Smart energy takes centre stage

2nd March 2018

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Jasmine Bedford

Paul Reeve looks at the role of clean energy in the UK’s recently published industrial strategy

The UK government recently published a white paper that aims to tackle the productivity problem and boost growth. Industrial Strategy: Building A Britain Fit For The Future highlights four ‘grand challenges’ for government and industry:

  • Maximising the advantages to UK industry of a global shift to clean growth
  • Being a world leader in shaping the future of mobility
  • Putting the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence and data revolution
  • Harnessing innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society.

These challenges have clear implications for low-carbon energy. The strategy shows the UK’s ‘clean economy’, supported by the Paris carbon-reduction commitments, could grow at four times the rate of its GDP. This potential has put low-carbon energy innovation, and smart energy in particular, centre stage.

Low-carbon puzzle

The route to clean growth is outlined as “developing, manufacturing and using low-carbon technologies, systems and services that cost less than high-carbon alternatives”. Yet, while the cost of energy from nuclear and tidal barrage technology is high compared with wind, solar or gas, none of the latter three can be described as ‘high-carbon’. As such, it’s perplexing that nuclear and offshore wind get an airing in the strategy, while tidal barrages and onshore wind don’t.

Having highlighted its favourite technologies, the white paper pulls together an array of energy strategies and innovation funding. For example, last year’s long-awaited UK Clean Growth Strategy policy paper already sets out ambitious proposals for low-carbon energy growth into the 2020s. Meanwhile, the 2017 policy paper Upgrading Our Energy System: Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan will be joined by a ‘Prospering from the Energy Revolution’ programme that will help businesses to provide technologies that will “remodel the national grid” to handle:

  • A growing array of clean energy sources
  • Storing electrical energy
  • Providing real-time usage data to buyers and users
  • Managing demand
  • Supporting vehicle/grid charging.

In addition to optimistic plans for aligning policies, markets, regulations, taxes and investment to underpin new, commercial energy technologies, the strategy says “clean growth innovation” will be a priority for funding. The government will also join initiatives such as Mission Innovation – a global partnership for clean energy research and development.

Elsewhere, the strategy assumes significant growth in zero-emission vehicles, with a road transport plan supporting this trend expected this year, plus funding to improve battery technology. There are also undertakings to invest in clean technologies for rail, aviation and marine transport. Further low-carbon progress in power, transport, heating and cooling will, we are told, require the “reallocation of trillions of pounds of public and private finance”.

The paper then looks to the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to deliver desired economic, environmental and social outcomes, working with six priority sectors: energy, cybersecurity, life sciences, manufacturing, agricultural technology and construction.

Construction is cited specifically as a recipient of future government support to boost use of cleaner energy and less environmentally damaging materials. A ‘Transforming Construction’ programme will look to provide “places to live and work that use dramatically less energy to build and run”. More widely, the government will also be seeking measures to encourage private investment in domestic and commercial energy efficiency. These measures will need to align with the ‘Each Home Counts’ initiative.

UK carbon emissions have been reduced by more than 40% since 1990, while the economy has grown by two-thirds, successfully ‘decoupling’ carbon emissions from economic growth. Only a decade ago, this was something of a sustainability dream. Having accepted that a clean, low-carbon future will be good for productivity and growth, the government is now looking to those who can deliver the necessary commercial and sustainability solutions to step up.

Paul Reeve CEnv FIEMA is director of business at the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA)

Image credit: iStock

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