Shift to heat decarbonisation could spur UK’s green economic recovery, says report

Out-Law News | 28 Jul 2020 | 12:59 pm | 1 min. read

The development of technology designed to achieve net zero heat could lead to the creation of new industries offering large scale employment and economic growth across the UK, according to a new report.

The report, published by the Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition – a group including Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law – said urgent action was required to decarbonise the heating of Britain’s homes and workplaces by 2050, the date set by the UK government to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

The Path To Zero Carbon Heat report (23 page / 5.6MB PDF) presents three possible scenarios for decarbonising heat, which currently accounts for 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas footprint. The report highlights the need for government to make early decisions about the route to take and set supporting regulation.

Infrastructure expert Anne-Marie Friel of Pinsent Masons said: “Decarbonising Britain’s infrastructure will unleash a wave of new investment, growth and employment. The government needs to seize this opportunity and accelerate policy and regulation as key enablers”

The three paths cover the electrification of heat, a hydrogen-led scenario, and a hybrid approach of the two. The report said the production of heat through electricity, replacing natural gas, together with electric vehicles replacing petrol and diesel, would lead to an almost quadrupling of total electricity capacity to 400GW in 2050, up from 110GW today. That would include a more than five-fold increase in wind and solar generated electricity from 37GW today to 170GW in 2050.

A hydrogen led scenario for heating is reliant on the rapid development and demonstration of new hydrogen technology across all aspects of the energy system within the next five years, according to the report. This would require creating and scaling of hydrogen production and transmission to produce 100GW to supply over 15 million homes plus non-domestic users.

The report said a hybrid approach would potentially reduce the scale of new infrastructure needed but had greater system complexity and optimisation challenges. It will still mean an almost three-fold increase in electricity capacity to 280GW by 2050, in addition to between 20GW and 30GW of hydrogen production.

The scenarios all require the rapid development of new technology such as carbon capture and storage or auto-thermal reforming from their current early stages of development through to mass deployment starting in 2030 and continuing to 2050.

The report said infrastructure development would need to be accelerated quickly and maintained, and the change to net zero heat required a mixture of national, regional and city involvement, systems thinking and extensive digitalisation that required all stakeholders to take action soon.

The report was led by engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald with support from a working group comprising Energy Systems Catapult, Engie, Leeds City Council, National Grid, Pinsent Masons, Delta-EE, University of Leeds, the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities and the UK Green Building Council.