In 2019, the UK Climate Change of Act set a target of net zero emissions by 2050. In 2022 the UK energy industry supported over 734,000 jobs and the entire energy sector supply chain contributed $190bn to the UK economy. The energy sector invested $17bn in the UK in 2022, which represented 7% of total investment. There is over $125bn in planned investment in new energy sources over the next decade.
The UK’s focus on energy security and building a low carbon economy creates many opportunities for U.S. companies to supply products and services that will help achieve its goals. In March 2023, the government released Powering Up Britain, its energy “manifesto”. The clean energy plans target nuclear, offshore wind, and hydrogen power, among other initiatives including increasing energy efficiency, electric vehicle infrastructure, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS).
In 2022, total energy production was 110.2 million tons of oil equivalent, a 3.1% rise from 2021. Oil and natural gas accounted for 38% and 34% of total production, respectively. Oil production declined from 2021, while natural gas and primary electricity (consisting of wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro) industries increased their production. 2022 saw a rise in the UK’s use of renewable energy despite slightly lower energy demand in 2022 with a mix of electricity generation sources: 38.4% gas, 28.8% wind and solar, 14.7% nuclear, 12.7% other renewable, 1.7% coal and 3.7% other. In 2022, the UK exported more power than it imported.
The UK energy sector presents large and diverse opportunities for U.S. businesses but also some challenges.
The maturity and competitiveness of the UK energy market typically make product quality and performance, delivery timescales and costs key to market acceptance. Investing time and resources in getting to know the key stakeholders and establishing solid relationships is essential for succeeding in the UK energy market. Many buyers, including the UK government, value a green supply chain. The lack of a skilled workforce to meet the growing demand in some energy sub-sectors presents opportunities for U.S. businesses to fill gaps.
Like the United States, the UK is dealing with aging infrastructure and a constrained grid that has not adapted to the dispersed nature of renewable energy sources (e.g., wind and solar farms). As a result, renewable energy companies have complained about long wait times for a grid inter-connection. Firms must also be prepared for a lengthy and time-consuming planning and consent process for new construction projects from the local through national levels (e.g., nuclear plant, wind farm). The UK government is examining how to reform and streamline the planning process, accelerate transmission upgrades, and improve grid delivery. This creates opportunities for firms who offer solutions to increase energy efficiency, optimize and upgrade the grid.
Nuclear: Strong political support and plans for expansion mark the UK as a significant opportunity for U.S. civil nuclear exports. Prospects for services beyond new plant construction, particularly decommissioning and advanced reactor development, remain positive and growing. Robust competition and financing are the chief obstacles for U.S. industry. The UK has privatized power generation and liberalized its electricity market, which together make major capital investments problematic.
The United Kingdom has 15 civil nuclear reactors currently in operation. The current nuclear power stations produce enough electricity to power every home in the UK for 18.5 years, saving 1.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions. All but one of the current operating reactors are scheduled to be shut down by 2030.
The United Kingdom also has plans to bring new plants online and is looking at small modular reactor (SMR) opportunities to offset some of the expected loss in nuclear generation. The government aims to have up to 24 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2050 to provide about 25% of electricity. Sponsored by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Great British Nuclear (GBN) was launched to drive delivery of new nuclear projects, providing an overarching structure to oversee the selection of new nuclear sites and technologies.
The country has full fuel cycle facilities from fuel manufacture and reactor operation through to reprocessing and recycling of nuclear materials followed by dismantling and decommissioning.
Wind: Wind is an important part of the UK power network. The UK has the largest installed capacity of offshore wind in the world, 13.8GW. Wind farms contributed a record 26.8% of the country’s electricity in 2022. The UK aims to develop up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 and increase offshore wind capacity five-fold by 2035. Much of the offshore wind capacity is in the North Sea. Scotland alone is targeting 40GW installed offshore wind capacity by 2030. New onshore wind farms are currently banned limiting opportunities in this arena.
Government working groups and taskforces are focused on how to sustain and grow the offshore wind industry and supply chains in the long-term. Government funded demonstration programs, investment and infrastructure, innovation and testing centers provide support in the UK market. There are 8 regional offshore clusters across the UK that serve as catalysts to promote regional strengths, supply chain capabilities, encourage new sector entrants, and drive innovation and partnerships.
Smart Grids: The UK needs to expand and upgrade the grid to adapt to increasing supply of renewable energy and ever-increasing demand. Smart grid technology and applications help the UK maximize use of the current system. Thanks to a highly competitive electricity sector and recent efforts by the government and regulators, the UK market offers many prospects. UK public and private organizations are investing in grid upgrades, creating significant business opportunities for U.S. companies that have developed innovative products, services or technologies related to the smart grids ICT segment. Increasing demand, constrained supply, emphasis on energy security and challenging carbon reduction targets driving transformation in energy and utilities and smart grid technologies will play a key role in this space. For example, the UK requires that energy suppliers provide smart meters to customers that are connected to a national smart metering communications network.
Energy Storage: During high wind periods, UK wind farms can produce more power than the grid transmission system can handle. UK’s National Grid pays wind producers curtailment fees to turn off at certain times to not overload the grid. In 2022, wind farms received $273 million to not operate. Battery storage systems help reduce the need for curtailment payments.
The UK has 2.4GW/2.6GWh of operational energy storage across 161 sites, with 20.2GW additional approved in planning. The UK is deploying increasing amounts of new utility energy storage capacity each year. The total pipeline for UK energy storage is now at 61.5GW across 1,319 sites. The planned capacity of storage sites is increasing, with many 100 MW and larger.
