UK sets net-zero by 2035 target for electricity sector; analysts say it will be a tough challenge
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Combustion Industry News Editor
The UK government has announced a target of making Britain’s electricity system net-zero by 2035. The goal was announced by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, with Mr Kwarteng saying that the “only way to strengthen Britain’s energy security is zero-carbon power that is generated in this country”, referencing the current high gas prices across Europe (and perhaps also the string of domestic power retail companies that have gone out of business in recent weeks). However, Mr Kwarteng admitted that in practice gas firing with carbon capture and storage would be required to meet the target, meaning there will still be some possible security of supply issues, even if the UK was to meet its goal. While environmental groups welcomed the announcement, energy analysts cast doubt on whether it would be achievable within 14 years, with nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen firing all having long leads times and in the latter two cases, technological maturation to come. As the Financial Times notes, all of the UK’s current nuclear power plants are due to be retired by 2035, with only the 3.2GW Hinkley Point C plant under construction, and decisions on new nuclear plants would have to come very soon for them to be operational by 2035. Additional renewables are expected to come online, but the issue at the heart of net-zero by 2035 will be planning to manage intermittency, hence the focus on ‘baseload’ solutions. Similar conundrums are currently being faced by the USA, which has the same net-zero by 2035 target for its electricity sector. One further possible help not mentioned by Mr Kwarteng is improving energy efficiency, and increased importation of electricity may be another option, though increasing demand from more widespread electrification will also be a factor.