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Golden opportunity for a greener future

The UK’s first ever National Infrastructure Assessment has headlined with a ‘golden opportunity’ to shift towards low-cost, low-carbon energy.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s report published today (Tuesday 10 July 2018) states that government action now to promote greener power for our homes and businesses can ensure the UK is able to meet its legally-binding climate change targets, without increasing consumer costs.   

Welcome news for wind and solar developers, the Commission calls for sustained investment in greener technologies to increase the UK’s renewable electricity supply from 30% to 50% by 2030. Supporting this drive for greener energy are recommendations to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s buildings including £3.8bn of funding for improvements to social housing by 2030, establish the feasibility of hydrogen and heat pumps as alternatives to oil and gas energy and roll-out infrastructure to allow a ‘rapid shift’ to electric vehicles.

While noting the possibility that low-cost renewables could prove more economic in the long run, the Commission agreed that along with Hinkley Point C in Somerset, Government is still justified in supporting one further nuclear power station before 2025. This will give the UK the security of an energy mix and maintain its nuclear supply chain and skills base. Addressing this point further and recognising the potential challenges of Brexit, the Assessment calls for continuity with the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) to enable the continuation of the UK’s nuclear industry post March 2019.

Arguing for flexibility in the UK’s energy supply, the Commission also emphasised the need to shield the current pipeline of interconnectors that will link the UK to Europe’s energy supply from the potential political turbulence of leaving the European Union. Failure to do so risks an increased requirement of 65% of renewable generation by 2030 in order to meet climate change targets.  

Established in 2015 to provide independent advice to Government on the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, the Commission’s remit is wider than energy, also covering transport, digital technology, water supplies, waste and flood defences.  Other notable proposals from the inaugural assessment include:  

  • Digital technology – the establishment of a National Broadband Plan by Spring 2019 to support the rollout of full fibre connections across the entire country by 2033.
  • Roads – collaboration between the Government, councils and private businesses to support infrastructure for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles ensuring the latter is considered in Highways England’s next Road Investment Strategy.  
  • Rail – support for Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail with funding for both included in the Assessment’s spending plans.
  • Devolution – capitalising on the establishment of Metro Mayors to devolve five year infrastructure budgets for investment in transport, employment and housing to support economic growth.
  • Flood defence – development and funding of a long-term strategy to set a nationwide standard of flood resilience by 2050.
  • Waste reduction – through the promotion of recycling to reduce the amount of plastic incinerated and increase the use of food waste to create biogas to heat homes and potential power vehicles.

Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission has been quick to assert that his Assessment’s findings are not a ‘wish-list’ of projects, asserting that, “The whole purpose of the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations. 

Today’s report is a refreshingly future focused assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs between now and 2050, particularly when considering that it will be subject to renewal every five years. The recommendations seek to account for the technologies of tomorrow, a more environmentally conscious UK and give a nod to the international political challenges ahead as we prepare to leave the European Union. It will be interesting to see Government’s response both initial and formal, with the latter expected within the next six months.

Matt Crisp

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