On 10 July 2018, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published its first ever assessment of UK National Infrastructure. The report sets out a long term vision for high quality and sustainable economic infrastructure for the UK, accompanied with detailed proposals of how the Government should attempt to achieve a switch to greener energy. The report focused on several areas including energy, waste, transport, digital technologies and flood management.
In terms of energy and waste, the NIC recommended that the UK should aim to achieve:
- half of the UK’s power provided by renewable energy by 2030 by investing in low cost renewables such as wind and solar and promoting new technologies
- three quarters of plastic packaging to be recycled by 2030 in order to reduce waste from plastics.
Low Carbon Infrastructure at no extra cost
The NIC found that consumers currently pay an average of £1,850 per year for electricity, heating, hot water and petrol or diesel. The NIC’s analysis has shown that the same level of services could be delivered at the same cost in 2060 by a low carbon energy system. The system envisaged by the NIC would cost no more than relying on the development new nuclear power plants.
In order to progress towards zero carbon heat by 2050, the NIC recommends investing in wind and solar. The NIC also recommends establishing the case for heat pumps and for using hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas and oil, which should then be followed by community-level trials by 2021. If these trials are a success, then a larger trial should be launched to supply at least 10,000 homes by 2023.
In addition, the NIC recommends improving energy efficiency of buildings. The Government should set a target for the rate of installations of energy efficiency measures in the building stock of 21,000 measures a week by 2020 (such as loft insulation, double glazing or wall insulation). The NIC believes that an estimated £3.8 billion would have to be set aside between now and 2030 to deliver energy efficiency improvements in social housing.
In terms of recyclables, the NIC assessment was particularly focused on plastics. Increased recycling of plastics could save £6.2 billion from 2020 to 2050, as well as avoiding the need to build 20 additional incinerators required to deal with that plastic. Therefore, the NIC has set recycling targets of 65% of municipal waste and 75% of plastic packaging by 2030. This would be reinforced by the Government setting individual targets for all local authorities, whilst providing financial support for the transitional costs involved of increasing recycling that much.
The NIC considers that in order to achieve this, the Government should establish separated food waste collection for households and businesses so that biogas production can be increased by 2025. The use of hard-to-recycle plastic packaging, such as PVC and polystyrene, should also be restricted and manufacturers should be given incentives to reduce packaging and instead create products that are more easily recyclable by 2022.
The NIC recommends that the government should set out a pipeline of pot 1 Contracts for Difference auctions, to deliver at least 50% renewable generation by 2030 as part of the transition to a highly renewable generation mix.
Whilst the NIC has itself noted that the recommendations it has outlined are ambitious, it believes it has focused on key priorities that the UK infrastructure most crucially needs. Initially the Government has committed to putting the assessment before Parliament, and that the NIC should expect a response within 6 months to a year. The Government’s response will specify which recommendations it has taken on board, any alternative proposals, as well as any recommendations it has not agreed. Then a second assessment will be undertaken by the NIC, to be expected around 2023 which will build on the current report.