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Are Britain's nuclear new builds about to be stopped?

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As we reported recently on EngineeringPro, the UK has seemingly committed to a nuclear future with a swathe of nuclear power stations scheduled for construction over the coming decades. However, a new report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) could put a stop to this nuclear future, recommending that renewables be prioritised over nuclear power.

The recommendations form part of the NIC’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, which sets out the UK’s spending needs between now and 2050.
The National Infrastructure Assessment recommends that only one nuclear plant be built after Hinkley Point C before 2025.
For the UK’s nuclear power industry, the recommendation that will stand out most clearly is the suggestion that ‘only one nuclear plant be built after Hinkley Point C before 2025’ adding that this ‘would be enough to maintain the UK’s nuclear supply chain and skills base’.

It appears that this recommendation is based upon the increasing cost differential between offshore wind and nuclear power (a differential that was not evident when Hinkley Point C was originally commissioned). In the UK’s last capacity auction, in September 2017, two big offshore wind farms came in at £57.50 per megawatt hour, in 2012 pounds, and a third at £74.75. These ‘strike prices’ compare to the £92.50 for Hinkley Point C (in 2012 pounds).

The report is explicit in its calls for the prioritisation of renewables, stating that:

“The Commission’s modelling has shown that a highly renewable generation mix is a low-cost option for the energy system. The cost would be comparable to building further nuclear power plants after Hinkley Point C, and cheaper than implementing carbon capture and storage with the existing system. The electricity system should be running off 50 per cent renewable generation by 2030, as part of a transition to a highly renewable generation mix. Government should not agree support for more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley Point C before 2025.”
The falling cost of offshore wind power is making it a more attractive option than nuclear for policymakers in the UK.
UK electricity bills “can be frozen for 40 years”

For homeowners across the UK, the report also makes what would be a very welcome claim… that if the UK government acts now to develop renewable power, UK consumers will pay the same amount for their electricity in 2050 as they do now.

At present, consumers pay an average of £1,850 per year for electricity, heating, hot water and petrol or diesel. The Commission believes that the same services could be delivered at the same cost in 2050 by a low carbon energy system. Why? Because ‘the cost of renewables- primarily wind generation- ‘are far more likely to fall than the cost of nuclear power’.

Other measures that the Commission recommend include:

  • Establishing pilots to test hydrogen and heat pumps as low carbon heating options to replace natural gas. If these pilots are a success, hydrogen will be trialled at community level by 2021. Subject to the success of the community trial, a trial will be rolled out to supply hydrogen to at least 10,000 homes by 2023 (including hydrogen production with carbon capture and storage).

  • Increasing efforts to improve the energy efficiency of Britain’s homes and offices- including a £3.8 billion investment to deliver energy efficiency improvements in social housing.

  • Setting a target for recycling 65 per cent of municipal waste and 75 per cent of plastic packaging by 2030.

  • A transition to a largely renewables based energy mix could lead to electricity bills being 'frozen' according to the NIC's report.
    Commenting on the National Infrastructure Assessment, Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said:

    “Whether for cooking, lighting, keeping homes warm or electric cars on the road, where the UK’s energy comes from will need to change radically over the coming decades if the UK is to meet its legally-binding climate change targets. If we act now we have a golden opportunity to make our country greener and protect the money in the pockets of consumers long into the future- something few of us expected to be able to do.”

    “Ministers can seize this chance by investing in renewables and other-low carbon technologies, so they become the main players in our energy system- something that was considered a pipedream as little as a decade ago. But they need to act now to realise the full potential of what can be achieved.”

    Whilst this report may not necessarily signal the end of Britain’s nuclear new builds, it certainly provides a clear indication that renewables are increasingly the favoured choice of Britain’s policymakers and influencers.

    Can renewables really replace nuclear as the low-carbon energy source of choice? Let us know in the comments below…
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    Are Britain's nuclear new builds about to be stopped? - Time to read 4 min
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