The green industrial revolution: What’s required to bring the government’s zero carbon plans to life
In order to meet the 2050 Paris Agreement to end carbon emissions, the UK government have unveiled a 10-point plan known as the 'green industrial revolution'.
The plan focuses on 10 key sectors which have pledged to eradicate the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050 whilst creating 250,000 jobs with the north of England, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales being made areas of priority. While this plan has been generally well received by environmental groups, it poses questions for the manufacturing organisations that it will affect over the long term, particularly with meeting new legislation that has come into play regarding the zero carbon target.
As part of Ideagen’s ‘green industrial revolution’ series, this blog will share insight into two points of the government’s plan, which are key to finding, maintaining and using carbon free sources of energy. These include:
- Driving the Growth of Low Carbon Hydrogen
- New and Advanced Nuclear Power
Before we delve further into these sections, let’s familiarise ourselves with the current climate change laws and what’s expected of organisations.
What are the current climate change laws?
There are several environmental laws surrounding climate change in the UK including:
- The Climate Change Act 2008
- The Climate Change Levy (CCL)
- The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Regulations
- The Climate Change Agreement Regulations (CCA)
- The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme Regulations (ESOS)
- The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006
In this section, we will be focussing on the last entry - ‘The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006’. Since its introduction, this Act aims to enhance the UK's contribution to combatting climate change. It is also aimed at alleviating fuel poverty and securing diverse and long-term energy supplies for the UK.
The Act places a duty on local authorities, when exercising their functions, to refer to a report published by the Secretary of State on ways in which they might improve energy efficiency, increase microgeneration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and alleviate fuel poverty.
Microgeneration is the small-scale production of heat and/or electricity from a low carbon source. This encompasses a suite of technologies that can provide heat and electricity to homes, communities, and small commercial premises. These include solar (photovoltaics (PV) to provide electricity and thermal to heat water), micro-wind, micro-hydro, heat pumps, micro-combined heat and power (CHP) and small-scale fuel cells.
The Act places several duties on the government regarding climate change and sustainable energy which are:
- Promoting community energy projects and the use of heat from renewable sources (renewable heat).
- Reporting on progress made in achieving the energy efficiency target in the Housing Act 2004.
- Reporting annually on the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and the steps that have been taken by government departments during the previous year to reduce those emissions.
- Publishing a report into the potential for dynamic demand technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This could lead to significant carbon dioxide savings and may help facilitate the connection of greater amounts of intermittent renewable energy generation, such as solar and wind power.
The Act also allows the Secretary of State powers to impose an obligation on gas transporters, electricity distributors and suppliers of both in order to achieve energy efficiency targets. Building regulations can be made in relation to microgeneration and generators can claim renewable obligation certificates (ROCs) without the need to have a ‘sale and buyback’ agreement for the electricity they have generated.
Driving the Growth of Low Carbon Hydrogen
What does the government’s low carbon hydrogen plan entail?
The key pledge of this second part of the government’s 10-point plan is to provide the UK with a clean source of fuel and heat for homes, transport, and industry. Additionally, a target of 5GW of low carbon hydrogen energy production capacity by 2030 has been set. Alongside this, the government is also pioneering hydrogen heating trials – starting with a ‘Hydrogen Neighbourhood’ and potentially scaling up to a ‘Hydrogen Town’ before the end of the decade.
Other key points within the plan include:
- Maximising world-leading electrolyser companies along with carbon capture and storage sites
- Continuing investigations for the use of hydrogen for heating – eventually replacing fossil fuels
- Developing the production of carbon capture technology
According to National Geographic, the atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are at the highest ever recorded. This low carbon hydrogen plan is therefore imperative to help reduce the impact burning fossil fuels is having on the Earth’s atmosphere, with the most common effects including a rise in temperature and extreme weather conditions.
What is hydrogen fuel and how is it captured?
Hydrogen is a clean fuel alternative, which when consumed in a fuel cell produces water. One of the main advantages of hydrogen fuel is that it can be produced from a variety of domestic resources including natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable energy including solar and wind. This fuel is therefore an attractive option as it can be used to power cars and houses among a variety of applications.
Presently, approximately 95% of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas. This is a high-temperature process whereby steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce hydrogen. Another common form of capture is electrolysis, whereby water is separated into oxygen and hydrogen.
An alternative to the previous two methods is solar processes which rely on light as the means of powering hydrogen production. Biological reactions can also be a viable option. These reactions are created using microbes such as bacteria and microalgae which produces hydrogen.
New and Advanced Nuclear Power
What does the government’s new and advanced nuclear power plan entail?
Due to the high demand from industries across the UK, the third part of the government’s 10-point plan is to grow and develop the country’s electricity system so that it doubles in size by 2050. The reasoning behind this is mainly due to nuclear power providing a reliable source of low-carbon electricity. This will in turn lead to the government pursuing nuclear power on a large scale along with investing further in ‘Small Modular Reactors’ and ‘Advanced Modular Reactors’.
What is nuclear energy?
Nuclear power has become recognised as a clean and productive method of boiling water to create steam which is used to produce electricity.
In technical terms, energy derives from the binding energy that is stored within the centre of an atom and holds it together. For this to be released, the atom must be split into smaller atoms in a process known as ‘fission’. During this process, these smaller atoms do not require much binding energy to hold them together, so this extra energy is released as heat and radiation. The heat caused from fission is used in nuclear power stations to boil water into steam which is then used to drive turbines to make electricity.
How is nuclear energy created and how can it meet the zero-carbon target?
Nuclear energy is created by a reaction that includes the following steps:
- Heat creation
- Water pumped via a steam generator
- Water boiled to steam
- Steam passed through turbines to create mechanical energy
- Mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy
- Electrical energy transferred through power lines via the national grid
- The steam is recycled and same process repeats
The main advantage of this process is that it does not produce direct CO2 emissions. In addition, while nuclear energy is a clean source of energy, it is also renewable as it relies on water as the main catalyst during production. With this being the case, nuclear energy can be created cleanly and on a consistent basis as a viable alternative to burning fossil fuels.
What do organisations need to do to meet the zero carbon target?
With the UK being one of 38 countries to declare a climate emergency in 2019, taking action to reduce carbon emissions is of vital importance to safeguard the future of the environment and the earth’s natural resources. Businesses can do their part by recognising their responsibilities under both new and existing climate change legislation. This may refer to numerous aspects of their operations including energy use, responsibly sourcing materials, use of fuel and transport and producing packaging that can be recycled.
In addition, organisations should be familiar with the role their environmental management systems have to play. ISO standards such as ISO 14001 and ISO 14064 offer compliance benchmarks to give businesses robust and effective environmental management systems.
In particular, ISO 14064 provides businesses with a framework for quantification, monitoring and reporting of their greenhouse gas emissions.
ISO 14064 specifies principles and requirements at organisation level for identification and reporting of your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and usage, summarises what actions should be taken in response to this, and specifies how to manage the validation and verification of your greenhouse gas assertions.
The standard lays out a ‘plan, do, check, act’ project-based approach for the long-term reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
It is therefore essential for carbon-conscious businesses to consider how to incorporate standards like ISO 14064 into their environmental management systems, to give themselves full insight into their carbon usage and environmental footprint.
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