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Why net zero needs nuclear now

Tom Greatrex

12 July 2019

Two high-profile reports this week underlined the growing disparity between attempts to create a net zero carbon UK and the current flightpath of carbon emissions.

On Wednesday, the Committee on Climate Change published its latest progress report, which was blunt in warning that the UK is way off track for achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

The CCC’s Chairman, Lord Deben, was emphatic in his view that, “It’s time for the Government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by Government now.”

To get to net zero, the CCC called for far-reaching and immediate new policies, including accelerating the switchover to electric vehicles, the immediate development of large-scale hydrogen trials and, in the long-term, a significant reduction in meat consumption.

Meanwhile, National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios paper showed the scale of the net zero challenge, as their modelling indicated a huge increase in electricity generation is needed to meet growing demand from electrified heat and transport.

National Grid estimate a total required capacity of 263GW will be needed to reach net zero, well over double the existing capacity today. This has to be reached while much of our existing generation reaches the end of its operational life or has to be phased out as it is not low carbon. Taken together this is one of the greatest policy challenges the UK has ever faced.

These reports highlighting the scale of the challenge come as the public demands more urgent action. It is increasingly clear that the public expects the Government to tackle the climate emergency as a priority. For instance, a recent poll found 63% of the public think the UK is in a climate emergency, and 64% expect the Government to act to tackle climate change.

The forthcoming Energy White Paper is a huge opportunity for the Government to put the policies in place to turn public hopes into reality. Nuclear, as a proven, reliable and zero carbon energy source must be an essential part of that roadmap to net zero, and the Regulated Asset Base model which may be published alongside will spread the cost of developing power plants over their sixty year operation and thereby play a massive role in unlocking the investment needed.

There is a huge challenge in bridging the gap between the energy system we have and the energy system we need. Nuclear is ready to play its part.