According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers the government’s plan to close all coal-fired power stations and ageing nuclear plants by 2025 could result in the UK facing a 40-55% commercial electricity supply gap.
In their report, titled the Engineering of the UK Electricity Gap, the ImechE called plans to plug the gap with combined cycle gas turbine plants unrealistic as at least thirty of the new plants would be required within the next 10 years.
By comparison, only four CCGTs have been built in the previous 10 years, with one of those being closed along with eight other power stations.
The report added that 20 nuclear sites were listed for decommissioning in 2005, which leaves a significant gap to be filled.
“The country has neither the resources nor enough people with the right skills to build this many power stations in time. It is already 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,” it said.
The other option open to the government is interconnectors to import electricity from foreign countries. However, this would likely lead to higher electricity costs and less energy security, the report said.
The report made the following recommendations for how the government can prevent the huge supply gap.
Firstly, demand on the current system should be reduced by the UK Infrastructure Commission through incentives for industries to become more efficient and raising awareness and advocacy among the public.
Second, urgent and necessary changes must be implemented by the commission across the industry and supply chain to delivery supply security without coal-fired generation. This includes research into renewables, energy storage, combined heat and power, and innovation in power station design.
Lastly, the government and its delivery bodies should review the capacity in the supply chains and construct the “most likely” new power infrastructure.
This also includes laying out time frames and milestones, as well as promoting knowledge growth within the UK to meet the increase in demand.
Head of energy and environment at ImechE, and lead author of the report, Jenifer Baxter said: “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.”
Gordon Edge, RenewableUK director of policy, said: “The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is right to highlight the importance of developing renewables and to express concern over the loss of renewables incentives. As onshore wind is the cheapest low carbon option, it makes no sense to exclude it from the marketplace.”
He added: “The government is well aware that no new capacity, including gas-fired power stations, will be built without some level of financial support, but it needs to realise that this is not necessarily the same as subsidy. We urgently need clarity from Ministers on how onshore wind can continue to play a vital role in bridging the energy gap while also helping keep bills as low as possible.”