Decarbonisation challenge grasped at All-Energy conference

All-Energy 2022, held at the SECC in Glasgow in May, was the first time the UK’s largest low carbon energy and full supply chain renewables conference had taken place since COP26. Clare Foster, Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Head of Clean Energy and an Edinburgh Climate Commissioner, and Colin Innes, the firm’s Head of Planning, reflect on the key takeaways from the sessions they chaired.

Clean energy leaders meet to power decarbonisation at All-Energy conference
Clean energy leaders meet to power decarbonisation at All-Energy conference

All-Energy 2022 was seen by many in the clean energy sector as an opportunity to build on the progress made at COP26 and to set out a route map for Scotland and the UK to achieve their net zero targets. A key focus of this year’s conference was offshore wind, providing an ideal opportunity to reflect on the sector’s achievements to date and its future ambitions.

In December 2020, the UK Government announced its ambition for the UK to deploy 40 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030. In April, it raised its ambition to 50GW by 2030. The key attraction of offshore wind is that can be deployed at scale and this will be critical given the scale of electrification required to decarbonise our economy.

The offshore wind sector in Scotland has continued to deliver large developments such as Moray East, which completed this year, and the Kincardine Offshore development, which has been important in demonstrating the future economic viability of floating offshore wind. Until now, the offshore wind industry has focused on projects with fixed seabed foundations, restricting the viability of most offshore projects in the shallower waters off our coasts. Earlier this year, Crown Estate Scotland awarded just under 25GW of seabed under its ScotWind leasing allocation, approximately 15GW of which will be floating. This is welcome news as the allocation of floating wind represents a huge uplift of Scotland’s ambition to be a global leader in this technology.

Colin Innes: “We will hopefully start to see the seismic shift required to address the great decarbonisation challenge.”

Delegates at All-Energy considered how the required technologies and ScotWind could be delivered and considered some of the challenges to deployment, including the limitations on our National Grid system. A complete overhaul of our grid has been established through the UK Government’s Energy White Paper, and the Offshore Transmission Network Review has an ongoing remit to find solutions to decarbonise more quickly while meeting and maintaining a stable and efficient grid. As a consequence, we are likely to see the largest change to our grid since privatisation in the early 1990s. It is likely considerable pressure will be placed on authorities responsible for the grid to speed up the opportunities for further offshore wind deployment.

A second key issue for the delivery of the ScotWind ambition is the degree to which Scotland has adequate port facilities to develop fixed and floating projects. We have an outstanding opportunity to create and sustain a significant supply chain supporting the floating offshore sector, in particular to gain a foothold in manufacturing. This will require governments, government agencies, developers and port authorities to collaborate in a way that has not been achieved before.

In addition, the deployment of this scale of offshore wind will put significant pressure on all the consenting bodies and the consultees involved in the consenting processes. It was clear from a dedicated session on this topic at All-Energy that the various parts of Marine Scotland and their consultees had been collaborating effectively during lockdown and have a clear strategy and insight into the likely issues they will face. A key part of the Marine Scotland strategy is to ensure the right policy framework is in place to provide a quicker and more efficient consenting process.

Elsewhere at All-Energy, others were grappling with the issue of decarbonisation of place in The Great Decarbonisation Challenge – placed-based solutions and mobilising finance. The challenges around decarbonisation of cities, towns and other places across the UK, remain an ongoing frustration. To put matters into context, we are faced with trying to deliver a cohesive and sustainable decarbonisation strategy that works for all locations (both remote and central), all of which have differing needs and requirements. It is no easy task finding solutions that work for everyone, including the 32 local authorities across Scotland, the 333 local authorities in England, 22 unitary authorities in Wales and 11 local councils in Northern Ireland.

Clare Foster reflects on first All-Energy conference since COP26 and its path to achieve ambitious net zero goals

While there are pockets of best practice, there does not appear to be a consistent approach on how projects are scoped, structured, funded and executed. The larger scale, whole-of-region projects are few, despite the obvious, demonstrable benefits. Cities, towns and other places should be making a huge difference to reducing the UK’s energy demand and improving the lives of their citizens. Scale and aggregation mean more interest from developers, investors and funders, and more capital flowing into places to expand, regenerate, modernise and create jobs. Larger projects could provide greater flexibility to incorporate technological innovations, with the potential for synergies from multi-sector, whole-of place projects (think local authority, utilities, healthcare, justice, transport, waste and water). We have to find a way to effect dynamic working relationships between the public and private sectors.

There is no single silver bullet to resolve the decarbonisation challenge – government and politics, capability and capacity, and finance need to come together to achieve a solution that can be deployed across the UK. The wish list at All-Energy was extensive but highlights included creating net zero local powers enshrined in legislation with cross-party consensus to drive the public sector into fulfilling its net zero duties and achieving targets, alongside city region development initiatives to help make ideas financeable and address the “missing middle” by aggregating projects, deploying the right business models and frameworks and creating investible business cases, with boots on the ground to deploy. Kick-starting the process with the establishment of a city region net zero deployment taskforce would be a big step in the right direction.

The urgency of reducing the demand side of energy consumption is acute for everyone across the country and, combined with a positive political will, we will hopefully start to see the seismic shift required to address the great decarbonisation challenge.