Natural gas capabilities in the UK ‘very limited’ without carbon capture, report warns

Using natural gas as a bridging fuel to a cleaner energy mix in the UK will only act as a "stop-gap", with its viability as an energy source severely limited beyond 2020 unless carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology is rolled out, the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has warned.

The Future Role of Natural Gas report claims that the scope for gas use in the energy mix in 2050 would account for little more than 10%. The reliance on natural gas over the past 40 years means that its role in reducing emissions is at risk of becoming negligible, the UKERC says.

“Gas can play only a modest role between now and 2020 and in the medium to long term has no role as a bridging fuel because the UK has exploited a large amount of the decarbonisation potential in the power sector,” the report reads.

“Without CCS, gas must be steadily phased out over the next 35 years and almost entirely removed by 2050.”

The rise in natural gas use has seen carbon emissions drop by 20% between 1970 and 2000 – with it accounting for 47% of the UK’s primary energy consumption mix.

Investor panic

The Government has already signalled its intentions to phase out coal plants and replace them with cleaner gas plants by 2025. The report warns that these new gas-fired power stations would have to operate at very low load factors throughout the 2030s and beyond unless they are retrofitted with CCS technology.

But, after the Government’s decision to scrap the £1bn CCS competition, the report has warns that investors would be unwilling to invest into gas projects unless enhanced policy incentives and infrastructure are in place.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) recently-announced five-year plan also leans heavily on the use of natural gas. “One of the most cost-effective contributions we can now make to further reducing emissions in the power sector is replacing coal-fired power stations with gas,” that plan states.

Carbon capture calls

The UKERC report adds weight to the continued calls on the Government to reconsider its CCS cancelation decision.

Earlier this month, the Energy and Climate Change Committee stated the DECC’s lack of communication both before and after the decision has damaged investor confidence. That report cited cancellations to the flagship White Rose – which energy giant Drax pulled out of – and Peterhead projects as the main drivers.

And earlier today Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead renewed his calls for a national CCS strategy – claiming that the UK would struggle to meet its climate change targets without it.

Matt Mace

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