How ‘green levelling up’ can provide Britain with energy security after Ukraine war – Juergen Maier

THERE is an obvious overlap between the cost-of-living crisis and our net zero ambitions. 

Last Wednesday, the Chancellor said he would be cutting VAT on energy-saving materials such as solar panels, heat pumps, and insulation, as part of his plan to help struggling families with soaring bills. 

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This is a step in the right direction, but we are still a long way off a properly ambitious plan for a net zero transition that could transform the northern economy, bolster our security and bring down bills.

Professor Juergen Maier CBE, vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, previously headed Siemens in Hull which is now at the heart of Britain's green energy revolution.

The upcoming Energy Security Plan needs to be as focused on how it can help level up the country through energy and the dependent industrial jobs as addressing the short term pressures of the spikes in gas and oil prices – which will persist until we reach net zero.

There currently isn’t enough capacity to deliver the scale of housing and building upgrade required. Nor is there enough incentive for businesses to upskill or reskill workers to install green technologies and more sophisticated energy-saving measures in homes.

On top of that, many organisations and households end up drowning in paperwork, and by the time they’ve signed up to the latest energy efficiency green deal, the scheme is scrapped and replaced with a new one.  There have been far too many of these failed initiatives over the last decade or so.

Poorly targeted schemes create uncertainty which makes it harder for the private sector to put its full weight behind emerging green energy sectors. This is a common concern I hear from business leaders, who say that we need to do more to join the dots between skills, market demand creation, local supply chain creation, regulatory frameworks and R&D. 

Professor Juergen Maier CBE is vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

We have got it right before. A market demand generation mechanism called contracts-for-difference helped stimulate UK’s offshore wind market and created the scale needed to bring down the industry’s costs. The Siemens wind turbine blade factory in Hull stands as testament to this.

That was true green levelling up. Wind is now the UK’s cheapest form of energy at scale; it is now five to six times cheaper than gas. Building onshore wind (where communities want it) could help bring energy bills even lower. This – not North 
Sea gas – is now the engine of energy and prosperity in the 
UK. That is exactly what we now need to do. Incentivise new, exciting green energy markets such as the huge hydrogen opportunity.

A few weeks ago, I joined forces with northern mayors Tracy Brabin, Dan Jarvis, Andy Burnham and Jamie Driscoll to state our case for a green industrial revolution in the north of England. With concerns growing over energy security, bills rising and the voices of climate change sceptics growing louder by the day, we knew we needed to lay out an ambitious, considered plan for how net zero could create skilled jobs and boost our sluggish productivity.

As the industrial powerhouse of the UK (Humberside alone produces 40 per cent of the UK’s total industrial emissions), the net zero challenge is greater here in the North – but that means the opportunity is greater here also. 

Professor Juergen Maier CBE, vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, previously headed Siemens in Hull which is now at the heart of Britain's green energy revolution.

The North now produces more than half of the country’s renewable energy. In Yorkshire alone we have Dogger Bank (once the largest offshore wind farm in the world) off the East Coast, Drax pioneering carbon capture and storage technologies in Selby, and ITM Power in Sheffield producing the equipment to produce green hydrogen and power UK’s hydrogen energy revolution.

Rolls Royce SMR is developing its fleet of small modular reactors for nuclear energy, working in collaboration with the Nuclear AMRC Catapult in Sheffield and using components made at businesses like Sheffield Forgemasters. Alongside batteries and hydrogen-based energy 
storage, nuclear can provide the baseload to replace gas when wind or solar aren’t able to take the strain of a gradually more electricity dependent economy alone.

Our decision to start subsidising these green energies a few years ago means we are reaping the dividends now. Every year the cost of renewables gets lower and lower. Meanwhile gas prices climb higher and higher to unprecedented new levels. 

The truth is that the net zero transition only becomes cost effective, only becomes world-leading, only becomes economically transformative, if we go all in. Half-measures and short-term strategies simply won’t cut it.

Professor Juergen Maier CBE is vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

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