UK: Is The Need For Energy Infrastructure More Or Less Urgent?

Last Updated: 26 April 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry looks at whether the need for energy infrastructure is getting more or less urgent than a year ago.

In January last year, a blog entry looked at the reasons for the predicted shortfall in electricity supply by 2017. Has the situation got better or worse since then? Read on to find out.

Achieving targets

A useful real-time website that shows current sources of electricity (click 'Hide All' in the left column and then 'Generation by Fuel Type (table)') today has our electricity coming from:

  • coal (42.9%),
  • gas (26.6%),
  • nuclear (22.6%),
  • wind (3%),
  • pumped storage (0.8%) (not really new generation - it is the national equivalent of 'economy seven' where water is pumped up a hill at night and released back down again during the day),
  • hydroelectric (0.6%) and
  • other countries (3.5%).

We are therefore still a long way off the 30% renewable sources target that the government has set, so that it can achieve the EU target of 15% of all energy (not just electricity) coming from renewable sources by 2020.

Over a year, the picture is a little better - according to the latest energy statistics, in 2011 renewables accounted for 9.5% of overall electricity generation, although generation overall fell by 4.2%.

Old generation closing

It is not just the renewable energy target that demands new generation, but the closure of old plants due to age or excess emissions.

Back in January 2011 Oldbury nuclear power station was going to close that year, and Kingsnorth, Tilbury, Wylfa (nuclear) and Cockenzie this year. In fact Oldbury closed in February this year, Kingsnorth and Cockenzie are going to close next March, one reactor at Wylfa will close next month but the other will keep going until 2014, and Tilbury will run on until 2015 because it has converted to biomass. The closure rate is thus slightly better than predicted a year ago.

New generation starting

What about the rate of new generation? In 2010, according to the Digest of UK Energy Statistics around 5.5GW of new electricity generation capacity came on stream. In 2011, DECC consented almost exactly 10GW of new generation, and the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) consented 65MW as its one and only decision. Consents don't always lead to operation, but you can't have the latter without the former.

Current applications

In terms of applications, DECC is working its way through 15 remaining pre-Planning Act but over 50MW applications. The Planning Inspectorate is dealing with six applications for electricity generation, as follows:

  • Kentish Flats windfarm (30-51MW capacity)
  • Hinkley Point nuclear (3260)
  • Brechfa Forest windfarm (56-84)
  • Galloper windfarm (504)
  • Triton Knoll windfarm (1200)
  • Blyth biomass (100)
  • Total: 5150-5200MW (wind 1790-1839)

Thus the total is slightly less than came on stream in 2010. They are all low carbon and, except for Hinkley Point, all classed as renewable.

Future projects

The Nuclear Power National Policy Statement EN-6 identifies eight sites as suitable for new nuclear power stations. As can be seen above, only Hinkley Point in Somerset is the subject of an actual application to the Planning Inspectorate. Last month, the German joint venture of RWE and E.On called Horizon announced that they would not be taking their two sites forward - Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire. On Monday, the Guardian reported that GDF and Iberdrola were delaying a decision on taking forward their site at Sellafield (Moorside) for three years. That leaves Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex, Heysham in Lancashire and Hartlepool. These are all owned by EDF, but only Sizewell appears on the PINS website as a forthcoming project. It is possible that Wylfa and Oldbury could be passed on to another energy company, but at the moment Hinkley Point is the only nuclear game in town with Sizewell the only one on the horizon (rather than the Horizon).

A further seven non-nuclear projects are on the PINS forthcoming project list and have started pre-application consultation:

  • Southampton biomass (100MW capacity)
  • Burbo Bank windfarm (169-234)
  • Nant-y-Moch windfarm (140-176)
  • Clocaenog Forest windfarm (64-96)
  • East Anglia windfarm (1200)
  • Roosecote biomass (80)
  • Fieldes Lock power stn (52)
  • Total: 1805-1938MW (wind 1573-1706)

If these represent the next year of projects, the pipeline is shrinking. Except for Fieldes Lock, all the projects are renewable energy.

Energy policy is for a mix of generation types, and a 'baseload' of constant generation is needed as well as less predictable renewable sources, but Hinkley Point C and the relatively small Fieldes Lock in Hertfordshire are the only baseload projects in the pipeline.

Imports

If the UK can't produce its own electricity in time and wishes to continue at the same or a greater rate of consumption, it will have to get it from somewhere else. There are currently cables between the UK and France, Ireland, and, since last year, the Netherlands (these are the INTFR, INTIRL and INTNED entries in the energy table). Further 'interconnectors' are being looked at from Belgium, Norway and, since last week, Iceland. At least this last option would be mostly from renewable energy sources - I presume it would count towards the UK target.

Summary

The closure of existing energy installations is somewhat slower than anticipated, and there is a significant number of wind energy projects in the pipeline, but there is a distinct lack of baseload projects coming forward. The need for energy infrastructure is described as 'urgent' in the energy National Policy Statements (NPSs), what you might call Defcon-2. Is it time to update this to Defcon-1 - 'critical'?

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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