Decarbonisation and the quest for net zero: Why the UK needs increased infrastructure investment

5 minute read

Philip Kent

CEO, Member of the Investment Committee

There has never been a greater need for infrastructure investment in the UK. This is not only to maintain pre-existing social and economic infrastructure, but also as a response to climate change, and the growing need for infrastructure to tackle it. Decarbonisation and the quest for a net zero economy by 2050 have provided favourable investment opportunities for investors in the sector; the UK government’s 2023 Green Finance Strategy highlights that the transition to a low-carbon economy is not only an environmental imperative, but also a growth opportunity for the UK. While the government has introduced targets to help achieve its net zero ambitions, its policy response so far has been underwhelming. In fact, the government has been net negative in promoting infrastructure investment. This has been further compounded by a macro environment which is not favourable to infrastructure funds, along with the requirement for high upfront capital to fund large infrastructure projects.

Increased opportunity for private sector infrastructure investors

There is no doubt infrastructure funds are going through a period of market volatility. Credit markets have experienced a re-rating and have re-priced dramatically over a short period of time in a bid to tackle inflation. Investment is much less attractive in a high-cost environment, particularly when trying to minimise the cost of infrastructure over the long term. Capital has also flooded away from infrastructure alternatives into traditional forms of fixed income like bonds, gilts and money market instruments. Despite this, the infrastructure sector in the UK is set to grow, with the UK government’s National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, published every two years, indicating that £650 billion of investment is required over the next decade. While a significant portion of this is required for economic and social infrastructure, the opportunity for private sector infrastructure investors in the decarbonisation space is growing.

Infrastructure has a key role to play in the UK’s quest for decarbonisation. Europe has just emerged from an extremely hot Summer, with wildfires across Rhodes, Catalonia and Tenerife, and flooding and rainstorms in Central Europe. The period from June to August 2023 was the warmest on record globally, with temperatures in Europe 0.83OC higher than average. The UK needs to be able to respond to global warming requirements, even if it is simply adapting existing infrastructure to make it more resilient to climate events. This includes bigger flood defences, increased healthcare resources and increased housing due to migration and climate refugees.

UK policy initiatives fail to recognise the economic constraints of funds

The UK has an impressive commitment to achieving net zero by 2050, along with the aim of decarbonising the electricity grid by 2035 (2030 under a Labour government). While various incentive schemes have been introduced to push forward this agenda, there have also been significant policy failures relating to climate change, with the government failing to adapt to the new high-cost environment the infrastructure sector finds itself in. A recent example of this is the Contract for Difference (CfD) scheme, which is a UK flagship policy supporting renewable electricity generation by offering a 15-year fixed price to electricity generators. The CfD policy was successful for the first five rounds and supported the deployment of new electricity generation across the UK. This is reflected through the high offshore wind capacity in the UK, as well as the UK’s status as a global leader in offshore wind projects. In the latest CfD round, the government reduced the maximum price cap, failing to recognise that the costs of offshore wind projects have increased by c.50%. This increase can be attributed to increases in supply chain and funding costs, as well as the returns required by investors. As a result of the price cap reduction, no offshore wind projects bid into the last round of discussions, leading to a drop in new capacity procured.

Thus, while the capital required for offshore wind projects is getting larger and larger, the UK is failing to attract the capital to build the capacity it needs. The government has set a target of achieving 50GW of offshore capacity by 2030, which, based on what is currently in construction, does not appear feasible. Power prices are also expected to be impacted if the UK fails to increase its offshore capacity, particularly if low cost marginal generation gets taken off the grid. Energy will then have to come from more expensive sources, and power prices will increase as a result. This highlights how necessary it is for the government to recognise and adapt to the new paradigm of high supply chain and financing costs the infrastructure sector finds itself in.

Investment needed to meet the UK’s ambitious targets

Discussions around the UK’s net zero commitments are often focused on the decarbonisation of electricity and energy sectors. However, it is also important to consider the ways in which transport, heat, industry, agriculture and other carbon intensive sectors can help achieve the UK’s ambitious decarbonisation targets. While the macro backdrop has changed dramatically over the past two years, making large capital investments difficult and painting a somewhat negative picture of the UK’s infrastructure capacity, it has also highlighted the massive investment required to meet decarbonisation across all sectors of the economy.

Infrastructure as a sector has historically been underinvested in, however infrastructure assets are ones we are going to need for future generations. The sector as a whole needs increased investment to maintain existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure, and the government needs to increase policy initiatives to incentivise this investment, particularly if it is serious about achieving its net zero ambitions. This means that existing portfolios have an increasingly significant role to play, becoming more valuable over time due to the scarcity of assets across the sector.

About GCP Infrastructure

GCP Infrastructure Investments Ltd is a FTSE 250 constituent, with total assets of c.£1.1 billion. It invests in UK infrastructure, with a focus on assets that benefit from some form of public sector cashflow, meaning that it has invested in sectors supported by the UK government. At its IPO in 2010, ESG wasn’t a big factor in the market. However, it is today, and as a result, GCP Infrastructure has found itself in a positive position in terms of the environmental and social benefits of the portfolio, with each asset having a core environmental or social purpose. Two thirds of the portfolio sits within the renewables sector, with assets in offshore wind, social, rooftop, commercial waste wood, biomass, anaerobic digestion and PPP/PFI assets.

While the Investment Company is currently trading at a discount of 38.3% to the NAV*, from an asset perspective, this discount is not justified, with the assets performing well. It has been driven by the re-rating in credit markets, as well as the flood of capital away from credit markets. With a dividend yield of 10.5%, investors can now easily access a large, diversified and operational portfolio at an attractive entry point.

You can find out more about GCP Infrastructure Investments Ltd here.

*Source: Gravis Capital Management Ltd, 30th September 2023

Important Information

This article has been prepared by Gravis Capital Management Ltd (the "Investment Manager“ or “Gravis”) and is for information purposes only. ​

This article is not intended for distribution to, or use by, any person or entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution or use would be contrary to local law or regulation. Any recipients of this article outside the UK should inform themselves of and observe any applicable legal or regulatory requirements in their jurisdiction, and are treated as having represented that they are able to receive this article without contravention of any law or regulation in the jurisdiction in which they reside or conduct business.​

This article should not be considered as a recommendation, invitation or inducement that any investor should subscribe for, dispose of or purchase any such securities or enter into any other transaction with GCP Infrastructure Investments Ltd (“the Company”) or any other person.  The merits and suitability of any investment action in relation to securities should be considered carefully and involve, among other things, an assessment of the legal, tax, accounting, regulatory, financial, credit and other related aspects of such securities.​

No undertaking, representation, warranty or other assurance, express or implied, is made or given by or on behalf of the Company or the Investment Manager or any of their respective directors, officers, partners, employees, agents or advisers or any other person as to the accuracy or completeness of the information or opinions contained in this article and no responsibility or liability is accepted by any of them for any such information or opinions or for any errors, omissions, misstatements, negligence or otherwise for any other communication written or otherwise. In addition, neither the Company nor the Investment Manager undertake any obligation to update or to correct any inaccuracies which may become apparent. The information in this article is subject to updating, completion, revision, further verification and amendment without notice.​

Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

Gravis Capital Management Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority; registered in England and Wales No: 10471852 and its principal place of business is at 24 Savile Row, London W1S 2ES.​


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