Review of Energy Policy 2020 by UKERC

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) launched its Review of Energy Policy, looking at the effects of COVID19 on the energy system and how the unprecedented events of 2020 might impact energy use and climate policy in the future. Focusing on electricity demand, transport, green jobs and skills, Brexit, heat, and societal engagement, the Review reflects on the past year and looks forward, highlighting key priorities for the Government.

Key recommendations

Electricity

The scale of investment in the power system required over the coming decade is huge. A big challenge is market design. We need a market that can incentivise investment in low carbon power and networks at least cost whilst also providing incentives for flexibility. Output from wind and solar farms will sometimes exceed demand and other times fall to low levels. The right mix of flexible resources must be established to deal with variable output from renewables, with the right market signals and interventions in place to do this at least cost.

Mobility

The end of the sale of fossil fuel cars and vans by 2030 must be greeted with enthusiasm. Yet if this is to play its part in a Paris-compliant pathway to zero emissions, it must be one of many policy changes to decarbonise UK transport. Earlier action is paramount, and we recommend a market transformation approach targeting the highest emitting vehicles now, not just from 2030. Phasing-in of the phase-out will save millions of tons of CO2 thus reducing the need for radical action later on. The forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan has a lot to deliver.

Green jobs and skills

COVID-19 recovery packages offer the potential to combine job creation with emissions reduction. A national housing retrofit programme would be a triple win, creating jobs, reducing carbon emissions and make our homes more comfortable and affordable to heat. However, UKERC research finds that there are significant skills gaps associated with energy efficient buildings and low carbon heat. UKERC calls for a national programme of retraining and reskilling that takes advantage of the COVID downturn to re-equip building service professions with the skills needed for net zero.

Brexit

As the UK leaves the EU on the 1st January it will lose many of the advantages of integration. With new regimes for carbon pricing, trading, and interconnection yet to be agreed, there will be a high degree of uncertainty in the near to medium term. Given upward pressure on energy costs, delays to policy, and this uncertainty surrounding new rules, the overall effects of Brexit are not positive for UK energy decarbonisation.

Heat

UKERC research calls for action on heat to deliver the net zero technologies that we know work – insulating buildings and rolling out proven options. We need to end delay or speculation about less-proven options. Analysis is consistent with recent advice from the CCC that heat policy should focus on electrification whilst exploring options for hydrogen. We need to break the pattern of ad hoc and disjointed policy measures for heat and buildings, and develop a coherent, long-term strategy. This would be best achieved as an integral part of local and regional energy plans, involving local governments as coordinating agents. The aspirations for heat can’t be realised unless we also take action on the skills gap.

Societal engagement with energy

Achieving net zero in 2050 will entail significant changes to the way we live, what we eat and how we heat our homes. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that when faced with a threat, society can change rapidly. Engaging society with the net zero transition also needs to change, it needs to be to be more ambitious, diverse, joined-up and system-wide, and recognise the many different ways that citizens engage with these issues on an ongoing basis.

The report is available to download here.

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