Scarce ‘low hanging fruit’ left for energy efficiency: Innovation will be key for 2050

According to the Climate Change Committee, the UK is expected to miss its fourth and fifth carbon budgets by 139 and 245 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) respectively. This is particularly concerning now that the UK Government has increased its target from 80% GHG reduction to ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050.

According to BEIS, current policy has not taken into account this predicted shortfall and, as a result, the surplus will make it more difficult and expensive for the UK to meet its long-term targets.

In many businesses, most of the easy opportunities to reduce energy waste have already been taken – and the understandable requirements for ‘short-term’ paybacks has led to many profitable longer-term energy efficiency schemes being bypassed for ‘low risk’ opportunities such as LED lighting upgrades.

As we move towards achieving a zero-carbon economy, the challenges for many businesses will be finding energy saving opportunities which deliver a solid ROI without substantial risk.

There are a lot of technologies available on the market which are still in a relatively early stage of evolution, and as such many of the options available are either costly to implement or have other significant barriers to mobilisation. One can only hope that as these technologies mature, their routes to implementation become easier for organisations to accept.

It is reasonable to speculate that as carbon management gathers an increased focus for more businesses, attitudes to implementing technological solutions will continue to improve and become less risk-averse. Nevertheless, early adopters will still face many challenges in determining the practicality, maintainability and accuracy of predicted payback periods when building business cases for deployment.

We would urge those organisations to ensure they include both independent engineering expertise within their assessments of new technologies, and employ IPMVP standards when undertaking measurement and verification (M&V) of efficiency project performance, to ensure project success.

At this stage, it is difficult to predict the exact mix of technological and behavioural change interventions that will be required to achieve net-zero by 2050. However, what is clear is that innovation will be at the heart of accelerating the UK’s progress towards a zero-carbon economy. Hopefully the UK Government will acknowledge this and support industry, through legislative and financial instruments, to facilitate the growth of the innovative technological developments so desperately needed to achieve our laudable yet challenging national targets.

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