The government should agree support for only one more new nuclear power station before 2025, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has advised.
In its first National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) of the UK, the NIC says the switch to greener energy can be accomplished without increasing bills.
The statutory infrastructure adviser calls on the government to increase the proportion of UK’s electricity generated from renewable sources, like wind and solar, from the current level of 30 per cent to half by 2030.
The commission concludes that renewable energy and balancing technologies would be comparable to new nuclear power plants and cheaper than implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) with the existing generation system.
It recommends that the government should agree support for no more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley before the middle of the 2020s.
The NIC’s analysis concludes that customers in 2050 would pay the same in real terms for their energy as today through a combination of low-carbon and renewable sources for power and heating.
It finds that moving to an electricity system mainly powered by renewable energy sources could be the “safest bet” for generation, although the report acknowledges that natural gas will play a role over the short term.
All sources of renewable power should be allowed to compete to deliver the increase in renewable electricity generation required to help meet the UK’s climate change targets, the NIA recommends.
It urges the government to set out a clear pipeline, with dates and budgets, for future renewables support auctions.
On heating, the NIC warns steps must be taken to find low-carbon alternatives to oil and gas, urging community-level trials to test the feasibility of hydrogen and heat pumps by 2021, including one covering at least 10,000 homes by 2023.
And it calls for £3.8 billion of investment between now and 2030 to improve the energy efficiency of the country’s social housing stock as part of efforts to deliver 21,000 installations per week of measures, such as loft insulations, by the end of this decade.
On water, the NIA repeats the commission’s earlier support for inter-regional water transfers, more reservoirs and cutting leaks.
However, the NIC’s chairman Sir John Armitt warned the cost-effective switch to renewable energy can only be achieved if the government takes the right decisions now.
He said: “Whether for cooking, lighting, keeping homes warm or electric cars on the road, where the UK’s energy comes from will need to change radically over the coming decades if the UK is to meet its legally-binding climate change targets.
“If we act now we have a golden opportunity to make our country greener, and protect the money in the pockets of consumers long into the future – something few of us expected to be able to do.
“Ministers can seize this chance by investing in renewables and other low-carbon technologies so they become the main players in our energy system – something that was considered a pipedream as little as a decade ago. But they need to act now to realise the full potential of what can be achieved.”
Responding to the NIA, Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The highlighting of water shortages in the southeast is especially noteworthy, because hot summers like the present one are forecast to become much more common in the years ahead.
“However, in the power sector its recommendations fall short. Generating half of our electricity from renewables by 2030 sounds impressive; but if ministers also halt the building programme for new nuclear power stations they will not hit their own target of 85 per cent clean power generation.”