‘From coal to clean’ – UK does not need to turn to gas, says WWF

The UK has no need to build new large gas-fired power stations to replace the coal plants that the government has pledged to switch off by 2025, the World Wide Fund for Nature has argued.

The gap can instead be filled by renewables, battery storage and flexible technologies, allowing the UK to go from “coal to clean” and skip new gas completely, according to a report by the environmental group.

The analysis challenges the orthodoxy that phasing out coal will require large new gas plants.

Amber Rudd, when energy secretary in 2015, said: “In the next 10 years, it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built.”

Big energy firms including Drax and Germany’s RWE want to build large-scale gas plants on the sites of former power stations in Yorkshire and Essex, respectively.

Almost half of the gas industry’s hopes for new power stations for Europe are slated for the UK but developers have failed to win subsidy contracts through the main route to market, the government’s capacity market.

The government is planning to launch a review of the scheme later this year, which renewables proponents fear could tilt the balance.

Gareth Redmond-King, the WWF’s head of climate and energy, urged ministers to ensure the review does not open the door to gas.

He said: “If we don’t need large-scale gas, if it can’t compete with renewables and there’s no need for it, why would you need a route to market for it?

“It is essential the government does not substitute one dirty power source for another.”

The last large gas plant to be built in the UK was in Carrington in 2016 – the first since 2012.

Using official government forecasts, the WWF found that the growth in electricity produced by wind, solar and other renewables would more than replace the lost power from old coal plants.

Around 95% of that renewable energy capacity is already being built or contracted under government subsidy deals. Most of the growth will come from windfarms out at sea.

The government has allocated a £557m pot of funding for more renewables subsidies between now and 2025. That should bring forward the remainder of the new capacity needed as coal drops off the grid.

WWF also called on the government to reconsider support for solar power and onshore windfarms, both of which have had subsidies axed.

“We’re trying to remind the government there are other cheap renewables [beyond offshore wind] that they could be supporting,” Redmond-King said.

He added that he was encouraged by recent comments from the energy minister, Claire Perry, who has said the government is working “really hard” to allow onshore windfarms to be built with public subsidies in Scotland and Wales but not England.

A spokesperson for Drax said: “A reliable power system depends on a range of generation technologies to provide crucial system support services.”

Tom Glover, the UK country chair for RWE, said: “The exact amount of gas capacity required is extremely uncertain but the vast majority of forecasts anticipate a significantly higher requirement than suggested in this report.”

A BEIS spokesperson said:“We are one of the first countries to commit to end unabated coal power and are leading the world in encouraging other countries to make the same commitment. With clean growth a key pillar of our modern industrial strategy, we are growing our economy while cutting emissions.

“With up to £557m of investment in new clean energy projects we have a diverse energy mix that is secure, affordable and providing more clean power than ever before.”

Adam Vaughan 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

Comments (3)

  1. Scottish Scientist says:

    This report has not specified only "battery" storage but says, to quote –
    "4. Increase innovation funding for long term electricity storage technologies.

    Longer-term electricity storage will be required to fill in for seasonal and multi-day lulls in renewables output if we are to phase-out gas from our electricity mix in the long term. While we welcome recent Government funding commitments in energy storage, we recommend the Government sets up an innovation fund to tackle long-term electricity storage specifically."

    Agreed and for example, I have published innovative concepts for the same on my Scottish Scientist blog but have not yet received one penny in "innovation funding" or the like. Hint, hint.

    However, the report also recommends –
    "Longer term, the government should look at the role of seasonal energy storage and carbon capture and storage technology in reducing gas emissions to zero."
    Seasonal energy storage, sure, but most of the carbon capture and storage concepts are scientifically flawed because stored carbon dioxide gas will leak sooner or later, so beware of wasting money on this.

    Scottish Scientist
    Independent Scientific Adviser for Scotland
    * Wind, storage and back-up system designer
    * Double Tidal Lagoon Baseload Scheme
    * Off-Shore Electricity from Wind, Solar and Hydrogen Power
    * World s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?
    * Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power
    * Scotland Electricity Generation my plan for 2020
    * South America GREAT for Renewable Energy

  2. Iain Whyte says:

    It’s the governments job to ensure the lights stay on and should do this with a balanced strategy for supply. If the lights go out because of over-reliance on renewables you won’t see the WWF spokesperson coming up with a solution, he’ll just wave his arms and retire.

  3. Scottish Scientist says:

    Additionally, I would have preferred to see a stronger recommendation of renewable energy bio-fuels used as a back-up power supply to intermittent renewable energy generation, which would allow for a much faster phasing out of fossil fuel natural gas back-up.

    As a science graduate, I note that you have erroneously disregarded the decades of "economic and practical" electricity storage via use of –

    Wikipedia – Pumped-storage hydroelectricity

    Also, Richard you ought to be aware of –

    Wikipedia – Power to gas


    It is perfectly possible to design renewable energy grid systems which reliably ensure that "the lights stay on". See –

    Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power

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