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Conservatives focus on nuclear and EVs in net-zero vision for 2050

The Conservative Party has unveiled its manifesto for a net-zero carbon economy, which includes commitments to plant more than one million trees and sets aside £1bn for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, but fails to match Labour’s ambition in pushing the 2050 timeframe forward.

The Tory plans for achieving net-zero carbon emissions largely stick to the recommendations provided by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which claimed that a net-zero target could be achieved at the same cost that is put against achieving the old Climate Change Act, which is between 1-2% of GDP in 2050. The recommendations have since been enshrined into national law.

It was thought that the Tory Party conference would be used to provide more clarity on the net-zero target, specifically whether the new target would encompass all sectors – shipping and aviation are currently covered on a territorial basis – and how carbon capture and storage (CCS) solutions and hydrogen would be supported.

Despite no clarity on most of those measures, the plan does feature a commitment to build a £220m net-zero nuclear fusion plant by 2040. The first stage of the investment will cover the initial five-year development phase of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

Other commitments listed by the Tories include plans to plant up to one million trees between 2020 and 2024 to develop the Great Northumberland Forest, deliver £1bn in funding for EVs and hydrogen fuel cell development, and a new Future Homes Standard that will be introduced in 2025 to create “world-leading energy efficiency standards”. Interim regulations for the Future Homes Standard will be introduced from 2020.

Andrea Leadsom, the business, energy and industrial strategy secretary said: “Addressing climate change is a top priority for the Conservative Party, and today’s announcements will not only help us reach our Net Zero 2050 target, but will benefit communities and households – and improve wildlife and wellbeing – while doing so.”

A 20-year gap

The announcement follows last week’s news that Labour Party members had backed a pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions to net-zero by 2030 – two decades earlier that the Conservative target.

The motion also commits the party to take Great Britain’s energy networks and biggest energy suppliers back into public ownership, introduce a complete ban on fracking and make large-scale investments in renewable and low-carbon energy.

The Tory commitments have also been criticised by green groups for failing to strengthen commitments that could move the ban on petrol and diesel cars forwards or encourage reductions in meat-based diets and eating. Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett claimed that the measures were “nowhere near commensurate” to tackle the issues of climate change.

“For decades, we’ve been promised that nuclear fusion is ‘just a decade away’ and yet it’s never materialised,” Bennett said. “Why throw money away on tech-fix pipe dreams, at precisely the moment that onshore and offshore wind and solar are delivering better returns than ever before?

“If the government is serious about slashing climate pollution it needs to stop fracking, stop filling the skies with more planes, and stop funding oil and gas projects abroad and instead invest in public transport, renewable energy and doubling UK tree cover.”

Theresa Villiers, the environment secretary added: “The planting of one million trees will be fundamental in our commitment to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. They will enhance our landscape, improve our quality of life and protect the climate for future generations.”

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EU to pull plug on wasteful, unrepairable products

Newly adopted EU laws will make several products easier to repair and more energy efficient, saving people money while reducing pollution, NGOs in the Coolproducts campaign said.

For the first time, manufacturers will be obliged to make several home appliances easier to repair following the formal adoption of new laws by the European Commission today. The new rules will also cut the energy needed to power them.

As of 2021, all TVs, monitors, fridges, freezers, washing machines, washer-dryers, dishwashers and lighting products placed on the EU market will have to meet minimum repairability requirements aimed at extending their lifetime.

These products will also be made easier to recycle thanks to improved design and, in the case of displays, the removal of halogenated flame retardants.

The Coolproducts campaign brings together policy experts to ensure product policy benefits people and the planet. It’s led by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ECOS.

Today’s announcement represents a turning point in the way we produce and use our products, according to NGOs.

Stephane Arditi, policy manager for the circular economy with the EEB, said: “This is the kind of innovation that we all need right now.

“Energy efficiency laws have already cut our energy bills and will continue to do so. Now, by also ensuring we get to use our products for longer, Europe can deliver further savings for people while cutting carbon emissions and waste.”

Chloé Fayole, Programme and Strategy Director at ECOS, said: “With these measures, Europe has just taken a big step towards a more circular economy, which should inspire the rest of the world.

