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Gas-free UK power sector possible by 2035

Published September 28, 2021

Gas-free UK power sector possible by 2035

The UK power sector can be more than 99% fossil free by 2035 if unabated gas is phased out, a new report has claimed.

Three groups, The Climate Change Committee, National Grid, and the Energy Systems Catapult, maintain that a zero-emissions power sector is possible for the UK. The briefing by energy and climate think-tank Ember argues the UK power sector can be more than 99% fossil free by 2035 or before.

A gas phase-out, it is claimed, would enable the UK to move away from expensive imported gas, and increase the share of domestic renewable energy.

The briefing claims this transition can be done without risking security of supply. The UK it says “can take advantage of access to an abundance of coastal areas suitable for offshore wind development to achieve energy security, cut electricity costs, and reduce dependence on imported fuel and electricity in the process. Indeed, the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) catapult suggests the almost limitless potential of UK offshore wind can lead to a boom in green hydrogen which “can match best years of North Sea oil and gas”.

Three of the five scenarios set out by the CCC depend on construction of gas with carbon capture (CCS) and hydrogen, or on the use of gas-fired power generation with CCS from the 2020s.  Some unabated gas capacity would be maintained to for periods of low wind. However, in two of the five scenarios, net-zero emissions are achieved by 2050 with minimal CCS.

Meanwhile, all National Grid’s scenarios which meet UK climate targets require less than 1% unabated fossil fuels by 2035. National Grid scenarios rely upon a significant increase in energy storage capacity, and some increase in hydrogen.

“If we are going for net zero in the long run that means getting off gas,” commented Jeremy Nicholson, Alfa Energy’s corporate affairs officer. “While it’s great to have that ambition, we can’t start setting an end date until we have the technology to phase it out. The trend is fine: on average we are using less gas and more renewables, but in order to accommodate the intermittent nature of renewables like wind, something other than gas will have to plug the gap. Batteries can help but they aren’t up to providing energy for weeks at a time: in fact, there aren’t enough batteries in the world right now to back up the UK power system for a week.”

Meanwhile a study published by the Global Wind Energy Council maintains governments must significantly increase the pace of installations if the global 2050 net zero target is to be met. The GWEC predicts 235GW of new capacity will be installed over the next 10 years, but this is only 11% of the capacity required to meet net zero by 2050.