17 November 2010

About that 2020 UK Climate Change Act Emissions Reduction Target

At tonite's vibrant discussion of climate science, policy and the media at the British Council, I commented that the UK Climate Change Act was doomed to failure in meeting its 34% target for emissions reductions below a 1990 baseline by 2020.  In the discussion with the audience, a familiar voice boomed from the back of the room that most climate experts would disagree with my assessment.

Today the UK National Grid provided some additional insight on this issue when it issued a press release on expected renewable energy by 2020:
A new report published by National Grid today shows that 31,950 MW of existing and proposed renewable generation have agreements in place to connect to the high voltage transmission system by 2020, placing the UK on track to meet 2020 renewable targets.

National Grid analysis identifies that about 29,000 MW of renewable transmission connected generation capacity is needed to meet the UK government’s target of 15 per cent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

National Grid’s Transmission Networks Quarterly Connections Update, published today, shows:

Current transmission connected renewable generation:   4,950 MW

Proposed renewables projects with connection agreements up to 2020 as at 26 October 2010:   27,000 MW
So 27 GW of new capacity from renewables works out to 9 GW of supply at a 33% efficiency (and the word on the London street, literally, is that 33% is overly generous).

Using the simple math of energy and decarbonization from The Climate Fix, 9 GW works out to the equivalent amount of carbon-free energy as produced by 12 nuclear power plants.  In The Climate Fix, I argue that the UK needs 40 nuclear power plants worth of carbon free energy by 2015 (at the latest) to be on track to meeting its emissions reduction goal for 2020.  (See also this paper.)  So the UK is 5 years and at least 28 nuclear power plants worth of carbon free energy short (to get from 2015 to 2020 it would need dozens more).  So I'll stand by my judgment.

If that voice from the back of the room wishes to contest these numbers, he is welcome to do so here, but somehow I doubt he will;-)