If the UK invests in small-scale, affordable low-carbon technology instead of large projects such as high-speed rail or nuclear power, it should expect to reach its net-zero emissions target faster than originally predicted. This is according to a recent study by an international team of researchers.
Examples include solar panels for houses, electric bikes, heat pumps, and shared taxis. These options come with lower investment risks, a greater potential for improvement in both costs and performance, and more scope for reducing energy demand. The study suggests that these are key attributes that will accelerate progress on decarbonisation.
Researchers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, and the University Institute of Lisbon gathered data on numerous energy technologies at different scales and then tested how well they performed against 9 characteristics of accelerated low-carbon transformation.
They then asked if it is better to prioritise large-scale and costly technologies or should we be focusing on smaller and more affordable schemes that are more adaptable.
Benefits of small-scale
Publishing their findings in Science, the team finds that subject to certain conditions, smaller alternatives perform better than larger-scale technologies in various important ways. In addition to quick deployment, small-scale technologies have shorter lifespans and are less complex, allowing innovations and improvements to be quickly brought to market. They are also widely accessible and create more jobs, giving the government a “sound basis” for strengthening climate policies.
Lead researcher Dr Charlie Wilson, at UEA, said: “A rapid proliferation of low-carbon innovations distributed throughout our energy system, cities, and homes can help drive faster and fairer progress towards climate targets.
“We find that big new infrastructure costing billions is not the best way to accelerate decarbonisation.
“Governments, firms, investors, and citizens should instead prioritise smaller-scale solutions which deploy faster. This means directing funding, policies, incentives, and opportunities for experimentation away from the few big and towards the many small.”
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