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Drax pauses BECCS amid support unclarity

Drax pauses BECCS amid support unclarity
UK power generator Drax aims to become carbon negative by 2030, but doing so will depend on an effective negative emissions policy and investment framework for new technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at Drax Power station in North Yorkshire (photo courtesy Drax).

New research carried out by Baringa Partners LLP (Baringa) on behalf of renewable energy company Drax Group has shown that in the late 2020s, biomass generation could play an increasingly critical role in ensuring the security of the UK power supply. However, without clarity on Government support for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), the power supply is at risk in the late 2020s.

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Baringa’s research shows that by 2027, peak demand for electricity in the UK will increase by 4 GW but at the same time the imminent closure of coal, older gas generation, and nuclear power stations will remove up to 6.3GW of secure capacity from the grid.

This will mean that the dispatchable capacity which supports UK energy security will fall from 93 percent to 85 percent at times of peak demand, increasing the risk of a supply shortfall.

The system will need to rely on other forms of capacity, such as electricity interconnectors and intermittent renewable generation like wind or solar, to make up the 15 percent difference at times of peak demand, or steps may need to be taken to reduce consumption such as through voluntary demand reduction or forced turndown.

Drax’s power station in Yorkshire is currently the largest provider of dispatchable power to the UK electricity system, as well as being one of the only renewable sources of secure supply.

Its renewable biomass generation provides 2.6 GW of electricity, supplying millions of homes and businesses with dispatchable, reliable power.

Clarity on BECCS support needed

Whilst Drax welcomed the Government’s support for CCS in the recent Budget, it needs its BECCS project to gain Track 1 status, without which, Drax Power Station may become unviable and unable to contribute secure power at a time of such critical need.

Until it receives this clarity, Drax has taken the decision to pause its multi-million-pound investment program into the BECCS project at Drax Power Station.

Whilst we welcome the Government’s ambition to invest billions in carbon capture and storage, we need a firm commitment to BECCS before we commit to investing GBP 2 billion into installing this technology at Drax Power Station. Until we have this clarity, we are pausing our multi-million-pound investment program in the UK BECCS project and urge Government to use the planned announcement at the end of the month to outline their support for this. Any further delays to this project could impact the UK’s security of supply, net zero and leveling-up ambitions, and the viability of Drax Power Station, said Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax.

A cornerstone in UK decarbonization efforts

At times with the tightest margins, Drax’s biomass units provide up to 11 percent of total UK electricity generation and up to 70 percent of the renewable generation.

The loss of Drax’s and other biomass units from the UK electricity system would further reduce the country’s dispatchable capacity to 80 percent of peak demand, increasing reliance on gas and power imports, generation from intermittent renewables, and increasing costs for consumers.

In the absence of Drax-BECCS, greater decarbonization efforts are needed across other sectors of the economy. During the period of the Fifth Carbon Budget, this would mean a 25% increase in the required reduction in domestic heating emissions, a further 5% emissions in road transport, and significant extra renewable capacity is also required (graphic courtesy Baringa).

The research also found that by 2027, no established technology can feasibly replace the security of supply provided by Drax’s 2.6 GW of biomass capacity, without significantly increasing carbon emissions and relying more on imported fossil fuel from Europe.

It goes on to state that meeting decarbonization targets without the carbon removals provided by Drax’s BECCS units will be more expensive and difficult and would require accelerating decarbonization in challenging sectors such as heating, industry, and road transport.

The Baringa report concludes that it is more cost-effective and lower risk to keep existing biomass open than to build additional new build or retrofit gas CCS capacity.

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