Both nuclear and renewables needed to cut CO2

10th May 2011

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A combination of renewable energy and nuclear power will be the most cost-effective way to decarbonise electricity generation, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

In a report commissioned by the coalition government and published yesterday (9 May 2011), the CCC has concluded it is possible to almost totally decarbonise the UK’s electricity generation by 2030, with 40% of electricity coming from renewable sources, 40% from nuclear and 15% from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities.

The CCC confirms the UK’s legally-binding target to generate 15% of energy renewably by 2020, which was last week criticised as a barrier to decarbonisation, is achievable, but is cautious with regards the affordability of offshore wind generation.

The report makes clear that if the targets can be met through less expensive renewable sources, such as onshore wind, targets for offshore wind should be reduced.

It does, however, argue that the government should provide support for offshore wind and marine technologies throughout the 2020s to help the sector lower its costs.

The important role of nuclear in meeting decarbonisation targets was confirmed in the report, with the CCC describing it as the most cost-effective low-carbon technology currently available, while CCS is described as “promising, but highly uncertain”.

The committee is also reticent about the future role of biofuels, which have come under criticism for their possible impact on food security and biodiversity. The report concludes it is “inappropriate” to plan for a significant increase in the use of biofuels for road transport given “concerns over sustainability” and suggests that by 2030 60% of cars and vans should be electric. .

Lord Adair Turner, CCC chair, said: “Our analysis shows that renewable energy technologies are very promising, and have an important role to play in helping to meet the UK’s carbon budgets and 2050 target of 80% an 80% emissions reduction, alongside other low-carbon technologies such as nuclear and CCS.

“The focus now should be creating a stable investment climate for renewables, making longer-term commitments to support less mature technologies, and putting in place incentives to deliver significantly increased investment in renewable power and heat generation required over the next decade”.

Other recommendations include greater funding for renewable heat generation during 2015–20 and allowing the Green Investment Bank to borrow from its inception.

The CCC’s report has been published just two weeks before the government is due to announce whether it will accept the committee’s recommendations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60% against 1990 levels by 2030.

According to a report on the BBC's Today programme today (10 May 2011) the coalition cabinet is split over the policy on climate change with a number of departments reluctant to agree to the figures. At the same time Cameron’s administration has come under fire from Friends of the Earth for failing to deliver on its promises to be the greenest government.

“This decision is of crucial importance,” David Kennedy, chief executive of the CCC, told the Guardian. “It will be the key test of the government's commitment to the low-carbon agenda.”

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