“We now expect EU decision makers to replicate this approach to many other products and notably electronic products such as smartphones and computers, to minimise their environmental impact.”

The new measures are part of the EU’s Ecodesign Directive, which removes the most wasteful products from the market, replacing them with units that do the same job with less energy and resources.

They were previously agreed by all 28 EU governments in January, and are among the last few measures adopted by this European Commission before new officials take office.

Together with new energy labels adopted in March, the new energy efficiency requirements will help the EU save an additional 140TWh of energy a year, which corresponds to 5% of the EU electricity consumption. For consumers and companies, this means €20 billion saved on energy bills.

The repairability requirements can help deliver even more savings by slashing demand for new products and carbon emissions linked to manufacturing, distributing, using and disposing of new products.

Extending the lifespan of washing machines by just five years would save the EU as much emissions (CO2eq) as taking half a million cars off the roads annually, a recent study found.

Towards people’s Right to Repair

The new requirements have the potential to make our products last longer. Manufacturers will have to ensure that appliances can be easily disassembled with commonly available tools.

Spare parts and repair information will have to be made available to professional repairers for a minimum number of years.

The next EU officials should ensure that this approach is replicated across most product groups, the NGOs said.

Ugo Vallauri, policy lead of the Restart Project and a member of the newly formed Right to Repaircampaign in Europe, said: “This is an important step in the right direction, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.

“Next step will be to make spare parts and repair manuals available to all, not just professional repairers, and to extend repair provisions to many more products, starting with smartphones.”

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Ofgem has published its state of the market report 2019

The UK continues to be a global leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to Ofgem’s annual State of the Market report, but progress is slowing. (1)

Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 42% since 1990, more than any other large advanced economy, due largely to the decarbonisation of electricity generation. This has been driven by Government policies, such as the carbon price which penalises coal plants in particular, and the huge growth in wind and solar power. In fact, renewables generated a record 33% of our electricity last year. (2)

Progress is slowing however, with last year seeing the smallest reduction in emissions since 2012 (2.5% this year, down from a 3% fall the previous year).

Transport continued to be the largest single source of carbon emissions, although emissions fell slightly last year (3%), partly down to an increase in the number of alternative fuel vehicles, which now account for 2% of the licenced cars on the road in GB. (3)

In June, the Government passed legislation requiring the UK to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 following calls from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). To meet this target, significant investment is required, particularly in renewables, as well as policies aiding the roll-out of new low carbon technologies and supporting innovation to decarbonise how we heat our homes and businesses. (4)

A priority of Ofgem’s new corporate strategy is helping decarbonise the economy at the lowest cost to consumers. Ofgem will set out more details on this early next year. (5)

Separately, competition in Great Britain’s retail energy market continued to develop in 2018-19. Medium suppliers benefitted the most from record switching rates (just over 20% in June 2019, up from 19% the previous year), which swelled their market share by 7 percentage points in electricity and 5 percentage points in gas to over 20% of consumers overall. (6)

They also gained customers who were transferred to them under Ofgem’s safety net after a number of smaller suppliers failed and exited the market.

At the same time, the market dominance of the six larger suppliers continued to weaken as they lost 1.3 million customers and saw market share fall to around 70% of consumers, compared to around 75% the year before. Small suppliers for the first time saw their market share fall to 9% of consumers, down from 10% the year before. (7)

During this period, when shopping around for new deals, more consumers turned to price comparison websites (49%), ‘auto-scanning’ notifications (8%) and auto-switching (2%).

Meanwhile, the number of consumers who said they’d never switched fell to 29% – down from 34% in 2018. (8)

In January Ofgem implemented a cap on the price of default tariffs to protect consumers from overpaying for their energy. (9)

The majority of customers on these deals are with the six larger suppliers who charged at the upper limit of the cap. In contrast, medium and small suppliers priced at £43 and £78 below the cap (January – June 2019). (10)

Price transparency has improved in general for business customers. However microbusinesses still lose out and pay on average twice as much for gas and 30% more for electricity than the average across all business customer segments, often because they are on expensive default tariffs.

