The UK will face an electricity gap of up to 55% in 2025 if it carries through on its policy of closing coal-fired power stations by that year, a professional body of engineers has warned.
A combination of growing demand for electricity, the planned phasing out of the country’s nuclear fleet, plus a failure to replace them with new ones will cause a severe power shortage in 10 years.
To ward off the crisis the government must take urgent action, including reducing demand, researching alternative sources, and building capacity to develop new power infrastructure, says the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
"The UK is facing an electricity supply crisis," said Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the institution and lead author of a report released today.
"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."
(The) 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– Dr Jenifer Baxter, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
The report urges the UK to assess incentives for the public to cut demand.
It says the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission must urgently make sure the industry can deliver security of electricity supply with no coal-fired generation. This includes research and development on renewables, energy storage, combined heat and power and innovation in power station design and build.
The UK should also review the capacity in the supply chains to deliver the construction of the ‘most likely’ new power infrastructure and build skills to meet the potential increase in demand.
The report, "Engineering the UK Electricity Gap", says plans to plug the gap by building Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plants 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, 20 nuclear power sites were listed in 2005 for decommissioning, leaving a significant gap to be filled. According to the report, the country has neither the resources nor enough people with the right skills to build this many power stations in time.
Moreover, says the report, it is now 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 report also concludes that relying on importing electricity from Europe and Scandinavia is likely to lead to higher electricity costs and less energy security.
"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," said Baxter.
"Under current policy, it is almost impossible for UK electricity demand to be met by 2025. 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."
Photograph: Power lines in Suffolk, England (Tony Boon/Wikimedia Commons)