Study warns of worsening UK electricity supply gap

26 January 2016

The UK government's policy to close all coal-fired power plants by 2025, combined with the retirement of the majority of the country's ageing nuclear fleet and growing electricity demand, will leave the UK facing a 40-55% electricity supply gap, according to a new report published today by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The report's authors make three recommendations. Firstly, that the UK's National Infrastructure Commission should assess the necessary incentives for industry and the public "to reduce the demand on the electricity system through engineering efficiencies into processes and equipment, awareness raising and advocacy".

Secondly, that the commission "must urgently implement changes necessary across the industry and supply chain" to deliver security of electricity supply with no coal-fired generation. These include investment in research and development activities for renewables, energy storage, combined heat and power and innovation in power station design and build.

"Under current policy, it is almost impossible for UK electricity demand to be met by 2025."

Jenifer Baxter

Finally, the government and industry should "review the capacity in the supply chains to deliver the construction of the 'most likely' new power infrastructure". This includes identifying timeframes and milestones for conventional and unconventional power generation build - fossil fuel, nuclear, energy storage, combined heat and power and off-grid options - along with growth in skills and knowledge within the UK to meet the potential increase in demand.

According to the report, titled Engineering the UK Electricity Gap, plans to build combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants to cover the shortfall are unrealistic, "as the UK would need to build about 30 new CCGT plants in less than 10 years".

"The UK has built just four CCGTs in the last 10 years, closed one and eight other power stations. In addition, in 2005, 20 nuclear sites were listed for decommissioning, leaving a significant gap to be filled,” the Institution said in a statement to accompany its release of the report.

The UK "has neither the resources nor enough people with the right skills" to build this many power plants in time, it said. "It is already too late for any other nuclear reactors to be planned and built by the coal 'shut-off' target of 2025, other than Hinkley Point C."

The first new nuclear power station built in the UK in almost 20 years, EDF Energy's Hinkley Point C will comprise two EPR reactors, with first operation scheduled for 2025. Together, the two reactors will provide about 7% of the UK's electricity. Under a deal agreed during the state visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping to the UK in October, China General Nuclear will invest £6 billion ($9 billion) in the project.

The report also says a greater reliance on interconnectors to import electricity from Europe and Scandinavia is likely to lead to higher electricity costs and less energy security.

Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution, and lead author of the report said:

"The UK is facing an electricity supply crisis. As the UK population rises and with the greater use of electricity use in transport and heating it looks almost certain that electricity demand is going to rise. However with little or no focus on reducing electricity demand, the retirement of the majority of the country's ageing nuclear fleet, recent proposals to phase out coal-fired power by 2025 and the cut in renewable energy subsidies, the UK is on course to produce even less electricity than it does at the moment."

She added: "Currently there are insufficient incentives for companies to invest in any sort of electricity infrastructure or innovation and worryingly even the government's own energy calculator does not allow for the scenarios that new energy policy points towards. Under current policy, it is almost impossible for UK electricity demand to be met by 2025."

The government needs to take urgent action, she said, on new electricity infrastructure that includes fossil fuel plants, nuclear power, energy storage and combined heat and power.

"With CCS [carbon capture and storage] now out of the picture, new low carbon innovations must be supported over the course of the next 10 years," she said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News