Urgent action is needed to decarbonise the grid, says the UK nuclear, wind and solar industries

New wind, nuclear and solar capacity is urgently needed to decarbonise the gas grid and achieve the government’s carbon emission reduction targets, according to RenewableUK, Solar Energy UK and The Nuclear Industry Association.

The three industry bodies represent Britain’s three leading zero-carbon power generators, and are calling for a binding target of 100 per cent grid decarbonisation by 2035. They say Britain’s grid is dirtier now than it was a year ago, and heavily reliance on fossil fuels.

According to data from the National Grid ESO, the carbon intensity of electricity – the measure of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity consumed – was approximately five per cent higher in the first four months of 2021, compared with the first four months of 2020. Gas-fired generation was 22 per cent higher, driven by the need to meet demand. That is despite the UK spending more weeks under COVID-19 restrictions between January and April 2021 than in the same period in 2020.

Despite individual record-breaking days, on average the grid was 20 per cent dirtier in April 2021 than in April 2020, with a carbon intensity of 200 gCO2/kWh.

Decarbonising the grid is essential to hitting the government’s new target of a 78 per cent reduction in emission by 2035, and net zero by 2050. Clean electricity will be required to power new fleets of electric vehicles, domestic heat pumps, and green hydrogen production – the first steps in decarbonising the rest of the economy.

To accelerate progress, the associations are calling for a rise in the carbon price to be consistent with delivering grid decarbonisation by 2035, as well as the following actions:

  • Solar Energy UK is calling for a specific government target of 40GW solar deployment by 2030, and to support this by reinstating funding and ending VAT for green home upgrades, reforming business rates for large solar roofs, and providing annual CfD auctions for solar until the end of the decade
  • RenewableUK is calling for government to set specific 2030 deployment targets for key renewable technologies by 2030: 30GW of onshore wind; 2GW of floating wind; 5GW of green hydrogen electrolyser capacity; and 1GW of marine energy in the 2030s.
  • The Nuclear Industry Association is calling on the government to endorse a financing model for new nuclear projects this year, and to set out a plan to restore nuclear capacity to existing levels by the early 2030s.

Chris Hewett, chief executive of Solar Energy UK, says: “A truly resilient net-zero grid, in line with the government’s climate ambitions, needs a broad mix of zero-carbon technologies. Solar is becoming a major global industry and the UK must keep pace. We need to see solar energy trebled in capacity by the end of the decade, in keeping with forecasts produced by the Climate Change Committee.”

Melanie Onn, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, says: “We’re urging ministers to set out key milestones in renewable technologies which will help us to decarbonise the grid as fast as possible. In the run-up to COP26, we need a detailed roadmap including specific deployment targets for onshore wind, floating wind, renewable hydrogen and marine energy to be achieved by the end of this decade.”

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, says: “We need to invest in a new generation of nuclear stations to hit net zero and help level up the country. We know that nuclear and renewables work well together to cut emissions, and that strong low-carbon energy mix is our future.”

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