Friday, April 1, 2016

After Hinkley: Plan B

In March, Lynne Featherstone, a peer and former coalition minister, speaking in the House of Lords, asked: ‘If it does not proceed with Hinkley Point, what is the government’s plan B for the security of our energy supply in future years, given that the support for renewables industries has been completely undermined by the government and that there is still no commitment to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which would provide energy for 120 years – three times as long as would a nuclear power station?’

With the Hinkley nuclear project looking increasingly likely to fail, she was not alone in seeing the Swansea tidal project as part of  a ‘Plan B’, and as in any case, as better than nuclear: David Jones, a Tory former cabinet minister, said: ‘Nuclear projects are finite and have potential unforeseen consequences in terms of disposal of waste, [but] tidal lagoons provide a clean source of power that, built on a Victorian scale, will last for many decades if not centuries.’ Another Welsh Tory MP, Byron Davies, said the lagoon ‘has the potential to produce energy that is cheaper than even nuclear and gas’, while the Labour MP Paul Flynn said tidal energy was ‘free, British and of immense power, whereas the source of energy for Hinkley Point is an imported form of fuel that will leave a legacy for all time’.

Are they right? Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister, told MPs that the Swansea Bay scheme was ‘not comparable’ to the new nuclear station. Sadly, she is right, it’s only ~300MW compared to the 3.2GW nuclear plant- over ten times larger. And although its capital cost, put at around £1bn, would make it cheaper/MW than the £24bn Hinkley project (roughly £3m v £8m/MW), its load factor would be very much lower (maybe 18% v 90%), so the cost per kWh of electricity produced could be ~20% higher. Or even more, if EDF’s figure of £18bn for Hinkley is used (the £24bn figure is an estimate from the EU including the full project finance costs).  Certainly it’s been said the lagoon would need a much higher level of CfD support than Hinkley (around £160 v £92.5/MWh), although that could be reduced if the CfD contract ran over a long period. Hinkley’s contract is for 35 years. Renewables have only been given 15 years.

Leadsome did admit that ‘the Swansea Bay project was in our manifesto. The government absolutely recognises its potential to deliver low-carbon, secure energy for the future. However, it was not a commitment to deliver a contract for difference. This government [is] absolutely determined to prioritise keeping costs down, to be on the consumer’s side and to decarbonise at the lowest price while keeping the lights on.’ So while the project was ‘of huge interest’, the government ‘must keep a close eye on the cost’. 

That is not to say the Swansea lagoon and other larger, maybe cheaper, lagoons, cannot be part of Plan B, but, if we are seeking to replace the 3.2 GW Hinkley and the maybe 16GW of new nuclear at one time envisaged, we will need a lot more renewable energy projects as well as energy saving projects. That is on top of the already quite large contribution from renewables, with around 14GW of wind and 10GW of PV supplying about 20% of annual UK electricity at present. Renewables could reach over 30% by 2020 on current plans.  However, there is significant potential for expansion beyond that.

Hinkley is currently meant to come on line by around 2025, though more likely, in the event, it would be a bit later- if it goes ahead.  But if it doesn’t, there have been several high renewables scenarios, running up to 2030, that might be candidates for Plan B. For example from CAT:  Greenpeace:   and  Friends of the Earth: And also, for the South West:

They have their strengths and weaknesses. The Greenpeace ‘Windgas’ scenario focuses on direct replacement of Hinkley with wind, with power-to-gas conversion ensuring that the output would be the same- reliable around the clock. That’s fine for polemical purposes, meeting the intermittency issue head on. ‘Wind to gas’ is clearly clever and sensible. But a full alternative scenario would also include other renewables and other energy management options, as in the Friends of the Earth scenario. However, that was produced in 2012 and much has happened since then, including many advances in system management. Similarly, for the partial South West scenario. We need something new, fuller, and up to date. The best so far seems to be another one from Greenpeace:  That aims to supply 85% of UK electricity from renewables by 2030. However, it too has limits. It downplays system management and does not look at the economics. Neither does the even more ambitious CAT near-100% renewable energy by 2030 scenario.

There are several 2050 UK renewables/low carbon scenarios which can act as guides, including one from a team of leading academics, which focuses heavily on local level systems, including biomass/waste-fired CHP,  feeding local heat networks:
And more recently, Dr Mark Barrett at University College has updated his extensive low carbon UK Energy system model, which runs up to 2050. He is presenting it in a talk soon:

So we have plenty of guides. Renewables are getting cheaper by the day- on shore wind is already 30% cheaper than Hinkley would be by 2025/26 and it will get even cheaper: So will PV- there are already projects going ahead with lower CfD strike prices than Hinkley would get. And offshore wind could well also be cheaper by then:  Indeed, the recent Budget announcement said offshore wind CfDs would be set at £85/MWh for projects commissioned in 2026- much less than the £92.5/MWh Hinkley would get then, if it’s built.
More will need to be done on the heat and transport side (e.g. with bio/green syngas), but electricity use is actually falling -generation fell by13% over the last decade:

Given proper attention to energy saving, it should be possible to come up with a viable non-nuclear strategy, based on wind, on and offshore, PV solar, large and small, and biomass/waste CHP, as well as other renewables, including tidal current turbines and lagoons, along with the necessary balancing/energy management systems. The latter might add 10% to costs initially, but smart grid and supergrid systems will also lead to savings- the recent National Infrastructure Commission says of up to £8bn p.a. by 2030. 
However, someone has to put this all together and campaign effectively on it.  At present Labour’s shadow energy minister, Lisa Nandy, still seems in thrall to nuclear- her Plan B is apparently to go for mini nukes! Can it just be left to the NGOs and academics to rescue the situation?


  1. I have a wonderful read of this post, it a kind of heart warming that the whole world are participating for the development and enhancement of renewable energy for future generation.

  2. Thanks for sharing your perspectives, it nice to know the growing numbers of people who cares more about the future generation.

  3. The Hinkley C contract is £92.50 per MWh in 2012 prices but £100 per MWh in current prices. The latter figure needs to be used in comparison with other fuels costed in 2016 prices

  4. Thanks for keeping at it Dave! You raise the question of who will do anything about it. Probably not the Government or Electricity Supply Industry. Raising public awareness of the value of demand response would be a good start - it's worth about £50 billion if we can avoid two more Hinkley sized reactors.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this issue.