The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, announced by the Prime Minister last November, sets out an ambitious set of targets to put the UK on a path towards its legally-binding target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. These included a ban on petrol and diesel car sales and a quadrupling of the amount of offshore wind by 2030.
In December, this was followed by the long-awaited Energy White Paper, which provided some detail on these targets and how they might be achieved, but also pointed to a series of upcoming policy statements in 2021 to provide further details.
These decarbonisation targets are stretching. Yet there has been little mention in these announcements about the delivery mechanisms and specifically the institutional architecture needed deliver them.
The Energy White Paper does reference needing to ‘review’ the governance arrangements for the GB energy system, and (at the time of writing) we are expecting some form of consultation to emerge from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on this early in 2021. As well, we await the conclusions of Ofgem’s Review of the role of the System Operator, set up after the power cuts of 9 August 2019. But, as yet, very few details have emerged on the government’s real intentions for the institutions needed to deliver net zero.
If I were still in government, my advice would be to establish an independent, expert ‘National Energy Agency’ to advise government on the energy system needed to help deliver net zero at least cost to consumers, whilst keeping the lights on.
There are three main reasons for this recommendation:
- First, the level of systems thinking and new roles required to deliver net zero;
- Second, the limited bandwidth in Whitehall to carry these out, given COVID and Brexit; and
- Third, the opportunity to think holistically about the institutions needed for net zero, given the future of the System Operator is already under review by both BEIS and Ofgem.
Let’s take each of these in turn, starting with the implications of net zero.