Time is rapidly running out for the UK to secure investment in an energy system able to meet its emission targets, according to a report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The report - A critical time for UK energy policy - which has been prepared for the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology, highlights the actions needed now to create a secure and affordable low carbon energy system for 2030 and beyond.

Urgent steps include:

  • enable local or regional whole-system, large scale pilot projects to establish real-world examples of how the future system will work.
  • drive forward new capacity in the three main low carbon electricity generating technologies: nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind
  • develop policies to accelerate demand reduction, especially in domestic heating, and introduce smarter demand management
  • clarify and stabilise market mechanisms and incentives in order to give industry the confidence to invest.

Large scale rollout of new technologies ‘could take decades’

New technologies could become unexpectedly significant – such as solar PV, which has recently become much cheaper said the report. But it warned large scale deployment of novel technologies would take decades and the system cannot be planned on promises and aspirations alone.

The Academy calls instead for a combination of known technologies to be scaled up to unprecedented levels and integrated in smarter ways.
The report notes that the addition of shale gas or tight oil is unlikely to have a major impact on the evolution of the UK's energy system as we already have secure and diverse supplies of hydrocarbons from multiple sources.

Dr David Clarke, who led the group that produced the report, says: “Updating the UK energy system to meet the ‘trilemma’ of decarbonisation, security and affordability is a massive undertaking. Meeting national targets affordably requires substantial decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2030 through a mix of nuclear power, CCS and renewables with gas generation for balancing.

“Beyond 2030 we must then largely decarbonise heat and transport, potentially through electrification but also using other options such as hydrogen and biofuels. We also need to adapt our transmission and distribution networks to become ‘smarter’”.
"Failure to plan the development of the whole energy system carefully will result, at best, in huge increases in the cost of delivery or, at worst, a failure to deliver. Substantial investment is needed and current investment capacity is fragile.”

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