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Achieving NetZero 2050 and the impact of coronavirus

Nuclear & renewable energy working together

There is a saying “United we stand, divided we fall”. This should be absolutely true in the fight for the UK to achieve NetZero by 2050 in terms of the whole low carbon energy sector working together, rather than competing or working in silo mentality. With an ever-increasing appetite for greater electricity capacity and reliability, what the UK needs is the whole low carbon energy sector pulling together.

NetZero has been brought into sharp focus over the last couple of months with the global coronavirus pandemic. It has been interesting to see how pollution has dramatically fallen in areas where there has been lockdown or travel restrictions. Early research from New York showed that carbon monoxide from vehicle emissions had reduced by 50% in the first three weeks of March 2020 compared to the same period last year. Also seeing in graphical format, the massive decrease in mean tropospheric nitrogen dioxide density in China, the first country to lockdown proves beyond doubt the effect of man-made pollution is having on our planet.

Closer to home, National Grid has confirmed that the UK has set a record for the longest run of coal-free electricity generation as a result of reduced demand due to lockdown and recent weather conditions. As of the 28 April 2020, the country had gone for over 438 hours or approaching 19 days without a single use of coal, clearly demonstrating how low carbon energy generation can sustain demand.

In the coming weeks and months when more data is available, will this be a turning point for governments and businesses in terms achieving NetZero by 2050? Whilst it is totally understandable that COP26, the global climate change summit to be held in Glasgow in May has been cancelled, when it is re-scheduled I am certain there will be some very interesting debates, with low carbon energy generation, both renewables and nuclear likely to be high on the agenda.

There have been tremendous strides for the UK to reduce and eradicate our reliance on fossil fuels. In 2009 77% of energy generated came from coal, oil and gas and less than ten years later this amount had reduced to 46%. Therefore, there is scope for all forms of low carbon energy generation to fill the gap left by fossil fuels and cope with the anticipated growth in demand for electricity.

Renewable energy can come from various sources, including wind, solar, waste, biofuels, tidal, wave and waste to energy. A couple of years ago I recall looking at the proposals for the Swansea Tidal Lagoon which planned to generate enough electricity for over 150,000 homes for 120 years. Whilst not being an engineer, I thought that the design could potentially incorporate solar panels and small-scale wind turbines which could increase capacity for more homes to have reliable energy.

Similarly, in nuclear there are various types of reactors in operation and in the future with research and development could include the next generation through small modular reactors nuclear and fusion energy. At recent energy conference which Dale Edwards our Energy Generation consultant attended, questions were raised about renewables and nuclear producing electricity on the same sites, which are being explored and is encouraging.

Increasingly clients and contractors are working in all sectors of low carbon generation and lessons can be learnt to improve productivity and knowledge with a view to reduce cost for the benefit of the UK taxpayer. Also, those contractors who have worked in the oil and gas sector are bringing their expertise into the low carbon sector, which should be welcomed as there are many transferable skills.

With this backdrop, Clarke Willmott over the coming months will be merging our separate nuclear energy and renewable energy teams. Whilst there will always be unique opportunities in each sub-sector, we want to ensure our clients can take advantage of our combined expertise, whether a developer or contractor. This is all part of our environmental and social governance values being committed to supporting both the low carbon energy sector, continuing to provide advice to developers and contractors to achieve their objectives.

Once the country is in a position to relax social distancing and travel restrictions significantly, we will be looking to organise energy generation events bringing businesses together to help them grow and play their and our part in helping to achieve NetZero by 2050 or ideally before.


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