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Cheaper, quicker, simpler alternatives to Hinkley

Hinkley Point C, EDF

UK energy targets can be met by cheaper and greener alternatives to Hinkley Point C, according to a new report.

The analysis, by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), has found that a mixture of established approaches together with measures to manage demand, would save the UK around £1bn each year while keeping the lights on and meeting climate targets.

Alternatives such as wind farms, cables connecting the UK grid with other countries and gas-fired power stations could all be used to meet the targets, it said.

ECIU director Richard Black said the report showed that while Hinkley Point C could form part of the UK’s future energy mix, it was not essential.

“Despite years of debate on Hinkley, we’re still not sure whether or not it’s going to get built,” said Black. “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,” he explained.

“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 Mrs 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.”

The report found that:

  • The UK could bring as much electricity into the grid as Hinkley would generate by building as few as four big wind farms (additional to those which would be built anyway), or building three additional interconnector cables
  • The need for at least two-fifths of Hinkley’s electricity could be negated by cutting waste and by using electricity more efficiently and productively
  • Supply of Hinkley’s 3.2GW of peak demand could be provided through demand-side response (in addition to improvements which would be made anyway), additional interconnectors, or additional gas-fired units generating at peak times – or a mixture of all.

The report concluded that all of the alternatives on their own would work out cheaper than Hinkley. It said that by replacing all Hinkley electricity with additional offshore wind farms, it would cut the average household bill by £10 to £20 per year.

It added that by replacing all Hinkley’s peak-time output with gas-fired units would save £16bn in infrastructure costs. And finally, by enhancing energy efficiency and demand-side response it would save energy and therefore reduce bills.

ECIU energy analyst Jonathan Marshall said the changing nature of electricity systems placed a question mark over Hinkley’s relevance.

“The UK’s energy infrastructure is ageing and increasingly unreliable, so clearly we need to replace bits of it; and there’s no doubt that nuclear reactors generally supply low-carbon electricity reliably,” he said.

“But electricity systems are changing rapidly across the world, and it’s striking that figures such as the former head of National Grid and his Chinese counterpart have said recently that ‘always-on’ baseload generation is the way of the past.

“And I think our report illustrates the reason why things are changing – increasingly, smart, flexible and renewable equals cheap and reliable.”

Commenting on the report, North Star Solar chief executive and former RWE npower chief executive Paul Massara said that Hinkley C was the wrong solution to the UK’s future energy needs.

“Whatever your view of nuclear power, what’s so striking is just how expensive, unwieldy and complex Hinkley C is,” he said. “That the UK is even considering investing so much money in an unproven design based on outmoded technology is staggering enough.

“But when energy markets are so clearly heading in an entirely different direction, it looks like madness to push ahead with Hinkley. Listen to any informed energy market insider, and they will tell you that future grids will be smart, decentralised, flexible, and dominated by a mix of renewable energy, demand-side and energy efficiency measures, and storage.

“If that’s the case, then the question is very simple: what’s Hinkley for?”

Readers' comments (2)

  • Michael Thorn

    What we are suffering from, is the abolition of the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in which technically knowledgeable and competent people had the responsibility for the long-term strategic planning and delivery of electricity supply. Instead we have political and financial objectives driving short-term decisions in technical ignorance. No self-respecting engineer would rely on a solution that involves a technology that has not yet been proved to work.

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  • For goodness sake can we get on and build the Swansea Barrage - and other barrages - to provide a predictable and reliable baseload generation that doesn't rely on any fuel.

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