Hinkley Point seems to have been in the news in a ‘will they won’t they’ debate for a long time, with argument and opinion from various camps about the need or not, for the massive financial investment it requires. The cost or saving depending on where you sit, amounts to billions of pounds not just in terms of the construction but the longer term costs and it isn’t going to get better financially as the technology for nuclear power continues to become more complex and the safety standards more stringent.
If, at the end of the day Hinkley doesn’t go ahead, how does the UK government plan to cover the projected shortfall in energy supply? Current information suggests that over the next 15 years or so our capacity for electricity generation will be reduced by 60% compared to capacity in 2010. Coupled with carbon reduction targets and the power that Hinkley would provide against national demand, there’s a big hole to fill that can’t utilise coal or a big increase in gas production.
The fallback position seems to be an increase in offshore wind which, along with solar power, is falling in price making it, longer term, a good economic argument as well as an environmentally sound one. The UK has some fairly substantial wind farms already in place such as the London Array numbering 175 turbines with the potential to power 480,000 households annually. The counter argument is that Hinkley could operate at full capacity for around 90% of the time whereas any wind farm at full capacity is closer to 25/50% due to size, location and being at the mercy of weather patterns.
Looking at how other countries are sourcing energy Portugal, using a combined energy supply from solar, hydro and wind, kept the lights on for 4 consecutive days earlier this year with Germany also having a ‘clean energy’ day with virtually all its power sourced from renewable resources. Last year wind power was able to meet 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 20% in Spain, 13% in Germany and 11% in the UK. Denmark has plans to meet 50% of demand by 2020 with the elimination of fossil fuels by 2050.
If technological advances can be made in storing electricity, meaning that surplus wind or solar power can be captured, then perhaps the nuclear way of generating power could become obsolete. Opinion amongst experts however suggests this type of new technology will not arrive quickly enough meaning the programme that Hinkley is part of and the plan for other reactors could seriously compromise UK power generation.
Energy is something we all take completely for granted with regard to its availability at the flick or turn of a switch. Few people give any thought to the balance of supply and demand on the National Grid which is a complex process made up of such things termed Fast Reserves, BM Start Up and Demand Turn Up. In simple terms these Reserve Services are needed to deliver power against the demand of the Nation. If you check out the National Grid you’ll see that they employ thousands of people and that although power generation is big business, it’s a challenge still to be met for the future as the following quote from their website implies:
‘We are at the heart of one of the greatest challenges facing our society – delivering clean energy to support our world long into the future.’
The debate continues…