Energy prices have a direct impact on the welfare of consumers, leading to rationing and even self-disconnection of energy by customers who cannot afford to pay their bills. Ofgem is publishing its updated Consumer Vulnerability Strategy this Autumn. (11)

Joe Perkins, chief economist at Ofgem, said:

“Ofgem’s latest state of the market report shows the progress made so far to decarbonise the economy but much more needs to be done.

“We want the UK to remain a global leader in bringing down greenhouse gas emissions, and our major objective is to help the country rise to the challenge of cutting emissions to net zero by 2050 at the lowest possible price to consumers.

“As well as protecting consumers in the future, our duty is also to protect those today.

“We will continue to enable competition and innovation which benefits consumers, whilst protecting those who need it, as we help build an energy market which works for all consumers.”

Notes to editors

(1)    Ofgem’s State of the Energy Market 2019 report has been published 03-10-19.

(2)    Falling carbon intensity can be attributed, in part, to the new record contribution of renewables, which accounted for 33% of all generation in 2018 – up from 29% in 2017.This was primarily driven by wind, solar and bioenergy. A reduced reliance on coal also contributed to the decline, with its share falling from 7% in 2017 to 5% in 2018 (there was little change in the shares of oil and gas). The Government remains committed to ending unabated coal generation in GB by 2025. Without key decarbonisation policies, such as Renewable Obligations Certificates and Carbon Price support, we estimate that between 2010-18 the UK would have emitted an additional 69 million tonnes of carbon each year.

(3) Transport emissions have fallen by 2% from 2010 levels. BEIS (2019)Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990-2017; BEIS (2019) Provisional UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics 2018. The number of licensed electric cars in GB increased from 84,000 in 2010 to 592,000 in 2018, DfT Vehicle Licensing Statistics.

(4)  The Committee on Climate Change has called for a UK target of net zero greenhouse gases by 2050. It advises that the decarbonisation of heat and electrification of transport need to be expedited to match the progress that has been made in the electricity sector. Ofgem’s work and recommendations towards decarbonisation includes supporting the roll out of electric vehicles through flexible charging reforms; supporting further innovation in heat decarbonisation through our RIIO2 network price controls; developing enabling technologies and platforms for a more flexible electricity generation system, including developing cross-industry principles to set common standards and methods to promote interoperability, and reduce barriers to entry and lower costs. Ofgem’s Future Insights Paper 6 – Flexibility Platforms in electricity markets

(5) https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/ofgem-sets-out-medium-term-objectives-and-priorities

(6) The majority of switches continues to be away from the six large suppliers to smaller and medium suppliers, including 40% of total electricity switching between July 2018 and June 2019, stable compared with the preceding year. Most of these customers (25% up from 16% the previous year) moved to medium (especially to Bulb and Octopus), rather than small suppliers (16% down from 24% the previous year), which reversed the pattern observed in previous periods . Around 36% of switches, down from 41%, still happened to and within the six large suppliers, even though they generally offered higher prices compared to other suppliers. Ofgem/ Exoserve data.

The speed and reliability of switching has remained the same over the past few years and needs substantial improvement, largely due to data issues, preventing and deterring some customers from switching. Ofgem’s launched its Faster and More Reliable switching programme this year to improve the switching process.

(7) Since June 2018, the six large suppliers had a net loss as a group of around 1.3 million customers and their combined market share fell by around five percentage points in both gas and electricity, broadly in line with the drop observed in the previous two years. Medium suppliers gained around 1.9 million customers[1], and their combined market share reached above 20%, up by nearly seven percentage points in electricity and five in gas by June 2019, compared to only around two percentage points in the previous two years. Small suppliers’ joint market share declined by around one percentage point to 9% in electricity and remained almost unchanged in gas at 9% between June 2018 and June 2019.

(8) In 2019 Ofgem began measuring use of switching and deal scanning services that consumers can register for online.

(9) Ofgem’s Conditions for Effective Competition, published today, sets out the conditions under which Ofgem would consider lifting the default and prepayment tariff price caps. Effective competition is defined as dynamic and vigorous rivalry between firms to win and retain customers, with no significant barriers to consumers making an informed choice, and which generate good outcomes for most consumers so that they get a fair deal in terms of what matters to them.

