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‘Not a pipe dream’: Labour unveils fastest path to 2030 net zero

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

The Labour Party has unveiled a report on the fastest pathway to decarbonising by 2030, which would require a ‘vast expansion’ of renewables and result in a net benefit of £800 billion.

The Thirty by 2030 report, produced for The Labour Party, outlines the fastest way of decarbonising by 2030 - a net zero target proposed by the Labour party at its annual conference in September - was published today (24 October 2019).

It outlines 30 recommendations for four goals - ending energy waste, decarbonising heat, decarbonising electricity and balancing the system - and was produced from a working group of industry professionals and experts, with inputs from across the energy sector, over a year-long period.

Chief among the energy recommendations was sourcing 90% of electricity from renewables and low carbon sources by 2030.

This would include a tripling of the UK’s solar capacity to 35GW, a figure which would include building integrated small-scale systems and utility-scale farms. Outstanding barriers, for example the removal of the feed-in tariff and the blocking of solar from the Contracts for Difference scheme, should also be removed.

Chris Hewett, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said he welcomed Labour's ambitions and has "no doubt" the industry will rise to the climate challenge over the next decade.

"The solar industry has a track record of responding to policy drivers with a speed and scale often underestimated by traditional energy analysts," he said.

Onshore wind capacity would also need to soar to 30GW, two and a half times its current capacity, alongside Labour’s previously announced commitment to boost offshore wind to 52GW.

This would make it the largest source of electricity with around 7,000 new large-scale turbines installed, and ensure that onshore and offshore would together provide 55% of electricity generated in the UK.

Hydro energy would also see expansion, adding 500MW to UK capacity, as well as trials into tidal energy aiming to ultimately expand its capacity to 3GW.

Carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) would be trialed in the early 2020s, with a goal of expanding it to become a “significant if still emerging component” of the energy mix by the late 2020s. This would work in conjunction with the remaining 10% of electricity that would still be generated by fossil fuels.

The increase in renewable energy and low carbon energy, would require a “concerted effort unlike anything seen in a generation”, the report said.

Amy MacConnachie, head of external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association, said: "Mitigating climate change and reaching our net-zero targets must be rooted in accountability and achievability.

"It is encouraging to see Labour substantiate their policies with industry, academic and scientific backing."

Making the economics work

The recommendations outlined would require an investment of 1.9% GDP per year, stating that investing in maximising renewables and low carbon energy is "not a pipe dream".

These calculations are similar to estimates made by the Committee on Climate Change in its Net Zero report, which predicted a 2050 net zero would cost between 1-2% of GDP.

However, the Thirty by 2030 report outlines that there would be an average 11% higher GDP growth rate between 2020 and 2030, resulting in a net benefit to the economy of enacting the strategy would be £800 billion.

It also predicts that its recommendations would create an average of 850,000 new jobs across the green energy sector in the 2020s and household energy bills would not need to be increased to pay for the investments.

Balancing the system

As part of the pathway, energy infrastructure would need to be in a position to balance 69% of electricity from variable sources, requiring measures to ensure energy generation, storage and use are all balanced.

Measures to balance the system would include demand side management, back-up generators, power and heat storage, interconnectors with Europe, system digitalisation, smart meters and EV smart charging.

There should be an investigation into the right balancing of solutions, it suggested, followed by rapid and extensive updates to the grid and implantation of demand side response, delivering a “revolutionised” system within a decade.

However, the report is clear that there is no obvious pathway to ensuring its grid balancing target, and which solution is preferred will only become clear over time once the technologies are tested and better understood, with the decision to partially rest on cost effectiveness.

Electric vehicles and demand

The report’s transport section builds largely upon previously announced pledges made by Labour, including plans to invest £3.6 billion into a “mammoth” expansion of the country’s EV charging networks, announced last month.

It is “crucial” plans for the deployment of renewables and low-carbon energy by 2030 is developed in tandem with strategies for the electrification of transport, the report said.

The report expects there to be a need for 424TWh of generation in 2030, however that does not include demand from electric vehicles.

This breaks down to 26TWh of direct demand, an extra 117TWh for heat pumps and renewable hydrogen for heating, plus 29TWh from transmission and distribution losses and 12TWh of storage losses.

The inclusion of electricity for transport represents a 10% increase in overall renewable and low-carbon electricity demand, to 427TWh/yr before losses. The impact of EV’s on peak electricity demand will significantly depends on the sophistication of charging technology employed, it said. If both smart charging and vehicle-to-grid are employed, the impact on peak electricity generation capacity could be as low as 3GW.

Electrification would also provide opportunities for balancing, and could significantly improve the capacity of the system to manage demand by offering vehicle-to-grid balancing services.

The next steps forward

Other recommendations include reducing energy wastage through efficiency measures, including reintroducing a zero-carbon buildings standard for all new buildings from 2020 and seeking to ensure all new buildings are constructed in a fully net zero-carbon fashion as early as possible.

Trials of hybrid heat pump use at scale would be required, as would trials of dedicated hydrogen distribution for use for heat at scale, which would explore 100% hydrogen transmission infrastructure and household use.

Research and development towards reducing the costs of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen production, and well as hydrogen storage solutions, is also recommended.

However, the report is only meant as an outline for how to maximise renewable and low carbon energy production by 2030 and does not cover the measures to deliver the recommendations, which must be developed “with urgency”.

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said the report is “exactly the type of bold ambition” needed.

“The climate crisis is one of the biggest threats we face - as we approach a general election, every political party must set out detailed policies for rapidly building a zero-carbon future.”

Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow energy secretary, said Labour is the “only party turning their targets into detailed, credible plans to tackle the climate and environmental crisis”.

“We are working with trade unions to ensure that the changes to our energy system will be planned democratically, with the interests of workers and local communities at the heart of the transition," Long Bailey added.


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