What we want from BEIS: a wishlist for the green economy – Part two

EXCLUSIVE: In the second of edie's two-part feature, sustainability professionals, politicians, businessmen and environmental activists complete a hit-list of green policy priorities in the new Parliamentary session.

As we saw from the first part of this feature, the green economy is desperate to see an ambitious, effective and consistent approach from the newly-formed Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

With BEIS Secretary Greg Clark and his team returning to Parliament this week, a real opportunity exists to boost environmental and energy issues higher up the Government’s agenda.

Paris Agreement ratification, an ambitious Carbon Reduction Plan and increased renewable energy support were all on the first part of the wishlist, so what other political hopes and expectations remain for the green economy over the next few months?  

Here, we complete our wishlist with the help of more than a dozen sustainability leaders, who exclusively reveal their thoughts on areas they would like to see become top priorities in the autumn Parliamentary session.

What we want from BEIS: The green policy wishlist

Read numbers 1-8 of this list here.

9) Ensure energy storage is at the centre of the transition to a decentralised, low-carbon energy system

Since the formation of the now-axed Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) eight years ago, the UK has moved away from a centralised electricity system dominated by heavily-subsidised fossil fuels towards a low-carbon, decentalised system.

Energy storage has fast-become a valuable asset in this transition; a crucial solution to the potential porblem of fluctuating national renewable energy generation. 

Substantial reductions in the cost of energy storage technologies have brought forward the anticipated timeframe for their deployment, which could reportedly contribute £2.4bn to UK electricity system savings by 2030.

But as the storage sector marches forward, the technology still faces significant regulatory issues, including short contract lengths for balancing services and ‘discriminatory’ charges‘ for grid connection.

There are a range of regulatory changes that need to be confirmed in the upcoming months. According to REA chief executive Nina Skorupska, amending the double-charging of storage, clarification of its legal definition, and changing the Capacity Market rules to incentivise new storage projects would all be “hugely helpful” to storage, solar, and wind developers alike.

Meanwhile, global sustainability specialist Charles Perry told edie that community-owned schemes such as the Energy Systems Catapult would help to accelerate decentralised energy across the UK. “They’ve got money from Government through Innovate UK, and Prime Minister Theresa May must not tamper with that,” Perry said.

10) Turn failures into successes for low-carbon heat and transport

In its Fifth Carbon Budget report, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) highlighted transport and heat as persistent problem areas for the Government’s green policy. For this reason, green business leaders agree that it will be crucial for BEIS to address these two issues with an ambitious, long-term plan of investment.

A host of green leaders have urged to reverse a controversial cut to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), while a recent Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report revealed that the UK faces an uphill battle to reach its 2020 renewable targets across the carbon-intensive transport sector

CCC chair Angus MacNeil is calling for a more joined-up approach between the Department for Transport (DfT) and the newly-formed Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), in order to achieve a low-carbon transport regulatory framework.

Speaking to edie recently, MacNeil said that 2020 renewable transport targets must stop being regarded as the “low-hanging fruit” by the DfT.

11) Build an ambitious energy efficiency strategy

The Government has received a wave of criticism over its domestic energy efficiency schemes in recent years. The collapse of the Green Deal and the Government decision to renege on the zero-carbon homes commitment for all new homes stand out as big policy changes that have impacted damagingly on infrastructure investment, job opportunities and energy security.

Many of Britain’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) agree that the Government should provide grants towards the installation costs of energy efficiency measures. Others feel they ought to publish the long-overdue Bonfield Review, which was commissioned to examine how home energy efficiency can encourage investment and loan schemes.

Writing an article on the subject which was sent to edie last week, Labour MP Steve McCabe said: “The Bonfield Review promised to be the catalyst for delivering such initiatives. It’s high time the Government published it before they embark on any more expensive and confusing energy policy U-turns.”

His views were shared by Energy Saving Trust (EST) chief executive Philip Sellwood, who told edie that the UK will struggle to hit its 2050 target without considerable investment to retrofit the depleted housing stock. “This will require high levels of investment to retrofit our leaky housing stock and make the most of the opportunity that energy efficiency presents: lower bills, more comfortable homes and reduced carbon emissions,” Sellwood said.

12) Provide more clarification over our energy mix (especially CCS)

Concrete steps need to be taken by BEIS to clarify its position on several components of Britain’s energy sector during the upcoming Parliamentary session. One of the biggest unresolved issues looming over everything else remains the Government’s decision on whether or not to go ahead with the new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. A final decision on Hinkley will be essential to summarise the Government’s intended energy approach.