(10) Less engaged consumers tend to be on more expensive default tariffs, which have been subject to the default tariff cap since 1 January 2019. The proportion of customer accounts on these tariffs has declined over time from 69% in 2015 to 53% in April 2018. As of April 2019, 53% of electricity customer accounts and 51% of gas accounts, excluding customers on prepayment, were still on these tariffs. Around half of these had been on default tariffs for more than three years, and 87% (gas and electric meter points) on default tariffs were with the six largest suppliers.  (11) For more on suppliers’ performance towards their vulnerable customers see Ofgem’s Vulnerable Consumers in the Energy Market report 2019

Further Information

For media queries contact

Ruth Somerville

0207 901 7460

Ruth.somerville@ofgem.gov.uk

Source:

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UK to take a big ‘STEP’ to fusion electricity

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, announced the funding package during a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Science Centre HQ in Oxfordshire – the UK’s world-leading fusion research laboratory.

Fusion offers a virtually limitless source of cleaner electricity by copying the processes that power the Sun – the collision of hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy. Researchers around the globe are now developing fusion reactors that can turn this into a commercial technology to help satisfy the world’s ever-increasing demand for energy.

STEP will be an innovative plan for a commercially-viable fusion power station – offering the realistic prospect of constructing a powerplant by 2040. The investment will allow engineers and scientists to produce a conceptual design for the reactor (known as a ‘tokamak’) that will generate fusion energy and convert it into electricity. UKAEA and partners from industry and academia will pool their expertise to complete the design by 2024.

The STEP programme will create 300 jobs directly, with even more in the UK fusion supply chain. In addition, the spin-outs from the design work are expected to be enormous – both in terms of synergies with other fusion powerplant design activities (such as Europe’s ‘DEMO’ prototype power station) and other hi-tech industries.

STEP builds on UKAEA’s expertise in developing so-called ‘spherical tokamaks’ – compact and efficient fusion devices that could offer an economical route to commercial fusion power. The new MAST Upgrade spherical tokamak experiment is due to start operations at Culham early in 2020. Its work will play a key role in the STEP design.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “This is a bold and ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future. Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the U.K.

“This long-term investment will build on the UK’s scientific leadership, driving advancements in materials science, plasma physics and robotics to support new hi-tech jobs and exports.”

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, added: “The UK has a proud heritage of pioneering developments in fusion research. This announcement demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to translating that R&D leadership into a working fusion reactor. We are excited to work with our partners to take the next step towards a fusion-powered future.”

If your company or research organisation is interested in taking part in STEP, more information about the project is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/next-step-in-fusion

The STEP Procurement Plan Schedule is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/step-procurment-opportunities

Contact: For more information please contact Nick Holloway, UKAEA Media Manager, on 01235 466232 or nick.holloway@ukaea.uk.

DCPs 332 and 333 – appropriate treatment and allocation of SoLR-related costs

We have approved DCUSA Change Proposals 332 and 333. The two proposals formalise the Supplier of Last Resort cost recovery process into the distribution charging methodologies, covering Last Resort Supply Payment and eligible use of system bad debt.

The Authority approved these modifications on 1 October 2019.

 

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The UK Government is committing £220M to the conceptual design of a fusion power station – the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, announced the funding package during a visit to the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Science Centre HQ in Oxfordshire – the UK’s world-leading fusion research laboratory.

Fusion offers a virtually limitless source of cleaner electricity by copying the processes that power the Sun – the collision of hydrogen atoms to release large amounts of energy. Researchers around the globe are now developing fusion reactors that can turn this into a commercial technology to help satisfy the world’s ever-increasing demand for energy.

STEP will be an innovative plan for a commercially-viable fusion power station – offering the realistic prospect of constructing a powerplant by 2040. The investment will allow engineers and scientists to produce a conceptual design for the reactor (known as a ‘tokamak’) that will generate fusion energy and convert it into electricity. UKAEA and partners from industry and academia will pool their expertise to complete the design by 2024.

