Re­new­ables de­liver wind of change to solve our elec­tric­ity co­nun­drum

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - Paul dorf­man

We need to se­cure safe, af­ford­able, low-car­bon elec­tric­ity to power in­dus­try, trans­port, homes, hos­pi­tals and busi­nesses. The good news is that we can achieve this with re­new­able op­tions – and, some ar­gue, nu­clear power. How­ever, of the six des­ig­nated sites for a new UK nu­clear plant, three have been aban­doned, two are in doubt and only Hink­ley Point C is un­der con­struc­tion.

Hi­tachi’s de­ci­sion to quit the UK nu­clear new-build stage is an ob­vi­ous blow. But does it sig­nal a fun­da­men­tal change in our en­ergy pol­icy?

Stan­dard and Poor’s, the global credit rat­ing agency, sees “lit­tle eco­nomic ra­tio­nale for new nu­clear build in the US or West­ern Europe, ow­ing to mas­sive cost es­ca­la­tions and re­new­ables’ cost com­pet­i­tive­ness, which should lead to a ma­te­rial de­cline in nu­clear gen­er­a­tion in those coun­tries by 2040”.

Mean­while, Lazard, the as­set man­age­ment firm, says the cost of large-scale wind and so­lar is a frac­tion of that of new nu­clear, even if the cost of de­com­mis­sion­ing or the on­go­ing main­te­nance for nu­clear is ex­cluded. Bloomberg New En­ergy Fi­nance shows market prices for re­new­ables broadly sim­i­lar to Lazard’s.

Very re­cent UK gov­ern­ment re­ports and ear­lier par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees agree with market anal­y­sis.

The De­part­ment for Busi­ness, En­ergy and In­dus­trial Strat­egy has just con­firmed that re­new­ables would be at least one third cheaper than a Hink­ley C-type nu­clear project, even with­out the cheap­est avail­able stor­age tech­nolo­gies. The Na­tional Au­dit

Of­fice said that the eco­nomic case for new nu­clear at Hink­ley Point C was both “risky and ex­pen­sive for the UK tax­payer and en­ergy con­sumer”.

Mean­while, the Na­tional In­fra­struc­ture Com­mis­sion re­ported that new re­new­able en­ergy rep­re­sented the least cost for con­sumers.

Per­haps the key ar­gu­ment for new nu­clear is that it might help meet our car­bon re­duc­tion com­mit­ments. But cli­mate change poses a num­ber of unique chal­lenges.

One of the most dif­fi­cult is that we need to be car­bon-neu­tral and soon, oth­er­wise the pol­icy has failed. So it’s wor­ry­ing EDF ad­mits that it will take 20 years af­ter Sizewell C starts con­struc­tion to pay off its own car­bon bill. Not only that, but the UK In­sti­tu­tion of Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neers has voiced con­cerns that “pro­jected sea level rise could sig­nif­i­cantly re­draw the map of the UK, as well as power sta­tion sites such as Sizewell”.

It adds: “Nu­clear sites such as Sizewell, based on the coast­line, may need con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment to pro­tect against ris­ing sea lev­els, or even aban­don­ment and re­lo­ca­tion in the long term.”

What to do? Well, the En­ergy and Cli­mate In­tel­li­gence Unit rec­om­mends that, as old nu­clear comes off­line, it is re­placed with quick-to-build re­new­ables. And this makes sense given, for the first time ever, so­lar and wind make up the ma­jor­ity of the world’s new power gen­er­a­tion – mark­ing a seis­mic shift.

Yes, we can modernise our elec­tric­ity sys­tem and re­solve the real en­ergy trilemma – it’s an eco­nomic, tech­no­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal win-win.

Dr Paul Dorf­man is an hon­orary se­nior re­search fel­low at the En­ergy In­sti­tute, Univer­sity Col­lege London. In the past, he has worked as an ad­viser to the Gov­ern­ment on nu­clear is­sues

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