Cutting to the quick. With just nine years to the final climate change make-or-break point of 2030, the world – led by the UN and UK – is waking up to the need for drastic carbon cuts – an urgent priority for countries and governments … but also millions of SMEs.
If 2020 was unprecedented in modern times, 2021 will be both similar and different. In a period of immense change, the UK is taking its COP26 climate summit hosting role very seriously.
The backdrop is Brexit, a warning from the UN Secretary General that a ‘broken’ world is committing suicide, and a new environmentally-committed US President soon to enter the White House.
Britain, a recognised environmental leader and author of the Climate Change Act 2008 which other nations have since used as a template, is committed to making a difference before it is too late.
Climate Ambition Summit
The indications are that this may not be an easy task and will need some determined oomph!
On 12th December, world leaders – with notable absences – joined a virtual UN Climate Ambition Summit hosted by the Prime Minister to plot a low-carbon route to 2021’s COP26 climate summit delayed in 2020 by the pandemic.
Their brief was to make deep binding carbon-cutting commitments in unusual times to keep global temperature rises down to a relatively safe 1.5C. But only 45 of the 70 present made firm proposals.
Mr Johnson must now try to apply a three-line environmental whip at Glasgow’s real COP26 gathering next November when thousands of politicians, environmentalists, financiers, entrepreneurs finally come together physically.
Leading from the front
The success of COP26 – and the UK’s international leadership role – is now critically important to the Government as a new era starts on 1st January. We will all have keys parts to play.
The latest Government initiative is the long-awaited ‘Energy White paper: Powering our net-zero future’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-white-paper-powering-our-net-zero-future) finally published on 14th December that we will look at in more detail in the New Year.
Before that, the PM set the ball rolling early in December by announcing a swingeing 68% UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cut by 2030 – a target and date that can’t be missed if the UK is to meet its legally-binding 2050 net-zero goal and important mid-term targets like 2030.
However, this demanding goal has already been superseded by the Climate Change Committee which in its 9th December Sixth Carbon Budget called for a 78% reduction by 2035 over 1990 levels.
The diplomatic task ahead is to combine a green build back better economic recovery with heightened climate change priorities at a time of new post-Brexit global trading relationships.
Stepping up to the task
This will be a mammoth but essential challenge.
On a macro-level it will include an ambitious 40% increase in UK offshore wind power – plus onshore wind – at least one new nuclear fission power station and fledgling technologies to harness the energy that drives the stars – nuclear fusion.
On a micro-level, households will need to live differently – phasing out gas boilers, installing more insulation, harvesting ground or air heat, travelling sustainably and eating far less meat.
It will also involve large companies and industries perfecting new workable solutions on a huge commercial scale – such as energy delivered by green hydrogen, plus carbon capture technologies.
Small … and medium … are beautiful
However, the strategy will only work if specialist SMEs fill many green supply chain opportunities with local niche solutions, competitive products, services and novel technologies for wider markets.
Which is the core raison d’être of the Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) programme that has now been extended to June 2023 with a newly expanded expert team that can be seen at https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/energy-environmental-advisors/.
We can now provide not only skilled general energy and environmental advice, but also direct specialist hands-on guidance in technologies such as heat pumps and photovoltaics.
Throughout 2021 and beyond, CLC will help businesses to convert to renewable energy, use less energy, make waste redundant and minimise their environmental footprints.
The CLC team also has wide experience in taking new innovative technologies to market, which will be increasingly important.
The end of a double lockdown is a good time to consider huge infrastructure projects – such as the new North Sea sub-sea cables that will bring Scottish green energy to English homes, plus the giant Dogger Bank windfarm.
It is also an opportunity to look at the brilliance of small businesses. One UK SME, for example is planning to produce high-quality diamonds out of thin air during 2021.
By capturing atmospheric carbon, and using solar and wind power plus ordinary rainwater, the Stroud-based company hopes to produce thousands of carats annually with no ‘blood diamond’ stigma.
Ultimate proof that sustainability can be profitable? Simples really – if you can combine knowhow with help of the type the CLC team will be happy to provide.
Online Lunch and Learn events
This is also probably a good point to mention that our online Lunch and Learn webinar programme will be active again in the New Year.
For those who missed it, on 10th December Chartered Environmental Surveyor David Inman FRICS CEnv presented “Delivering Sustainable Development Goals: A Guide to Business”.
David explained why putting the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) into practice is as important for small firms and the business community as it is for countries and governments. Again, everyone has a role to play.
Specifically, he outlined a tactical level low-cost SDGs approach that ties in with many of the CSR and standards initiatives companies typically already run in house.
Incidentally, if you would like more information on SDGs, please email Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two key messages for SMEs
David had a dual-message. SDGs help SMEs win public sector procurement and corporate supply chains business was the first. The second was that just as the revolutionary Health & Safety regime seemed alien in the 1970s, SDGs will become mainstream later this decade.
For reference, his company, RICS Regulated firm DIEM Ltd in Formby, delivers environmental, energy, sustainability and business risk solutions to UK based clients and their worldwide operations.
Its clients include FTSE listed companies, some of the UK’s largest brands and capital projects, Russell Group universities and family run SMEs (https://www.diemltd.co.uk/).
The presentation can be seen again on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMBeSJ0PIVg6FVt0css7s4Q/videos.
War on carbon
The PM’s commitment to cut emissions by at least 68% has been broadly welcomed as a new global benchmark. However, scientists warn it does not guarantee dangerous climate change will be avoided. The UK is still behind its targets set five years ago. But Mr Johnson is optimistic.
“Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030 faster than any major economy”, he explained, adding, “But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero targets.”
“Our planet is broken”
This comes on the heels of a warning from UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, that humanity is waging what he describes as a “suicidal” war on the natural world.
Mr Guterres added, “Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury”; he wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN’s global mission.
His plea is that every country, city, financial institution and company “should adopt plans for a transition to net zero emissions by 2050” with decisive action taken now to achieve this vision”.
The UK’s cunning plan
The Government’s upgraded climate change strategy was launched in November when Mr Johnson announced a new 10-Point Plan for a UK Green Industrial Revolution with 250,000 new green jobs (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-outlines-his-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution-for-250000-jobs) designed to work alongside other legislation and initiatives.
Martin Baxter of IEMA joined us recently to explain the importance of the long-awaited post-Brexit Environment bill. However, the Government has also released details of its Agricultural Bill.
This has important implications for the environment and emissions and sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in future for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, wildlife diversity, flooding reduction and resilience.
Soil health and the use of fertilisers that create emissions and run-off will be a particular focus.
National infrastructure bank tied to net-zero
Shortly after the Ten Point Plan, the Government’s new National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) was also unveiled (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-infrastructure-strategy). It includes proposals for a National Infrastructure Bank to replace the UK’s post-Brexit involvement with the European Investment Bank and funnel capital towards net-zero projects.
The Government pledged in March more than £100bn to be spent on infrastructure in the next five years; the pandemic delayed the NIS announcement.
Green energy superhighway boost
One of the private sector’s most impressive infrastructure programmes will be the building of multibillion-pound underwater power cables to carry Scottish renewable energy to millions of English homes (https://www.sse.com/news-and-views/2020/11/power-firms-unite-to-deliver-underwater-energy-super-highway/).
The Scottish Power, National Grid and SSE Eastern Link project will run from Peterhead and Torness in Scotland to Selby and Hawthorn Point in the north of England. Construction will start in 2024; meanwhile, the three companies will co-sponsor COP26.
The good news for Whitehall is that the interconnectors will support the prime minister’s November party conference commitment to power all UK homes with offshore wind by 2030.
When the wind blows
SSE Renewables working with Equinor has also confirmed the first two phases of the giant 3.6GW Dogger Bank windfarm which, as the world’s largest offshore windfarm, could power more than 4.5 million homes.
The importance of wind was emphasised further by Oil Gas Technology and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapults November research. This analysed what is needed to attract energy investments to the North Sea and increase output by 66% above current levels. (https://ore.catapult.org.uk/?orecatapultreports=integrated-energy-vision-for-2050).
A global CCS capacity surge despite in 2020 Covid-19
One other welcome piece of the jigsaw is that the world’s permanent carbon capture and storage (CCS) capacity saw a 33% year-on-year rise in 2020, according to Global CCS Institute think-tank research.
