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While the UK is on track to meet its obligations on renewable electricity generation, it is risking failure on heat and transport – which puts meeting overall legally-binding clean energy targets in jeopardy.
That's according to the new report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC), which suggests that the Government will miss its 2020 target to provide 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources. It is nowhere near its sub-targets for renewable heating (12 per cent) and transport (10 per cent), despite being likely to exceed a 30 per cent target for electricity.
But decision-makers can take heart. The report stresses that it's not the targets are impossible to hit; just that poor cooperation across departments – and even competition on issues such as the electricity grid and the biomethane market – has held back significant progress.
The recent move of energy policy into the newly-formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) may improve collaboration on these matters, the report goes on to say – but there's also the possibility that energy and climate issues may be subsumed by other concerns.
There are further suggestions on how to improve matters. It recommends giving more support to biofuels, and the level of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to be raised immediately.
These pointers will no doubt provide more food for thought, particularly in regards to biofuels, given their long-term sustainability has been under a significant amount of scrutiny in recent years.
These concerns are acknowledged, and the authors suggest that electrification in transport has to be the priority, but is confident that measures can be put in place to mitigate the risk of integrating more biofuels into the transport mix in the meantime. In regards to heating, it sees a more long-term role for biogas alongside improved energy efficiency and district heating networks.
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Consumers and businesses also need to better understand how they can take a stake in low-carbon options. Energy Saving Trust chief executive Philip Sellwood (pictured) was one of a number of industry experts who gave evidence to the committee, and he expressed the urgent need for more publicity and information around the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the Government's flagship initiative to increase uptake of low-carbon heating options. He said:
“The level of awareness in the public is so low. This is potentially a programme that we are going to be spending £1 billion on and the latest evidence suggests that there is probably a 5 per cent awareness of [the RHI], and about a 12 per cent awareness of things like ground source heat pumps.
“Unless we align some form of public awareness campaign between now and 2020, frankly, apart from those who were early adopters and those who really want to get involved, I think the impact will be pretty low because people do not know that it exists now.”
Within this awareness-raising, Philip also stresses that there needs to be a focus on system-wide benefits for renewable heat, with consumers simply wanting to know if a technology will make their home warmer, cheaper to heat and more comfortable.
On transport matters, Philip said that changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), whereby only vehicles that emit absolutely no CO2 pay no duty and most other vehicles will pay a standard rate, sent out the wrong message and weakened resale value of low-emissions vehicles. Indeed, the report recommends reintroducing a more graduated, tiered system which increases the incentive to invest in cleaner transport.
Philip also called for better overall leadership on electric vehicle uptake, in particular noting necessary improvements in public sector procurement of EVs.
Once again the spectre of Brexit rises above the debate, given the renewable energy targets were agreed as part of the EU bloc of nations. But the report suggests rather than reneging on existing efforts to meet 2020 targets, there should be a reaffirmation of aims, and the setting of a broader vision for how to reach the more stringent goals for 2050.
As ECCC Chair Angus MacNeil MP points out, Brexit isn't just about rejecting what the EU has to offer – there's also the opportunity to embrace and build on what's worth keeping. He said:
“We agreed our 2020 renewable energy targets as part of the EU but they still have many merits, even as the UK Government prepares for Brexit. If the UK reneges on these targets, it will undermine confidence in the Government’s commitment to clean energy and the climate targets agreed in Paris. Progress has been slow, but this must be taken as a call to action, not an excuse for backtrack.”