The UK Government has set a target for the country to generate net zero carbon emissions by 2050. A new report by Rural England CIC, containing a case-study by English Rural, considers how this is likely to be delivered by rural economies – and the benefits that it could create. The main focus is the consideration of power generation, transport and heating for buildings.
The UK is behind target. In power generation, a generous tariff and permissions for large offshore wind developments has allowed good progress. In areas where incremental investment is required retrofitting equipment and losses would be likely in sunk capital, progress is slow.
Rural areas are not all the same, the route to zero carbon will differ by area. The shift to low carbon is no longer a technological challenge, however, the issue is more generally about setting the correct commercial model. Where this is achieved, rural economies can develop new economic sectors.
Zero carbon heat starts with better insulated buildings – an issue for older rural buildings. A combination of biofuels and electrification of heat is required – with biofuels reducing emissions immediately followed by a potential transition to heat pumps in low density rural areas where it is economic and technically feasible.
Transport follows a similar model – development in edge of village settings, maintaining local services and deployment of excellent broadband all reduces vehicle miles. Use of biofuel can immediately reduce emissions, but with a transition to electric vehicles.
Both heat and transport increase the demand for electricity but in rural areas there is the opportunity for greater local generation. If those savings from local generation can be passed onto the consumer then communities are incentivised to approve more local schemes and create decentralised power grids.
In the rural housing sphere it is vital that existing housing stock is made fit for future purpose through effective insulation by whatever means is appropriate and has adequate ventilation and other infrastructure to enable the adoption of new generation zero carbon heat systems. This offers a huge opportunity for a supplier base of businesses throughout the country, and is an issue that is increasing in urgency.
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