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Mind the (climate policy) gap!
UK Science and Technology Committee advocates more renewable energy support

In August, the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee (STC) published a report looking into how Westminster could support the low carbon technologies necessary to meet its climate change targets.

The report is designed to address the policy gap identified earlier in the year by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The CCC said in July, in its annual progress review for parliament, that the UK is not on course to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which cover the periods 2023-2027 and 2028-2032. As such, it is unlikely to meet the more recently adopted and more ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The STC report stressed that to meet government targets, decarbonisation must go beyond the power sector to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport, industry and agriculture.

However, it also had specific recommendations for the UK power sector, where emissions reductions under current policies are expected to come primarily from the expansion of offshore wind, new nuclear and abated gas-fired generation.

The committee said “there is considerable risk that these technologies may not provide the generation capacity required.”

Onshore wind repowering

The committee in particular highlighted that more support should be provided for onshore wind and large-scale solar power, where local support for such projects exists. It said a clear planning permission framework should be put in place by 2020 for repowering existing wind farms.

Wind turbines have operational life spans of about 20 years and, by 2005, installed capacity in the UK had exceeded 1.5 GW, rising to above 5 GW by 2010. As a result, the opportunity for repowering will jump over the next decade as older turbines come to the end of their lives.

A report in 2018 by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) estimated that between 2019 and 2023 750 UK onshore wind turbines across 60 sites could be repowered. This, the ECIU said, could create up to 1.3 GW of additional capacity, taking advantage of the advances made in wind technology, including much reduced costs, over the last 20 years.

Step change required in support for CCUS

For CCUS, the committee said lost policy momentum had to be regained. The report called for greater clarity over the government’s plans concerning what it considers to be deployment at scale and what it expects in terms of cost effectiveness and cost-sharing with industry.

The committee estimates that reaching net zero carbon by 2050 will require the active removal of at least 130 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.

Marine power

It also recommended fostering less mature technologies, such as marine power, by providing ‘Innovation Power Purchase Agreements’ and setting minimum allocations for such technologies in future Contract for Difference auctions (CfDs).

CfDs are a form of government support for low carbon technologies which provide a set price for the electricity generated. This provides investment certainty for project developers, allowing them to raise finance, but also protects consumers, if electricity prices in the future turn out to be higher than expected.

For renewable energy, CfDs are allocated by competitive auction, ensuring the cheapest and most efficient projects win. The committee also recommended reserving a minimum proportion of capacity market funding for low carbon technologies.

New nuclear

With regard to nuclear power, the Committee was lukewarm, arguing that while nuclear power was low carbon, the government should seek to support new nuclear generation “so as to sustain, but not grow” the industry in the UK. Any support for new nuclear should represent value for money, the report concluded.

Bildnachweis: peresanz,

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