The Path to Decarbonising UK Cities

At the time of publication of the 1.5°C Plan, the UK’s ambition was to achieve an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. Since then, both national and local climate ambition has increased in terms of decarbonising UK cities to lead reduction.

At a national level, the UK has committed to reach a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels) and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. For London, the quoted aim is to commit to moving that net zero target from 2050 to 2030.

Successfully decarbonising UK cities before 2050 could follow several potential pathways, with London defining likely routes to achieving net zero early.

Two scenarios, high electrification, and high hydrogen are closest to current UK-wide targets, with a target 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. High electrification favours electrification of heat and transport, whilst high hydrogen assumes that hydrogen is available at scale in the long term. With a commitment to a more ambitious retrofit programme, these scenarios represent the maximum level of residual emissions considered to be still compatible with a 2030 Net Zero target.

High electrification and high hydrogen slightly exceed national targets, with high electrification modelled to decarbonise faster (27% residual emissions in 2030) due to the reliance of high hydrogen converting the gas grid which happens after 2030 (30% residual emissions in 2030). The high hydrogen scenario is the most optimistic about the role that hydrogen will play in that it assumes there will be a conversion of the existing gas grid to hydrogen in the post-2030 period. Conversion in that scenario begins in the early-to-mid-2030s, with completion by 2045, and total demand reaching 26 TWh/year in 2050 (compared to the current demand of close to 60 TWh/year natural gas). Both scenarios only reach 10% emissions in the early 2040s.

Accelerating the process of decarbonising UK cities successfully requires local authorities, the private sector and public bodies to all engage in a proactive role in driving the transition to net zero. These scenarios are therefore further refined under ‘no constraints’ or ‘accelerated green’ delivery.

With no constraint over the short timeframe from costs or local influence to implement challenging policies, such as early scrappage of boilers and vehicles, a significantly accelerated decarbonisation pathway is opened to meet the minimum achievable residual emissions by 2030. Due to the pace of decarbonisation required, technology options will necessarily be limited to those that are currently available or will certainly be available by the late 2020s, with a high reliance on widespread electrification. Modelling shows that 14% residual emissions (relative to 1990 levels) are achieved by 2030, falling to 10% shortly after, in 2033 when there are no constraints. This is considered the maximum level of emissions reduction possible by 2030 (minimum residual emissions) and relies on the deployment of very ambitious levels of behaviour change toward electrification of heat and transport, supported by significant supportive policy at the national and regional levels.

The accelerated green scenario represents an intermediate option which aims to reach the lowest possible residual emissions by 2030 without boiler and vehicle scrappage. The city would decarbonise as rapidly as possible while leaving long-term technology options open. This would mean allowing some heating systems to remain connected to a blended (hydrogen and biomethane) gas grid and a moderate share of pure hydrogen in selected applications.

Without requiring widescale scrappage, the accelerated green approach reaches 22% residual emissions by 2030 and achieves 10% residual emissions in the late 2030s, four years later than the unconstrained approach.

In all scenarios, most remaining emissions in 2030 come from Buildings (40-50%, depending on the scenario) and Transport (38-40%).  Under the published 1.5°C Plan all four scenarios decarbonised less rapidly, such that around 40% of emissions would still remain in 2030.

All scenarios assume varying degrees of hydrogen use. The current technological immaturity of hydrogen production and the need to deploy the Hydrogen that is available to strategically important sectors represents a significant risk factor in the high hydrogen scenario, both in terms of the uncertainty of availability, emissions intensity, and future costs. In all scenarios hydrogen therefore only plays a small but strategic role in meeting the net zero by 2030 target.

Without constraints, early action on decarbonising UK cities ultimately offers the lowest cost pathway by 2060 with the added benefit of lower ongoing fuel costs than in other scenarios. But without the full support of all key players, expectations are likely to fall in favour of the lowest cost and least disruptive scenario presented.

Without carbon costs, high hydrogen is the lowest cost scenario, largely due to lower technology costs associated with gas boilers (H2 or biomethane) compared to heat pumps. Despite the lower CAPEX costs in the high hydrogen scenario, the perceived higher fuel costs expected to heat a building using a hydrogen boiler over a heat pump, mean that the cumulative costs for high hydrogen will eventually increase above the other scenarios. But familiar boiler/water heater technology, less installation disruption and the potential for future capping of costs on green hydrogen continue to drive the positive outlook for the technology as a means of achieving early success in decarbonising UK cities.

 

Source: Element Energy Report, 2022 – Analysis of a Net Zero 2030 Target for Greater London

Future Climate Now

It may seem counter-intuitive to be talking about the need for hot water as the country is potentially about to experience the hottest day on record, but there is absolute sense when we accept that the current weather extreme is a sign of future climate developments and why it is critical UK organisation begin planning responses now.

