Bob Blackman is the MP for Harrow East.
This week, tens of millions of people tuned in to England’s Semi Final match against Denmark. At this point, millions of TVs would have been switched on, kettles boiled and pints poured. We all assumed that everything would work perfectly, and we would be able to enjoy the football without anything going wrong.
For our national grid, however, it is at times like this when it truly earns its stripes. Despite a sudden spike in demand for thousands of extra MW of electricity, we will not need to worry about our TVs turning off, drinking a cold tea or forcing down a warm pint.
Over many decades now, we have had a reliable source of electricity that has enabled us to get on with our daily lives. The Three Day Week of 1974 is a distant memory for most and unheard of for others. However, over the next few decades, our electricity usage is set to rise exponentially and thousands of green, clean jobs will be created as we pursue getting to Net Zero by 2050. But, as we electrify more and more of what we use, our grid will come under increasing pressure.
Having a plan to deal with this transition is critical. Many countries around the world are now setting out their ambitions for this change ahead of COP26 later this year.
Now we need to map out a clear pathway for how we get there.
While recent years have seen us invest significantly in forms of renewable energy such as offshore wind, the importance of having a reliable baseload of firm power remains essential to the energy mix. Investing in renewables such as solar and wind is essential to the energy mix, but when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, where do we turn?
One essential answer is gigawatt nuclear: a zero carbon, continuous, reliable source of firm power. If we are to get to Net Zero it has to be not just a part of, but central to, the energy mix.
However, over the next decade all but one of the UK’s currently operating nuclear power plants will shut down. This is a frightening prospect. Hinkley Point C is the only other under construction, while the Government is in discussions over Sizewell C, the proposed new nuclear plant in Suffolk. If we are serious about getting to Net Zero, it is essential that Sizewell C is built, and that construction starts soon.
New nuclear will allow the UK to take further control of our energy production, reducing our reliance on imports from overseas. While interconnectors, which import this energy, play a vital role in keeping our power switched on, we should be looking at what we can do domestically to build our own firm power supply of clean energy. As we saw with French power supply threats in the Jersey fishing row, it’s important we have control over our power supply.
Moving forward with Sizewell C quickly is the essential next step in the resurgence of an industry that Hinkley Point C has revitalised over the last five years. As a former nuclear supply chain worker, I can testify to the value of the 70,000 highly skilled job opportunities it supports across the UK. The heart of its supply chain will be based in the North West where 65 years ago this year the Queen opened the UK’s first nuclear plant in Calder Hall. The industry is the blueprint for levelling up the UK and for showing British industry at its best.
Not only this but investing in new nuclear has the power to support our Net Zero ambitions. Surplus power and heat can be used to produce hydrogen and power carbon capture. The recent successful Freeport East bid to secure £250,000 of government funding will support a Direct Air Capture project which will help demonstrate the exciting potential of this technology. These projects will also all lay the groundwork for Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Modular Reactors as the supply chain continues to be established, enabling the UK to become a world leading exporter of nuclear technology.
After overwhelming backing not just in the last General Election but at the recent local elections, voters are now expecting to see delivery. Words put into action. Sizewell C is ready to showcase the best of what Britain has to offer – highly skilled jobs across the country which will power us forward on the road to Net Zero and give us control of our own energy.
So, while it won’t have been the first thought in everyone’s minds as they switched on their TVs to watch the footie, we should remain thankful to have an energy system which we don’t even need to think about.
By the way, I rightly guessed 2-0 to us last week when we went head-to-head with Germany so my prediction now? It’s coming home.