Building a resilient energy future: recommendations for government action
The worldwide crazy weather this summer has underlined the importance and urgency with which we need to decarbonise our energy system. To limit further harm from climate change, we need to stop using fossil fuels, and power our society (including all our buildings, cars, industry) almost entirely from renewable sources.
In the UK, we’ve committed to achieving what is essentially a second industrial revolution within the space of a single generation, by 2050. This enormous change is already underway, but it needs to happen faster. Ideally, given the extreme weather events happening almost every day now somewhere around the world, it would happen this week.
Recommendations for government action
Read our response to the government’s consultation Flexible Grid for the Future consultation
So how does our energy infrastructure (all those wires, pylons and substations and the planning behind them) need to change to deliver this feat, and what else needs to change?
What are the barriers to accelerating the transition to renewable energy? Thankfully the government is also asking these questions.
In response to the government’s call for evidence in its Flexible Grid for the Future consultation, the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), Regen, and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) collaborated to provide recommendations on how barriers could be removed and deployment could be increased.
Across the board, we need to create the conditions where the renewable energy transition can happen quickly.
Our key points in our Flexible Grid for the Future consultation response:
Meeting consumer electrification demands: the electrification of heat
The looming wave of electric cars and electrical heating will significantly increase electricity demand and will be a real challenge for our electricity networks, needing government leadership and commitment. But meanwhile, uncertainty surrounding the role of hydrogen in heating hinders network planning for heat pump electrification. Government clarity is essential to facilitate swift and efficient consumer connections to heat pumps and EV chargers. Ofgem’s investment plans should prioritize net-zero initiatives.
Connecting offshore and large-scale generation: a strategic plan
Net zero hinges on the rapid progress of approved transmission projects, requiring 6-9 GW per year (a vast amount) by 2035. Establishing the Future System Operator as a public body with a clear strategic plan to deliver this is crucial. Ensuring a capable supply chain for transmission projects is equally vital. Planning reforms must align with global investments in electricity networks.
Connecting onshore renewables and storage: a coordinated approach
The transition to a greener grid demands connecting 180-220 GW of renewable generation and storage capacity by 2035. We’ve got far more deployable renewable energy projects that we’re able to connect into electricity system, with new projects stuck in long queue of over 15 years to connect. Imagine buying a new house and waiting for 15 years for an electricity connection, or for a fresh water supply? That’s the equivalent! We need a responsive system that is set up to meet these needs quickly.
We need a coordinated approach to grid development ahead of new generation connections, including the rapid development of the Future System Operator which would oversee the system. Streamlining connections for renewables and storage is imperative and is essential for a net-zero future.
Reforming the planning system to prioritise renewables
To decarbonise by 2050, we must hugely increase renewable energy generation, potentially four-fold, but national planning policy fails to emphasise the over-riding importance of renewable energy. Our research indicates that only 20% of local planning authorities view the system as effective in addressing renewable energy generation.
We need to see:
- Onshore wind: Remove planning barriers for onshore wind, the most cost-effective renewable source to create a level playing field with other energy technologies. The changes to the wind planning regime introduced yesterday aren’t enough.
- Positive strategies and enabling policies: Enforce a requirement for all councils to develop positive strategies to maximise renewable energy generation, not just passive, negative policies. Councils should have comprehensive, clear, and enabling renewable energy policies.
- Community involvement: Encourage neighbourhood plans to address climate change and promote renewable energy.
Preventing fossil fuel extraction: aligning with climate commitments
Increasing renewable energy deployment is only helpful in mitigating climate change if we simultaneously cut fossil fuel use and leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Our carbon budget is best seen as a fixed amount of additional carbon that we can safely (ish) emit whilst keeping within 1.5 degrees of warming globally (although the climate doesn’t feel safe even now). We need policy frameworks and methodologies for assessing carbon emissions from fossil fuel proposals against our remaining carbon budget.
In other words, we need to be able to figure out whether as a country, we can “afford” to extract that fossil fuel. This is all lacking from National Planning Policy.
Nurturing public support with meaningful community engagement
Community support is vital if we’re to increase renewable energy and more nuanced community engagement approaches are needed to build that support. The Future Energy Landscapes (FEL) approach to meaningful community engagement shows generating informed consent for renewables in local spaces is entirely possible, and with this kind of most rural communities could be entirely self-sufficient in local renewable electricity generation, meeting all their needs for electricity from local renewable sources. Communities can and should benefit from the decentralisation of the energy system.
Supporting networks for community energy: enabling local initiatives
Supporting community energy projects is vital. But we need to see government action to:
- Funding: Make the Community Energy Fund permanent to support community projects.
- Access to land: encourage Local authorities to lease land for community energy projects.
- Community shared ownership: Encourage shared ownership of commercial renewable projects
- Community energy: help local communities to develop their own renewable energy projects, and benefit financially. Grow the embryonic community energy sector to build public support.
Enhancing local infrastructure development: building public support
To manage increasing renewable energy planning applications, local planning authorities need additional support and community engagement processes. Removing planning obstacles for onshore wind and implementing Local Area Energy Plans (LAEPs) can expedite renewable energy deployment.
We know the transition to a flexible grid for the future is imperative to meet our collective net zero targets. Collaboration among government, regulatory bodies, and communities is essential. Implementing these recommendations can drive a sustainable, secure, and equitable energy future for the UK. CSE, TCPA, and Regen stand ready to support these efforts to create a greener, smarter, and fairer energy system that benefits all.