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15 December 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 11:25am

When it comes to energy, there is revolution in the air

The chief executive of Scottish Power on what the industry is doing to achieve net zero.

By Keith Anderson

 

As we draw to the end of a tumultuous year, there is talk of revolution in the air – a green industrial revolution that will invest in the people, skills and infrastructure we need to accelerate the shift to a net-zero economy.     

At Scottish Power, we’ve spent 2020 doing our level best to turn those aspirations into reality – making sure that talk is backed up with action. We’ve invested nearly £1.5bn in the UK this year, working hard to develop our onshore and offshore wind farms and our electricity networks in order to support the shift to cleaner transport, heating and industrial processes.     

Hard on the heels of the Labour Party’s Green Economic Recovery report last month, the prime minister’s Ten Point Plan and the Climate Change Committee’s 6th Carbon Budget have reinforced the importance of ensuring that the benefits of the net-zero transition are felt by local communities across the UK.     

As we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, it’s clear that the economic and environmental advantages of delivering a green recovery are aligned as never before. Every community – urban and rural, rich and poor – should feel the benefit.     

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What’s more, there’s a stronger sense of urgency than ever that the decisions we take now as a country will be critical to success in meeting our ambitious 2030 targets. That’s the year the UK has set to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 68 per cent compared with 1990 levels, to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles, and to transform our power generation mix by installing 40GW of offshore wind.  These are big, bold targets. And they’re all eminently achievable if we mobilise industry, communities and government at all levels for a decade of delivery.     

One of the reasons I’m so confident in our ability to meet the net-zero challenge involves the changes we’ve made at Scottish Power.     

In the five years since the Paris Climate Agreement, we’ve transformed our business model. Today, all the power we generate – enough to supply the energy needs of nearly two million homes – comes from our 40 onshore and offshore windfarms. Every new customer we sign up is supplied with 100 per cent green electricity as a matter of course.     

We may be the first of the UK’s integrated energy companies to make this green shift, but I sincerely hope we won’t be the last.     

Net zero is now the prism through which we make our business decisions, and that’s a profound change. It’s a key reason for our becoming a principal partner of COP26, the global climate change conference that will be hosted by our home city of Glasgow in November 2021.   

Over the next five years, we’re building on our green commitments, with a £10bn investment plan to double our renewable-generation capacity and to deliver the networks that will facilitate electric vehicles and decarbonised heating. Our plans will support something in the order of 10,000 jobs, helping to develop skilled apprentices, a sustainable supply chain and spreading the economic benefits far and wide.  With the right net-zero route map – along the lines that the Climate Change Committee has just set out – and with the right supporting frameworks, we can make the decarbonisation of our power, transport and heating sectors a reality.     

As an industry, we’ve already shown how we can invest behind clear targets, driving down the price of wind power to the point where it’s now the cheapest form of electricity in the UK, bar none. That was unimaginable 20 years ago – but thanks to the mechanisms put in place by successive governments, the UK is now recognised as a world leader in delivering green electricity.     

We should be taking the lessons from this experience and applying them to the nascent technologies we know will be important for delivering net zero – such as developing low-carbon hydrogen at scale to help clean up transport and heavy industry, and making heat pumps a mainstream and cost-efficient alternative to conventional gas boilers for heating our homes.   

At the same time, we need to ensure that the green transition is fair and its advantages shared equally.  For the first time since the invention of the internal combustion engine, the worlds of mass transportation and electricity are converging. We need to be getting ready for the mass embrace of electric vehicles (EVs) by ensuring there’s a network of public-use charge points in place – not just on wealthy high streets on leafy suburban avenues but in remote, rural and socially disadvantaged areas as well, which the market is less likely to reach.   

Underpinning all of these themes – more wind power in the system, an electric pathway for home heating, speeding up the shift to EVs – is the role of our energy networks.     

Back in June, Scottish Power published Unlocking Net Zero, our own ten-point plan for a green recovery. We set out the reasons why the cables and wires connecting green energy sources like offshore wind farms to actual consumers will be crucial to delivering the massive increase in electrification the Climate Change Committee predicts we’re going to need over the next few years.   

Now is the time to accelerate our investment in this critical infrastructure. To make that happen, government, industry and Ofgem, the regulator, need to be aligned on the necessary measures to stimulate and incentivise investment.   

That’s why we need to think hard about how to reinvigorate Ofgem’s purpose on net zero. I’ve seen how the experience of becoming 100 per cent green at Scottish Power has been transformative in terms of how we view ourselves, how we view the world and how we view our mission.     

To do more than simply talk about a revolution, however, and actually engineer a green recovery, we need the same sort of paradigm shift across industry and the economy as a whole. Equipped with a clear strategic steer and a mandate to deliver net zero, Ofgem should be an enabler and champion of that process.   

As Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, said recently, it’s time to buckle up for an accelerated drive to net zero that will create massive new employment and economic opportunities across the UK. At Scottish Power, we’re ready to play a leading role in delivering the green industrial revolution – and we’re looking to all companies and regulators to do the same.