14 May 2019

Net Zero – threat or opportunity for Gas and Power?

Climate change has never been near the top of the main stream news agenda, but thanks to activists across the world and prominent spokespeople, there has been a lot more discussion in the past few months.

The Committee on Climate Change report Net Zero, released this month, spells out clearly how we need to change the way we power our economies if we are to significantly reduce emissions by 2050. As the Leader of the Siemens UK Gas and Power business, you’d think this would fill me with dread, but it doesn’t. It is my job to lead this change in the UK and the only thing I dread is the consequence of not getting it right.

Globally, three quarters of the fuel we use is fossil fuel – coal, gas and oil. This has been an abundant and powerful source of energy which has powered nations for hundreds of years. It is this fossil fuel which is causing the damage to the environment – not the turbine it runs through.

So, if we change the fuel could we still use the same technology? The answer is yes. Using hydrogen or ammonia, or a mix of the two, for example would provide much the same power we have today but without the carbon dioxide emissions.

I see this as a real opportunity for my business. But it isn’t going to be an easy task. We need to invest in the research and development of current technology, so it can run on this new fuel type – something which Siemens is committed to do by 2025. Indeed, we already have some of our aeroderivative gas turbines that can run on 100% hydrogen and some of our smaller turbines and gas engines which are hydrogen capable.

While emissions in electricity generation have fallen considerably on 1990 levels thanks to a move away from coal generation, with this week seeing the first seven-day period with no coal generation since the Industrial Revolution, gas still supplies around 40% of electricity in the UK. But where we can make a real difference is in heat and power. 

The UK government’s commitment to no new build houses being connected to the gas network is a bold move and one which will help reach emission reduction targets. Equally as bold is the move to electric vehicles from the internal combustion engine. But, to do this, the current electricity network would have to double.

In the short term we need to make sure the power stations we build and service, and the turbines and engines which power them are as efficient as possible, because we still need gas as a source of power especially if heat and transport move to an electric future.  We need to make sure that current power stations are modernised, so they too are efficient and reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, while we develop the low, or zero carbon fuels of the future.

This is why the CCC acknowledgement that the UK will need a mix of technologies to provide this power is welcomed. There isn’t a silver bullet and we need to keep all options open – from wind to solar, nuclear and storage, all will have a role to play in decarbonising the UK. And if we can use an alternative fuel in large scale and localised power plants, then a low emission future looks within reach.

I’m confident that if bold policy moves are taken, we can create a low carbon energy future which will be replicated across the world. Siemens is up for the challenge and is committed to work with government to make this ambitious target a reality for society and future generations.

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