No need for more UK power stations, says expert report,

Posted: 31 July 2008

If the UK Government is serious about renewables and energy efficiency, Britain doesn't need to build major new power stations to keep the lights on, according to a new report released today by independent energy experts, Pöyry.

The Pöyry report commissioned by WWF and Greenpeace, finds that, if the UK Government is able to achieve its commitments to meet EU renewable energy targets and its own ambitious action plan to reduce demand through energy efficiency, then major new power stations (burning either coal or gas) would not be needed to ensure that Britain can meet its electricity requirements up to at least 2020.

Blyth Offshore Windfarm
Blyth Offshore Windfarm
Blyth, the UK's first offshore windfarm. © E.ON
The report also concludes that a strong drive for energy efficiency and renewable energy could substantially reduce emissions and assist energy security.

Ministers at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform have claimed that new power stations (such as the unabated coal station proposed by power company E.ON at Kingsnorth in Kent) would be needed to plug an "energy gap". E.ON is also engaged in a high profile campaign to assert that new coal plant is needed to keep the lights on.

But this analysis finds that if Britain delivers on its renewable energy promises, and acts successfully to improve energy efficiency inline with its National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, there would be no gap to plug. Moreover, the report finds that this strategy would reducethe UK's CO2 emissions by up to 37 per cent by 2020.

Six scenarios

The report considered six scenarios for meeting Britain's commitments to deliver on the binding EU renewable energy commitments for 2020, andfor future electricity demand (drawing on both EU and UK targets for energy efficiency), and assessed whether any additional capacity fromconventional sources such as coal and gas would be needed to secure the UK's electricity needs. It concluded that there would be no role for such plants, even taking into account the very few days when there is little or no wind.

WWF says these scenarios represent a radical shift away from the "business as usual" pathway (under which new power stations may indeed be needed). But such a radical shift is precisely what is required by the Government's stated ambitions on renewables and energy fficiency.

In just one scenario was there a slight dip below the 20 per cent margin of spare power capacity, and this was only short-lived. The experts say that this could best be dealt with using 'demand side management' - a technique for reducing demand at key times, or by installing small "top-up" peaking plant.

In the period after 2020 when more of the UK's existing coal and nuclear plants are due to close, the report observes that a number of further options could be deployed including highly efficient industrial combined heat and power plants, further roll-out of renewables and, potentially, carbon capture and storage - provided this technology has been shown to be technically and economically viable.

The report is released as campaigners from across the UK and Europe prepare to gather at this year's Climate Camp on the Hoo Peninsulanear the Kingsnorth site. E.ON has sought to counter the Camp by claiming new coal plants are vital to keep the lights on.

'Busted argument'

Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK, which commissioned the report, said "This report should be good news for the Government. If it gets real on its targets on renewables and energy efficiency then we can keep the lights on, reduce our reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports and dramatically cut our carbon emissions. But a green light to Kingsnorth would at a stroke undermine the Government's other policies on climate change and Gordon Brown's promise of a clean energy revolution."

Robin Oakley, head of the climate and energy team at Greenpeace, said "Coal is the single most climate-wrecking form of electricitygeneration. The only reason anyone is even considering building Britain's first coal fired power station in decades is the claim that we need it to keep the lights on. E.ON's spin machine and the Labour government have teamed up to hoodwink the public into believing it, but this report busts their argument wide open."

Note: Last year both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made high-level commitments which led to a proposed target for the UK to generate about 15 per cent of UK's total energy (heat, transport and electricity) from renewable sources by 2020. To meet the target it is widely accepted that at least 35 per cent of Britain's electricity will need to come from renewables by 2020.

Source: WWF (UK)

Read the report here.