The anticipation is palpable as Cop26 grows closer: high hopes would be an understatement. But high hopes are needed. This is the most important summit the UK has ever hosted and the most significant climate event since 2015’s Cop21 in Paris, which saw the signing of the Paris Agreement.
Paris marked a tangible shift towards net zero, bringing about behavioural changes across investors, policymakers and regulators. Cop26 must build significantly on this and affords the UK an opportunity to showcase our leadership on energy sector decarbonisation and to demonstrate how renewable power can be deployed at both scale and pace. In fact, the UK power sector was already on a decarbonisation journey pre-Paris with a 60 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions over the past decade.
While this is great progress there’s still an awful lot we need to do if a net-zero energy system is to be achieved. This means having appropriate policies that encourage private investment in renewables and new technologies. Strategic investment in network infrastructure is also required. Our existing infrastructure was not intended for the scale of renewables needed to decarbonise our electricity system, let alone for the future decarbonisation of transport and heating. My first wish for Cop26, therefore, is that it will set the conditions needed to drive the policies and frameworks that practically enable the accelerated delivery of infrastructure.
It’s not just the central energy system that is at play here. We’re also talking about how businesses operate and how homes run. If net zero is to be achieved, all aspects of how we live will need to be redesigned. Positively, the UK government has just published its long-awaited Heat and Building Strategy, which sets out plans to stimulate decarbonisation in this sector. This includes improving the energy performance of buildings, increased penetration of heat pumps and new building standards.
My second wish for Cop26 is that we will see an increased focus on the policies and financial investment needed to get our homes and business premises to net-zero status. Smart meters are a great enabler, providing the data on how and when energy is consumed. However, businesses and homeowners also need help to use this data to retrofit their buildings. As an example, works completed by SSE under the Irish government’s national retrofit programme have reduced energy costs by as much as 70 per cent.
More policy commitments like this will help drive focused action towards net zero.
My third wish for Cop26 is that we have plain-speaking, practical explanations of what needs to be done and how support will be given and accessed. If the UK is going to achieve net zero, we need organisations of all sizes to adopt renewable energy. In the age of the environmentally aware consumer, it is critical for companies to demonstrate to their customers, shareholders and employees that they are making a genuine commitment. A simple place to start is to ensure that the energy they use is from traceable renewable sources; the energy sector needs to be held to account and make it unequivocally clear where the energy comes from.
One of the ways a business can prove that it is reducing its carbon footprint, while also protecting itself from price fluctuations, is a corporate power purchase agreement (CPPA). This helps shield the business from volatile costs and provides full traceability to a renewable asset.
Interest in CPPAs is high but many companies are put off by the complexity involved in most agreements. This means that CPPAs have remained the domain of large companies. At SSE Energy Solutions we are determined to fix this, with a firm focus on making agreements both understandable and accessible to all. Our customers can now set an energy strategy for up to five years, buying their energy from a specific wind farm on simple terms. We also provide Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs), so that each kilowatt can be verified as sourced from their chosen wind farm. At SSE, we know that businesses will be at different stages of their net-zero journey, so we are continuously innovating to meet their needs.
My fourth wish for Cop26 relates to diversity of thinking. Addressing climate change is complex and requires new ways of doing things. It’s fantastic to see a whole day of the summit dedicated to exploring how diversity is critical to decarbonisation. We need diversity of thought and creativity to tackle this complex myriad of challenges as we pursue a just transition to net zero. My wish is that we inspire talent from diverse backgrounds to come together and solve these problems. Everyone needs to be motivated to take individual and collective responsibility, with our leaders and ourselves held accountable.
The backdrop to all this is science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that the world must act. We can still limit the worst impacts of climate change – but only with immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The need for urgency is why SSE became a principal partner of Cop26. The global summit brings together experts to ensure action. Meaningful, urgent action must be our reality.
Nikki Flanders is managing director of Energy Customer Solutions at SSE. Help lead the transition to net-zero carbon emissions with 100 per cent renewable energy direct from an SSE UK wind farm. For more information, visit: www.sseenergysolutions.co.uk/cppa