The government have hit the pause button on the unravelling of the multi-billion pound nuclear deal, Hinkley Point C. This time to pause is being spent looking at what Hinkley can really offer in return for £37bn of energy consumers’ money.
The amount of opposing views and doubts are growing, as everybody is now aware the world and the electricity landscape has radically changed.
In 2008, John Hutton (then business secretary, now chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association) maintained that there is no alternative and we needed Hinkley to keep the lights on.
“Then, just 5.5% of the UK’s electricity came from renewables. It’s now 25%. Costs have plummeted – solar photovoltaic is 50% cheaper than it was in 2011, onshore wind is down 43%. More than 800,000 homes now have rooftop solar and the UK was recently ranked sixth in the world for total solar capacity - despite our weather.
It is ranked first in the world for offshore wind, which is on course to supply 10% of our power by 2020, much more than Hinkley C. The cost for wind and solar is coming down too.
The way we increasingly get our energy is changing. The former chief executive of the National Grid, Steve Holliday, said that the idea that we need nuclear power stations to provide baseload electricity is “outdated”.” The Guardian
However, when it comes to renewables as an alternative, Hinkley supporters are still worried about baseload. "How do we keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing?”
Interconnectors (the cables connecting the UK with European countries such as Norway) are tackling intermittent supply coming from renewables. If renewables were to be relied upon rather than Hinkley, interconnectors are only part of the solution.
A large concern is that renewable electricity demand is not constant. “At peak times, there can be up to 50% more demand compared to the average – typically when people get home from work in the early evening and prepare their evening meal, especially in winter.”
The demand for electricity needs to be met with the ability to generate power that can be switched on when needed- even at very short notice.
Various solution can do this, including Hydropower which has reservoirs in places like Scotland and Sweden being filled up at times of low demand so that water can be released through turbines in times of high demand.
Gas-fired plants can also supply at short notice, but obviously this comes at a carbon cost. However, this can be used only as back up for when power is urgently required and only until the alternatives become more mainstream.
This is where we introduce the real leap forward… Energy storage.
“You can also look at energy demand another way. Rather than building lots of extra capacity to meet intermittent peaks, could those peaks be lower by shutting down demand where and when it’s not needed?
Energy systems and the thinking behind them are changing fast. What happened in just a few years with telephones - where we moved from centralised exchanges and fixed landlines to mobile phones - is about to happen with energy systems. Hinkley is a roadblock in this transition.” John Sauven, Greenpeace.
Google and Tesla are already experimenting with smart energy – managing how gadgets are switched on and off.
Energy storage is already changing the way people are powering their homes on a household scale. Homeowners can make the most of the energy generated by their solar panels by storing excess power generated at peak times of the day for use at a later date.
On a larger scale, energy storage could provide a strong alternative to the Yorkshire nuclear power plant and in turn save energy, money and the carbon footprint.
The National Grid predicts that in some scenarios by 2020, a third of total UK capacity will be represented by small-scale and distributed generation. This means energy generation in the future will be more local and in our control, therefore providing greater energy security at a lower cost.
“A low-carbon future is essential. So is energy security and affordable energy. If we are to deliver on all three, there is a huge investment opportunity across renewable energy, interconnectors, energy storage, smart grids and energy efficiency. We mustn’t squander that money and opportunity on Hinkley Point C.” John Sauven, Greenpeace.