A coal fired power station. © Press Association Images
A coal fired power station. © Press Association Images

UK facing electricity 'supply gap' crisis

2 February 2016

The UK will face a critical shortfall in electricity supply by 2025 due to the closure of all coal-fired and several nuclear power stations, a new report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (ImechE) has claimed.

The shutdowns are likely to lead to increased dependence on imported electricity and higher energy bills for homes and businesses, according to the institute.

IMechE said there was likely to be a supply gap of between 40% and 55% by 2025, as there was no way to build sufficient power stations to replace those the government has earmarked for closure by then.

The government plans to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025, while the majority of the UK’s ageing nuclear power stations will also be retired by that date.

The institute said in its report, Engineering the UK Electricity Gap, that the UK had “neither the time, resources nor enough people with the right skills to build sufficient gas-fired or nuclear power stations to plug the gap”.

The report describes plans to meet demand by building combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants as “unrealistic”, saying to do so the UK would need to build nearly 30 such plants in under 10 years. In the last ten years the UK has built just four CCGTs. 

Some 20 nuclear sites were listed for decommissioning in 2005 and according to the report it is too late for any nuclear reactors apart from the Hinkley Point C project to be planned and built before 2025.

The result will be a greater reliance on imported electricity from Europe and Scandinavia via interconnectors.

This in turn is likely to lead to higher electricity costs and less energy security, especially as demand is likely to rise, the report found.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at ImechE and lead author of the report, said: “As the UK population rises and with the greater use of electricity in transport and heating it looks almost certain that electricity demand is going to rise.”

She said the government had “little or no focus" on reducing this demand and criticised the cut in renewable energy subsidies, saying: “The UK is on course to produce even less electricity than it does at the moment.”

Baxter complained there were insufficient incentives for companies to invest in electricity infrastructure or innovation.

“Government needs to take urgent action to work with industry to create a clear pathway with timeframes and milestones for new electricity infrastructure to be built,” she said.

This should include fossil fuel plants, nuclear power, energy storage and combined heat and power.

“With CCS [carbon capture and storage] now out of the picture, new low carbon innovations must be supported over the course of the next 10 years,” she added.

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