“This marks the beginning of the UK’s path to net zero,” a government press release claimed. In truth, the country has been on that path for some time – but the plan makes some significant steps forward.
Here are five points from the plan, all of which will rely on significant engineering investment and innovation.
The plan brings a welcome boost for those who see hydrogen as one of the most significant parts of the future energy system. Johnson said the government would work with industry to generate 5GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, for industry, transport, power and homes.
So-called ‘green’ hydrogen, generated using electricity from sources such as wind or solar power, is a potential solution to renewable energy’s large-scale storage issue.
“Offshore wind is set to become the backbone of the UK’s electricity system, providing over a third of our power by 2030, and we can rapidly develop green hydrogen to decarbonise shipping, aviation and industry,” said RenewableUK deputy chief executive Melanie Onn.
“The prime minister’s new 2030 hydrogen target is a vital signal to investors and the market, and we will work with government to ensure our world-leading renewable hydrogen technologies play a full part in meeting that target.”
The plan includes up to £500m funding, with £240m going to new production facilities. The government will also fund the creation of a ‘hydrogen neighbourhood’, a ‘hydrogen village’, and eventually a ‘hydrogen town’ by 2030, with hydrogen used for heating and cooking in homes.
Revitalising carbon capture
The plan aims to cement the UK as a world leader in carbon capture and storage (CCS), with a target to prevent 10m tonnes of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere by 2030 – equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber today.
“To revitalise the birthplaces of the first industrial revolution, the UK will be at the global forefront of carbon capture, usage and storage technology, benefiting regions with industries that are particularly difficult to decarbonise,” a government announcement said.
The PM’s announcement included an extra £200m of funding for the creation of two ‘carbon capture clusters’ by the mid-2020s and another two by 2030. This increased the total invested to £1 billion, the government said. The money could help support 50,000 jobs, potentially in areas such as the Humber, Teesside, Merseyside, Grangemouth and Port Talbot.
Tom White, CEO of CCS company C-Capture, said: “The UK government is stepping up to the mark and providing the levels of funding needed to accelerate deployment of the technologies which are recognised as crucial to avoiding catastrophic climate change.
“Carbon capture and storage projects have a critical part to play in the UK’s decarbonisation journey, and the post-Covid economic recovery. In addition, a successful CCS sector in the UK will provide significant business opportunities overseas.”
One of the most headline-grabbing announcements was the government’s plan to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, 10 years earlier than previously planned. Hybrid vehicles that can drive a ‘significant distance’ without emitting carbon will be sold until 2035.
To support the accelerated timeframe, the PM announced £1.3bn for new charge points and £582m in grants for people buying zero- or ultra-low-emission vehicles. The government will also spend £500m in the next four years on the development and mass production of electric vehicle batteries, boosting international investment into strong manufacturing bases including in the Midlands and North East.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “We share government’s ambition for leadership in decarbonising road transport and are committed to the journey. Manufacturers have invested billions to deliver vehicles that are already helping thousands of drivers switch to zero [carbon], but this new deadline, fast-tracked by a decade, sets an immense challenge.
“We are pleased, therefore, to see government accept the importance of hybrid transition technologies – which drivers are already embracing as they deliver carbon savings now – and commit to additional spending on purchase incentives. Investment in electric vehicle manufacturing capability is equally welcome as we want this transition to be ‘made in the UK’, but if we are to remain competitive – as an industry and a market – this is just the start of what’s needed.
“Success will depend on reassuring consumers that they can afford these new technologies, that they will deliver their mobility needs and, critically, that they can recharge as easily as they [currently] refuel.”
The nuclear energy sector also received some welcome news, with the government committing to develop both large and smaller reactors. The PM announced £525m funding, including money for research and development of new advanced modular reactors.
A Rolls-Royce led consortium recently called on the government to support the development of a fleet of 16 small modular reactors, claiming it could create 6,000 new jobs.
Perhaps the most ambitious point in the plan is ‘Jet Zero’. The PM pledged government support for difficult-to-decarbonise industries through research projects for zero-emission planes.
People hoping for a quick and easy solution to aviation emissions will be disappointed, however, as the technology is far from ready. Electric planes have flown in the UK and abroad, but initial projects are based around small passenger numbers and relatively short regional journeys. The Eviation Alice, for example, has nine seats and a forecast range of 1,000km.
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