Gas-fired Power Stations - Commons Urgent Question

– in the House of Lords am 2:15 pm ar 14 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 13 March.

“The second consultation of the review of electricity market arrangements was launched yesterday. It sets out the choices that we need to make to deliver a fully decarbonised electricity system by 2035. Since 2010, the Government have reduced emissions from power by 65% and thus made the UK the first major economy in the world to halve emissions overall. We have built record volumes of renewables, from less than 7% of electricity supply in 2010 to nearly 50% today, allowing us to remove coal altogether by October this year.

Our success in growing renewables is the reason we need flexible back-up for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Our main source of flexible power today is unabated gas. More than half of our 15 gigawatts of combined-cycle gas turbines could be retired by 2035. Meanwhile, electricity demand is set to increase as heat, transport and industry are electrified. We must ensure that we have sufficient sources of flexibility in place to guarantee security of supply. We need up to 55 gigawatts of short-duration flexibility and between 30 and 50 gigawatts of long-duration flexibility. Our aim is for as much of that capacity as possible to be low carbon.

While low-carbon technologies scale up, we will extend the life of our existing gas assets, but a limited amount of new-build gas capacity will also be required in the short term to replace expiring plants as it is the only mature technology capable of providing sustained flexible capacity. We remain committed to delivering a fully decarbonised electricity supply by 2035, subject to security of supply, and we expect most new gas capacity to be built net-zero ready. The Government have committed £20 billion to carbon capture, usage and storage, and are developing comprehensive support for hydrogen. In the future, unabated gas plants will run for only a limited number of hours a year, so emissions will be entirely in line with our legally binding carbon budgets”.

Photo of Baroness Blake of Leeds Baroness Blake of Leeds Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero), Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade) 2:19, 14 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is fair to say that there has been some scratching of heads as to why exactly this announcement was deemed necessary. There is general agreement that gas-fired power stations will be needed during the transition to net zero. However, there is disquiet at the emphasis on this aspect of policy rather than on alternative approaches such as ramping up investment in renewables.

If new-build plants are needed, it is essential that they are capable of converting to hydrogen or are connected to functioning carbon capture and storage. May I seek assurance from the Minister that this is indeed the Government’s view? Can he also inform us what estimate has been made of how many of these new gas plants will be needed, when they will come on stream and how long reliance on them is expected to last?

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

My Lords, this announcement comes out of the blue and fuels doubts that this Government are on track to meet their own target of fully decarbonising power generation by 2035. So far, instead of progress we have seen repeated failures to prepare; the offshore wind auction collapse; an effective ban on onshore wind; nuclear power projects delayed; slow or no progress on battery storage, hydro-generation and tidal projects; and a lack of investment in overall grid capacity. I ask the Minister to confirm that the Government are still committed to fully decarbonising power generation by 2035 and that these will be the last ever carbon-based power generation plants to be built in the UK.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Earl for their questions, especially the noble Baroness, although I am slightly perplexed. If she thinks that this announcement was unnecessary, why did the Labour Party ask for it to be repeated in this House today, given that it makes the same point? However, essentially, I accept the point that the noble Baroness has made. We think that this capacity is necessary; it is all about security of supply. The estimate is that in 2035, it might account for only 1% to 2% of all of the capacity that might be required. We are looking forward a decade, with uncertain projections of what the demand will be, how much renewable capacity will be available and even what the weather conditions will be like that far ahead. So, this is sensible contingency planning.

On the questions from the noble Earl, we very much hope and expect that these will be hydrogen ready or capable of having CCUS fitted. Indeed, some gas plants are already taking part in the CCUS cluster sequencing process. This announcement is entirely compatible with our net-zero obligations. Indeed, this is net zero: there will be some emissions but those can be abated, eliminated or captured, or the power stations can run on hydrogen.

We are very proud of our record. We have one of the fastest rates of decarbonisation in the G20, and we announced before Christmas that we have reduced our emissions by 50%. We have the five biggest wind turbine farms in Europe, and that capacity continues to be rolled out. This is sensible contingency planning to make sure that the lights stay on at those times when, as we all know happen, the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I welcome this announcement because it seems to have a strong element of realism and honesty in this whole advance towards net zero, which I personally welcome.