There are now 65 commercial CCS facilities either in operation or under development internationally, with capacity on track for a storage rate of 116 Mtpa by the end of 2020.
Diamonds in the sky
And if an even more down-to-earth example of effective long-term carbon dioxide capture is needed, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince may have just the thing.
‘Sky diamonds’ made at a ‘sky mining facility’ in Gloucestershire are the ‘world’s first zero-impact’ diamonds, he says, made by combining free carbon with wind and solar energy, plus rainwater.
His aim is to create thousands of carats of carbon-negative laboratory-grown diamonds annually ‘made entirely from the sky”. The price tag has yet to be set.
Ultimate proof perhaps that low-carbon isn’t just pie-in-the-sky.
December 2020 – a promising start for a low carbon 2021?
Green Advent. Can we expect to see progress on a pioneering UK post-Brexit Environment Bill, new US support for next year’s COP26 summit and the Paris climate agreement, plus a detailed UK green recovery plan – all before Christmas? Fingers-crossed, yes!
The final month of an unprecedentedly turbulent year could end on an expectedly up-beat environmental note – with encouraging signs for a far-from-smooth but positive new year to come.
News that a series of Covid-19 vaccines could soon begin to return us to some form of stable new normal has to be November’s most important development. But there are other positive pointers.
Post-Brexit environmental regime
The first, after multiple-delays made worse by a pandemic squeeze on Parliamentary time, is progress at last on the UK’s new and untried Environment Bill that will regulate environmental performance outside the EU.
To update us on recent developments, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor Martin Baxter joined us online on 5th November to discuss the bill and new UK green watch-dog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). More on what he said in a moment.
Good green news from across the pond
The second reason to be cheerful could come from North America where the strong indications are that a Biden White House will make an early 180 degree climate change policy turn.
The US formally left the 2015 Paris climate agreement on 4th November following a four-year notice period – a day after the 2020 Presidential election.
But the Biden team is expected to play a central role in the November 2021 UN COP26 climate summit co-hosted by the UK in Glasgow; the COP26 goal is to finalise detailed emission cuts from 189 countries to minimise global warming this century.
Green energy strategy … at last
An early present on the pre-Christmas wish-list has been the unveiling of a 10-point sustainable energy plan that builds on the Prime Minister’s October announcement of a major offshore wind power expansion.
To meet the UK’s promise to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the plan includes an early ban on new petrol and diesel vehicle sales, plus more energy-efficient homes and buildings.
It also considers the potential of hydrogen power, carbon capture technology, at least one new conventional nuclear power station, using modular mini-reactors, and the possibilities of nuclear fusion project – the energy powering the stars.
Environmental ringside seat
Martin Baxter joined the Chamber Low Carbon team and guests at the Chamber Low Carbon Programme’s “Environmental Policy Update” meeting on 5th November. If you missed it, the complete and very detailed session where he summarises both positive points and concerns can be seen again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBx_VRThjcg.
The updated legislative timetable means that the bill’s report stage is scheduled for 1st December; it will also be read for the first time by the Lords. Royal Assent is expected in March 2021.
On its long passage through Westminster, the bill which sets out a new UK governance framework has raised concerns over its suitability to replace the EU’s comprehensive environmental legislation.
One particular area of concern is a new green watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – and the amount of power that will lie in the hands of future secretaries of state.
However, whoever holds the post will also have a duty to check how effective environmental laws are in practice, monitor progress in achieving targets and report annually to Parliament. Local authority performance will also be monitored on key issues such as air quality, with High Court sanctions if necessary.
Joined up thinking
One important strength Martin noted is that the bill integrates air quality, waste and water management, resource-efficiency, carbon emissions, plus the natural environment and biodiversity.
Another is that it is also designed to embrace environmental decision-making across all government departments – from education to transport, communities and health.
New Year’s Day
From 1st January 2021 onwards, thousands of new laws, and changes to existing laws, will come into effect. Linked to a one-year Spending Review, Martin believes this could be a beneficial opportunity for the Chancellor to invest in a future based on sustainability.
“It’s positive to hear the Government talk about the importance of a green recovery with climate change at the heart of its thinking,” he said, adding, “It does give me some hope. But words and actions are not always synonymous.”
Key points in the bill
Meanwhile, he noted a number of key points within the updated bill: –
– Waste and the producer’s responsibility will feature prominently, with a sharp focus on packaging waste. Water will see reductions in phosphate and nitrate pollution from farming and a drive to reduce consumption by 2050.
– Air quality will include calls for more collaboration and cooperation between local authorities, plus a strong focus on reducing fine particulates in the air generally and specifically in vulnerable areas.
– Biodiversity will see nature recovery networks across the UK. Reducing the rate of decline will not be good enough. Natural capital will be enhanced. A fall in the quality of SSSIs will be reversed.
UK-based businesses must also stop importing products or materials linked to global deforestation Defra announced on 11 November. Companies must prove that ‘forest risk’ commodities sourced internationally come from deforestation-free suppliers. Soy, palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather, rubber plus wood and paper are covered.
– Non-regression and improved environmental standards will be a key feature which the secretary of state will have a duty to update every two years while noting global environmental developments.
Work has also started on forming legally-binding targets, with public consultations due from October 2021 to February 2022; draft legislation will go to Parliament between March and October 2022
How are we doing on net-zero?
Are we breaking the link between economic growth and environment impact? Yes, says Martin, the UK is beginning to show leadership compared to other countries.
The power sector and industry have delivered the most change; transport and other sectors are lagging behind. The challenge, he adds, is for all parts of the economy to aim for a better environment rapidly as part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy.
In his opinion there is still too much emphasis on “net” and not enough on “zero”. Only when “zero” is impossible should “net” be allowed, he believes.
Sixth Carbon Budget
This year will also see the Sixth Carbon Budget (9th December) presented under the Climate Change Act. It will govern the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit from 2033 to 2037 and be the first with a 100% rather than 80% emissions reduction target. Martin describes it as a seismic shift.
UK-US special environmental relationship?
Boris Johnson was quoted as saying recently, “I think now with President Biden in the White House in Washington, we have the real prospect of American global leadership in tackling climate change.”
Although the Republican Party may keep control of the Senate, bipartisan cooperation was successful recently in reducing the use of powerful GHG refrigerant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and in the Bipartisan Wildlife Conservation Act designed to improve conservation and protect ecosystems.
Although the president-elect may have to make political compromises domestically, he has promised to convene a special meeting of world leaders on climate change in his first 100-days.
He could return the US quickly to the Paris climate change process with upgraded emission-reduction commitments. This would be an important foreign policy bonus for the UK as co-host of the pivotal COP26 summit which Mr Johnson is anxious should be a success for post-Brexit Britain.
With the US’ shoulder to the wheel, achieving the Paris December 2015’s COP21 aim of keeping global temperature rises to no more than 1.5C is said to be potentially achievable.
President Biden’s goals
Ideally, Joe Biden would like most US power-generation to be carbon free by 2035, with net-zero emissions by 2050; there would also be emissions cuts from four million buildings.
He also envisages heavy spending on green public transport, electric vehicle (EVs), the manufacturing sector, with new financial incentives to use clean cars.
A White House National Climate Council, a “carbon bank” to pay landowners for storing carbon, vehicle electrification via the transport department, plus a Treasury climate policy that promotes emissions cuts through tax, budget and regulatory policies are also on the cards.
Two to tango
However, for a successful partnership the UK needs to put forward its own an effective net-zero emissions strategy. No 10, No 11 and BEIS have been busy developing a radical 10-point strategy announced on 18th November designed to deliver the UK’s 2050 carbon-free goal.
It will build on the offshore wind power expansion plan the Prime Minister unveiled recently. Building at least one new conventional nuclear power station is another component.
Although six sites were ear-marked a decade ago, only one – Hinkley Point C in Somerset – is currently under construction. A second Sizewell C reactor could be built in Suffolk, with work starting in the life of this Parliament. The potential role of fusion power which joins rather than splitting atoms is also being considered.
A key change will be bringing the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles forward from 2040 to 2030. Other agenda items will be carbon capture technology to clean up some fossil-fuels, hydrogen to replace fossil-fuels, home heating targets using ground-source heat pumps, plus better home insulation and replacing 25 million household gas boilers.
