Martin Lewis urges Rishi Sunak to 'rethink' energy levy
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For most countries, nuclear power currently provides the “cheapest way” to replace natural gas as a backup for when solar and wind power are unavailable, according to experts. The burning of natural gas and other fossil fuels releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, raising the average global temperature and shifting weather patterns. To minimise catastrophic climate impacts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that humanity needs to cap the average global temperature increase at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
As part of this, the panel said that carbon emissions from global energy systems would need to be brought down to zero by the middle of the century.
To this end, Mr Johnson and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced last October that the UK was committed to decarbonising its electricity system by 2035.
The transition away from fossil fuels, they said, would be aided by home-grown green technologies including offshore wind farms and nuclear power facilities.
Mr Kwarteng added: “Recent volatile gas prices have also demonstrated how the way to strengthen Britain’s energy security, ensure greater energy independence and protect household energy budgets in the long-term is through clean power that is generated in this country for the people of this country.”
However, as the energy crisis continues, parts of Mr Johnson’s green energy plans have come under fire from some members of the Conservative Party.
Lord David Frost and 30 other MPs have urged the Prime Minister to lift his ban on fracking, the controversial procedure in which gas and oil is released from shale through the injection of a high-pressure water mixture that fractures the rock.
According to Lord Frost, lifting the moratorium on fracking has the potential to alleviate the present burden on consumers by allowing the UK to reduce its reliance on fuel from Europe as demand and prices continue to soar — while also removing the carbon costs of such imports.
Nuclear power has come under fire in recent years, as it is expensive – and comes with the dangers of working with hazardous materials.
However, it may provide a lifeline out of the current crisis, a team of experts have claimed in a press release titled: “‘Nuclear power may be the key to least-cost, zero-emission electricity systems”.
Lead author and climate researcher Lei Duan of California’s Carnegie Institution for Science said: “Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are great for reducing carbon emissions.”
In fact, previous studies have indicated that up to some 80 percent of carbon emissions could be eliminated by building more wind and solar energy farms.
However, Mr Duan explained, their natural variability leaves gaps in the power supply — such as when the Sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing — which presently need to be filled by alternative and more consistent energy sources.
At present, natural gas is a major contender for plugging those holes, but the carbon released via the burning of fossil fuels is hardly compatible with a zero emissions future.
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Paper co-author and Carnegie atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira added: “To nail down that last 10 or 20 percent of decarbonisation, we need to have more tools in our toolbox, and not just wind and solar.”
In their study, the researchers examined the wind and solar power resources of 42 different countries — including the UK, US and China — to assess the benefits of strategically bringing in nuclear energy as an alternative and low-cost backup energy source to replace natural gas.
Specifically, the team calculated the cheapest route to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions based on today’s energy costs.
They concluded that countries like Brazil that have poorer wind resources could accelerate their transition away from carbon through the early adoption of nuclear power.
Those like the US that enjoy more favourable climatic and geographical conditions for wind farms, in contrast, could afford to hold back on investment in nuclear power until it was required to overcome the final hurdles of decarbonisation.
However, Dr Duan said, most nations will find that nuclear energy has “a lot of potential value” in the move to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining a reliable power supply.
Prof Caldeira added: “At today’s price, nuclear is the cheapest way to eliminate all electricity-system carbon emissions nearly everywhere.”
However, he noted, developments in the arena of low-cost energy storage and transmission technologies in the future could remove the need for a backup power source and render solar and wind power alone the most economical path to zero emission energy systems.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Energy.
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