Countries must consider more than cost in zero carbon transition

A “one-size-fits-all” approach to the zero carbon transition, based solely on cost, could result in social inequalities, Imperial College London has warned.

On 12 August, it published research, examining three countries – the UK, Spain and Poland – in which it considered both the economic and social implications of different energy mixes, together with technology costs. It argued that at present, many models used to determine the best mix of strategies for a country only consider the cost of technologies, which ignores the current state of a country’s energy economy and industrial strengths.

While the UK has a growing offshore wind industry, for example, it will likely face issues with intermittent power from a completely renewables-based energy mix. This means that the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) power stations remains a priority.

Poland, meanwhile, was noted as relying on coal for 80% of its energy generation and having no in-country solar expertise. Even if solar is the cheapest option technologically, it would require a substantial reskilling of the workforce. A better option, it was argued, would be to pair the coal use with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. In contrast, owed to Spain’s solid solar and wind power industry, analysis based on cost was found to be similar to analysis which considered socio-economic impacts.

The research team will now extend their analysis across the EU and USA, considering polices such as the recent push to adopt hydrogen fuel technologies and how that may impact different countries. The effects of COVID-19 and how decisions about the transition to net zero could impact recovering economies will also be explored.

Imperial College London