Questions surrounding our energy security are being asked more frequently, not just by the Government and energy industry, but by the public who are becoming increasingly concerned about where their energy is supplied from and its affordability.
We hear the phrase ‘keep the lights on’ repeated continuously when energy is discussed; with the idea of blackouts often being seen as an exaggerated threat more than a realistic possibility. However, UK energy production will decrease over the next decade as multiple power stations close. This means these threats will become more probable and the question of how to keep the lights on and costs down becomes more significant. Nuclear power is part of the answer.
As the UK faces this substantial loss of generating capacity energy security continues to be pushed to the forefront of the Government and energy industry’s agendas, along with cost and low carbon technology. In 2012 the UKs net energy import accounted for 43% of total energy used in the UK, showing a significant increase from 28.4% in 2010. As our dependency on other countries increases, costs increase, as does the public’s concern around these issues.
A recent study by UK Energy Research Centre showed 82% of the public were concerned that we were becoming too dependent on other countries. The Guardian’s own public opinion poll places energy security as the number one concern, more important than cutting carbon emissions and ensuring affordability of energy bills.
The current geopolitical situation has only heightened the concern felt by politicians and the public about energy security. The political crisis in the Ukraine and willingness of Russia to use energy supplies as a weapon potentially puts increasing pressure on energy markets. In turn this is putting pressure on the Government and energy industry to develop home-grown solutions to power our future.
Whilst we can continue to burn through our coal supplies, this is not the answer and is not in keeping with Government and EU decarbonisation targets. What we need, is the building of a diverse and reliable low carbon energy mix, with nuclear taking one of the leading roles.
This is the Government’s approach, and has cross party support. This party partnership is especially important as the industry’s proposed new build programme, as well as current decommissioning projects take place over many years, and potentially many administrations.
In the 2008 Nuclear White Paper Labour stated that nuclear power should play a vital role in a future energy mix. This has been built upon by the coalition Government; agreeing that nuclear on its own was not the only answer, but a key part of it along with renewables.
Nuclear will play a key part in meeting the Government’s 20% low carbon target. Unlike intermittent energy sources nuclear power can provide electricity 90% of the time, generating around 20-25% of the energy used to power homes and businesses.
The UK needs 60GW of new electricity generating capacity, and associated infrastructure in the next decade and a half – on current plans just under a quarter of this could come from nuclear. As part of a diverse energy mix, with renewables and clean coal, this will reduce UK carbon emission and ensure long-term security of supply.
As the new nuclear build programme starts to get underway, with the State Aid announcement for Hinkley Point C due in the autumn and other proposed power stations at the beginning of the planning process, public support is crucial and is increasing.
Public recognition of nuclear power as a reliable source of electricity in a wider mix continues to grow, with 75% of UK adults supporting it. The Guardian’s own George Monbiot has ‘arrested himself’ for his change of stance about nuclear power, now supporting it and the important role it plays in providing a stable source of low-carbon energy.
Whilst the Government estimates £110 billion of capital investment is required over the next decade to upgrade the UKs energy infrastructure, the long-term results will see emissions cut, our energy security strengthened and consumers provided with affordable electricity. Nuclear energy has the support of Government, industry and the public; as part of a greater low carbon mix it can address the key energy concerns, ensure our lights stay on and most importantly guarantee the UKs energy security for the foreseeable future.