Owning a Rolls
By 2025, Rolls Royce expects to create 6,000 new UK jobs by building 16 small modular reactors (SMRs) around the UK similar to the type that power nuclear submarines.
Manufactured in factories and then moved to site, these could provide 440MW of electricity, enough to power 450,000 homes, over a 60-year life span. However, they will have to compete with increasingly cost-efficient wind and solar power and may be more expensive.
SOS in a bottle
A tiny experiment carried out at the North Pole proves that we have little time to waste in facing up to the consequences of global warming.
A metal cylinder sunk into the polar ice in 2018 by passengers and crew of a nuclear icebreaker was found on the Irish coast in November after breaking free of the Arctic Circle and travelling 2,300 miles!
A busy month ahead. Join our newly expanded low carbon team in an online update of the all-important Environment Bill, a textiles in the circular economy event, to learn what the bees are up to, and for expert energy and waste support.
The past month has seen important international, national and North West regional low carbon announcements as well as major positive changes in our own Chamber Low Carbon Programme. More about these in a moment.
However, we start on 5th November – a date normally linked to a potentially very high carbon event – with another of our regular inside track environmental policy updates from IEMA Chief Policy Advisor, Martin Baxter.
Martin will look closely at the UK’s long-term direction of environment and climate change travel, the impending tough 6th Carbon Budget, and post-Brexit trade prospects.
To take part the discussion from 13.00 to 15.00 GMT on Thursday 5th November, please register for free at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/environmental-policy-update-with-martin-baxter-tickets-123181590453
Before then, you can also join us online from 14.00 to 16.00 GMT on Thursday 29th October for “Textiles in the circular economy”.
This event is important to a large regional industry and has been organised by the Liverpool City Region and Chamber Low Carbon Circular Economy Club and Liverpool Fashion Summit. It will look at how the textile and fashion sector can move away from linear extraction to a more circular model.
Registration is at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/textiles-in-circular-economy-tickets-123673708391.
Creating a buzz
One further diary date is “Bees and biodiversity – key workers in our economy”, a LIVE Lunch and Learn seminar on Thursday 12 November from 12.00 to 13.30 GMT that will explore one of the most challenging aspects of environmental management many organisations face. (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-learn-bees-and-biodiversity-key-workers-tickets-122377166399).
More detail on each of these events follows later.
Through the autumn we will be inviting you to meet our new Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) team members and explaining how our expanded specialist service will work in practice to give you highly-focussed auditing and advice.
Before then, the past month has been important for low carbon developments at number of levels.
The East is green
One surprise was an unexpected commitment made by China’s President Xi Jinping via a video link to the UN General Assembly to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 and then become carbon neutral by 2060.
The announcement, which is seen as a significant step in the fight against climate change, comes as the US withdraws from the Paris climate agreement initiated in 2015. Details of the complete Paris political and practical decarbonising process were due to be finalised at COP26 in Glasgow next month. However, Covid-19 has pushed the crucial global summit back a year to 2021.
China is the world’s largest source of carbon dioxide and currently responsible for some 28% of global emissions. Its president’s bold statement about his country’s plans to tackle emissions included a called to all nations to join in a green recovery for the world economy.
China’s emissions rose in 2018 and 2019 at a time when much of the world began to move away from fossil fuels. When the Covid-19 crisis struck, the country’s emissions fell by 25% but bounced back as coal-fired plants, cement and other heavy industries came back in stream.
In wrong-footing America, but following the suggestion made recently by EU leaders that it cuts its emissions, China may have given the global climate process new momentum. The wider question is whether the US will follow, given that China is not only the world’s largest emitter but also its biggest energy financier and market.
Pledge to power every UK home with offshore wind
Closer to home, the Government has also laid out its ambitious goal of powering all UK households by 2030 from a rapidly expanded offshore wind sector.
In a “virtual” Conservative party conference speech, the Prime Minister said Covid-19 should be used as a catalyst to make the UK a clean power generation world leader. He added, “Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.”
The UK is already home to the world’s largest single wind farm at Cumbria’s Walney Extension, a title that will soon pass to the Hornsea One project off the Yorkshire coast.
Mr Johnson, who in 2013 said offshore wind “couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding” now wants offshore generating capacity to rise from 30GW to 40GW in a decade, turning the UK into “the Saudi Arabia of wind power”.
No ill wind
The Government will make an initial “build back greener” investment of £160m to upgrade factories and ports on Teesside, the Humber, in Scotland and in Wales needed to build and transport the next generation of giant turbines, which to meet the PM’s target will have to be installed a rate of one every working day throughout the coming decade.
However, the full cost of the programme, which should also create 60,000 jobs directly and indirectly by 2030, one source estimates to be circa £50 billion; government will also have to speed up its seabed licencing and contracts process.
The offshore wind announcement is the first of a 10-point “green industrial revolution” plan due to be announced by the close of 2020 which may include further investments in industries, innovation and infrastructure needed to support the UK’s 2050 net zero commitment.
North West net-zero industrial cluster by 2030
Major businesses are backing net-zero industrial cluster plans around Ellesmere Port that could also create 33,000 new jobs in line with the Government’s commitment to fully decarbonising at least one industrial centre by 2040.
Net Zero North West was launched officially in October with participants that include CF Fertilisers, Encirc, Essar Oil UK, INOVYN, Peel L&P Environmental, Siemens, Storengy and Tata Chemicals Europe, plus support and representatives from giants like BASF, Unilever and IBM.
Tata Chemicals Europe’s experience from a Northwich carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) project could help the cluster to sequester 10 million tonnes of CO2e annually from 2030 onwards.
The cluster could also host nuclear power plants, renewable energy arrays, ‘blue’ hydrogen production facilities, plus ‘smart’ energy grid technologies to “unlock flexibility”.
SME Recycling Working Group
Meanwhile, CLC programme manager, Stephen Sykes, is now a regular member of a Defra national working group looking closely at how small and medium-sized companies can support the circular economy by improving recycling rates in England up to a 65% municipal target by 2035.
The Environment Bill introduces legislation to improve the recycling of plastic, glass, metal, paper and card, food and garden waste from households, businesses and organisations like schools.
The group’s work will inform the next stage of policy development and implementation timescales. Interim aims are to test assumptions and decisions about policy implementation and its unintended consequences, represent the SME sector, identify SME sector challenges and identify evidence gaps.
As promised, here are more details about online events which you are cordially invited to join.
– Environmental Policy Update with Martin Baxter
An important point that Martin Baxter made recently is that for the Brexit slogan “Taking back control” to be true for the environmental, people must have a genuine say in their greener future. Access to environmental information and public participation in environmental decision-making is central to democratising the environment at a level that people can relate to local communities.
However, environmental data sources are often highly fragmented and not readily accessible, with information often found in different silos. “It’s not easy for professionals – if you’re a lay person you probably wouldn’t bother”, he says.
Environment Bill proposals for a national Environmental Improvement Plan, Local Nature Recovery Strategies and environmental monitoring are a good start but don’t go far enough to genuinely give people a green voice, he adds.
Robust environmental data and information must be available in an accessible form. Digital technology is important in building on historical datasets that show how the environment has changed over time, leading to a wider understanding of the current state of the environment.
A legislative framework is needed for a green democracy, he believes – with the Environment Bill a perfect opportunity. Join Martin with us on 5th November.
– Textiles in circular economy
The event on 29th October will share the experiences of an expert panel from academia, textiles and fashion sectors on challenges, opportunities and collaborations to be found in the circular economy.
Panel members are Professor Helen Goworek, an author and University of Durham lecturer whose research has explored buying behaviour and the relationships between product development and sustainability. Jennifer Davies is the co-founder of Nabil Nayal, which keeps sustainability at the core of everything it does.
They will be joined by Ross Barry, a Director of LMB Textile Recycling and Chair of the Recylatex Group, which is at the forefront of UK garment and textile recycling, and Dr Ashley Holding who founded Circular Material Solutions to help companies make the transition to circular business models.
– Bees and biodiversity – key workers in our economy
We look forward to welcoming Simon Cordingley, co-founder of The Bee Centre (https://thebeecentre.org/home/) near Chorley which is a multi-award-winning centre of excellence for bee-related education, breeding and husbandry and internationally renowned for its unique ethical beekeeping programme that ‘creates a buzz about bees’.
