UK signals shift from nuclear to renewables. Business Secretary says ‘economics of the energy market have changed significantly in recent years’. The government has signalled a big shift away from nuclear energy and towards renewables after Hitachi announced it was scrapping work on a new reactor because of the plummeting costs of offshore wind and solar power. Addressing MPs, the Business Secretary Greg Clarke said that despite “significant and generous” offers of financial support from the government, the Japanese firm believed the £16bn Wylfa nuclear project in north Wales was no longer viable. The New York Times says the government had been “betting heavily on nuclear installations to help meet the country’s electric power needs in the coming decades”. Yet Hinkley is currently eight years behind, billions over budget and will lock the country in to paying £92.50 per megawatt hour compared to £57.50 for offshore wind. The deal between the Coalition and EDF was signed back in 2013 and guaranteed the French energy firm an index-linked price for 35 years from the moment the plant is commissioned in 2025. “Since then much has changed, and the assumptions which underpinned the old policy now look laughably wrong”, says the Financial Times. “While renewable costs continue to drop sharply,” reports The Independent, “those for new nuclear power generation have soared, partly as a result of tighter safety rules brought in after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.”
The Week 18th Jan 2019 read more »
Independent 17th Jan 2019 read more »
Only renewables can fix the UK’s nuclear energy crisis. “Hinkley Point might be the last nuclear power station ever built in the UK,” says Chris Goodall, an energy expert and author of The Switch. The changing economics of the electricity market made Hitachi’s decision “inevitable,” says Goodall. The falling cost of solar and wind power has made expensive, long-term nuclear projects such as Wylfa a much less attractive option. “The ground is shifting under their feet,” says Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre. At the same time, it has become much more expensive, at least in Western Europe, to build and deploy large-scale nuclear power projects. Recent attempts in Finland and France have run late and over budget, and many believe Hinkley Point C will suffer the same fate. There are ongoing efforts to develop cheaper alternatives such as small modular reactors, but these largely remain in the concept stage. “They still need to go through the stages of demonstration, seeing how much they cost, and testing the issue of public acceptance,” says Watson. Renewables are getting cheaper and better – wind is now third behind nuclear in sources of electricity in the UK. Increasingly, solar power is an option, even at higher latitudes, and the UK has “some of the best wind resources in the world,” according to Goodall. “I think renewables can do a lot more than people thought ten years ago,” says Watson. Renewables are also much quicker to deploy. Even if the Anglesey plant had gone ahead, it would have been at least a decade before it actually started generating power – in the same period, a huge number of onshore wind turbines could be installed. What’s needed is seasonal storage – technology that can smooth out the peaks and troughs inherent to renewable energy at a large, longer-term scale. Electricity could be stored as hydrogen, for instance, or as hydrogen converted to methane. “If we’re going to spend a great deal of money developing offshore and onshore wind, it’s inevitable that hundreds of times a year we’ll have a lot more than we need,” says Goodall. “We have to find a means of buffering.” Without investment in storage technology, the Hitachi announcement could prove a blow for efforts to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint. But experts are hopeful that it could scare the distracted government into putting its foot on the gas, and backing research and investment in alternative sources of carbon-free electricity. “It could result in more fossil fuel emissions,” says Goodall. “Or, it could put pressure on the government to go back to wind, and combine that with energy storage.”
Wired 18th Jan 2019 read more »
The government sought to downplay the latest blow to the UK’s low carbon energy plans, with Business Secretary Greg Clark hinting Hitachi’s decision to suspend all work on UK nuclear development was temporary while the government reviews its funding policy for the sector. Speaking in the House of Commons this morning, Clark said the government had offered Hitachi a “generous” package to develop Wylfa Newydd, including proposals for the government to take a one third equity stake in the scheme, commit to providing all the debt financing for construction, and offer a Contract for Difference power contract worth £75/MWh.
