Journey to net zero

Sarwjit Sambhi

By Sarwjit Sambhi
Chief Executive, Centrica Consumer

Journey to net zero

I am encouraged by Ofgem’s new Decarbonisation Action Plan which has been published today - it highlights the importance of supporting investment and innovation to create an energy system that’s fit for purpose in a net zero world.

The bushfires and more recently the flash floods in Australia have challenged even the most sceptical to accept that there is a linkage between the growth in carbon emissions and climate events.

This is on the back of the groundswell of support for Greta Thunberg’s campaign of a ‘climate emergency’. What she has catalysed is inspirational and is forcing governments and businesses to think differently. It is amazing to think that only last month, Microsoft pledged they would become carbon negative by 2030, while Sainsbury’s committed to invest £1bn towards a “net zero” target by 2040. This would have been inconceivable to think of even a few years ago. A brave move which will require these companies to figure out how to take carbon out of the atmosphere – not easy to do.

I am genuinely excited about the opportunity for us at Centrica to play our role in addressing the climate emergency. We’re on a mission to accelerate our positive impact, and have set our own ambition to become a net zero organisation. However, the greatest contribution we can make to tackling climate change is to help our customers reduce their carbon emissions.

So what does that mean and how do we do it? First the scale of the challenge. To be net zero by 2050, we need about 2,000 households to become net zero each day between now and then. 2,000 every day means we need to start right now.

The average household emits about 8 tonnes of carbon each year. To visualise how much that is, it is the equivalent to 16 million party balloons filled with CO2. When you break this down; 2.3 tonnes on gas to heat your home; 1.7 tonnes on lighting and electrical appliances; 2.7 on transport and 1 on air travel. So how do you get to net zero.

Eliminating the 2.3 tonnes on heat (5 million balloons) is difficult but there’s a lot customers can do to reduce it to a lower number. For example, we know that customers with a Hive smart thermostat can save about up to 0.5 tonnes with very little effort. Switching to a high efficiency combi boiler can save a similar amount. To eliminate the 2.3 completely requires exploring and testing new technologies that can help towards the decarbonisation of domestic heating, such as heat pumps. To make this happen will require government and business to work together.

To save the 1.7 tonnes on electricity (4 million balloons), customers have a number of options. They can switch to a green tariff which is backed up by real green energy, like the new tariff just released by British Gas. Of course, customers can also choose to generate electricity themselves using solar panels in combination with batteries. This is a complex installation which requires the expertise of our engineers. We can also help our customers with smart meters make money from the excess green electricity they can export to the grid.

So how to save the 2.7 tonnes on transport? That’s tougher. Easy measures include more public transport. The biggest impact would be the switch to electric vehicles. Last year 40,000 electric cars came onto UK roads. To get to net zero that figure needs to be nearer 400,000. Think about how many charge points would be required. In fact, we’ve already been upskilling our engineers to install EV charging points at both customers' homes and businesses to ramp up our capacity to support the EV revolution. And we’re working with transport providers to install the infrastructure to electrify public transport in some of the countries’ biggest cities.

The point I’m trying to make is that we have a big role to play in helping our customers get to net zero. We’re here to solve.

We all have a part to play whether it’s our engineers building new skills or having colleagues in our service centres offering advice to customers on their choices to reduce their carbon footprint.

There is no Planet B.