The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) this morning published the UK’s first ever National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) – a detailed document that sets out the Commission’s plan of action for the country’s infrastructure over the next 10-30 years, with the key message that “Britain has a ‘golden opportunity’ to switch to greener ways of providing energy to homes and businesses, without increasing bills.”
NIC chairman, Sir John Armitt, said it has long been assumed that a switch to greener sources for the country’s energy needs would mean increasing costs, but analysis for the Commission shows this would not necessarily be the case. It states that, in fact, making this switch towards low-carbon and renewable sources for both the country’s power and heating, combined with a move towards electric vehicles, would mean the customer of 2050 would pay the same in real terms for their energy as today.
In terms of resources and waste, there are some relevant recommendations in the NIA, including half of the UK’s power provided by renewable sources by 2030; and three-quarters of plastic packaging to be recycled by 2030.
Low Cost, Low Carbon
In its section on de-carbonising how the UK powers and heat its homes and deals with waste, the NIA reports: “The UK can and should have low cost and low carbon electricity, heat and waste. Ten years ago, it seemed almost impossible that the UK would be able to be powered mainly by renewable energy in an affordable and reliable way. But there has been a quiet revolution going on in this area. There is ample scope to build on this success in years to come. Highly renewable, clean, and low cost energy and waste systems increasingly appear to be achievable.
“Furthermore, such a system need not lead to higher bills. Today, consumers pay an average of £1,850 per year for the energy they use, including fuel and equipment for heating and hot water, electricity and transport fuel costs. The same services could be delivered at the same cost (in today’s prices) in 2050 by a low carbon energy system. But this will only be possible if the right decisions are taken now.”
It added: “In the waste sector, too, there are lower cost, lower carbon options, especially for food waste and plastics. There is public support for greater recycling, but frustration with the complexity of the process.
“It is cheaper to collect food waste separately and process it in anaerobic digesters, rather than send it to energy from waste plants (incinerators). Seventy nine per cent of people who do not currently use a food waste bin would be prepared to use one if it were provided by their local council. More plastics should be recycled, including by restricting the use of hard-to-recycle plastic packaging by 2025. Better packaging design, clearer labelling, fewer hard to recycle plastics, and tougher recycling targets (of 65 per cent of municipal waste and 75 per cent of plastic packaging by 2030) could all reduce residual waste and mitigate the need to build additional infrastructure.”
In its final section, outlining the next steps following the NIA, the NIC states: “These recommendations will enable the UK to have a thriving digital economy, a low cost, low carbon energy and waste network, clean air, successful cities, and resilience to extreme weather. But the Commission cannot achieve this alone. Government, regulators, industry, citizens and others will all need to contribute to making this vision a reality. Over the coming months, the Commission will work to build consensus around its recommendations.
“As its initial next step, the government has committed to lay the Assessment before Parliament, and to respond to the Assessment within six months (with a final deadline of a year). Its response will set out which recommendations it has agreed to, any further work required to take forward the recommendations, and alternative proposals for any recommendations it has not agreed.
“The second Assessment, expected around 2023, will build on the recommendations in this report, as well as covering new ground.”