Nuclear Energy for Net Zero

Published: 18 June 2020

Nuclear for Net Zero is a techno-economic assessment of the potential roles and contribution of nuclear energy in supporting a range of decarbonisation pathways modelled for the UK to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions targets by 2050.

As part of the Innovating to Net Zero programme, Energy Systems Catapult has carried out a series of deep dives into the technologies and behaviours potentially needed – such as nuclear, digitalisation and storage and flexibility.

 

Nuclear Energy Technology & Decarbonisation

Nuclear for Net Zero used Energy Systems Catapult’s internationally peer-reviewed Energy System Modelling Environment. ESME is the UK’s leading techno-economic whole system model – which has been used by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), industry, academia and the UK Government. ESME is independent of sector interests and identifies cost-optimised decarbonisation pathways across the whole economy.

The underlying nuclear technology related data and assumptions incorporate the learning from engagement with the nuclear industry and the knowledge from the Energy Technology Institute’s portfolio of knowledge building projects within its nuclear power programme, now owned by Energy Systems Catapult.

Nuclear for Net Zero: Key points

The analysis in Nuclear for Net Zero has found there is a credible path available to realise significant nuclear cost reduction delivering potentially lower costs and risks associated with achieving UK Net Zero targets, including:

  • An expanded role for new Hinkley Point C-type Generation III+ nuclear reactor for power generation;
  • Advanced Gen IV high-temperature nuclear power plants coupled with hydrogen production technology – able to switch between power generation and efficient hydrogen to supply industry, plus heavy road transport and marine freight;
  • SMR deployed with city-scale District Heating Networks – to supply cost-effective low carbon heat for urban homes and businesses.

The potential policy approach for nuclear suggested by this new analysis, includes:

  • Committing now to around 10 GWe of additional new nuclear Gen III+ reactor capacity beyond Hinkley Point C’s 3.2 GWe;
  • Over the next 5 years in parallel, support stage-gated development programmes for UK deployment of SMR and advanced Gen IV reactors. Coupled with assessing the progress of alternative low carbon energy technology development, this would provide a clearer indication of the likelihood of realising the benefits from these two technologies to support periodic policy reviews between 2025 to 2035 which would govern the shape of a 2050 UK Net Zero energy system.
  • If nuclear is able to fulfil its cost reduction potential, and contribute to the challenges of decarbonising heat and hydrogen, around 50 GWe of nuclear may be needed by 2050.  However, there is significant uncertainty about the mix within a 50 GWe nuclear portfolio, underlining the importance of stage-gated approaches for both light-water SMRs and advanced Gen IV reactors.

Reaching Net Zero Emissions Through Innovation

To achieve sufficient emission reductions for UK Net Zero, a whole systems approach is needed. The Innovating to Net Zero programme includes:

Energy Systems Catapult offers technical expertise and insights on Nuclear energy from a whole system perspective. Get in touch today.