Shakespeare Martineau recently hosted an AEEC (Association of European Energy Consultants) conference, a biannual event held in alternating capital cities across Europe.
However as with most events at the current time, it was held virtually but this didn’t distract from an impressive, extremely knowledgeable and highly engaging line up of speakers and panellists.
The theme of the conference was decarbonisation of heat and transport, with a nod to the upcoming COP26 climate talks and the recent flurry of target setting.
If you missed the conference you can catch up on all the sessions below
Tip: If you select the play icon in the top right hand corner you can see a complete list of all the sessions
Our key note speaker Laura Sandys CBE gave a provocative call to arms, for government to move from target-setting and get down to delivery. And Laura highlighted the challenge of moving rapidly from our legacy energy system to something quite different which is going to need to be much more consumer focussed with a redesigned and integrated governance structure. And to illustrate that, she pointed out that, for GB, this will mean a transition from around 400 key players to a complex and interacting set of 100 million actions and assets.
A panel session on heat networks followed, discussing the multiple options for replacing natural and gas (and oil) for heating, and the role of networks in integrating these. This is where the UK has much to learn from some of our continental neighbours, and we heard about regulatory options ranging from light touch regulation on tariffs through to carbon-based reference prices and fully regulated tariffs. Challenges here clearly include the need to encourage innovation and investment, whilst managing the interaction and competition between different heat sources, and addressing the existing cost differential to create incentives for customers to switch.
Discussions then turned to the importance of addressing the fabric of our buildings and the huge challenge of delivering the new future homes standard – ie all new homes net zero carbon ready by 2025. The vast majority of existing new homes are not meeting this standard, and there is evidently a lack of planning for retrofit of the UK’s existing housing stock. Combined with the government’s plans for ramping up heat pump installations to 600,000 per annum by 2028 (from 30,000 last year), and the scale of what’s needed and how far away we are at the moment becomes clear.
Moving to transport, it’s clear there is progress being made on freight, and the investment in freight trials outlined in the Energy White Paper is welcome. But more generally, greater support is needed for consumers in making what is currently an expensive transition if we are going to accelerate the shift, and of course investment in the charge point infrastructure is crucial. It is also premature to call the death of the internal combustion engine, with innovation in sustainable fuels; policy makers should remain focussed on outcomes and remain technology neutral.
All of this requires private sector investment, of course, and that in turns requires an attractive investment climate. We heard just how “hot” the clean energy sector is presently, with a large pool of capital available for green infrastructure, and a feeling that the legal and regulatory frameworks are generally in place across Europe, albeit institutional support is still needed for larger projects such as hydrogen development and interconnectors, and permitting can remain a tricky area.
Finally, we talked about Brexit, and the operation of the interconnectors between the UK and the EU, as well as the implications for the UK nuclear industry. The role of the new framework, committees and joint bodies, to implement the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, was also discussed. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, now we have a “deal”, or at least the framework for one, we should embrace the relative certainty and move forward in seeking to deliver what are effectively shared objectives for the UK and the EU.
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