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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

UK report calls for "smart gas"

A new policy brief published by  The Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London calls for "judicious" use of the UK's shale gas resources to reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

A UK "dash"for smart gas says that that an assumption of low prices and large unconventional reserves in the UK is "a risky option," and calls instead for "smart gas." That is, in the short run, the UK’s emissions can be reduced by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas-fired power, which emit less than half the carbon dioxide of coal-fired plants. But in the medium to long term, the report says, reliance on gas-fired power stations would not be consistent with the UK’s carbon targets unless it’s accompanied by the widespread introduction of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology – the application of which could transform gas into a near-zero carbon energy source.  That will require that the inherent difficulties with the technology can be overcome.

The report also says that exploration and production of gas in the UK will have to be subject to “strict environmental standards upstream (e.g. at the wellhead to prevent fugitive emissions) and downstream (e.g. to ensure carbon dioxide is captured and stored safely)” and “robust policies to minimise visual impacts and maintain strict environmental, health and safety standards in the production process.”

Smart gas, the report says, includes using its capabilities to accomodate more renewable energy into the UK grid, along with energy storage, grid interconnection and demand management.

The report sums up:

In sum, natural gas will continue to be important during the transition to a low-carbon electricity system. But if the UK is to meet carbon targets in a least-cost way, there is only a limited window for baseload generation from gas-fired power plants with unabated emissions, during which time it should replace coal. Gas can only play a more significant role beyond the 2020s if CCS technology is deployed on a commercial scale.

Future energy policy will require a coherent portfolio approach to be successful. To secure the investment needed in new power plants and infrastructure this decade it is critical that clear and consistent policy decisions about the UK’s electricity generation are made now. 

Good advice from our cousins across the pond.

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