Ambitious climate targets are welcome, but achieving this ambition requires a deeper look at our energy system
The Committee on Climate Change has published its report with the headline recommendation that the UK adopts a new emissions target of net-zero by 2050. This target is welcome. In reducing our carbon emissions we should be nothing short of bold and ambitious. However, the report fails to tackle a crucial issue which is undermining our progress on reducing carbon emissions: energy losses.
The omission of losses in the Committee’s report is not surprising.
Energy losses simply do not feature prominently in the debate about how best to
reduce our carbon footprint. Instead, policymakers focus on the more
‘glamorous’ policies and big picture infrastructure projects – electrification
of transport, decarbonising heat, and shifting toward renewables feeding a
smart, flexible grid. Yet waste and losses undermine all these policy
initiatives. By all but ignoring losses; policymakers, regulators, and industry
risk prejudicing the delivery of a carbon free future, to the detriment of both
consumers and the environment.
Focusing on generation and end-point efficiency means our
transmission and distribution system is often overlooked. However, today, as we
transfer energy around this sprawling grid 26.5 TWh of energy is simply lost.
Generated and then simply wasted. This is not an abstract number:
- Losses make up 7.5 per cent
of total electricity demand;
- 1.5 per cent of our carbon
emissions are a result of losses;
- Every year, we lose enough
energy to power almost seven million homes;
- This totals a ‘societal cost’
of £1.3 billion a year.
The Committee’s report says the foundations and policies to
achieve a net-zero economy are already active or in development, including the
supply of low-carbon electricity and electric vehicles (EVs). Whilst this
strikes an upbeat tone, to meet our existing targets (never mind the new
proposal) the Committee urges that these policies must be strengthened –
urgently. Tackling waste and losses would go a long way in achieving this.
But why are losses relevant? The case of electric vehicles
The rise of EVs is set to put an enormous amount of pressure
on our grid. This is evident in the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios
which models the future of our energy system. Comparing the 2017 with the 2018
predictions is stark, EV uptake caused expected peak demand to rise
exponentially. More ambitious electrification as set out by the Committee would
cause this demand to rise further.
Losses make up a significant amount of the extra demand needed
to power EVs. If losses continue at today’s rate (realistically, increased
demand means losses would increase as a percentage) and we use the 2018
predictions, losses in 2040 will make up between 50 and 200 per cent of the
energy needed to peak EV demand. Tackling losses could power the EV revolution.
And what about the shift to low-carbon, renewable generation?
In the simplest of terms, losing energy means more energy
must be generated to service demand. Increased generation limits the share of
the energy mix made up by renewables.
Losses are not inevitable – solutions exist
Our cable infrastructure is outdated, some sections were
laid in the Victorian era. It is not fit for purpose. As distribution network
operators (DNOs) carry out replacement programmes and build new infrastructure,
they must ensure new cable is efficient and able to stand the test of time.
Innovative solutions exist.
Take our breakthrough CTS technology. As the UK moves
towards a green, carbon-free future, our CTS cable technology can help to
dramatically reduce losses.
It reimagines the core of cabling and disrupt the cable
industry as we know it, yet it can be manufactured on existing machinery with
minimal adaptation and can be laid alongside conventional cabling.
The CTS is a solution for the here and now, yet can underpin
an ambitious future energy system as envisaged by the Committee on Climate
To rise to the climate change challenge, government, the
regulator and industry must give losses – and the solutions – the attention