Nuclear provides stable supply of UK power, report shows

28 July 2017

Nuclear power's share of the UK's electricity generation mix was stable at 21% last year, according to statistics released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) yesterday. Nuclear generation rose 2% from 70 terawatt hours to 72 TWh in 2016 as nuclear plants had fewer planned and unplanned outages than in 2015.

The Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2017, compiled by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, contains tables and extensive commentary, charts and technical notes. As well as giving new data for 2016 it also presents some revised data for earlier years.

Shares of generation shifted significantly from coal to gas, the report says. Coal's share fell 13 percentage points from 22% in 2015 to 9% in 2016. The share was taken by gas which rose 13 percentage points from 29% to 42%. Renewables' share of generation was broadly stable at 24.5%, close to 2015's record high of 24.6%, as increased capacity mitigated the less favourable weather conditions.

In 2016, UK generation rose marginally by 0.1% on 2015. Of the 336 TWh produced, 86% was from major power producers and 14% from other generators, while 37% was from primary sources (including nuclear, wind, solar and hydro) and 63% from secondary sources (including coal, gas, oil, bioenergy and non-bio waste).

Imports fell by 13%, whilst exports increased 21% as nuclear outages in France increased export demand.

The load factor of nuclear power stations in 2016 at 78.4% was 3.3 percentage points higher than in 2015, and the highest since 80.1% in 1998 as there were fewer planned and unplanned nuclear station outages compared with the previous two years. Plant load factors measure how intensively each type of plant has been used.

Nuclear efficiency has remained between 38% and 40% over the last decade, with a rise of 0.9 percentage points from 2015 to 40% in 2016. Thermal efficiency measures the efficiency with which the heat energy in fuel is converted into electrical energy. For nuclear stations, it is calculated using the quantity of heat released as a result of fission of the nuclear fuel inside the reactor.

Record for low-carbon power

Low-carbon electricity's share of generation increased slightly from 46.2% to a record 46.5%. Nuclear generation was up 2.7% compared with 2015, due to improved availability and fewer outages.

The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) said the statistics show the country's eight nuclear power stations produced more than one-fifth of its electricity last year, with intermittent renewables (wind, solar, established hydro and biomass) making up the remainder.

However, the output from wind, solar and hydro reduced in 2016, the NIA noted, as the country experienced less wind, rain and sunny conditions than in 2015. Generation from hydro sources fell by 14%, and onshore and offshore wind generation fell by 8.4% and 5.8%, respectively.

NIA added that further analysis of the figures shows that nuclear produced electricity for 77% of the time. In comparison, the overall wind load factor was 29%, down from the record 33% in 2015. Additionally, the UK remained a net importer of electricity, mostly through interconnection with France which produces most of its power from nuclear power stations.

NIA Chief Executive Tom Greatrex said: "More than ever the UK needs to ensure it continues to have a secure, reliable and available supply of low-carbon power to meet our changing requirements. While low carbon electricity generation reaching 45% in 2016 demonstrates progress, there is much more to do to meet our climate commitments and maximise the economic opportunities for clean growth in the UK.

"Nuclear power provides a high-density source of electricity which complements the variability of other low carbon power sources, which all play their part in reducing emissions, improving air quality and limiting our reliance on volatile fuel prices.

"With the distinction between electricity and energy diminishing as more low carbon power is projected to be used for transport and heat as well as power, we need a balanced, low carbon mix to enable us to meet rising demand. Nuclear power will be an integral part of meeting that challenge."

Between 2010 and 2030, the UK will have lost 65% of its centrally despatchable electricity generating capacity, the NIA said. The government and industry, it said, "must work together to ensure the UK has the balanced, low-carbon mix for the future which enables us to ensure energy security, reduce our exposure to the volatility of fossil fuel prices, meet our climate commitments and maximise the economic opportunities of clean growth."

This week's announcement that the new electric Mini will be made in the UK, the government plans to stop sales of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 and Volvo's plans to only sell vehicles with an electric motor from 2019, will "put added pressure" on the UK's electricity supplies to meet demand, the NIA said. National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios 2017 predicts electric vehicles could add 8 gigawatts of demand at peak times, it added.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News