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Personalised power cuts and pricey meat: Grey Britain in 2030

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It's full steam ahead for a low carbon Britain, the UK Committee on Climate Change says in its fourth report, published today.

The CCC is the Government's primary advisory panel on cutting CO2 and was established in the 2008 Climate Change Act. But there will be a price to pay for this utopia.

The CCC recommends a carbon tax on food, leading to higher beef and sheep prices - and "rebalancing diets" away from red meat. Meanwhile, household access to electricity will be restricted - thanks to smart grids - or taken away completely, with electricity rationed via a completely automated supply. You'll do the laundry when you're told to, not when you want to.

The CCC recommends a 46 per cent cut in CO2 emissions in the UK by 2030, relative to 1990. This will mean "radical" reforms to electricity supply and 60 per cent of the UK car fleeting driving electric cars or vans.

Hydrogen could power half the buses, the committee suggests. Biomatter and biogas should provide 20 per cent of industrial heating by 2025. And 30 per cent of households should use ground heat pumps instead of conventional heaters.

To achieve these targets, the committee takes a grimly deterministic approach: there is simply no alternative.

"The decision for society is not whether to invest, but which forms of low-carbon generation to invest in," it declares.

Power generation presents the biggest obstacle.

"Our power sector decarbonisation scenarios would require early investment in nuclear and wind generation, with diversification to CCS and possibly marine and geothermal generation depending on what demonstration projects or increased deployment reveal about these technologies," the CCC notes.

The committee acknowledges that the low carbon generation sources are much less flexible than fossil fuel power stations today - the wind can't be guaranteed to be blowing when you need it to. As the report notes:

"The need for flexibility will increase as more intermittent wind generation is on the system – wind is variable, volatile and difficult to forecast."

In addition, "nuclear and coal CCS are less economically and technically flexible than conventional plant, being both more capital-intensive (and therefore more sensitive to the load factors at which they are run) and less able to ramp their output up and down (eg they have higher minimum stable generation levels and longer on and off times)."

And there's another problem.

"Decarbonisation will also increase the level and the variability of demand, through the electrification of heat and transport. In particular, demand for electricity from the heat sector could add significantly to the need for flexibility by increasing the variability, seasonality and peakiness of electricity demand."

The answer? Several have been suggested. The UK could import more power via a European power grid, and trade electricity with "North West Europe" (presumably this means Norway - the Norwegians have hydro-generated electricity in abundance). Or the country could have more in reserve, thanks to pumped storage. Or the power companies could modulate demand.

This is presented as a consumer choice ("enabling consumers to shift non time-critical demand to non-peak times"), but really the key is taking choice away from the consumer - personalised power cuts, if you like. Or no control at all.

"An important element of a smart grid is a ‘smart meter’ which will allow display of energy usage data in real time and remote or automated control of energy usage by suppliers and consumers [our emphasis].

"Meters will allow supply to be controlled remotely," the report stresses, as if we missed the point.

As for alternatives, ground source heat pumps cost between £10,000 and £17,000 and require a borehole to be drilled. No attempt has been made to count the number of suitable properties or the capital cost - the CCC does acknowledge that discomfort is a factor, and many users don't know how to use them.

The Climate Change Committee reckons its computers models are "robust to a range of scenarios"
(click to enlarge)

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