Energy sector collaboration is key to Net Zero 2050

To ensure we achieve Net Zero by 2050, we really need to talk to each other more, says Neil Leggatt, Nuclear Group Business Manager at Frazer-Nash Consultancy.

Net Zero by 2050 isn’t just a soundbite, I believe it’s an imperative. I was reminded recently that 2050 is a mere twenty-nine years away. If, like me, you can clearly remember what you were doing in 1992 – maybe watching the Barcelona Olympic Games – twenty-nine years seems within sight. And the target date of 2035 for cutting emissions by 78 per cent feels like it’s just around the corner.

But the energy industry isn’t going to make that deadline until we start working together. Within our industries, we are great at sharing knowledge and best practice – nuclear organisations talk to others in the nuclear sector; wind power developers and operators share each other’s knowledge and expertise; and so on. Each of us has our niche, but to deliver Net Zero we need to move beyond these siloes to talk and share ideas across the whole energy system.

MORE FROM NUCLEAR

My sector, nuclear, is a case in point. We are very good at talking to each other about the contribution that nuclear can make to Net Zero – it’s a low carbon source of energy, produces fewer emissions than hydro and solar power, and requires less land space to create energy than wind power. We are less good at talking to other industries, both about the potential for collaboration, and to share learning and experience across diverse sectors. But we need to be talking, and working together, to overcome the challenges we all face on the journey to Net Zero. We are not in competition. The energy we need to power our homes and workplaces and transport can never come from just one source. There are real benefits to be achieved through collaboration, as we develop new clean energy technologies and uncover new uses for technologies that already exist.

energy sector collaboration
Artist’s impression of an SMR plant (Image: Rolls-Royce)

From the point of view of nuclear, I believe there is a fundamental lack of knowledge of the things that nuclear can do, and its potential contribution to generating heat and helping to form hydrogen and the other synthetic fuels of the future. There is a perception that nuclear power is just about generating electricity. Yes, it has a huge role to play in that, but alongside the building of large plants, such as Hinkley Point C, propositions for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs) that can be a fraction of the size, are at an advanced stage of development. So how do we make best use of what nuclear can offer?

The smaller size of AMRs and SMRs will allow them to be closer to other industries or to residential areas. I have a vision that, in 20 years’ time, the petrol station just around the corner from me could have a building next door, in which would be an AMR. That AMR would be powering the town that I live in and generating energy to fast-charge a new generation of electric vehicles, while the excess heat it produces would also be used to create hydrogen. That could be directly delivered into the pumps at the petrol station to fuel hydrogen cars and lorries, or transported to be used by ships and trains. It could be taken along a network of pipes to be used in industry or domestic heating – powering the industry and the homes of the future.

energy sector collaboration
Hinkley Point C (Image: EDF)

Maybe by talking more we can also help address the ‘elephants in the room’ around the perception of nuclear power. This is sometimes less than positive, with three of the blockers being around cost, safety and waste. From within the sector, I can see the rigour with which safety measures are applied, and the stringent adherence to regulation: could the understanding we have gained from this be shared to benefit new energy vectors? In terms of waste, the nuclear sector takes full responsibility for all of its waste. It is actually possible to re-process and re-use ‘waste’ fuel for new nuclear fuel. Could the forward-thinking approach taken by nuclear – to have in place a plan for the decommissioning of its plant and disposal of its waste material before building – be one that other green technologies in development can learn from? While the nuclear industry has come a long way towards communicating more clearly and openly on these matters, there are still lessons for us to learn from other industries – especially in cost, as we work towards creating an understanding of the energy supply and environmental returns that can be gained from large, long-lasting, but expensive infrastructure projects.

Because communication is key. Any industry with a role to play in Net Zero needs to be thinking about how it could work with others to ensure we achieve our ultimate goal. In this case, Elvis is only partly right when he says ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’. We need to be taking action, but we need to be talking to other energy sectors too, so we can take action together that works.

Neil Leggatt, Nuclear Group Business Manager at Frazer-Nash Consultancy