This week I took part in a panel debate organised by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum discussing what the key challenges for future clean generation might be. I was delighted to be joined by Richard Smith of National Grid ESO, Alice Barrs from RWE, George Day from the Energy Systems Catapult and Frank Gordon from the REA.

Two things struck me from the presentations on the day and the questions from the floor. The Net Zero commitment has undoubtedly provided a huge boost to the clean energy sector and has the potential to give the UK a huge economic boost with innovation, technology and clean growth jobs. Yet at the same time the infrastructure and mindset shift that will be needed to achieve Net Zero is daunting.

There was lots of talk on electricity of course and much of that centred around what offshore wind could possibly achieve and how we would need to develop a strong pipeline of flexibility projects to work alongside renewables. Onshore renewables got less of a hearing, but there was implicit acknowledgement that we will need to turn the pipeline back on again. We should not forget we will need to keep what we already have in decades to come, so repowering and asset life extension of existing renewables projects will become important.

Our panel in particular, along with Mike Thompson of the Committee on Climate Change raised the issue of hydrogen, heat and carbon capture. To achieve Net Zero there will need to be a major move to hydrogen. We are already seeing our clients look at these projects but the challenge to develop a hydrogen economy at pace in the UK is finding the customer base for hydrogen early on and a way to get the hydrogen to that customer base. That thinking is going on and on carbon capture we await a view from the next government on how to fund the early stage commercial projects with the Regulated Asset Base model having been debated.

The panel discussed whether revolutionary thinking rather than evolution was needed to restructure our energy markets. The trouble with rethinking the market or indeed incentive mechanisms is that although logically this may be the right course, Investors desire certainty and each alteration inevitably leads to a period of reflection or hiatus. Have we got time on our side to do this especially if some political parties are wanting to bring forward the 2050 deadline?

What the panel did agree on was the need for the constituencies of Net Zero, transport, energy, land use, built environment to work together in a coordinated and collaborative way. The energy sector however much we decarbonise it, will not enable us to meet Net Zero on its own and the same could be said for decarbonised transport. So there is the challenge for the next government ……get that working well and we will be well on our way!