The turbulent weather seen in recent months across Europe and beyond – crippling heatwaves, thunderous storms, and catastrophic floods – has once again highlighted the need to tackle the climate crisis by reducing our carbon footprint, and to transition to net zero as quickly as is humanly possible.
The United Kingdom government’s U-turn on some of its net zero commitments has placed an even greater emphasis on the role local authorities can and must play in creating a cleaner, healthier environment.
Members of the Key Cities network have shown a high level of ambition and proactive action in terms of achieving net zero, with many developing strategies, forming strong partnerships between community and private enterprise, and delivering successful projects across various sectors.
Crucial to these efforts is the development of sustainable energy. One technology which has attracted the attention of our Key Cities members has been solar power. Along with wind, solar offers the promise of renewable, sustainable energy and the creation of the infrastructure needed to collect and channel it is almost certain to lead to the creation of thousands of new, well-paid jobs.
Like many people, members of the Key Cities network were interested to hear, earlier in the year, of government plans to back technology which would, in effect, collect energy from the sun out in space using satellite-mounted panels and beam it back down to Earth.
It will doubtless take years to develop but as scientists work on this and other schemes to develop much-needed sustainable energy security, closer to home, Key Cities members have been making their own contribution toward greening our energy and power networks.
As spelled out in our “Levelling Up, Emissions Down: Accelerating Net Zero across the Key Cities” report, the United Kingdom has made significant progress in lowering carbon dioxide emissions in the last 30 years, with a reduction of 73.4% between 1990 and 2021, largely as a result of the closure of coal fired power stations and increased investment in low-carbon energy sources such as solar, wind, and nuclear energy.
There is still much work to be done but many of our network members have already embraced the challenge of creating more sustainable energy solutions. As well as having a significant environmental impact in these areas, these examples highlight the potential of solar power, should it be adopted more widely across the country. The English city of Wolverhampton has worked with the its local National Health Service hospital trust to install a 6.9 MW solar farm on a former landfill site to direct renewable energy to the hospital, meeting 70% of its electricity needs. In the English town of Blackpool, a major solar farm located alongside the city’s airport will provide sustainable energy to a nearby business enterprise zone.
In the Welsh city of Newport, a partnership with the Sustainable Communities Wales initiative driven by environmental charity Severn Wye and the Wales Cooperative has ensured 2,000 solar panels will be installed at the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome. This is expected to reduce the city council’s carbon emissions by 348 tons per year and will generate 1,973,MWh of electricity annually.
Funding secured through United Kingdom government body the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) has enabled the English metropolitan borough of Salford to install 2,562 solar panels on 21 public buildings across the city, generating 778 MWh per year. Four sites have also had battery energy storage systems installed and the 3.79 hectare Little Hulton solar farm, also funded through the PSDS, will triple energy generation.
These are encouraging examples but challenges remain. According to national electricity network operator National Grid, the United Kingdom government’s target of 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030 will require six times the amount of transmission infrastructure that was delivered in the past 30 years.
Local projects also require changes to the grid. One city in the Key Cities network is aiming to deliver 300 MW of renewable energy to meet its net zero targets; to date it has delivered 50 MW, with another 100 MW in the pipeline. Without an upgrade to the grid, however, it is unable to deliver more than this until post-2028 at the earliest, which will result in the city being unable to meet its net zero targets.
The path to net zero is not only being driven by a need to address the encroaching climate crisis. Net zero solutions increasingly offer returns to the economy, over and above the economic benefits of preventing global warming. For example, renewable energy generation increasingly competes in cost terms with fossil fuels while the prices of solar and onshore wind have fallen by 88% and 68%, respectively, since 2010.
Investing in net zero solutions will have a range of other economic and social benefits, including job creation, improved energy security, and improved public health due to a fall in air pollution. Clearly, the road to net zero is not only essential to prevent climate change, but also to support the economies of places around the United Kingdom.
While local authorities are making significant contributions to achieve net-zero, greater autonomy through devolved powers and funding would significantly expedite progress and help overcome challenges such as capacity building across councils and the clarification of roles in the national net-zero transition. This is where the power of the network comes in, enabling Key Cities to harness the talents of both the community and the private sector, leading the charge towards a sustainable energy network and a climate-conscious future.
About the author: Cllr John Merry is chair of the Key Cities network and deputy mayor of Labour-led Salford City Council.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
This content is protected by copyright and may not be reused. If you want to cooperate with us and would like to reuse some of our content, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.