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Labour’s 65% renewables by 2030 plan

By Dave Elliott

Labour’s new Environment and Energy policy aims to get 65% of UK electricity from renewables by 2030 and pioneer a ‘democratic, community-led system of energy supply’. That is well ahead of what might happen under current plans, and includes 47GW of offshore wind, 21GW of onshore wind (up from around 5GW and 10GW at present, respectively) and 25GW of PV solar (up from 12GW now), but is presented as being possible since it would involve new forms of decentralised project development, alongside more conventional ‘top down’ corporate projects, suitably accelerated.

Outlining the plan, Jeremey Corbyn says that ‘over the course of the next parliament, we will use public investment and legislation to promote the creation of over 200 local energy companies, giving towns, cities and localities the powers they need to drive a clean, locally accountable energy system with public, not-for-profit companies. At the heart of this policy will be a new generation of community energy co-operatives. We will create 1,000 of these co-operatives with the support of a network of regional development banks, and legislate to give them the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve’. And he added ‘we will create a National Home Insulation programme to insulate at least 4m homes to energy efficiency standard B or C’.

This would all create jobs: As part of our transition to a low-carbon economy, we estimate that we will create 316,000 jobs in wind, solar and wave power. We will use a £500bn national investment programme, with a National Investment Bank and a network of regional development banks, to ensure that these jobs and opportunities are created in places where they are most needed – in coastal towns and areas with high unemployment’.

Corbyn also said DECC would be reinstated and fracking blocked. The plan also calls for the ‘expensive and polluting’ capacity market to be replaced by a new clean power mechanism to ensure adequate storage and clean backup, and it says it might be possible to aim later for 85% renewables ‘as technology improves and diffuses’.

The new plan is based on Poyry’s ‘Very High Renewables’ scenario produced for the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in 2011, and also uses CCC data for costs – which in total are put at near £165bn, based on a low CCC estimate. The plan in full.

Is it credible?  The 65% by 2030 target is ‘ambitious but feasible,’ according to Andreas Gandolfo, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. He said the UK was currently on track to reach a 50% share of electricity from wind and solar in 2030, which would require about $75 bn of investment. But other technologies might be needed to get to 65%.

Carbon Brief also looked at the plan. They noted that the Poyry scenario had 158GW of total generation in place by 2030, with about 100GW of renewables, supplying about 444TWh pa (65% of the total), around 40GW of fossil (including balancing plant and plant with CCS) and just over 10GW of nuclear. Corbyn doesn’t mention nuclear, or CCS, but of course they are not part of the 65% renewable plan. To see what the implications were, Carbon Brief noted that the CCC offered a series of possible 2030 mixes, including one with no new nuclear and one with no CCS. These delivered around 380TWh in 2030, a bit short of the 444TWh delivered by renewables in Poyry’s scenario, but in Corbyn’s variant there are 107GW of renewables, maybe enough extra to take up the slack, without nuclear, depending on the demand reduction achieved. 

So it looks credible, just about. But not to some – the GMB union, these day strongly pro nuclear, opposed it.

This might seem a bit shortsighted. Hinkley may be going ahead but it still faces an uncertain economic future, as does the the rest of the nuclear programme, whereas renewables are accelerating ahead in most places, even in the UK, despite the government cuts. If it’s jobs the GMB is after, that’s surely a better bet? Especially since, under the Corbyn programme, they would be accelerated even more, with more new projects also emerging from his proposed much expanded energy research programme.

Corbyn has pledged to create a new £300m US-style energy research agency to help combat climate change, if Labour is elected. The ‘Advanced Research Agency’ would attract the ‘best minds from the UK and across the world’. He says ‘it is crucial for both energy security and tackling climate change that we give the most serious investment and incentives to high-tech R&D. My pledge to establish a dedicated Advanced Research Agency will help tackle the global social challenge of climate change and make fundamental breakthroughs in energy science. It will put the UK in the best possible place to take advantage of the rapidly growing global renewable energy market, forecast to reach $630 billion worldwide by 2030. It would be similar to the US’s ARPA-E set up in 2009.

Corbyn described the cuts to renewable subsidies since the Conservatives came to power in 2015 as ‘nonsensical’ and a ‘damaging backwards step in our efforts to decarbonise our energy production’. Although there is no nuclear in his 65%-from-renewables by 2030 plan, it may of course be part of the 35% left over. However, Corbyn had previously come out strongly against new nuclear, saying that it would mean ‘the continued production of dangerous nuclear waste and an increased risk from radioactive accidents and nuclear proliferation’. That position may no longer hold. Certainly Labour’s energy shadow spokesman has come out in favour of nuclear as part of the UK energy mix. Then again, if the UK is really able to aim for 85% renewables longer-term, as Corbyn’s plan suggests, nuclear will have a diminishing role. Most of the remaining 15% would presumably be taken up by gas-fired, and other, balancing plants: nuclear is not much use for balancing.

In the next post I will look at two scenarios for the UK which are explicitly non-nuclear, as was the RSPB scenario I examined in my previous post.  These day it’s getting harder to find explicitly pro-nuclear UK scenarios even from the political right: certainly, the government apart, just about everyone seemed to be against Hinkley. The Economist said ‘Britain should cancel its nuclear white elephant and spend the billions on making renewables work’.

Even with, for good or ill, Hinkley now agreed, the debate over what happens next still continues. Yet more nuclear? Including a Chinese plant at Bardwell?  Or get stuck into renewables?  In its contribution to the debate, the Energy Institute at UCL has come down clearly on the non-nuclear side: Hinkley will be obsolete by the time it’s built.

That’s beginning to be a common view. As a Daily Telegraph columnist put it: ‘The £18bn Hinkley Point nuclear plant will be overtaken by a host of cheaper technologies before it is even opened in the late 2020s, and risks degenerating into an epic white elephant as we pay fat subsidies into the second half of the 21st Century’.

By contrast, renewables are looking like a much better bet for the future, with the Telegraph talking in terms of 50% by 2030, based on Barclays Research data: It’s still a stretch, but Corbyn’s plan may yet win out – assuming he does!

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