CCC calls for economy-wide Net Zero test; power sector needs action on gas generation and energy from waste

Two parts of the electricity generation sector were in the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC’s) firing line when it published its annual report to parliament. Among ‘specific key gaps that need to be addressed by government policy’ the CCC called for a commitment to phasing out unabated gas-fired electricity generation by 2035. The CCC has already made that recommendation to government and it had not yet had a response, it said. It wants a comprehensive long-term strategy for a phase-out, ensuring new gas plants are “properly CCS and/or hydrogen-ready” as soon as possible and by 2025 at the latest. It also wants to a thorough assessment of the market challenges that will emerge as part of the transition to a fully decarbonised electricity system.
Secondly it wants government urgently to address rising use of – and emissions from – energy from waste (EfW), plants, which are “going in the wrong direction”. It said expansion of waste incineration is “potentially incompatible with the overall need to reduce emissions”. Alongside a better waste and recycling strategy it wants all new EfW plants to be built either with CCUS or ‘CCUS ready’, and government support to enable existing EfW plants to begin to be retrofitted with CCUS from the late 2020s.
Overall the power sector had a relatively easy ride from the committee – “Most [carbon emissions] reduction has come from the power system and very little from elsewhere” said CC chair Lord Deben, introducing the report to Parliament – but that was in the context of a lack of action from other departments, including CCC sponsoring departments.
The CCC took aim at HM Treasury, whose Net Zero Review is running two years late, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) which it said is “not fully supporting local government to play its part in the transition to Net Zero”. MHCLG had missed opportunities: it had not ensured that building standards are fit for purpose and had not used the current Planning Bill to ensure that developments and infrastructure are compliant with Net Zero.

The CCC report, which ranged across the entire economy, said a ‘comprehensive Net Zero strategy’ is needed this year to fill gaps in ambition and pull together a coherent story of how sectoral efforts fit together to achieve the Net Zero target and carbon budgets. It wants a ‘Net Zero Test’ to be set to ensure that all government policy decisions are compatible with the legislated emissions targets. It also said the Net Zero transition requires “a consistent framework that enables supply chains and public buy-in to build over time, without confidence being undermined by sudden policy changes or poor delivery.”

David Joffe, one of the report’s authors, said that although BEIS was one of the better performing departments, even BEIS had a number of delayed actions such as the long-awaited heat and buildings policy framework.
On BEIS’s agenda, the CCC said electricity generation should be fully decarbonised by 2035, while meeting a 50% increase in annual demand. This will require large-scale deployment of new low carbon generating capacity that is resilient to a changing climate, phasing out unabated gas-fired generation, action on contracting models and on planning and consenting regimes, as well as ensuring networks are ready to accommodate
new demands and generation.
Among essential actions it wanted government to
• Continue auctions for low-carbon power generation, and
• Support actions to enhance system flexibility
• Deliver an emissions intensity of 50 gCO2/kWh or better in electricity generation by 2030.
• Deliver a Hydrogen Strategy that sets out the role of hydrogen and the steps needed to realise it, focusing on sectors that cannot decarbonise without it
• Start large scale hydrogen trials in the 2020s.
Looking across the energy sector it said there was growing consensus on the need to tackle the imbalance between electricity and gas prices and rebalance policy costs between gas and electricity to ensure the take-up of low-carbon electricity solutions is not hindered

Gas network futures
The CCC also called for immediate indications of the future of the UK’s gas distribution networks. It said before COP26 it wants the government to publish a governance framework and timeline for decisions on the conversion to hydrogen of the gas transmission and distribution networks – and publication of the long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy
By the mid 2020s it called for strategic decisions on the future of the gas grid, including the extent of zoning for heat networks, electrification and any planned conversions of the gas grid to hydrogen – and it wants all new boilers to be ‘hydrogen-ready’ by 2025 at the latest .
By 2030 it wants to see heat pumps being installed at a rate of a million per year, ahead of a natural gas boiler installation phase-out date that will see sales of gas boilers to all homes and business phased out by 2033.

It noted that gas networks’ Iron Mains Risk Reduction Programme had reduced methane leakage. But it said it was “unclear whether this policy alone is sufficient to achieve the additional 2.3 MtCO2e of abatement required in our analysis by 2030, particularly in the context of possible network decommissioning due to reduced use of natural gas”. It proposed including methane leakage from gas networks in a new set of indicators to track progress in fuel supply in next year’s Progress Report.