Chamber event explores net zero transition and plans for fuelling the future

Author - Courtney Hiles

Date published:

A North East Chamber of Commerce event explored how businesses across the North East are addressing the journey to net zero.

The Net Zero Performance knowledge event saw businesses, including Siemens Energy and Northumbrian Water, discuss the opportunities and challenges around net zero, and provided a platform to review progress made in the region, as well as plans for fuelling the future.

Jim Cardwell, head of distribution system operation policy at Northern Powergrid, shared how the company is facilitating an energy system fit for the future and how they’re supporting decarbonisation in the region.

Jim said: “Net zero is a huge part of what we do. Our business plan strikes the balance between investing for the future while protecting customers today.

“Flexibility first will enable us to meet increased connection needs most efficiently. Our distribution system operation business unit is about running a more flexible and dynamic operation, it helps us to manage more complex power flows in a more sustainable way.”

Jim shared how the company is providing connections and actions to tackle transmission congestion and said that working with local authorities is a major channel for local decarbonisation.

He said: “We have taken a place-based, local-level approach to decarbonisation, as well as supporting publicly funded decarbonisation schemes, including local electric vehicle infrastructure and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to support an increasingly dynamic electrified world.”

Phil Ingram, senior businesses development manager at global business Johnson Matthey, discussed catalysing the net zero transition.

He said: “We are committed to net zero by 2040 for our own operations and helping our customers avoid greenhouse gas emissions through our product sales.

“Hydrogen is going to be part of the solution. We provide the key technologies that enable the hydrogen economy, including catalyst coated membranes at the heart of electrolysis and fuel cells. We’re working with businesses to deliver affordable electrolytic hydrogen quickly.”

Phil discussed the company’s work around actively developing a pipeline of sustainable fuel projects around the world, as well as blue hydrogen technology developed by the company that will be deployed on Teesside. 

Steve Scrimshaw, Vice President UK&I at Siemens Energy, spoke about supporting the energy transition through renewables.

Steve said: “Decarbonisation is the challenge of our generation. Those immediately before us failed to tackle it, for those who come after us it will be too late to address it.

“In the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s Powering up Britain white paper released in March, there is a new message – energy security and net zero are two sides of the same coin. Homegrown renewable energy is a more secure bet than reliance on imported fossil fuels.”

Siemens Energy is responsible for roughly 70 percent of the UK’s operational offshore wind turbines, and 70 percent of the UK’s offshore grid connections.

He added that net zero calls for a very different scale of delivery. Steve said: “We need to build a clean energy system at scale which utilises a variety of technologies, including low carbon generation, dispatchable generation, energy storage and energy sharing.

“Net zero is multiple, not incremental – while we scale up renewables, we also need to invest in transmission to be able to connect this new, renewable generation to our grid, whilst the emerging hydrogen industry needs to grow 10,000 times in a decade if we are to hit our 10GW by 2030 target.

“Net zero is a team sport – collaboration is the only way to deliver.”

Lee Gibson, plant manager at Hartlepool Power Station, EDF Energy Nuclear Operations, presented on supporting decarbonisation through nuclear.

Lee said: “We’re very much an advocate for net zero for the UK and making energy affordable for people. Our role is about producing low carbon energy with a view of the future, and how we speed those processes up.”

Lee shared how the company produces low carbon energy through nuclear power or wind turbines, with a view of further nuclear power stations to match the UK’s demand.

“This would help to decarbonise the whole of Teesside, which, I feel, would be a huge strategic move for government. Teesside is such a desirable place at the moment,” Lee said.

Zoe Frogbook from Northumbrian Water shared the company’s journey to net zero within the water industry.

The head of environment and sustainability said: “Caring for the environment is at the heart and purpose of Northumbrian Water. Achieving net zero is about making the most of what we’ve got, optimising processes, as well as looking at energy we can produce ourselves.”

Future measures for Northumbrian Water to reduce carbon emissions include continuing to develop further optimisation of their processes, large scale solar energy, and exploring new innovation.

Zoe said: “Looking at whole life carbon emissions is key to our future plan; it’s helping us make the right choices. We want to try reduce the use of carbon in the first place to drive down emissions and we’re looking at other options to try and do that, including strategic partnerships to use nature-based solutions.

“Innovation is a key part of what we do. Local projects include undergoing a groundbreaking project to capture ammonia from waste water, and harnessing the power of algae to improve treatment process.”

Darush Dodds, director of corporate affairs from Esh Group, presented on the company’s journey to becoming an even greener contractor.

He said: “We’ve set a net zero target of 2040, incorporating Scope 1, Scope 2 and relevant Scope 3 carbon emissions.

“Our carbon reduction plan includes emissions for the entirety of Esh Groupwhich includes our main contracting business; Esh Construction, and private housing division; Homes by Esh. Our Even Greener Strategy provides a roadmap to reducing our carbon emissions to zero with minimal offsetting.”

Darush added: “We’ve set ambitious green targets, including a 5% reduction in business operating carbon by 2027, and 100% of our fleet being fully electrified or low carbon vehicles by 2035. We’ve also signed up to the Science Based Targets Initiative, committing to both near-term and long-term net zero targets.”

To help bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, the UK has made a series of ambitious pledges.

The changes being made nationally include: generating all electricity from clean sources by 2035, e.g., from wind, solar and nuclear projects; banning new petrol and diesel cars from 2030; installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 to replace gas boilers; and using carbon capture to remove between 20 and 30 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2030.

Tim Marsden, knowledge manager at the Chamber, said: “It was fascinating to hear from the region’s leading businesses on what they’re doing to achieve net zero and the challenges they’re facing.

“No two journeys to net zero will be the same, but a robust strategy for action will be essential to making a strong and credible commitment and to make it possible to achieve the transformational change required.

“Collaboration between businesses and government is also key. We all have a role to play, from business right down to individuals, and it’s important we work together to ensure a more sustainable future for everyone.”

Presentations were followed by a Q&A session with the speakers, with topics including decarbonising the grid, devolution, and what businesses would like to see from government on net zero policies.

The Net Zero Performance knowledge event took place yesterday (13 November) at Teesside University and was sponsored by Esh Group.

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