Our new campaign – to run over the next nine months – will seek to present a pan-utilities road map to net zero. We will explore the sector’s achievements to date and ask what needs to be done to unleash its full potential to drive forward the decarbonisation agenda.

We are now just nine months away from the COP26 conference in Glasgow and the pressure is on to ensure the UK can show the world it is serious about climate change.

Utilities have already laid the foundations on which to build a green future and where many other industries have talked big, this sector has walked far.

But there is much more to do and it is imperative that the ambitious, rigorously researched plans of utilities companies mesh with wider agendas, most notably in policy and regulation, rather than being blocked by them.

This is why Utility Week is launching a sector-wide conversation on net zero that will guide us towards the UN’s 26th Conference of the Parties. We will seek to bring together the multifarious decarbonisation strategies, blueprints and 10-point plans published across the electricity, gas and water sectors to create for the first time a pan-utilities road map to net zero. The aim is to present to government, the public and the world a concise story of how this sector can affect change and any barriers to this success that need to be tackled.

COP26 is the time to do this and presents a truly unique moment to turn commitments into action. While previous COPs have been instrumental in binding countries to action on emissions, this conference must also seek to draw the public into the debate and stress that every person has a part to play in tackling climate change. In many cases, utilities will be the gateway to fulfilling that role.

It is vital that this conversation is an honest but also a positive one. Net zero is not zero cost and this cannot be brushed over but the public must be given agency. By moving from passive to active players in the energy market and being mindful of how their use of water impacts not just this vital natural resource but their own carbon footprint, consumers will save money and live better, smarter lives. Once again, utilities will often be the ones to preach this gospel so the message must be clear and consistent.

Covid has already proved a hindrance to COP but perhaps it will also serve as an inspiration. The feat of making the impossible possible no longer seems far-fetched. The way the private and public sector have adapted to completely new ways of working and the public has accepted fundamentally different ways of life has broadened the scope for change. Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout is a truly remarkable scientific and logistical feat underpinned by a common consensus that we are all fighting a shared threat.

Countdown to COP will explore nine key topics through interviews, analysis, case studies, comment pieces and interactive tools as well as through events.

As part of the campaign launch we will be bringing you the thoughts and hopes of senior sector leaders, such as the chief executives of Anglian Water, Drax and National Grid among others.

Our first monthly focus will be on the challenges of ensuring a just transition, including the need to ensure no customer is left behind in a smart energy system; how companies are embedding social and environmental responsibility in everything they do and how we ensure workforces are future-proofed in a fair and inclusive way.

Future topics will include:

Investors

How do investors view utilities’ role in the net-zero journey and how are they evolving their strategies to reflect this? What do they want to hear from regulators and policymakers? Are the investment mechanisms in place, or proposed, fit for purpose?

Flexibility and storage

The role of full-chain flexibility is becoming clearer but who will the key players be and are there risks of new monopolies emerging? What role does storage have to play? How do you ensure visibility of assets and total transparency of what networks are doing? What market mechanisms are needed?

Decarbonisation of heat

The government’s announcement of support for both heat pumps and hydrogen shows it is not currently seeking to ‘pick a winner’ on decarbonisation of heat. We will present deep dives into both electrification and green gas, looking at their potential and the obstacles that stand in the way of wider proliferation. We will also look at the potential for hybrid solutions and whether there is a ‘third way’ to decarbonisation of heat.

The local picture

We will examine how local authorities are approaching decarbonisation. Are these local ambitions aligned with the plans of utilities? Are they evidence-based and achievable, and if not, does this risk undermining public buy-in for the wider climate change agenda?

The role of water

The part played by the water sector in decarbonisation will run throughout the Countdown to COP coverage but we will also specifically address the sector’s ambitious pledge to hit net zero by 2030.

Decarbonisation of transport

We will aim to take a holistic look at the evolving strategy for ramping up EV use and profile the various charging trials taking place. We will also explore the key technologies and in particular the different solutions for green HGVs.

The future of regulation

If the government imposes net-zero duties on the regulators in 2021, what does this mean for their future role in decarbonisation and relationship with utilities companies?

Workforce

Our recent Build Back Better campaign highlighted the potential to create hundreds of thousands of green collar jobs as part of the energy transition. But how will this green army be trained and onboarded, in a working world still trying to reorientate itself after Covid? How can the UK position itself as a global leader in nurturing talent to progress the net-zero journey?

I would welcome your support and your feedback for this campaign. If you would like to get involved, please do get in touch.

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