Building a low-carbon economy – the UK’s innovation challenge

July 20th, 2010 by Richard Lord

The Committee on Climate Change provides independent advice to Government on building a low-carbon economy.

In October 2009, Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, asked the Committee on Climate Change to carry out a review of low carbon innovation in the UK.  This report consider the effectiveness of current policy measures and institutional arrangements to deliver the technologies required to meet the UK’s 2050 emissions target.

Click on the image to download the report "Building a low-carbon economy - the UK's innovation Challenge (1.2 mb)

A PowerPoint presentation by Professor Julia King, member of the Committee on Climate Change, is also available.

The Committee recommends that the UK should focus on the development and deployment of at least 6 technologies:

  1. Offshore wind – likely to be the least cost path for de-carbonising the power sector and meeting the UK’s 2020 15% renewable energy target. The UK requires 13GW of offshore wind capacity to be developed, requiring up to £50 million per annum in funding for Research, Development & Demonstration (RD&D).
  2. Marine (wave and tidal) – the UK has the potential to be a world leader in this area and has significant natural resources, estimated at 65GW per year. UK-based companies have world-leading expertise in marine engineering and design.
  3. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – technology to remove carbon from coal and gas power generation will be crucial to meeting the target. The UK is strong on subsurface evaluation and geo-technical engineering because of the North Sea oil and gas developments.
  4. Smart grids and meters – the UK has research expertise and industrial capabilities in key smart grid technologies including electrical machinery, power electronics and communications.
  5. Electric vehicles – the UK has the expertise to design and build electric cars. Funding needs to be protected for the purchase of electric cars (£230m) and to support the development of a national battery charging network (£30m). Investment of up to £800 million will be required to meet the CCC’s target to have 1.7 million electric cars on the road by 2020.
  6. Aviation – UK-based companies are globally competitive in design and manufacture of advanced wings and aeroengines. Public support for radical technologies (e.g. blended wing) will be necessary to achieve UK targets.

Tom Delay, Chief Executive of the Carbon Trust said “Good innovation that leverages private sector investment, and focuses on UK benefit is a must. It will deliver significant economic opportunity for the UK as well as helping us meet our short and long term carbon targets.”

Professor Julia King said “the case for action is strong. With adequate funding, new policies and strengthened delivery arrangements, we would expect UK firms to take leading roles in the development of key technologies, driving down emissions to meet carbon budgets and targets, and fulfilling the new Government’s clear objective to build a low-carbon economy. We urge the Government to put the appropriate low-carbon technology support arrangements in place to unlock environmental and wider economic benefits”.

Professor Sir John Beddington, the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said “Innovation will be enormously important if the UK is to meet its climate change goals, and to do so affordably. We need to develop and deploy the most promising low carbon technologies quickly across all sectors. In times of austerity we must also make sure we invest public money to maximum effect. I welcome the Climate Change Committee’s advice in this critical area.”

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