25-year environment plan and low carbon energy

January 12, 2018

By Anna Livesey

At first look, the 25-Year Environment Plan may seem to be only about activities to restore and protect our natural environments. For example, improving soil health and benefits of woodlands. Delve a little deeper and there are some natural linkages with the low carbon energy and transport sectors and how we must work across sectors to create tangible low carbon policy ideas and solutions.

  1. Housing and Planning   

Outlining an ‘environment net gain’ principle for development; the plan wants to maintain and strengthen environmental protections already enshrined in national planning policy. This includes high environmental standards for new builds including building in a way that reduces energy resources.

The need to drive up standards for new builds is an ongoing campaign in the low-carbon energy industry.  Including the regular cry – what about zero carbon homes? The gains available from restoring this policy, and others related to good insulation and low carbon heating, in reducing carbon over the long term and creating more resilient buildings cannot be ignored.

  1. Transport and heating

Chapter 4 of the plan focuses on resource efficiency and reducing pollution and waste; with important links to heat and transport. For example, the proposal for more action which explores ways to manage residual waste beyond electricity including producing biofuels for transport and other innovative technologies.

New and innovative low carbon fuels are already being explored, including hydrogen which features in the Clean Growth Strategy as one of three potential future pathways to decarbonisation. The role for bio-gas and other ‘green’ gases are also being considered as potential low carbon alternatives to decarbonise the gas grid or provide low carbon fuels for transport. How we can efficiently produce and use these fuels is an important area for discussion and debate.

Also included in the plan is looking at ways to increase the use of heat produced at waste facilities through better connections to heat networks. The role for heat networks in decarbonising the heating sector has been made very clear by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with ambitions to increase the UK heat produced from heat networks from 2% today to 18% by 2050. Ensuring we make the most of available heat sources and build efficient and optimised networks will help this area succeed.

  1. Air quality

Awareness of the links between air quality and transport are well established and government plans were published last year to tackle this issue (how effective these plans will be, is still being debated). Rising up the agenda is the link to air quality from pollution in other sectors. Last year, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed it would publish a wider Clean Air Strategy in 2018 and the 25-year plan reiterates this including that this strategy will be for consultation. The strategy will include a shift away from solid fuels for heating homes.

BEIS has already outlined a commitment to phase out oil in the heating sector. This commitment in the environment plan will add to the development of policies which ensure all heating fuels are low carbon and reduce air pollution. It will be an important area for alignment to ensure an approach which is effective but does not impact consumers, especially vulnerable consumers, unfairly.

  1. Innovation and finance

Low carbon energy has received a number of incentives schemes to support with the increased use alternative technologies. For example, the Feed In Tariff scheme which principally supported solar panels and the Renewable Heat Incentive which supported low carbon heat such as biomass and heat pumps. It has always been recognised that subsidies are only a short-term solution and eventually markets must become self-reliant and in other cases regulation is required.

In the Clean Growth Strategy and the Industrial Strategy, innovation and funding are important areas of focus. The Environment Plan echoes this including actions to improve flow of finance to low carbon projects and ensure proper regulation of clean energy markets and recommendations for catalysing private investment through the Green Finance Taskforce soon to be published.

Clearly, whilst the headlines on the Environment Plan focussed on the important issue of reducing plastic waste, there is much more to be tackled and much more detail on this in the plan. As outlined, the linkages across Government departments and across different sectors regarding the policies being developed are becoming ever more pronounced. Whilst, as ever, there will be challenges along the way there are also many opportunities to create solutions which are efficient, low-carbon, clean and sustainable.

Contact the author: Anna Livesey

Further readings:

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