Meanwhile, for BEIS, major concerns exist over the uncertain futures of shale gas exploration and carbon capture and storage (CCS). A new approach for the CCS technology is urgently required, with the Government’s cancellation of the CCS competition set to cost the UK an additional £30bn to meet its 2050 carbon targets.

While the CCS situation has been described to edie as somehting of a “sideshow” by environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, EEF’s Richard Warren told us he hopes to see “renewed leadership” on the technology. Lord Oxburgh’s report on CCS in the UK, commissioned by the Government and published next month, should provide a starting point. “I hope serious attention is paid to its recommendations and we see them ultimately embedded within the Emissions Reduction Plan later this year,” Warren said.

13) Develop long-term sustainability solutions for energy-intensive industries

With the built environment now demanding a significant proportion of the UK’s extracted materials, it will be crucial for the Government to prioritise low-carbon initiatives across the energy-intensive sector.

Experts have stressed the importance for upcoming industrial decarbonisation plans to be ambitious, requiring concrete action from both industry and Government in terms of R&D for state-of-the-art technologies, increased industrial collaboration and greater access to funds for energy efficiency project.

Manufacturers have previously warned that permanent exemption from energy policy costs is the “only long-term solution” that can secure the future of energy-intensive sectors such as the steel industry,

Meanwhile, a recent survey found that the majority of large business energy users that the recent removal of DECC will leave climate change “swept under the rug”. Commenting on that survey’s findings, the manufacturers’ organisation EEF told edie that “there is a major potential capacity crunch on the horizon which the Government must show it has a credible plan to address”.

14) Allow us to continue to be able to hold you to account over key green policy issues

Make no mistake, the formation of BEIS can be seen as a positive move. As ECIU director Richard Black puts it: “The decision to fold DECC, the former department for energy and climate change, into a new business department with an explicit mandate to develop industrial strategy seems like a sensible one. The ministerial team appointed to BEIS by Theresa May is also a strong one, formed of people who ‘get’ climate change and the opportunities that decarbonising Britain’s energy system present to UK PLC.”

But despite the strong green credentials of BEIS Secretary Greg Clark and Minister Nick Hurd, we must also be able to continue to hold the Government to account over key green policy issues. The issue now becomes more even more prominent, with the Energy & Climate Change Committee (ECC) set to be disbanded.

So says Friend’s of the Earth campaigner Elaine Gilligan, who noted that the Government is consulting on proposals which could see the costs of environmental judicial review sky rocket, and become more uncertain, making it much harder for community groups and activists to challenge the government for fear of being lumbered with huge court costs – with potentially devastating consequences for our environment.

“We want the Government to reject these proposals and uphold the principle that all UK citizens should be able to stand up for their environment,” said Gilligan.

15) Don’t let Brexit hamper Britain’s green innovation potential

In part one of this list, we wrote of the need for BEIS to work closely with Defra to maintain EU environmental regulations post-Brexit. But there is another key area that must not be forgotten: low-carbon innovation.

New Chancellor Philip Hammond has already confirmed that the Treasury will underwrite business and academic funding for approved Horizon 2020 projects, which is great news. But what about after that? What about the future green innovation projects that aren’t yet approved under Horizon 2020? 

The UK’s innovation sector and SMEs have, to date, received more than €318m from the Horizon 2020 innovation platform – more than any other country, and the UK’s innovation agency has vowed to ensure that science and research plays a “central role in a progressive industrial strategy” – BEIS must not lose sight of that fact.

16) Continue the positive job growth of the green economy

Last but certainly not least on this green policy wishlist for BEIS: Greg Clark’s new department must seize the opportunity and use green tech and low-carbon innovation to deliver great new jobs.

The opportunity for green job creation across Britain is massive – reports suggest that an improved circular economy model in London alone could create 40,000 new jobs by 2030, while the Office for National Statistics (ONS) claims that the UK green economy generated £46.2bn turnover through the efforts of 238,500 workers in 2014, even with damaging policies and cuts to feed-in tariffs.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently published a report outlining that the UK can undergo a clean energy transition to create high-quality jobs by targeting communities that have lost their livelihoods with the demise of heavy industry.

As Marks & Spencer’s Plan A sustainability director Mike Barry puts it: “The UK is developing global capabilities on offshore wind, battery storage and the smart home and it needs to help build these export orientated, high value job-creating industries.”

YOUR opinion: Which green policy should BEIS prioritise?

George Ogleby

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