OPINION: There is more to do to secure a sustainable energy future

Barbara Vest, director of generation at EnergyUK, says the government should make a start with energy efficiency

As the dust settles on the prime minister’s launch of the 25 Year Environmental Plan, it is abundantly clear that the government is positively shifting policy towards greater environmental protection, mitigating climate change and building a sustainable future.

As is recognised in the 25 Year Environmental Plan, great progress has already been made. Since 1970 sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides have fallen by 96% and 69% respectively, and since 1990 greenhouse gas emissions have been cut by 42%. There have also been additional huge successes in the energy sector, particularly in the reduction of costs for various technologies and the avoidance of stranding assets by converting them to low-carbon sources.

Great Britain has for many years provided international leadership in tackling climate change, and Claire Perry MP’s recent announcement of the Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP23 is reflective of this. As positive as this global alliance and international leadership is, there remain lost opportunities – for both the environment and the consumer – much closer to home. The least cost low-carbon technologies still lack a route to market and the rollout of energy-efficiency measures is lacking in the ambition set out in the 25 Year Environmental Plan.

The Industrial Strategy made some positive moves towards making sure the UK is prepared for a world of electrified transport, but the last hurdle in decarbonisation remains – heat. We are approaching critical junctures where decisions must be made on the future of gas and the decarbonisation of heat.

Furthermore the five-year review of Electricity Market Reform provides the government with an opportunity to build on this environmental statement by making the Capacity Market entirely technology neutral and reaffirming the commitment to the CfD regime. These two policies have, to date, driven competitive cost reductions, reduced emissions and delivered security of supply cheaply and effectively.

We also believe that the government has a chance to kick-start a sustainable able-to-pay energy-efficiency market through a combination of regulation, incentives and funding mechanisms to engage with different consumer groups. These incentives, if combined with an effective government education campaign, should trigger demand in the market while other mechanisms can support the most vulnerable in society.

The GB energy industry is playing a vital role in building a lasting and sustainable energy future, but there is much more government should do to address the missed opportunities I’ve outlined. It is critical that we now develop a more ambitious policy and regulatory framework to mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect our environment for future generations at the least cost to consumers.

First published in New Power Report, February 2018

Further reading

Environmental Audit Committee opens inquiry into 25-year Environment Plan

Scottish parliamentary committee raises ‘grave concerns’ over green funding

Energy efficiency: how the NHS loses out – and what networks could do