Power sector in 2030
The UK has seen the share of electricity generation provided by renewable sources increase dramatically in recent years, reaching an all-time high of 43% in 2020. This would need to roughly double to 84% in 2030 to ensure it is aligned with the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. With excellent wind resources, particularly offshore, and a recent government commitment to reach 40 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, the UK is set to achieve a high degree of renewable energy penetration.
A policy U-turn in early 2020 saw onshore wind and solar PV once again permitted to participate in renewable energy auctions from 2021, a welcome boost to these renewable energy sources. Government projections under current policies, which do not yet include the effect of the announced target of 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, or the reversal on onshore wind and solar PV, show renewable energy generation reaching 56% in 2030. The 1.5°C compatible pathways analysed in this study demonstrate it is possible for the UK to reach 100% renewable energy penetration in the power sector by 2050.
Towards a fully decarbonised power sector
The UK’s strong performance to date in decarbonising its power sector, resulting in decreasing emissions intensity to roughly 180 gCO₂/kWh in 202015, compared to 691 gCO₂/kWh in 1990, will need to continue at pace if it is to achieve a 1.5°C compatible target of zero emissions by 2040.
With coal almost phased out already, efforts must be focused on rapidly reducing gas consumption to zero in the coming years. Under planned policies, the share of natural gas supply in the power sector only declines to 9% by 2040, demonstrating that this is an area that needs urgent action from the UK government.
Pathways with faster reductions of unabated fossil fuel use and faster uptake of renewables with shares within the ranges above 80% by 2030 are able to achieve 1.5°C compatibility without the use of negative emissions technologies, such as BECCS.
Pathways with a slower transition from fossils to renewables typically see carbon removal technologies deployed at scale between 2040 and 2050. Given the uncertainty around the eventual commercial viability of these technologies, the safest option is to achieve zero emissions in the power sector within the next decade by rapidly scaling up generation from renewable energy technologies.