UK’s Labour announces plans for 22 GW of new solar capacity by 2030


With the chances of a Brexit-related snap election in the U.K. growing by the day, the opposition Labour Party has published details of its plans to decarbonize the economy to an extent that would secure global leadership in the attempt to halt runaway climate change.

The party’s 30 by 2030 report, written by a panel of “independent energy industry experts” and published yesterday, highlights 30 policy recommendations for achieving four key carbon emission reduction goals. If implemented swiftly and fully, said the report’s authors, the U.K. could achieve a 77% reduction on the volume of its 2010 carbon emissions by 2030, far more than the 45% reduction called for worldwide during that period by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

With the four aims comprising energy efficiency, decarbonizing heating and energy and balancing the grid, the policy package has implications for the U.K. solar industry as it calls for a near tripling of PV generation capacity, from the current 13 GW to 35 GW by 2030, to supply 9% of the nation’s energy mix.

Solar feed-in tariff

The policy paper calls for reinstatement of the solar feed-in tariff, the closure of which in March stalled solar expansion in the U.K. Other proposals include prioritizing solar-plus-storage as a solution to address grid congestion, removing the climate change levy applied to corporate renewables power purchase agreements and introducing a technology-neutral floor price mechanism to the Contracts for Difference solar generation capacity commissioning regime.

The paper was welcomed by PV trade body the Solar Trade Association. Chief executive Chris Hewett said: “We welcome the ambition of the Labour target for carbon reduction by 2030 and the impact that might have on solar deployment. The solar industry has a track record of responding to policy drivers with a speed and scale often underestimated by traditional energy analysts. I’ve no doubt we will rise to the climate challenge over the next ten years.”

In tandem with a headline-grabbing commitment to insulate a huge volume of homes, starting with the most energy-poor neighborhoods, the policy paper envisages 2.25 million homes in the U.K. hosting rooftop solar by 2030, to supply 4.5 GW of the aimed-for PV capacity.

Nuclear and gas

Solar predictably plays second fiddle to wind power in the policy package and there will be disappointment in some quarters that the policy package envisages retaining current nuclear power generation capacity and potentially replacing reactors due to be retired by 2030 with new nuclear. The report is also based on reducing gas-fired electricity generation by 72%, from 130 TWh to 36 TWh, rather than removing use of the fossil fuel altogether. The policy paper does state an ambition, however, that any remaining fossil fuel capacity in 2030 be used alongside 100% carbon capture and storage (CCS) to ensure zero emissions and also proposes an end to fracking and oil-fired electricity generation.

The paper expects solar to supply 37 TWh of the nation’s electricity in 2030, behind offshore wind (172 TWh), onshore turbines (69 TWh) and nuclear (63 TWh) but ahead of natural gas (32 TWh).

The report recommends the adoption of solar water heating systems “where sensible” and envisages such domestic installations, chiefly in the warmer south of England, will supply around 30 TWh of the estimated 553 TWh of electricity needed for heating in 2030.

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Energy storage

Grid scale energy storage must be expanded to at least 20 GW by that time, with priority for pumped hydro, battery and pressured air systems, although the report predicts the existing natural gas grid back-up facilities will be required into the next decade. As part of its low carbon heating and energy storage plans, the paper calls for more area-based hydrogen transmission and distribution trial projects like one currently being carried out in Leeds, northern England. The 30 by 2030 report also highlights the need for more R&D work to bring down the cost of hydrolysis for green hydrogen, a technology the paper emphasizes is preferable to gas-fired hydrogen production.

Although the report does not encompass the transport sector, as Labour has published a separate policy paper on electric vehicles, the new decarbonization study anticipates 25 million will be on U.K. roads by 2030, with hydrogen-powered, biofuel, natural gas and autonomous models having made little penetration. With associated vehicle-to-grid charging helping mitigate the extra electricity demand caused by such a transport revolution, the additional capacity is expected to be provided by wind and marine power and CCS, rather than solar.

Critics will seize upon the fact the estimated bill for such an ambitious, once-in-a-generation climate change strategy has been estimated at 1.9% of GDP for a decade and that the report’s authors were not tasked with identifying sources of funding for their recommendations, that being the job of the politicians.

Question marks

Criticism Labour’s plans once again appear uncosted will be exacerbated by numerous errors throughout a report that appears to have been hastily finalized, such as the fact whichever policy wonk typed up the section on financial benefits either did not include enough zeros in their estimation or believes the annual output of the economies of Turkey and the Netherlands are only £800 million ($1.03 billion) each.

That net financial windfall should of course be £800 billion and the study estimates the private sector can claim a £500 billion slice of that just as 850,00 new jobs will be created, spread around the country rather than just in London. As part of that figure, the report’s authors anticipate 10,400 new roles directly linked to the solar industry, plus a further 9,900 indirect PV opportunities.

The report outlines a climate policy far more ambitious than anything stated by the sitting government or rival opposition party the Liberal Democrats and is an attempt to move the national discourse on from Brexit, a word which does not appear to occur once in the paper’s 187 pages.

Most tellingly of all, as the study states unequivocally: “We have a moral duty to switch to clean energy.”

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