The consequences of the “dash for gas”

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The UK government today announced its new Gas Strategy, which has been labelled a dash for gas.

To summarize: the plan is to build up to 26 GW of new gas capacity between now and 2030. This will result in a total gas capacity of 37 GW in 2030, 5 GW more than current capacity. The previous estimate of total new gas capacity needed was 10-20 GW, and DECC justify the new upper estimate by saying that projected population will be higher than expected (i.e. higher electricity demand) and the number of plant retirements also. DECC’s estimate of 21 GW of plant retirements appears to be about double earlier estimates. (this is from memory of DECC’s estimates. Certainly independent modelling suggested about half. See figure 8).

Is up to 26 GW of new capacity consistent with the UK decarbonising electricity by 2030? There is no straightforward answer to this, because it is very dependent on the amount of nuclear power on the grid and electricity demand. However, let’s consider a report published this week, commissioned by Greenpeace and WWF. This was principally looking at the economics of a high wind scenario versus a high gas scenario. To provide back up to renewables they estimated that the UK needed 36 GW of gas in 2030, 1 GW less than DECC’s projection. (see page 10 of the report.) I would view this as possibly a low estimate, because the reports authors assume 15.4 GW of interconnectors to help balance wind power. In reality this amount is not likely to be built and more gas is likely needed.

So, we can conclude that 26 GW of new gas is probably consistent with the level of renewables the main Green NGOs support (The report’s scenario appears to be 66% renewables, from a quick reading). A missing element however is nuclear power. This requires much lower levels of gas back up than renewables. The government does not plan for 66% renewables, but more likely around 40% renewables, 40% nuclear. This will push the needed levels of gas down. For example modelling by Poyrys for the CCC indicated that 8 GW of nuclear meant the amount of gas capacity needed would be reduced by 5 or 6 GW. (see figure 5) So, it looks as if 26 GW is probably only consistent with 2030 decarbonisation if Greens get their way and no new nuclear is built.

The other rather more alarming suggestion in the Gas Strategy is that the UK could build up to 37 GW of new gas capacity. And this is almost certainly inconsistent with 2030 decarbonisation, no matter what level of renewables you imagine.

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2 thoughts on “The consequences of the “dash for gas”

    How much gas does Greenpeace want? | Carbon Counter said:
    December 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    […] view that this amount of gas capacity is, under any realistic scenario, more gas capacity than is consistent with decarbonising electricity by 2030. This view, it would appear, is also held by […]

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    Alexander Harvey said:
    January 8, 2013 at 4:55 am

    The National Grid (NG) give three scenarios which correspond in rough terms to missing the target (Slow Progress or SP), on target (Gone Green or GG) and ahead of target (Accelerated Growth or AG).

    WIth respect to unabated gas capacity for electricity the scenarios are:

    SP 2020->36.1GW 2030->43.9GW
    GG 2020->33.2GW 2030->36.0GW
    AG 2020->32.0GW 2030->29.2GW

    So in their generation mix 37.0GW is close to the GG figure for 2030 (e.g. on target for unabated) but that NG scenario also contains 5.5GW of CCS generation by 2030 and if that were to be from Gas generation the total would bump up requirement to 41.5GW for total gas requiring a furhter 4.1GW of gas. It is also well short of their pessimistic (SP) scenario and (unless unless there is CCS coal generation) short of their AG scenario which requires an additional 13.3GW of CCS generation.

    Values are from Appendix 2 of Future Enerrgy Scenarios 2012 linked from here:

    http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Gas/OperationalInfo/TBE/Future+Energy+Scenarios/

    NB the data in the tables doesn’t seem to totalise correctly and I don’t know why.

    Alex

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