New UK Government Faces Steep Climb on Net-Zero Target, Power Supply Post-Brexit
Implementing the United Kingdom’s net-zero by 2050 target, eliminating planning bottlenecks for offshore wind, and keeping post-Brexit power connections with Europe smooth, especially for Ireland, are three challenges facing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Greentech Media reports, in a follow-up on the election last week that brought Johnson a majority government.
Recommitting to former PM Theresa May’s 2050 net-zero target in his victory speech, Johnson vowed his Conservative government would deliver “colossal new investments in infrastructure [and] science, using our incredible technological advantages to make this country the cleanest, greenest on earth with the most far-reaching environmental program,” Greentech Media reports.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
“You, the people of this country, voted to be carbon-neutral in this election,” he added. “You voted to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and we will do it.’
But just how the UK will get it done remains uncertain, and the pressure is already on for the country that will play host to COP 26 in Glasgow in 2020. Long before the conference gets under way, “the Conservatives will be expected to provide more detail on how they will achieve that net-zero target.”
Greentech notes that renewables took hits during May’s tenure, with solar losing a key route to markets, and onshore wind facing a planning moratorium. Now, the trade body RenewableUK is urging the new government to recognize that “rapid expansion of renewables, including low-cost onshore wind and innovative tidal energy, is key to decarbonizing our economy and will provide huge benefits for consumers and businesses across the U.K.”
While the Conservatives under Johnson “have a strong record on offshore wind, having overseen the development of the country’s market to a world-leading position,” they will now have to figure out what to do about the headwinds the sector continues to experience in the planning department. Since “major infrastructure projects are subject to ministerial approval,” Greentech says, any project above 50 megawatts is required “to produce reams of new submissions for their applications with concerns varying from shipping lanes to birds”.
A third challenge for Johnson will be the long-standing power sector concerns about a bumpy ride for interconnections with the continent after the UK exits the European Union—a deeply divisive, controversial course of action that Johnson now has a clear mandate to pursue. The UK currently obtains about 6% of its power from Europe, but “as grids take on more variable generation, the capacity of interconnections is expected to double, making them even more important,” says Greentech.
London-based research firm Baringa Energy Partners said the impact of Brexit on existing grid interties has largely been mitigated. “Under a no-deal scenario, trading terms between the EU and UK would default to World Trade Organization rules, and those don’t apply any tariffs to electricity interconnections.”
But “there is less clarity around how smooth such trading might be,” Greentech notes, citing system operator National Grid’s concern “that if the UK were to leave the EU’s internal energy market (IEM), trading power could become less efficient, even in the absence of trade tariffs.”
A National Grid spokesperson said the operator assumes the government “is working hard to come to a decision on auctions arrangements that might try to replace some of the efficiencies lost from leaving the IEM,” thereby helping “to limit the efficiency loss on Day 1 and move into an enduring solution.”
But “things are more complicated on the island of Ireland, which currently has its own single energy market (SEM),” in which power flows unhindered across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Greentech writes. Those arrangements could no longer operate in the event of a no-deal Brexit, requiring legislation to confer additional powers on the grid and preserve security of supply.