We must prepare for the incoming Green Revolution, and it must start now
The Green Revolution is coming, businesses and the government must prepare for it, the time is now, argues Steve Collins, Finance Director of Premier Econergy
It's fair to say that 2020 wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was February; the UK’s green infrastructure was at the top of government agenda, it was the year of COP26, the UN climate summit hosted in Glasgow and when planning for a green economy would be turbocharged. It was the year to make a difference.
Then came the pandemic. It’s now June and we live in a totally changed world.
GDP is set to slump by 11.5% and the consequences look ominous as we enter an era of high unemployment and tough economic hardship.
The government finds itself gripped by the crisis of a lifetime. Despite the gloom, now is the time to focus on those green shoots which signal the way ahead. Now is the time to plan for the biggest socio-economic revolution since Attlee’s post-war government.
This must centre on a green revival of the UK’s economy. The starring role within this economic revival will go to the built environment sector, which contributes to 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Although new buildings have higher standards in energy efficiency, a vast swathe of existing buildings fail to make the grade. Much of this is due to the energy which heats our homes.
Although much progress is being made within the gas grid where renewable energy is increasingly dominant, many homes remain cut off and rely on less eco-friendly heat sources – for instance 1.5 million homes currently rely on heating oil. To solve this issue, the government introduced the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) in 2011.
This gave cash payments to those switching to renewable heat sources, such as Air Source Heat Pumps. Despite cash incentives, the scheme has had little impact; as of April 2020, just 46,000 properties have installed Heat Pumps. When adding other renewable heat sources eligible under the scheme, such as Solar Thermal, the figure is still a measly 78,000.
If we are to meet our climate goals, providing renewable heat is hugely important and we must increase uptake as a matter of urgency. The issue of low uptake lies in the high costs of installing renewable energy systems, this is associated with a lack of trained engineers. For example, let’s look at Heat Pumps. Even with RHI, the costs of installation and upkeep may be off-putting to those wanting to switch.
The relevant courses to qualify as an engineer are difficult, time consuming and too complex to navigate. There is no recognised national training programme. Bringing down cost relies on training more engineers. Lower costs will lead to higher uptake of renewable heat sources. Higher uptake leads to a thriving renewable heat industry which helps the UK meets its climate targets.
But this future can only be unlocked by providing a comprehensive and simplified training process for engineers. And it’s not just this sector which needs training courses to ignite the UK’s green economic recovery. From green builders to solar cell technicians, we must have the training infrastructure in place.
The solution is for government to establish Eco Academies throughout the UK to invest in upskilling the workforce for a growing green economy. The Academies would provide national training courses relevant to all the emerging green industries which are crucial to our economy following the Covid-19 pandemic. All courses should be government funded and open to all, although the most vital aim would be retraining those who find themselves unemployed following the economic shock created by lockdown.
By doing this, the government will be training a green workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. We will achieve our climate targets and with prices for green technology such as Heat Pumps lower, there will be a thriving green marketplace where no government incentive scheme is needed.
Rather than wasting taxpayer money as some may argue, this would be an investment vital to securing the UK’s economic future and prosperity, especially following Brexit when competitiveness is crucial.
The alternative is to do nothing, allow unemployment to rise leaving our workforce badly equipped for the new economic realities whilst allowing our global rivals to overtake us. With large unemployment predicted, now is the time to be proactive – now is the time to retrain our workforce, now is the time to meet the new economic realities key to the UK’s future success.
Steve Collins is Finance Director of Premier Econergy
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