The Government has confirmed it will go ahead with a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C. However, delivering a cost-effective, secure and low-carbon power system will require a number of further decisions about the power sector.
The Government’s decision on Hinkley is a starting point. Successive governments, parliaments and public and private sector bodies will need to oversee the effective, least-cost implementation of the project. It is also only one part of an energy policy that meets the challenges of cost, security and carbon reduction. This includes competitive auctions for a range of renewables (including ongoing commitment to offshore wind) and renewed policy for carbon capture and storage.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has the task of advising the UK Government on carbon budgets for the economy as a whole. It does not comment on specific projects although it monitors their effectiveness. It is for Government and Parliament to decide the mix of market incentives, projects and policies used to meet those carbon budgets. The CCC’s advice on progress against those budgets is anchored in an assessment of the impact on UK competitiveness, on fuel poor households and on broader energy policy and other factors (including scientific knowledge), as required under the Climate Change Act.
It has taken about ten years to get the project at Hinkley Point to its current stage. Over that period, estimates of total cost have risen and the time required to realise the project has increased. There remain significant risks to the delivery of the Hinkley power station. A prudent energy policy will involve sufficient investment across low-carbon technologies to ensure that power output and carbon targets can be met given the risk of delays at Hinkley.
New nuclear power can help to reduce emissions in the power sector in a number of ways, particularly acting alongside intermittent renewable generation in a low-carbon mix of technologies. However, as set out in the CCC’s reports, there are many mixes of different low-carbon technologies compatible with reducing emissions from the power sector (e.g. nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), offshore and onshore wind, solar power, hydro and tidal). These will all require a combination of demand-side flexibility, storage, interconnection, and modern transmission and distribution networks to deliver them at least cost. It is crucial that these are pursued with vigour, alongside spending on nuclear.
Energy policy – and the wider UK emissions reduction plan – cannot be dependent on any single project. It must support a range of options from which markets, supported by intelligent policy, can enable the most appropriate technologies and behaviours to emerge.
- For further information or to speak to Mike Thompson, CCC Head of Carbon Budgets, please contact CCC Communications Manager, Jo Barrett firstname.lastname@example.org 0207 591 6262 or 07940 703911.
- The Committee on Climate Change is an independent statutory body established under the Climate Change Act (2008) to advise the UK Government on setting carbon budgets, and to report to Parliament on the progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Following the passage of the fifth carbon budget by Parliament in July 2016, the UK Government has a legal duty to publish a plan setting out how it will meet the 57% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, against 1990 levels, embodied in that carbon budget (“emissions reduction plan”). The Government has previously committed to publishing that plan before the end of 2016.
- The Committee has built scenarios that involve a large reduction in emissions from the power sector by 2030. The Central scenarios published in our advice on the fifth carbon budget reduce the emissions intensity of the power sector to below 100 gCO2/kWh in 2030 (compared to 370 gCO2/kWh in 2015). Planned investments to 2020 are on track to that goal, and around a further 150 TWh of low-carbon generation would be needed in the 2020s. More low-carbon generation will be needed in the 2030s and 2040s to meet the 2050 target to reduce total UK emissions by at least 80% on 1990 emissions.
- New nuclear capacity could play a significant role in decarbonising the power sector and the UK economy more generally. For example, Hinkley alone would contribute around 25 TWh, (equivalent to saving about 9 million tons of CO2) around one sixth of the new low-carbon generation required in the 2020s, and one or two further similar-sized plants may be deliverable by 2030.