In order to hope to meet Net Zero by 2050 we will need to start to move away from burning fossil fuels.
We have come a long way in almost removing Coal, the final power stations due to close in 2024, but we continued to rely heavily on Gas as its replacement. Despite investment in Renewable generation, Gas has met in the region of 40% of demand in recent years and is a reliable source of baseload Electricity, regardless as to how windy or sunny it is. An ideal solution will be the ability to efficiently store Electricity when we have too much, for use when too little. At this time, that is not a large-scale option and balancing the network is a growing headache, needing to have flexible sources of generation that can be switched on and off for what may be short periods of time. These arrangements come at a considerable cost to consumers as they are included in our Electricity invoices.
A main source of generation is Nuclear. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of investment and decision making, which has meant that the contribution has been diminishing, with all but one of the six remaining power stations due to close by 2030. Its contribution over the last five years has fallen from around 22% to 16% of generation.
Earlier this month Hunterston B finally closed due to safety concerns, having exceeded its original 25-year lifespan by 20 years.
Hinkley Point C is under construction, with the likely operational date being 2026, by which time more generation will have gone offline than it will provide.
Sizewell C and Bradwell are still proposed, but await confirmation of an agreed funding mechanism, something that has already meant the cancellation of Oldbury and Wylfa. As with most large projects, there is a risk that construction costs increase well beyond the original forecast, so an important consideration is where does this liability fall. There is also concern as to the source of funding, with what seems like readily available Chinese money being seen as a potential security concern. The government is looking at options.
With considerable building costs of about £20 billion each, long construction times and the expense of decommissioning, the building of Nuclear generation divides opinion. However, as Renewables are erratic and with the need to phase out Gas, there seems little option but to push forwards and secure reliable sources of generation, such as Nuclear.
There is growing interest in the design of Small Modular Reactors (SMR). These are smaller than those in use and construction, both in terms of the area they cover and the output. The idea being that they can largely be manufactured in a factory and transported and assembled on site. There are a number of parties looking at solutions, most recently Rolls Royce being given additional government funding. At a cost thought to be around £2 billion each (a tenth of a traditional) they are estimated to produce enough power for one million homes.
The EU recently proposed that, subject to conditions, Gas and Nuclear would be classed as “Green”, something that is being aggressively challenged by the likes of Germany and Austria, whilst looked on more positively by France, which is heavily reliant on Nuclear generation.
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