On Monday, temperatures in Suffolk peaked at 38.1C, just shy of the record 38.7C set in 2019. The UK has seen high temperatures in the past, the famed summer of ’76 actually peak at 35.6C but it lasted throughout July and August of that year. The current heatwave is set to break in a matter of a week, so is this really that big an issue? In short, the answer is yes according to the majority of climate scientists who see these weather extremes as a sign of climate change, which means in the coming years we will experience more extreme climate events and they will occur more often.

According to the Met Office, the conditions causing the current extreme heat are ten time more likely as a result of the average world temperatures rising just over 1C beyond levels seen prior to industrialisation. That means we are now experiencing – according to the UN’s climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the hottest period for 125,000 years. This is why the UN set a limit on global temperature increases to 1.5C higher than pre-industrial levels in order to avoid the most dangerous impacts of future climate change.

The cause of this accelerated warming are greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Pushing trapped carbon dioxide concentrations to the highest levels in more than two million years, heat becomes trapped in the atmosphere leading to the temperature extremes we are seeing today.

Last year’s UN conference on climate, COP26, painted a stark picture for future climate. If global policy on climate change were to be implemented as promised then the expectation was for a temperature rise of 2.4C from pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, meaning current temperatures would be mild in comparison. This is why the ambitious target of reducing emissions to prevent global temperatures exceeding 1.5C was agreed upon. To achieve this, emissions need to have reached a peak by as late as 2025, before being effectively halved by 2030 leading to further scaling back to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

To put that into perspective, according to the IPCC, there needs to be a minimum reduction in emissions of 43% by the end of the decade, yet as the world came out of the pandemic energy emissions grew last year, by more than 4% in the UK and more than 6% globally to the tune of some 36.3 billion tonnes of CO².

What is clear, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), is that the UK’s progress towards net zero is woefully inadequate. Government strategies for the public sector, which is expected to lead by example, are still focused on information gathering with the intent to drive the adoption of new low-carbon technologies from 2025, which feels too little too late. Particularly when you start to factor in the capital costs of instigating a wholesale shift in the way buildings are heated and hot water supplied to meet core business needs.

The commercial built sector is especially complex, and the scale of the challenge is daunting both in terms of new build and refurbishing existing building stock not necessarily designed to work with new low carbon technology. There are more than 1.6 million pre-existing non-domestic buildings in England and Wales, generating almost one-fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions, needing expert, practical support. By 2050, there is also a predicted 35% rise in demand for non-domestic floor space.

Initially, the hope is that proven technology, especially heat pumps, can make a major improvement to the sector, helping to decrease emissions. Space heating is problematic for older buildings where the very fabric of the building will influence the efficient operation of the technology, meaning extensive refurbishment is required. For hot water systems (DHW) this is not the case, and heat pumps and all-electric applications hold huge potential for reducing emissions by as much as 70%. Savings can also be achieved through the application of solar thermal, which can work in conjunction with heat pumps, but also critically existing gas-fired systems to deliver emission reductions right now.

July’s extreme weather should be seen as both a warning of future climate change and a rallying cry to the entire commercial sector to look at what you can do better with what you have now and what you want to build in the coming decades. Adveco has the expertise to help you answer those questions and begin delivering better DHW applications now because there is very little doubt that in the near future the government will need to introduce more aggressive policy that will mandate change. Better then to control the timeframe and plan your transition toward net zero in a way that is most meaningful to your business from the perspectives of cost to corporate social responsibility.

UK Progress Towards Net Zero

There has been a great deal of talk about the decarbonisation of this country but what has been the UK progress towards net zero so far?

A new progress report by the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) has been damning. Despite the UK having a solid Net Zero strategy in place, the CCC has identified “major failings” in government delivery programmes designed to achieve climate change in the UK by 2050. The CCC notes that once again emissions are on the rise, up 4% in 2021 compared with 2020, which it directly associates with the economy beginning the process of post-COVID-19 recovery.

From a lack of tangible progress in policy ambition and slow progress on wider enables, the UK is in danger of failure in building on the apparent success of COP26 last November. While the UK presidency of the UN COP26 climate summit strengthened long-term global ambition and introduced new mechanisms to support delivery it has not yet prioritised making those new mechanisms work in practice. Greater emphasis and focus now must be placed on the delivery of the agreed emission path, with the caveat that not all policies will deliver as planned.

In response, the CCC progress report lists more than 300 recommendations that must be addressed between now and 2024 if the UK is to be successful in delivering net zero by 2050.

