Monday, 2 July 2018

Nuclear threat to sustainable energy future

A key message from the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC’s) 267-page annual report 2018 (Reducing UK emissions – 2018 Progress Report to Parliament) is found at p.71, published on 28 June, which reads:

"If new nuclear projects were not to come forward, it is likely that renewables would be able to be deployed on shorter timescales and at lower cost."[my emphasis] (

But you would not find this very important assessment in the British media coverage. Why might this be?

Perhaps because on the day before, the UK Government published its  long-trailed so-called ‘Nuclear Industry Sector Deal’(, on which the  media clearly had been well briefed in advance.

The key message from this BEIS policy announcement, backed by a suite of documents, may be summarised by reference to Business Secretary Greg Clark’s comments at the official launch:

“The UK is the home of civil nuclear technology and with this investment in innovation and our commitment to increasing diversity in an already highly-skilled workforce, I want to ensure we remain the world leader.

Nuclear energy not only fuels our power supply, it fuels local jobs, wages, economic prosperity and drives UK innovation. This Sector Deal marks an important moment for the government and industry to work collectively to deliver the modern Industrial Strategy, drive clean growth and ensure civil nuclear remains an important part of the UK’s energy future.”

Here are some other interesting extracts on nuclear’s role and renewables’ capacity possibilities from the CCC report to MPs and peers.

Power generation. The Government's plans to decarbonise UK power generation to below100 gCO2 per kWh by 2030 rely to a high degree on new nuclear build and net imports across interconnectors, both of which have associated risks. These risks should be mitigated by actions aimed at improving the route to market for low-carbon electricity generation, especially low-cost options (i.e. onshore wind and solar), and by contracting for addition allow-carbon generation.

New power sector scenarios

In our Power Sector Scenarios for the Fifth Carbon Budget report in 2015, we identified an emissions intensity of under 100 gCO2/kWh in 2030 as the cost-effective path to the 2050 target. This was based on continuing the strong progress the UK has made in power sector decarbonisation in the 2010s with low-cost deployment of onshore wind, solar and possibly nuclear, alongside programmes of offshore wind and CCS in the 2020s, where UK deployment can be expected to be important in reducing the costs of these technologies.

Since that report, there have been developments that affect the prospects for the deployment of low-carbon capacity:

Renewable costs have fallen rapidly. The most recent auctions for 'established' technologies procured contracts for offshore wind at around £62/MWh for delivery in the early 2020s - in line with prices elsewhere in Europe but 40% below where we had expected the cost of the technology would be by 2030. Although there have been no UK auctions to reveal the cost for onshore wind or solar, these are also widely understood to have fallen significantly (Figure 2.6).26

Significant delays in CCS deployment. In November 2015, the Government cancelled the CCS Commercialisation Programme, meaning that the two initial CCS plants in our commercialisation pathway will not be delivered.

Limited progress in new nuclear. The aim is for the Hinkley Point C plant to commission in 2025, but limited progress has been made with other new nuclear projects, aside from the recent announcements around the Wylfa nuclear plant. Site development and regulatory approval milestones have been passed, though formal negotiations have only just begun with one developer, raising questions over the likelihood of several new nuclear plants commissioning before 2030, beyond the Hinkley Point C project.
Continued power sector decarbonisation is likely to be no more expensive than alternative pathways for the power sector, such as increased gas generation paying a market carbon price in the UK or importing electricity from abroad (Box 2.2). The Government's existing plans can deliver 210 TWh of the 255-270 TWh required to reduce emissions to 100gCO2/kWh by 2030. A further 50-60 TWh of renewables could be deployed in the 2020s at no,or minimal, additional cost to consumers, although nuclear and CCS projects are likely to be more expensive. Successful delivery of further nuclear projects beyond Hinkley Point C or CCS projects in power could reduce this emissions intensity towards 50 gCO2/kWh.

1 comment:

  1. ""..."If new nuclear projects were not to come forward, it is likely that renewables would be able to be deployed on shorter timescales and at lower cost."...""

    950 MW Moray East Offshore Windfarm [MEOW] willhave an average 31.25% capacity factor over its 25 year lifespan, at a cost of £1,800 million. It would take 9.7 MEOWs to deliver the same amount of electricity each year as Hinkley - albeit the intermittent variety that will forever require fossil fuelled back up. That's a cost of £17,460 million.

    But they would all have to be built a 2nd time and be 10 years into the 3rd build to deliver for the 60 year design life of Hinkley. That's a factor of X2.4 and a cost of £41,904 million.

    Certainly not lower cost and most unlikely on a shorter timescale.