The challenge of achieving a net zero UK shouldn’t be under-estimated

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Speaking at 'A Healthcare Engineering Roadmap for Delivering Net Zero Carbon', a webinar hosted yesterday (April 14) by the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management (IHEEM), Dame Sue Ion, a Fellow of The Royal Society, outlined the national challenges for all in reaching net zero carbon by the government's target dates. For most, this means 2050, but for the NHS this target was brought forward in the government's report - 'Delivering a 'Net Zero' National Health Service' - to 2040 for emissions under its direct control and 2045 for the emissions it can influence, with an ambition to reach 80% reduction by 2028-2032 and 2036-2039 respectively.

The biggest challenge, she said, is the need for a national roadmap to outline the journey to 2050. At the moment we have technologies being considered in silos and the approach is aspirational but lacks any definitive plan for how these targets are going to be achieved. 

The journey to net zero carbon is not exclusive to healthcare and it will involve more than engineering solutions to achieve; it will require economic/fiscal measures and widespread behavioural/societal change. 

During her presentation Dame Sue Ion highlighted the scale of the challenge, illustrated by the progress made so far towards low energy sources, including nuclear, wind, hydrogen and solar, as well as biomass. However, just because the challenge is considerable and shouldn't be under-estimated doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

In addition to the need for a national roadmap, she highlighted other challenges, including: "unrealistic" views of the role of batteries; the need to accelerate the use of hydrogen cleanly and affordably; the role of other energy vectors and storage; the need for energy provision to be seen as a system issue; recognition that a solution that may work on a small scale often becomes unrealistic or not possible at a larger, industrial or city scale; recognition that retro-fitting energy solutions is a far greater challenge than the deployment of greener solutions in a new-build; and, similarly, recognition that inner city hospital estates face completely different challenges to those of new build, green field projects. 

The optimistic view is that with the right approach and with significant engineering input and the aforementioned behavioural change, the UK will meet these targets. In that context, Dame Sue Ion welcomed the initiative already taken by IHEEM in partnership with HEFMA, the Carbon Energy Fund, IFHE and IFHE-EU to publish the Healthcare Engineering Roadmap for Delivering Net Zero Carbon.

Two further sessions at yesterday's event discussed this Roadmap and showcased a case study from the work in progress at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

For more on the Healthcare Engineering Roadmap for Delivering Net Zero Carbon see the May/June issue of the HEFMA Pulse magazine.



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