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UK must streamline planning processes to lead energy transition

New research from transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) and leading energy consultancy Cornwall Insight has laid out what the UK government must do to achieve an affordable, sustainable and secure energy system and reach its goal of Net Zero by 2050.

The research into the UK’s energy transition highlights that despite the UK having a head start, several challenges must be overcome for the UK to meet its net zero targets, never mind lead the charge.

WBD worked with Cornwall Insight and global industry experts to produce the report The UK and the energy transition: Leading the way? The research offers global context, analysis of different energy markets and expert insights which shine a light on the UK’s progress in the energy transition.

The analysis of different markets which includes solar PV, onshore wind, offshore wind, hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), and the consideration of colocation and storage, all highlight that simplifying planning processes among other measures are instrumental to transition to a low carbon, equitable, and secure energy system.

Various energy-related policies that are under review as a result of the UK government’s recent Energy Security Strategy are explored in the report.

The UK and the energy transition: Leading the way? also draws on lessons from around the globe and offers international insight into progress, showing that the UK is well placed to play a key role in global efforts to reduce carbon emissions over coming decades. 

Advantages identified in the report that can be capitalised upon if challenges are addressed include: boasting a strong reputation as a friendly environment for energy and infrastructure investment, thanks to the UK’s robust rule of law and the transparency of its legal system, a geographical location that supports offshore (including floating) wind and ambitious domestic climate targets.

Not only does the new research highlight the opportunity the energy transition presents for the UK on a global stage, but it also brings to the fore the domestic economic and job opportunities associated with on-shoring the supply-chain for renewable energy developments.

At a time when the ‘cost of living crisis’ is hitting consumers and businesses alike, it is clear that excessively relying on an international supply chain (where costs are rising) could become a barrier to energy transition progress.

Ever-increasing power prices forecasted up to 2044 underline the need to build confidence for investment in renewable energy and deliver a stable and secure energy future.

Other areas the report outlined as key development areas were:

  • Boosting international coordination and developing partnerships internationally:  a more coordinated policy particularly between the US, the UK and the EU would enable these countries to tackle current threats to energy supply. The wealth of knowledge across hydrogen, Co2 storage and other developing energy areas can be shared to develop technologies across the globe.
  • Streamlining consenting process for renewables: The simplification of the offshore wind planning processes in the Energy Security Strategy, reducing consenting time from up to four years down to one year, represents an important step towards a more streamlined market. However, onshore wind received less attention with limited detail and less ambitious proposals.
  • Maximising grid efficiency: There is a need for more holistic joined-up thinking to maximise the efficiency of the grid, particularly with regard to offshore wind.
  • Ringfence the crisis of energy suppliers: the UK government should support businesses struggling as a result of the energy crisis, demonstrating they recognises the complexity of investment and risk taking in the energy sector and help to rebuild confidence.

Richard Cockburn, Head of Energy at WBD, said: “Throughout the research period for this report, new variables continued to be thrown into the mix. The impact of the invasion of Ukraine, gas supply concerns and new legislation and political strategies were just some of the developments, which are typical of the pace at which the energy landscape changes.

“It’s tricky making decisions in an environment which is constantly in flux – which is why this data and insight will hopefully be invaluable for a market currently in a period of change.

“The report takes a global view, and the research has made it increasingly clear that the journey to net zero must be a collaborative one. Whilst the UK is well-placed to take the lead in many areas of transition, the right policies need to be in place to make this a reality.  

“The UK is a world leader in areas such as offshore wind – where the UK successfully ran its Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 and its ScotWind process, which together could create up to an additional 33GW of offshore wind capacity.

“After years of delay, we are also now forging ahead in carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, but we can still learn much from countries worldwide as the energy transition accelerates.”

Naomi Potter, Lead Research Analyst at Cornwall Insight, said: “This research explores the advantages the UK holds as it pushes forward with the decarbonisation of its economy in the coming decades.

“The UK is already a global offshore wind leader, has some clear competitive advantages in the development of floating technologies at scale, and is paving the way to utility-scale low carbon hydrogen and CCUS.

“There are critical challenges facing the country as it pushes forward with its decarbonisation ambitions. These challenges are not insurmountable, however, and building on its strong foundations, the country can make significant strides towards environmental sustainability and energy independence, while unlocking investment opportunities.”

Dan Atzori, Research Partner at Cornwall Insight, added: “This research should give industry and government a better understanding of the main opportunities and challenges facing the UK when it comes to decarbonising our energy system.

“Our research is designed to bring new insight to industry, help leaders to collaborate and connect and share valuable global data that shines a light on key global lessons and trends.”

The UK and the energy transition: Leading the way? includes quotes from interviews with experts at DNV, EDF Energy, Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, Lightsourcebp, ABN Amro, Greencoat Capital, NECCUS, Abundance Investment, Global Infrastructure Investor Association, Statkraft and others.

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