Future energy system needs nuclear, says UK academy

23 October 2015

A fundamental restructuring of the whole energy system is needed if the UK is to meet the so-called energy 'trilemma' of affordability, security and decarbonization, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE). It is essential that nuclear remains part of that system, it says.

The RAE has today published its study - entitled A Critical Time for UK Energy Policy - which details the actions needed now to create a secure and affordable low-carbon energy system for 2030 and beyond. The study - undertaken at the request of the prime minister's Council for Science and Technology - looks at the future evolution of the UK's energy system in the short to medium term under a number of scenarios.

"As a secure, baseload source of low-carbon electricity, nuclear power is essential."

Royal Academy of Engineering

The Academy stresses "time is rapidly running out to make the crucial planning decisions and secure investment" to ensure the UK has an energy system to meet its emissions targets. "So far, despite the obvious challenges, the system is on course to meet the targets set by UK and EU, but only just, and all the easiest actions have already been taken," the study concludes. However, it says progress in the electricity sector "will only get more difficult and there is a serious risk of non-delivery".

"While consideration of the whole system is vitally important, the most immediate concern is to maintain supply in the electricity system and ensure that new capacity is being built," the study says. "Decarbonization of the electricity system remains a central pillar of all credible future scenarios but uncertainty over the past few years while market reform was completed has resulted in serious under-investment."

Nuclear needed

The RAE states, "As a secure, baseload source of low-carbon electricity, nuclear power is essential." The study says the UK's nuclear capacity in 2030 could range from 5 GWe to 15 GWe. It says the lower scenario would be "a major concern". The report adds, "A key early warning sign for the low end of the range will be if only one final investment decision has been taken on new plant before 2020."

The Academy praised the UK government for the work it has done to initiate a new nuclear build program. However, it warned "progress remains worryingly slow and if construction does not begin soon, delivery will be put at serious risk". The study says that at least three proposed new build projects are possible and "at least two need to be underway by the mid-point of this administration [2017/18] just to keep up with closures".

The report says, "Government is encouraged to consider whether any alternative policies beyond those currently being followed might help increase the capacity of nuclear power with particular consideration given to small reactors that are easier to finance."

The RAE said, "One thing remains certain - the scale of the engineering challenge remains massive and the need for whole-systems thinking remains critical. We hope that the perspectives that the Academy has brought to this analysis will prove useful to those taking forward and integrating energy policy."

David Clarke, CEO of the Energy Technologies Institute and leader of the expert group that produced the RAE report, said: "Updating the UK energy system to meet the 'trilemma' of decarbonization, security and affordability is a massive undertaking. Meeting national targets affordably requires substantial decarbonization of the electricity system by 2030 through a mix of nuclear power; carbon capture and storage; and renewables, with gas generation for balancing."

He added, "Failure to plan the development of the whole energy system carefully will result, at best, in huge increases in the cost of delivery or, at worst, a failure to deliver."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News