Record electricity imports risk Britain’s energy security
05 August 2021
Reliance on European power forfeits economic benefits of domestic nuclear investment
Britain imported more electricity in July than ever before in its history, threatening its energy security by relying on power from abroad instead of investing in its own green energy future. Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) analysis of Gridwatch data shows that Britain’s electricity imports reached their highest ever monthly level in July. Figures from National Grid ESO also show imports accounted for 15% of all of Britain’s electricity in July, with a 20% increase in the year-to-date average compared to last year.
Record imports mean that the UK is increasingly dependent on international market conditions and the energy policies of other countries. The UK also has no future guarantee of the carbon intensity of what it imports. Belgium says it will phase out nuclear by 2025 and has called for investment in gas, which has 40 times the carbon intensity of nuclear and wind, to partly replace that lost capacity. Britain also imports power from the Netherlands, which is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, including coal, for its electricity supply.
At present, nuclear energy from France makes up the bulk of the imports, followed by Belgium. On most days, Britain imports almost 3 gigawatts (GW) worth of nuclear power from Europe, which is close to the equivalent output of the proposed Sizewell C nuclear station in Suffolk at 3.2 GW, or of six units of the UK Small Modular Reactor. In July, imported nuclear energy gave London and the South East’s power grids an improved low carbon performance, but without the added economic benefits of domestic nuclear power in the form of investment and jobs.
Nuclear was the leading British zero-carbon generator in July with 15% of the mix. Most of this fleet, however, will retire by the end of March 2024. Grid decarbonisation progress is also stalling: 2021 is the first year since 2012 in which grid carbon intensity in the year-to-date has risen. Britain is also currently on a 40-day coal burning streak, which is more than it burned over a seven-month period from April 10th to November 5th 2020.
Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said:
“If we want to produce reliable, clean power which would sustain tens of thousands of well-paid jobs across the UK, we must invest in new British nuclear projects. It would cut millions of tonnes of emissions each year and provide new opportunity for communities across our country. If we are happy enough to rely on French and Belgian nuclear power, we should be happy enough to build our own. Unless we act now to build new nuclear capacity, the gap will be filled by more gas bought from volatile global markets or power imported from Europe, and the jobs and skills sustained by those stations will go.”
Notes to Editors
- Britain’s electricity market currently has 6GW of electricity interconnector capacity: 3GW to France (IFA and IFA2), 1GW to the Netherlands (BritNed), 1 GW to Belgium (Nemo Link), 500MW to Northern Ireland (Moyle), 500 MW to the Republic of Ireland (East West).
- A recent survey conducted by the UK Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) found that 71 percent of UK’s residents concern about foreign energy dependence. At that same time, 20 percent of respondents were not concerned, and eight percent did not know. Details: March 2021; 4,029 respondents; 16 years and older; Face-to-face interview. Released May 2021.
- Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Heysham I and Hartlepool nuclear power stations are all scheduled to retire by the end of March 2024, representing more than 4 GW of nominal generating capacity. Hunterston and Hinkley Point B will be in defuelling by mid-2022.
- Of the existing fleet, only the Pressurised Water Reactor at Sizewell B, with 1.2 GW of capacity, is scheduled to be operational after 2030.