

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) intend to release an Energy White Paper, which is expected in Q1 2020. It will detail the country’s strategy to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Energy Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has said that BEIS are currently evaluating a number of different approaches. This will include decisions on renewables, nuclear levels and the role of carbon capture, usage and storage.

The White Paper is expected to yield further policy indications on a range of energy and environmental issues that are currently unclear.

COP26

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is scheduled to take place 9-19 November 2020 in Glasgow.

The UK will host the main COP summit, which will enable world leaders to discuss actions to tackle climate change and serve as a spotlight on how far the government’s climate policy decisions have come. Claire Perry, the previous Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, will preside as the UK nominated president for the event.

Second Balancing Services Charges Taskforce

Ofgem formed the first Balancing Services Charges Taskforce, in collaboration with the Electricity System Operator, back in November 2018. The main goal of the Taskforce was to investigate the future direction of Balancing Services Use of System (BSUoS) charges.

The Taskforce found that the BSUoS charge does not currently provide any useful forward-looking signal. This makes the charges hard to forecast, reducing the influence of the charge on user behaviour.

With this information, the Taskforce assessed whether individual elements of BSUoS have the potential for being charged more cost-effectively and hence could provide a forward-looking signal. However, whilst it was concluded there were theoretical advantages to options suggested, it remained that the implementation would not or could not provide a cost-reflective and forward-looking signal that would drive efficient and effective market behaviour.

The first Taskforce concluded that it was not feasible to charge any of the BSUoS components in a more cost-reflective and forward-looking manner that would effectively influence behaviour to help the system and/or lower costs to customers. The group recommended that all costs included with BSUoS should be treated on a cost-recover basis.

Taskforce key deliverables

The new Taskforce will aim to assess who should pay BSUoS charges, how these charges should be recovered and how principles from the Targeted Charging Review can be applied. In order to achieve this the Taskforce has compiled five deliverables:

  1. Consideration and assessment based recommendation as to who should pay balancing services charges
  2. Investigation and recommendation for recovering balancing services charges, including collection methodology and frequency
  3. Produce interim report providing detailed reasoning and any relevant analysis behind the initial conclusions
  4. Consult on the interim report providing an opportunity for stakeholder comment
  5. Issue a final report including consideration of stakeholder consultation responses providing a final recommendation on who should pay, the design of balancing services charges and potential timescales for implementation

The final report, containing the recommendations to Ofgem, is scheduled to be published in June 2020.

Electric Vehicle Smart Charging consultation response

On 15 July 2019 the Government published a consultation on Electric Vehicle Smart Charging. This was to seek views on the outline of the current approach and objectives for the implementation of smart charging systems for electric vehicles (EVs).

The Government believes that the encouragement of consumer uptake and innovation is necessary to meet future targets. To this effect, the Government’s overall aim is to maximise the use of smart charging technologies to benefit both consumers and the electricity system, whilst supporting the transition to EVs.

The consultation states that without government intervention, it is unlikely that smart charging will be taken up at the rate required to achieve the full potential benefits. This could lead to the risk of varying standards and inadequate protections for the grid and consumers.

The long and short-term plans for smart charging

The Government provided detail on both short and long-term plans for smart charging. The approach for Phase One of the project would see new non-public charge points required to have smart functionality, compliant with the British Standards Institution.

Phase Two is a work in progress, as the Government seeks views on what the long-term approach for operational requirements should be, with some potential options. The consultation proposes that a decision should be made between 2020 and 2022.

A potential response to the consultation is expected in 2020 and would dictate the rate and method of rollout of new EV infrastructure across the country in the future.

Review of Default Tariff Cap

The initial default tariff cap came in effect on 1 January 2019. It was designed as a temporary cap on standard variable tariffs and fixed-term default tariffs. In accordance with the licence requirements, Ofgem run an update progress twice a year. This is so the default tariff cap reflects changes in the cost of supplying energy.

On 7 August 2019, Ofgem updated the cap levels to come into effect for the third charge restriction from 1 October 2019 to 31 March 2020. A fall in wholesale costs saw the level of the cap reduce from £1,254 to £1,179 for this period.

The default tariff cap is intended to be a temporary measure, with an upcoming review next year on whether it is still fit for purpose. The cap will remain in place until at least the end of 2020. The government will be able to choose whether to extend the cap beyond this, up to a maximum of 2023.

Dermot Nolan, Chief Executive of Ofgem, said, “The price cap requires suppliers to pass on any savings to customers when their cost to supply electricity and gas falls.

He added, “This means the energy bills of around 15 million customers on default deals or pre-payment meters will fall this winter to reflect the reduction in the cost of the wholesale energy. Households can cut their bills further in time for winter, and we would encourage all customers to shop around to get themselves the best deal possible for their energy.”

CCC to publish Sixth Carbon Budget

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is scheduled to publish its recommendation on the level of the Sixth Carbon Budget in September 2020.

The Sixth Carbon Budget, required under the Climate Change Act, will provide ministers with advice on the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit during the period 2033-2037. The Budget will set the path to the UK’s net-zero emissions target in 2050, as the first carbon budget to be set into law following that commitment.

CCC Chairman, Lord Deben, advised the Government of the Committee’s intention in a letter to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke MP.

The letter sets out the Committee’s expectations for the Treasury’s planned review of how the costs of the transition to a net-zero economy by 2050 can be funded and distributed fairly.

The Committee called on the Treasury to conduct the review in its May 2019 advice to Government on setting a net-zero target for the UK. The Committee sees the review as crucial in ensuring a successful transition and recommend that the review is a key input to next year’s spending review and budget, and longer-term policy direction.

Lord Deben’s letter also recommends that the Treasury review develops a plan for funding decarbonisation and examines the distribution of costs for businesses, households and the Exchequer.

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