Renewables, nuclear, or fossil fuels? Scenarios for Great Britain's power system considering costs, emissions and energy security

Stefan Pfenninger*, James Keirstead

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Mitigating climate change is driving the need to decarbonize the electricity sector, for which various possible technological options exist, alongside uncertainty over which options are preferable in terms of cost, emissions reductions, and energy security. To reduce this uncertainty, we here quantify two questions for the power system of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland): First, when compared within the same high-resolution modeling framework, how much do different combinations of technologies differ in these three respects? Second, how strongly does the cost and availability of grid-scale storage affect overall system cost, and would it favor some technology combinations above others? We compare three main possible generation technologies: (1) renewables, (2) nuclear, and (3) fossil fuels (with/without carbon capture and storage). Our results show that across a wide range of these combinations, the overall costs remain similar, implying that different configurations are equally feasible both technically and economically. However, the most economically favorable scenarios are not necessarily favorable in terms of emissions or energy security. The availability of grid-scale storage in scenarios with little dispatchable generation can reduce overall levelized electricity cost by up to 50%, depending on storage capacity costs. The UK can rely on its domestic wind and solar PV generation at lower renewable shares, with levelized costs only rising more than 10% above the mean of 0.084 GBP/kWh for shares of 50% and below at a 70% share, which is 35% higher. However, for more than an 80% renewable generation share to be economically feasible, large-scale storage, significantly more power imports, or domestic dispatchable renewables like tidal range must be available.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-93
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Energy
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Energy policy
  • Energy systems modeling
  • Renewable energy
  • Scenarios


Dive into the research topics of 'Renewables, nuclear, or fossil fuels? Scenarios for Great Britain's power system considering costs, emissions and energy security'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this