MPs launch fresh enquiry into UK’s renewable heat and transport targets

The Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) of MPs has launched a new enquiry into the UK Government's progress - or apparent lack of it - on its self-imposed targets for meeting heat and transport demands from renewable energy sources.

Launched yesterday (9 March), the enquiry will investigate concerns raised by the Committee on Climate Change, among others, that the Government’s ambitions on renewable heat and transport may no longer be achievable.

The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive sets a mandatory target for the UK to achieve 15% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. The Government proposed to achieve this across the electricity, heat and transport sectors by ensuring that 30% of electricity, 12% of heat and 10% of transport demand are met by renewable sources.

While progress towards the share of renewable electricity is on track (15% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources in 2013), Eurostat data reveals that green energy sources only provided 4.5% of the UK’s heat and 4.9% of the UK’s total transport energy in 2014 – meaning both would need to more than double over the next five years in order to meet the Government’s targets.

“Low-carbon heat and the decarbonisation of transport were two issues that stakeholders raised with us over the last year as priority areas that need to be scrutinised during the course of this Parliament,” the ECC states. “We hope that this inquiry will contribute towards our goals for the Parliament, which include influencing the Government’s long-term approach to climate targets.”

‘Sudden and severe’

The launch of this enquiry comes less than a week after the Government announced a new consultation to potentially reform the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which it says would lead to a 98% reduction in the deployment of non-domestic biomass boilers and an end to support for solar water heating systems.

Those surprise proposals were met by fierce criticism from the renewable energy industry, with the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) chief executive Nina Skorupska lambasting “yet another series of sudden and severe changes to the UK’s energy sector”, and the Solar Trade Association’s chief executive Paul Barwell claiming that the proposal “simply doesn’t make sense”.

At the beginning of the year, Prime Minister David Cameron had told the Commons Liaison Committee – composed of the chairs from various committees in Parliament, including the ECC – that he “wished renewable heat for housing was going a bit faster” and that “the price of electric cars was going down so that people on modest incomes could afford them”. But he went on to say “what matters is the reduction in the carbon, not exactly where it comes from”.

In its first report under the new Parliament last year, the CCC called for policy clarity from the Government on the RHI scheme, to encourage more low-carbon investment – something the ECC last week warned has been significantly dented because of the Conservative Party’s ‘chop-and-change’ approach to renewables. On transport, the CCC called for continued subsidies for ultra-low emissions vehicles, such as the plug-in car grant, and continued investment in recharging points and hydrogen refuelling stations.

In a letter addressed to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin last December, the ECC said it had ‘cause for concern’ about the UK’s lack of progress towards the transport target, reiterating that EU targets mandate that the percentage of UK transport energy coming from renewables must reach 10% by 2020.

Key questions

As part of its enquiry the ECC is inviting responses to the following questions: –

  • Does the Government have the right policies in place to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets in the heat and transport sectors, and if not where are policies missing or inadequate?
  • How could a whole systems approach across the power, heat and transport sectors be utilised to ensure the 2020 targets are met?
  • To what extent is electrification of heat and transport a viable approach up to 2020 and beyond?
  • What are the challenges (regulatory, technological, behavioural, and others) to decarbonising heat and transport over the longer-term and how might these be overcome?

The deadline for submissions to this enquiry is set at 18 April, 2016.

Luke Nicholls

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