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Low-carbon energy supply most cost effective option for UK, say CCC

Words: Laura Edgar

A low-carbon electricity supply is the “more cost-effective” way to meet the UK’s generation needs given its climate change commitments, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said today.

In a new report, Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget (pdf), the committee sets out a range of options for the future to help the UK reduce its emissions from electricity in 2030. Reducing electricity emissions will support the reduction of emissions in other sectors, including transport and heating as well as the power sector itself.

The report sets out analysis and scenarios for the power sector in 2030 which the committee will use when it provides its advice to government on the fifth carbon budget on 26 November. This budget will lay out the maximum level of carbon emissions the UK can produce between 2028 and 2032.

It also states that onshore wind is a cost-effective way to generate low-carbon energy, while ground-mounted solar is a relatively low-cost renewable technology that can be “deployed rapidly”.

Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget found that new investment will be needed in the 2020s, with up to 200 terawatt hours (TWh) of new generation required to replace energy generated through coal and nuclear capacity as well as to meet increases in demand.

Other findings laid out in the report include:

  • Several low-carbon sources of power are likely to be cost competitive with new gas-fired generation facing a carbon price during the 2020s. Onshore wind and solar power are at this stage but options like carbon capture and storage, and offshore wind will need support during the 2020s if they are to reach their potential.

  • Balancing all factors, power sector emissions of below 100 gCO2/KWh are an appropriate aim for 2030.

  • The impact on annual household bills of supporting low-carbon investment would increase from £105 in 2020 to a peak of around £120 in 2030, for a typical household.

Lord Deben, chair of the committee on climate change, said the 2020s are “crucial” in setting the direction for UK power generation and to ensure the UK can meet its 2050 climate change commitments in a cost-effective way.

“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,” he concluded.

Simon Bullock, senior energy campaigner at Friends of Earth, said if the “government’s own advisers” say it “will be cheaper” to use low-carbon electricity rather than gas to power the economy in the 2020s, ministers should be “championing” the UK renewable energy sector, instead of "strangling the life out of solar and onshore wind”.

“Energy bill payers and our climate will pay a hefty price for the government’s costly and short sighted obsession with gas, oil and fracking,” Bullock concluded.

RenewableUK says Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget “makes a strong case for ramping up the deployment of wind, wave and tidal energy, and investing in it as a national priority”.

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive at RenewableUK said: “The 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.”

The committee, Smith continued, makes it clear that this success 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 creating energy policy.”