The STEP programme will create 300 jobs directly, with even more in the UK fusion supply chain. In addition, the spin-outs from the design work are expected to be enormous – both in terms of synergies with other fusion powerplant design activities (such as Europe’s ‘DEMO’ prototype power station) and other hi-tech industries.

STEP builds on UKAEA’s expertise in developing so-called ‘spherical tokamaks’ – compact and efficient fusion devices that could offer an economical route to commercial fusion power. The new MAST Upgrade spherical tokamak experiment is due to start operations at Culham early in 2020. Its work will play a key role in the STEP design.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “This is a bold and ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future. Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the U.K.

“This long-term investment will build on the UK’s scientific leadership, driving advancements in materials science, plasma physics and robotics to support new hi-tech jobs and exports.”

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, added: “The UK has a proud heritage of pioneering developments in fusion research. This announcement demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to translating that R&D leadership into a working fusion reactor. We are excited to work with our partners to take the next step towards a fusion-powered future.”

If your company or research organisation is interested in taking part in STEP, more information about the project is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/next-step-in-fusion

The STEP Procurement Plan Schedule is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/step-procurment-opportunities

Contact: For more information please contact Nick Holloway, UKAEA Media Manager, on 01235 466232 or nick.holloway@ukaea.uk.

Rachel Reeves comments on Government response

Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has commented today on the publication of the Government’s response to the Committee report on Carbon Capture Usage and Storage and on the new administration’s overall approach to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Given the Government’s ‘disappointing’ response on Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS), which ‘appears to row back from statements made by former Ministers’, the Chair has also written to the Minister Kwasi Kwarteng with a series of questions seeking to establish the Government’s policy direction on CCUS.

Chair’s comments

Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee said:

“The Secretary of State is happy to reiterate the Government’s commitment to net-zero by 2050 but fails to give any sense that her Government is dedicated to the urgent actions necessary to achieve it.

“It’s easy to set a target. The harder challenge is putting in place the measures needed to get to net-zero by 2050. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State’s letter gives little confidence that the Government has a clear idea of the policies it wants to pursue to make UK net-zero carbon emissions a reality. Given the UK is hosting COP26 next year, it’s important that we provide international leadership by getting our act together at home on climate change policy.

“It’s encouraging that the Treasury’s review will look at the benefits, as well as the costs, of net zero. Ending the UK’s contribution to climate change has the potential for major health and environmental benefits. It is also crucial the Treasury examines where costs will fall, how the transition can be funded, and how to manage the impacts on bill-payers, motorists and carbon-intensive industries.”

“The Minister’s response to our Carbon Capture Usage and Storage report is very disappointing and sits in contrast to the initial enthusiasm to our findings displayed by the previous Minister, Claire Perry. The Government’s response barely engages with the specific recommendations of our report and it is worrying that the Government now appears to be rowing back on previous commitments. This must be concerning for industry and investors and I hope the Government will rethink its approach and come forward with a clearer indication of what it is doing to ensure CCUS technology is able to deliver on its potential.”

In July, Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee wrote to Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom, the then new Secretary of State for DBEIS, to press for action on a series of policy fronts such as electric vehicles, carbon capture usage and storage, and energy efficiency, to ramp up UK efforts to meet future carbon budgets and the net-zero 2050 target.

In April, the BEIS Committee published its report, Carbon capture usage and storage: third time lucky? The report urged the Government to give a clear policy direction to ensure the UK was able to seize the industrial and decarbonisation benefits of carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS). The report noted that although the UK has one of the most favourable environments globally for CCUS the technology had suffered 15 years of turbulent policy support, including the cancellation of two major competitions at a late stage. No commercial-scale plant for CCUS has yet been constructed in the UK.

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UK–EU power links vital

While politically the UK may soon be decoupled from the EU, it is busy building power grid links with mainland Europe. And some say it should build more, creating offshore wind hubs and network systems to help with green power balancing, exports and imports. For example, the planned 1.4 GW HVDC Viking inter-connector between Denmark and Lincolnshire will pass through or near some big offshore wind farms. And more are on the horizon.

