Hinkley Point C could be largely obsolete within a decade of starting operations, according to new analysis from University College London (UCL).
According to the study, by 2030 wind and solar will increasingly be able to meet all of the UK’s energy needs, thereby making Hinkley increasingly obsolete and in competition with cheaper, more environmentally-friendly energy sources. The academic team put together the analysis based on National Grid scenarios.
The findings from the analysis suggest Hinkley Point could only operate at baseload – supplying a steady minimum level of energy to the market – if it forces these renewables sources off the system. If this did not happen, there is a risk it would have to reduce output which would impact operation and revenues, obliging consumers to use this energy instead of cheaper wind and solar, said the analysis.
“Large plants like Hinkley Point were conceived during a radically different era – as by 2030 we predict they could be obsolete in favour of renewable sources like wind and solar,” said UCL-Energy principal research associate and deputy director and academic head of the RCUK Centre for Energy Epidemiology Andrew ZP Smith.
“Just seven years after Hinkley is scheduled to begin operating, our analysis suggests renewable sources will be able to meet the nation’s minimum energy demand levels – traditionally the role of large nuclear, gas and coal plants like Hinkley.
“This means for the remaining decades of its contracted life, the UK could be tied to an expensive and potentially environmentally-damaging source of energy.”
UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources professor of international energy and climate change policy Michael Grubb added: “Since the initial proposals, the cost of Hinkley Point has risen at least 50% whilst the cost of major renewable energy sources has more than halved. The contract will commit UK energy consumers to pay many tens of billions of pounds over a period of 35 years after first operation – to about 2060. For this amount, we could now get about twice as much electricity even from the more expensive renewables like offshore wind energy.
“Hinkley Point C will operate in a radically changed energy system which no longer needs full baseload operation, because of the explosive growth of wind and solar. UCL analysis published today shows that given its higher subsidy, Hinkley Point is thus likely to force cheaper and cleaner sources off the system, at consumer expense, for much of its operating life.
“The wider question is whether this decision indicates a politically-driven need to secure investment into the UK after Brexit, whatever the cost to UK consumers, with little regard for expert advice about our evolving energy needs.”
A spokesman for EDF said: “Nuclear power is the only proven large scale low carbon baseload option. Having a reliable low carbon base for our energy is increasingly important in a system including intermittent low carbon generation technologies such as solar, onshore and offshore wind and gas generation to provide the balance.
“Hinkley Point C will provide low-carbon, reliable energy around the clock, regardless of whether the sun is shining or the wind blowing.”