Simon will explain why biodiversity is now so important, the role that bees and other pollinators play in maintaining a healthy environment and economy, and how organisations can make a positive biodiversity impact – in particular by engaging with bees and other pollinators.
– “Leading the Charge: Electric Vehicle ChargePoints for your community”
If you missed our 1st October online meeting with Daniel Heery and Ady Powell of Charge My Street (www.chargemystreet.co.uk/host) who looked at what is involved in installing and maintaining publicly accessible EV chargepoints to encourage people to switch to EVs, the session can be seen again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fcfdsXj5ck.
NHS 2040 net-zero emissions target
It is very appropriate that while facing up to the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, NHS England has announced plans to achieve net-zero emissions within two decades through a complex series of new initiatives that will create 40 net-zero hospitals and include a £50 million LED lighting upgrade. At present, the NHS accounts for 4% of the UK’s carbon footprint.
NHS England, which employs more than 1.2 million people, has set a net-zero emissions target by 2040 with an intermediate 80% reduction target between 2028 and 2032.
The NHS will also aim to reduce emissions under its influence, including travel and suppliers, to net-zero by 2045. Again, there is an 80% interim reduction target, this time of 2036 to 2039.
The current Chamber Low Carbon programme developed by East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce in partnership with North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, BOOST and Businesswise Solutions Ltd has secured additional funding from the European Structural & Investment Funds via the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government up until June 2023 to provide services to the SME community of Lancashire for:
To compliment and support the programme partners own Energy and Environment Teams delivery of this programme, East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and Industry is seeking to procure the services of a number of consultants with specialist knowledge and skills, via Framework Agreements.
Energy and Environmental Advice
Low Carbon Innovation and Technology Development Advice
We are also looking for quotations for journalistic and thought leadership support to promote the programme and its offering to the business community of Lancashire.
The specifications for the Request for Quotations can be found via the hyperlinks.
All quotes are to be returned by 12:00 noon 24th August 2020 to Louise Gaskell (contact details contained within application links).
This does not affect prior submissions and all applications will be reviewed accordingly.
Solar and savings – crisis energy and Government exemptions
How long to a green recovery? Companies can maximise their use of cheap green energy, legally minimise Government energy charges and cut hidden building energy costs … while waiting. Our webinars below show that every little helps when the going gets really tough!
As the Prime Minister unveils his vision to build back better on a grand scale, he is under considerable pressure to create a green economy and the net-zero carbon transition for at least two key reasons.
The first is because they offer a long-term sustainable route out of the current pandemic crisis. The second is that they are also the UK’s best option for preparing effectively and quickly to meet the next impending nightmare – climate change.
Covid-19 has side-tracked normal Parliamentary business, including the long-awaited post-Brexit Environment Bill; the environmental implications of a final Brexit deal – or no deal – are also unclear just six months before the UK finally cuts its current EU links. Many pieces of the jig-saw are still to be placed.
However, on the optimistic side, business secretary Alok Sharma did commit the UK in June to the UN’s ‘Race to Zero’ campaign (https://unfccc.int/climate-action/race-to-zero-campaign) to pump life into Glasgow’s pivotal COP26 climate conference now moved forward a year to November 2021 (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/cop26-president-speech-at-race-to-zero-campaign-launch).
Action this day … and some good news!
Meanwhile, there is a lot we can do while waiting. The Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) programme mission includes providing local companies with customised hands-on advice – now delivered successfully mainly online – to support sound renewable power decisions and cut overall energy use.
Our own good news is that we can now confirm that the CLC programme will continue until July 2023!
Importantly for many companies, this means that we will continue to process funding applications remotely to help shape their low-carbon future. Many audits are now made via the internet. We are also asking businesses to provide photographic evidence.
If you would like more information, or to talk to the CLC team, don’t hesitate to contact us directly. Please email Debbie, our marketing officer, at email@example.com, or calling 01254 356 487.
Triple energy webinars
Meanwhile, to provide further support in the current circumstance, the CLC team has organised a trio of lockdown online Lunch & Learn webinars in which guest expert speakers tackle important business energy issues.
If you are not able to join us live the first time round, each be seen again on YouTube.
“How Solar has changed & how it can help” – on 5 June, Ged Ennis of The Low Carbon Company (https://www.lowcarbonenergy.co/) explained how solar energy has moved on massively in recent years, with up-to-date information on costs and benefits to businesses, ways of financing projects and how the current crisis can be used to re-set the economy and industry.
Ged’s presentation can be replayed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tRbpfPG2kQ&feature=youtu.be. If you have any questions, please contact Ged directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), or talk to a member of our team. We’re here to help.
“Government Cost Exemptions – how to claim” – on 19 June, Andrew Warner, an independent Energy Manger at Green Technologies (https://www.green-technologies.co.uk/) gave a very pragmatic and well-received presentation that can be seen again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tpg8cT1tX0.
Again, if you have any questions, either speak to Andrew directly (email@example.com), or contact the team.
“Help … my buildings are wasting all my energy!” – looking forward to 12 noon on Friday 3 July, Andy Brunt and John Pickup, Directors of Edge Efficiency (https://www.edgeefficiency.co.uk/) a Lancashire-based energy and sustainable buildings specialist, will look at this ticklish topic.
You can book in advance to join us live at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/low-carbon-lunch-and-learn-helpmy-buildings-are-wasting-all-my-energy-tickets-110952120780. This is also an opportunity to ask individual questions that may be bothering you – with confidential follow-ups later.
Because we believe that it is important to act in small ways to support the wider national picture, a brief overview of the first two presentations may be useful.
The sunny side of solar
Ged’s goal is to help businesses make the most out of solar power, now and in the future, as energy use changes. He emphasises that solar is cost-efficiency with relatively short payback periods (typically five years) compared to a 25-year product lifespan and low maintenance requirements.
While solar power still only accounts for about 3% of UK national power output today, the industry has changed dramatically over a decade. Ten years ago, solar panels had an output of 180W. Today they are rated at 340W, with 580W units now entering the market. Output power costs of 3p/kWh also stand well against general electricity prices of 13p to 16p/kWh.
Another attractive measure of solar industry performance is that while a 50kW system would have typically cost some £250,000 to buy and install in 2010, the price has now fallen to circa £30,000. Inverters, which are a kind of electrical converter, have also improved in leaps and bounds and now offer internal controls, monitoring and smart functions, says Ged.
The commercial benefits are substantial, he adds. They include increased property prices, high rental values, low maintenance commitments, plus support for CSR (corporate social responsibility), meeting ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) international management standards and supply chain requirements.
Other positives include well-proven technology, the lowest installation costs ever, greater system efficiency and increased power outputs per m2. No planning permission is needed for small installations.
There are three routes in for companies interested in installing solar power – outright purchase; a 100% funded option; and PPA (power purchase agreements where no capital outlay is involved). Systems can also be linked to large storage batteries, electric vehicle (EV) charging point and VPPs (virtual power plants which are cloud- based decentralised power generating networks).
To make a sustainable difference, some 2.5MW of new solar power capacity needs to be installed each year. Although inevitable weather-based fluctuations in renewable power generation mean that large storage systems – mainly batteries – are needed to balance the grid, these are not cheap enough yet to be commonplace. However, it is important for individual companies not to miss out on a straightforward green technology whose time is coming.
Please see the presentation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tpg8cT1tX0), or talk to Ged if you would like more information.
Money saved from Government
Andrew was keen to point out that companies should act promptly to benefit from energy cost exemptions that they are legally entitled to from the Government. While the amounts may seem small now, costs are set to rise dramatically, he says. At the same time, the window of opportunity could be short if the Exchequer is forced to save money wherever possible to make up for Covid-19-related emergency spending.
As an example, an energy cost of, say, £30,000 in 2014 would have risen to between £40,000 and £45,000 today, en route to a projected £57,949 by 2025. No small change!
Andrew adds that so-called “pass through costs” – such as CCL, Duos, transmission, RO, FiT, BSUos, CM and CfD – increase energy prices and will keep on rising. Again as an example, he says that of a 13p/kW price today, 8p is an extra non-commodity cost.
Under current BEIS and HMRC schemes, it is not possible to recover the full 8p, but a substantial portion of it.
