As a private business in the green technology space, we are fully aware of the importance of commercial innovation and entrepreneurship to the UK’s efforts towards hitting net zero.
In order to reach net zero to protect our environment, and to control the costs of mitigating climate change, we have to act now, and fast. Time has run out and so has the carbon budget. An energy transition is a tough period of change and the role of government is vital to a successful outcome.
The carrot of incentives to encourage and the stick of regulation to push are necessary – just look at our neighbours in EU, where the transition is well underway. These are within the remit of the government to enact, whilst our role in the private sector is to deliver technology at increasingly effective prices.
The government, to its credit, is making efforts. But so far it hasn’t done enough. If, as seems likely, the current administration is voted out of office next year, here are some things they could do which would be a genuinely positive legacy on decarbonisation. Alternatively, this is a list of first steps a new administration could take.
1. Take a leadership position on refrigerant choice.
The EU has already been making significant moves to phase out f-gas and other dangerous, polluting or high-carbon-footprint refrigerants. REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) is being employed to heavily restrict the use of PFAS to override and go further than existing regulations. Numerous refrigerants will be banned in the EU and to avoid the UK becoming a dumping ground the Gov should follow suit.
The industry is moving towards natural refrigerants. Any heat pumps installed today that use high GWP refrigerants will inevitably have to be replaced in the future. The UK government could be proactive and thereby encourage the industry to invest further in natural refrigerants.
2. Conclude REMA (Review of Electricity Market Arrangements) ASAP
Electricity is the fuel for heat pumps. It is becoming cleaner and greener every day but it is still penalised by taxes and charges from the high carbon days of 15 years ago.
We need a tariff structure that encourages the use of green power at times when it’s cheap and plentiful. Reforming the electricity market quickly is a must.
We are now in phase 4 of REMA. It began in 2021, with the aim of evaluating how the UK could change its electricity market in order to make net zero feasible. After phase 3 concluded in May 2022, the last year has been spent evaluating market design options and preparing to share them with government decision makers.
The changes it recommends will take time. We need to conclude the evaluation process ASAP so we can begin to build a fully decarbonised, flexible and future-proof electricity market. As we’ve said before, we’re going to need it.
3. Support and prioritise the UK supply chain
One of the mooted benefits of Brexit was supporting UK-based manufacturing. As a UK manufacturer, we’ve yet to see this.
The government needs to step up its support for UK manufacturers, in green technology especially, to ensure we establish our place as a world-leader in the space. Subsidies, grants, reviews of regulation and more are needed, soon, to support SMEs in the space or we’ll be left behind and we’ll find ourselves importing all the technology we need to achieve net zero.
4. Stop humouring hydrogen
Almost everyone in the sector knows that hydrogen heating has no chance of being feasible , or cost-effective, as a replacement to burning fossil fuels for building heat and hot water.
The government knows it, the biggest industry bodies know it, the scientists know it and the businesses know it. But hydrogen has so much lobbying support behind it (from the very oil and gas giants that got us into this mess) that it gets a lot of favourable press coverage, which means a lot of MPs are under pressure to support it, which means the government keeps talking about it at the same time as fully accepting that heat pumps are a much better solution.
5. Stop giving fossil fuel lobbyists access
The big fossil fuel companies spend £200m per year on lobbying the UK government. We need to stop giving them air because, since the 70s, all they’ve done is hold back climate progress despite having full knowledge of the dangers since the beginning.
They hold back UK innovation in green technology, they delay or distract the government with mis-directions like hydrogen, and the UK government can choose to just stop listening to them.
6. Commit to action and follow through
The UK government sometimes seems to be trapped in the start of their OODA loop. They Observe, they Orient, but they fail to Decide and Act.
Chris Skidmore MP has been saying the same, putting himself at risk of losing the whip by voting against fracking. The government committed to net zero in its 2019 manifesto, but in whipping its MPs to support fracking it is showing that it will not act as it said it would.
We hope that the next 18 months, through all the likely political turmoil, will bring decisive action that accelerates the UK’s efforts towards hitting net zero.