National Grid has done comparative connection studies for the proposed 1.6 GW Eurolink to the Netherlands and 1.5 GW Nautilus link to Belgium (completion expected by around 2025 and 2027, respectively) with the proposed Sizewell C nuclear plant area in mind, but also local offshore wind projects. Some say the UK should be looking to build many tens of gigawatts of offshore wind in the mid-North Sea and also offshore connection hubs, like the artificial island proposed for Dogger Bank, almost 100 miles out from Hull.

Grid upgrade needed

Certainly, the resource is vast, and the study of European grid issues (PDF) produced by ENTSO-E, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, sees the UK as one of the key hubs in the network. The ENTSO-E study of EU grid issues up to 2040 updates its 2016 “Ten Year Network Development Plan” (TYNPD). It says that there will be a need for increased transmission capacity in some places, both internally and to other countries, to make the system work in 2040. This is largely due to the increasing levels and use of renewables to supply all areas of the European grid; the report says that up to 75% of the total demand of renewable energy will be reached by 2040, so that “European countries will more than ever need to rely on each other through cross-border exchanges”.

Physical connector links with the EU energy system could mean having to comply with internal EU energy market rules

Dave Elliott

However, interestingly, it suggests that there will be different balances in net supply across the EU. From ENTSO-E’s studies, it looks like NW wind, offshore especially, dominates, with a lot of surplus power shifted east at times. Much of that will presumably be from the North Sea. But it will be variable, so there will be technical, regulatory and market challenges to ensure stability, with increased system flexibility. And a need for new grids.

ENTSO-E says that, overall, the benefits of the expanded network far outweigh the necessary efforts that will need to be mobilized for its realization: “A lack of new investments by 2040 would hinder the development of the integrated energy market and would lead to a lack of competitiveness.In turn, this would increase prices on electricity markets leading to higher bills for consumers. By 2040, the ‘No Grid’ extra bill (€43 billion a year in the average case) would be largely above the expected cost of the new grid (€150 bn in total in the TYNDP 2016 plus internal reinforcements, 25% discount rate)”. A lack of investments would also affect the stability of the overall grid and could, in some regions, “threaten the continued access to electricity which also has a cost for society”. And finally, in all the scenarios the organization looked at, “without grid extension, Europe will not meet its climate targets”.

UK benefits

The UK has to be part of this, if only for parochial reasons. It will have a lot of surplus renewable power to export at times, as the renewable capacity builds up to 40, 50 and 60 GW, more than enough much of the time to meet the country’s needs (summer night-time demand is around 20 GW, peak winter demand under 60 GW).  At times though, when UK renewable availability is low and demand high, it may need some top-ups via the grid interconnectors. That said, the exports are likely to dominate, so the UK would be a net earner of substantial income, assuming the surplus can be sold at reasonable prices. That would help offset the cost of building up renewables, and the links can also clearly help with balancing. As the climate policy think tank E3G said earlier this year, the UK government must continue to work closely with the EU to develop cross-border power grid interconnections after Brexit, if it is to ensure the lowest-cost decarbonization pathway. More linking of the UK to EU power grids could help boost its energy security and flexibility as renewables grow.

Last year, interconnectors provided 6% of UK power supply, via the four existing links, making the UK a net importer of power across these links. However, as I noted in my last post, its wind potential is very large, so that pattern should change as more renewables are installed in the UK. Indeed it already has, with the UK being a net exporter to France for much of this year. The government currently plans to have at least 9 GW more grid link capacity. However, the ability to trade profitably depends on many factors — not just the availability of capacity and grid links, but also demand patterns, prices, the regulatory framework and wider policy context. The E3G paper warned that leaving the EU will “severely reduce” the UK’s ability to influence EU energy policy in line with its interests, which may make reaping the full benefits of greater inter-links harder. It could render the UK a rule-taker from the EU in some respects, as physical connector links with the EU energy system could mean having to comply with internal EU energy market rules, such as those covering energy, environment, state aid and competition. Sounds like a familiar issue…

