UK releases plan on net zero transition

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE UK Government has released its long-awaited Energy White Paper on how the country’s energy system will transition to net zero by 2050.

Published after numerous delays, the Energy White Paper builds on the Government’s recently announced ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution. It covers areas including moving away from fossil fuels, increased use of renewables, support for more electric cars, and greener domestic heating.

Alok Sharma, Business and Energy Secretary, said: “[This] plan establishes a decisive and permanent shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels, towards cleaner energy sources that will put our country at the forefront of the global green industrial revolution.

“Through a major programme of investment and reform, we are determined to both decarbonise our economy in the most cost-effective way, while creating new sunrise industries and revitalising our industrial heartlands that will support new green jobs for generations to come.”

The strategy includes support for 220,000 green jobs over the next decade, which will include jobs in carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen. The paper also said that it would support North Sea oil and gas workers through the transition away from oil and gas production by ensuring that their expertise can be used in CCS and hydrogen projects.

Deirdre Michie, Chief Executive of Oil and Gas UK, said: “[This] report not only highlights the critical role our industry plays in maintaining energy security in the UK, but also commits again to a transformational North Sea Transition Deal, which will be a key lever to moving the sector at pace towards a low-carbon future.

“It’s encouraging to see that [the] report also recognises the value of the UK oil and gas industry workforce, especially after such a challenging year. We know that if we are to unlock the challenge of net zero, the talent, expertise and skills found within our workforce will be vital.”

The Government also aims to keep energy bills affordable through the transition by keeping the energy market competitive. It also aims to support the change from fossil fuel boilers used for domestic heating to low-carbon heating.

Emissions trading scheme

The Government had previously announced its intention for a UK Emissions Trading System from 1 January when it will no longer be part of the EU’s ETS.  As part of the white paper, it has given further details on the carbon trading market that will be in line with the net zero by 2050 target.

Nick Molho, Executive Director at the Aldersgate Group, said: "The commitment to a UK Emissions Trading Scheme and the ambition to fully decarbonise the power sector are both welcome, but it is clear from the sixth carbon budget that we need a zero carbon power sector by 2035, together with significant investments in grid reinforcements, storage and flexibility services. All of these areas need to become policy priorities in the early 2020s, alongside the development of a carbon price trajectory aligned with the net zero target and a strategic approach to marine planning to support the rapid and environmentally-sensitive deployment of offshore wind.”

Darren Jones MP, BEIS Committee chair, said: "The BEIS Committee called for urgent clarity on carbon pricing post-Brexit. Whilst it has taken too long, it is welcome the Government has now responded and committed to a UK ETS, which leaves open the possibility of linking to the larger European ETS in the future.”

New nuclear

The Government announced that it is in talks with EDF over the potential Sizewell C nuclear power plant, which would be similar in size and design to the 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C power station. It also announced £385m (US$519m) for nuclear R&D, which includes £215m towards the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) and £170m for the development of advance modular reactors. It also aims to have a commercial scale nuclear fusion power plant operational by 2040.

Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: "The Government's decision to enter advanced negotiations with EDF on Sizewell C is very good news for our environment and our economy. Sizewell is a vital next step towards the net zero power mix we need for the future. We welcome the Government's commitment to also engage with other developers, because the UK will need much more nuclear capacity – large, small modular and advanced reactors – to hit net zero.”

Chris Ball, Managing Director, Nuclear & Power, at Atkins, said: “As stated in a recent paper, Atkins believes an ‘Energy System Architect’ is essential to apply risk-based systems engineering judgement and create a flexible strategy that allows for decentralisation as well as integration between local and national systems. We welcome the [Energy White Paper’s] commitment to a wide-ranging review of regulation (technical and economic), the suitability of current market arrangements, and the roles of the system operator and OFGEM.”

CCS and hydrogen

The paper confirms plans already announced as part of the ten-point plan to support the development of four industrial CCUS clusters by 2030, as well as develop 5 GW of hydrogen production capacity and capture 10m t/y of CO2 by 2030. It also plans to establish the role that bioenergy CCS (BECCS) can play in reducing emissions across the economy with the publication of a new Biomass Strategy in 2022.

Carl Ennis, CEO of Siemens UK and Net Zero North West Chairman, said: “The Energy White Paper is a key milestone in the UK’s road to net zero and should boost business confidence to invest in and accelerate the much-needed electric vehicle infrastructure, renewable power, and clean, decentralised energy systems for our homes and businesses. It is also clear that delivering green growth is inextricably linked with ambitions to level up the country and compete in the global marketplace.”

Nick Molho, Executive Director at the Aldersgate Group, said: "The Energy White Paper should be commended for looking beyond just energy and recognising the central role of the power sector in supporting the decarbonisation of a wide range of sectors, including heating, transport and heavy industry. In many ways, the Energy White Paper sets out a low carbon industrial strategy vision for the UK and is based on the right premise that achieving net zero emissions can deliver significant supply chain growth and job creation across many regions of the UK.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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