.In a decade’s time, the UK faces a potential energy gap. The gradual phasing out of coal-fired power and older nuclear reactors, as well as the diminishing supply of North Sea gas, means that the demand for electricity is likely to overtake supply by around 40-50%. The result is that blackouts could be a frequent occurrence in the future.
A looming crisis
According to this report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, current plans to close the gap by constructing Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plants (CCGT) are unrealistic as it's estimated that at least 30 would be needed by 2025 – the year the UK plans to stop using coal. Within the last 10 years, only four CCGTs have been built in the UK.
In 2005, 20 nuclear sites were listed for decommissioning, which means the CCGTs have a large gap to make up. But the UK doesn’t have the time, resource, or people with the right skills to build the 30 CCGTs in time.
Dr. Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “The UK is facing an electricity supply crisis. As the UK population rises, 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.”
Dr. Jenifer Baxter
The way forward
Although a new nuclear reactor could be built at Hinckley Point by 2025, it’s unlikely that any others will be ready by then. The report says that to make up this difference, the UK will need a greater reliance on interconnectors to Europe and Scandinavia, importing electricity from countries such as Ireland and Sweden. It also emphasises the need to reduce demand for electricity, as well as investing in further research and development.
According to Baxter, “Government needs to take urgent action to work with industry to create a clear pathway with timeframes and milestones for new electricity infrastructure to be built including fossil fuel plants, nuclear power, energy storage and combined heat and power.”
“We need to ensure we have the right skills and knowledge in place to enable this key infrastructure to be built. The UK National Infrastructure Commission must also take urgent action to prioritise greater energy efficiency by industry, and clarify financial incentives for research and development of renewables, energy storage and combined heat and power.”
The report's main recommendations for the UK government
- The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (UKNIC) should motivate industry and the public to do their part in reducing demand on the electricity system.
- UKNIC must apply changes across the industry and suppliers to deliver non-coal-fired electricity, such as investing in research and developing activities for renewables, energy storage, and innovation in future power station design and build.
- The government, UKNIC and industry should investigate how the supply chains will set up the ‘most likely’ new power infrastructure. They must also make sure that the UK has the skills and knowledge to support the potential increase in energy demand.
How can I help?We can all do our bit to minimise waste and be more energy efficient. If less energy is consumed, the demand will decrease – which will help close the energy gap:
- Switch your light bulbs to energy saving one – replacing a traditional 40W bulb with an 8W low-energy one can cut the use of that bulb by 20%
- Insulate your house properly – this prevents wasted heat, allows your house to stay warmer for longer, and reduces the amount of time your central heating is running
- Make sure your boiler is energy efficient – a new boiler is not only good for the planet, it could also save you money
- Use appliances that have a good energy efficiency rating – most modern appliances
- come with an energy rating indicating their energy efficiency; the higher the rating, the better the saving