For two months last year, Britain's power supply was coal-free

Energy minister: UK's carbon footprint is smallest since the Industrial Revolution

"Direct government intervention may sometimes be necessary to protect consumers as the markets catch up"
November 13, 2018

In October I flicked a virtual switch on a tablet and transformed the iconic London Eye from its usual red to green. This marked the start of the inaugural Green GB Week, which also coincided with the European launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report warning of the urgent need to hold global temperatures below 1.5C. It formed a stark reminder of the huge challenges we face. 

But businesses, public bodies, academics and entrepreneurs have a once in a generation opportunity. As part of Green GB Week, John Lewis committed to turning its 500-strong delivery fleet over to cleaner bio-fuels, while HSBC announced £250m of investment in solar parks and wind farms. Thirty other companies participated. These are not hair shirt measures, but commercial decisions to embrace growth opportunities and operational savings, as part of a cleaner future.

Ten years on from the Climate Change Act, Britain’s power sector was entirely coal free for more than two months and the UK’s carbon footprint is now the smallest it has been since the industrial revolution. 

As well as powering past coal, we have also driven down the cost of clean energy. Twenty years ago, we had no offshore wind generation. Since then, government support and industry innovation has made it economically viable. The sector now has tens of thousands of employees.

As we move from the old models to the new, direct government intervention may sometimes be necessary to protect consumers as the markets catch up. We need to guarantee a fair, sustainable market. The introduction of the energy price cap this year represents a profound change which will protect millions of potentially vulnerable customers from rip off tariffs—with some at present paying £350 more every year than their neighbours for the same services.  

We are digitising the energy system, installing smart infrastructure, including the smart meter. This smart system will enable more flexible tariffs in the future, saving even more money, while playing a role in balancing the grid.

We have made great progress in the power sector; the result of clear long-term policy-making. As we turn to the challenges of decarbonising industry, we are delivering £45m to fund innovation in Carbon Capture and Usage. This technology aims to trap carbon dioxide emissions before they enter the atmosphere, using the carbon dioxide in other processes, or storing it in the ground. 

In transport, we have spent nearly £250m backing UK battery technology to help us build on the success of the UK electric vehicle (EV) sector, which currently produces one in five EVs on European roads. Developing next generation battery technology and inventing the industrial solutions that bring down costs of production are the next big low carbon transport challenge, and the UK intends to be in the lead.

The government intends to build on our success. Green GB Week was about making sure everyone in the UK, from school classrooms to boardrooms understands the opportunities of clean growth.