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‘It’s solar and wind power - not nuclear - which make economic sense’

12:35 03 February 2016

Artist's impression issued by EDF of the how the new Hinkley Point C station will look. Photo: EDF Energy/PA Wire

Artist's impression issued by EDF of the how the new Hinkley Point C station will look. Photo: EDF Energy/PA Wire

Archant

It is 20 years since I moved into a shared house, the only English native in a community drawn from France, Spain, Italy and Germany. There were two things my German friend, Marco, could not fathom about Britain.

One – this may not surprise you – was our sense of humour. The other was that all our rubbish went in the same bin. And from there into landfill. He couldn’t understand the wastefulness.

We could take our bottles and jars across town to the bottle bank – if we could be bothered. But our paper, our cardboard, our plastics, our metal cans, our food waste all went in the same black bag.

At Marco’s home in Germany, all those things had separate colour-coded receptacles. Sorting and recycling were not matters of choice for the concerned few – they were legal requirements.

We’ve come a long way since without quite catching up. And we could learn from the Germans’ environmental good sense in other ways too.

Rainer Baake is the minister responsible for planning Germany’s future energy provision. The key things he is now working on are efficiency, storage of electricity and “digitising” the grid, along with other energy uses such as transport, building and “industrial heat”.

He isn’t obsessing, as Britain is, on nuclear power. He puts it in the same bracket as coal, oil and gas, belonging to the dirty, dangerous past.

“The question is not about technology any more. We have them,” he told an international renewable energy summit in Abu Dhabi.

“There are two clear winners, and they are wind and solar. We have learned how to produce electricity with wind and large-scale solar at the same cost level as new coal or gas generators. I am confident we can succeed and that we will have a superior energy system.

“It is not a question about costs, because these new technologies produce at the same costs as the last ones. And, I should point out, they are much cheaper than nuclear.”

That last point should resonate here in the same week that doubts and delays were raised – yet again – about financing of the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

When plans for Hinkley were announced in 2007, Vincent de Rivaz of EDF Energy promised: “EDF will turn on its first nuclear plant in Britain before Christmas 2017 because it will be the right time.” He added, warningly: “It is the moment of the power crunch. Without it the lights will go out.”

Six years later, after several false starts and collapsed deals, Mr De Rivaz said: “In 2023, this project will arrive exactly when the country will need it.”

Last October the switch-on date was revised to 2025 and a funding agreement promised “within weeks”. Last week it was postponed. Meanwhile the projected cost of the plant has risen steadily, from £10 billion in 2007 to £18bn – or £24.5bn if you believe the European Commission’s 2014 figures.

The government promised EDF a subsidy that would give them twice the current market price for every unit of power generated.

Not everyone believes that would be money well spent. And the doubters are not all green activists or Germans.

Legal & General, one of the top FTSE 100 companies, is among the biggest investors in British infrastructure. Its chief executive, Nigel Wilson, considers nuclear power a dead duck.

If Hinkley runs into the sand, the Japanese firm Hitachi admits its plans for a nuclear plant in Wales are likely to follow. Sizewell C would become unthinkable.

“These things are massively delayed because they shouldn’t happen in the first place,” Wilson told BBC Radio 5 Live. “The world’s moving towards clean, green and cheap energy. Solar and wind play a much, much more important role going forward. The cost of that’s coming down all the time.

“There’s a lot of research and development going on. We should be giving people tax credits for spending more money on research and development into sustainable energy.

“Hinkley’s the most expensive energy we can think of right across Europe. The nuclear decommissioning costs in Britain are £80bn. All we’re going to do [if we go on building nuclear power stations] is add more cost for future generations to pay.”

Those words of one of the City’s top economists would get an approving nod in Berlin.

Explaining his wind-and-sun agenda, minister Baake added: “We want this to be economically efficient – not just an ecological success story, also an economic success story. If it is not an economic success story, then nobody will follow us and we will lose support in Germany.”

The consensus is strong at present. Opinion polls say 87pc of Germans back solar power, 78pc support wind and just 8pc favour nuclear. My old mate Marco is in a healthy majority.

•The views above are those of Aidan Semmens. Read more from our columnists each day in the EDP

24 comments

  • OK, so its a cold and windless night - candles anybody ?

