Speaking at a virtual forum hosted by Electricity North West, Mr Brearley said he recognised that different regions had different needs and targets when it came to cutting carbon, and that he wanted to help them “unlock the path to net zero”.
The head of the UK’s energy regulator was speaking at Powering Up the North, a virtual forum arranged by Electricity North West, the company responsible for running the electricity network from Macclesfield to Carlisle.
Other delegates at the event included one of Boris Johnson’s closest parliamentary aides, Trudy Harrison MP, as well as a range of other local and national politicians and industry experts.
Mr Brearley said that the industry’s reaction to Covid-19 earlier this year proved that it was able to rise to huge challenges.
He said: “We had a very, very difficult problem to solve and we had to focus on what mattered.
“That gives us a platform as we come out of Covid to think about the things we need to do to tackle net zero.”
Earlier in the session, Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd and Mark Atherton, director of the environment for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, had spoken about the city region’s target to be carbon neutral by 2038, while Jo Lappin of Cumbria’s Local Enterprise Partnership talked of her county’s target of 2037.
Meanwhile, Emma Degg, CEO of the North West Business Leadership Team, stressed that the UK could not hit its target of being carbon neutral by 2050 without key industrial regions like the north west quickly moving from innovative pilot schemes to action at scale.
Mr Brearley said that the regulator recognised the “incredibly important” need for regions to move at different speeds as the UK transitioned to a lower carbon economy.
He said: “We absolutely accept there are different needs and ambitions in different parts of the country.
“There will be difficult trade-offs for us all. We will have to work on that together. But we come to that with a spirit of wanting to unlock the path to net zero.
“All of these local targets are really important and we really should work together to fund a way to deliver those as best we can.”
While he said that energy companies needed to be as efficient as possible and reasonable about what they charge consumers, the industry also had to take risks and invest early in supporting the transition to net zero.
As an example, he highlighted Electricity North West’s Smart Street programme, whereby the network slightly reduces the voltage supplied to households or businesses, making appliances operate more efficiently, cutting bills and giving the network more flexibility to cope with high demand.
The network operator hosted the event as part of the largest public consultation programme the company has ever run, Plugging In, which aims to inform its planning for much of the next decade.
More than 4,000 people and businesses have already taken part in the programme, providing their views on how the North West should tackle difficult decisions like how to balance the need to invest in upgrading the network with potential higher costs for customers.
Peter Emery, CEO of Electricity North West, added: “This is a crucial moment in the UK’s journey towards net zero, with opportunities to build back better from Covid-19 coming at the same time as network operators like ourselves prepare our business plans for Ofgem.
“Being able to hear from the regulator, key politicians and industry and environmental experts on how we plan for the new few years was therefore crucial.
“While there is a lot of shared enthusiasm for the opportunities emerging now, there are also challenges ahead that can only be truly overcome if we continue to work together. This forum was a great insight into what we can achieve if we collaborate to lead the north west, and the UK, to zero carbon.”
To find out how people living and working in the north west, together with businesses or organisations operating in the region can have their say, visit www.pluggingin.co.uk.