A new report has claimed “time is rapidly running out” for the UK to ensure a reliable, affordable, and decarbonized energy system is in place to meet future emissions targets.
Prepared by the UK Prime Minister’s own Council for Science and Technology, the new report, A critical time for UK energy policy (PDF), outlines the actions the Council believes are necessary and required to “create a secure and affordable low carbon energy system for 2030 and beyond.” Specifically, the study details the future of the UK energy system in the short- to medium-term across a range of “possible trajectories”, and concluded that the following actions are considered “a matter of urgency”:
- enable local or regional whole-system, large scale pilot projects to establish real-world examples of how the future system will work. These must move beyond current single technology demonstrators and include all aspects of the energy systems along with consumer behavior and financial mechanisms
- drive forward new capacity in the three main low carbon electricity generating technologies: nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind
- develop policies to accelerate demand reduction, especially in domestic heating, and introduce smarter demand management
- clarify and stabilize market mechanisms and incentives in order to give industry the confidence to invest
“Updating the UK energy system to meet the ‘trilemma’ of decarbonisation, security, and affordability is a massive undertaking,” explained Dr David Clarke, FREng, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who authored the report for the Council. “Meeting national targets affordably requires substantial decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2030 through a mix of nuclear power, CCS [carbon capture and storage], and renewables, with gas generation for balancing. Beyond 2030 we must then largely decarbonise heat and transport, potentially through electrification, but also using other options such as hydrogen and biofuels. We also need to adapt our transmission and distribution networks to become ‘smarter’.”
Of primary concern to the authors of the report is “that there remain serious risks in the delivery of the optimal energy system for the UK,” and despite challenges such as investment and increasing costs, the UK’s energy system “is on course to meet the targets set by UK and EU, but only just.” In fact, the authors claim that, so far, it’s the easiest actions that have been taken and brought the UK’s energy system to where it is, but that much harder tasks are ahead — that “progress in the electricity sector will only get more difficult and there is a serious risk of non-delivery.”
“Time is of the essence, with decisions taken now affecting what the system will look like in 2030 and beyond.”
“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,” continued Dr Clarke. “Substantial investment is needed and current investment capacity is fragile. For example, in the last month projects like Carlton’s new Trafford CCGT plant have announced further financing delays and the hoped-for investment by Drax in the White Rose CCS demonstrator has been withdrawn. The UK has also dropped four places to 11th in EY’s renewable energy country attractiveness index.”
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