What is net zero?
Everyone in the energy industry is talking about net zero. Governments and businesses are competing with each other to see who can set the most ambitious net zero targets. The UK has recently made a commitment to achieve net zero by 2050, the first country in the world to make a guarantee of this type. So, let’s find out more about net zero. What does it actually mean? Why is everyone talking about it? Finally, what can energy companies do to help achieve it?
Defining net zero
The primary aspect of net zero is zero carbon emissions. Carbon is a significant catalyst for climate change.
The phrase ‘net zero’ started in the construction industry, but its influence has expanded across all sectors, including travel, agriculture and lifestyle.
The World Green Building Council defines a net zero carbon building as:
‘Highly energy efficient with all remaining energy from on-site and/or off-site renewable resources.’
In more universal terms, net zero means:
- Zero carbon emissions
- Reducing energy use
- Any energy you do use needs to come from renewables
Looking to the future, aiming for zero in other areas, such as water and waste
The importance of net zero
Getting the world as close to net zero is seen as essential in combatting climate change. As well as global initiatives such as the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, individual countries are setting ambitious targets to get to net zero.
To hit the target of achieving net zero by 2050, the UK will need to eliminate carbon emissions in several areas.
- Construction – buildings need to be as energy efficient as possible
- Automotive – electric vehicles must become the norm
- Agriculture – livestock is a source of carbon emissions. Also, we need to plant more trees
- Diet – we must eat less meat and dairy
- Travel – aviation is a major carbon emitter (and is extremely difficult to decarbonise), so we must take fewer flights
- Energy in the home – we must stop using natural gas for heating and cooking
- Energy production – we must end reliance on fossil fuels and move to renewables. Hydrogen could be part of the answer here.
Where carbon has to be produced, in industry for example, there must be a way to capture and store it safely, instead of pumping it into the atmosphere. If this isn’t possible, companies must employ methods of ‘carbon offset’. For example, they can invest in other ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as planting trees.
Benefits of net zero
Net zero is desirable for many reasons. Obviously, the primary benefit is environmental. We are in the midst of a climate crisis and we need to take drastic action if we are to save the world for future generations.
However, moving to a less carbon-dependent lifestyle can be beneficial right now. Drivers find that electric cars are cheaper to run. People who live in energy efficient homes receive lower energy bills; some don’t pay energy bills at all because they generate their own energy.
For energy companies, embarking on net zero initiatives can safeguard their own future. If the Government is heading for ambitious official targets, it makes sense to get in on the ground floor. It gives them an edge on their competition. It also brings excellent publicity and marketing opportunities.
What can energy companies do to help achieve net zero?
There is so much that energy companies can do to smooth the way for net zero. From massive initiatives to the smallest changes to their policies, it all helps.
An example of a large-scale project would be Drax Group, who runs the massive Drax Power Station on Humberside, partnering with Equinor (the Norwegian multinational energy company) and National Grid Ventures, to totally change the way they produce power. This partnership plans to make Drax Power Station net zero by 2030. They will do this by implementing a large-scale carbon capture and storage project, as well as building a new hydrogen production facility. This project will eliminate carbon emissions as well as reduce the grid’s reliance on fossil fuels. It will take time and cost money, but it will be worth it.
Energy companies can also forge deeper relationships with the construction industry. As new homes are built (something else the country needs), energy companies need to be on hand to consult with housebuilders on how to make their buildings more energy efficient. By employing the principles of energy modelling and smart design from the start, we can get to net zero quicker.
Energy companies need to engage with their customers to get them thinking about how they consume their energy. Suppliers can urge their customers to reduce their consumption, even if it affects their bottom line. There’s more at stake than profit here.
Energy wastage is a significant drain on resources and contributes to carbon emissions. Energy companies can inspire their customers to reduce wastage through advertising and incentives. For example, customers should use energy efficient appliances that don’t drain ‘phantom power’ when they are not using them. Phone chargers are a big culprit here.
Better yet, suppliers can encourage their customers to generate their own power, which brings an added benefit of helping with load balancing on the grid. It also makes money for customers who participate.
Finally, energy companies should not charge their customers higher tariffs to subsidise any changes they have to make to get to net zero. They should be nudging their customers in the right direction, rather than penalising them.
A collective effort
To get the world to net zero, which we need to do, will take a big effort from everyone. The Government, energy companies, homebuilders, motor manufacturers down to the individual consumer, everyone needs to make changes.
At the moment, there is a collective enthusiasm to reduce energy consumption. Initiatives like the Low Emission Zone in Central London have been implemented without any serious problems. We need this keenness to continue when people have to sacrifice things they really like, such as air travel and meat.
Energy companies can play their role in keeping everyone focused on the goal of net zero. The world depends on it.