David Smith, CEO, Energy Networks Association, believes…This year has the potential to be a watershed moment for delivering climate action. Before COP26 in November we look forward to Net Zero Week in July, where people across the country can find out more about how they can be involved in the fight against climate change.
Policy-makers should be listening too. The world’s biggest ever survey of public opinion on climate change, covering 1.2m people across 50 countries, found that 64% of people said that climate change was an emergency – presenting a clear and convincing call for decision-makers to step up on ambition.
From the millions of homes with smart meters, more renewables than ever being used to generate the nation’s power, and a low carbon transport revolution under way, people can already see change beginning to happen.
As we go further and faster to deliver Net Zero, we need an energy system that delivers for energy customers as well as the environment. This is why, last year, the UK’s energy networks operators unveiled their own plan for climate action and a green industrial revolution.
Advances in technology are moving fast and we do not have the time to stop and look around. Nowhere is this more evident than in transport. Government recently hailed another major milestone for the UK electric vehicle market, as official sales figures confirmed there are now over half a million zero emission cars on the roads.
The electricity network operators have a key role to play in delivering the infrastructure and innovation for a mass roll-out of electric vehicles. Ground-breaking pilot projects are under way for vehicle-to-grid technology, allowing for EV owners to sell their energy back to the networks and creating more capacity for further electrification.
Central to this smart, flexible grid is harnessing the power of data – there is no Net Zero without fully digitalised energy systems. For this reason, at COP26, the world will be looking to the UK as the SP Group have ranked the UK’s electricity networks as the smartest in the world.
A recent report from the Centre on Regulation in Europe also found that while many network operators and national regulators are taking steps in line with EU commitments on expanding the role for distribution network operation, there is little evidence that this has progressed very far in measurable terms, apart from in the UK.
And as of this year, Energy Networks Association’s figures reveal that UK network operators are expecting around 3GW of flexibility services to be tendered, making the UK’s electricity networks, again, genuinely world-leading.
Along with making sure we deliver an electricity system that delivers for customers, the UK’s gas network operators also have a vital role to play. Thanks to innovation and investment, gas network operators have helped keep the UK at the top of the global race for hydrogen and this needs to continue, especially as we look to decarbonise the way we heat our homes.
To reach the 2050 Net Zero target, households’ carbon emissions from heating will need to drop from an average 2.7t (2017) a year to just 138kg by 2050. We are already seeing innovation lead to greener homes and this is set to continue as more heat pumps are installed and hydrogen-ready boilers come to market.
This is all good news for customers. A Net Zero gas grid is estimated to be £13bn a year less for the consumer rather than running our energy system exclusively using electric technologies. Using greener gas will also reduce carbon emissions from Britain’s homes in a way that means people can use their heating, hot water and cooking exactly as they are used to. When you look at the challenges of reaching Net Zero and the sectors that must decarbonise, we will need both decarbonised gas and electricity networks to ensure people have a choice of technologies. Otherwise we will fail
This approach will help keep energy bills down in the long term, avoiding costly alterations to people’s properties, because appliances will act as a like-for-like replacement for existing ones. They will simply connect to households’ existing central heating systems, rather than requiring those to be replaced.
The work to decarbonise gas supports consumer choice, by trialling a new generation of smart, green technologies, such as hybrid heating systems that use gas and electricity in partnership with each other.
There has never been a more exciting and important time for delivering Net Zero, as technology drives forward changes for the public and the world turns its attention to Glasgow and COP26. We now need bold action from Government and the regulator to help us deliver the progress that the public want and need. As Greta Thunberg has said, “The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not”.
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