The recently set up National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is required to carry out an assessment once every five years, and the assessment released on 11 July 2018 was the first of these. The assessment contains recommendations for infrastructure in the UK relating to transport, energy, water and wastewater, flood resilience, digital connectivity and solid waste from now until 2050.
Here are the key points in terms of transport and energy:
Low carbon energy
Today, UK consumers spend an average of £1,850 each year on energy bills. The assessment finds that, with low-carbon energy systems, the same energy could be provided at the same cost in 2050 – provided the right action is taken now. The NIC’s modelling finds that a highly renewable generation mix is a viable low-cost option and is more cost-effective
than large amounts of new nuclear or continuing to use fossil fuels with the addition of CCS. The assessment recommends aiming to have 50% of energy provided by renewable sources by 2030.
Decarbonising heating is an essential part of meeting carbon targets in the UK, so we need to move away from using natural gas for heating. It also emphasises that uncertainty over the long-term option for decarbonised heat (likely either electrification or hydrogen) is not an excuse for inaction now. Energy Saving Trust welcomes this call for action on decarbonising heat, as this will be a difficult yet essential part of any UK decarbonisation pathway.
Improving the insulation of buildings makes sense both now and in a low-carbon future. The assessment estimates there are over 21 million individual improvements that could save billions, including: 10 million lofts, 6 million floors and 5 million walls. It recommends that 21,000 energy efficient improvements should be installed to homes each week between now and 2035 – more than double the current rate of around 9,000 per week. Energy Saving Trust has long argued for more action on energy efficiency, and we are pleased to see the NIC recommending this as well. Energy Saving Trust currently runs a number of energy efficiency support programmes in Scotland and Wales and would like to see more action undertaken in England.
Different interventions to encourage uptake will be needed across different sections of the building stock, and innovation should continue to be supported, especially for solid walls. We agree that innovation will be essential to successfully insulate hard-to-treat homes, especially those with solid walls.
The social rented sector is the immediate priority, with much of the cost falling on the government. It recommends that the government should invest £3.8 billion in improvements to social housing between now and 2030 in order to meet its ambition of having all social rented homes being EPC band C by this date. Energy Saving Trust agrees with this call for increased investment in the social rented sector, we held a roundtable event on how the sector could reach the 2030 target in March this year, and will be publishing a report on the subject in the near future.
It also recommends that government should continue to trial innovative approaches for driving energy efficiency in the owner-occupied market. By the end of 2018, a plan for how regulations in the private rented sector will be tightened and enforced over time, should be solidified. We welcome the increased focus on incentives for the owner occupier sector, Energy Saving Trust has been examining such incentives for some time and published a white paper on the subject last year. The recommendation that there be a plan for future tightening of the minimum private rented sector standards is also something we have argued for, most recently in our response to a government consultation on the matter.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are expected to capture the market for low-emission cars and vans in the short- and medium-term. The government should ensure that EV charging becomes as easy as refuelling a car. It recommends that the government, Ofgem and local authorities should enable the rollout of EV charging infrastructure that is sufficient to allow consumer demand to reach close to 100% electric new car and van sales by 2030.
Smart charging can considerably reduce the burden of electric cars on the electricity network. Allowing EV chargers to respond to price signals will also ensure they charge when demand is low, and therefore even out the daily electricity demand on the household. The presence of EVs as a flexible demand on the system will reduce the need for other sources of flexibility in the system. Not putting in place policy incentives for smart charging could increase power system costs by an average of £2 billion per year between 2030 and 2050.
Range anxiety is a barrier to EV uptake. The Government should ensure a core network of rapid chargers is installed at visible locations across the UK.
Furthermore, the assessment recommends that:
- Ofgem should take on the role of regulating the interaction between EV charge points and the electricity network immediately, ensuring vehicle charging and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services contribute to optimisation of the energy system.
- There should be a requirement on local authorities to allocate 5% of their parking spaces to EV charge points by 2020, and 255 by 2025.
- By 2022, the government should subsidise the provision of rapid charge points in remote areas, where the market will not deliver in the short term.
Set up a centre for advanced transport technology in the Department for Transport to bring together work on technological innovation and ensure its implications are central to future proposals.
The next wave
The assessment argues that in the next wave of major infrastructure investment, attention must be turned to UK cities. In many UK cities, transport networks are close to capacity, so the UK needs to ensure that urban transport enables economic growth rather than hinders it. It recommends:
- By 2021, metro mayors and city leaders should develop and implement long term integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing that will support growth in their cities.
- By 2021, the government should ensure city leaders have the right powers to deliver these integrated strategies, including the power for metro mayors to make decisions on major housing development sites.
- The government should set out devolved infrastructure budgets for individual cities for locally determined urban transport priorities in line with the funding profile set out by the Commission. Budgets for 2021-2026 should be confirmed by mid-2019, and by 2020, government should pass legislation requiring cities to be given regular five-year infrastructure budgets.
Read the full NIC assessment here.