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A government-commissioned review has called for the creation of a research and development (R&D) roadmap by autumn 2023 to ensure the UK has the technology it needs to deliver on its 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal.
The 340-page Mission zero: Independent review of net zero report calls on the government to create an R&D and technology roadmap over the coming months, “outlining the key decision points” required to ensure “priority technologies” deliver on the UK’s net-zero and economic growth ambitions.
In support of this, the document also states that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) should join forces with HM Treasury to review how best to financially incentivise organisations for conducting R&D activities around net-zero initiatives.
The incentives could include the roll-out of tax credits and the ring-fencing of R&D spend, as stated in the report. “[The government should] conduct and publish, before autumn 2023, a review of how we should change regulation for emerging net-zero technologies to enable their rapid and safe introduction, to support the net-zero transition and boost growth,” it said.
The review, overseen by former energy minister Chris Skidmore, is geared towards investigating how the UK’s efforts to become a net-zero economy by 2050 are progressing, and features a series of recommendations to make the transition as “affordable and efficient” as possible.
More than 1,800 participants contributed to the review, including “hundreds of innovative companies eager to bring new technology to market” who claim their ability to do so is being hampered by “slow, ponderous bureaucracy”, with the report hailing the private sector as playing a critical role in bringing low-carbon technologies to the mass market.
“For all of the UK’s past success and future ambition, the review has heard from many respondents frustrated by a lack of long-term thinking, siloed behaviour from government departments and uncertainty over the length of funding commitments,” the review document stated. “Evidence suggests this is holding back deployment of green technologies, hampering investment across all sectors and inhibiting the ability to create British jobs.”
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Another area in need of attention is the state of the energy system, with the review’s participants taking aim at the UK’s “antiquated grid connections”, which are described as being unsuitable for a “modern 21st century electrified economy”.
For this reason, an overhaul of the infrastructure underpinning the UK energy system is urgently required, with the document calling for the creation of a “cross-sectional infrastructure strategy” by 2025.
“We need to rapidly build and adapt the infrastructure for electricity, hydrogen, other liquid, and gaseous fuels and carbon dioxide networks that support our green economy,” the report stated. “The scale of this challenge, and the breadth, is too much to be left to the whims of individual projects.”
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was among the parties who provided feedback to the review, with the organisation’s head of engineering policy, Matt Rooney, describing the net-zero transition as “the most ambitious engineering challenge ever undertaken”.
But, as well as lowering the barriers towards developing and deploying the technologies needed to support the net-zero agenda, the government also needs to ensure it has the skills on-hand to deliver on it, too.
“There is a significant economic opportunity for the UK to lead on developing technologies that are necessary for decarbonisation, including offshore wind and advanced nuclear,” he said. “Important technologies for meeting net-zero, notably carbon capture and storage, will be geographically dispersed around the country, and so will assist with the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
“There are potential obstacles to achieving the rapid decarbonisation required, one of which being a lack of technical skills,” added Rooney. “Engineers and technicians will be vital to reaching net-zero, and we already know there is shortfall in the pipeline of skills required. It is important that the government recognises this and puts forward the necessary resources to correct it.”
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