A research study from Oxford University has led to the authors’ recommendation that no new fossil fuel power plants are built globally from next year.

The only proviso, according to the academics involved, is if carbon capture and storage technology is adopted in a more widespread fashion.

The study published in the Applied Energy Journal suggests that there is evidence that renewable energies are coming down fast enough in costs to guarantee power infrastructure will eventually sustain societies without fossil fuel plants.
Drax power plant
The authors professed themselves to be surprised at the immediacy of the need to dispense with conventional power.

“I was surprised,” said economist Cameron Hepburn, co-author of a peer-reviewed paper on the findings to be published in the journal.

“I think the general sense is that this is a problem, but not that it would have to be addressed next year,” he said.

The new study also casts doubt on the chances of meeting the goals of the international climate change accord nearly 200 governments struck in Paris in December.

The Paris agreement aims to stop global temperatures rising more than 2C from pre-industrial times.

But the Oxford paper says that to have a 50 per cent chance of meeting the 2C target, there can be no new fossil fuel electricity generation plants built “from 2017 at the latest”, unless they are fitted with expensive carbon-capturing technology.

This is because such plants have long lifetimes and play a significant role in driving global warming.

While new power plants burning coal — the dirtiest fossil fuel — are becoming less common in the EU and the US, hundreds are still planned in Asia and other parts of the world.

The new plants could be written off before they reach the end of their economically useful life; huge investments could be made in technology that captures carbon and stores it underground, or the 2C goal could be abandoned.

“All three options involve very significant economic costs and risks,” the researchers say.

Governments have committed $24bn to carbon capture and storage projects over the past 15 years, but the technology is so expensive that it has failed to be widely adopted.

The Oxford study authors said there was a lot of evidence that the cost of clean energy alternatives such as solar and wind farms were coming down fast as they were deployed at greater scale.