What will 2020 bring for energy policy?

If the end of a year is typically a time to take stock, then the end of a decade is a time of even bigger reflection.  As the 2010s draw to a close, and we approach a new decade with a new government and a post-Brexit future, what does 2020 and beyond hold for energy policy?

Back in July, when Boris Johnson first walked through the doors of Number 10, we were awaiting the (still awaited) Energy White Paper.  At the time, we wrote about how certainty was needed for businesses, and why swift energy policy decisions were needed if we were going to set a pathway to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Fast-forward five months, and – arguably – not a huge amount has changed, as Brexit deadlines were extended and another General Election called.  However, with the most recent election being heralded as the ‘climate’ election, an updated Environment Bill tabled in October’s Queen’s Speech and reports suggesting that the new government is planning to reinstate the Department for Energy and Climate Change, 2020 needs to be the year we see some long-awaited clarity regarding energy policy.

The Energy White Paper

The 2020s will undoubtedly be a critical time for the energy industry.  In November, the Treasury launched the ‘Net Zero Review’, which will assess how the UK can manage the transition to a low-carbon economy.  It will consult with industry experts as well as key stakeholders that will be impacted by the transition to net zero, with an interim publication set to be produced in spring 2020 and a final report in the autumn.

The Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has also indicated that the long-awaited Energy White Paper will be published in ‘Q1 2020’ – although doubts have been voiced as to whether that is achievable.  Without doubt, current energy policy is outdated, and this needs to be addressed.

So, on the basis that this important blueprint for how we are going to deliver a low carbon future will be published, what can we expect to see?

It needs to set out a new framework to tackle many pressing issues, from updating the funding model for new nuclear power stations to developing large-scale carbon capture and storage projects and bringing forward investment in the renewable energy needed to help the UK meet its net zero targets.

In addition, as we emerge in a post-Brexit world, the Energy White Paper also presents a real opportunity to take control of our energy destiny, nurture homegrown innovation and technology and showcase the UK as a world-leading low carbon economy.   

Corporate sustainability is in the spotlight

2019 has been a big year for the energy sector.  Despite the distraction of Brexit, the UK became the first G20 country to officially legislate for net zero.  It was also the year that corporate accountability came to the fore, with many businesses declaring their sustainability ambitions. 

While businesses focusing on sustainability is not a new phenomenon, 2019 has undoubtedly been the year that it has come fully into the public consciousness.  With ‘climate strike’ being announced as Collins Dictionary’s ‘word of the year’, companies are being publicly ‘named and shamed’ for ‘greenwashing’ if their sustainability pledges don’t have weight.

Against this backdrop, we saw the launch of the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting Scheme (SECR), and 2020 will see the first reports published.  It will be interesting to see which organisations have gone beyond ‘just compliance’, and have used SECR as a real opportunity to shout about their sustainability.

As we head into 2020, it is critical that the new government takes a proactive approach to energy and climate change – and makes it a top priority.  This would provide greater clarity across the energy sector, from those organisations developing new, clean technology to the thousands of British businesses who will fund the UK’s energy transition through taxes and levies on their energy bills. 

In short, the 2020s will be a pivotal decade for the energy sector, and government and business will need to work together to deliver the low-carbon energy transition.