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Atkins - expert pathway

Summary: Energy from a range of sources. Moderate demand reduction. Considerable bioenergy.

An Engineering Perspective on the Pathway to 2050

by Keith Clarke, Atkins, Director of Sustainability

Atkins remains thoroughly supportive of the continued development of the DECC 2050 Calculator. The addition of cost information is a critical step forward in the national debate on this new industrial revolution. Our basic approach to the Pathway has remained unchanged (starting with the technical aspects of demand reduction and then to the development of a balanced, low carbon energy supply) but the technical improvements in the model have allowed us to refine the assumptions made on the energy supply side. However, in our refined Pathway we have taken a stronger view on the levels of self-reliance we must adopt as a nation.

  • We have placed greater emphasis on the development of the industrial base, reducing the need for international freight movement and our ‘carbon leakage’ as a nation. An improved industrial base will contribute to our national resilience and the growth of the economy (although these carbon and financial impacts are outside the scope of the current model).
  • We have also tried to recognise how geopolitical change can impact suddenly not only on fuel supplies but also the benefit of energy interconnection. This lack of resilience in renewable energy supply can be compounded by pan-European weather conditions (such as prolonged high pressure systems in the winter) that can made interconnections less valuable. We may require a larger capacity of renewables supported by local gas fired generation combined with a much improved energy storage system.

We found the cost comparison element of the tool particularly useful. One of the most interesting comparisons is with the ‘do nothing’ scenario. It would appear that whatever we do will increase costs. However, this does not take into account the costs of adaptation alone. I remain a strong advocate of the Stern approach; doing nothing will cost us as a nation far more than taking action to mitigate the impact of climate change. Key elements of the Atkins Pathway remain:

  • Demand side reduction in the domestic housing stock will be slow and emphasis must be placed on improvements in the commercial sector where there are fewer obstacles.
  • Electrification of the transport network and the delivery of low-carbon mass transit schemes must be a priority. The rapid improvement in the capacity of vehicle batteries has been marked in the last six months and we must make swift decisions on the infrastructure to support the rapid take-up of electric vehicles.
  • Make better use of ‘waste heat’ from the thermal generation of electricity. The opportunities for district heating remain good. The technology is simple and readily available.
  • Due to the variability of electricity supply from renewables and the lag in the development and take-up of CCS technology it is inevitable that a significant proportion of our electricity base-load will be provided by nuclear power.
  • Variable load must be provided by coal and gas fired stations provided with high levels of CCS. We recognise that the coal fired stations may end their operational lives substantially fired with biomass but that this will be a short to medium term solution.
  • A wide variety of renewables technologies must be adopted and greater prominence must be given to solar PV, tidal, hydroelectric and geothermal schemes.
  • We must maximise the usage of off-shore wind and understand the spare capacity required for low and median wind conditions.

We look forward to hearing your views. Keith Clarke Director of Sustainability, Atkins plc

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