New report warns of looming UK energy crisis, puts forward renewables as solution

  • Solar.

    Closure of coal and nuclear stations could create a shortfall of 55% by 2025.

The UK would be plunged into an energy crisis if the government perseveres with plans to close all remaining coal plants by 2025, a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) has claimed.

The report states that coupled with the shuttering of retired nuclear generators, closing coal plants as energy secretary Amber Rudd has promised would create an energy shortfall of 55% by 2025.

However the IME has stated that instead of putting off the coal shutdown – as the government could propose in its forthcoming consultation – it should instead resolve the shortfall by incentivising demand reduction and invest in renewables and storage.

The IME’s ‘Engineering the UK Electricity Gap’ report, published today, has found that the UK would need to build around 30 new combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants in the next ten years to fill the shortfall left by retiring nuclear assets and closed coal stations.

This, the report’s lead author and head of energy and environment at the IME Jennifer Baxter said, is something the UK has “neither the time, resources nor enough people with the right skills” to achieve.

Concluding that importing energy through one of the country’s interconnectors with mainland Europe would leave the UK “at the mercy of the markets, weather and politics of other countries”, Baxter has called on the government to create a “clear pathway” for companies eager to invest in energy infrastructure and put forward renewables as a solution for the shortfall.

“We need to ensure we have the right skills and knowledge in place to enable this key infrastructure to be built. The UK Infrastructure Commission must also take urgent action to prioritise greater energy efficiency by industry and clarify financial incentives for research and development of renewables, energy storage and combined heat and power,” she added.

The report’s recommendations are that the UK National Infrastructure Commission assess the incentives for demand reduction, implement the necessary changes across the industry as a matter of urgency and collaborate with UK government to deliver the construction of the ‘most likely’ new power infrastructure.

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Simon Bullock echoed the report’s findings, stating that the government must protect the country’s energy security with a low-carbon electricity system.

“The quickest and safest way to deal with any concerns about power capacity is to prioritise investment in energy efficiency and storage, as the report says, and develop the UK’s massive wind and solar potential,” Bullock added.

The IME report coincided with the publication of new research into estimated future costs of solar PV technologies conducted by the University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School.

The establishment’s professor Doyne Farmer and Francois Lafond used historical data and applied Moore’s Law to develop a forecasting model which estimates the unit cost over time of any given technology. When applied to solar PV, the model states that the technology could continue to deliver cost reductions of around 10% each year for the next decade.

By extrapolating those projections, the researchers have suggested that solar could supply 20% of the world’s entire energy demand by 2027, a far quicker rate of adoption than the International Energy Agency’s ‘high-renewable’ scenario.

“Sceptics have claimed that solar PV cannot be ramped up quickly enough to play a significant role in combatting global warming. In a context where limited resources for technology investment constrain policy makers to focus on a few technologies that have a real chance to eventually achieve and even exceed grid parity, the ability to have improved forecasts and know how accurate they are should prove particularly useful,” Farmer said.

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