Decarbonising street works: looking forward to net zero 2050
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Street Works UK was delighted to welcome Graeme Dey MSP as this year’s keynote speaker. Graeme was first elected to the Scottish Parliament as an SNP MSP at the 2011 Election, and following a period as the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans, he was appointed as a Transport Minister following the May 2021 election.
Dey commenced his speech by noting that this year’s Conference theme is of particular significance considering Glasgow has just hosted COP26. Scotland has committed to the toughest emissions reduction targets in the world, with a 75% reduction by 2030 and has become the first country to set legally binding annual targets.
To deliver on these targets, Dey commented that a programme for government has recently been published, setting out plans for strong, sustainable and resilient economy underpinned by investment. He also maintained that transport would need to do much of the heavy lifting in helping to achieve these commitments, including the public sector phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025.
Dey highlighted that Scotland benefits from a road works community founded on openness and cooperation and one that has a desire to work together. Without close cooperation, especially during Covid, it is likely that key infrastructure and street works projects would have been delayed. He used Scottish Water as an example of best practice regarding Covid. To tackle supply chain shortages, Scottish Water came up with an innovative proposal to increase efficiency and promote decarbonisation through investigating using only single stronger asphalt at sites, reducing the number of load movements required. This single change saved 13 tonnes of carbon, avoided 835 double trips to site in the first 3 months.
Dey concluded his speech by emphasising that the Scottish Government is more committed than ever before to making street works safer and more efficient. Better planned and executed street works leads to decarbonisation and to deliver these changes the street works sector needs to work collaboratively.
Following Graeme’s speech, Clive Bairsto, Chief Executive of Street Works UK introduced the morning panel – Decarbonising Street Works: Looking forward to net zero 2050. The discussion was a deep dive into the necessary changes and challenges the street works industry is likely to face as the nation continues to decarbonise in alignment to the government’s net zero 2050 agenda. It focused on the overarching aims of the industry, and the practical steps that will affect work delivery.
Each panellist was given the opportunity to talk to their expertise on the issue. Sam Larsen, Programme Manager at Water UK, noted that the government now refers to this time as the “critical decade” that will focus on delivery planning and policy. The water sector has developed a net zero map outlining the many proposals to support government as it continues to play a crucial part in decarbonisation efforts. Sam also highlighted the significance of incentives for the uptake in low carbon technologies such as feed-in tariffs and the reduction/ elimination of duties.
David Spillett, Head of SHE at ENA, stated that electricity networks will play a fundamental role in decarbonisation. The biggest challenge for gas and electricity networks will most likely be charging points for electric vehicles, as well as the electrification of heat. David emphasised his surprise and frustration at the challenges surrounding a lack of continuity across government and departmental policies. He stated the importance of getting all the right policymakers round one table.
Paul Jewell, DSO Development Manager at WPD, expanded on David’s points by stating that to achieve the government’s decarbonisation targets, the electricity network will need to carry three to four times the amount of energy it currently does, and will have to be far more flexible in its functionality. A key concern for the sector is the capacity of cables running outside houses and streets, as well as motorway stations that will require the same supply WPD would normally distribute to a small town. Paul noted that because of the long lifespan of cables, we need to be laying cables now that will be sufficient to supply electricity for 2050.
Fiona McInnes, NRSWA Technical Leader at Scottish Water, highlighted its ambition to achieve net zero by 2040. She spoke to energy efficiency needing to be achieved in both operational and construction activities across the sector and acknowledged there remain a number of barriers to this, such as reforms to guarantee periods to ensure they comply with sustainability standards. Fiona also emphasised the need not to jeopardise customer service in the midst of all of this change.