A highly significant new alliance between energy giants ScottishPower and conservation charity WWF aims to implement innovative new solutions to cut carbon emissions from housing across the globe, reveals Andrew Collier.
Tackling the climate emergency requires determination, collaboration, an exchange of ideas and bold new thinking. The best way to get results is to build strong and enduring partnerships.
If synergies can be formed between highly respected organisations with a track record of environmental excellence, so much the better. The energy company ScottishPower and the global charity WWF have just forged this type of deal.
To help boost the UK’s efforts to reach net zero, the two have formally pledged to work together. They are joining forces to call for ambitious climate action at COP26, which starts in Glasgow next month.
Both ScottishPower and WWF have impeccable credentials in working towards a decarbonised future. The Glasgow-based energy company now produces 100 per cent of its output from renewables, including onshore and offshore wind and solar.
It has closed its coal plants, stopped gas generation and is investing £10 billion over five years to help deliver the changes needed to support net zero targets and to work towards limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. The track record of WWF in taking environmental action is equally impressive. It has invested more than $1 billion in over 12,000 conservation projects since 1985 and continually works to strike a balance between demands on the planet and the life living on it.
The new partnership was launched by projecting WWF’s world famous panda logo onto ScottishPower’s Glasgow HQ, which fortuitously overlooks the forthcoming COP26 venue in the city.
The company’s Chief Executive, Keith Anderson, says he is delighted that an alliance has been struck. “We’ve been looking at how to push the message about the importance of tackling climate change in different ways and to different audiences”, he explains.“We wanted to join up with another really significant organisation that can do this but also has a different perspective. When you think about WWF’s credibility and the heritage and the voice it has, along with the number of people it reaches and who listen to it, I couldn’t think of a more brilliant organisation to tie up with. It really is a phenomenal partner.”
It is an accolade, he adds, that WWF is prepared to work alongside an energy company: it is the first time that the charity has partnered with a UK power business in more than a decade.
“Historically, the energy sector has been seen as part of the problem in terms of climate change”, Mr Anderson adds. “This agreement shows how far we have come on the journey as a company and that we are now seen as a leader in decarbonisation. Together with WWF, we can be a very powerful voice. We will be looking at how we can move forward and shift the dial in areas such as transport and heat.”
The work to be carried out by the two organisations will initially focus on cutting carbon from housing. As this currently produces 14 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, this is seen as an imperative.
The partnership will involve undertaking joint research into how the installation of low carbon technologies such as heat pumps and battery storage can be leveraged to add value to individual homes.
Another linked area of study will be examining ways in which homeowners might be supported in upgrading to lower carbon alternatives.
Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF UK, says we are at a critical moment. “The science is telling us that we are facing a huge global biodiversity crisis, and we have a really alarming warming of the planet’s climate. We know that we have to – and this is particularly important for COP26 – achieve the commitment to keep a rise to 1.5 degrees a possibility. Globally, we are already close to 1.2 degrees and we are now seeing extreme weather events and impacts in the UK as well as around the world.”
The partnership with ScottishPower is designed to help the push for transformation in government policies and across businesses, she adds. “We also need to respond to a lot of community voices.
“People up and down the country have really raised their concerns. They want to ensure that the government is held to account. We are keen to work together on this agenda.”
Given that the popular perception remains that WWF is principally devoted to wildlife conservation – in some parts of the world it is still known as the World Wildlife Fund – does it really make sense to partner with an energy company on a climate change project?
Tanya Steele points out that her organisation has a broad remit and that nature conservation is closely connected to the climate emergency.
“The heart of our agenda is how we can preserve, and in many cases, restore, wildlife and wild places. Our landmark Living Planet report has reported over decades now and highlighted that since 1970, we’ve lost average wildlife populations of 68 per cent globally. That is a catastrophic figure.
“But the reality is that we can’t save species one by one. We have to look at the source of the destruction. And we know that ultimately this is about human activity. There is the loss of habitat – there’s no space for the wild anymore – and there’s no wildlife in a warming world.”
One thing WWF is very clear about, she adds, is that we have to make changes in all parts of our society. “We know that there are things we need to do at home and that companies and governments need to move.
“So we see that working with business is actually quite critical. We also work closely with the food industry and know that agricultural emissions are a huge issue. They are driving an awful lot of nature loss.”
Keith Anderson agrees that the partnership opens up an entirely new audience.
“It broadens WWF’s remit and it opens up new avenues for us, and that’s fantastic. I honestly am over the moon about this new relationship and am proud that it has agreed to work with us.
“It’s massive to get an organisation with its background, credibility and heritage to come and work with an energy company to try and solve some of the difficult challenges that we have, but it’s essential that we do so if we are to get to net zero.”
Enthusiasm for gas boiler replacements is now heating up
WE all need to stay warm, and that is particularly true in the relatively harsh climate of countries like Scotland. However, decarbonising heat presents a huge and daunting challenge.
One of the main projects undertaken by the new partnership of ScottishPower and WWF will be a study into heat, and particularly into how funding support can be given to people to make the change from gas boilers to heat pumps.
One of the main problems at present is the cost of the switch. According to the Energy Saving Trust, replacing a gas boiler will cost about £2300 on average, while a much more environmentally friendly air source heat pump will cost between £6000 and £8000 and a ground source heat pump from £10,000 to £18,000.
Clearly this extra outlay acts as a consumer disincentive. Keith Anderson believes that a solution to this could be to link the cost back to the valuation of a property.
“That could apply to a mortgage as well as survey and sale valuations”, he explains. “A heat pump is a significant investment in your house and in your property, and at the moment that isn’t really recognised.
“We want to look at all of this in the heat study. That will help us to open up a conversation with the big financial institutions about how they could come into the market to make the switch more attractive and therefore more practical for consumers.”
In many ways, the issue is much the same as the move from conventional petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles (EVs). Although the purchase price of the latter is set to come down, there is still a significant premium to be paid for the benefit of having a more environmentally friendly vehicle.
Mr Anderson believes people are prepared to pay this as they like the idea of having a premium new car to drive and display. Replacing a boiler is, however, what he terms a “distress purchase” – something you have to buy at a certain point but have little enthusiasm for spending on.
“However, we want to show that doing this will be seen as a value add and an investment in your property. That means it will be viewed as a beneficial thing to do and that kind of buy-in will help the transition. We think that it’s an incredibly important thing to look at.”
Financing schemes around energy efficiency have been offered in the past, he says, but they have always been, as he puts it, “a little bit clunky and clumsy”.
“We think by doing this study in this way, we can come up with some really innovative finance products to help this to become a more manageable thing for consumers and so make it the obvious choice.
“My belief has always been that tackling climate change isn’t something you can do to people. They need to buy into it.
“We need to create an incentive to make it the simple and obvious choice.”