Friday, 10 May 2019

Committee on Climate Change sinks nuclear power in the UK in favour of renewables

Few people seem to have noticed how the Committee on Climate Change, in their 'Net Zero' report (net zero carbon emissions for 2050 for the UK), have effectively junked nuclear power in favour of renewable energy[1].

 Indeed a careful reading of the evidence produced by the CCC completely upends the former received wisdom that renewable energy could not, on its own, achieve the UK's long term carbon emission reduction targets. The late David McKay's argument (see 'Sustainable Energy without hot air') that large quantities of nuclear power were necessary have been quietly sidelined by the CCC. Rather, the evidence presented by the CCC says that not only can renewables do the whole job (on the supply side, having taken account of demand reduction measures), but renewables can do things much more cheaply than either nuclear power or carbon capture and storage. 

The CCC argues that investment in renewable energy will save consumers money, whilst investment in nuclear power and carbon capture and storage will cost a lot of money (eg see Table 2.3 page 43).

The CCC estimate renewable energy resources to be very large. According to the CCC: ‘Our updated resource estimates, in line with other assessments, suggest potential for 29-96 of GW of onshore wind, 145-615 GW of solar power and 95-245 GW of offshore wind in the UK’[2]

This is very interesting because if you turn this into electricity generated then even under the 'low' estimate the potential for  just wind and solar will provide all of the electricity needed for a net zero energy economy in the UK. That's not even counting other renewable energy sources, including biomass and marine renewables, and I believe there is great potential in tidal and wave power if they can exploit niche application to build up their economics. 

I analyse the numbers in the Table below. 

Analysis of Committee of Climate Change estimates for potential renewable energy generation in UK

Offshore wind
Onshore wind
Solar PV
Low capacity estimate (GWe)
High capacity estimate (GWe)
Assumed capacity factor
Low estimate for generation (TWh/year) (3)
High estimate for generation (TWh/year)

The CCC estimated that total UK electricity demand to be, under its carbon reduction plan, 365 TWh in 2030 and 645 TWh in 2050 This compares to 335 TWh in 2018. Hence, under the 'high' estimate for wind and solar, renewable energy could supply nearly four times the total electricity requirement in a net zero energy economy. That is one under which transport and heating services are supplied through electricity as well as other services. 

Of course there's a crumb of comfort offered for nuclear power. Their costs might come down. But I've got a dose of cold shower here: nuclear costs have not gone down for decades. Why should they do so now? Moreover, renewable energy costs have been coming down a lot in recent years. Why shouldn't this trend continue?

Alas, news of all of this doesn't seem to have reached may of our senior policymakers who talk endlessly on the same old discourse about how nuclear is needed or else the lights will go out. Clearly they won't, except that is because the country is spending so much money on paying for nuclear cost overruns that we can't afford to pay our bills! 

Yet the Labour Party, who may be forming the next Government in the next year, are clinging to their pro-nuclear stance. Again, few people seem to be objecting to this, even though it is clear that most of the 'green' money promised by John McDonnell will be flowing into a nuclear black hole rather than renewables or energy efficiency! 

Shouldn't we be talking more about this?

[1] Committee on Climate Change (2019), ‘Net Zero Technical Report’,

[2] ibid, page 26
(3) The latest 12MW GE wind turbine boasts a cf of 63%, bi-facial solar pv installed by Gridserve will increase production by 20% and use of systems such as LiDAR are boosting onshore wind performance


  1. What about this disappointing section in the CCCs Technical Report (page 41) which says: “A 3.2 GW nuclear plant is currently under construction at Hinkley Point C and can be expected to operate well beyond 2050, implying a minimum nuclear contribution of 26 TWh (4% of generation) in 2050. New nuclear sites at Sizewell C and Bradwell could increase this to 11%”. It also says (page43) “a greater share for nuclear and renewable generation or production of hydrogen from electrolysis could avoid … residual emissions” from carbon capture and storage.

    The Main Report, however, says “There is still some flexibility in means (e.g. whether low-carbon power is from offshore wind or nuclear; whether buildings are heated by heat pumps or hydrogen), but not in ends – where low-carbon options are available, one of them must be used.”

    The Committee assumes that nuclear costs will fall from £98/MWh in 2025 to £71/MWh in 2050. Low carbon generation (renewables plus nuclear) is assumed to grow from a 50% share of 310TWh of electricity produced in 2017 to as much as 100% share of 645TWh in 2050, which seems rather optimistic to say the least.