Chair of Diplomat magazine & Public Policy Projects’ Maximising COP26 series, Rt Hon Amber Rudd considers the highlights of our session with French Ambassador HE Catherine Colonna and CEO of EDF in the UK, Simone Rossi
The road to COP26 is full of confusing but vital steps. Every time we make progress in one area, another one looms as unresolved in a different sector.
But decarbonisation touches every sector across the world.
Front and centre is the energy transition: the huge challenge of powering the world to net zero by 2050.
The role of nuclear, however, in the energy mix isn’t getting as much exposure as the many other low carbon sources.
That was why I decided to make my first event – as Chair of Public Policy Projects’ Maximising COP26 Series – on nuclear energy.
Based on their history, resources and culture, countries vary hugely in their approaches to the energy transition. Appreciating these differences is vital, but it means there is opportunity for sharing best practice between countries.
France is the leading European country on nuclear energy, which is why I was delighted that we were joined by H.E. Catherine Colonna, Ambassador of France to the UK. The Ambassador was our first speaker and set out France’s existing electricity mix, which is already 90 per cent decarbonised. President Macron has made clear that nuclear will remain a vital pillar in achieving net zero while pledging investment to double installed capacity of renewables by 2028.
After the Ambassador, we heard from Simone Rossi, the CEO of EDF in the UK.
Mr Rossi made the argument for nuclear: as a component of a net-zero energy mix, nuclear, he told us, in fact reduces the cost of complete decarbonisation by providing the base load and consistency that can be difficult and expensive to achieve from other renewables.
Tom Greatrex, CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association, underlined the necessity of nuclear in achieving net zero by 2050 as one of the many ingredients. The net zero endpoint requires all sectors decarbonising along ambitious timelines, so a broad array of technologies must be pursued – rather than governments picking too few ‘winners.’ Nuclear, alongside hydrogen and others, is a valuable avenue to aid decarbonisation alongside momentum-carried renewables, he told us.
Former UK Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth Rt Hon Claire O’Neill added that it is unwise to compare per-unit costs of nuclear energy compared to other renewables. Nuclear’s value comes in its capacity to operate continuously and adapt brilliantly to fluctuating grid demand, so comparisons with intermittent sources of energy are unjustified.
Professor Dieter Helm, while stating that he is agnostic about nuclear energy, highlighted the capacity of nuclear to be competitive in its contrast to the intermittency of renewables. In a decarbonised energy mix, careful energy market and public policy design can incentivise both the deployment of nuclear and renewables simultaneously, building a resilient and cost-effective energy grid.
Our discussion on paying for nuclear electricity acknowledged the need to explain to the public what they were paying for. If bills are going to go up to cover the big bills from financing nuclear electricity, then government will need to give the public a clear explanation.
Addressing international nuclear projects, we discussed the role of China, which has become a leader in building new nuclear plants but is also a country that the UK has concerns about sharing technology with.
The role of small- and medium-reactors (SMRs) was briefly discussed. While still a nascent area of the energy industry, SMRs (and even nuclear fusion) are an exciting alternative to the very big nuclear projects.
The goal of net zero is both hugely ambitious and critically urgent.
It can’t be “either” “or.” For now, it needs to be “all in.”
A series of webinars hosted by Diplomat magazine and PPP will build upon these topics throughout 2021. Areas planned for discussion include green energy and infrastructure, agriculture, oceans and telecommunications. At these events, diplomats and global leaders from government, business, academia and civil society will gather to share climate best practices ahead of COP26 in November.
If you would like to get involved with the series, please contact:
Venetia van Kuffeler, Editor, E: firstname.lastname@example.org