The UK Government’s own Committee on Climate Change has highlighted the importance of low-carbon electricity generation as part of Britain’s future energy needs.
In a new report published last week, and intended to impact the UK’s Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice to the Government on its upcoming fifth carbon budget, due on 26 November, 2015, low-carbon electricity was highlighted as both a cost-effective option for the UK power sector to move into the future, but also as an important means to grow the power sector while supporting emissions reductions. The UK’s fifth carbon budget marks an important landmark in the country’s energy policy, as it will set a limit on UK emissions of greenhouse gases between 2028 and 2032, and marks the halfway point from the first carbon budget (2008-2012) to the UK’s statutory target of reducing emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.
“The 2020s are crucial in setting the direction for UK power generation, and to ensure the UK can meet its 2050 climate change commitments cost-effectively,” said Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change. “The key tools are already in place to deliver the investment in low-carbon generation that is required. The Government must now urgently clarify the direction of future policy to ensure the power sector can decarbonise at lowest cost to businesses and households.”
The report, Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget, provides a range of future options aimed at reducing the UK’s emissions from electricity in 2030, which seek to balance “issues of affordability, security of supply, and decarbonisation.”
“The CCC’s latest report highlights the massive potential the UK has to maximise the benefits of onshore and offshore wind throughout the 2020s, capitalising on the great progress Britain has already made,” said RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith. “This assessment from the leading experts in their field shows we need a wide range of sources competing in the energy mix to keep costs down for bill payers – including onshore wind which is identified in the report as one of the best-value options of all energy sources. It also highlights the fact that offshore wind costs have plummeted spectacularly as we maintain our global lead in British waters.
“But the Committee makes it clear that this success story can’t continue without a clear plan from Government setting out how it will support the expansion of low-carbon energy in the next decade. So far the game plan only goes up as far as 2020, which is a short time away in terms of making energy policy.”
Several key messages were drawn from the report, with the most important being the CCC’s claim that wind and solar are already cost competitive with new gas-fired generation, while other technologies — like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind — will likely require continued support if they are to become cost competitive with gas, even as gas encounters likely carbon prices during the 2020s.
Other key messages that were highlighted in the report include the fact that, though investments up to 2020 are largely accounted for, new investment in power generation will be needed in the 2020s to replace retiring coal and nuclear power stations, and to meet the inevitable future increases in energy demand.
Based on CCC’s central assumptions, the cost of supporting low-carbon investment will be translated to tax-payers’ utility bills during the 2020s, increasing from £105 in 2020 to a peak of around £120 in 2030, before falling as earlier investments expire. Important to note, however, is that the costs to households would be greater — £20 higher in 2025 and £40 higher in 2030 — if investment through the 2020s was focused on gas-fired generation (itself facing a market carbon price).
These are only the headlines of a much larger report, which is available from the Committee on Climate Change here.
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