However, he also had a serious word of warning. Claiming exemptions successfully is partly down to straightforward accounting and partly an engineering audit function on site that looks at buildings and equipment. Engage the wrong advisor and, yes, you are likely to be awarded an exemption … but could then have to pay it back within 14 days after an HMRC audit!
Please see the presentation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tpg8cT1tX0), or contact Andrew if in any doubt.
The good, the bad and the worrying
There is other good news about low-carbon innovation, but also less good news about the world’s rapidly closing opportunity to beat climate change, plus UK progress during 2020.
The good – Highview Power’s Pilsworth liquid air energy storage plant in Greater Manchester will build the world’s largest liquid air battery. Spare renewable energy will be used to compress air into a liquid that can be stored and released later as a gas to power a turbine (https://highviewpower.com/).
The not so good – on the less cheery side, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the world has six months to change course and stave off a climate catastrophe. “This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol, told the Guardian in June (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/18/world-has-six-months-to-avert-climate-crisis-says-energy-expert?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNjI0&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight).
His logic is that governments worldwide will spend $9 trillion (£7.2 trillion) over the next few months hauling their economies back from the current health crisis. Their stimulus packages will shape the global economy for the next 36 months, he argues. Therefore, it is vital that emissions start to fall sharply and permanently in this period. Otherwise, climate targets will move out of reach!
“The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond,” he told the Guardian. Without action, emissions will “surely” rebound he believes, and “… it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”
The worrying – the Government’s independent advisor, the Committee on Climate Change also warns in its 2020 Progress Report to Parliament (https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-uk-emissions-2020-progress-report-to-parliament/) that too little is being done to tackle “overheating homes, flash floods, biodiversity loss and the other threats posed by a dangerously warming world”.
Measures it may recommend include: – enforcing strict environmental condition to corporate bailout matching standards in France, Germany and Canada; improving broadband and cycling routes to cut future car-use surges; considering a new fossil-fuel tax, and; introducing new building energy-efficiency policies, planting more trees and protecting peatlands.
But ending on a high note
Despite worries of a lack of low-carbon progress, June also saw encouraging reports that renewable energy accounted for almost 50% of UK power generation from January to March 2020. A huge surge in offshore wind power, rising more than one third over the year with a 53% increase in the winter quarter, plus higher output from solar panels, is said to have been behind the setting of a new clean energy record.
A wind power record of 22.3% set in the final months of 2019 was overtaken by a 30% share of total power production in the first quarter of 2020.
According to official government data, renewable accounted for some 47% of power generation in the first quarter, a substantial leap from the 39% record established in 2019. Government figures include energy from windfarms, solar panels, hydro plants, bioenergy from wood chip burning … but not coal!
Rebecca Williams of Renewable UK predicted that more records will be inevitable in the years ahead due to “a massive expansion of renewables as part of the UK’s green economic recovery”.
Old King Coal’s reign ends
During the recent lockdown, helped by reduced energy demand and bright breezy weather, offshore wind and solar energy allowed Britain to operate for 67 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes up to 16 June without coal-fired power – the first time this has happened since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
This year’s theme for World Environment Day, Time for Nature, strikes a chord with our engagement with the natural environment during lockdown. While confined to our homes, we have valued our access to green spaces and reconnected with the importance of nature for our physical and mental wellbeing. We have noticed wildlife more, as human activity has been quietened, and we have enjoyed the views revealed by clearer air.
Having pressed the pause button on many polluting activities, lockdown has given us a glimpse into a cleaner, lower emissions world. Cycling has become a more popular mode of transport, rush hour has been almost non-existent as we’ve adapted to working at home, demand for oil has fallen, and many flights have been cancelled with domestic tourism posing a more viable option for holiday makers this summer.
Clearly this is not progress, with these changes having been brought about by the devastating circumstances of the pandemic. However, the pandemic is a testament to society’s capacity to make major changes in cooperation with scientific advice, which is something that has been lacking in the context of climate science.
Since 1974, World Environment Day has been celebrated on 5th June as an opportunity to encourage the government, the public, businesses, and public figures alike to engage with environmental issues. With progress and adaptation being on the agendas of governments around the world as we look to rebuild our economies and restore quality of life, now more than ever it’s vital that we encourage policy makers and influential figures to engage with environmental issues.
The deviation from ‘normal’ that the pandemic has caused is an opportunity to bring about change. Recovery could be a vehicle for the sustainable development of our previously carbon-intensive economies, if governments align recovery plans with climate science and invest in green stimulus packages. Furthermore, our glimpse of a less polluted, lower emissions world could help to build to momentum needed to achieve this change. In fact, 155 companies with a combined market value of over 2.4 trillion US dollars have already signed a statement to governments around the world urging for a green recovery.
The right stimulus packages could bring us closer to achieving the sustainable development goals, while investing significantly in fossil-fuel intensive industries and activities could take us further away. This would further embed inequality, with the repercussions of climate change and environmental degradation, including the emergence of new diseases, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable.
However, it is not solely within the hands of governments to implement change; businesses, organisations, communities, and individuals all have a part to play. In line with World Environment Day, Chamber Low Carbon is hosting our online Lunch and Learn Event, ‘How solar has changed and how it can help’. Join the online event at 12 pm, Friday 5th June to learn from our guest speaker how solar power could enable your business to make positive changes for the environment and for your energy bills.
Additionally, if you’re a Lancashire-based SME, Chamber Low Carbon could also help you access funding for to 50% of the costs up to £15,000 or 30% of costs up to £25,000, for installing renewable technologies such as solar through our grant scheme. Sign up to the event using the link below:
One of the few positive upsides to the coronavirus crisis has been a sharp fall in fossil-fuel and welcome rise in renewable energy use, with new sources making their debut and the long-awaited age of ‘clean’ hydrogen gradually moving a step closer.
A key part of the Chamber Low Carbon Team’s brief is to help companies make well-informed choices in buying and using, but also generating their own renewable energy – via solar panels and wind turbines, plus combined heat and power (CHP) systems and heat pump technologies.
As online attendees of our latest Lunch and Learn event on 22 May will know that, after a slow start, the widespread use of ‘clean’ hydrogen could also be about to make its commercial entry.
Charley Rattan’s expert presentation on “Opportunities for the Hydrogen Economy” particularly for SMEs and innovators already in, or wishing to join the supply chain and find a route to market, can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63clRfXvNeo.
Our next online event will be “How Solar has changed & how it can help” on Friday 5 June from 12:00 – 13:30. To join us, please book at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-how-solar-has-changed-how-it-can-help-tickets-103935477812
Also book for “Government Cost Exemptions – How to claim them” on Friday 19 June (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-government-cost-exemptions-how-to-claim-tickets-105525437424).
Both sessions will, of course, be available online later.
The universe’s smallest atom
The term “hydrogen economy” is about decarbonisation and refers to using hydrogen as a low-carbon alternative to the established fossil-fuel economy in transport, the wider energy network and as a chemical feedstock.
There are two key points to note about hydrogen in the renewables mix – or three bearing in mind that it is the smallest atom on the Periodic Table which can make it a great escapologist from storage vessels.
The first is that hydrogen is not a primary energy source but an energy carrier – as a useful gas it has to be ‘made’ or isolated.
The second is that while hydrogen power cells produce only oxygen and water as waste products, it is only ‘green’ if produced sustainably. Processes such as methane-stripping which also produce carbon dioxide are not sustainable.
But as Charley explains, the day of carbon-free hydrogen is approaching. With copious renewable energy now on the horizon from not only offshore but also onshore wind farms, plus economically-generated solar park energy, hydrogen produced by splitting water with electrolysis could now be an effective green energy store.
More on that in a few moments.
Huge emissions fall
The flipside of the good news coin is that CO2 emissions fell back to 2006 levels at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
Interim estimates, which still have to be verified officially by more detailed data reports, indicate that the global emissions fall linked to human activity could have been as much as 17%. This included a circa 50% drop from land transport and 15% from non-renewable power generation.
At the same time, while industrial emissions fell by some 35%, household levels as people stayed at home rose by an unsurprising 5%.
Research by New Scientist (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2243875-coronavirus-set-to-cause-biggest-emissions-fall-since-second-world-war/?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter) forecasts that the ultimate drop this year over 2019 will be some 4.2% to 7.5%. More disappointingly perhaps this equates to only a circa 0.0010C saving on global warming and will not on its own slow down climate change. We will have to do much more to achieve that!
