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Closure of UK coal and nuclear plants ‘to create supply gap’ by 2025

The government’s policy to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025, combined with the retirement of the majority of the UK’s ageing nuclear fleet and growing electricity demand, will leave the UK facing a 40–55% electricity supply gap, according to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The report: Engineering the UK Electricity Gap says that 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, having built just four in the last decade. In addition, in 2005 twenty nuclear sites were listed for decommissioning leaving a significant gap to be filled.

The report was issued before the recent EDF Energy announcement on extending the life of four of its nuclear power stations.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the IMechE 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.’

Baxter continued: ‘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. With carbon capture and storage (CCS) now out of the picture, new low carbon innovations must be supported over the course of the next 10 years.’

However, the IMechE has been criticised for taking an oversimplified approach as well as for failing to recognise that peak electrical loads in the UK are expected to remain roughly steady for a decade or so. Also, that lost coal-fired and nuclear generation capacity is likely to be replaced with a range of smaller-scale alternatives – new peak generation plant, renewables, storage, energy efficiency and demand response.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd gave a typically blunt response: ‘We know that old and dirty coal, and some ageing nuclear power plants will be closing over the next few years, and that's precisely why we’ve put in place a long-term plan to ensure we have secure, affordable and clean energy supplies that can be relied on now and in the future.’

The government’s decision to pull funding for CCS at the last minute will delay the development of the technology and could make it challenging for the UK to meet its climate change commitments agreed at the Paris COP21 summit, warns a new report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee. Angus MacNeil MP, Energy and Climate Change Committee Chair said: ‘If we don’t invest in the infrastructure needed for CCS technology now, it could be much more expensive to meet our climate change targets in the future. Gas-fired power stations pump out less carbon dioxide than ones burning coal, but they are still too polluting. If the government is committed to the climate change pledges made in Paris, it cannot afford to sit back and simply wait and see if CCS will be deployed when it is needed.’ 

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