Here’s how the UK power sector could ditch 99% of natural gas by 2030

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The UK’s power sector can bring natural gas generation down to just 1% of electricity by 2030, which would avoid £93 billion ($99.6 million) in gas costs in the same period, according to new modeling from London-based independent energy think tank Ember.

UK wholesale gas prices have skyrocketed in the last year, making the generation of electricity from natural gas extremely expensive compared to wind and solar power.

At the end of August, Ember reports, it cost over four times more to produce electricity from a combined-cycle gas plant in the UK (£420/MWh) compared to the same period last year (£100/MWh). The last offshore wind auction had an average price of just £48/MWh – that’s nine times cheaper than the current cost of running gas-fired power stations.

The UK currently generates around 40% of electricity from natural gas. In October 2021, the British government said it would decarbonize its electricity system by 2035, but Ember’s newly released model shows it’s possible to move away from gas even faster.

By 2030, the UK could generate 99% of electricity from clean domestic sources, even in adverse weather conditions. Wind and solar would provide 70% of electricity in this scenario.

There are currently 6.4 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar projects under construction in the UK. When those projects are completed, they’ll save the UK £15.7 billion in additional avoided natural gas costs between now and 2030. 

So far this year, the UK has brought 2.3 GW of offshore wind online. That’s more than the country added in the last two years combined. 

Over the next four years, the UK has sufficient wind and solar capacity planned and under way to put it on track for a 2030 clean power target, if all these projects are approved and constructed.

To phase out gas by 2030, Ember’s model shows that the UK will need to add 90 GW of wind and solar capacity, alongside investment into the transmission grid. In March, Electrek reported that the total pipeline of UK offshore wind projects alone had reached 86 gigawatts.

On Friday, the British government significantly announced that it will relax onshore wind planning rules that have been in place since 2015 in order to allow onshore wind power to be more easily deployed.

Phil MacDonald, Ember’s chief operating officer, said:

To see that gas is a dead end, just look at the spiraling energy bills of the last year. Right now the UK is highly exposed to the punishing costs and geopolitical risks that come with depending on gas for heating and electricity. But with abundant and cheap offshore wind resources, the UK doesn’t have to be stuck with gas.

The UK has an opportunity to bring down bills and spur economic growth by focusing on its world-leading clean power sector. The quicker this happens, the quicker the UK can get to safe, stable, and affordable power for good.

Prime Minister Liz Truss also disappointingly lifted a moratorium on fracking in England, and she also approved a new oil and gas licensing round in the North Sea. Fracking involves drilling into the earth and injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into shale rock to open existing fissures and release gas and oil. Fracking causes earth tremors.

Ami McCarthy, a political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian:

Motorways, power stations, and airports – love them or hate them, they are nationally important infrastructure. A hole in a muddy field which may produce a very small amount of expensive gas, but probably won’t, is not nationally important infrastructure.

Read more: British government invests £32M in floating offshore wind to cut natural gas dependency

Photo: “Early Morning Cornwall” by Tony Armstrong-Sly is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


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