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Spring Budget 2023: UK joins EU in classifying nuclear energy as ‘green’

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The UK Government has officially unveiled its Spring Budget, with a whole host of spending commitments for the electrical industry included.

In a series of articles on Electrical Review, we plan to share both the industry’s reaction as well as the top announcements from the Spring Budget, which was unveiled on March 15.

In this part two, we will detail the UK Government’s decision to classify nuclear energy as ‘green. However, there’s more to come, the first batch of articles will be available today (March 17), but you’ll be able to get the final two articles next week.

Nuclear energy receives ‘green’ classification

The UK has joined the European Union in officially classifying nuclear energy as ‘green’, which will have a big impact on the investment the industry will receive. The new classification means that nuclear energy will receive the same level of incentives that are currently available to other ‘green’ technologies, such as wind and solar farms. 

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the European Union’s decision to put nuclear energy under the same label as renewable energy sources, with the likes of Austria and Greenpeace resorting to legal action against the European Commission. Despite the backlash, the EU has thus far moved forward with its proposals. 

Taking its lead from the EU, the UK also wants to see more nuclear power in the UK, with the country recently signing a new partnership with France to boost the technology throughout G7. 

During the Spring Budget announcement, Jeremy Hunt highlighted the Government’s reasoning for the renewed push for nuclear, noting that the technology was “vital to meet our net zero obligations” as a “critical source of cheap and reliable energy.” 

Some industry experts have pushed nuclear as vital to ensuring a stable net zero grid, given the inherent intermittency with other renewable sources. Jeremy Hunt echoed those concerns, noting that nuclear power was needed “because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.” 

However, the UK Government’s ambition for a new nuclear fleet is far above what has previously been envisaged by National Grid ESO, with it hoping to see up to a quarter of the UK’s electricity generated by nuclear power by 2050. In order to achieve that, it’s believed a lot more Government funding will be needed, which is one of the reasons for the new classification. 

It’s not just large scale nuclear power that will be needed, however. The UK Government also wants to encourage investment in Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, like those developed by the Rolls-Royce led consortium — which has plans for up to 16 new nuclear power stations across the UK. 

In order to encourage SMNRs, the first competition will be set up at the end of this year, with the Government providing funding if the winning project is found viable. 

Industry reaction to the Spring Budget’s nuclear power commitments

The industry’s reaction to the new commitments for nuclear power have been mixed. Jo-Jo Hubbard, CEO of Electron, noted, “This budget seems to be overweight and over reliant on nuclear power for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. This single technology focus seems not to recognise that a) there are already three times as many MWs waiting to be connected to the grid than we need for secure Net Zero power supply; b) battery storage and flexibility, coupled with excess renewables, also solves the same issue, and c) new nuclear will take over 10 years to come online. 

“What we really need, in short order, is to connect new clean energy assets to the grid faster (taking a good look at the connections queue in the process) and to use existing grid and generation infrastructure more efficiently through local flexibility markets. We are concerned that this is not the fastest route to customers accessing lower cost lower carbon power. Especially as the sticking plaster that is the energy price guarantee is about to wash off.”

Robert Buckley, Head of Relationship Development at Cornwall Insight, added, “Nuclear energy reclassified as environmentally sustainable, signalling a desire for it to be included in the green taxonomy; this along with a refresh of the Control for Low Carbon Levies mechanism on energy policy costs, does feel like a step in the right direction towards a more sustainable UK energy market.

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