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Blog: Green growth - investing in low carbon infrastructure

last modified Jul 24, 2020 10:57 AM
16 July 2020 - Colin Matthews, Chairman of EDF Energy and co-chair of The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group, urges UK organisations to commit to rebuilding the economy and tackling climate change.

Coronavirus has caused great suffering and changed the way we live and run our businesses. Amidst the grim headlines, I have been inspired by the ingenuity, hard work, collaboration and generosity with which individuals, communities and businesses have responded. Can we hang on to the positive changes for the future?

As we emerge from the current ordeal, the UK needs the same focus and resourcefulness to tackle two other serious challenges: rebuilding the economy and climate change. Both threaten devastation to millions.

Despite the different time scales, the threats are linked. Without a healthy planet and a healthy population there won’t be a healthy economy. Fortunately, Government and business are thinking about how to address both together. We can accelerate the building of a cleaner, more resilient “Net Zero” future. 

To reach Net Zero, the UK’s future will be powered by low carbon electricity. Batteries will displace diesel and petrol engines and heat pumps will replace gas boilers. And as the role of hydrogen grows, we will need electricity to produce it. The Committee on Climate Change estimates we will need to quadruple our generation of low carbon electricity compared to today.

The great majority will come from wind and solar. The Committee, in their most recent annual progress report to Parliament, argued for at least 40GW of offshore wind plus roles for onshore wind and large-scale solar power.

 

So EDF is investing heavily in renewables and storage:

  • Wind:  Adding to our 36 wind farms, last year we acquired the £2bn offshore wind project, Neart Na Gaoithe, which will power 375,000 homes – more than the whole of Edinburgh. We’re also building Dorenell windfarm project, south of Dufftown in Scotland, which will power over 100,000 homes.
  • Batteries: We’re a leading developer of battery storage technology with one of the largest operating sites in Europe – West Burton - and two sites where we plan to build new batteries opening in Kent and in Oxford.
  • Vehicle charging: Last year we acquired Podpoint, one of the UK’s leading electric vehicle charging providers. Podpoint have already powered almost 160million miles of electric.

To make the most of renewables, and batteries, the Committee on Climate Change argues that the UK also needs a source of ‘firm’ or ‘always available’ low carbon power.  Firm low carbon power, the Committee reasons, will be increasingly important for the grid to balance the peaks and troughs of both supply and demand. 

Nuclear meets this need. In fact, today there is no other proven technology to do so. Working together, renewables, storage and nuclear can deliver a flexible, secure system in which the costs to consumers are minimised. 

Look to other countries for evidence. Both France and Sweden have cut their emissions rapidly by using a combination of renewables and nuclear power.

As well as tackling climate damage, investment in nuclear projects can help to address the UK’s immediate economic crisis.

The UK needs new, well-paid, permanent jobs, especially where high streets and small businesses have been badly affected by economic downturn. 

Nuclear projects are already creating these types of jobs in the UK. Since the start of the pandemic, 500 new jobs have been created by the construction of Hinkley Point C – the new nuclear power station being built in Somerset. In fact, Hinkley Point C has created more jobs in Britain over the last few years than any other low carbon infrastructure project.

Hinkley Point C is being built with the help of 2,500 British companies. Spending with suppliers in the Midlands and the North of England has already passed £1bn, creating highly skilled jobs for instance in Humberside and Warrington. £1.7bn has been spent with firms in the South West.

On the way towards creating 25,000 UK jobs and 1,000 apprenticeships, Hinkley Point C has already created 10,000 jobs and trained 644 apprentices.

Investment in this type of low carbon infrastructure that supports the creation of jobs and skills for the future should be central to the UK’s plans for a green recovery.

 


Explore the Corporate Leaders Groups' Green recovery knowledge hub

Find out how the UK can build back a strong net zero economy.

About the author

Colin Matthews LB

Colin is Non-Executive Chairman of EDF in the UK, part of EDF Group, having been appointed in November 2017. Colin served as Chair of Highways England from December 2014 to May 2020 and, prior to that, as Chair of the Highways Agency from July 2014. He was Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport (formerly BAA) from 2008 until 2014, and previously served as Non-Executive Chairman of Renewi PLC, a leading waste management firm. He has led a number of service and industrial businesses spending his early career with Lucas Girling, Bain & Co and GE (USA) in Japan, France, Canada and UK. He then joined British Airways, where he served as Engineering Director. He joined Lattice Group as Transco Group Managing Director before his appointment as CEO of Hays PLC then CEO of Severn Trent PLC, both the FTSE100 services businesses. He has also served as a non-executive director of Mondi PLC the international paper company and Johnson Matthey PLC, the international chemistry company. Colin was appointed Co-Chair of the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) in February 2020. Colin advises on the strategic development of CLG which brings together the voice of British business in support of ambitious action on climate change. A chartered engineer, he graduated from Cambridge University and holds an MBA from INSEAD.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership or the wider University of Cambridge.