Nuclear and renewables partnership shows path to climate goals
03 February 2021
Nuclear power essential to emissions reduction, according to 2020 data
Britain remains dependent on fossil fuels, but regions with both nuclear and wind power are already reaching 2030 decarbonisation targets, according to analysis conducted by the Nuclear Industry Association of figures published by the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO).
Southern Scotland, North East England and North West England had the cleanest power, hitting the UK’s 2030 electricity decarbonisation target of 50-100g CO2 per kWh of electricity on more than 85% of days in 2020. Southern Scotland had a mean daily carbon intensity of 43g, North East England 47g, and North West England 53g.
Southern Scotland and North West England both have two operational nuclear power stations alongside substantial renewable capacity, while North East England is home to Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station and a number of wind farms.
Great Britain as a whole averaged just over 180g and only hit the 2030 target on 13 days. Gas remains the leading source of both power and carbon emissions, passing 60% of daily generation at times in June, August and September. Coal was burned in both summer and winter months to top up supplies, as fossil fuel use soared during times of high demand.
Carbon intensity peaked over 300g on 21-24 January and 4-6 March, but also approached 300g in late August and mid-September when weather conditions squeezed supply and drove demand.
Nationally, nuclear power was the leading zero-carbon generator on 158 days out of 358 days (44%) for which data is published, with wind power leading on the other 200 days. The nuclear fleet produced the most clean power in April, May, June and July, with wind leading in the other eight months. Seven of the UK’s eight nuclear power stations, however, are due to retire by 2030, with the first four due to be in defuelling by the end of March 2024.
Commenting on the analysis, Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said,
“Nuclear power, in partnership with renewables, is essential to reaching net zero. We should re-create what we have achieved in Northern England and Southern Scotland across the country: getting nuclear and renewables working together to cut emissions. To do that, we need to build new nuclear power stations alongside renewable capacity. These figures show the great service our existing fleet has rendered to the nation, but the time has come to build a new fleet. That investment, as part of a robust zero-carbon mix, will kickstart a green recovery and our transition to a green economy.”
The Climate Change Committee estimated in its Sixth Carbon Budget that without new projects, zero-carbon generation will fall from 130 TWh in 2020 to just 90 TWh in 2030 because of nuclear fleet retirements.
Additional statistical highlights from the data include the following:
- Northern Scotland hit the 2030 electricity decarbonisation target on 66% of days with an average of 84g, but its carbon intensity was much more volatile, at times reaching over 300g without nuclear power to stabilise the grid.
- Yorkshire, the East Midlands and South England, regions defined by National Grid, did not meet the 2030 target at all, and London, South East England and South Wales met the 2030 target on only a very small number of days. All of these regions had no nuclear generation and limited renewable deployment and so relied on fossil power.
Carbon Intensity – Averages and Spread
Comparison against 2030 100g/kWh CO2 Carbon Intensity target
Notes to Editors
- Full statistical annexes are provided alongside this release.
- National Grid ESO Control Room publishes daily updates here: https://twitter.com/NGControlRoom showing the carbon intensity of the grid in different parts of Great Britain. Northern Ireland is not part of the National Grid.
- Nuclear power has saved over 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in the UK over the lifetime of the industry, more than any other electricity source.
- Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool nuclear power stations are all scheduled to move into defuelling by the end of March 2024, representing more than 4 GW of nominal generating capacity.
- All of the UK’s 7 Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) stations are due to retire by 2030. Of the existing fleet, only Sizewell B, with 1.2 GW of capacity, is scheduled to be operational after 2030.
About the Nuclear Industry Association
As the trade association for the civil nuclear industry in the UK, the Nuclear Industry Association represents more than 250 companies across the UK’s nuclear supply chain.
For further information, please contact:
Director of Policy and Communications, the Nuclear Industry Association
44 (0)7554 701533