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The Opportunity of Decarbonisation

Centrica Business Solutions and WSP brought together a group of leaders from businesses, local authorities, academic institutions, communities and government organisations in Manchester to discuss decarbonisation and the future urban energy system.

How can we open the door to a decarbonised future?

It emerged recently that Britain has reached a tipping point in electricity generation. During the first five months of 2019, we generated more power from zero-carbon sources than fossil fuels - the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

Wind, solar, and nuclear power generation accounted for much of the switch. With progress continuing in this low-carbon direction, it would be easy to think we are pushing on an open door when it comes to decarbonising energy, particularly as the UK has now committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

True? Well, not quite. Though the door is unlocked, the way ahead is significantly constrained by outdated policy and regulations that could significantly undermine the new ways of working that we urgently need. This is compounded by confusion over what decarbonisation ‘pathway’ we’ll take.

Taking up the challenge

Our existing patterns of energy production, management, usage and monetisation that have resulted from various government policies over many decades don’t necessarily lend themselves to decarbonisation. Reducing the emissions that are causing climate change requires a widespread, rapid rollout of ideas and technologies that, often, already exist.

The 2019 Future Energy Scenarios from National Grid, published this month, indicates that net zero emissions is achievable, but would require improved energy efficiency, changes to consumer behaviour, greater use of low carbon generation sources, as well as the widespread adoption of CCUS and heating homes by hydrogen.

The costs of sustainable distributed generation, including energy storage, continue to fall in parallel with improvements in operating efficiency, as technologies mature. Digital platforms bring further value by optimally managing such resources as part of a co-ordinated local energy system, matching energy resources and local demand profiles efficiently, in real-time.

These distributed energy solutions therefore can offer an attractive investment proposition today. In the future, as part of a digital whole energy system, the economic and decarbonisation value will only increase.


Collaboration, co-operation and cohesion

Centrica Business Solutions and WSP brought together a group of leaders from businesses, local authorities, academic institutions, communities and government organisations in Manchester to discuss decarbonisation and the future urban energy system.

This group of people, representing quite different social, economic and political interests, said they believed collaboration and co-operation are critical to implementing low-carbon strategies at speed. They were optimistic about the role of place-based approaches in decarbonisation – bringing together multiple local stakeholders in community-driven plans.

We have a strong desire to collaborate on grass-roots action plans. But what’s lacking are the systems and processes that enable a collaborative approach. The way business cases are created and evaluated needs to change, as do our procurement rules.

The change we need, the actions to take

If suppliers, regulators and customers can find a new way to work together to promote and encourage decarbonisation, we will make progress towards the ambitious targets set by central and regional government.

By monitoring, managing and aggregating all available energy assets within a local area, including energy demand and usage, we can make an immediate difference.

More fundamentally, we need new strategies and rules to define and regulate patterns of power usage in our digitally enabled and transformed society. Building on our connectedness, this means utilising the smart systems and technologies already in development.

The Smart Energy Network Demonstrator (SEND) project at Keele University is an example of how digitisation of local energy systems and resources can accelerate the process of decarbonisation, whilst also reducing overall energy costs for the consumer.

Rewriting the rule book

Built environment policy and regulation at national and local level requires urgent restructuring to match the ambitious overall targets. It needs to prioritise action against climate change. All aspects of society, including urban planning regulations, transport policy and energy strategy, have to be reappraised in order to ensure they actively promote carbon reduction goals. Public and private financial investment appraisal should introduce standardised analysis against sustainability criteria to support delivery of the resulting environmental impacts.

We’re embarking on a period of huge opportunity: shifting from theoretical to practical decarbonisation. We will all only succeed by developing locally-appropriate approaches together and, where needed, re-writing the rule book to enable that change.