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NIC: Half of UK power should be from renewable sources

Words: Laura Edgar
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Urban infrastructure planning needs to be integrated with housing, and half of the UK’s power should be provided by renewables by 2025, according to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) builds on the NIC interim report – Congestion, Capacity, Carbon: Priorities for National Infrastructure – and sets out a long-term vision for “high quality, good value, sustainable economic infrastructure for the UK” and how to achieve it.

In order for cities to thrive, the NIA recommends that metro mayors and other city leaders develop integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing.

“Housing and infrastructure should be planned together: new housing requires new infrastructure. These integrated strategies should be backed up by stable, substantial, devolved funding. And for the cities that face the most severe capacity constraints, and with the most potential for growth, there should be additional funding to support major upgrade programmes, which would be agreed between the cities and central government.”

It also notes that heating “must no longer” be provided by natural gas, but that delivering a heating system that is low carbon and low cost is “the major outstanding challenge”.

A first step is to improve the efficiency of the UK’s buildings to mitigate some of the emissions from heat, while an evidence base must be built up to make decisions on heat in the future, says the NIA. “The safety case for using hydrogen as a replacement for natural has should be established, followed by trials for hydrogen at a community scale and alongside carbon capture and storage’.

In order to sustain progress on reducing emissions, the government must “show ambition”.

“The commission’s modelling has shown that a highly renewable generation mix is a low-cost option for the energy system. The cost would be comparable to building further nuclear power plants after Hinkley Point C, and cheaper than implementing carbon capture and storage with the existing system.”

Therefore, the commission says the electricity system should be running off at least 50 per cent renewable generation by 2030 as part of a transition to a highly renewable generation mix. Any further nuclear power stations should not be supported by the government before 2025.

Charging electric vehicles should be as easy as refilling cars with petrol or diesel, states the NIA. Consumers need to be confident that they can charge their electric vehicles while travelling.

To ensure this, a core network of rapid or fast chargers should be installed in visible locations across the UK, most of which should be built by the private sector. The government needs to enable commercial investors to build charge points throughout the country, adds the NIA, and local authorities should free up 5 per cent of their parking spaces for electric vehicle charge points by 2020, and 25 per cent by 2025.

Most charging, though, should be slow and smart.

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the commission, 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 pipe dream as little as a decade ago. But they need to act now to realise the full potential of what can be achieved.”

The commission said it would continue to work with the government and cities to develop the next wave of infrastructure upgrades across the country.

The NIA also considers flooding, droughts, food waste, recycling and broadband.

The government has committed to putting the NIA before Parliament and to respond to it within six months. A second NIA is expected around 2023.

The NIA can be found here on the NIC website.


John Acres, president of the RTPI, said: “The UK must take better and bolder infrastructure decisions to face the immense challenges and opportunities ahead. We need the ambition and scope the commission has set, but crucially we need to get delivery right. Resourcing planning departments effectively underpins the delivery of almost every recommendation in the report, and is the only way we can get value for money from the proposed investment.

“Planners’ strategic skills in joining the dots – be it tackling climate change, increasing renewable energy output or transport planning – and building consensus can make a huge difference in ensuring investment is well spent.

“We urge the commission to take these recommendations forward with planners at the top table, and to work with all concerned to ensure that Brexit will not adversely impact the skills base, professional standards and supply chain critical to making this vision a reality.”

RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck said: “Cheap renewables offer the best deal for consumers. Government has a great opportunity to give bill-payers a break by putting renewable energy at the heart of a modern smart energy system. Instead of that it’s inexplicably blocking new onshore wind projects. Why? That’s the question that MPs will have to explain to their hard-pressed constituents. Ministers should be listening to what people actually think and the government’s own polling shows that 76 per cent of people support onshore wind.”

Kevin Gibbs, senior counsel and head of strategic planning at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, commented: “We welcome the recommendations in the NIC report on genuinely devolved long-term funding to improve connectivity and promote liveable cities. As the report makes clear, strategies for housing and new infrastructure should be backed up by stable, substantial, devolved funding. Whilst in the past the government has prioritised transport between cities, the next wave of major upgrades should increase the focus on transport within cities.  

“Governance is particularly important and the NIC recommends that the appropriate authority to make decisions on how to invest devolved urban infrastructure funding will often be a mayoral combined authority, combined authority or unitary authority. Further, once funding is devolved to local authorities, central government should not have powers over how it is spent.

“If accepted by government, the NIC recommendations could assist in providing the platform for funding over many years particularly aimed at growing congested cities with clear governance frameworks in place to lead on joint strategic planning for improved connectivity and sustainable growth."

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