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Why renewable energy is a better deal for Britain than Hinkley nuclear power

Nuclear power is risky and expensive; here’s a better idea

It makes more sense to invest in renewables, efficiency and storage than spending billions on Hinkley Point C, Guardian, , 15 Sept 16, In the 21st century, the UK will have to supply itself with power that is affordable, reliable and clean. But in almost every way, the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station offers only expensive and risky solutions from the 20th century.

A nuclear power station is about as useful in solving the dilemma as a 20th-century nuclear weapon is in ending a 21st-century guerilla insurgency, because a ground-level energy revolution is taking place. The old regime of large, centralised power plants is being replaced a smart, efficient and widely distributed network, powered by increasing amounts of renewable energy.

If that sounds radical, it’s not – it’s just how the internet works to provide fast and reliable communications. If it sounds like a hippy dream, it’s not – New York State’s energy plan has embraced it in order to deliver 50% renewable electricity by 2030 and a 23% cut in energy use by buildings. In the UK, this government aims to improve the energy efficiency of just half the homes retrofitted by the last one.

If you think New York State is alone in its thinking – it’s not. Bodies including the government’s own National Infrastructure Commission(NIC), the National Grid and industry group Energy UK all point to a smart system that is more secure, cheaper and faster to build and they all use the same word: “revolution”, while the International Energy Agency talks of a rapid “transition”.

The momentum behind the revolution is straightforward: cost. While renewable energy and other energy technologies are plummeting in price, nuclear power continues its historical trend of getting ever more expensive. Even if the UK negotiates a sharp cut in the subsidies for Hinkley, it still could not be built before 2026 at the earliest. By then, a capacity crunch will have hit the UK as old power stations close.

Hinkley puts a lot of generation capacity in one plan , which is very risky given the financial, legal and technical obstacles it faces. EDF, the French company leading the project, is taking on considerable financial risk, with Martin Young, an energy analyst at investment bank RBC Capital Markets, saying the project “verges on insanity”.

Court challenges – including from EDF’s own trade unions – abound and the fiendishly complex project has been described by one nuclear engineer as unconstructable. Two attempts to build the same reactor in France and Finland are miles over budget and behind schedule.

In contrast, energy efficiency could deliver six Hinkleys’ worth of electricity by 2030, according to the government’s own research. Four Hinkleys’ worth could be saved by increasing the ability to store electricity and making the grid smarter, with the latter alone likely to save billpayers £8bn a year.

Capturing and storing carbon from fossil fuel plants is also vital, but has received scant attention from the government compared with Hinkley. It would halve the cost of beating global warming, according to government’s own official advisers, but in November ministers abruptly canned its plan. The government will not be able to get out of the Hinkley deal, however. Once signed, the deal with EDF contains a “poison pill” which could leave taxpayers with a £22bn bill if a future UK government shuts down the plant.

The government has remained adamant that Hinkley, which could provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, is a vital part of a secure low-carbon future. But it is not just the idea of EDF’s partner, a Chinese state company, being involved that creates security fears. Nuclear power plants are prone to shutdowns, over safety concerns or even invasions of jellyfish into cooling waters as happened at Torness, in Scotland in 2011.

Closing down such a giant plant at short notice immediately puts the security of the nation’s electricity supply at risk. One back-up option recently favoured by the government is to deploy farms of diesel generators, which emit large volumes of carbon dioxide, ready to start up when needed.

Yet in a smart, distributed system, knocking out one wind turbine or solar panel is barely noticed by the grid.

The risk with Hinkley is that will it bring about the mutually assured destruction of both EDF and UK energy policy, with an expensive, hard-to-build reactor, in which the taxpayer will end up footing the bill.


September 16, 2016 - Posted by | renewable, UK

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