UK set to miss decarbonised energy targets at current annual build rate

The UK will need to build 12-16GW of new generation capacity each year between now and 2035 to hit decarbonisation targets, according to new analysis from Atkins.


The company warns that the pace of new build and the complexity of the challenge means decarbonising power by 2035 may no longer be a credible ambition for the UK.

The average annual build rate for the last five years was 3.2GW/year, but Atkins forecasts a requirement for 16GW of new generation annually to meet the latest 2035 target.

The highest UK annual build rate was recorded in 2017, with 6.5GW of gas and renewable generation brought online, which is less than half of what must now be built each year, according to Atkins. To replace ageing power plants and ensure enough generation is built to meet peak demand requirements, the UK needs to build 159GW–203GW of new generating assets by 2035.

In a statement, David Cole, market director for Net Zero Energy, Atkins, said: “This is an unprecedented build rate to meet an unprecedented challenge: in just over 12 years, we need to build a net zero power system potentially twice the size of the UK’s current capacity, including not only generation but also grid infrastructure, energy storage and the data management capabilities to facilitate the ‘smart grid’. This is an incredibly ambitious target that pushes the boundaries of feasibility. We must review delivery in terms of credible ambition.”


Alongside its build rate analysis, Atkins – part of the SNC-Lavalin group – has reiterated actions that could speed up the current build rate. These include:

  • Review the UK’s current generating assets and infrastructure and take urgent action to maximise the potential of life extension and operational performance, alongside demand side management and energy efficiency actions to ensure security of supply and affordability are of equal importance as reaching net zero.
  • Create a more efficient planning process to accelerate the rate of projects moving to the construction phase, including grid connection efficiency.
  • Swiftly move to a large-scale programme of delivery on a fleet approach for proven technologies such as offshore wind and nuclear generation to speed up build rate and maintain security of supply.
  • Accelerate the development and testing of new technologies to quickly commercialise viable options that could be implemented at the scale required.
  • The creation of a strategic plan based on sound engineering and operational analysis is needed. Atkins has long called for an Energy System Architect to oversee the creation and delivery of this strategy: the proposed Future System Operator (FSO) should have the remit to create this plan, but it must be implemented rapidly and be adequately resourced with the capability for the challenge. 

Chris Ball, managing director, Nuclear and Power – Europe & Middle East, SNC-Lavalin, said: “The UK needs a clear plan to achieve such a large-scale infrastructure programme. The delivery of such a high volume of projects concurrently, in such a short timeframe, requires coordination: we need to determine what new generating capacity and infrastructure is required at a system level.

“Creating a blueprint to transition to net zero energy will also require a delicate balance between incentivising investment in different technologies, protecting consumer interests, and ensuring security of supply: a whole system strategy to deliver net zero energy is vital if we are to achieve the ambitious targets ahead of us and position the UK as a global exporter of energy and technology.”

Atkins’ analysis coincides with a new Progress Report published today by the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), which has found major failures in delivery programmes towards the achievement of Britain’s climate goals.

Lord Deben, CCC Chairman, said: “The UK is a champion in setting new climate goals, now we must be world-beaters in delivering them. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, the country is crying out to end its dependence on expensive fossil fuels. I welcome the government’s restated commitment to Net Zero, but holes must be plugged in its strategy urgently. The window to deliver real progress is short. We are eagle-eyed for the promised action.”