    Report this comment

    Foobar

    Sunday, February 7, 2016

  • "...Hinkley’s the most expensive energy we can think of right across Europe...." It's interesting that people make this kind of statement without engaging their brains and doing a few simple sums on a pocket calculator. Here's the factual contrast between Hinkley and Dong's "World's largest offshore windfarm" It's bang up to date and, would you believe it, the upeedowneezeroee electricity from this wind farm costs 2.5 x more than the 24:7on demand electricity from Hinkley: Dong are anticipating about a 43% capacity factor, which will power about 1,100,000 homes. In the 20 year lifespan of the windfarm, it will deliver 90.4 TWh of [intermittent] low-carbon electricity. It will cost - at least - £3 billionGW installed = £3.6 billion. Hinkley will have a 90% capacity factor [which will power 6,131,000 homes]. In its 60 year design life it will deliver 1,513.7 TWh of [24:7base-load] low-carbon electricity. The most often quoted - maximum - cost is £24.5 billion. Hinkley will deliver 16.7x more electricity than this windfarm. Offshore wind farms, to deliver the same amount of electricity as Hinkley, would cost £60 billion. We could buy 2.5 Hinkleys for that. Note: the £24.5 billion for Hinkley includes cost of decommissioning, waste handling and storage. Note: Do not blame the technology for the great deal EDF has negotiated for itself at the £92.50MWh for the first 35 years. Write and tell your MP they've agreed, on behalf of their constituents, to pay £80 billion into EDF's coffers and then, for the 25 years after that, EDF will get the going wholesale rate, when their running costs will be absolute peanuts. But if you think we have all been suckered over Hinkley - you ain't seen nothin' yet - wait until we start paying for this albatross [pardon the pun].

    Report this comment

    prismsuk

    Saturday, February 6, 2016

  • What I am most afraid of, is that it is the renewable energy delusion that will end the civilization as we know it. We need nuclear power, and that fact is really simple to understand, if you do not let your brain stop immediately when you hear the word "nuclear".

    Report this comment

    Timo Ylhainen

    Friday, February 5, 2016

  • Well said Aiden. As a retired engineering section Head from Hinkley Point who has seen first hand over 30 years the complete folly & true dangers of nuclear power, I say let the nuclear dinosaurs stay with their outdated beliefs. Like the railways pushed aside the canals, the Renewables Revolution is rolling & unstoppable. We either embrace it & benefit from being part of the revolution or get left behind it's wake.

    Report this comment

    Peter Smith

    Friday, February 5, 2016

  • The amount of hot air on this thread so far could power at least a dozen homes.

    Report this comment

    stoneman

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • @NickL - Indeed, its frightening how pathetic 'renewables' can be in the wrong location [i.e the UK]. Yet you can keep quoting those hard facts and yet the true believers will still keep going "lalalalala not listening!" Unless the Green's plan is for every house and building in the UK to be limited to one 20W low energy bulb from 3.30pm onwards during the winter months. In the summer we can have two! There is a place for renewables to be really effective. Unfortunately, the little old UK isn't it. I do wonder how many wind farms and solar farms would have been built had it not been for the subsidies involved. Sure, Nuclear gets subsidies but you do get a 25+ year investment that will deliver solid power for the nation when its needed. Plus not anyone can suddenly set themselves up as a Nuclear Power station manufacturer...

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • You are sadly ill-informed. If you check the official figures you will see that wind an solar PV are, as in Germany, frequently failing to provide any power when we most need it. An example: On Tuesday, 19 January, the entire UK metered wind fleet, onshore and offshore, was officially recorded as producing as little as 75MW from 8,972MW of headline capacity. UK electricity demand rose sharply to a peak of 52,058MW on that day, as temperatures sank. At peak demand, at 5pm, solar PV was producing nothing (it was dark) and the wind fleet managed only 81MW, just 0.15% of UK demand.

    Report this comment

    NickL

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • @Resident Smith Several years ago (2003 - 2009) I was one of scores of active posters to the "This Is London" forums hosted by the Evening Standard. Posters could start topics themselves, moderation was light touch but fair. That forum has long since closed. Over 10 years later we are hobbled with forums such as this one, where readers of the hosting paper are only allowed to comment on selected stories, where readers are not allowed to start and discuss topics of their choice, where unbalanced perceptions of 'the populace' are created through the loss, editing or latency of posts. Given the carnage we wreak on other countries in our "fight for freedom" its interesting to note that as cradle to grave surveillance has increased, the outelts for voiocing opinion have retreated to levels lower than they were ten years ago. Sad, and a little bit scary.

    Report this comment

    Catseye

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • @Catseye, yes this forum system is terrible.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • @Woodwose - good call on the Thorium based nuclear power option. I didn't mention it in any of my posts (including the 2 which have gone missing). Regretfully the forum hosted by this newspaper is so unfit for purpose I'm now sick of trying to engage in discussions only to have posts appear days after the event, or not at all. I've asked if my account can be removed but didn't even get an acknowledgement of my request, much less action. I wonder just how many other posts go permanently missing or don't appear until after relevant story has been moved to a backwater page. I certainly don't feel I have a voice through the local press.

    Report this comment

    Catseye

    Thursday, February 4, 2016

  • Nobody has talked of the vast, consistent, power to be harvested from the Gulf Stream using turbine generators moored well below its surface, but then it would be an industry with no visual impact, no flashing wizzy blades to dominate the skyline or a gleaming edifice on the seashore pumping out steam. Nor has the subject of benign nuclear power fuelled by Thorium been mentioned. It was the Cold War that pushed us down the uranium route because lethal plutonium is not a by-product of its rival - poor old, abundant, benign, thorium.

