Skip to main content

Carbon Emissions

Volume 807: debated on Monday 9 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement by the Prime Minister on 6 October that all homes will be powered through offshore wind by 2030, what plans they have to align their skills strategy with their target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is the first major country to pass into law a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To build our capacity as an innovator and leader in cutting-edge technology, we will invest in the skills we need to drive those industries. We will develop and grow the workforce needed to meet this ambitious commitment through investment in apprenticeships, boot camps and higher-level technical qualifications.

My lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, but I do not think that she has given the House any kind of reassurance that there will be a proper strategy. Therefore, can she tell the House whether the Government are planning to have a national strategy, combined with regional skills strategies, to provide reskilling opportunities with low-carbon sectors and, if so, whether an assessment of funding for those strategies will be included in the net-zero review?

My Lords, there is a national skills and productivity board, which matches the local panels, and it will bring together leading experts to ensure that we know the emerging skills that we need. We know that at the moment a number of vacancies are due to skill shortages. We are particularly keen on investing in our ports and have invested £160 million in a fund to that end, because we know that at the moment we are the world’s leading market in offshore wind and we need to seize those opportunities, as the possibility of £2.6 billion of exports is ours to grab if we invest in the skills.

With the supply of mains electricity increasingly sourced from renewable sources, for millions of homes the main carbon reduction challenge is the replacement of gas-fired central heating. How many jobs do the Government estimate will be needed for this transformation, and what is the timescale of training and retraining currently being planned to meet that demand?

Indeed, the noble Lord is correct that transforming the energy in our homes is one of the key targets, and we have announced that by 2030 we want 40 gigawatts of offshore wind to power our homes. There is also a £2 billion Green Homes grant, which will pay up to two-thirds of the cost of the labour required to make changes to the energy efficiency of homes. If you are on a low income, the grant is 100% up to £10,000. So we are serious about funding the changes needed in our homes.

Does the Minister recognise that one of the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions from homes is to improve their energy efficiency? In light of that, is not the Government’s Green Homes grant another massive missed opportunity—a short-term stimulus tactic covering just 650,000 of the 28 million homes that need to be retrofitted, instead of the long-term investment programme needed for industry to build the skills required for this vital task?

My Lords, the Green Homes grant scheme that I mentioned is supplemented by Green Homes grant skills training, so that we can improve the supply of people who can do the work that has been outlined. Also, offshore wind is a key part of our strategy, and if we get 40 gigawatts by 2030, that is enough to power every home at the rate it currently uses electricity. This is an important part of ensuring those homes can help us meet the net-zero target.

My Lords, while welcoming the Prime Minister’s announcement, would the Minister agree that nature-based solutions will be essential if we are to meet net-zero targets? The Minister will know that the nature recovery fund of £40 million is wildly oversubscribed at £300 million. Will the Minister see that the fund is increased, and what help will she give in the skills programme to those who will implement those projects?

My Lords, it is part of the overall reforms that the Government have introduced to embed employers—whether in T-levels, apprenticeships, or level 4 and level 5 qualifications—so that we can ensure that these developing industries have the skills they need. For instance, for apprenticeships there is a sustainability advisory board. But the noble Earl is correct, which is why we have also committed to planting 75,000 acres of trees by the end of this Parliament, and at the moment 7,200 people are currently employed in offshore wind farms.

My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. A recent survey found that while 77% of offshore oil and gas workers were open to joining the renewables sector, and over half to working in wind power, there were not sufficient routes for them to reskill, and the routes that did exist were not sector-wide. Will the Government make reskilling a priority, and will it form part of the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister is due to announce?

The noble Lord will not be surprised that I am not at liberty to reveal anything more than the first point of the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister has outlined, which is in relation to offshore wind. For oil and gas there is a transition sector project because we are aware that those people, particularly people in carbon industries, need to transfer. We are hoping that the development of this industry will lead us to have skilled jobs, in particular in some of our most deprived communities. You have to build the blades for these wind farms close to the sea; we need ports that can then export them, and this is very important to some our most deprived coastal communities.

My Lords, with the USA now poised to rejoin the world, there exists the real possibility of global leadership towards net-zero carbon emissions. The Prime Minister’s announcement at the Conservative Party conference last month was welcome in its ambition, but what is needed now is real action from the Government to begin creating a low-carbon skilled workforce to enable the UK to meet net-zero targets as soon as possible. Notwithstanding what the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lady Blackstone, will she accept that a low-carbon national skills strategy is now required, and can she say what proportion of the National Skills Fund’s £3 billion will be targeted specifically towards skills in low-carbon sectors?

I can confirm to the noble Lord that obviously the low-carbon and net-zero commitments we have made are an essential part of the National Skills Fund. We will be having consultations on certain elements of that fund going forward. The fund does now give level 3 entitlements to every adult in the UK who does not have one, including courses such as sustainable resource management and, within the T-levels we have introduced for 16-year-olds, sustainability is part of one of the first three T-levels: construction. So this is being embedded in the strategy. This has the potential to create up to 2 million jobs—currently there are 460,000 jobs in low carbon—so the Government are going to take every opportunity they can to build this for our economy.

My Lords, by 2030, home heating emissions must fall by a quarter to be on track for zero carbon by 2050. Yet only 2% of boilers are being replaced by the cleanest, most efficient method: ground source heat pumps powered by renewable electricity such as wind. Will the Government ensure that their funding strategy and skills strategy together ensure that more heat pumps are installed in homes, because the Green Homes grant will not help with ground source heat pumps?

My Lords, in August of last year BEIS launched the electrification of heat demonstration project, which will, hopefully, demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale transition to electrification of heat in our homes by installing heat pumps in a representative number of homes. There are currently 1,800 qualified heat pump installers in the UK, but we know that to reach 1 million homes we need 40,000 installers. The industry is currently assessed as having the capacity to train 5,000 to 10,000 new installers a year—so this, hopefully, is within our grasp.

My Lords, Anglesey is known as “Energy Island”, not just because of the Wylfa nuclear site but because of the potential of wind power and tidal power around its coast. Will the Minister therefore confirm that renewable projects around that coast will be eligible for financial help from the Government’s schemes? In view of the training in energy technologies being undertaken in the higher and further education sectors in north-west Wales: will the Government work with the Welsh Government to maximise the relevant skill levels in this region?

My Lords, the skills fund is £2.5 billion, but £3 billion with the Barnett formula. The £160 million I outlined that is on offer for ports at present is UK wide—so it will cover Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. We hope that areas of the country such as Scotland and Wales will benefit from the addition of floating offshore wind farms, which can be used in areas where the ocean is much deeper and fixed structures are not possible.

Is the Minister aware that there is a shortage of technicians to build and maintain wind farms? Environmental engineering is not taught in any of our schools. As a result, a group of university technology colleges is going to launch an environmental energy day, supported by Siemens and other industrialists, to secure a route for students to get into either employment or university in this area. Will the Minister support that day?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising awareness of this. Some 75% of the workforce that maintains these offshore wind farms is indeed from the UK. We are confident that the institutes of technology, which will be the main deliverers of level 4 and level 5 qualifications, will aid us in this respect. We have seen the flexible use of the apprenticeship system; you can now do an apprenticeship in dual fuel smart meter installation. It is this kind of new job we want to train people to do.