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Nuclear continues to play a critical role in the UK’s low carbon generation mix

Tom Greatrex

31 July 2020

This week, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released its Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES), an annual digest which provides a comprehensive picture of energy production and use over the last five years.

The digest reveals that the UK’s 2019 energy generation consisted of 40.6 per cent gas; 2.1 per cent coal; 11.5 per cent biofuels; 25.6 per cent wind, hydro and solar photovoltaics; and 17.3 per cent nuclear.

In total, low carbon generation—comprising renewables and nuclear—hit a record 54.4% in 2019. This points to the continued vital role nuclear plays as part of the UK’s low carbon generation mix.

While the revolution towards cleaner power generation is heartening, we must bear in mind: energy demand is expected to quadruple from the replacement of fossil fuels and a boom in the electric vehicles and heating sectors, and the clock is ticking on all this low carbon energy as all but one of our current nuclear fleet will retire by 2030.

The UK must take control of its energy mix: the desire to meet Net Zero will require consistent, low carbon, reliable power alongside weather dependent renewables.

Investment in new nuclear infrastructure is recognised as an integral part of the future mix in the UK government’s nuclear sector deal.

As the UK makes strides towards a wholly clean electricity mix, we will also need to re-examine and make changes to the national grid: we will still need a centralised grid network to support and transport this ramped up electricity production—decentralisation isn’t compatible with our projected reliance on interconnected systems.

In 2020, we find ourselves at the crux of large decisions on the energy front, with economic recovery and climate change begging for answers now, not later.

There is a critical need to create a system which allows for nuclear and renewables to work together as the most cost-effective option for to deliver Net Zero by 2050. Urgent and aggressive policies need to be introduced if we are to remain on track, and the Government has yet to publish a comprehensive plan or pathway.

In response to this need, the NIA’s recent “Forty by ’50 Nuclear Roadmap” report sets out six important steps to be taken in 2020 to turn aspiration into reality.

An ambitious programme—based on existing and new technologies—could provide up to 40% of clean power by 2050 and drive deeper decarbonisation through the creation of hydrogen and other clean fuels, along with district heating, and eventually bring as many as 300,000 jobs and £33 billion of added annual economic value.