Following the Heat & Building Strategy for England, the CCC has called for more detail on the modelled pathway for low-carbon heat, and planned breakdown of funding announced in the Scotland Heat in Buildings Strategy; a coherent, long-term strategy for heat and energy efficiency in Northern Ireland; and further work to build on the plans set out in Net Zero Wales Carbon Budget 2. This should include policies to support low-carbon heating across all of the building stock.

In addressing the UK progress towards net zero the CCC identifies the need for a final policy plan for the market-based approach to low-carbon heat. This must include a clear explanation of how the obligation on manufacturers or energy suppliers will work, whether enabling legislation is required, and a timeline for implementation. It should also include details on how the Government will track whether the policy is driving the required market growth, and identify trigger points for further intervention (e.g. funding, regulation) if progress falls behind.

Missing The BUS

The current Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which can be used by small businesses as well as homes, requires an awareness campaign to drive demand, alongside an increase in available funding as required so that those who want a heat pump through the scheme can get one. This mirror’s findings from the Ground Source Heat Pump Association (GSHPA) that show the £450 million scheme is yet to deliver increased demand for heat pumps. According to Ofgem, during the period 23 May to 30 June 2022, only 169 vouchers were redeemed for <45kWth heat pumps (air source and ground source) and biomass heating. Off the back of this scheme, there remains a clear need to grow and upskill the workforce will support the Government’s pathways for low-carbon heat and energy efficiency and fill the skills gap identified in the Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Regulation & Enforcement

What is clear is that achieving change requires policy backed by mandated regulations. These include published targets for the roll-out from now until 2037 of heat pumps that do not use F-gases as a refrigerant, plus plans to phase out boiler replacements in off-grid non-residential buildings from 2024, and consult on introducing an earlier phase-out date for gas boilers in non-residential buildings.

Consultation is also required on a full technical specification for the Future Buildings Standard in 2023 to ensure the new standards are implemented by 2025. The intent is to see the delivery of new buildings which are resilient to climate change impacts, with ultra-high energy efficiency standards and low-carbon heating. This should be supported by improvements to the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) and Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) framework to ensure they drive the deployment of the necessary energy efficiency and low-carbon heat. Proposals are also put forward for minimum EPC in owner-occupied commercial buildings. Minimum EPC standards must also be enforced, including consideration of additional measures to monitor compliance of qualified installers, approved inspectors and EPC assessors, and providing local areas with sufficient resources to undertake assessments.

Public Sector Charged With Taking The Lead

To meet ambitious Government targets and show leadership in public sector buildings decarbonisation, public sector organisations, including those not captured by the Greening Government Commitments, must have the information and support they need to: monitor their energy use, set targets and reduce emissions from their estate over the next five years.

All public sector buildings should halve emissions by 2032.

This requires the development and implantation of plans for a zero carbon remit. To do this will require an increase in multi-year funding commitments for decarbonisation in public buildings up until 2025 to match the Government’s ambition for public sector decarbonisation and commit to continuing similar levels of funding beyond 2025. Proportionate mechanisms should be put in place to review overall progress and recurring challenges. To achieve this the government needs to publish the completed carbon and water management plan and the sustainability management plan that is under development. The plan should include clear pathways for reaching Greening the Government Commitment targets for halving emissions from public buildings.

The assessment of whole-life carbon and material use in private and public construction projects should be mandatory by 2025, to enable minimum standards to be set. The whole life carbon assessment should be sought at the planning stage to enable efforts to reduce embodied carbon and materials.

Strategy & Assessment For Small To Medium Commercial Organisations

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMES) require improved engagement, particularly high-emission, low-engagement businesses. The recommendation is for a package of measures including a one-stop shop for SMEs to get decarbonisation advice with a carbon footprinting tool, develop a strengthened low-carbon advisor/auditor role for SMEs and develop an effective financing strategy to support SME decarbonisation.

This should be driven by a performance-based rating scheme with a published timeline for offices and other building types, outlining how timelines correspond to the expected emissions reduction trajectory of commercial buildings in the 2020s.

The Government needs to rapidly communicate findings on SME energy efficiency from the new research mentioned in the Heat and Buildings Strategy, and outline plans to ensure SMEs are able to invest in retrofit and energy efficiency measures. This research should support the publishing of clear plans to move towards in-use performance metrics for buildings, with clear timescales and responsibilities. The CCC concludes this should lead to the consideration for moving towards Green Buildings Passports.

Green Needs Green

Recognising that the transition needs to scale up over this decade and that stable funding provides certainty to businesses, and public bodies, what is clear from the progress report is that there remains a lack of comprehensive vision to leverage private financing for the retrofit of UK businesses, with consideration to include green stamp duty, green mortgages, energy as a service, and property-linked finance. In order for successful UK progress towards net zero the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, Local Authority Delivery Scheme, Energy Company Obligation and public sector decarbonisation must continue to be fully funded as required beyond the spending review period.