Business Green 17th Jan 2019 read more »
The government is not quite ready to drop its obsession with nuclear. Greg Clark knows nuclear cannot compete with the likes of wind and solar – but he is not giving up. here was excellent news within Hitachi’s decision to shelve its plan to build a £16bn nuclear plant at Wylfa in Anglesey. Finally, a government minister may have grasped the basic problem with nuclear power. It is being “out-competed” by alternative technologies, especially wind and solar, the business secretary, Greg Clark, had to concede in the Commons. Exactly. So drop the obsession with nuclear, last century’s answer to our energy needs. As Clark also said, the package offered to Hitachi was generous. The price of the power, at £75 per megawatt hour, was lower than in EDF’s Hinkley Point C contract, but on this occasion the government would have taken a one-third stake and committed to providing all the debt financing for construction. Adjust for the different financial structure and the package looked very Hinkley-like – in other words, hugely expensive for the poor old bill payer. Wind and solar have continued to tumble in price, as the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the body charged with injecting some long-term thinking into big national projects, noted last year. Its prescription: “Given the balance of cost and risk, a renewables-based system looks a safer bet at present than constructing multiple new nuclear power plants.” Clark doesn’t seem ready to go that far. He promised to set out a new approach to funding nuclear projects in the summer. We’ll await the details, but most of the supposedly “clever” financing solutions, such as the “regulated asset base” model, sound like ways to shovel construction risks on to consumers and disguise the fact within their bills. They don’t change the fundamental expense of nuclear. A better approach is possible. Ministers should read their own infrastructure adviser’s report.
Guardian 17th Jan 2019 read more »
BRIAN WILSON: Why ditching nuclear is bad for climate change, good for Putin. If the UK gets rid of nuclear power, it will become more reliant on fossil fuels from Russia, writes Brian Wilson. Amidst the fine talk about “taking back control”, it was ironic that the most significant announcement for the British economy emerged this week from a Tokyo boardroom. The decision by Hitachi to pull out of the planned Wylfa nuclear power station is not only devastating for the north Wales economy, it also leaves the UK without an energy policy worthy of the name. To some, this will be a cause for rejoicing. They hate nuclear power so much they do not care where the alternatives come from – Russia in the long run – or what they consist of – fossil fuels, mainly. Check out Germany where the anti-nuclear policy driven by the Greens resulted last year in 44 per cent of electricity being generated from coal, compared to seven per cent in the UK. The more nuclear they close, the more coal is burnt. Scotland, naturally, has been in the frontline of 21st century virtue-signalling. Hunterston and Torness are spoken of as if they were regrettable plagues upon our landscape, rather than essential engines of the Scottish economy for half a century. Soon they will be gone. Hunterston B has been providing baseload for 46 years and Torness for over 30. They are monuments to great Scottish engineering and well-paid jobs in communities that depended upon them. What, any more than in North Wales, are they to be replaced with?
Scotsman 19th Jan 2019 read more »
Letter: Catherine Mitchell, Professor of energy policy, University of Exeter: The pulling out of Hitachi from the proposed Wylva nuclear power plant is a good thing for energy policy – not a serious blow as said in the article. Nuclear power is now one of the most expensive form of electricity there is. But beyond the economics, it no longer fits with the digitalising world that we live in. The global energy system is undergoing change similar to that in telecoms and computers over the last few decades. The energy system is becoming smarter and more flexible and it is on the path to being operated in a completely different way than hitherto because of that. Nuclear – with its huge, inflexible output – is the equivalent of a giant boulder in the middle of a motorway. We, the energy customers of Britain, would have ended up paying way over the odds for Wylfa, which would have also undermined the UK’s move to a smart and flexible system – which really is the future. We are already going to do that for Hinkley Point C. Going down the nuclear route has been a wasted decade for UK energy policy. Exiting from the EU and the loss of flexibility we may end up with because of difficulties to do with interconnectors and market arrangements is a far greater threat to security than some phantom nuclear power plant from a previous age.
Guardian 18th Jan 2019 read more »