But they could rise again
The other less cheery note is that the gain could be temporary without a renewed effort. Evidence from China suggests that air pollution could bounce back quickly as the UK leaves lockdown.
A new study (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x) also says that not flying, driving less and working from home still leavers “the bulk of emission sources intact”. BBC News (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52724821?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter) reports concerns that emissions could rise higher than before the health crisis as people return to their cars.
Renewable energy itself could contract
And another victim of the crisis ironically could be renewable energy growth itself as overall demand falls (https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-iea-renewables/global-green-energy-growth-to-fall-for-first-time-in-20-years-iea-idUKKBN22W0G6). Rather than the 19% expansion seen in 2019, the International Energy Agency warns that this could be cut dramatically to just 6% (167Gw) in 2020, although a rebound is possible if governments support a ‘green economic recovery’.
However, The Guardian also examines how renewable energy “could spur [the] UK’s post pandemic recovery while tackling climate change” (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/19/how-renewable-energy-could-power-britains-economic-recovery?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter).
Supporting this, Britain has moved into sixth spot in the EY’s “attractiveness index” biannual global survey of investor renewable energy destinations (https://www.ey.com/en_gl/recai); the UK is now behind Germany, Australia, France, China and the US in top spot.
Electric car costs fall and oil stays underground
Positively, the ‘i’ suggests that by 2027 large electric cars in Europe will be cheaper than their fossil-fuel equivalents and that Covid-19 “will not torpedo the switch to greener driving”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times refers to a new report suggesting that more than 33% of oil and gas in UK waters could remain in the ground if oil prices stay at depressed levels caused by low demand during the pandemic (https://www.ft.com/content/759c7bf3-9115-4e20-9a05-2110032d7344?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter).
UK manufacturing companies benefit from low-carbon
Another new study taken before the coronavirus, this time from the manufacturing association Make UK and energy company E.ON (https://www.edie.net/news/6/Report–UK-manufacturers-boosting-profits-by-focusing-on-energy-efficiency/?utm_source=dailynewsletter,%20edie%20daily%20newsletter&utm_medium=email,%20email&utm_content=news&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter,%20102851ce4e-dailynewsletter_COPY_803) finds that 40% of UK manufacturing firms report increased profit margins from energy-efficient improvements and decarbonisation measures; 30% are said have seen increased competitiveness.
It also finds encouragingly that 90% are aware of the UK’s net-zero emissions by 2050 target, and nearly 50% see the low-carbon transition as a business opportunity and are prioritising low-carbon techniques and technologies to improve their own bottom-lines, as well as for the wider good.
Some 75% are said to understand the benefits of digitisation, 57% now have smart meters, 78% are collecting energy usage data and 65% have behavioural change programmes to encourage staff to improve energy efficiency. The belief is that this can continue as the pandemic eases.
The return value of investment
According to Make UK CEO Stephen Phipson, “These results show that manufacturers are committed to playing their part in the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. As businesses recover and learn from the Covid-19 crisis, they have the opportunity to ensure improved sustainability is factored into their resilience plans.
He adds, “As well as taking steps to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, they are developing the innovative new products and services we all need to decarbonise.”
E.ON UK CEO Michael Lewis commented, “Both Government and the energy industry must work to remove barriers to further investment as reported by manufacturers, notably cash flow and profit margin impacts, as well as payback periods on investments.
He continued, “The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated that collaboration and cooperation across government, industry and society can transform how our economy operates and we must now work together to deliver a green recovery which continues the transition to a low-carbon economy but also makes economic sense.”
Returning to the role of hydrogen – and renewables in general – developments are being made on many fronts, including with MPs.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is looking for advice on clean low-carbon hydrogen production and potential uses for both economic growth and meeting the 2050 target in homes, businesses and transport networks as part of its Technological Innovation and Climate Change inquiry.
EAC chairman, Philip Dunne MP, noted, “In 2018, 95% of hydrogen was produced using fossil fuels, so it is clear there are significant hurdles that must be overcome for it to become a viable, clean energy source.” The EAC inquiry wants to know if “environmentally friendly hydrogen can be produced at scale, or if it is merely a pipe dream.”
He adds that the UK now has the largest global offshore wind capacity and extensive gas networks which can both be used to produce, store and transport green hydrogen.
Government hydrogen funding
In February, the Government also announced £90 million to help cut emissions from industrial processes and the built environment by switching industrial production from fossil fuels to renewables – in industries including glass and cement production. It will fund two plants.
Some £70 million will help finance low-carbon hydrogen production plants near Mersey and Aberdeen; a third project will use offshore windfarms near Grimsby to produce clean hydrogen.
Large-scale global use of clean hydrogen across the energy, transport and industrial sectors could reduce their annual emissions by up to 34% by 2050 at a “manageable cost” according to Bloomberg NEF latest published in March (https://about.bnef.com/).
A number of major European electricity groups – including Enel, Iberdrola, Ørsted, and EDP – urged the European Commission on 22 May to prioritise renewable hydrogen in its pandemic recovery plan (https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/electricity-giants-join-forces-on-renewable-hydrogen/?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter).
In March, French train-maker Alstom completed 10 days of hydrogen-train tests between the Dutch cities of Groningen and Leeuwarden so The Netherlands can follow Germany which launched its Lower Saxony all-hydrogen train service in September 2018.
Also in The Netherlands, Shell unveiled plans in March to develop by 2030 what it says will be Europe’s largest ‘green’ hydrogen generation project. New 3-to-4MW North Sea wind farms will power an electrolyser at a “mega-hydrogen” facility in Eemshaven that will eventually produce circa 800,000 tonnes of hydrogen annually to be used across North West Europe.
North West focal point
A new North West project will also create a skills roadmap for the low-carbon transition. The North West Energy & Hydrogen Cluster, led by the University of Chester and Manchester Metropolitan University, will look at “complementary” skills from the oil and gas sector to scale up for hydrogen and carbon capture. When complete, the decarbonised cluster could create 33,000 jobs and save 10 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
Giant grandfather clocks underground?
Hydrogen and industrial-sized batteries aside, other potential forms of energy storage may seem so obvious that the question is probably why they haven’t been used before. ‘Gravitricity’ (https://www.gravitricity.com/), for example, is a greatly scaled-up version of the grandfather clock.
The concept uses spare renewable energy to create and store potential energy by lifting weights of up to 12,000 tonnes from the bottom of old mine shafts. The cost from a typical 10MW lithium-ion battery is some £283/megawatt hour; the gravitricity equivalent is £132. In May, the company announced that it will develop a demonstrator project by December on a site near Edinburgh.
More renewable energy from underground?
Abandoned deep mines could also potentially provide warm water by tapping into the ‘geothermal gradient’. Temperatures under Britain rise by around 250 per kilometre; above the boiling point of water they can drive steam turbines. Again, heat pumps working like a fridge in reverse can boost even small temperature differences.
In March 2020, South Tyneside Council announced a £7 million district heating scheme tapping into geothermal energy from the flooded Hebburn Colliery near Newcastle which closed in 1932. It will save 319 tonnes of carbon annually; the heat pumps will be powered by solar panels.
Heat pumps can also be used to take the heat of summer down into bedrock under buildings as a mass low-temperature thermal energy store which can be brought to the surface again in winter, a technology used widely in Scandinavia.
The UK also has many geothermal hotspots. Newcastle upon Tyne has studied using geothermal energy from 2km below city streets at 80°C. Southampton’s geothermal power station opened in 1986 and provides heating for the city hall, a superstore and swimming centre, 300 flats, hotels and the city’s port.
Biomass and anaerobic digestive systems using organic material to produce biogas open up even more possibilities.
Highways as quiet as 1955 – permanently?
Freedom and the open road! The Government says its net-zero emissions transport roadmap will be delivered on time in 2020 – but with new post-COVID-19 priorities to nudge private vehicles off the tarmac, boost public transport, encourage ‘active travel’ and invest more in online-working.
April has been an unusual lockdown month. In addition to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ surprise policy announcement, it also witnessed the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – online!
Much has changed since 22 April 1970 when a first Earth Day poster stated starkly, “We have met the enemy and he is us”. Earth Day 2020 took this now self-evident truth much farther, adding that concerted climate action is vital if we want to defeat what could become the world’s largest crisis.
