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UK Government sets out low-carbon plan for 2050

The UK Government has announced its plans for the future of the UK’s low-carbon energy future, with action points towards 2050.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has set out 6 2050 Pathways showing that an 80% cut in GHG emissions is doable by 2050. A 2050 Calculator has also been launched so anyone can explore trade-offs in building a 2050 energy system, DECC says.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Huhne, says: “The challenge is ambitious but achievable. We’re already on track to cut the UK’s emissions by 34% by 2020, and will do more if we can win the case for greater ambition across the whole EU. But our line of sight needs to extend much further, through to the middle of the century.

“The era of cheap, abundant energy is over. We must find smart ways for making energy go further, and value it for the costly resource it is, not take it for granted. And even as we reduce overall demand for energy, we may need to meet a near doubling in demand for electricity, as we shift industry, transport and heating onto the grid.”

He adds: “Choosing the high carbon alternative would be high risk. It would lock in exposure to volatile oil prices, declining global reserves and rapidly increasing global energy demand. We’d risk having a dead end economy lagging behind those with the foresight to grab a share of growth in green industries.”

The Government’s 32 action points in the Annual Energy Statement cover four key areas:

  • Saving energy through the Green Deal and supporting vulnerable consumers;
  • Delivering secure energy on the way to a low-carbon energy future;
  • Managing our energy legacy responsibly and cost-effectively; and
  • Driving ambitious action on climate change at home and abroad.

Annual Energy Statement highlights

The highlights of the Annual Energy Statement, are:

  • There will be a consultation on electricity market reform this autumn with a White Paper in spring 2011, set to review all aspects of the electricity market. It will assess the role of carbon price, emissions performance standard, revised renewables obligation, feed-in tariffs, capacity mechanisms and other tools for delivering secure, low-carbon energy;
  • Ofgem’s role as the regulator of energy markets will be reviewed, exploring whether changes are needed to the regulatory framework in order to achieve the Government’s energy and climate change goals. The review is expected to be reported in spring 2011;
  • A joint DECC/Ofgem Smart Meter Prospectus is being published containing detailed plans for rolling out smart meters across the homes and small businesses in the UK. “The Prospectus makes clear that we want to see a significant acceleration of smart meter roll-out compared to previously published targets,” DECC says;
  • A detailed implementation plan for planning reform on major infrastructure will be published this summer, followed by a consultation on draft energy National Policy Statements in the autumn;
  • Government response to the technical consultation on how to improve grid access, establishing ‘connect and manage’ access rules to speed up the connection of new and renewable energy generation;
  • DECC and Ofgem are publishing an open letter on an offshore transmission regime for future offshore wind farms. “The go ahead is also give today [27 July] for the transitional regime that will apply for offshore wind farms already operating or being built,” DECC says;
  • The Government is giving a response to the consultation on grandfathering biomass. DECC explains: “This provides the certainty that investors have been looking for, for electricity from dedicated solid and gaseous biomass, energy from waste, anaerobic digestion and advanced conversion technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis. Support will be fixed for 20 years, subject to the 2037 end date of the RO.” There will also be standards to ensure that biomass used for electricity generation will be sustainable; and
  • DECC’s Statement also include estimated impacts of energy and climate change policy on energy prices and bills. This will be published annually.

The 6 pathways

The 6 pathways set out by DECC lead to the common conclusions, that:

  • Ambitious per capita energy demand reduction is needed. The greater are the constraints on low-carbon energy supply, the greater the reduction in demand will need to be;
  • A substantial level of electrification of heating, transport and industry is needed;
  • Electricity supply may need to double, and will need to be decarbonised;
  • A growing level of variable renewable generation increases the challenge of balancing the electricity grid;
  • Sustainable bioenergy is a vital part of the low-carbon energy system, in sectors where electrification is unlikely to be practical, such as in long-haul freight transport and aviation and some industrial high-grade heating processes;
  • The pathways also show an ongoing need for fossil fuels in the energy mix, although their precise long-term role will depend on a range of issues such as the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS); and
  • Emissions from agriculture, waste, industrial processes and international transport make up a small proportion of emissions today, but by 2050, if no action were taken, emissions from these sectors alone would exceed the maximum level of emissions for the whole economy.

Higher costs

DECC says that moving to low-carbon energy will be expensive, but that “our initial analysis suggests it can actually be less expensive than conventional energy generation under other mainstream fuel price scenarios and it may better protect us from fossil fuel price shocks.”

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