Annual Assembly: Industry interview

30 Sep 2020

By Peter Taylor, Dr. Helen Poulter, and Jessica Bays

This week we hosted our Annual Assembly, attended by more than 70 of our UKERC colleagues and external speakers.

Hosted on Zoom, every care was taken to ensure the sessions were as interactive as possible. As part of this interactive drive, we ditched the ‘standard’ Theme presentations and instead opted for interviews, undertaken by a UKERC colleague outside of the interviewees’ remit.

Over the next four weeks we will be sharing a transcript for each of the interviews, this week we are sharing the ‘Industry interview’, with Prof Peter Taylor interviewed by Dr. Helen Poulter.

What are the main strategies for the deep decarbonisation of industry?

Now we have the net zero target everything has changed. Scenarios for reaching the old 80% greenhouse gas reduction target typically showed that industrial emissions would need to halve. The Committee on Climate Changes is saying to reach net-zero, we are looking for at least a 90% reduction in industrial emissions.

When planning for Phase 4, we looked around and there was not a huge amount of academic work being undertaken on the broad question of how we decarbonise the whole of industry. With the new target, the focus is no longer just on the energy-intensive sectors (such as cement, steel, chemicals), although they remain important. Most estimates show that the remaining energy efficiency potential in these sectors is small. Both CCS and hydrogen have come onto the scene as potential decarbonisation approaches and, work by CREDS has emphasised the important role of resource and material efficiency strategies. As part of our UKERC work, we want to put together a consistent, analytical, modelling framework to look at all these different strategies for decarbonisation.

What isn’t being addressed?

We haven’t had a good look yet at what we can do outside of the energy intensive sectors, which account for perhaps half of industrial emissions – areas, such as textiles, food and drink, mechanical engineering and rubber and plastics. Under the 80% target, it was assumed that these sectors could continue along pretty much as business as usual – making modest improvements to energy efficiency, coupled with some fuel switching. This is no longer the case; but we do not have a good handle on what you can do by way of deep decarbonisation for these smaller sectors – other than to try and electrify everything.

Do you see these smaller industries fitting into local and regional systems?

Absolutely, and this links to another strand of work that I am leading under Theme 2, looking at local low carbon industrial strategies. Government is largely focusing its efforts at the moment on decarbonising the big industrial clusters, and it is not clear if and when they will have enough money or time to focus attention outside of these. This is where regional strategies can come in, involving local government and other bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships and, as a result, we may see more localised solutions and technologies such as district heat could play a bigger role.

Do you think COVID-19 will have an impact on industrial strategy?

It remains to be seen how a number of things will work out; government is saying they want a green recovery, but we have yet to see what that means in practice. They made some funding announcements over the summer, some of which was probably old money rather than new. Much of the focus so far seems to be on investment in infrastructure, but there are other factors that will be important for a green recovery and we don’t yet know the balance. Again, local government agencies will have a very important role in this – when it comes to local needs.

Is there an element of risk as we move towards a green recovery instead of an economic recovery?

There will always be apparent tensions between making the recovery green, and going back to what people knew before. Government has committed to levelling up to reduce regional disparities. Many regions dependent on energy intensive industries, are also some of the poorest, so how do you make them green whilst also addressing the levelling up agenda?

Will the Theme form a connection to the new IDRIC centre?

I do not think it been formally announced yet, but the new IDRIC academic centre will be an important player on scene. Funded by EPSRC, it will largely focus on technical issues and supporting demonstrations in the clusters, although we know there is a work stream led by SPRU that will be looking at softer issues, such as business models and policy, as well. It may well be IDRIC can bring these different strands together – I have had initial discussions with the Centre leader to explore what they will be doing and how we can work together.