Hinkley alternatives ‘cheaper, quicker and simpler’

26th August 2016


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  • Generation ,
  • Conventional ,
  • Fossil fuels ,
  • Nuclear

Author

Kelly-Ann Ee

Investing in offshore wind, interconnectors with other countries and energy efficiency would save the UK around £1 bn, maintain energy security and meet climate targets, removing the need to build Hinkley Point C, experts say.

The £18 bn nuclear power plant is currently under review by the government. Analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) considered how the UK could meet the so-called ‘energy trilemma’ of maintaining supply, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and keeping costs down if the government decided not to support the project in Somerset.

The existing deal with French energy company EDF and Chinese financiers, which was agreed by former chancellor George Osborne, commits the UK to a 35-year contract with a payment of £92.50 per megawatt hour (MWh) for electricity produced by Hinkley. This is more than double the current wholesale market price. It also increases with inflation each year.

ECIU pointed out that, even if Hinkley is given the green light by the government, the £18 bn project could be derailed by legal cases and EDF’s ongoing financial problems.

In its analysis, the ECIU looked at only established energy technologies; those that are proven at utility scale and where the economics are known. Alternatives recommended in its report include:

  • Generating an extra 8.6GW (assuming a load factor of 33%) through an additional 1,147 offshore wind turbines. This would cut the average household bill by £10–£20 per year compared with the paying for Hinkley, the ECIU said.
  • Installing three or four cables to supply 3.8–4.9 GW of additional new interconnector capacity. These would be in addition to the six interconnectors currently agreed or under development with Belgium, Norway, France and Denmark.
  • Improving residential energy efficiency to levels that meet the most ambitious scenario set out by the National Grid would cut demand for electricity by 30TWh, enough to offset two-fifths of the output from Hinkley. ECIU noted that figure underestimated the overall impact of measures to improve energy efficiency because it does not include potential improvements in business or the public sector.
  • Increasing use of demand-side response, where businesses are rewarded for rescheduling non-essential processes away from peak times. The analysts pointed to a report by the National Infrastructure Commission, which concluded that shifting just 5% of current peak demand in this way would be enough to replace the output of one nuclear power station.

ECIU energy analyst Dr Jonathan Marshall said the changing nature of electricity systems placed a question mark over Hinkley’s relevance.

‘The UK’s energy infrastructure is ageing and increasingly unreliable, so clearly we need to replace bits of it; and there’s no doubt that nuclear reactors generally supply low-carbon electricity reliably,’ he said.

‘But electricity systems are changing rapidly across the world, and it’s striking that figures such as the former head of National Grid and his Chinese counterpart have said recently that “always-on” baseload generation [such as that produced by nuclear power plants] is the way of the past.'

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