Time is rapidly running out to make the crucial planning decisions and secure investment to keep the UK on track to deliver a reliable, affordable and decarbonised energy system to meet future emissions regulation enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act, according to a report published today by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Prepared for the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology, A critical time for UK energy policy details the actions needed now to create a secure and affordable low carbon energy system for 2030 and beyond.

The study looks at the future evolution of the UK’s energy system in the short to medium term. It considers how the system is expected to develop across a range of possible trajectories identified through modelling and scenarios.

The following actions for government are identified as a matter of urgency:

  • enable local or regional whole-system, large scale pilot projects to establish real-world examples of how the future system will work. These must move beyond  current single technology demonstrators and include all aspects of the energy systems along with consumer behaviour and financial mechanisms
  • drive forward new capacity in the three main low carbon electricity generating technologies: nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind
  • develop policies to accelerate demand reduction, especially in domestic heating, and introduce smarter demand management
  • clarify and stabilise market mechanisms and incentives in order to give industry the confidence to invest.

New technologies could become unexpectedly significant – such as solar PV, which has recently become much cheaper. But large scale deployment of novel technologies would take decades and the system cannot be planned on promises and aspirations alone. The Academy calls instead for a combination of known technologies to be scaled up to unprecedented levels and integrated in smarter ways.

The report notes that the addition of shale gas or tight oil is unlikely to have a major impact on the evolution of the UK's energy system as we already have secure and diverse supplies of hydrocarbons from multiple sources.

Dr David Clarke FREng, who led the group that produced the report, says: “Updating the UK energy system to meet the ‘trilemma’ of decarbonisation, security and affordability is a massive undertaking. Meeting national targets affordably requires substantial decarbonisation of the electricity system by 2030 through a mix of nuclear power, CCS and renewables with gas generation for balancing. Beyond 2030 we must then largely decarbonise heat and transport, potentially through electrification but also using other options such as hydrogen and biofuels. We also need to adapt our transmission and distribution networks to become ‘smarter’”.

"Failure to plan the development of the whole energy system carefully will result, at best, in huge increases in the cost of delivery or, at worst, a failure to deliver. Substantial investment is needed and current investment capacity is fragile. For example, in the last month projects like Carlton’s new Trafford CCGT plant have announced further financing delays and the hoped-for investment by Drax in the White Rose CCS demonstrator has been withdrawn. The UK has also dropped four places to 11th in EY’s renewable energy country attractiveness index.”

Download the report:

A critical time for UK energy policy: what must be done now to deliver the UK’s future energy system (504.06 KB)

Notes for Editors

  1. A critical time for UK energy policy: what must be done now to deliver the UK’s future energy system was prepared by a group of Academy Fellows and energy experts, including:
    - Dr David Clarke FREng, CEO, Energy Technologies Institute
    - Professor Nigel Gilbert FREng, Professor of Sociology, University of Surrey
    - Dr Martin Grant FREng, CEO Energy, WS Atkins plc
    - Dr Keith MacLean, Chair, UKERC Advisory Board; formerly Director, SSE
    - Richard Taylor FREng, Chief Engineer and Senior Fellow, National Nuclear Laboratory
  2. Royal Academy of EngineeringAs the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession

For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0636
Jane Sutton