The barriers slowing down UK energy transition must be dismantled - ​Sarah Baillie

Our entire energy system is envisaged to go through major transformation in the next decade, integrating new ways of producing, storing, transporting and using energy. Doing this successfully is fundamental to the UK’s energy security, decarbonisation and net zero ambitions.

Both hydrogen and carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) deployment are key, as reflected in a significant increase in government strategy, legislative changes, energy and planning policy support in recent years. Hydrogen is attractive because we can produce electrical or thermal energy without CO2 emissions as well as chemical byproducts. It also has the capacity to be stored and released later. CCUS technology is beneficial as it mitigates CO2 emissions from large sources like power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities, allowing them to operate in a low carbon economy.

The Scottish Government aim is to generate at least the equivalent of 50 per cent of energy demand from renewable sources by 2030, with 5GW from renewable and low carbon hydrogen. By the 2040s, the aim in Scotland is to have capacity to produce 25GW of hydrogen and be established as an exporter of hydrogen to Europe. Achieving this is an enormous feat and will require significant investment.

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This brings a substantial reliance on renewable generation development on and offshore, alongside hydrogen infrastructure including production facilities. Work to provide a UK commercial framework is under way but unlocking investment means removing other barriers such as consenting. As the custodian of land use and development, the planning system needs to be a critical enabler of hydrogen and CCUS infrastructure. However, in common with many legal jurisdictions, including England and Wales, Scotland does not have a dedicated consenting regime specific for energy.

Sarah Baillie is Partner and co-head of the Power sector, Addleshaw Goddard (Picture: Renzo Mazzolini)Sarah Baillie is Partner and co-head of the Power sector, Addleshaw Goddard (Picture: Renzo Mazzolini)
Sarah Baillie is Partner and co-head of the Power sector, Addleshaw Goddard (Picture: Renzo Mazzolini)

A project can involve many different development components, triggering multiple planning and environmental consenting regimes – both on and offshore, above and below ground, all with different land use and take requirements, locational impacts and considerations. It is a complex, inflexible, fragmented process, involving many statutory consultees and decision makers. This complexity adds time, cost and resource to prepare and navigate the process. Aside from any public opposition, the steep increase in renewable applications required to meet targets, along with under-resourced or inexperienced planners, statutory consultees and consenting authorities, could add further timescales for decisions. There are also inconsistencies and differences in processes across the UK.

The current consenting regime impacts on hydrogen projects in specific ways but when coupled with wider barriers in the planning system, there is potential that it will negatively impact on project development, investment and ultimately hitting our targets.

On a recent business trip to an international hydrogen conference in Paris, we joined a number of galvanised and passionate hydrogen businesses and organisations based in Scotland. A map of Scotland's potential hydrogen assets clearly demonstrated why this could be a significant, lucrative and innovative sector here – and a major exporter to Europe. However, we were within earshot of representatives from the Federal State of Bremen, where more than a billion euros are currently being invested in hydrogen projects. Potential investors were learning of a proposed new Hydrogen Acceleration Act to fast track consenting procedures for hydrogen and associated infrastructure. It remains to be seen which concrete measures Germany will adopt but it is a clear indication that a government can act quickly when it's needed to address a variety of climate, economic and energy security goals.

Sarah Baillie is Partner and co-head of the Power sector, Addleshaw Goddard



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