Energy transition in the UK: definition, challenges and the law
The energy transition is the significant challenge of the twenty-first century. It involves a structural transformation in the production and consumption models of energy. The scientific community encourages consumers and governments to complete this energy transition. This requires two large changes: reducing our energy consumption and changing the energy combination towards greener energy. How can we complete this energy transition?
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What is the energy transition and why is it important?
The energy transition is defined as the combination of changes to the production, distribution and consumption energy models to make them more sustainable. The aim is to transform an energy system based on fossil fuels into an energy system based on renewable energy.
What is the energy transition definition?According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), energy transition “is a pathway toward transformation of the global energy sector from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century. At its heart is the need to reduce energy-related CO2 emissions to limit climate change”. The group says that urgent action is required on a global scale to achieve decarbonisation, and that while energy transition is already underway in many parts of the world, more needs to be done.
In fact, the burning of fossil fuels such as petrol, coal and gas is the main cause of climate change. The burning of these fossil fuels emits large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). Fossil fuels are not renewable because, once consumed, they can only be regenerated after a geological timeframe of millions of years. Petrol, coal and gas, for example, took millions of years to form and therefore, are present in limited amounts.
84.3% of global energy consumption came from fossil fuels: petrol, coal and natural gas in 2019.
Source: Statistical Review of World Energy, BP, published in 2020.
Moreover, beyond a transition in terms of production and distribution, citizens are encouraged to control their energy consumption and to use less energy. In this way, the energy transition is also a social and behavioural transition.
In fact, the recent increase in unconventional fossil fuels, such as shale gas, oil sands or offshore drilling, have provoked a wave of public protests due to the environmental risks. Nuclear energy, a conventional source of energy which is very extensively used, has also shown, in the wake of Fukushima, to not be exempt from risk.
What are the challenges of the energy transition?
It is a concept used for the first time during the 80s which describes the transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and the challenges it has faced:
- The reduction of CO2 emissions;
- The scarcity of fossil fuels;
- The safety of energy systems due to the fact that nuclear energy will be abandoned;
- The reduction in energy consumption;
- The protection of a population’s health;
- The development of electric consumption.
The energy transition arises as a result of both environmental and health challenges. The development of a production system based on renewable energy limits greenhouse gas emissions. Air pollution is the cause of many respiratory diseases. Global warming is responsible for the proliferation of bacteria.
Furthermore, the energy transition addresses a financial challenge. The reduction in energy consumption involves a reduction in cost and, therefore, a reduction in expenses which favours competition and profitability. The energy transition allows for a greater energy independence and would limit price variations, as well as the tensions between countries that buy and sell energy.
Finally, the energy transition faces a security challenge. Despite the fact that nuclear energy is considered one of the cleanest fossil fuels, in cases of accidents, it can have very serious consequences on health, as was demonstrated in Chernobyl. A nuclear accident produces an abnormal amount of radioactive elements into the atmosphere, which can cause radiation and contamination in humans. The substitution of nuclear energy for renewable energy makes the energy system safer.
All these issues have led to commitments by the UK government such as the passing of the Energy Act and Climate Change Act. Prior to the nation’s departure from the European Union, the UK also worked on climate and energy policy with other European nations.
Renewable energy policy and transition in the UK
The UK government has already enshrined into law measures that are aimed at ensuring the nation is carbon neutral by 2050. Under the Climate Change Act, an independent, statutory body called the Climate Change Committee (CCC) was formed, whose job is to report and inform on progress that the UK is making in making the energy transition and fulfilling its environmental targets.
In 2019, the CCC published its Net Zero report which called for an update of previous greenhouse gas emission targets. The government responded by adopting the findings and reviewing its climate efforts, including:
- All of the UK’s electricity to come from clean sources by 2035;
- A commitment to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. In 2019, just 35,000 were installed;
- No petrol or diesel cars will be sold in the UK from 2030;
- £338m to be spent on walking and cycling infrastructure in England;
- Plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025.
What is the effect of energy transition and what progress has been made?
In June 2021, the CCC published an update report to provide information on what progress the government has made to meet its ambitious targets. There was some good news, such as:
- In 2020, UK emissions were 48% levels seen in 1990. It is important to add that the impact of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns had a large impact on the figures and that such a steep drop is not expected to be permanent.
- The UK met its carbon budgets for the first two four-year cycles (2008-2012 and 2013-2017). It is also on track to meet its target for the 2018-2022 period.
However, the report also highlighted a number of concerns and called for urgent action to be taken. This included:
- A heat and buildings plan that works for consumers and is affordable;
- Concrete plans on how the food, aviation, transport and hydrogen industries can do more to become sustainable and reduce emissions;
- More public engagement in environmental issues;
- A fair distribution of funding to local authorities;
- There must be a strengthening of plans for the power sector, industrial decarbonisation, the North Sea, peat and energy from waste.
Energy transition and green energy
Whether you are a freelancer, own your own company, or a professional within a corporation, you can also get involved and participate in the energy transition. Due to its low environmental impact, green energy plays a fundamental role in the energy transition. Opting for a green energy company is one way to participate in the energy transition and to become aware of environmental issues.
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In addition to subscribing to a green tariff, carrying out energy renovation works, such as insulation work or changing the boiler, can reduce energy consumption and increase comfort. Energy renovation works also save money on electricity bills.
Discover more practical guides on protecting the environment and developing green energy.