Cleantech Disruption: UK government must seize "golden opportunity" for cheap switch to green energy

Ministers should prepare for 100 per cent electric vehicle sales by 2030, infrastructure report says

The UK must seize a “golden opportunity” to make the move away from fossil fuels and towards greener energy without increasing consumer bills, the government’s independent advisers on infrastructure have said.

The move to renewable energy has long been thought to be an expensive one. But a major report by the National Infrastructure Commission says if the transition begins now, changes to the energy system could tackle greenhouse gas pollution without hitting consumers’ pockets.

“Ten years ago, it seemed almost impossible that the UK would be able to be powered mainly by renewable energy in an affordable and reliable way,” the report says. “But there has been a quiet revolution going on in this area.”

Commission chairman Sir John Armitt said: “If we act now we have a golden opportunity to make our country greener, and protect the money in the pockets of consumers long into the future - something few of us expected to be able to do.

“Ministers can seize this chance by investing in renewables and other low-carbon technologies so they become the main players in our energy system - something that was considered a pipedream as little as a decade ago.”

This will mean investing in low cost renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, so that these provide at least half the country’s generating capacity by 2030, as well as ramping up efforts to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s buildings.

The report calls for 21,000 energy efficient improvements from loft insulation to double glazing going into UK homes every week over the next two years.

And between now and 2030, the assessment calls for £3.8bn to be invested in improving the UK’s social housing stock to improve efficiency, while it recommends a clear plan for tightening regulations to improve energy efficiency in private rented homes.

The report also calls for the government not to support more than one more nuclear power plant after Hinkley Point C in Somerset. “This would give flexibility to move towards newer low-carbon energy sources in future, while at the same time maintaining the UK’s nuclear supply chain and skills base,” the commission said.

But even with emissions almost eliminated from power generation, the UK cannot achieve its emissions targets while relying on natural gas, a fossil fuel, for heating, the report says, adding that the delivery of a low cost, low carbon heating system is “the major outstanding challenge”.

The government should push forward with a trial to supply at least 10,000 homes with hydrogen gas by 2023, the report says.

But it says moving to an electricity system mainly powered by renewable energy sources could be the “safest bet” in the long term, and would likely become the lowest cost outcome for consumers.

Electric vehicles

By 2050, road transport will be “unrecognisable”, the report says, as more vehicles will be electric and increasingly autonomous.

The authors note that 80 per cent of UK air pollution breaches currently come from vehicles, and that they also account for 34 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The government should prepare for 100 per cent electric vehicle sales by 2030, instead of its current ambition for just half of new cars to be “ultra low emission” by that date, the commission said.

In addition to being less polluting and a lot quieter than conventional cars, technological improvements and the proliferation of charging points mean the range they have will soon equal those of petrol and diesel vehicles.

The government should therefore subsidise charger installations across the country so more consumers can feel confident they can charge their vehicles.

The report also calls for legislation that requires local authorities to free up 5 per cent of their parking spaces for electric vehicle charge points by 2020, and 25 per cent by 2025.

A government spokesman said: “Upgrading the UK's infrastructure is at the heart of our plan to boost growth and productivity.

“The UK is a world leader in tackling climate change and renewables, having reduced our emissions by 30% [while] our industrial strategy prioritises the research and development of clean energy sources.

“As we continue our transition to a low carbon economy and meet this challenge, the government is committed to providing a secure energy system with a diverse energy mix in which new nuclear has an important role to play.”

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