Published on November 21st, 2018 | by Joshua S Hill0
UK “Energy Revolution” Could Result In Two-Tier Economy
November 21st, 2018 by Joshua S Hill
A new study published on Monday has revealed that businesses and families in London and Scotland are better placed to take advantage of the so-called “energy revolution” underway in the United Kingdom — benefiting from cheaper energy bills, electric vehicles, and smart appliances — but residents of the North of England and the East Midlands lag further behind, creating the risk of a two-tier economy.
The study, conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and E4Tech and commissioned by British power generation company Drax Group, is the first such study to examine the country’s energy transition at the regional level and breaks down the transition into 20 separate metrics for the power, transport, and buildings sector, providing a barometer of national and regional progress.
As the authors of the report point out, the “UK’s energy transition is well described by national and international expert bodies,” but this often fails to look at the situation beyond a macro-scale, subsequently missing the micro-scale impacts of the transition, i.e., how it is being played out regionally. The study, therefore, seeks to dig down into the specifics of the energy transition and investigate what it will mean for individual households, businesses, and society as a whole, and reveal the regional differences that are developing under current policies.
“Without awareness of these regional disparities and their potential impacts, Britain risks creating a two-tier energy system,” the authors of the report explain, “where some get ahead with the fuels and technologies of the future, while others are left behind with the higher costs, environmental and health problems that come from burning legacy fossil fuels – leaving millions of families and businesses less equipped to enjoy cheaper bills and better outcomes.”
“The country is going through an energy revolution,” said Dr Iain Staffell, from Imperial College London. “We are creating an energy system which will power our future economy and help tackle climate change.
“But, our research reveals that Britain is at risk creating a two-tier economy, leaving millions of families and businesses less well equipped to enjoy cheaper bills and better health outcomes. Our concern is they will not be offered the same opportunities as people living in regions which are modernising their energy infrastructure.”
As can be seen below, London and Scotland are coming close to being on track to meet their overall targets. But, even that fails to understand the wildly varying realities. Renewable power is reliant upon natural resources, so Scotland and Wales have better access to low-carbon power per-person than does England, but Scotland and Wales have some of the lowest transmission capacities. Smart meters have the highest penetration in Wales and the North East, while London has the lowest, and the West Midlands and the East currently have the highest uptake of passenger electric vehicles, London the most electric buses, and South East, northern regions of England, and Scotland have the highest share of ultra-low emission HGVs.
“Great Britain needs more secure, clean energy to compete in the future economy,” added Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO. “There is an energy revolution underway which will deliver it – but this report uncovers worrying regional divides as we go through that transition.
“Drax is already working hard to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future for all. We will work with all our partners including governments to ensure no-one is left behind through the energy revolution.”
The underlying problem, as could be fairly well expected, is the different priorities placed on the energy transition by local governments through their investment and policies, as well as the simple fact that more affluent regions have the resources to involve themselves more in the transition than do poorer regions.
London and Scotland jointly lead overall progress in the country, thanks in part to London’s green transport system and Scotland’s increasing levels of renewable energy. Both regions also boast relatively energy efficient residential homes, which are more likely to score high A-C Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings, and have fewer buildings rated F and G. Conversely, the remaining regions are more likely to score low EPC ratings. Specifically, the combination of the cost of heating combined with lower average incomes results in higher fuel poverty rates.
“Some of the problems are deep-rooted driven by the underlying economics of the society, e.g. energy poverty,” explained Dr Staffell. “Where relevant we have discussed this in the report. Some of the issues have more to do policymaking, e.g. the de-facto ban on onshore wind which hampers the energy transition in landlocked areas. The report finds that a multitude of reason are relevant and provides starting points for action.”
The research also shows that there is different progress being made within various sectors, as can be seen below. Specifically, the study found that work to reduce the carbon impact of the power sector is on track thanks to the large-scale closure of coal stations and the explosive growth in renewables. However, work to electrify heating, improve the energy efficiency of residential homes, and the electrification of the country’s railway system is falling behind.
One area the authors steered away from was the role that Brexit might have on the energy revolution. According to Dr Iain Staffell, who spoke to me via email, their aim was “to keep Brexit out of the report, so it can be policy-descriptive, not prescriptive.” The report “assesses where we are now – and the effects of Brexit haven’t yet begun to be felt on the sector. That being said, our findings will all be affected by Britain’s underlying economic development, e.g. household income and manufacturing.”
I also asked Dr Staffell how the UK’s energy revolution leaders — London and Scotland — can use their position to support the rest of the country.
“London is a leader for clean transportation,” said Dr Staffell. “The efforts made by local authorities to curb air pollution are world-leading. Spurred on by economic incentives and hard regulations, the share of combustion engine vehicles is declining. London can help other cities and regions to understand the value of air quality and how to successfully limit vehicle emissions.”
“Scotland is blessed with excellent wind resource and has exploited this very well, making it a forerunner,” Dr Staffell added. “Scotland is a thought-leader in other areas, e.g. the hydrogen bus fleets in Aberdeen and Dundee. Scotland’s example can provide a starting point to move ahead in the energy transition. This allows the coupling (i.e. interaction) of different energy sectors to create mutual benefits.”