The UK has some of the key resources needed for the emerging Europe-wide grid system (including its vast offshore wind resource) and the power engineering and marine technology expertise (including for offshore wind and undersea links). It may not like the EU single power market any more, but it may nevertheless need to get into it. At least that is the logic of the energy system. Political logic may be different, although it is perhaps worrying that, reportedly, Ireland is looking to a new 500 mile under-sea HVDC power link to France, and the EU market, by-passing the UK, with some funding from the EU.  It may also be worrying that, post-Brexit,  the UK will presumably miss out on EU funding for grid development – like the €800 m available  under the Connecting Europe programme for interconnectors. That’s supporting some of the already-planned and agreed UK links, but the UK may not be eligible for more after Brexit. So it’s all a bit uncertain and a bit of a mess, whereas the need for links is getting ever clearer and UK green power capacity is building up — offering an export potential.

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North Sea gas pioneer makes case for UK to maintain output

NORTH Sea-focused Cluff Natural Resources has said the UK must maximise the production of gas in its waters to minimise reliance on supplies from overseas amid efforts to tackle climate change.

The company’s chairman Mark Lappin noted the Committee on Climate Change had recognised oil and gas would account for the bulk of the country’s energy needs while efforts are made to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

Mr Lapping said the Committee had produced a report that was generally thorough and thoughtful and that recognised ‘net zero’ did not mean the end of hydrocarbon production.

However, Mr Lappin observed: “ The key difference between the Climate Change Committee and our own view is that instead of becoming increasingly reliant on imports from overseas we should be focussing on national production and consumption of natural gas from the United Kingdom Continental Shelf.”

He added: “A domestic supply of natural gas is good for jobs, good for tax receipts and the balance of payments, as well as being better for the environment compared with importing gas from as far afield as the Middle East and South America.”

Mr Lappin made his comments on a day the Brent crude price surged 20 per cent in early trading after drone strikes on Saudi Arabian facilities at the weekend led to the interruption of 5.7 million barrels of crude oil production per day. That is equivalent to more than five per cent of the world’s daily supply.

Analysts said the long term impact of the events in Saudi Arabia on oil prices may be limited given the uncertain outlook for the global economy. The events could lead to renewed debate about the importance of UK production nonetheless.

An Australian firm yesterday showed belief in the potential of the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS) by agreeing to buy in to acreage west of the gas-rich Morecambe Bay.

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UK energy suppliers could go bust after Saudi attacks, experts warn

An attack on Saudi oil facilities might turn the screws on struggling energy suppliers, experts have warned, a year after a winter that felled several smaller firms.

More companies might face bankruptcy if they have not bought enough energy in advance to supply their customers through what could be an unusually chilly winter.

Several energy sites in Saudi Arabia were attacked over the weekend, sending oil markets into a panic, with prices jumping as much as 20 per cent.

Energy suppliers often buy gas and electricity from the wholesale market in advance – so-called hedging – to avoid any shocks. However some do not hedge.

“Suppliers who continue to sell fixed prices without fixed wholesale costs will again be placed at risk of failure,” Ian Barker, the managing partner at Bfy Consulting, told City A.M.

Meanwhile the deadline to pay into Ofgem’s fund to finance renewable generation passed last month. All suppliers that do not source enough of their energy from renewable sources are forced to pay into the fund. They can defer payment to 31 October.

Last year the so-called renewable obligation was a good bellwether for struggling companies. In November Ofgem said that Economy Energy and Spark Energy had not met their obligations under the scheme. Both later went bust.

They were among around a dozen small suppliers to go out of business in less than two years.

“When you add in the impending deadline for renewable obligations, the cash flow situation could become very tight for a few of the smaller energy companies, who trade day to day on the commodities market,” Rik Smith at Uswitch told City A.M.

Some suppliers might be able to pass on costs to suppliers, but many customers are locked into year-long deals where they are guaranteed a per-unit price. And even those on variable tariffs are protected by an upper limit, enforced by Ofgem, which is set to be lowered from 1 October.

“With an increase in oil prices expected to lead to a commensurate rise in gas and electricity prices, this will be reflected in higher tariffs for customers going forward, while existing fixed-price fixed-duration tariffs may also be withdrawn,” said Craig Lowrey at Cornwall Insight, an energy consultancy.

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