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‘The UK needs a renewables-first energy system now’

01 April 2021

The government's Energy White Paper was the topic of the latest Presidential Roundtable with ICE President Rachel Skinner, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Minister for Green New Deal and Energy, and senior leaders from the UK energy sector and infrastructure supply chain.

‘The UK needs a renewables-first energy system now’

The UK energy system must be overhauled to put renewables at the fore, to meet the 2050 net-zero emissions target.

This was one of the main conclusions reached at a recent online ICE roundtable, where shadow energy minister Dr Alan Whitehead MP was invited to share his views with senior industry leaders on how the UK's electricity system can be improved to help transition to net zero. The government's intentions in this area were outlined in the Energy White Paper published in December last year.

An electricity grid with 80 to 90% renewables will be a challenge to achieve and maintain unless the energy system undergoes significant change that puts renewable sources ahead of fossil fuels.

And this change in the energy system needs to be done as soon as possible in order to lay the groundwork for others sectors, such as transport and heat, to achieve the net-zero target.

ICE President Rachel Skinner said: "If we are to meet our legally binding net-zero obligation by 2050, it goes without saying that our energy networks must decarbonise well ahead of this date, as onward change in sectors such as transport and heat will depend on the supply of clean electricity."

What changes need to be made?

Although the Energy White Paper sets out competition as the way to drive this change, there was a strong consensus that cooperation and coordination could be more important.

There was agreement that regulators will also play a key role; where nations work together with businesses to decarbonise and prepare infrastructure for climate impacts, they are likely to win investment quicker.

The roundtable also discussed Ofgem’s recent recommendationfor a new systems operator to lead strategic planning and management of the electricity system to support the transition to net zero. However, it raised the issue that the creation of a new body risks slowing progress.

And who should pay?

While there was agreement that some general taxation will be needed, it's not clear how sustainable the approach of having system change paid for primarily by users is.

The necessary changes will need to affordable, but time will tell when and how the switch should be made to accommodate this.

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  • Amy Cox, public affairs manager at ICE