Polar bears probably aren’t big fans of gas power in the UK.
The UK will significantly weaken its efforts to tackle climate change if the EU continues on its current trajectory for tackling emissions - according to the government's gas strategy.
The plan, to be adopted in the 2014 review of the carbon budgets, would allow 37GW of new gas power by 2030, around 35-40 new plants.
The proposals claim the reduction would be consistent with an 'emissions intensity' target of 200g/kwh for the UK power sector.
That target would be four times higher than that recommended by the government's climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
Even if the EU improves its trajectory the plan proposes a central scenario which would involve building 26GW of new plants in a scenario the government suggests is compatible with an intensity of 100g/kwh, double the recommended level.
The document says that if the government were to stick to the 50g/kwh limit the CCC says is necessary to meet our climate targets it would be able to build 19GW of new plants, still a significant amount.
But the claim is based on an assumption that the new plants would run just 15% of the time (see table 2B, page 22) and appears to assume the closure and re-building of 2/3 of our current gas capacity
The scenario appears to be based on DECC’s energy and emissions projections which outline changes to capacity, and a DECC analysis provided to Energydesk of how much plants could run at different capacity levels.
Yet in the same projections only last year DECC claimed the UK only needed 7.5GW of new gas by 2030, with 2/3 of the current fleet remaining open.
That scenario appears to back by Poyry and others which provided significantly lower estimates of new gas build.
Change in stance?
The gas strategy document claims that the government is 'reiterating' its approach that "decarbonisation trajectories will continue to stay in step with other EU countries throughout the 2020s."
It lays out three different options including one which reaches an emissions intensity of 200g/kwh by 2030.
This option is "based on a trajectory to around 200g CO2/kWh in 2030, which is taken as a proxy for a scenario in which the 4th Carbon Budget is revised upwards following the 2014 review in line with a continuation of the EU ETS’s current trajectory.
It goes on to say "The Government will review progress towards the EU emissions goal in early 2014. If at that point our domestic commitments place us on a different emissions trajectory than the EU ETS trajectory agreed by the EU, we will, as appropriate and consistent with the legal requirements of the Climate Change Act, revise up our budget to align it with the actual EU trajectory."
The section suggests that decarbonisation efforts in the 2020's will be significantly downgraded if the EU fails to increase its own level of ambition.
Analysts agree that some new gas capacity is needed especially to replace coal, which is more polluting than gas and much of which is due to be retired by 2015.
This may take the form of un-abated gas, or combined heat and power which has a lower emissions intensity.
Independent experts, including the National Grid, have suggested the UK may need 3-4 new plants by 2020 to maintain system security. But beyond 2020 the government's original analysis would suggest very little extra capacity was needed.
This reflects an analysis by Poyry in 2011 for the Committee on Climate Change which found that in a high renewables scenario just 2.1GW of new gas capacity was needed - beyond what was already under construction.
That analysis depends on significant use of interconnectors and demand management – which the government is consulting on as part of the energy bill.
Poyry’s analysis is similar to the projections in the National Grid's 'accelerated growth' scenario.
Other, higher carbon, scenarios produced by the Grid envisage more gas build, but only those that assume policy failure on clean energy expect more than 15GW of new capacity.
Instead DECCs new analysis appears to depend on a decision to curtail the life of the UK's gas plants far more abruptly.
This would mean new plants being built in order to be run just 15% of the time and will lay ministers open to accusations of creating a 'carbon lock-in'.
It could be particularly controversial as the new plants will be constructed with the support of a tax payer subsidy in the form of capacity payments.
The entire debate, however, may be academic if the government chooses a scenario based on ignoring its current climate ambition entirely.
Jim Pickard has updated his FT blog on this subject with some response from DECC. Apparently their 2011 numbers were not 'robust', hence the move from 7.5GW of new build to 26GW.
That is some margin of error, it also doesn't really explain why DECC suddenly finds they need so much more gas than some other experts believe.