LONDON (Reuters) - Natural gas only has a stopgap role in moving Britain to low-carbon energy until 2020 and will then be limited without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, a UK Energy Research Centre report said on Tuesday.
Britain has set an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 and gas has been seen as a bridging fuel until more clean energy comes online since it emits less carbon dioxide than coal or oil, but more than nuclear or renewable energy.
The government said last year it would shut coal plants and replace them with cleaner gas plants by 2025, but experts warn these are not being built fast enough to compensate.
It also scrapped plans to help commercialise CCS, which captures emissions and stores them underground.
"Gas can play only a modest role between now and 2020 and in the medium to long term has no role as a bridging fuel because the UK has exploited a large amount of the decarbonisation potential in the power sector," the report said.
The scope for gas use in 2050 is little more than 10 percent of 2010 levels, the report said.
"Without CCS gas must be steadily phased out over the next 35 years and almost entirely removed by 2050," it added.
Since the 1970s, the use of coal in industry, households and services has been declining and in the power sector since the 1990s. Gas now accounts for 47 percent of UK primary energy consumption and coal 16 percent.
The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) said gas has already acted as a bridge, accounting for almost all of a 20 percent drop in emissions between 1970 and 2000 and would be more of a stopgap in the future.
Any new power plants which are built to replace coal will have to operate at very low load factors in the 2030s and beyond unless they are retrofitted with CCS technology and investors are unwilling to build new capacity without strong incentives.
"The government hasn't realised that just having the capacity market isn't going to do the job...(it) is going to have to put more money on the table somehow or other to get those gas plants built," UKERC director Jim Watson said.
Britain's capacity market is a support scheme to incentivise the construction of new plants but is still not lucrative enough.
Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Alexander Smith