The electric economy: achieving our low carbon energy future

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  •  Tuesday, 12 September, 2017
     8:30 - 10:30


  • Rachel Reeves MP
  • The Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford
  • Harry Holt, Rolls-Royce Nuclear
  • Dr Jenifer Baxter, IMechE

Policy Exchange were delighted to host an event in our Westminster offices to discuss the challenges and opportunities in our future low carbon electric economy. Our distinguished panel of speakers comprised of the Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford (former Secretary of State for Energy), Harry Holt (President of Rolls-Royce Nuclear) and Dr Jenifer Baxter (Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers). With an introduction from Rachel Reeves MP (Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee).

Our electricity system is changing fast and faces huge challenges in the coming years. Many of the existing coal and nuclear power plants are either due to close soon, or have done so already. Power demand could rise as the uptake of electric vehicles looks set to exceed expectations, and as UK homes and businesses are becoming increasingly digitalised.

Meeting this black hole in our energy needs is challenging even before decarbonisation is taken into account, but doing so in a clean, low carbon, sustainable manner is an enormous task. What are the technology options?

Cost reductions in solar PV and wind turbines have exceeded expectations, and the technology is evolving fast, but their intermittent nature means they will only ever be part of the solution. Battery storage and smart grid technologies are also making progress, but are most useful for balancing the grid on a minute by minute rather than seasonal basis. The cancellation of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) commercialisation competition means that limited progress is being made with this technology.

What about nuclear? The UK’s stated strategy is to build a new fleet of large scale nuclear reactors, but progress to date has been slow. The track record of the nuclear industry in building large reactors to schedule and on budget is generally poor. But other nuclear technologies are emerging, such as small modular reactors (SMRs). In 2015 the Government announced £250 million of new funding for nuclear research, including a competition to identify the most suitable British SMR design.

This event discussed the technology options to meet the need for secure, affordable, low carbon power, and the potential role for small modular reactors. It will also mark the launch of a new project by Policy Exchange to explore the potential of SMRs, and discuss strategies for their development.

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