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Energy red tape needs a rethink if we are to hit our net zero 2050 target


Keith Anderson, CEO, ScottishPower

This article originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 30 October 2019

When Theresa May legislated for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, some people thought this was a last gasp from an outgoing Prime Minister with an eye on her legacy.

Not me. At ScottishPower, we welcomed the target as the first step towards setting the UK on a clear and unambiguous course of action to cut carbon emissions.

If you’re going to hit a target – as every business in the country knows – you need a plan. It’s no use willing the ends, but not the means, to get to net zero.

Climate change is the defining challenge of our time – and we need to start now to plan the practical steps that will deliver the fundamental shift away from fossil fuels. 

In a few short years, our roads will look very different, with electric cars and buses dominating daily commutes. The way we heat our homes will change as well, as gas is phased out in favour of heat pumps. These changes to transport and heating will place huge demands on our energy networks – and we need to ensure we have the infrastructure in place to anticipate these dramatic changes.

Meeting the challenge will require new ways of working from us all. Rather than impose changes on local communities, we need to give them a stronger voice on how the low carbon transition can be achieved in their area. Communities across the UK have their own unique needs and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

With the 2050 target, it seems to me that politics is catching up with the scientific consensus and the public mood. But if the Government is serious about reaching the target, it needs to make sure energy regulations are updated to match our green ambitions.

At ScottishPower, we have launched our Zero Carbon Communities campaign, which provides a detailed roadmap of how local communities can play their part in reaching net zero, backed by independent research to outline the scale of the challenge.

It shows that 25 million electric vehicle charging points and 23 million heat pumps need to be installed across the UK to make sure we hit the target. 

As one of the UK’s leading renewables developers, and only energy company to operate electricity networks in England, Scotland and Wales, we can see coming towards us the need to invest to support these shifts. To do this cost-effectively, it makes sense to plan for these future needs in a managed and strategic way, and invest ahead of time so that we’re not caught out.

Too often, today’s regulatory model holds back timely investment in our local infrastructure. It’s time to flip the model and allow what’s known as ‘anticipatory investment’ in industry jargon – getting our grid ready for the inevitable demands that new electric transport and heating are going to place on it.

The former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo famously once said, “you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.” For me, there’s a parallel with tackling climate change. By using emotive and eye-catching tactics, activists have decisively put the issue at the top of the political and corporate agenda.

But now it is cemented in legislation it’s time to turn those ambitious targets into plans of action, ensuring that all new regulation has the aim of meeting decarbonisation at its core.

Firms are ready to invest and regional mayors are pushing to be allowed to play their part. Over recent years, private sector investment in offshore wind has seen the price of wind energy fall dramatically -  helping the UK reduce its dependence on carbon and create new jobs.

We all know that heating and transport remain the big challenge – but it’s also a huge opportunity if we get it right. As our report sets out, the route to net zero is clear, and by devolving power to communities we can add £5.4 billion of benefit to the economy and support 115,000 skilled jobs along the way.