The low carbon electricity we need to get to ‘net zero’ should come from renewables and nuclear working together
The CEO of EDF Energy responds to the vision set out by the Committee on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050.
If we want to go further and faster in combating global warming, then our future will have to be electric. That’s the reality of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050, and part of the vision set out by the Committee on Climate Change.
Getting to ‘net zero’ means more cars, vans and HGVs powered by batteries. Our homes and businesses will be warmed by electric heat pumps rather than gas boilers. As we move away from gas and coal for power generation, the CCC says the amount of low-carbon electricity we produce will have to quadruple.
That is a huge increase! So where will all that power come from? The CCC is right to say that to get to ‘net zero’, our electricity will have to come from a combination of renewables and reliable (or ‘firm’) low carbon electricity, like nuclear or energy using carbon capture and storage.
EDF has 35 onshore and offshore windfarms in the UK and we have seen first-hand how innovation, experience and increasing scale have allowed wind and solar costs to fall. We have ambitious plans to at least double our renewables business, in line with the CCC’s recommendation that the contribution of renewables should double to around 60% of the energy system.
EDF is also at the forefront of the relaunch of the UK’s nuclear industry. There are now 4,000 people working at the construction site of our new nuclear power station Hinkley Point C. It is on schedule and benefitting from the lessons learned at other projects.
Nuclear is a proven technology. Our eight existing nuclear power stations already prevent around 20m tonnes of carbon emissions each year. It can support the future expansion of renewables as it is nearly always available and reduces the costly effects of intermittency. If we aim for ‘net zero’ its contribution will become even more valuable.
Sweden and France both cut their emissions rapidly by using nuclear. By contrast, Germany’s decision to close its reactors has left it having to rely on coal and it is struggling to meet its greenhouse gas targets.
We know that in the UK, the cost of nuclear has to come down. As the CCC points out, the way to achieve that is through replication and using lower cost financing. That’s why we are working on proposals to build a near-replica of Hinkley Point C at Sizewell in Suffolk. If Sizewell C goes ahead in 2021, we can maximise the savings by transferring the staff and skills quickly from one project to another.
The debate about energy is too often polarised, pitting one technology against another. The energy mix which will take us towards ‘net zero’ at lowest cost is one which includes renewables and nuclear as part of an integrated mix. Both are vital if we want to accelerate our response to the climate crisis.