07 Apr, 2022 By Catherine Moore
The government’s new Energy Security Strategy has today set out plans to boost nuclear energy, while also investing in wind, solar and hydrogen.
The strategy comes as a result of rising global energy prices, provoked by surging demand after the pandemic as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It aims to wean Britain off expensive fossil fuels, which are subject to volatile gas prices set by international markets, and boost diverse sources of homegrown energy for greater energy security in the long-term. Overall, the strategy could see 95% of electricity by 2030 being low carbon.
So, what are the key takeaways for civil engineers?
A new government body, Great British Nuclear, will be set up immediately to bring forward new projects, backed by substantial funding.
This will support the strategy’s plans which envisage a significant acceleration of nuclear, with an ambition of up to 24GW by 2050 to come from this source of power. In total, this would represent up to around 25% of the country’s projected electricity demand.
Hinkley Point C delivery director Nigel Cann has previously backed an increase in energy from nuclear power.
With the gradual winding down of UK nuclear plants, according to Cann only 10% of the country’s energy will be nuclear by the end of the decade, provided by Hinkley and Sizewell B. This used to sit at around 20% and he feels that it would be beneficial to return to these levels.
“Our view is if you can get to 20%+ of energy in the UK generated by nuclear then at least you’re back to where you started and renewables have only really got to replace the coal and gas,” he told NCE.
“If you had three Hinkley-sized plants at Wylfa, Hinkley and Sizewell C that would be fantastic start. Who knows whether SMRs will play a part but at the minute there’s no credible technology that somebody could build.”
This month, the government is also establishing a new Future Nuclear Enabling Fund of up to £120M.
It will provide targeted support for new nuclear and make it easier for new companies to enter the market.
This follows the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act which received Royal Assent last week – important news for all prospective nuclear projects. The Act will enable use of the Regulated Asset Base funding model for new nuclear projects, which will unblock obstacles to developing these projects and cut the cost of financing them.
In the strategy, the government said it will work to progress a series of projects as soon as possible this decade, including Wylfa site in Anglesey. This could mean delivering up to eight reactors, equivalent to one reactor a year instead of one a decade.
As set out in the 2021 Spending Review, up to £1.7bn of funding is available to support approval of at least one new nuclear power plant this Parliament.
Wylfa had previously been in the running as a potential site for a large-scale nuclear power plant, but the decision was taken to push forward with Sizewell C in Suffolk instead. Now it looks like both could be on the table.
According to The Times, sources have said Johnson is determined to press ahead with plans for a large scale nuclear plant at Wylfa, with the government in talks with US nuclear reactor manufacturer Westinghouse and engineering firm Bechtel about a proposal to develop the site. The government has so far set aside £120M to support the project.
The government’s strategy also said “constructive negotiations” have been ongoing regarding the Sizewell C project in Suffolk since January 2021, as the most advanced potential project in the UK. If approved Sizewell C would be a replica of Hinkley Point C, providing electricity for 6M homes, and creating thousands of high value jobs nationwide.
In January the government provided £100M of funding for the Sizewell C developer to invest in the project to help bring it to maturity, attract investors, and advance to the next phase in negotiations.
In addition, last month it was revealed that the government is set to take a 20% stake in Sizewell C.
Subject to technology readiness from industry, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) will form a key part of the nuclear project pipeline, according to the strategy.
The Advanced Nuclear Fund includes up to £210M announced in November 2021 for Rolls-Royce to develop the design for one of the world’s first SMRs. This could be deployed in the UK in the early 2030s to turbocharge UK nuclear capacity.
Rolls-Royce is also keen on using the Wylfa site to install its small nuclear reactors. Last month, the company submitted SMR designs for Wylfa and Trawsfynydd for assessment. However extensive safety checks are needed and these are not expected to come online until the 2030s. As such, the engineering giant has appealed to government to speed up the planning process.
A US energy developer backed by a fund linked to Elon Musk is also in talks with the government about building a fleet of small nuclear reactors across the UK, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Last Energy has plans to spend £1.4bn on 10 reactors by the end of the decade, and the company has identified a site in Wales for its first power plant which it wants to build by 2025. Last Energy’s reactors are smaller than Rolls-Royce’s, forecast to cost £50M, and Last representatives are believed to have told Whitehall officials that its plants will be up and running years before Rolls-Royce.
The strategy sets out a new ambition of up to 50GW of energy to come from offshore wind by 2030 – more than enough to power every home in the UK.
This will be underpinned by new planning reforms to cut the approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one year and an overall streamlining which will radically reduce the time it takes for new projects to reach construction stages while improving the environment.
Business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has previously emphasised the importance of easing planning procedures for onshore wind – and it looks like this will be applied to offshore projects too.
The UK Infrastructure Bank has also been urged to invest in green energy.
The government has also said it would like to see up to 5GW of its 50GW offshore wind target coming from floating offshore wind in deeper seas.
The government will be consulting on developing partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills.
Kwarteng has previously said he feels the energy crisis could make people more open to onshore windfarms.
“There were quite understandable political reasons that people didn’t want to see large scale, onshore winds in their vicinity,” Kwarteng said.
“I think that’s changed. I think people are much more open to renewable energy. And I think they realise that that’s part of the answer [to] Putin and other countries controlling oil and gas – you want to get energy independence.”
The strategy outlines the aim to increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity which could grow up to five times by 2035, consulting on the rules for solar projects, particularly on domestic and commercial rooftops.
The government will aim to double its ambition to up to 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, with at least half coming from green hydrogen and utilising excess offshore wind power to bring down costs.
This will not only provide cleaner energy for vital British industries to move away from expensive fossil fuels, but could also be used for cleaner power, transport and potentially heat.
Prime minister Boris Johnson emphasised that the strategy sets out “bold plans to scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy made in Britain, for Britain”.
He said: “This will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills.”
Kwarteng added: “We have seen record high gas prices around the world. We need to protect ourselves from price spikes in the future by accelerating our move towards cleaner, cheaper, home-grown energy.
“The simple truth is that the more cheap, clean power we generate within our borders, the less exposed we will be to eye watering fossil fuel prices set by global markets we can’t control.
“Scaling up cheap renewables and new nuclear, while maximising North Sea production, is the best and only way to ensure our energy independence over the coming years.”
Other plans in the strategy include a licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects planned to launch in the Autumn and a Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition to be run in 2022.
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Tagged with: Energy Security Strategy hydrogen Nuclear Offshore Wind Onshore Wind SMRs solar
Has anyone bothered to factor in the huge rise in energy charges to the consumer in these manic projections? These prices will not go down real soon, when have they EVER gone down?
RR are selling “Smoke & Mirrors” and NOBODY has a creditable strategy for dealing with the radio-active waste from ALL these technologies!
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Evans and Langford