Atkins report shows UK slipping on energy targets

A new report from AtkinsRéalis has shown the UK is falling further behind the build rate of new energy capacity required to decarbonise the grid by 2035.

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According to the Countdown to 2035 report, 15.5GW of new capacity is needed each year for the UK to remain on track. This is up from the June 2022 figure, which placed the required build rate at 14GW per annum.

Due to a combination of ageing power plants being retired from service and increased electrification of transport, industry and domestic heating, AtkinsRéalis estimates a total of 187GW of new capacity must be built to meet the 2035 target. For context, just 4.5GW was added to the grid in 2022, with the annual record for new capacity standing at 6.5GW, set in 2017.

The report also warns of the compound effect failing to ramp up the build rate for new energy infrastructure. If the UK achieves a 15 per cent increase each year, the peak build rate would be 25GW/year by 2035: roughly five times the 2022 rate. However, if the build rate increases by just 10 per cent, the required peak build rate by 2035 would be 40GW – the equivalent of 30 of the UK’s largest offshore wind farms in a single year, or 12 Hinkley or Sizewell C-scale nuclear plants.  

“From reforming the planning system and strengthening energy networks to bolstering the UK’s supply chain, a more gradual increase in new energy capacity is the most likely path to meeting net zero energy goals over the next decade,” said Sarah Long, AtkinsRéalis market director for Net Zero Energy. “However, the scale of the challenge becomes greater each year: we must urgently shift from scenarios into delivery.

“The UK must maintain a laser-like focus on deployment and delivery of net zero generation and the energy infrastructure required to support it. That includes initiatives such as the Civil Nuclear Roadmap announced last week that lays out interim targets against long-term goals, encompasses support for new technology as well as proven large-scale projects and is an example of the type of framework that will help to provide long-term certainty to investors and boost the build rate.”

The report also explored the wider implications of delays in deploying low carbon generation onto the grid. These include the continued use of unabated gas and the consequences that could have on both grid carbon intensity and the investment required to extend the operational life of the UK’s fleet of gas-powered plants.