The UK Government has unveiled its Clean Growth Strategy, which sets out how the UK will stimulate economic growth while reducing carbon emissions over the 2020s, meet its 2032 carbon budget of a 57% reduction on 1990 levels, and stay on track for its 2050 target to reduce emissions by at least 80% on 1990 levels.
As the UK’s National Measurement Institute, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is supporting the transition to a smart, clean and resilient UK energy system. It is working with industry to accelerate the development and uptake of innovative clean technologies, and is providing confidence in measurements of climate change, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
With more than a century of experience in developing cutting-edge measurement science, engineering and technology, NPL will play a vital role in achieving many of the actions highlighted in the Clean Growth Strategy, including:
Supporting the transition to a low carbon economy
The Clean Growth Strategy brings together £2.5 billion for innovation to transition the UK to a low carbon society. Measurement is at the heart of delivering clean growth and plays a significant role in providing testing and verification of new low carbon technologies to support their route to market. In the renewable sector, corrosion research is helping to extend lifetime of offshore wind turbines, testing and modelling tools are helping to improve solar PV efficiency, and smart grid research is enabling improved stability of the electricity grid by monitoring power quality. In addition to furthering these areas, NPL’s engineering and technology expertise is also supporting and accelerating the commercialisation of hydrogen technologies such as fuel cells and electrolysers, and provides the only internationally-accredited capability to measure all impurities in hydrogen fuel to EU standards.
Improving energy storage and transport
The UK’s electricity grid is in need of modernising to support increased renewable generation and shifting demand with the electrification of transport. The Clean Growth Strategy commits the government to spending £1 billion to support the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles and £246 million for electric vehicle battery investment through the Faraday Challenge. In order to ensure the UK is a leader in battery technology, we need to better understand their failure mechanisms, improve the modelling of battery performance, and develop quicker and more effective ways to test new battery technology. NPL is working in all these areas to improve the safety and performance of batteries, helping to promote further uptake for grid storage and the development of electric vehicles.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
The Clean Growth Strategy recognises the need to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to meet the UK carbon budgets. Achieving this requires accurate measurement and robust inventories to track progress and support effective policy. This will include developing and using a range of monitoring technologies, from high accuracy mapping of emissions, to low-cost sensors suitable for continuous monitoring. The Clean Growth Strategy also sets out £20 million of funding for a carbon capture and utilisation demonstration programme. With our expertise in emissions measurement, and knowledge of corrosion mechanisms and gas purity analysis, NPL can support the development of next generation carbon capture usage and storage technologies.
Reducing uncertainty in climate data
The Clean Growth Strategy reiterates the UK’s position as a global leader in climate science. From improving our understanding of climate change, to adding value to climate services, it is essential that the vast quantities of environmental data collected are reliable and trusted. NPL works with the international community to improve the accuracy of Earth observation satellite data and validate the data that underpins climate services, contributing to the UK’s continued leadership in this area.
Developing innovative solutions for nuclear decommissioning
The Clean Growth Strategy pledges £460 million in the nuclear power sector, and new technologies and processes are needed in order to help industry reduce the cost of nuclear decommissioning. NPL is developing image-based technology to enable robots to conduct hazardous activities to reduce risk to workers; assessing the use of graphene for water decontamination and radiation detectors; and providing the reference materials and support needed to ensure that measurements of the radioactivity content of waste materials are accurate, consistent and independent, which will help achieve this goal.
Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of NPL, said: “NPL welcomes the Clean Growth Strategy to stimulate economic growth in the UK while tackling the decarbonisation challenge. With £2.5 billion in investment for innovation, the Government recognises the importance of excellent science and engineering to deliver extraordinary impact for the UK.
“We are working across the energy and environment sector to support the growth of clean industry, promote the uptake of innovation in the UK economy and enable new technologies to reduce the cost of energy and its impact on the environment. After a century as the silent partner to industry, NPL is ready to be the underpinning force that will enable the targets outlined in the Clean Growth Strategy to be successfully achieved.”