The year 2020 will be remembered for the global pandemic which still surrounds us, and its deep and long-lasting effect on people, industry, and the overall UK economy. However, another pressing issue looms large on the nation’s agenda – the need to transition to a greener, cleaner energy system.

This week, the Prime Minister announced an ambitious ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution which has been welcomed by government, industry and environmental bodies as the first step in a new roadmap for achieving the UK’s commitment to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The plan outlines ten key areas of focus across renewable energy, new technology, transport, aviation, land and housing, with investment and job creation at its core, building on the UK’s existing industrial strengths.

As well as addressing the growing need to reposition energy and industrial sectors for a greener future, the announcement previews some of the proposals that will be a key part of the government’s energy white paper is due to be published later this month. It also offers a signal around the UK’s climate leadership as it gears up to host the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow next year.

Martyn Link, Wood’s Chief Strategy Officer, comments:

“The UK’s role as host nation for COP26 and its presidency of the G7 next year will provide a unique platform to influence how the climate agenda advances over this critical next decade. The UK’s ability to show leadership on a global stage is only credible if its underpinned by robust domestic policy and commitments. More detail will be required in upcoming policy papers, but the ten-point plan does offer a welcome signal of what the UK’s path towards net-zero will look like.”

Power through renewables

Two key elements of the ten-point plan are offshore wind and hydrogen, which will become integral to the UK’s energy output. On offshore wind, there is an aim to quadruple production capacity by 2030 for use in homes, industry, and transport.

Alan Mortimer, Director of Innovation, Renewables, underlines the importance of policy and project implementation in building momentum in the sector:

“The targets set around offshore and floating wind are eminently achievable if the right policy levers are in place to both attract the funding required and accelerate the rate at which these projects are deployed. Speeding up the consenting and development timeline and providing more clarity on the frequency, timing and parameters of future auctions are two practical steps that would build further momentum.”

Hydrogen, with the highest energy content of any fuel, is well proven in industrial processes and is tipped to revolutionise the way we heat our homes and even, entire towns. Wood has been supplying hydrogen production units for over 60 years and believes it has the potential to decarbonise several sectors.

Andy Hemingway, President of Development Lifecycle Optimisation, comments:

“The ten-point plan recognises the key role that hydrogen will play in the UK’s energy future. If carbon drove the industrial revolution, then hydrogen will underpin the low-carbon revolution we need as we continue the long road towards net zero.

“To a certain extent, the value of hydrogen comes not just in its environmental credentials but in its versatility – it offers flexibility and optionality that will relieve the pressure on the electricity grid, it can be used to decarbonise energy intensive industries, and it also has valuable applications in both the domestic heating and transport sectors.”

Capturing carbon

The $1bn investment earmarked for the UK’s carbon capture and storage industry is a welcome signal and could be the tip of the iceberg for repurposing existing infrastructure and crucially, removing and storing harmful emissions.

Suzie Ferguson, Carbon Capture Technical Lead, reflects on the next steps required to bring this into action:

“This decade is a crucial period for CCS in the UK - setting a near-term goal to capture 10m tons of CO2 by 2030 is realistic, and will lay the foundations for the rapid increase in CCS deployment that will be needed in the 2030s and 2040s in order to deliver on our net-zero ambition.”

“With a long-term vision and the right capital investment, we could integrate the UK’s five main industrial clusters with the three offshore hubs that account for most of our storage capacity, and really set the bar on what a world-class carbon capture, transportation and storage network looks like.”

The skills transition

Central to the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan is job creation and protection, specifically supporting up to 250,000 skilled, green jobs. Looking to the future, the issue of transitioning the workforce along with industry is high on the agenda, creating new roles and utilising existing sector-specific knowledge and expertise from adjacent industries such as oil and gas.

Craig Shanaghey, President of Operation in Europe, explains:

“The offshore energy sector is key to the UK’s energy transition journey. The skills, technology and operating capabilities developed over more than 40 years have tremendous relevance to a broader, integrated energy future. The industry has already initiated pioneering projects in floating offshore wind, CCUS and decarbonisation and set out a clear roadmap in support of net zero. It has an important role to play in maintaining energy security and delivering a just transition to a low-carbon energy future.”

Although it is clear that more detail is needed on policy, regulations and timescales, today’s announcement offers direction for the UK, setting out the key elements of a strategy for the coming green industrial revolution, as echoed by Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee:

“The plans announced today will transform Britain for the better, bringing new opportunities and new investment. This is our path out of the economic challenges created by the Covid-19 crisis. And it is a set of commitments that will raise the UK’s credibility ahead of the pivotal COP26 climate summit next year. This is just the tonic as we look to 2021.”