UK off-track to deliver net-zero power grid by 2035

The UK is currently off-track to transform its power system to net-zero by 2035, according to a new report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that calls for better planning policies on infrastructure, batteries, flexibility and consumer demand.

UK off-track to deliver net-zero power grid by 2035

The CCC claims a net-zero grid is possible by 2035, but not based on current policies

The CCC has this morning (9 March) published 25 recommendations to improve delivery projects that will enable the transformation of the UK power sector to 100% clean energy by 2035.

The Government stated in 2021 that it intends to shift all electricity generation to clean sources by 2035. This would mean the entirety of the nation’s electricity generation mix would be accounted for by renewables – primarily wind and solar – as well as nuclear.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) roadmap to a global net-zero energy system by 2050 stated that advanced economies such as the UK should target net-zero electricity by 2035. Canada and the US also have such targets.

The CCC has today warned that while emissions from the power sector have fallen by 69% since 2010, more needs to be done to create and deliver the infrastructure required for a net-zero sector. The report states that infrastructure must be deployed “at a much greater pace than the present” and that much of the net-zero electricity system is yet to be built.

One of the key barriers to a net-zero power system according to the CCC is ensuring that there is enough low-carbon backup generation. The CCC states that hydrogen-based “power stations” and a low-use of fossil fuel gas will still be required alongside carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to help with the transition.

Other storage solutions, aside from batteries, will also be needed, the CCC states. One of the recommendations is that any surplus clean energy generation is used to produce green hydrogen through electrolysis. This in turn would be able to provide long-term storage that can be later used to generate clean electricity when wind and solar outputs are low.

The UK could bring 17GW of hydrogen production online by 2030, exceeding its overall target to scale the sector, separate research has revealed. But the research also casts doubt on whether the UK will meet its green hydrogen commitments.

The CCC also recommends that new policies need to be introduced to shift consumer demand by smoothing peaks in demand and absorbing excess supply during periods of low demand. The CCC states that utilising heat pumps and access to real-time data for controlled electric vehicle (EV) charging are two examples of how demand can be shifted.

One key recommendation is that the Government accounts for the resiliency of the power network and how it can still operate as the climate changes and weather events such as flooding become more frequent.

The CCC’s chairman Lord Deben said: “For 15 years, the CCC’s main recommendation has been to decarbonise British electricity. The offer of cheap, decarbonised electricity for every consumer and business is now within reach, thanks to pioneering efforts to develop renewables.

“Now there is more at stake. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought home the fundamental importance of energy security. A reliable energy system based mainly on UK’s plentiful renewable resources now has new significance.

“We know how to do this, but Government is asleep at the wheel. Recent commitments for new nuclear and renewables are welcome, but these alone are insufficient. A rapid overhaul of the planning system and regulations is needed. It is not clear where the responsibility lies for the design and operations of our modern energy system rests among key organisations. Countries around the world are now racing for this goal. The UK is further ahead than most, but we risk losing our early lead at the worst possible time.”

Security Strategy refresh

The CCC states that accelerating efforts to decarbonise the power sector would bring notable benefits for the wider net-zero transition. A net-zero power sector would act as the bedrock to fully decarbonise other sectors, like transport, industry and heat. It would also reduce reliance on gas and exposure to volatile international energy markets by focusing on homegrown renewables.

The recommendations would complement the Government’s Energy Security Strategy, which was published one year ago. The Strategy increases the UK’s 2030 target for installed offshore wind capacity from 40GW, an ambition first set in 2020, to 50GW. The Strategy also reiterates the removal of VAT for panels that will be installed on homes and other buildings,

The Strategy increases the Government’s 2030 target for expanding green and blue hydrogen, first set at 5GW of capacity in 2021, to 10GW. It also confirms that the Government’s “twin-track” approach will mean equally supporting green and blue hydrogen this decade.

Nuclear is one of the major focus points of the Strategy. There is a headline commitment for the UK to host 24GW of installed capacity by 2050, meaning that nuclear supply will meet 25% of the UK’s electricity demands by mid-century.

Commenting on the CCC report, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU), head of energy Jess Ralston said: “There is a huge investment opportunity in a cleaner, cheaper electricity system that isn’t blown about by international gas markets, but government needs a clearer plan for investors to pile in. The additional costs involved in balancing a renewables grid are minimal particularly when compared to the cost of gas power.

“With batteries building quickly, and the opportunity of demand responding to supply demonstrated by the Demand Flexibility Service, there are obvious routes forwards.”

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