UK decarbonisation possible without new nuclear says report

Rapid decarbonisation of the UK’s power grid is possible by 2030 without relying on “expensive and controversial” nuclear, biomass or carbon capture and storage (CCS), according to a new report.

The paper – which was commissioned by the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and compiled by Vivid Economics – concluded that wind and solar can provide more than 60% of total electricity by 2030.

Already planned or existing nuclear and natural gas capacity could provide the remainder, it added.

Thermal generation capacity – which the report said is needed to provide “inertia”, or the storing of energy in spinning turbines – could decrease to 20GW, less than one-third of today’s level.

Around 4.5GW of the 20GW total may need to be low-carbon but, if the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is commissioned in the 2020s, then this capacity is “highly feasible”.

Eric Ling, an energy economist at Vivid Economics, said: “We now know wind and solar can meet most of the UK’s generation needs. This is great news given the challenges facing alternative power sources, such as biomass, nuclear and carbon capture.”

Smart resources needed

Under the models used to compile the report, gas would need to provide less than 30% of electricity generation – down from 40% today – in order to achieve carbon constraint of 100g of carbon dioxide per kWh

The report also ruled out the use of biomass to generate electricity.

Instead, more than 30GW of “smart” resources – including battery storage, demand-side response and interconnection – is forecast to be needed by 2030 to ensure reliability and minimise costs.

“Significant” investment is also expected to be needed in “security margin plant” – such as additional battery storage or demand-side response, or peaking generators – which would only operate during “extreme system stress events”.

Criticism of term ‘baseload’

The report criticised the use of the term “baseload” because it is “not an appropriate concept to analyse system reliability”.

Providing “baseload” was one of the UK Government’s reasons for supporting the development of Hinkley Point C.

The report pointed out that only technologies in operation or close to market were assessed and that further technological innovations could lead to further decarbonisation.

> Download the report