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UK conservatives realising that Hinkley Point Nuclear may well be unnecessary

text Hinkley cancelledIf wind and solar power are cheaper and quicker, do we really need Hinkley Point?, Guardian, , 21 Aug 16 Nuclear energy’s cost, and a focus on alternative technology, including research on a new generation of hi-tech battery storage, is leading observers outside the green lobby to question the project’s value.

Should Theresa May take the axe to the troubled Hinkley Point nuclear project, it will propel wind and solar power further into the limelight. And for renewable technologies to become really effective, Britain and the rest of the world need breakthroughs in electricity storage to allow intermittent power to be on tap 24/7, on a large scale and for the right price.

Cheap, light and long-life batteries are the holy grail, and achieving this requires the expertise of people like Cambridge professor Clare Grey. The award winning Royal Society fellow is working on the basic science behind lithium-air batteries, which can store five times the energy in the same space as the current rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are widely used today.

She is also focusing on sodium-ion and redox flow batteries; the latter store power in a liquid form, contained in vats or tanks that in theory can easily be scaled up to power-grid sizes.

“There has been an amazing transformation in this field. There is an explosion of interest and I am extremely lucky to have decided early on to concentrate on this area,” she says, although she is keen to play down the idea that a eureka moment is just around the corner.

She is also thankful for Hinkley – if only because of the government’s long-term funding deal with EDF Energy that it gave rise to. “It has put a price on [future] electricity in the market which is high, and this has potentially opened up further commercial space for new technologies such as batteries. But independent of Hinkley we do need better batteries and my chemistry will hopefully help find them,” she says.

The wisdom of bringing in the Chinese to help EDF, the French state-owned utility company, construct the proposed new Somerset reactors has been highlighted as a key factor behind the government’s reluctance to push the go button.

But ministers are also aware that, in the last 18 months, many experts in the field have concluded that the biggest argument against the plant is not that it is too expensive, at £18.5bn, but that the kind of “on-all-the-time” power it delivers is no longer what is required.

Even employers’ trade body the Institute of Directors said last week that it was right for the government to run the slide-rule over Hinkley again to see whether it really made sense.

City investment house RBC Capital Markets says no current minister starting from scratch today would ever agree to the deal George Osborne oversaw with EDF: a 35-year index-linked contract paying £92.50 per megawatt hour in 2012 money – double the current wholesale price of electricity.

But, more ominously for government, it adds: “We question whether such large-scale generation is needed in a rapidly changing and decentralising electricity market where the costs of renewables and storage are coming down.”

That is traditionally a message that has come from the leaders of the wind and solar sector – such as Jeremy Leggett, the founder of solar panel maker Solarcentury and a figurehead for the wider green industry.

He is delighted that others are picking up on arguments he has been making for years. “Finally the message is getting through that Hinkley, and indeed nuclear, make no sense today simply because wind and solar are cheaper. If we accelerate renewables in the UK, we can get to 100% renewable power well before 2050,” he says.

“The message is getting through on the feasibility of this too. One thousand cities around the world are committed to 100% renewable supply, some as soon as 2030. More than 60 giant corporations are committed to 100% [low carbon] supply, some as soon as 2020.”

Part of the growing confidence in wind and solar comes from experience. Portugal ran for four days on only wind, solar and hydro power in May, while solar power in Britain produced more electricity than coal-fired stations in the same month.

Dong Energy, the biggest investor in British offshore wind farms, says it is already possible to produce power with a subsidy of £85 per megawatt hour, and costs are dropping all the time.

The Global Wind Energy Council in Brussels claims that wind power alone reached 432.42 gigawatts of installed capacity at the end of 2015 – more than the 382.55GW of nuclear for the first time ever. But that wind capacity can be available on average only about 40% of the time, compared to 90% for nuclear.

Paul Dorfman, a senior research fellow at the Energy Institute at University College London, says for too long Hinkley has been justified by reference to immediate supply shortages that in fact can’t be met by nuclear. And he says that pouring money into new atomic power plants can only take investment away from renewables, whose costs are dropping, unlike those of atomic power.

“Hinkley will definitely not come online in time to help with the critical UK electricity gap or with our carbon emission commitments. In fact, due to inevitable delays and cost overruns, Hinkley will block scarce resources going to necessary UK renewables, grid upgrades, and energy efficiency. Don’t believe the hype: it’s not ‘nuclear and renewables’ – because of the sheer cost of nuclear, it’s ‘nuclear or renewables’,” he argues……..

August 21, 2016 - Posted by | general

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