Cadent and Electricity North West plot roadmap to net-zero Manchester by 2038

After the Greater Manchester Combined Authority pledged to reach net-zero by 2038 last year, the city-region's gas and electricity network operators have developed a delivery roadmap for its energy sector.

Many cities and towns have set pre-2050 net-zero targets

Many cities and towns have set pre-2050 net-zero targets

The roadmap states that annual energy consumption across Greater Manchester must fall by 25% in the next 18 years, so that low-carbon heating technologies can become cost-competitive with traditional processes and that energy security can be maintained as more renewable generation comes online.

Once this reduction is achieved, the area will be able to meet 47.7% of its annual energy consumption with low-carbon electricity and a further 35.7% with hydrogen, and to bring oil and natural gas out of its energy mix.

In order to achieve this scenario, the local authority must work with businesses and other stakeholders to develop a three-step roadmap, consisting of ‘kickstarting the transition’, ‘transforming the demand base’ and ‘securing low-carbon energy supply’.

The ‘kickstarting the transition’ stage would see the authority create a robust policy framework, with support from central government, which would enable it to adequately plan, invest in, and scale up low-carbon energy and energy efficiency.

This process must take no longer than five years if the city-region is to meet its target, the report warns, and must result in the creation of resources that are accessible for businesses and public sector bodies seeking to align with the 2038 target. It should also see the council working with Cadent, ELNW, higher education providers, vocational schools, non-profits, startups and scale-up to develop the skills pipeline and to bring technologies which are not yet mature to scale.

Under the ‘transforming the demand base’ phase, the Combined Authority should work with actors across the built environment sector to complete large-scale demonstration projects showcasing retrofitting, low-carbon heating and cooling and hydrogen-ready cookers and boilers. Such projects should cover more than 1,000 homes at a time and could benefit from the Treasury’s recently announced £3bn package for energy-efficient buildings.

It should also plan to bring 19,000 public electric vehicle (EV) charging points online by 2025 and a further 81,000 online by 2038, in partnership with ENWL, so that network demands can be balanced. These moves will tackle the two biggest sources of energy consumption in 2038 – buildings and road transport – and pave the way for mass uptake of energy-efficient buildings and EVs. For Greater Manchester to reach its net-zero target, buildings will need to receive deep retrofits at a rate of 400 properties per day.

On the ‘securing low-carbon energy supply’ phase, the report notes that Greater Manchester is, like most UK regions, a net-importer of energy at present. In 2038, the majority (89.3%) of electricity consumed in the city-region will be produced elsewhere. Nonetheless, the local authority should work with Whitehall and the private sector to make local generation greener. Greater Manchester should play host to at least 200MW of rooftop solar PV and one major onshore wind facility by 2025, the report recommends, and at least one energy-from-waste (EfW) and one biomass plant by 2035.

In order to help organisations bring these technologies online, the local authority must streamline its planning permission process and develop incentive schemes, particularly for demand-response technologies and energy storage. The UK Government recently changed planning restrictions for such arrays as previous frameworks were developed before the net-zero goal was enshrined in law. Ministers hope the changes will also provide an economic boost for the energy sector post-lockdown.

It is worth noting that the report does forecast other scenarios for Greater Manchester – but only with the measures detailed above did Cadent and ELNW forecast that it would be possible to meet the 2038 deadline.

“We welcome this new report as an important contribution to our plans for a carbon-neutral city-region by 2038, and the detailed discussions we are having about how we will get there,” the Combined Authority’s lead for the green city-region Andrew Western said.

“We know that to meet our ambitious goals we will need a combination of urgent action now and prepare for the longer term. Achieving net-zero is about reducing our environmental impact while improving the quality of life across our towns and cities, and we need to give people and businesses the confidence to invest in cost-saving energy efficiency measures and smart energy systems.”

Hydrogen future

RenewableUK, expects green hydrogen to “grow exponentially” in the near future, in line with the nation’s 2050 net-zero target. The government awarded 20 projects a share of £7 million to explore innovative ways of making and using low-carbon hydrogen last August, built on this with a £90m pot for decarbonising heavy industry using hydrogen earlier this year, and added a further £139m to this latter pot earlier this month.

Manchester is set to be one of the UK’s hydrogen hubs, along with the Humber region and the Isle of Wight, where major projects have been granted planning permission. Along with Liverpool and Chester, Manchester will play host to HyNet North West – a network of hydrogen infrastructure including generation, storage and fueling stations. The first phase of HyNet North West is due to come online by 2026, with an extension earmarked for completion by 2035.

While it is considered lower-emission than natural gas, hydrogen is not in and of itself a “silver bullet” climate solution. More than 90% of hydrogen produced in 2018 was classed as ‘grey’, or fossil-fuel based. As such, the scaling up of ‘green’ hydrogen – produced using renewable energy – is widely seen as an essential part of the net-zero puzzle, as are major improvements to energy efficiency.

Sarah George



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