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Getting to Net Zero (An Engineering “Problem Statement”)

19th April 2022

This vast undertaking of achieving net zero basically comprises shifting to different sources of energy.

However, there are dangers ahead following the Government’s commitment to Net Zero by 2050 because the reality of striving to achieve associated CO2 reduction targets inevitably involves huge risks and uncertainties in terms of Time, Money and Performance. Performance here includes delivery of the UK’s goal, its effect on global CO2 output, effect on the security and reliability of energy supply, effect of new energy dependencies on National Security, humanitarian impact, environmental impact, perceived impact on quality of life in the UK and satisfaction amongst UK voters.   It is about changing the infrastructure for transferring energy from the new sources to where the users need it and solving the problems arising from the intermittent availability of energy from sources such as wind and sun.

The Government should recognise its own lack of knowledge of engineering and the associated complexities and its inability to control – other than indirectly by using relatively blunt instruments which can have unintended consequences – the many engineering activities, their funding, timescales and associated risks and uncertainties

The problem is made particularly difficult due to the wide range of stakeholders involved, with differing incentives and priorities that present enormous scope for achieving results that are far from satisfactory.

The Government should also recognise that they have heightened the expectations of the public – downplaying or omitting key information about likely costs, problems and unpalatable consequences. We believe that in the interest of the wider population, business and the economy, there is an urgent need to address this serious situation speedily and appropriately, before it gets worse, as the consequences of failure to manage the major inherent risks can be extremely serious.

The Government should bring together, under appropriate collaborative management arrangements, qualified and experienced experts in the range of engineering disciplines, programme management, risk management, finance, incentivisation (legislation, carbon trading, planning, etc.) to analyse options, uncertainties and risk reduction measures to report periodically in a form that Government can use to objectively, properly and transparently make decisions concerning public funding allocation, legislation and other levers that are available to Government to influence outcomes: also to ensure open and honest communication to the electorate.

Chris Ambrose

Vice-Chair, CPRE Avon and Bristol