UK Government urged to commit to a net-zero power system

Drax, BP, National Grid ESO, Shell, Sembcorp Energy UK, and SSE have written a letter to the UK Government urging them to commit to a net-zero power system as part of COP26.

The organisations wrote to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, COP26 President Alok Sharma, and the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth Kwasi Kwarteng, urging them to expand on the government’s ten-point plan.

“We are a group of energy companies investing tens of billions in the coming decade, deploying the low-carbon infrastructure in the UK will need to get net-zero and drive a green recovery to the COVID-19 crisis,” read the letter.

“We welcome the leadership shown on the Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, and the detailed work going on across government to deliver a net-zero economy by 2050.

“We are writing to you to call on the government to signal what this will mean for UK electricity decarbonisation by committing to a date for a net-zero power system.”

The organisations noted the electricity sector will be the “backbone” of the UK’s net-zero economy, and that there will be ever-increasing periods where the UK is powered by only zero-carbon generation. To support, this the Electricity System Operator is putting in place the systems, products, and services to enable periods of zero emissions electricity system operation by 2050.

The letter continued: “Achieving a net-zero power system will require government to continue its efforts in key policy areas such as carbon pricing, which has been central in delivering UK leadership in the move away from coal and has led to UK electricity emissions falling by over 63% between 2012 and 2019 alone.

“It is thanks to successive governments’ commitment to robust carbon pricing that the UK is now using levels of coal in power generation last seen 250 years ago – before the birth of the steam locomotive.

“A consistent, robust carbon price has also unlocked long-term investment low-carbon power generation such that power generated by renewables overtook fossil fuel power generation for the first time in British history in the first quarter of 2020.”

Despite the progress made, the organisations warned that even with the demise of coal and progress in offshore wind, more must be done to drive the remaining emissions from electricity as its use is extended across the country.

In the near term, the organisations urged, in combination with other policies, continued robust carbon pricing on electricity will incentivise the continued deployment of low-carbon generation, market dispatch of upcoming gas-fired generation with carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, and blending low-carbon hydrogen with gas-fired generation.

“Further forward, a robust carbon price can incentivise 100% hydrogen use in gas-fired generation, and importantly, drive negative emissions to facilitate the delivery of a net-zero economy,” the letter continued.

The companies believe that with attention focusing on Glasgow for COP26 in 2021, an ambitious 2030 target from the UK will help “kickstart the spring to Glasgow” ahead of the UK-UN Climate Summit on 12 December.

“2030 ambition is clearly needed, but to deliver on net-zero, deep decarbonisation will be required,” they said. “Previous commitments from the UK on its coal phase out and being the first major economy to adopt a net-zero target continue to encourage similar international actions.

“To build on these and continue UK leadership on electricity sector decarbonisation, we call on the UK to commit to a date for a net-zero power system ahead of COP26, to match the commitment of the US President-elect’s Clean Energy Plan. To ensure the maximum benefit at lowest cost, the chosen date should be informed by analysis and consider broad stakeholder input.

“Alongside near-term stability as the UK’s carbon pricing future is determined, to meet this commitment, government should launch a consultation on a date for a net-zero power system by the budget next year, with a target date to be confirmed in the UK’s upcoming Net Zero Strategy.

“This commitment would send a signal to the rest of the world that the UK intends to maintain its leadership position on climate and to build a greener, more resilient economy.”

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