Call for urgent action over threat of power supply crisis

Posted on

January 26, 2016

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A report published today calls for urgent action on demand reduction and infrastructure to avoid a power supply crisis in the UK.

Power shortages - candle and lightbulb
Threat of power shortages needs urgent action on energy efficiency

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) warns that current Government plans are not adequate and the UK could face a supply gap in electricity of up to 55% in the next decade.

In ‘Engineering the UK Electricity Gap’, IMechE advises that Government policy to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025, the retirement of ageing nuclear plants and growing electricity demand will fuel the supply crisis.

It warns that plans to plug the gap by building Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plants “are unrealistic, as the UK would need to build about 30 new CCGT plants in less than 10 years”.

Coal shut-off

The report advises: “The UK has built just four CCGTs in the last 10 years, closed one and eight other power stations.  In addition, in 2005 twenty nuclear sites were listed for decommissioning, leaving a significant gap to be filled.

“The country has neither the resources nor enough people with the right skills to build this many power stations in time. It is already too late for any other nuclear reactors to be planned and built by the coal ‘shut-off’ target of 2025, other than Hinkley Point C.”

The IMechE says that initiatives to encourage energy efficiency have not been sufficient – indeed the Green Deal, while widely criticised, has now been scrapped.

It is clear from report that there is a crying need for Government action now to level off and then reduce electricity demand. Every business, organisation and household should be given the right incentives to cut consumption through simple retrofit measures such as LED lighting, smart lighting and heating controls and energy-efficient pumps.

From our own work, we know that there is a massive potential in workplaces and homes for big reductions in electricity use through adoption of energy-saving solutions and changing behaviour.

Demand reduction heads the list of recommendations from IMechE and it should be swiftly adopted with detailed policy rolled out this year.

Demand to rise

Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at IMechE and lead author of the report says: “The UK is facing an electricity supply crisis. As the UK population rises and with the greater use of electricity use in transport and heating it looks almost certain that electricity demand is going to rise.

“However with little or no focus on reducing electricity demand, the retirement of the majority of the country’s ageing nuclear fleet, recent proposals to phase out coal-fired power by 2025 and the cut in renewable energy subsidies, the UK is on course to produce even less electricity than it does at the moment.

“Currently there are insufficient incentives for companies to invest in any sort of electricity infrastructure or innovation and worryingly even the government’s own energy calculator does not allow for the scenarios that new energy policy points towards. Under current policy, it is almost impossible for UK electricity demand to be met by 2025.”

The report underlines that lack of investment in power generation combined with greater reliance on interconnectors to import power from Europe and Scandinavia is “likely to lead to higher electricity costs and less energy security”, putting the UK’s supply “at the mercy of the markets, weather and politics of other countries”.

Three recommendations

The report calls on the Government to take “urgent action” to work with industry to create a clear pathway with milestones for new electricity infrastructure to be built, including fossil fuel plants, nuclear power, energy storage and combined heat and power.

IMechE sets out three recommendations to resolve the crisis:

1. The UK Infrastructure Commission should assess the necessary incentives for industry and the public to reduce the demand on the electricity system through engineering efficiencies into processes and equipment, awareness raising and advocacy.

2. The UK Infrastructure Commission must urgently implement the changes necessary across the industry and supply chain to deliver security of electricity supply with no coal-fired generation. These include investment in research and development activities for renewables, energy storage, combined heat and power and innovation in power station design and build.

3. Collaboratively the UK Government and its delivery bodies, along with industry, should review the capacity in the supply chains to deliver the construction of the ‘most likely’ new power infrastructure. This includes identifying timeframes and milestones for conventional and unconventional power generation build (fossil fuel, nuclear, energy storage, combined heat and power and off-grid options) along with growth in skills and knowledge within the UK to meet the potential increase in demand.

It is clear that, without decisive national action, the UK will face severe shortages that will have a big impact on the economy and the quality of life. Demand reduction is a big part of the solution, one that provides swift and highly effective results.


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