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Renewable Energy

How we’re powering the move to net zero

For the UK to progress towards net zero by 2050 we’d need to dramatically increase use of renewable and other low carbon energy sources to reduce our reliance on carbon emitting sources like coal, oil and natural gas. A key driver of this change will be businesses embracing this challenge over the coming years.

Here’s what you need to know about accessing viable renewable energy sources to transition your business to the net zero economy.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is any kind of energy source that can replenish itself in a reasonable amount of time. Solar and wind are the most common sources in the UK, and there’s also growing interest in tidal generation. In comparison to other countries, deploying a renewable like geothermal energy is a more limited option due to the UK’s geology.

Another source of renewable energy is incineration of certain types of waste including biomass. This is considered renewable as biomass can be replenished quickly, however it’s often considered a more controversial energy source because it emits greenhouse gasses at the source but can reduce the overall emissions compared to letting the waste go into a landfill.

A major challenge for renewable energy is its intermittency: energy generation falls when the wind stops blowing and the sun goes down. Biomass incineration can provide renewable baseload power (that’s the minimum amount of electric power needed to be supplied to the electrical grid at any given time) and hydro power can provide system flexibility to support intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and the sun. Nuclear energy is also a low carbon energy source and it provides almost consistent baseload power allowing more renewable generation to be integrated on to the system.

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions across the economy, switching to low carbon energy is one of the most important changes a business can make.

Why do businesses need to keep pace with developments?

Businesses play a leading role in all aspects of our lives from manufacturing and transport to food supply and entertainment. And each business process has an embodied energy.

As of today, the transport and heavy industries sectors tend to be the biggest users of energy — and therefore the biggest greenhouse emitters. But to be successful in our ambition to reach net zero, as a business community we need to reconsider the carbon in everything we consume.

Where is the UK on the road to decarbonisation?

The UK has made great strides towards net zero. It has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% below the 1990 levels and now generates 33% of its electricity from renewable sources.

To date much of this achievement has been driven by delivering the easier changes to implement – like shutting down the most polluting coal power plants or scaling the fleet of new windfarms.

As the next step towards net zero, the UK will need to decarbonise public and private transport, homes and offices, and complete the decarbonisation of power generation - replacing the flexibility we get for gas with low carbon alternatives. The success of this phase is more reliant on the choices, decisions and behaviours of individual organisations and people, and the strength of government mandates and incentives to encourage transitioning to low emission technologies.

Is my business ready to switch to renewable energy?

It depends on your business. For some, it’s as simple as changing your supplier to a renewable energy provider. For others, particularly those in the Energy, Resources & Industrials (ER&I) sectors, a more tailored approach is needed with the signing of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) or developing your own renewable generation.

Right now, decarbonising will be easiest for businesses whose processes can be done through electrification. But where there is no alternative to hydrocarbons, switching will be harder. However, breakthrough developments are happening at pace.

Here are three areas to watch for businesses looking to decarbonise:

  • The cost of renewables: Renewables are no longer that expensive compared to hydrocarbon sources. In some instances, like offshore wind, renewable energy can now be cheaper compared to traditional sources like gas and coal. Some energy retailers now back all or the majority of their electricity with Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (“REGO”) certificates.

    So, ask your energy retailer about their energy sources and their REGO certificates. They don’t precisely match the power you use to renewables each minute of the day, but do guarantee the same overall volumes are procured. If your business requires huge amounts of electricity, consider setting up a direct Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA), or even developing your own assets which in most cases may also create greater long-term value.
  • Energy storage: Right now, a grid system based on wind and solar generation would struggle to provide a consistent volume of energy. On the other hand, energy demand is also highly variable with major daily, weekly and seasonable fluctuations. Energy storage of excess power during times of low demand and high production could help address this challenge.

    Energy storage is a developing industry which now offers industrial scale and domestic scale solutions using batteries, pumped water and other innovative methods to store energy. Soon we will also be using our electric vehicles as energy storage for the grid with vehicle-to-grid charging. Check with your energy retailor for the various options available for energy storage and in some cases energy management. Battery storage can be scaled-up to meet short term energy storage demands of most small to medium sized businesses.
  • Hydrogen: Hydrogen has been identified as a fuel which could help the world reach net zero emissions. It has the potential to replace natural gas in heating, industrial processes as well as hard-to-electrify transport (think, planes, ships or HGVs). Hydrogen can also be used as a means of energy storage, especially when created via surplus power from renewable generation. For more information check out our analysis on the future of hydrogen.

How can I approach the switch to renewable energy?

  1. Estimate your emissions: Understanding your areas of carbon consumption will help you to create a more impactful plan, provide focus and above all generate the most value for your business over the long term.
  2. Make the no regrets moves: Things like your building stock are a good place to start. You could make sure your buildings are consuming clean energy, or are as energy efficient and airtight as they can be, equipped with smart systems, including lighting and heating, and use carbon neutral materials where possible.
  3. Settle on a strategy and make sure it is clear: Think about where the first mover advantage would be for your business and make sure you properly consider the implications and risks of not transitioning sooner.
  4. Remember that change will take time: Particularly for the ER&I sector, who are scaling the assets and infrastructure that power many cross-sector supply chains and services. Collaboration between business, government and citizens is needed to reach net zero faster, but so is a willingness to play the long game and take bold decisions.

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