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UK to ‘leapfrog a gas bridge’ as clean power set to replace coal

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The UK will not need any new large gas generation to plug the gap filled by retiring coal plants, with renewables and other distributed energy systems ideally placed, a new report has found.

The ‘Coal to Clean’ report, compiled by WWF and climate thinktank Sandbag, points at comments made by then-energy secretary Amber Rudd in 2015, arguing that it was “imperative” that the country get new gas-fired power stations built over the coming decade.

These gas plants, Rudd argued, would be needed to replace legacy coal generators that were coming to the end of their lifespans, a need which was seemingly exacerbated by the decision to phase out coal generation by 2025.

But while ten large gas plants applied for 15-year Capacity Market contracts in February of this year, not one received a contract. This, along with further analysis conducted by the report’s authors, have led it to conclude that the UK no longer requires large gas plants to replace coal.

Chief among the report’s findings is the consideration that the UK remains on track to phase out coal by 2025 without the need for any new large gas plants, its analysis claiming that the remaining two coal plants – equivalent of around 2.8GW of capacity – are likely to be replaced through Capacity Market contracts for interconnectors, battery storage projects, demand side response and, predominantly, small peaking gas plants.

The report also found that nearly all (95%) of the required renewables growth to replace coal is already contracted or under construction, with offshore wind providing most of the growth between now and 2025.

It adds that large gas plants will be unsuitable in the future, as the transition to a grid which is “dominated” by renewables will only require new capacity to run infrequently. It argues that meeting capacity requirements with large gas plants would be “unnecessarily costly” for UK consumers.

Among the five recommendations included within the report, WWF and Sandbag are most keen for the UK government to “unleash the potential” of solar and onshore wind without further delay. They urge the government to do so via the introduction of a subsidy-free CfD auction for those technologies – currently the only two ‘established’ generators that reside in ‘pot one’ – to bring forward new capacity.

Also high on the report’s list of recommendations is for energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry to resist the urge to tinker with the Capacity Market to promote new-build large gas generation, and to prevent excess emissions from small peaking gas plants via new policies.

The report also seek increased innovation funding for long-term electricity storage technologies and to begin the planning phase now to mitigate the risk of a slower decline in gas use which could impact future emissions reduction measures.  


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