News Article

The UK: Case Study on the Road Toward Energy Transition

By Cas Biekmann | Wed, 03/10/2021 - 18:38

You can watch the video of this presentation here.

The UK is increasingly seen as a world leader in decarbonization. Coming from a high dependency on coal, the government has implemented various policies to boost its clean energy development. The Carbon Trust acts as a partner, helping companies and governments like the UK to decarbonize. Mauricio Riveros, Manager of Carbon Trust México, outlined the UK’s energy transition as a case study during a presentation at Mexico Energy Forum 2021 on Wednesday, Mar. 10.

The UK's climate change policy was launched in 2008, when the government committed to reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2020 compared to 1990s levels. In 2018, it introduced its Clean Growth Strategy, focused on industrial activity, which greatly boosted the development of offshore wind energy. In 2019, the country updated its Climate Change Act to make the 2050 target legally binding. “The government's projections continue to show that there is still some way to go to reach the targets. However, the country has shown that economic success and environmental sustainability can go hand in hand,” Riveros said.

The UK’s electricity mix has switched from being based mostly on coal and natural gas to focus on gas and renewable energy. Nuclear power still plays a role in the matrix, as well. “Distributed solar and wind are the main renewable sources in the UK,” added Riveros. Offshore wind, however, is the biggest component of renewable energy. “The UK currently has the highest installed capacity of offshore wind in the world,” showed Riveros. With the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, the country committed to installing 30GW of offshore wind by 2030, which increased to 40GW in recent years. However, experts predict that the country will need between 75 and 85GW to reach its net-zero emissions target. Riveros stressed that this is not impossible, as wind energy may soon not require incentives. “Wind projects are becoming increasingly profitable and have reached a point where they no longer need subsidies to be profitable.”

Decoupling the UK economy from coal was crucial to meeting 2050 targets and the pandemic seemed to have at least one positive effect on the country in this regard. "In 2020, the UK experienced its longest coal-free spell, one of 67 days, partly due to lower energy demand," Riveros said. Despite this, the UK's energy matrix is still dominated by fossil fuels. "The government is promoting electrification, greenhouses, heating networks and clean hydrogen as alternatives," Riveros said. Hydrogen and battery storage are key to the UK's energy transition for another reason, as the government plans to use them to make the national electricity system more flexible.

In the UK, buildings are the second largest source of emissions, after transport. With 90 percent of buildings still relying on fossil fuels, energy efficiency measures implemented at a large scale will also be important. Investment is needed in other areas as well, said Riveros. Increased distribution and transmission driven by peak demand increase. Back-up generation needs to be enhanced as well to deal with renewable intermittency, among other measures. “Furthermore, smart technologies enabled by our increasingly digital world can help consumers to take control of their energy use and reduce their bills,” said Riveros.

However, one of the largest components of the energy transition will come from the public sector with the Ten Points Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, featuring an estimated private investment of US$12 billion from the public sector, and US$42 from the private sector in energy, buildings, transport, innovation and the natural environment by 2030.

Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst