Devolve decarbonisation UK government told

Energy experts in the UK have called for the country’s net zero efforts to be regionalised and devolved to regional governments.

In a new report, led by the University of Birmingham, senior figures in the energy sector have said the regional approach around decision-making on heat decarbonisation would make the ability to invest and take decisions more efficient and would avoid the danger of falling into a one size fits all solution.

The Policy Commission report “Pathways to Local Heat Delivery”, was launched in Birmingham, following a Parliamentary launch for MPs. The report emphasises the need to balance these on-the-ground local decisions with long-term policy decisions from Government. This long-term view includes a recommendation for three pathfinder projects, funded by the Government, which will decarbonise 30,000 homes in the next five years.

“East Birmingham, comprising Small Heath, Tyseley and Hodge Hill, largely mirrors the national housing stock in terms of different types and building ages, so could be an ideal site for one of the projects,” said the report’s authors. “The area also has significant facilities for energy production and large, untapped waste heat facilities at Tyseley Energy Park.”

Professor Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Energy Institute, said: “The Government needs to invest in these large projects to learn how to retrofit and decarbonise neighbourhoods at scale. The way to find out how to do that is to start doing it. At some point we have to commit – that time is now.”

The combined authority, local councils and universities, including the University of Birmingham, are all pursuing clean heat projects which could fit within the pathfinder.

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, said: “A key part of my mayoral mission has been a clear commitment to our ambitious #WM2041 target to become a net zero region by 2041 – improving quality of life for local residents.

“Heat policy – including making our domestic heat provision cleaner and more energy efficient – will play an important role in helping us to tackle the climate emergency. It is a policy field well suited to a close working partnership between regional authorities and central government.

“As a leading light in the green industrial revolution that will shape this century, the West Midlands has the leadership, ingenuity, and spirit of collaboration required to develop the winning solutions we need.”

To implement them successfully, however, will require a clear strategy backed by sufficient investment. And at the heart of that should be statutory targets for local authorities backed by resources to map existing technologies and engage with local communities.

The report was led by researchers at the University’s Birmingham Energy Institute in collaboration with the Energy Research Accelerator. It was chaired by Sir John Armitt, chairman of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.

“British policy on heat decarbonisation needs a reset,” he explained. “The keys to this are simplicity, place and funding. Low carbon-heat is an inherently local challenge, with decisions about technologies and infrastructure varying by neighbourhood. It makes sense that councils lead this process.

“At the same time, the national approach has grown too complicated and needs streamlining. Again, the way to do this is by devolving decision-making to local governments.”

The report also includes a set of recommendations on thermal efficiency, including proposals to overhaul both the way thermal efficiency is calculated, and the system of grants and loans available.

“Getting on with efficiency improvements regardless of a ‘final heat solution’ is a no regrets move which will create jobs and reduce demand. To implement this, we need simple policy and support mechanisms,” added Armitt.