Consumers must be at the heart of decarbonisation


The 2050 net-zero goal is an admirable goal, and one which I, and Cadent, are 100 per cent committed to helping to deliver. But it’s also a challenging goal, and one that cannot be achieved by government and, indeed, business alone. It will require consumers to play their part, to make decisions, and to take action. Without the support and consent of consumers, our net-zero ambition will fall short.

What is clear from the plethora of polling and research out there, is that the public are in favour of decarbonisation. Reducing harmful emissions is seen as a positive thing, and a principle that all (or most) can support. Indeed, we have seen our political narrative transformed in recent years, as all parties seek to strengthen their environmental credentials, and successive governments seek to be the ‘greenest government ever’.

The government’s mantra of “build back better” is aiming to show how environmentalism and economic growth can go hand-in-hand, and the investment and business opportunities that it can bring. Cadent are fully embracing these opportunities, as we look to the future and the role that our gas network can play in decarbonising the regions we serve, creating new green-jobs, and equipping a generation with the skills they will need for the new greener future world of work.

However, if we are to reach net-zero, it is essential that policies and solutions also work for consumers and that they are able to engage with them. Policies which ignore consumers will simply be ignored themselves. Solutions must empower consumers and enable them to embrace the right solution for them. Sadly, this salient point is all too often forgotten in the climate debate.

Bright Blue’s recent report, Going Greener: Public attitudes to net zero, which Cadent were pleased to be able to support, provided welcome evidence of how people use energy now and what factors are most important to them. If we fail to take account of these factors and instead listen to those who shout loudest, we risk promoting policies that will be both an antiquated, top-down approach and deeply unpopular with the general public.

The findings are perhaps unsurprising – people want to be able to heat their homes quickly, affordably and with minimal disruption. People want to have control over their own heating system. They do not want to have to make major changes to their homes. Whilst nobody would be surprised by these findings, these simple principles are often missing from many of the solutions advocated as routes to net-zero.

That is not to say that solutions that are ‘consumer friendly’ do not exist, they do. Hydrogen offers just one such route, with ‘hydrogen-ready’ boilers already developed and coming to market. And there are other solutions too. But what is most apparent through Cadent’s and others’ research, is that consumers want choice – they want to be able to decide for themselves what solution they want, and be engaged by policy makers rather than have solutions imposed on them.

And given the scale of the challenge of reaching net-zero by 2050, there is no silver bullet. We’re going to need the full spectrum of different solutions and ideas if we are to reach net-zero. On heat, Cadent are looking to a future where some homes on our gas grid are heated by hydrogen, some homes will have heat-pumps, others will be on heat networks, and some will be heated by bio-gas. A mosaic of different options will ensure that consumers have choice, and that they are able to choose the solution that best works for them.

Furthermore, in putting consumers at the heart of decarbonisation policy, we would also be enabling and growing markets. Any solution to the decarbonisation challenge, and there are and will be many, should be allowed to develop and respond to consumer demand, not be foisted on people. Government policy should remain technology neutral, and avoid picking winners to make sure they avoid picking the ‘wrong’ winner. Markets should be allowed to respond to market demand.

By placing consumers at the heart of decarbonisation, we will have reached net-zero in a way that enables and supports economic growth, we will have enabled personal choice, and we will have made sure that we have left no-one behind.

Photographer: Bill Harrison

This post is subject of our Friday forum on LinkedIn (July 2). And if you’re intrigued and would like to know more, join us next Saturday 10 July in #coventry with Big Tent Foundation Coventry City of Culture Trust for Ideas Festival – including strand on #greengrowth when Tom Bradley will be talking to Ben Alvis Green Alliance – Discount code BIGTENT21 for 50% off

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. tabeles says

    Yes, consumers have been “educated” to have choices. That is why marketing is such a large business. When it comes to utilities that “choice” is constrained by the “pipe” that comes to their home or business. Hence, in the US solar PV may be adopted based on cultural issues, but more so on the economics and “hassle” factor. That is why many installations depend on financial incentives which come from the utilities and government through various programs.

    heating/cooling, other than via electric options, again depend on the cost up front and ongoing including maintenance. Again the source/options are limited and thus dependent on factors that drive the consumer choices.

    Unlike a car where there are capital investment options and fuel choices, buildings are fixed assets and few make their choice, once owned or contemplated based on utility options. Yes, consumption is one issue; but that, in the case of utilities, is significantly constrained.

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