NAO Whitewash The Govt’s Decarbonisation Strategy


By Paul Homewood

h/t Nicholas Lewis

The NAO have just published a report into decarbonising the power sector.

It should have been the ideal opportunity to highlight the enormous risks and the massive costs involved, as well as to question some of the assumptions made by government.

Sadly however, the NAO have done none of this. Instead they have broadly accepted government strategy and costings, whilst waffling on about “delivery”:

The NAO’s remit is quite clear:

Yet in this report they have done none of this.

But let’s start with a few pertinent facts they have highlighted:

These numbers alone show both the enormity of the task and the tiny amount of emissions it will actually save – 54 million tonnes is just 0.1% of global emissions. Should not fact alone force the NAO to question the “value for money”.

The increase in demand is also worth noting. They also make the remarkable admission:

And yet they have not challenged the government strategy to plough ahead regardless!

And their recommendations include maintaining some gas generation. Naively though they think that demand-side flexibility will make up for the loss of proper generation:

Diving into the specifics,  they simply repeat the official ambitions but fail to challenge them:

For instance, why have they not queried why we will waste billions on solar panels, which effectively shut down in mid winter when the power is most needed? For an organisation that is supposed to be concerned about value for money, this really is a shocking omission. Imagine what they would say if the government built new offices without any heating, which could therefore not be used in winter?

And nowhere in the report is there are any appraisal of how the grid will be able to meet demand of up to 80GW, based on such a high proportion of intermittent renewable energy. They do mention the need for 30GW of flexible low-carbon generation, such as hydrogen and CCS, but even this will leave the grid woefully short.

And, of course, there are huge issues to be faced with this scenario.

As far as CCS is concerned, apart from the fact that the technology is not proven at scale, there are no CCGT stations, with the exception of maybe a couple, that are CCS ready – that is where a Carbon Capture unit could be simply plugged in. Given the age of most of the CCGT fleet, it will not be economical to convert the rest for carbon capture, meaning that we would need to build a new fleet from scratch. Nor do the NAO recognise the fact that CCS adds to the running costs of CCGTs and is wasteful of energy – far from enhancing the UK’s energy security, CCS will leave us even more dependent on imported gas.

As for hydrogen, there is no way that a national hydrogen network will be available in the 2030s, and such a thing remains unlikely thereafter. Where then will these new hydrogen burning power stations get their hydrogen from?

Such a large scale rollout of either hydrogen or CCS must of course put into question the whole renewable strategy. Why bother with wind and solar when you have all that dispatchable capacity sat idling?

Instead of asking these awkward questions, the report waffles on about demand flexibility again:

The report does briefly mention the necessary upgrading of the grid, the cost of which is not included in the £400 billion mentioned above. But it makes no attempt to put a cost on it, or for that matter the government for its failure to do so.

Given that the NAO’s remit is to ensure value for money, surely they should have demanded that the government produce a fully costed and audited budget for decarbonising the power sector, without which the whole strategy cannot properly be assessed.

A thorough and truly independent report by the NAO would surely have called into question the whole decarbonisation strategy, as being wasteful and poor value for money, poorly thought through, impractical and endangering the UK’s energy security.