Gulf Today

Britain needs gas backup for power plants


It is a hard decision that Britain has to make as many of its power plants get old. It either has to refurbish them with new technology or build new ones. If it does not, there is the real prospect that the lights would go off.

Britain needs power plants to supply 5 giga-watts (GW), and it wants to do it by using gas as a backup fossil fuel source even as it presses into service the renewable sources like nuclear and wind power. Without gas as backup, there could be blackouts in Britain. At the same time, Britain wants to achieve its net-zero goal of carbon emissions by 2050. So, it is resorting to hybrid power plants where gas is the backup source, and its carbon emissions impact will be controlled by technologi­es ensuring carbon captivity.

Experts are not, however, convinced by the gas option that Britain is looking at. In 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and the West had imposed a ban on Russian gas supply, the prices of gas went up and it affected the electricit­y bills of common consumers in the country. The spike in power bills because of the disruption in Russian gas supplies had contribute­d hugely the cost of living crisis of Britons even as the country was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic attack.

The fear is that Britain were to build new, or upgrade existing, power plants with gas as a backup fuel, the high price casts a long shadow on the electricit­y market. The solution that is being offered is the zonal market where the price of power would vary in each region, and it would not be at the peak level through the country.

Britain’s Energy Minister Claire Coutinho stated the hard choice facing the country quite bluntly. She said, “Without gas backing up renewables, we face the genuine prospect of blackouts…we will not let ourselves be put in that position.” Dr. Dough Parr, policy director of Greenpeace in the United Kingdom expresses his misgivings about the government’s plan. He said, “The government’s cunning plan to boost to meet energy security and meet our climate goals is to make Britain more dependent on the very fossil fuel that sent our bills rocketing and the planet’s temperatur­e soaring.”

What Coutinho has stated is the harsh reality. The renewables would not be able to ensure uninterrup­ted power supply across the country with a backup from the fossil fuel, the tried and tested resource. What is required and what the British government promises to do is to incorporat­e technologi­es to contain carbon emissions. It also means that there is a pressing need to find more efficient ways of getting reliable power supply from renewables alone.

The fact is the dependence on fossil fuels needs to be reduced to control carbon emission and to contain the rise in temperatur­e to the 1.5 Degrees Celsius increase to the 2005 level.

The ideal solution would of course be to switch completely over to the renewables, and to phase out fossil fuels. Realistica­lly speaking, this looks a utopian ideal as of now. That is why, there is need to find a compromise which would be to increase the share of renewable sources of power and proportion­ately reduce the share of fossil fuels.

And if ways are found to make the renewable energy as feasible and reliable source of energy, then the transition to the greening of the energy system would be smooth. There is progress to be made in the technologi­es involving the renewables, and it should happen sooner than later. But the transition period is one of a mix of fossil fuels and renewables.

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