Is the tide turning against the new nuclear programme? The UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment, published by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) says the shift to greener energy is a “golden opportunity” – the UK can move to “highly renewable, clean and low-cost energy”, while ending the use of gas for heating and shifting to 100% sales of electric vehicle (EVs) by 2030. It says a “quiet revolution” in renewable costs means government should prioritise wind and solar, echoing new scenarios from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) (see below). It also calls for investment in energy efficiency to triple and for no more than one new nuclear plant to be agreed before 2025.
The Building Magazine website says NIC’s prediction is that the cost of an energy system heavily reliant on nuclear will, on current terms, be marginally more expensive than one powered 80%-90% by other renewables, and – importantly – that the cost of renewables is much more likely to fall in future and thus ultimately work out significantly cheaper. It is only because of all the uncertainties inherent in these predictions that it recommends continuing with nuclear at all. The assessment says a minimum of 50% and as much as 90% of UK electricity should come from renewables such as wind and solar power by 2050. Few outside of environmental lobby groups have ever proposed a UK electricity generation sector reliant 80%-90% on renewables before.
The magazine quotes Consultant Alistair Smith, formerly nuclear development director at contractor Costain, who says most contractors have already lost faith. “Aside from those involved in Hinkley, contractors have lost interest and have moved on to more exciting things. Everyone’s been burnt so many times that it would take a lot to convince a chief executive to go for another project again.”
The NIC’s assessment makes clear beyond any doubt that renewable energy has arrived in a way few thought possible even a decade ago. Spending money on more renewables and energy efficiency measures would create far more stable and certain construction work than lumpy, hard-to-fund nuclear projects.
Meanwhile, in what Emeritus Professor Dave Elliott calls ‘another blast of sense’ the Climate Change Committee’s annual progress report, says apart from Hinkley, “limited progress has been made with other new nuclear projects”, but “if new nuclear projects were not to come forward, it is likely that renewables would be able to be deployed on shorter timescales and at lower cost”
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