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Robert Davis: Net Zero – Leaving No-one Behind

  • 22 October 2020

  • EA Technology


It’s OK for people like me. I’ve been lucky. I can afford an EV, a heat pump and PV on my roof.  I don’t mind paying a few more pounds for a green energy tariff. But I’m not bragging and my conscience is not clean.

Whilst I think everyone who can afford it should be actively looking to reduce their carbon footprint right now, there are many millions of people in the UK and globally that don’t have the resources necessary to do so.

Let’s just think about the implications of the current incentives. Nobody without the cash will be moving their home heating to a net zero solution any time soon. If your gas or oil boiler breaks, you’ll just replace it, painfully and with great frustration, for the same again. Putting in a heat pump wouldn’t figure, because the upfront cost would be 5 to 10 times that of a direct replacement. Sure, the renewable heat incentive (RHI) might make it worthwhile over a few years, but funding that gap won’t be desirable for most. And this is for people that have to replace their boiler! For everyone else, there’s even less incentive to go green.

The PV story is the same. Why would I shell out a load of cash now, particularly in uncertain times, to earn that money back, if I’m lucky, over the next 10 years. For most, it just isn’t going to happen.

What makes it more unjust is that the costs of the RHI are spread across everyone’s bill…so those that can’t afford it are paying for those that can!

There are still big challenges with EVs as they are more expensive up front and the range issue is real. As someone who has had to queue for public charging and gone through the real stress of limping home with my car saying to me ‘Please find a safe place to park, your car is shutting down!’, I can tell you that EVs are still for the green-minded or the local traveller.

There are solutions for all of these, of course, but it’s going to take government action. The solution to the heat pump and PV issue (not for all homes by any means, but for many), is to make the funding available for new installations upfront, rather than paying on the drip via the RHI over a number of years. Money has never been cheaper for the government to borrow, so timing shouldn’t be any issue. It just means heating or powering your home won’t be down to whether you’ve got the cash in your bank to fund it…an ultimately regressive approach.

For EVs to move from the 5% to the 50% of new car sales and beyond, we’ve simply got to accelerate public charging infrastructure much faster. I haven’t had a petrol car for a couple of years, but I can’t remember queuing for fuel for more than a minute or two…and then I’d be annoyed! Sitting for 45 minutes waiting for the only compatible charger in Wrexham to be available recently was not my idea of fun. This has to be led by central government. For the public charger installers to go large, they need an incentive to break the negative feedback loop of not enough chargers, low EV uptake due to range-anxiety, not enough income for EV installers, therefore not enough chargers.

This is market failure and needs urgent action. Worse, it leaves vast swathes of the population behind the green curve. It’s avoidable. Let’s address it now.