Energy professionals: the net zero ‘to do’ list for government

Only 13% of UK energy professionals believe the UK is doing enough to meet its net zero by 2050 target. That’s according to the Energy Institute’s annual Energy Barometer – a survey of more than 350 energy professionals in the UK. 

Right across the sector, from oil and gas through to renewables and energy efficiency, professionals issued a warning about the current net zero trajectory. Nine in ten believe we are currently off track, and more than half do not even expect the UK to meet its 2030 target (a 57% cut in GHG emissions between 2028-2032), on the basis of current policies. 

The scale of the challenge is clear, but what are the urgent policy steps needed to get us on the right path? Here is the ‘to do’ list for government, from Britain’s energy professionals: 

Build back better post-COVID 19 

Energy professionals unsurprisingly identified COVID-19 as one of the biggest challenges facing the energy industry this year – but it also presents a big opportunity to rebuild a greener economy. 

Four in five respondents agree with the Committee on Climate Change’s principles for a resilient recovery, including that stimulus should be channelled into green industries and jobs, and support for emissions-intensive sectors should be contingent on action on climate change. 

Respondents were split on whether COVID-19 will overall hasten the transition to net zero (38%) or hinder it (33%). Very few expect energy demand, passenger journeys, industrial activity and emissions to rebound to beyond pre-pandemic levels, in fact most foresee them remaining subdued for an extended period. 

Prioritise energy efficiency 

Energy efficiency is ‘the biggest missed opportunity of the last decade’ according to the report – and is seen as the foremost option for plugging the emissions reduction gap for the 2030 target at least cost. More respondents singled out retrofits of existing housing stock than any other action for a resilient recovery. 

The survey was taken in March 2020, and the government has since announced a £2bn Green Homes Grant scheme that will give homeowners vouchers towards energy efficiency improvements in their homes, up to £5,000. The scheme launches in September, but so far details are scant and it’s too early to say whether this will be an effective solution to tackle the policy gap.  

Decarbonise heat and transport 

Respondents also prescribe urgent decisions now in low-carbon heat and transport, as well as carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS), to deliver on net zero by 2050. Suggested first steps include increasing R&D funding for low-carbon aviation fuels, incentivising hydrogen heavy goods vehicles, incentivising heat pumps and hydrogen-ready boilers, and funding pilot and demonstration CCUS projects in industrial clusters and on power stations. 

Since the survey was taken we’ve seen a raft of announcements from government in this area, including a £139 million pot for supporting the transition from natural gas to clean hydrogen power, and scaling up carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. 

We’ve also seen the announcement of a £400 million investment to help the aerospace sector to go green, and the launch of a ‘Jet Zero Council’ which brings together government, environmental and aviation experts, ultimately to achieve the first ever zero emission long haul passenger plane.   

We’re awaiting details of a Transport Decarbonisation Plan too, due for publish later this year. Watch this space. 

Lead by example… the world is watching 

Galvanising increased emission reduction ambition from other countries is identified as the foremost challenge for the UK as host of COP26 in Glasgow next year. Respondents say that leading by example at home is more important than any other factor if the UK is to iretain ts credibility as a climate leader. 

We all have our part to play in getting to net zero – and respondents looked inwards at their own industry too. Two-thirds of EI members believe the energy industry is not doing enough. But change is expected, in particular for oil and gas as these industries pivot and diversify for a net zero world.   

Few could have predicted how the tumultuous events of this year would chart our course to net zero. But the message from the energy industry is clear: the right decarbonisation policies, implemented now, give us the best hope of a resilient, green recovery.