Looming energy crisis. Lights to go out by 2025. Just a couple of the headlines in the wake of the announcement that a decision by EDF’s commitment to construct Hinkley Point C has been postponed.
However, it’s not just about Hinkley Point - the issue runs much deeper. The Government’s commitment to close all coal-fired power stations in the UK by 2025 alongside a number of the older generation of nuclear power stations is at the heart of the matter. A combination of the clear need to reduce emissions not only of CO2 but also particulates and NOx, a lack of significant investment over the last twenty years driven by unclear policy and flip-flopping on support for onshore renewables has created the perfect storm.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has published a report which aims to help clarify the current situation. ‘Engineering the UK Electricity Gap’ sets out the issues in no uncertain terms, noting the plan to plug the gap with new Combined Cycle Gas Turbines is unrealistic given the scale of the problem.
Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 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.
“We cannot rely on CCGTs alone to plug this gap, as we have neither the time, resources nor enough people with the right skills to build sufficient power plants. Electricity imports will put the UK’s electricity supply at the mercy of the markets, weather and politics of other countries, making electricity less secure and less affordable.
“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.”
It’s no wonder energy is one of Lord Adonis’ top three priorities for the new National Infrastructure Commission - with clear public support for renewables, and demonstrable support for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles allied to a switch from product to service by consumers, there is a lot riding on this issue.
Watch this space… and mind the gap.