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Filling the energy gap in Britain -- Renewables and savings can do it

The UK does not need new coal or gas-fired power stations to keep the country's lights on -- as long as the government gets serious about renewables and energy efficiency. Meeting Britain's indicative EU renewables targets for 2020, combined with achieving goals for energy efficiency, would be enough to plug the country's energy gap without resorting to more polluting forms of electricity generation, concludes a report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace.

Fifteen percent of the UK's energy must come from renewables if the country is to provide its share of Europe's new 20% renewable energy target for 2020. The electricity sector is expected to shoulder the brunt of this target, with renewables having to supply some 35% of electricity, according to the government. This is more than double current targets.

Against this background of increased renewables penetration, with most of it wind, WWF and Greenpeace commissioned independent energy consultancy Pöyry to study the implications for new conventional plant of a growing reliance on variable generation that cannot always be dispatched as scheduled. Pöyry considered six scenarios for meeting the 2020 renewable energy commitments and for future electricity demand.

In all six scenarios it found new coal or gas capacity will not be needed until after 2020, even taking into account the very few days when there would be little or no wind. Only one scenario showed a dip below the 20% margin of spare capacity, and this was short-lived. The limited periods of shortfalls in capacity due to a larger proportion of variable renewables on the system are best covered by peaking plant or "demand-side management" -- a technique for reducing demand at key times, the report finds.

Brown's promise

A strong drive for renewables and energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost energy security, the report states. It calls for a regulatory framework to encourage investment in renewable electricity and to reduce demand over the longer term.

Environmental campaigners are currently fighting plans by major fossil fuel utility E.ON for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. Keith Allott of WWF-UK, says: "This report should be good news for the government. If it gets real on its targets on renewables and energy efficiency then we can keep the lights on, reduce our reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports and dramatically cut our carbon emissions. But a green light to Kingsnorth would at a stroke undermine the government's other policies on climate change and Gordon Brown's promise of a clean energy revolution."

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