'Step change' needed in emissions cuts

12 October 2009

In its first annual progress report to the UK parliament, the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says that the country must construct up to three new nuclear power plants by 2022 if it is to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.


The target places pressure on new build replacement plans, which would see the first new reactor start up before the end of 2017 and the next follow in mid-2019. No other build projects are as firmly slated as these from EdF Energy although other consortia, such as one by RWE and EOn, are working towards new build in a similar timeframe. In the meantime, several legacy reactors from the UK's state program are to be retired.


The CCC report assesses progress that has been made by the government in reducing emissions over recent years and analyses the impact of the recession on efforts to tackle climate change. It also looks in detail at what action needs to be taken in order to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the power sector, transport, heat, buildings and industry, and sets out a series of indicators by which the CCC will monitor and measure the government’s progress in future.


According to the committee, emissions reductions averaged 0.5% per year between 2003 and 2007. It said that future reductions of 2% to 3% annually will be required to meet carbon budgets. The report noted that greenhouse gas emissions fell by some 2% in 2008 due to the recession, but suggests that they could increase again once the economy picks up. This means a "step change" is required in the pace of UK emissions reduction to meet carbon budgets, and in some areas new policy approaches will be required to deliver the government's Low Carbon Transition Plan.


The CCC said, "Rapid decarbonisation of electricity generation is a crucial priority, and scenarios to achieve a reduction in grams per kWh from today's 540g CO2/kWh to less than 300g CO2/kWh in 2020, could include 23 GW of new wind capacity, up to three new nuclear stations and up to four CCS [carbon capture and storage] demonstration plants by 2016." This, the report says, could involve the construction of some 8000 wind turbines and up to two new nuclear plants by 2020, and a third by 2022.


The report suggests that current electricity market arrangements, together with the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), are unlikely to deliver required sector decarbonisation, and would instead lead to increasing dependence on imported gas. It says that the current power market arrangements "were designed to achieve efficient dispatch of fossil fuel-fired plant, and not to secure large investments in capital-intensive low-carbon technologies such as nuclear power and CCS generation."


The committee said that progress on CCS demonstration plants is vital to assess whether CCS will be a viable technology to achieve further decarbonisation in the 2020s. It reiterated its previous recommendation that there can be no role for conventional coal generation in the UK beyond the early 2020s.


The CCC said that a national policy statement for nuclear power generation is required by spring 2010 to support passage of proposals for nuclear new build through the planning process. It also said that timely approval of large wind and nuclear projects by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, and smaller wind projects by local authorities, is "crucial to support investment proceeding on timescales required to meet targets for sector decarbonisation."


The report also calls for more energy efficient buildings and electrical appliances. It also says that more fuel-efficient vehicles, especially electric-powered cars, are need to meet the emissions targets.


More nuclear also needed in Japan


Japan will need to construct a new nuclear power plant every year in order to meet its target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020, according to Nobuo Tanaka, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA).


Speaking in Tokyo, he said that the country would also need to raise the average capacity utilization of its existing nuclear power plants from the current level of some 70% to 90% to achieve the goal, Kyodo News reported.


"Japan has little room to depend on energy conservation to cut greenhouse gas emissions compared with other countries," he said.


Lord Adair Turner, chair of the committee, commented: "With the carbon budgets in place, we now need to achieve a step change in the pace of emissions reduction. The government needs to build on its Low Carbon Transition Plan and put in place a comprehensive delivery framework." He added, "What we have proposed is achievable and affordable but action needs to be taken now if we are to make our contribution to combating climate change."


The CCC was established in March 2008 after publication of the government's climate change bill, which set a 60% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for the UK. One of the first tasks for the committee was to examine whether an 80% target was feasible and necessary. The committee concluded that global emissions need to fall by between 50-60% by 2050 to keep the temperature rise caused by climate change below 2˚C. The committee decided that the UK should reduce its emissions by 80% to play its proper part in meeting that aim. The UK government subsequently accepted the CCC's recommendations and the first three carbon budgets, defining an emissions reduction path from 2008 to 2022, became legally binding following parliamentary approval in May 2009.


The first carbon budget covers 2008-2012 and mandates a target of a 22% cut in CO2 emissions by the end of 2012 compared to 1990. Between 2013 and 2017 emissions should be further reduced to 28% below 1990 levels and the third period of 2018-2022 should see carbon dioxide emissions cut to "at least" 34% below 1990 levels. The cuts could be even deeper, the UK government said, if there was a global agreement for the period after 2012.