How Alok Sharma can put Britain on course to reach net zero emissions in a post-Covid world. The Business Secretary’s energy white paper faces an uphill battle to convert Britain into a net zero nation. From the boilers in our homes to the train or car that takes us to work, the power stations that keep the lights on, and the factories that churn out our goods, each will have to adapt to new sources of fuel, and our behaviour will also need to change. But talk of big bets and global domination has yet to be matched, critics say, with clear details on what the path to net zero looks like, amid many unknowns about how well and cost-effectively technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture will work, and bureaucratic fuzzy thinking. The pressure is now on Sharma and his colleagues as they prepare to deliver a long-awaited energy white paper, possibly as soon as this month. It is among a flurry of policy papers expected to be published soon, raising hopes that a clearer blueprint will start to take shape. That could also set the stage for new jobs for workers who have lost out during the pandemic, such as North Sea oil drillers fleeing lower oil prices, or airline workers with no flights. The next steps, cutting emissions from transport and heating, are arguably tougher. Sharma’s energy white paper is likely to contain measures to encourage the development of hydrogen as a fuel, including as a replacement for gas-fired boilers alongside heat pumps. It has many critics, but if hydrogen is going to be widely used, support is needed to bring down the cost of hydrogen generated through electrolysis (“green hydrogen”), and develop carbon capture to mitigate emissions from making it from natural gas (“blue hydrogen”). Europe has put a focus on hydrogen and the UK is “unlikely to want to lag behind”, according to one senior industry adviser. KPMG’s Virley believes that the costs of green hydrogen could fall quickly if the right support is put in place, akin to the guaranteed electricity prices that helped wind power. Politicians have now been wrestling for so long with how to encourage investment into new nuclear that they risk deterring any, leaving a huge gap in low-carbon power as the ageing nuclear fleet shuts down. Hitachi walked away from a mothballed potential Wylfa nuclear power plant in Anglesey last month, while EDF is pressing for answers on support for its next planned project with CGN, Sizewell C in Suffolk. Sharma is bound to give a signal.
Telegraph 3rd Oct 2020 read more »
Dave Elliott: Renewables have done very well recently in the UK and globally, nuclear not so well (it supplies around 14% of UK power now) although, while it has lost some ground, there is still some backing for it, for example, in the UK. Last year Prof Jim Watson, then director of the UK Energy Research Centre, told BBC News: ‘Most analysts now have accepted that we don’t need 30% of energy from nuclear – renewables can take a substantially bigger share. But taking any option off the table makes the job of meeting essential carbon targets even harder. It would certainly be hard to do without nuclear altogether.’ That is debatable. Some say that large inflexible nuclear just gets in the way of the flexible supply and demand management system we need to support and balance variable renewables. A few nuclear plants might be able to operate at the margins, possibly generating hydrogen overnight when their power is not needed, but otherwise, in many national and global scenarios, nuclear only plays a small role, or even no role. That view is backed in the UK by anti-nuclear groups like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and local lobby groups, but it is also shared by a range of academics, including those who are part of the UK Nuclear Consulting Group. They can sometimes get a bit of publicity for their views, but are still often seen as marginal. For the moment, although renewables are expanding rapidly, the UK nuclear lobby is nevertheless also winning support for more nuclear capacity in the UK – it has the ear of government. We are awaiting a new Energy White Paper, maybe in November, but for the moment all we have as a policy guide is a 2018 rough BEIS plan, which sees nuclear expanding steadily up to 2050 to 100 TWh, almost half the output level then expected to have been attained by renewables. The UK nuclear lobby is certainly pushing for significant expansion, possibly with small modular reactors (SMRs) as well as larger plants, and maybe up to 50 GW in all by 2050: see my earlier post. But with nuclear powers’ poor economic record, and uncertainties about the risks of Chinese involvement, some see this as a desperate and unrealistic last ditch drive.
Renew Extra 3rd Oct 2020 read more »