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Net zero by 2050 – a technological possibility

02 May, 2019

Today’s report by the Committee on Climate Change is clear that the UK has the technology to hit net zero emissions by 2050. However, the amount of renewable energy must increase significantly.

Today’s report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is clear that the UK has the technology to meet net zero emissions by 2050. This would be in line with commitments to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels under the international Paris Agreement, whilst providing leadership for other countries on tackling climate change. The CCC estimates that this would cost around 1%-2% of annual economic output up to 2050 – the same as predicted a decade ago for the UK's current 80% target – while the cost of inaction would be many times higher.

The report also warns that the proposed 2040 date for the phasing-out of new petrol and diesel cars and vans is too late, and recommends bringing it forward to 2030, or at the latest 2035. Hitting net zero emissions by electrifying heating, using more green electricity and switching to electric vehicles are vital, but won’t be achievable without significantly increasing the amount of renewable energy produced in the UK.

David Flood, Managing Director of Statkraft UK, said:

“Today’s report by the Committee on Climate Change is clear that the UK has the technology to hit net zero emissions by 2050. However, to achieve this target, the amount of renewable energy we generate must increase significantly.

“If we’re serious about climate change, we need to address the low-carbon electricity generation gap through more renewables, including action to reverse the decline of low-cost options like onshore wind and managing intermittency with new and innovative solutions such as Statkraft’s virtual power plant.”

The case for onshore wind

The report envisages a doubling of electricity demand, all met by low-carbon power sources compared to 50% today. Under Contracts for Difference (CfD), the current UK scheme to reduce the risk and cost of investing in low-carbon energy, only offshore wind and remote island wind qualify for funding largely on the basis of local resistance to developments from some vocal stakeholder groups. This has curtailed the growth of onshore wind project. One key implication of the CCC’s findings is that the UK must reconsider its policy position on established technologies such as onshore wind. Indeed, the Government’s own opinion polls show that the popularity of onshore wind has grown to an all-time high of 76%. A review of the eligibility for the CfD as well as further streamlining of the planning process will enable new developments. Without new onshore wind projects, the UK is overlooking a major, low-cost source of renewable energy.

Flexibility and the virtual power plant

Alongside the growth of renewable power projects, the UK also needs to integrate more renewables into the electricity system. A consistent criticism of renewables is the intermittency of generation when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine. To overcome this, Statkraft operates a virtual power plant (VPP) in the UK which connects wind, solar and gas engines with battery storage which can respond swiftly to market demands. Our VPP helps to manage our customers’ supply and demand balance. It incorporates weather forecasts for wind and solar, looking at when to generate and then recalculating based on data input, which boosts system efficiency. By making the best use of flexibility, we can facilitate the integration of intermittent power generation into the electricity system and by that the expansion of renewable energy in the UK.

Aiming high – with good reason

At face value, the CCC’s recommendations are ambitious. However, confidence should be taken from the conclusion that not only is net zero is possible in the next thirty years – but we have the technology to achieve this.

The Net Zero report is available here

About Statkraft UK

Statkraft is a leading company in hydropower internationally and Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy. The Group produces hydropower, wind power, solar power, gas-fired power and supplies district heating. Statkraft is a global company in energy market operations. Statkraft has 4000 employees in 17 countries.

In the UK Statkraft develops, owns and operates renewable production facilities and is also involved in the trading and origination of power from its own projects and those of third parties.

Since 2006, Statkraft has invested £1.4 billion in the UK's renewable energy infrastructure and facilitated over 6 GW of new-build renewable energy generation through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). With a portfolio now exceeding 10 TWh per year from almost 300 customers, Statkraft is the leading provider of short and long term PPAs in the UK.

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Torbjørn Steen
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