Accelerating innovation towards net zero

04 Apr 2019

This report, Accelerating innovation towards net zero, commissioned by the Aldersgate Group and co-authored with Vivid Economics, identifies out how the government can achieve a net zero target cost-effectively, in a way that enables UK to capture competitive advantages.

The unique contribution of this report is to identify the lessons from successful and more rapid historical innovations and apply them to the challenge of meeting net zero emissions in the UK.

Achieving net zero emissions is likely to require accelerated innovation across research, demonstration and early deployment of low carbon technologies. Researchers analysed five international case studies of relatively rapid innovations to draw key lessons for government on the conditions needed to move from a typical multi-decadal cycle, to one that will deliver net zero emissions by mid-Century.

The case studies include:
  • the deployment of the ATM network and cash cards across the UK;
  • roll out of a gas network and central heating in the UK;
  • the development of wind turbines in Denmark and then the UK;
  • moving from late-stage adoption of steel technology in South Korea to being the world leading exporter; and
  • the slower than expected development of commercial-scale CCUS to date across the world. 

The report also sets out which low carbon technologies are likely to have wider productivty and growth benefits in other industries for the UK. These include (carbon capture, use and storage) CCUS, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), wind energy, biofuels and batteries. These areas should be prioritised by the government’s innovation strategy going forwards.

Five key actions for government policy to accelerate low carbon innovation in the UK :
  1. Increase ambition in demonstrating complex and high capital cost technologies
  2. Create new markets to catalyse early deployment and move towards widespead
  3. Use concurrent innovations, such as digital technologies, to improve system efficiency and make new products more accessible and attractive to customers.
  4. Use existing or new institutions to accelerate critical innovation areas and co-ordinate early stage deployment.
  5. Harness trusted voices to build consumer acceptance.
  6. Align innovation policy in such a way that it strengthens the UK’s industrial advantages and increases knowledge spill overs between businesses and sectors

Implementing these lessons will require a further increase in government support for innovation – through both research, development and demonstration and through deployment policies to create new markets.