NIC targets switch to low cost greener energy in first ever national assessment

Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt.

Calls have been for £3.8bn to be invested between now and 2030 to make improvements to the country’s social housing stock as well as a switch to low cost greener energy as part of the first ever National Infrastructure Assessment undertaken by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The switch to greener ways of providing energy to homes and businesses without increasing bills is said to be possible if ministers “act now” and invest in low cost renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, so that these provide at least half the country’s generating capacity by 2030.

Currently, around 30% of the UK’s electricity comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power – up from 12% only five years ago. But the report published today (10 July) recommends that the government take steps to push this even further and ensures that a minimum of 50% of electricity comes from renewables in 2030.

The NIC recommends that established technologies like wind and solar power be allowed to compete to deliver the overwhelming majority of the extra renewable electricity needed as overall demand increases and sets out a clear pipeline, with dates and budgets, for future auctions to support renewables.

Other notable parts of the report include the need to encourage growth of cities with the help of recently appointed metro mayors who can implement long-term strategies for transport, employment and housing in their areas, to support economic growth, with new powers and devolved infrastructure budgets.  

"If we act now we have a golden opportunity to make our country greener and protect the money in the pockets of consumers long into the future".
Sir John Armitt, chairman of the NIC.

The National Infrastructure Assessment’s spending plans include funding for projects including Crossrail 2 in London, and Northern Powerhouse Rail linking the major northern cities, and recommends a boost in funding for major cities totalling £43 billion to 2040, with cities given stable five-year budgets, starting in 2021.

Chairman of the NIC, Sir John Armitt said: “Whether for cooking, lighting, keeping homes warm or electric cars on the road, where the UK’s energy comes from will need to change radically over the coming decades if the UK is to meet its legally-binding climate change targets. If we act now we have a golden opportunity to make our country greener, and protect the money in the pockets of consumers long into the future – something few of us expected to be able to do. Ministers can seize this chance by investing in renewables and other low-carbon technologies so they become the main players in our energy system – something that was considered a pipedream as little as a decade ago. But they need to act now to realise the full potential of what can be achieved.”

As part of the move to greener technology means road infrastructure needs to change and be built for cars of the future. The infrastructure advisory body is therefore calling on ministers to work with councils and private companies to deliver a national network of charging points for electric vehicles. The NIC say the impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles need to be taken into account when planning for the next rail control period and road investment strategy.

All the recommendations form part of the first ever assessment which aims to provide support and advice to the government on long-term infrastructure priorities, covering transport, energy, digital, water, waste and flood defences. But it is now up to the government to look into the report and decide how best to respond. Many, including the commission’s chairman, are hopeful that ministers will welcome the ideas and ensure they become a reality.

Commenting on the NIC's report, Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, said: “The fact that a report of this kind has been produced by the NIC is great news. It allows us to have strategic oversight of the project pipeline and ensures government is kept to account. Perhaps most importantly it enables us to understand infrastructure in terms of effects and outputs – what these projects collectively mean in terms of delivering energy and tackling flooding in the face of climate change, enabling the growth of our cities, and ensuring our digital and transport networks are fit-for-the-future.”

Ogunshakin also welcomed the NIC’s call for Crossrail 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, saying: "These will help to deliver continued success for these regions and beyond. It is vital we don’t lose the knowledge and expertise gained in the construction of Crossrail, which is why the government should give both of these projects the green-light immediately.” On more powers for metro mayors and city leaders, Ogunshakin added: “It is vital that these areas are given more powers to influence decisions on transport, housing and employment. Devolved infrastructure budgets will enable strategic interventions for the good of local communities by bodies who fully understand local needs.”

John Armitt added: “Whether it’s electric or driverless cars, new energy sources, tackling the risk of climate change or preparing for the newest and fastest broadband speeds, the issues we’ve been considering profoundly affect people’s everyday lives. The whole purpose of the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations.  It’s why it’s not just a one-off but something we will be repeating every five years to ensure we remain on the front foot.”

To view the report in full, click here.

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