‘State of flux’: Hinkley alternatives would be cheaper and simpler, ECIU finds

The UK could meet its future energy and climate change targets without constructing the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, and the continued development of renewables and energy efficiency measures would in fact work out cheaper, a major new report has found.

Wind farms, additional interconnectors, gas-fired power stations and demand response measures could together save the UK as much as £1bn per year whilst keeping the lights on and meeting climate targets, according to the analysis released today (26 August) by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

Speaking to edie about the issue earlier this week, ECIU director Richard Black said: “Clearly, the biggest unresolved issue looming over everything else remains the Government’s decision on whether or not to go ahead with the new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. With the stakes so high on the project – mainly because of the astronomical sums of money involved – Hinkley overshadows almost all other aspects of energy and climate policy.

“Our energy system is in a state of flux, with informed energy market watchers in agreement that the UK is – in common with other developed economies – undergoing a profound shift. It’s moving from centralised electricity generation dominated by large fossil fuel or nuclear power stations towards a de-centalised system, featuring increasing amounts of renewable energy capacity and utilising a smart, flexible grid to actively manage electricity demand.”

Cutting waste

The ECIU’s report presents “cheaper, quicker and simpler” alternatives to EDF’s new nuclear power station that would significantly reduce costs whilst still providing the necessary clean power for the UK.

For example, replacing all Hinkley electricity with as few as four big wind farms – additional to those the UK builds anyway – would bring as much electricity into the grid as Hinkley would generate, cutting the average household bill by £10-20 a year in the process.

Moreover, Britain could negate the need for at least two-fifths of Hinkley’s electricity by cutting waste and using electricity more efficiently and productively; and Hinkley’s 3.2GW of peak demand could be met through demand-side response (alongside energy efficiency improvements that the UK will make anyway), additional interconnectors, and additional gas-fired units generating at peak times.

Black added: “Despite years of debate on Hinkley, we’re still not sure whether or not it’s going to get built – the Prime Minister is due to make a decision next month, but even if she says ‘yes’ there are many other issues that could derail the project, including legal cases and EDF’s financial woes. So we wanted to know how essential Hinkley is for the ‘energy trilemma’ – keeping the lights on whilst cutting greenhouse gas emissions and keeping costs down.

“Our conclusion is that it’s not essential – using tried and tested technologies, with nothing unproven or futuristic, Britain can meet all its targets and do so at lower cost. So if [Theresa] May decides to go ahead with Hinkley, all well and good – if she decides not to, or if the project stumbles at a later stage, we have alternatives.”

Energy efficiency

The ECIU’s research follows similar analysis from energy consultancy Utilitywise which suggested that installing more energy efficiency measures would be £12bn cheaper than going ahead with the Hinkley Point C construction, rendering the nuclear project an “unnecessary expense” for the UK.

A study from the Institute or Directors  (IoD) last week revealed that Hinkley’s expansion remains a controversial decision among business leaders. A narrow majority (53%) of IoD members back the project, while 37% believe the development would give the UK a ‘competitive edge’.

Hinkley Point C got the go-ahead from the supplier at the end of July but the Government then delayed its confirmation. The power station is predicted to provide 7% of the UK’s current electricity demand, adding £37bn to consumer bills.

Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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