In this issue of our annual Review of Energy Policy we look back on events of 2023 and, with an eye on the upcoming general election, consider key areas of policy that a new government should address during their first 100 days in office.

In our annual Review of Energy Policy 2023, we highlight key areas of energy policy that a new government should address during their first 100 days in office.

While 2050 may seem distant, without an immediate step-change in implementation the UK is likely to miss its 2030 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 68% and be off track for reaching net zero. The expected term of the next government will take us most of the way to 2030 and the new government must move quickly to step up to the delivery challenge.

Much of the required action involves the delivery of new and expanded infrastructure to generate, deliver and make use of renewable energy and other low-carbon energy sources. This infrastructure can take years to develop, involves billions of pounds of investment but will also help create jobs and economic benefits.

Among the review’s most urgent recommendations are:

Look beyond the focus on security of gas supply to security of demand

As households switch to low carbon heating and we look to electrify parts of industry, UK demand for fossil gas is set to fall. Rather than focusing on maximising domestic supply by expanding North Sea oil and gas exploration and production, the review identifies that the real challenge for any government will be managing the technical viability and economic impacts of the network as we switch from gas to low carbon energy. Failure to manage this will undermine the resilience of the system and could lead to sustained high energy prices into the future.

Unlock the power of local energy

Maximising delivery of local energy solutions could provide easy gains for an incoming government. These include council led insulation programmes and the development of heat networks. Local action would bring multiple benefits – delivering economic gains from local regeneration and new jobs, saving carbon, and improving the energy performance of buildings, so cutting bills. The evidence suggests that the UK government has not yet fully recognised the importance of local authorities in delivering net zero. Unlocking the potential role of local authorities requires increasing local capacity through longer-term, stable funding, clarity around division of responsibilities at local and regional levels, and a clear framework for local and regional energy planning.

Rapid investment in electricity networks

The review makes clear that the next government needs to make significant changes to the planning system to allow network capacity to be built more quickly.

Transitioning to a net zero power system by the mid-2030s requires a paradigm shift in how networks are planned and regulated. 2023 saw a growing list of proposals and consultations around strategic planning, but with slow progress and renewable developers arguing that impediments to development remain. Urgent action is needed to ensure we can transport renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is needed, and that distribution systems are planned to accommodate for heat pump and electric vehicle uptake.

Prioritise bold, well-articulated policy around heating

Over the last decade energy efficiency installations have declined from 2 million to 200,000 per year and with the UK at the bottom of the table for European heat pump adoption, delaying the ban on new gas boilers has resulted in further consumer uncertainty. There is an urgent need for the future government to tackle these challenges – with continued and expanded upfront finance for heat pump installation, and a prompt strategic decision on the role of hydrogen in heating.

Look beyond electric vehicle uptake – it will not be enough

There needs to be a renewed push for public, active and shared transport that prioritises affordability and accessibility, along with a carefully designed scrappage scheme to get the most polluting vehicles off the road. The new government must tackle the uneven coverage of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and ban the sale of plug-in hybrids by 2030, with consistent decarbonisation measures locked in through a new Green Transport Deal.

Broaden the scope of industry decarbonisation

Delivering decarbonisation across the whole of industry requires a long-term strategy that includes dispersed sites – which account for 50% of emissions – along with access to affordable electricity. A new government must prioritise financial support for switching away from fossil fuels, faster access to upgraded grid connections and reduced electricity prices so the UK can take advantage of novel technologies which at current prices are not commercially viable. UKERC research has identified significant carbon savings up to 20 MtCO2e – most of which could be delivered in the next 15 years.

Ensure biodiversity net gain and environmental protection when developing generation

With plans to vastly increase solar and offshore wind by 2030, and to speed up consenting of new projects, the tensions, trade-offs and co-benefits relating to energy generation and the environment must be the fully explored. Biodiversity net gain is now a core part of UK strategy, but as nature and natural capital will be greatly influenced by changes in land-use and its management, policy must be strengthened to ensure that the environment is protected, with more funding to explore the overall impacts of renewable energy technologies.

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