If the aim is to ensure that when we get to net zero, although there will be fossil fuel burning, carbon is captured from that—indeed, there will be gas burning, as there is now, as part of our existing electricity generation —does this not have to go hand in hand with dynamic development of cheaper, simpler and more efficient carbon capture and storage systems, which, if applied to gas burning, will enable us to say, “Net zero is roughly there”? That seems to be the key question, and I hope my noble friend will elaborate on it.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I thank my noble friend for his question. He is, of course, absolutely right, and his extensive knowledge of the power and energy system, based on his previous career, is well respected in this House. I can tell him that we are rolling out CCUS at pace. We have allocated £20 billion for support for CCUS clusters. We are progressing our two initial track 1 clusters: HyNet and the East Coast Cluster. We are in final negotiations with the transport storage systems and the emitter projects, some of which are gas power stations, within those cluster projects.

We again intend to be European and world leaders in CCUS. We have massive storage potential in the seas surrounding us; they have powered this country for many years and will help us to store emissions in the future as well. It is something that could even become a net revenue earner for the UK. We are indeed fully committed to that.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee yesterday released a timely report, which I am sure the Minister is aware of, on long-duration energy storage. It stresses the importance of that, rather than relying on expensive gas and the deeply uncertain technology of carbon capture and storage. The report points out that the Government have said that they plan to have enough storage to balance the system and that the cap and floor mechanism has worked very well with interconnectors to deliver that. A key point of the report is that the Government have not set a minimum target for long-duration energy storage. Will the Government now set a target for this clearly preferable alternative for long-duration storage?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

My Lords, the essential misunderstanding of the energy system from the noble Baroness continues apace. The answer to the noble Baroness’s question is that we need both. We need long-duration energy storage, long-term battery storage, pumped storage and long-term hydrogen energy storage—all of which we are progressing. We have the most ambitious plans in Europe in all those areas. However, all independent forecasters who have looked at this, including the Climate Change Committee, agree that, in addition to that, we may need gas-fired generation, of relatively short duration and maybe only 1% or 2%—obviously, the Greens would prefer the lights to go out in their yurts before the rest of us progress in an advanced industrial society. This is essential contingency planning, and we make no excuses whatever for saying that the energy security of the UK is our priority. We can do that in a net-zero scenario, and we will progress that.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I have a question about baseload capacity. Under the present Government, the number of larger generators on the grid has fallen quite considerably. Due to that, we will obviously need gas-fired power stations in the short term. However, there is a problem there, because the Minister is talking about short-term capacity. Can he say whether those investing in gas power stations would see a return on investment? The reason why gas-fired power stations have failed to be built over the last 10 years is that, because of the CfD, it has been almost impossible to make the financial case for building those power stations.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

The noble Lord is right in that the number of larger generators on the system is falling, with the elimination later this year of coal generation —we will have phased it out completely. He is right, again, that the gas generators that we are talking about—which will be some refurbished existing plants, but also a few new ones—will be able to take part in the capacity market auctions. These are essentially auctions for back-up capacity that may be required in certain scenarios.

Photo of Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I wonder if my noble friend the Minister can enlarge slightly on the question posed to him by the noble Baroness on the Labour Front Bench about hydrogen adaptation. I very much welcome the Statement; it seems to me important to tackle this issue in the proportionate, affordable and measured way, rather than in a millenarian spirit. Can my noble friend the Minister outline a little bit of what the Government’s hydrogen strategy is as part of that solution?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I thank my noble friend for the question; I am very happy to do that. We are progressing a very advanced hydrogen strategy, which I will try to summarise in a few words. We let the first 11 electrolytic hydrogen contracts before Christmas, offering £2.1 billion-worth of long-term support for the development of electrolytic hydrogen. We have a few blue hydrogen projects that are currently taking part in the CCUS negotiations. We are currently putting in place business models for a transportation and storage system and hope to progress that later this year, as well as the first couple of storage projects. We have a very ambitious hydrogen project; we think that hydrogen has a very important role to play in the net-zero scenario, both in terms of long-term energy storage and in decarbonising some elements of industry that are particularly hard to decarbonise. We should of course electrify where we can, but we will still need hydrogen power to generate power in some of those sectors.