Gas Plant Construction Not Realistic to Bridge UK Electricity Gap, Report Warns
Plans to bridge the impending UK electricity supply-demand gap by building combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants are unrealistic, a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has warned.
In the report, Engineering the UK Electricity Gap, released on January 26, IMechE said that the UK would need to build around 30 CCGT plants in just 10 years to bridge the gap created by the decommissioning and planned closures of nuclear and coal-powered electricity plants. In the past 10 years, only four such plants have been built, the study noted.
Further, there is neither the resources nor the skilled labour force available to build that amount of capacity before the coal "shut-off" target of 2025, or to build nuclear plants, other than the one at Hinkley Point C.
The report estimates that the supply gap could equate to 40% to 55% of electricity demand by 2025.
"The UK is facing an electricity supply crisis," IMechE head of energy and the lead author, Dr Jenifer Baxter said. "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.
“We cannot rely on CCGTs alone to plug this gap, as we have neither the time, resources nor enough people with the right skills to build sufficient power plants."
She warned that there was a danger that the UK's electricity supply could be put "at the mercy of the markets, weather and politics of other countries, making electricity less secure and less affordable."
Additionally, she said, there were insufficient incentives for companies to invest in new electricity infrastructure or innovation. She also said that, under the government's current policies, it is nearly impossible for the UK's electricity demand to be met by 2025 or for the government's own targets to be met.
At present, the country's 41 CCGT fired power stations account for about 23% of UK electricity, IMechE estimates. On a typical day, the report says, UK electricity generation is comprised of 22% coal, 27% gas, 23% nuclear and 13% wind. The remaining 15% of generation is made up from biomass and imports from France and the Netherlands.
The report also warned that shale gas is unlikely to be ready in time to fill the electricity gap. "To increase to the levels needed would require a step-change in the industry," the report says. "[However,] opposition restricts the potential impact of shale gas in the wider energy landscape. When planning for 2025 this means that shale gas is unlikely to be ready in time to meet demand due to public opposition."