Existing plants’ life extension and new build: Existing nuclear plants are all owned and operated by EDF Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of the EDF Group (headquartered in France), one of Europe’s largest energy groups. EDF Energy spends about $800 million per year on plant upgrades to enable ongoing operation. EDF Energy is building two Areva (France) European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs) at Hinkley Point C in Somerset and Sizewell C in Suffolk. Construction at Hinkley Point started in 2018, and EDF plans to connect the first of these new reactors to the grid by 2027. Hinkley Point, which has been delayed and beset with cost overruns, is a joint venture of EDF (66.5%) with China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN) (33.5%). Sizewell C is a 50-50 joint venture between His Majesty’s Government (HMG) and EDF. It will follow the same design as Hinkley Point once construction begins. Sizewell C is the first nuclear project eligible for the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model under which consumers pay levies on their energy bills before the plant generates electricity. Major U.S. engineering companies (Bechtel, Jacobs, GE through Alstom acquisition) are involved in the project.
The UK has not decided whether to pursue large- or small-scale nuclear reactors at the Wylfa nuclear site, on the island of Anglesey in North Wales.
Small and Advanced Modular Reactors: The UK government has laid out its commitment to developing and deploying advanced modular reactors (AMRs) and small modular reactors (SMRs). Great British Nuclear, a UK Government nuclear energy and fuels company, is conducting an SMR competition to select two technologies. Some U.S. companies have engaged with GBN in the initial stages of the technical selection process. GBN will open opportunities for U.S. SMR and AMR technology and service to expand into the UK.
Decommissioning: The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) owns 17 nuclear sites across the UK and is responsible for delivering the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s civil nuclear legacy. NDA will also be responsible for decommissioning the UK’s 7 advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR) stations. It aims to do this by introducing innovation and contractor expertise through a series of competitions. For the supply chain, decommissioning is a significant market: the United Kingdom plans to shut down fourteen reactors by 2030 and currently plans to spend approximately $5.0 billion in 2023-2024 on decommissioning programs. Major U.S. engineering companies are involved. New opportunities continue to open as efforts expand to additional sites.
Offshore Wind: Located on England’s north coast, Hornsea 1 farm is currently the world’s largest operational wind farm with 174MW of wind turbines. Seagreen Wind Farm is Scotland’s largest offshore fixed wind farm and is planned for 1,075 MW total installed capacity once fully operational, by end of 2023. Dogger Bank A, B, and C (and potentially D) is a series of windfarms off the northeast coast of England. When the three phases are completed in 2026, Dogger Bank will be the world’s largest wind farm and will have an installed generation capacity of 3.6GW to meet 5% of total UK demand.
The Crown Estate, a collection of lands and holdings in the United Kingdom belonging to the British monarch as a corporation sole, making it “the sovereign’s public estate”, studies prospective locations, engaging stakeholders before selection, giving industry an opportunity to provide input. The Estate then holds leasing rounds for new offshore wind project tenders. The continued build-out of new offshore wind farms present opportunities for U.S. manufacturers and service providers from design and planning though construction and installation. Once installed, operations and maintenance (O&M) service providers are needed. Working through the various UK offshore wind regional clusters can facilitate collaboration opportunities.
The development of the UK smart grid is creating opportunities for traditional energy infrastructure vendors while opening the market to new players. Traditional vendors will benefit from large-scale renewal of utility assets as customer and grid applications are deployed and will be able to differentiate their product lines through increased functionality and integration with other smart technologies. New players – IT providers, networking and telecommunications companies, and systems integrators – will benefit from major technology investments.
Target sectors holding high potential for U.S exporters include:
- Smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure
- Communication and data management software
- Grid optimization and automation technologies
- Demand response and control systems
- Energy management for distributed generation and storage
- Cyber security software and services
- Consumer engagement platforms and services
Purchasers of U.S. smart grid goods and services include generation, transmission, and distribution companies. The UK gas and electricity market is unbundled (non-vertically integrated), and the major stakeholders involved in the implementation of smart grids include:
- Suppliers: British Gas, EdF Energy, E.ON UK, RWE Npower, Scottish Power, and SSE (these six organizations are known as the “Big 6” and control the majority of the energy retail market).
- Transmission networks operators: Cadent Gas (controls half of the eight regional transmission networks) National Grid (controls the national gas transmission network), Scottish Power Transmission, Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission and Northern Ireland Electricity.
- Distribution networks operators: Electricity North West, Northern Ireland Electricity, Northern PowerGrid, SP Energy Networks, SSE Power Distribution, UK Power Networks, and Western Power Distribution.
The Energy Networks Association Smart Networks Portal lists the various UK smart grid projects and is a good resource to find information about the major players (potential buyers and partners for U.S. companies) involved in this space.
Energy storage is a high priority for the UK government and a key component of its push towards a net zero carbon economy.
The UK has the largest installed capacity of offshore wind in the world; however, because the availability and speed of wind is not constant, energy can sometimes be produced when it is not needed and then lost. Batteries and other energy storage methods are vital for maintaining consistent supply from renewable sources, which naturally fluctuate over hours, days, and weeks. They help grid operators finely balance the supply of electricity to meet demand, and provide extra resources when needed, such as for frequency response.
Major developers of UK energy storage projects include Anesco, EDF, Pivot Power, Statera, and RES, with each company active in several power supply and flexibility markets, providing services to National Grid and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), as well as operating in the wholesale energy markets.
June 18-19, 2024. Manchester
Annual event, 2024. London
Annual event October/ November 2024
For further information, please contact:
Rachel Fefer, Commercial Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service, Tel: +44 (0)20 7891 3040