UK ECCC releases 2020 heat, transport targets report

By Katie Fletcher | September 12, 2016

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee released its 2020 renewable heat and transport targets report, concluding that, on its current course, the U.K. will fail to reach its 2020 renewable energy targets—to provide 15 percent of its energy needs from renewable resources, including 30 percent of its electricity, 12 percent of its heat and 10 percent of its transport fuel.

Key policies to meet the 2020 targets in the heat and transport sectors are the renewable heat incentive (RHI) and renewable transport fuel obligation (RFTO). The U.K. government’s proposed reforms to the RHI were deemed “not the optimal pathway to the 2020 renewable heat target.” One of the big concerns was that the current reform proposes to spend more on heat pumps and less on biomass, even though biomass has proven more successful in actual use than heat pumps. Also, the government has proposed to focus on large (rather than small or medium) biomass in the nondomestic RHI. The report concluded “sudden realignment from small to large biomass will damage the former’s supply chain, and the latter is unlikely to be taken up at scale.” Ultimately, the report concluded RHI tariffs for biomethane and biomass boilers were too low and in need of restructuring.

“The RHI needs to be reformed to further support the use of biomethane on the gas grid and in transport, and biomass heat at all scales,” said Frank Aaskov, policy analyst at the Renewable Energy Association. “The renewable heat industry has been vocal in their concern about proposed government reforms, but under the right framework is ready to deliver on the 2020 commitments.”

In the transport sector, the RTFO has been capped at 4.75 percent since 2013, which the report found is well below the level needed to meet the 2020 target and the cap should be raised to approximately 9 percent by 2020. The 1.5 percent cap on crops used for renewable transport fuel was also proposed as perhaps being too low and must be reconsidered. The report found introducing E10 into the fuel mix to meet transport targets will be required as well, and the government should do more to support the deployment of electric vehicles. The government has the aim to have all new cars to be ultra-low emission by 2040, and presently only 1.1 percent are.

The report emphasized that biomethane is a key technology for the deployment of low-carbon heat and the decarbonization of heavy goods vehicles. In addition, it was deemed that some combination of bioenergy and electrification will be depended in the heat sector as “it is clear that the government cannot rely on complete heat electrification—especially given limits to electricity network capacity.”

The closing of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which is now bundled into the newly established Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is thought to be a positive change and could present opportunities for low-carbon and renewable energy policy, according to the report.

Leaving the EU makes the status of the 2020 targets uncertain. Angus MacNeil, ECCC chair and a Member of Parliament, stated “We agreed our 2020 renewable energy targets as part of the EU but they still have many merits, even as the U.K. government prepares for Brexit.”

He added that “if the U.K. reneges on these targets, it will undermine confidence in the government’s commitment to clean energy and the climate targets agreed in Paris. Progress has been slow, but this must be taken as a call to action, not an excuse for backtrack."

Further, it’s believed if the U.K. falls short, this will undermine confidence in its commitment to future targets, including the 2050 decarbonization objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008. Therefore, “the government must reassess its capacity to meet them and, if able, recommit to them notwithstanding its exit from the EU. If it is not, it must set and commit to replacement targets and explain how these will support the longer-term decarbonization objectives of the 2008 Act as effectively as the 2020 targets.”