UK energy security plan relies heavily on nuclear new-build

A “significant acceleration of nuclear” is the centrepiece of a new British Energy Security Strategy, which aims for low carbon sources to provide 95% of electricity by 2030. But the security strategy disappointed those who hoped it would help consumers facing mounting energy prices now and in the coming winter, and it leaned on fossil sources to meet wider energy needs, “supporting the production of domestic oil and gas in the nearer term”.
The strategy would see nuclear capacity of up to 24GW by 2050, representing around 25% of projected electricity demand. Notoriously slow to develop, new nuclear would be sped up by a new government body, Great British Nuclear, “backed by substantial funding” to delivering up to eight reactors. The Wylfa site on Anglesey, Wales and small modular reactors (if “technology ready”) would be part of the nuclear project pipeline.
The plan saw another ambition of 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, of which 5GW would be from floating offshore wind in deeper seas.
Onshore solar and wind are generally regarded as the fastest and cheapest option for new-build. Solar would increase five-fold from its current level of 14GW by 2035, BEIS said, promising to consult on the rules for solar projects, particularly on domestic and commercial rooftops.
Onshore wind did not have firm targets, although earlier drafts of the strategy were said to have included a target of 45GW by 2035. The government did however promise new planning reforms to cut the approval times for new onshore wind farms from typically four years to a year, and streamlining to “radically reduce the time it takes for new projects to reach construction stages”. Options that would give consumers a stake in local wind farms in return for lower energy bills were included, but the government did little more than dip a toe in the water, planning consult on developing partnerships “with a limited number of supportive communities”.
The strategy gave new support to oil and gas, saying they were important “to the transition and to our energy security, and that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than imported from abroad”. A licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects in the autumn, would have “bespoke support to new developments”.
Some of the gas would be used to support hydrogen ambitions. The government doubled its hydrogen ambition to 10GW of production capacity by 2030. Of that, half would be from gas reforming and half from electrolysis using offshore wind power.
There was little in the security strategy to help consumers struggling with energy bills in the short term, with the biggest gap in improving the building stock: hope that the security strategy would reduce energy use were dashed, with no announcements on insulation or other energy reduction programmes.
Instead the government offered a Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition in 2022, with up to £30 million to develop the British heat pump industry.
Responding to the strategy, Darren Jones MP, chait of the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, tweeted, “As ever, the key question is on delivery. We on ⁦@CommonsBEIS ⁩ will look at whether the UK has sufficient access to the finance and resources required to build extra nuclear power”. He added, “It’s disappointing that Tory infighting has resulted in less onshore wind and solar, when both are obvious things to invest in. The continued lack of action on energy efficiency is baffling – what’s the problem?”