Role for gas in UK very limited, warns UKERC

The UK will only be able to use gas as a ‘bridge’ to a lower-carbon future to a very limited extent, and even this depends on significant government action, the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) warned yesterday.

UKERC has released new research showing that without carbon capture and storage (CCS), the scope for gas use in 2050 is only 10 per cent higher than consumption in 2010. Moreover, the gas-fired power stations that energy secretary Amber Rudd said last year would need to be built to replace the generating capacity of coal-fired stations set to close by 2025 would require policy incentives to encourage investment.

Gas-turbine power stations to replace coal capacity have yet to be built
Gas-turbine power stations to replace coal capacity have yet to be built

UKERC’s new report states that the UK has already used gas to reduce carbon emissions: the switch from coal to gas for most home heating and services took place in the 1970s, and this, along with the electricity generators’ “dash for gas” the late 1980s and 1990s led to as drop in emissions of almost 20 per cent. ‘A second “dash for gas” may provide some short-term gains in reducing emissions but may not be the most cost-effective way forward and may even compromise the UK’s decarbonisation ambitions,’ warned one of the report’s authors, Mike Bradshaw, professor of global energy at Warwick Business School. “If all coal-fired power generation is to be removed by 2025, and we are no longer supporting the development of CCS, policy makers must think carefully about how to replace that capacity, as gas can play only a modest role between now and 2025, and in the medium to long term has no role as a bridging fuel.”

Prof Jim Watson, UKERC

The UK has committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990 figures. ‘Without CCS, there is little scope for gas use in power generation beyond 2030 and it will need to be steadily phased out beyond 2030, and almost entirely phased out by 2050,” said UKERC director Prof Jim Watson. Even new combined-cycle gas turbine gas-fired stations would have to operate at very low load factors in the 2030s and beyond unless they are retrofitted with CCS, and investors would be unlikely to build stations under such restrictions without strong government incentives.

Alternative scenarios might include much better demand reduction strategies or the accelerated deployment of lower-carbon generation, such as nuclear or renewables. “It is still quite feasible with the right technologies, but it will be harder,” Watson said.