The energy gap
The closure of old power stations, the decline of indigenous reserves of North Sea gas and the need to combat climate change mean that the UK faces a potential energy gap. If new generating plants are not built electricity supply could fall short of demand from the 2010s onwards.
Energy efficiency measures can help to reduce demand. But at the same time it is expected demand will increase as electricity is increasingly used for transport and heating, so new power stations have to be built.
Building new generating capacity
Power stations take a long time to plan and build, and some can last for 60 years or more. Therefore any decisions made today have long-term implications. So it’s important to choose the energy sources used to generate electricity carefully.
However, no single fuel currently available offers a complete solution to the energy gap. Some contribute to climate change, others are expensive or face constraints on the number of power stations the UK can build, others make the UK more dependent on imports, or generate electricity intermittently, while some are simply finite resources which are running out. But used together – in an energy mix – the different energy sources can compensate for each other’s limitations.
The energy mix
No one fuel source provides all the answers. But the challenge of the energy gap is by no means insurmountable. Used together, different generating technologies have individual strengths that help to make up for each other's weaknesses.
The world is dependent on fossil fuels for energy, but they emit carbon dioxide which accelerates climate change and will run out one day. The challenge then, is to generate energy from affordable low-carbon sources.
Importing fuel for generating electricity can be bad news for security of supply: increasing demand drives up prices and political instability can threaten supplies.
To be reliable energy sources need to be able to meet constant demand and be scaled up quickly to meet peaks. Not all energy sources can do both and still be affordable and low-carbon, so a diverse mix is required.
For some energy sources, the cost of the fuel is the biggest challenge. For others the challenge is the cost of building power stations to convert it into electricity, but that can fall as more are built.
Impacts on Climate Change Overview
Established and reliable fossil fuels drive climate change with their carbon emissions; low-carbon renewable sources and nuclear have yet to be scaled up to replace them.