United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Zero-emissions 'possible' in UK with cost reductions

Rapid cost reductions in technologies such as offshore wind mean the UK can reduce its net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero by mid-century at no added cost to previous estimates, according to a new report.

The CCC recommends deployment of at least 75GW of offshore wind capacity by 2050, up from just over 8GW today (pic: Innogy)
The CCC recommends deployment of at least 75GW of offshore wind capacity by 2050, up from just over 8GW today (pic: Innogy)

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the UK on climate change issues, recommended a net zero GHG target by 2050.

It stated this could be achieved at an annual cost of 1-2% of GDP — the same proportion of GDP that it estimated in 2008 was required to achieve an 80% reduction from 1990 levels.

In its latest report, the CCC said cost reductions in technologies such as offshore wind and batteries for electric vehicles had enabled this level of spending to go further than previously thought.

Cost of offshore wind

The net zero target could be met by deploying at least 75GW of offshore wind by 2050 — up from just over 8GW today and beyond the 30GW-by-2030 target stipulated in the offshore wind sector deal agreed between government and industry in March 2019.

The report’s authors attributed already-achieved cost reductions in offshore wind to innovation in design — including the move to larger turbines — streamlined supply chains, and the development of suitable financing arrangements.

It expects costs to fall by 26% between 2025 and 2050 — from an average of £69/MWh (€80/MWh), in 2018 prices, to £51/MWh.

However, the CCC expects annual payments to offshore wind generators to increase from an average of £1.5 billion (€1.74 billion) over the last five years to £3.5 billion by 2030. These annual payments will decline, however, as costs come down further.

Policy adoption

The CCC found many of the policies required to deliver a net-zero economy are already active or in development.

However, policies encouraging decarbonisation across the UK economy must be "urgently strengthened", the CCC argued.

Following the CCC’s advice in 2008, the UK parliament moved to an 80% reduction target for all greenhouse gases — accepting this cost of costs of 1-2% of GDP.

The CCC therefore described the same, accepted costs of meeting a 100% reduction target as "manageable".

It recommended a net-zero GHG target by 2050, and that the government adopt "clear, stable and well-designed policies" to encourage emitting sectors to decarbonise.

Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, said: "We can all see that the climate is changing and it needs a serious response.

"The great news is that it is not only possible for the UK to play its full part, but it can be done within the cost envelope that parliament has already accepted."

"The government should accept the recommendations and set about making the changes needed to deliver them without delay," he added.

Reaction

The chair of industry organisation, the Offshore Wind Industry Council, Benj Sykes welcomed the CCC’s report, describing it as a "clear signal" to the sector.

"In any scenario, offshore wind will be the backbone of the future electricity system," he said.

"The Committee on Climate Change is suggesting a tenfold increase in offshore wind capacity by 2050. This is a clear signal to industry and government to aim high when it comes to our renewable energy supply.

"The industry will work closely with government to deliver on net zero and strengthen the UK’s global lead in offshore wind," he added.

Matthew Wright, managing director of lead offshore wind developer Ørsted UK, said: "75GW of offshore wind by 2050 is definitely achievable.

"The cost of offshore wind has already reduced to the point where it is comparable with conventional generation, and it's continuing to fall.

"The UK has a rapidly expanding supply chain supporting the offshore wind sector, which is creating thousands of new jobs, and we are confident of attracting the tens of billions of pounds of investment required to make this a reality," he said. 

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