Planned shutdowns of ageing nuclear and coal power plants could leave the UK facing an electricity shortfall as early as 2017, according to a new study.
“Considering successive governments have had 30 years notice of the present serious decline of UK oil and gas supplies and full knowledge of generation plant lifetimes there is no excuse for allowing the development of the pending problem,” said John Westwood, chairman of the energy business analyst firm Douglas-Westwood, which prepared the report.
“The UK Power Generation Expenditure Forecast 2010-2030” warns that, in the short term, the only realistic way to bridge the impending power capacity gap will be to run gas power stations using imported fuel. The longer-term solution calls for timely investment in a combination of renewable power generation options, clean coal power stations and nuclear plants.
The report notes that the short-term reliance on imported gas raises serious questions about the UK’s national energy security, especially in light of government energy policies that have failed to encourage private sector investment in alternative energy production processes.
“The increasing amounts of required energy capacity will place considerable pressure on the UK economy, the entire energy supply chain and the consumer who will ultimately have to pay the price of indecision,” Westwood said.
According to the study, the UK currently has a power generation capacity of about 85 gigawatts. As demand increases and reliance on intermittent renewable sources like wind grows, the nation will need a capacity of 112 gigawatts by 2030. After factoring in ageing power plants set for closure, that means Britain will have to build the equivalent of 95 per cent of its existing capacity over the next 20 years.
That could translate to a capital investment of up to £162 billion, the report found.
“All this amounts to a bonanza for the power plant suppliers and, as much of the plant will have to be sourced from foreign manufacturers, the import bill will be considerable,” Westwood said.
“The UK power generation sector is at a critical crossroads. The levels of required private sector funding are achievable but only if the government makes its energy policies clear to the industry so that investments are made in time to meet potential shortfalls and balance the need to enhance energy security with requirements to adhere to international environmental targets.”