The Chamber Low Carbon team was formed to endorse this essential long-term message and we will continue to provide all our services remotely through the present health emergency.
Low carbon online
This includes inviting you to our regular series of Low Carbon Live Lunch and Learn seminars online. Updated programme details can be seen at https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/events/ and you can join us by Zoom or phone.
If you miss a session, don’t worry. We are also providing links to presentations already given by our expert speakers – on YouTube, plus PowerPoint, PDF and word documents.
Our most recent seminar on Sustainable Procurement is already available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ghy3uXa4iZg. Chamber Low Carbon Marketing Officer Debbie Treadwell can provide more information. And other members of the team are always here to help.
A time for new ideas
Transport was a dominant April theme. But there were other interesting developments. One mentioned later is a curious but innovative Dutch proposal to beat sea-level rises by building dams to turn the North Sea into a giant freshwater lake. The key message is it’s time to think big!
Thinking big, it is also important to mention the Government’s 15 April 2020 ‘Notice to proceed’ on High Speed 2 released to provide ‘construction sector certainty’. Lancashire, as the home of the world’s fourth largest aerospace cluster and an automotive sector larger than the West Midlands’, urgently needs improved transport links that are compatible with the new emerging world order (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-provides-construction-sector-certainty-by-confirming-notice-to-proceed-on-high-speed-2?utm_source=98c43723-7086-4bf2-9acc-dc517ad6ebe2&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate).
Shapps at the climate sharp end
Grant Shapps’ new policy announcement caught many experts by surprise; it was described by Stephen Joseph, visiting professor at Hertfordshire University, as “… utterly gob-smacking”.
His radical proposals released “quietly” in the foreword to the Government’s De-Carbonising Transport consultation discourage private travel and car ownership in favour of public transport, ‘active travel’ by cycling and walking, plus a dramatic rise on online homeworking.
“Twenty-twenty will be the year we set out the policies and plans needed to tackle transport emissions. This document marks the start of this process”, Mr Shapps said, adding that “the shift in emphasis away from driving – where possible – could improve people’s health, create better places to live and travel in, and also promote clean economic growth.”
“Public transport and active travel,” he continued, “will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”
Quiet roads – Back to the Past!
The Department for Transport (DfT) says it is still on track to deliver the policy roadmap this year in line with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target for decarbonising “every single mode of transport”.
In October 2019, the plan was launched to clarify how businesses will help to transform transport as currently the UK’s highest-emitting sector. The original goal was for publication this autumn ahead of the now postponed COP26 summit in Glasgow.
The DfT also confirms that it will host a “series of events, workshops and opportunities” this year – despite the health emergency – and wants not incremental but systematic changes to ensure that only zero-emission vehicles are on UK roads by mid-century.
‘Modal shift’ is a major topic at the moment driven by online buying. It extends from the import of goods at high-volume ports, transfers to trains and road freight vehicles at major storage hubs like Doncaster and Daventry, and ‘last mile’ sustainable distribution centres in local communities.
In the new transport policy, financial support will be needed to create “coherent and cost-effective” modal shift networks, plus effective behaviour change communications and support, says the DfT. This will include a “universally recognised measure and tool” to calculate journey CO2 footprint.
New cash priorities
Chris Stark, CEO of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) also wants ministers to reconsider road-building plans and switch the investment into broadband. “I would spend the roads budget on fibre. You would get a huge return to the economy with people having better connections,” he says, adding, “You would save people’s time and increase their productivity.”
Other ‘shovel ready’ sustainable investment projects could help the UK out of the COVID-19 crisis, including an electric vehicle charging infrastructure and energy projects such as onshore wind.
The big challenge, he says, is insulating draughty UK homes – a pledge made in the Conservative manifesto but not repeated in the most recent infrastructure announcement. The labour-intensive renovation of homes would also provide essential jobs in a UK zero-carbon economy.
The CCC also appreciates that a holistic approach is needed to resolve outstanding issues – high upfront vehicle prices, a lack of mature circular economy solutions for batteries, and the fact that vehicle sales significantly outpace charging and refuelling infrastructure rollouts.
The AA is generally seen as the motorist’s friend. However, it also anticipates a permanent post-COVID-19 cut in travel as people use home-working technology. It notes that the Chancellor’s current plans to spend £27 billion on curbing road congestion – plus £100 billion on HS2 – may need redirecting to more broadband infrastructure funding to support home-working.
The argument is that if commuters spend even one day a week working from home, road use will fall to school holiday levels.
Professor Greg Marsden of the Leeds University’s Transport Studies Unit adds that Government traffic growth projections behind the roads programme are 1% annually – or 35% by 2055. Funding should now be diverted to rebuilding public transport and more zero-emission vehicles.
However, former Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, Andrew Adonis, believes it is too early to forecast a permanent traffic fall. With a growing population, more people generally equal more travel, he cautions.
What the numbers say
The Treasury says, “Roads are crucial for connecting people, places and businesses, with freight logistics businesses depending on the road network working effectively to get goods in the right places.” It added that the Budget set a “record commitment of £5bn to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband” and that it remains committed to climate change targets.
According to Cabinet Office Data, road travel on 29 March fell by some 73% to levels last seen in 1955. Walking, cycling and car and van journeys dropped by circa 75%, bus numbers by 60% train use by 90% and lorry movements by 40%.
The key to accepting permanent change
When it comes to accepting long-term work and travel habit changes, the CCC has taken a psychologist’s advice about public readiness to accept major adjustments. Its key message is that the longer the change lasts, the more it becomes the new normal.
People first resist change. Then they get used to new situations with benefits that make them reluctant to change back. In terms of transport, the longer change last, the more “sticky” it becomes.
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 2,000 people found that nearly two-thirds think the most popular future employment mode will be flexible working; many added that flexible hours are now crucial when choosing a job. A third would rather have flexible working than a pay rise.
Many people are now reporting ‘Zoom fatigue’, which also applies to Skype, FaceTime and other video-calling interfaces. The conclusion is that virtual interactions are extremely hard on the brain.
Assistant professor of cyberpsychology, Andrew Franklin, at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, says people are surprised how difficult video calls can be when confined to a small screen (http://www.nsu.edu/andrew-franklin).
Humans communicate even when they are quiet, he explains. During in-person conversations, the brain focuses on spoken words, but it also the meaning of dozens of non-verbal cues – is someone is slightly turned away, fidgeting while you talk, or inhaling quickly to interrupt. These clues are important in knowing how to response,
An eye for an eye
Video calls in comparison require sustained attention to words, especially if screen quality is poor and hand-gestures cannot be seen. “For somebody who’s really dependent on those non-verbal cues, it can be a big drain not to have them,” Franklin adds. Extended eye contact is now the strongest online facial cue but can be threatening or intimate if maintained too long (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/eye-contact-how-long-is-too-long/).
However, the Chamber’s low carbon seminars are clearly so engaging that no-one is likely to experience this problem!
A very Dutch solution to rising sea-levels
A Dutch government scientist says building two mammoth dams around the North Sea could protect some 25 million Europeans from rising sea levels driven by global warming.
Oceanographer Sjoerd Groeskamp says a first 475km dam between north Scotland and west Norway, and a second 160km-long between west France and south-west England, are “a possible solution”.
With colleague Joakim Kjellsson, he says the idea is affordable and technically feasible – though meant more as “a warning of the immensity of the problem hanging over our heads”.
The cost of building a so-called North Sea Enclosure Dyke they estimate to be between €250bn and €500bn over 20-years; 14 countries would be protected for just over 0.1% of their combined GDP.
The North Sea between France and England is rarely more than 100m in depth; the average depth between Scotland and Norway is 127m, peaking just over 320m off the coast of Norway. Fixed platforms are already built in more than 500m.
The authors acknowledge that their project would eventually turn much of the North Sea into a vast tide-free freshwater lake, radically changing its ecosystem.
They also agree that this may not be the best solution. But with a rise of 10m by 2500 under the bleakest scenario, their message is that it is important to ‘think big’!
Working remotely to tackle three crises together!
COVID-19 and carbon. By working from home, the Chamber Low Carbon team will maintain uninterrupted low-carbon business services throughout what we hope will be a short-term health crisis to avoid a longer-term environmental disaster – and help fight a waste crime epidemic.
