The Energy Transition | The Energy White Paper, 68% reduction in emissions published in the NDC, CCC’s route to a fully decarbonised UK

Written on 18 Dec 2020

This week we look at the publication of the long awaited Energy White Paper, the Climate Change Committee's 'ambitious, realistic and affordable' route to a fully decarbonised UK, the critical role of energy storage in the future UK energy system, and more.

BEIS publishes Energy White Paper

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published their energy white paper on 14 December, detailing the government's decarbonisation plans across the whole economy. The paper builds on the Prime Minister's Ten Point Plan and the National Infrastructure Strategy in outlining how the nation plans to transform its power and heating systems to support the target 2050 net zero emissions target.

The government set out a number of policies that will help drive the nation toward net-zero:

  • The creation of a UK variant of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that will be introduced on 21 January 2021. This will work by setting a cap on the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by energy-intensive industries, including aviation, power generation and steel manufacturing. The government has announced that the UK ETS will immediately reduce the cap on emissions by five per cent, compared to the EU's system.
  • Nuclear power will play an important role in the net zero transition, with plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Sizewell included in the paper. The creation of an Advanced Nuclear Fund of up to £385m was also announced, with the aim of supporting the development of small modular reactors and research and development into more advanced nuclear technologies.
  • Carbon capture, utilisation and storage technology will play a central role in a levelling up agenda that aims to equip different regions with the means to reach net-zero.
  • The diversification of the clean energy mix. The government has committed to "kick-starting the hydrogen economy" by working with the industry to create 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production. This was announced in the Ten Point Plan, though the paper clarifies that a new £240m net zero Hydrogen Fund will be established. The paper also states that a hydrogen strategy will be launched next year
  • A "just transition" to a net-zero economy which ensures that support is available for those who are currently reliant on fossil fuels. This includes: a £6.7bn support system for fuel poor households that will run for six years; the Warm Home Discount Scheme that will run to 2026, covering 750,000 UK households; and extending the £2bn Green Homes Grant by a further year. The paper also alluded to supporting sectors and regions that currently rely on fossil fuel production during their decarbonising transition.

The initial reaction from green groups to the announcements concerning warm home grants and the UK variant of the Emissions Trading Scheme has been positive. However, whilst the publication of the paper has been long-awaited, it does not include a huge amount of new detail , and instead reiterates numerous decarbonisation commitments that were revealed in both the Ten Point Plan and the National Infrastructure Strategy.

Johnson targets ‘further and faster’ climate action with 68% emissions reduction

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to cutting the UK's emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to the 1990 levels, as part of the UK's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement. This was formally submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on 12 December. The UK's original NDC was a 53% reduction by 2030, which was widely regarded as not sufficiently ambitious.

It is particularly important for the UK to show climate leadership ahead of the COP26 summit, which will be held in Glasgow in 2021. Johnson has said that the UK has proven that it can reduce emissions and create jobs in the process by "uniting businesses, academics, NGOs and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change". However, some commentators note that the government could have gone further. Recent research by WWF and Imperial College London suggested that a cut of 72% was economically feasible.

Government issues call for evidence on enabling a high renewable, net-zero energy system

The government has launched a consultation on enabling a net zero electricity system with high renewable capacity by 2050. The call for evidence, which runs until 22 February, highlights the estimation from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that meeting the challenge of net zero could require a quadrupling of low carbon electricity generation by 2050. The responses received will help to inform the design of future Contracts for Difference (CfD) allocation rounds, with the government targeting a doubling of the capacity of renewable energy in the next CfD auction in late 2021.

With a range of low carbon power system scenarios modelled, the government is considering the potential for substantial solar power growth in the coming years, with highs of 80-120GW required under some scenarios. This supports the CCC's recent advice, which estimates that 75GW-90GW of solar capacity will be required to meet net-zero.

CCC releases ‘ambitious, realistic and affordable’ route to a fully decarbonised nation

The CCC has published its Sixth Carbon Budget, presenting a detailed route map for a fully decarbonised UK.

In the report, the CCC sets out goals for the next three decades for the UK to reach its net zero target in 2050. It recommends a "world-leading" 78% reduction in emissions by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, bringing forward the target it set in its previous Carbon Budget by 15 years.

The Sixth Carbon Budget will run from 2033 to 2037 and will require action in four main areas, which are as follows:

  • Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities.
  • Improving take up of low-carbon solutions.
  • Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies.
  • Transformation in agriculture.

The UK government has until next June to respond to the Budget.

Energy network operators set out a Ten Point Plan to help ‘supercharge’ decarbonisation

In the wake of the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) has set out its own Network’s Ten Point Plan. The plan highlights the important role that networks across the UK will play in the transition towards net zero and focusses on supporting green jobs. The 10 areas which will “lay the foundations” for climate action are:

  1. Consolidating offshore wind connections
  2. Supporting green public transport
  3. JetZero and greener maritime
  4. Making buildings greener and warmer
  5. A hydrogen “bonanza
  6. Innovation and finance
  7. Electric vehicles
  8. Protecting and restoring our natural environment
  9. Nuclear
  10. Carbon capture

David Smith, Chief Executive at the ENA, said that these 10 areas are “the foundation on which climate action will be built” and that there should be a focus on cutting UK emissions “at best value” in the least disruptive way to the public.

‘Critical role’ of energy storage in future UK energy system detailed in 15-year roadmap

The University of Birmingham, in collaboration with The Energy Systems and Policy Analysis Group, have launched the Energy Storage Roadmap which assesses the role of energy storage in the UK over the next 15 years. The Roadmap focuses on the acceleration of the transition towards net zero and calls for robust battery storage technology with a clear strategy behind the implementation of new technology.

The Energy Storage Roadmap focuses on a variety of recommendations, from regulatory reform to investment. These include:

  • Increased research and development in electrochemical batteries.
  • Reforms to the electricity market to allow energy storage technology to compete.
  • Support for innovation in large-scale energy storage, such as thermal and seasonal storage.
  • Investment in electric vehicle manufacturing.

Professor Dan Gladwin of the University of Sheffield, said, “whilst we have some storage solutions today to solve our short-term needs, the type of storage we need will evolve rapidly.” This roadmap gives in-depth detail on the requirements and actions needed to transition to a low-carbon future.