A series of energy policy changes announced since the May election have led to concerns about increasing political risk faced by prospective investors in the UK energy system (ECCC 2015). It has also been suggested that policy needs to be ‘reset’, with less technology-specific intervention and increased resources for longer term research into new technologies (Helm 2015). This paper draws on a large body of analysis from UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and Imperial College.
The paper argues that a ‘reset’ approach is unnecessary, will create delays to investment, increase political risks, and hence costs to consumers. Simply put, the government already has the levers it needs to encourage investment in a secure and lower carbon system. Policy can be made more effective by providing investors with greater clarity and a longer term perspective, using the policy framework that is already in place. Auctions for Contracts for Difference (CfDs) have already brought forward significant reductions in the prices paid to low carbon generators. CfDs could be moved progressively to a technology neutral basis, combined with price caps to bear down further on costs.
The paper discusses the infrastructure implications of new sources of energy and notes that government will need to balance the benefits of technology neutral CfD auctions against the need to develop strategic infrastructure in a timely fashion. It also discusses the impacts of variable renewables and explains that whilst it is important for system costs to be allocated cost effectively this does not mean that variable generators should be obliged to self-balance and invest in dedicated back up.
The paper also explains that whilst greater investment in innovation would be welcome, forthcoming research shows the timescales associated with invention, demonstration and deployment of technology are long. Whilst improvements to technologies are hugely important, the emergence of entirely new technologies remains very uncertain. Support for innovation should not be premised on wishful thinking about silver bullet technologies. Many of the technologies we need to decarbonise already exist and have done so for several decades. The challenge is to drive costs down and encourage network innovation to better suit new sources of power.
Finally, the paper argues that whilst more effective carbon pricing would bring many benefits it is not a sufficient condition for significant energy system change. Regulation iv UK Energy Research Centre of emissions from existing coal fired power stations after 2025 would aid investor clarity and improve the prospects for investment in both low carbon and gas-fired generation.