As circumstances change, we will let you know about any new arrangements for quick and easy remote access to our free low-carbon advice, plus help in making important new business contacts.
Very importantly, you can continue to apply for financial support from our £4 million European Union, European Regional Development Fund part funded programme.
The team is also converting our poplar face-to-face “Lunch and Learn” low-carbon seminars into online webinars – where unfortunately you will now have to provide your own lunch at home! However, you will still hear from experts who can answer all your questions as before.
The upside of a lockdown
An estimated three billion people globally are now under transport restrictions even though they are using more energy in the home and for heating. The net result is a significant fall in emissions.
Our new Low Carbon team colleague Lizzie Hebbert has been looking at air quality improvements since the lockdown began which you can read about at https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/2020/the-corona-virus-pandemic-what-are-the-consequences-for-air-quality/.
Hard-hit New York has reported a 50% year-on-year fall in carbon monoxide from cars. Researchers also expect that May – when CO2 emissions normally peak because of leaf decomposition – could see its lowest northern hemisphere carbon figures since the 2009 financial crisis.
However, the wider question is whether gains made now are sustainable and if greenhouse gas emissions will stay permanently low when the lockdown ends?
The answer may not be straightforward because the relationship between the climate emergency and COVID-19 raises some potentially complicated questions.
A long-term solution may depend on our willingness as individuals to keep on curbing our energy-use when the present crisis lifts – a key Chamber’s low-carbon programme priority!
Meanwhile, an important indirect environmental victim of COVID-19 is COP26, the UN climate change conference the UK was due to host in Glasgow in November that has now been pushed into 2021 (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cop26-postponement).
It is impossible to delay the climate crisis
Environmental campaigners and climate leaders are planning to maintain pressure on world governments to stick to the stringent and critical new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) emission reductions that were to be put into place this year at COP26.
However, if there is a silver lining it could be that the UK which is criticised for not been well-prepared to organise the pivotal global conference now has more time.
As Nicholas Stern – author of the formative 2006 Stern Review – explains, “There is an opportunity in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to create a new approach to [economic] growth that is a sustainable and resilient economy in closer harmony with the natural world”. He adds, “That will be the challenge and opportunity of COP26 next year. We must use this time well.”
Avoiding US elections
There was already some uneasiness that the conference would have started within two days of the US Presidential elections scheduled for 3 November 2020. The New Scientist wonders whether a Democratic winner entering the White House might reverse President Trump’s decision to leave the 2015 Paris climate agreement and then go on to develop a stronger low-carbon plan.
However, the Financial Times worries that postponing COP26 robs the EU “of a milestone that was being used to strong-arm some of its climate laggards to get their act together this year”. Other commentators urge the UK to move ahead in areas like transport, land-use and home-heating before COP26 to prove that it really is on-track for net-zero emissions and can show true global-leadership.
Joint coronavirus and climate change solutions
The jury is probably still out on whether the cooperation and social cohesion seen during the COVID-19 pandemic will lead on to long-term behavioural improvements when more normal conditions return, or if relief, release and an urgent economic recovery will push us back into bad old habits?
The logic of the second scenario is that once free of government-imposed virus restrictions, people are unlikely to welcome them back over a longer period for less immediate climate goals.
Former UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary from 2010 to 2016, Christiana Figueres, believes that the world will rise to the challenge, “The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed humanity’s instinct to transform itself in the face of a universal threat and it can help us do the same to create a livable planet for future generations,” she says.
Professor Mike Berners-Lee of the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, has been quoted as saying, “Covid-19 is a re-evaluation and re-wiring opportunity. It won’t be much fun but it does give humanity an enforced chance to stop and think.”
Pros and cons
Other observers say tough climate crisis measures will be less harsh than virus rules, that we have an opportunity to create better systems and climate crisis structures, and that current “trillion-dollar” interventions show that with political will and society’s support, drastic steps can be taken quickly.
However, others caution it is too early to understand what works and what does not, the balance between behaviour and technology, and how governments will re-stimulate their economies – after the 2008-09, financial crash, carbon emissions shot up by 5% when fossil fuel use was boosted.
There is also a general view that shutting down the economy is not an alternative to helping people live low-carbon lifestyles and investing in sustainable infrastructure.
Breaking down resistance
Leo Murry, Director of Innovation at the zero carbon society campaign group, Possible (https://www.wearepossible.org/) has a specific slant. He says that in the short- and long-term, people will deal with COVID-19 challenges that define their behaviour, and that “getting consumers in rich nations to shift to more sustainable lifestyles is incredibly difficult, even at the best of times.”
He adds that “almost all forms of direct entreaty or psychological nudge to individuals to voluntarily change their behaviour to combat climate change do not work, or at best have very limited impacts”.
Significant behaviour changes need “structural changes to the choice architecture in which individual consumers make decisions, such as regulations to ban certain products or activities, large price hikes, or new infrastructure”.
“Moments of change”
One exception he suggests is “moments of change” – moving house or job – where old behaviour and habits are disrupted and new, active choices are made that can create fresh patterns.
Intervening at these moments can help to steer people into lower carbon patterns more effectively than trying to prise them out of existing habits, he says.
COVID-19 has interrupted hundreds of millions of lives and is an example of mass “habit discontinuity”, especially in personal mobility which is an area that is difficult to shift, he believes.
However, he adds that while ending lockdown might be a good time to question old lives and make better ones, coping with economic problems and other crisis impacts could make this challenging.
Avoiding waste crime – a crisis in the making
On 6 March, Environment Agency guest experts described the impact, cost and disruption caused by an accelerating number of large-scale waste crimes to attendees at our last face-to-face Lunch & Learn seminar.
If you were not at “Waste Crime and Duty of Care”, please contact our team for advice. You might also find it helpful to look at the following websites: –
Good carbon news
New BEIS figures released on 26 March (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/875485/2019_UK_greenhouse_gas_emissions_provisional_figures_statistical_release.pdf) show that year-on-year UK domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 3.6% in 2019; renewable energy use reached a record 36.9% of all electricity generation. A recent Carbon Brief analysis concluded that we have reached a level last seen in 1888 while the economy grew by a fifth.
The main reason was a 29% fall in coal use in 2019 which brings total coal carbon emissions over a decade down by 80%. Oil and gas emissions fell by 6% and 20%.
However, Government projections show the UK will miss its legally-binding carbon targets later this decade without a further 31% fall by 2030. Current data suggests we are on track for a 10% cut.
“In the past decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in Britain’s power system, which has transformed at a speed never seen before,” Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London comments. He adds, “If this pace of change can be maintained, renewables could provide more than half Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and the power system could be practically carbon free.”
Transport is the main UK carbon emissions source. However, some 28% is linked to lighting, cooling and heating buildings. A further fifth come from heating and powering homes.
Nearly two thirds of UK homes do not meet long-term energy efficiency targets, according to BBC data. More than 12 million fall below the C grade on Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) from A-G. Many householders spend much more on energy bills than necessary and release tonnes of CO2. Huge retrofitting measures are needed for homes built before 1990.
The situation is said to be so bad that the 65.9 million tonnes of carbon emitted by UK homes in 2018 were higher than emissions from the power stations generating our energy supply.
We now need to apply many of the low-carbon principles used in business at home! BEIS also announced on 2 March plans to power millions of additional homes with renewable energy (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/millions-more-homes-to-be-powered-by-renewables?utm_source=2b2369ba-24a9-4747-b057-2e9151ff992e&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate).
The UK’s first climate change refugees?
Flooding, the COVID-19, oil price wars and wild financial markets made March a difficult month. Persistently wet ground has caused a growing number of potentially dangerous landslides on sloping ground, plus subterranean sinkholes.
Environment Agency chair, Sir Bevan, says the current policy of housing and property developments on floodplain land must stop. However, for some coastal communities it is already too late.
Pity the poor people of Fairbourne in Gwynedd, a village on the west coast of Wales, who have been called the UK’s first climate change refugees after the Government announced they will must leave 450 houses, a pub, post office and several shops by 2054 because of sea-level rise threats and coastal flooding linked to climate change.
According to CNN the problem could be global and affect us all (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/02/world/beaches-disappearing-climate-change-sea-level-rise/index.html?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter) with half of the world’s beaches disappearing by the end of the century!
The environment remains a key priority.