    Report this comment

    Woodwose

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • Back to the Flintstones Green Party policies only applies to Golden Triangle worthy types.

    Report this comment

    PaulH

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • Greed, power...and whatever is actually available now to do the job. We can't just sit and wait for 'something better to come along". I agree that fossil fuel stations could be cleaned up with the right investment and that would help. However, going forward I reckon our energy needs could be best balanced at 65% Nuclear 10% Renewables and 25% Fossil. I think that's the best-realistic target we could aim for, for the next 30-40 years. We need to follow France's lead and just get on with the job. Renewables just aren't a good fit for the UK. We are a small island and if its not blowing in one half of the island then the rest will struggle. Plus we are not Arizona or the Sahara for sunshine and have land that stretches over several time zones for longer light duration. As I said nuclear will happen whether we like it or not.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • The trouble with wind, solar and wave power is that they are all dependant on the UK weather and all its vagaries. Modern nuclear power is the way to go.

    Report this comment

    Radshenko

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • @resident Smith my last reply will probably take 15 to 20 hours to appear so I'll just add my other points now. You ask what alternatives we have to nuclear and power, in order that - heaven help us - the masses are unabvle to keep the LEDs glowing on their dozens of TVs, phones, PCs, audio equipment etc. Well if the developped world's scientists, technicians, engineers etc invested more time and effort in exploring how to make existing power generation methods cleaner, more efficient and safer, that would be a start. The efficiency of a solar panel of 10 years ago compared to a modern one is a demonstrator of how much tech can be refined when there's a will. Short sighted greed and human nature are what stop this happening. Google "How Australia Perfected Solar Power and Then Went Back to Coal". That's how the world works - greed and money twins every time.

    Report this comment

    Catseye

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • As per my ethered post, wind is currently at 65% of its capability and produces 5.6% of our needs. Nuclear 16.8%, French nuclear 4.6% and Gas 44.5%

    Report this comment

    andy

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • Resident Smith, well said. 100% spot on.

    Report this comment

    andy

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • What silly propaganda!! Meanwhile in the real world, Germany is continuing to build coal power stations to provide cheap power to its industry. We on the other hand are handicapping our industry with expensive power courtesy of the green lobby. As Resident Smith quite correctly says, all of the so called renewable power has to have 100% backup from conventional power stations and that mean GAS powered stations as nothing else is able to respond quickly enough to meet our needs. As of this moment, wind power is generating just 5.6% of our usage which is less than 65% of its theoretical capacity. Nuclear is at 16.8%, French nuclear is at 4.6% and Gas is at 44.5% That folks is the reality of the situation.

    Report this comment

    andy

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • @Catseye - Your details on nuclear waste and how reactors work wasn't cribbed from the Friends of the Earth site was it? Its woefully out of date and very inaccurate. Not that this has to be argued because no one can come up with a better alternative that will scale with the worlds needs. Who is going to tell all the billions living and to come in the developing parts of the world that they cant live like we do as it would impact too greatly on the planet. After you chap! We need sustainable power for 8-9-10-11+ billion people very very soon. If we delete Nuclear and Fossil, please explain your plan for the next 40 years? It's not just about charging up your iPhone tomorrow.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • While the German chap in question is professing his love for Solar and Wind as an answer to all our future power needs its interesting der Chancellor is visiting the German Nuclear Fusion site that's so far cost €1.6bn (inc. wages) for a prototype. Not keeping all your eggs in one basket then eh Herr Bakke?

    Report this comment

    powelld123

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • Oh here we go again. The old solar and wind is best push. As per sleepbots post, what these people never tell you is that for every watt that solar and wind can POTENTIALLY generate, you have to have corresponding nuclear-oil-gas etc. power plants to back them up when they can't. As mentioned below, what happens on Xmas day night when its still and frosty and the Eastenders Xmas special comes on? Where is the power coming from there? It's so naive its criminally stupid. Unfortunately, it's badly informed people like this that the powers that be listen to and just help to slowly push us back further into the dark ages. Britain's power needs are just going to go on increasing. You ask any EcoGreen warrior where all our power is going to come from if we shut down all the nuclear-oil and gas stations and they just want to change the subject. They have NO workable and scalable alternative. Nuclear is the future whether you like it or not. Once they start having to shut power off in parts of the country because we don't have enough, you'll soon come to love it and demand seven new stations yesterday. Nuclear is good! Well...it's the best we have. As for tidal, yes we have plenty but the Greens won't let you use it in case it disturbs some wading birds or a species of shrimp. Too much impact on the environment.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • Fair point, @Wymspen, about the constancy of tidal power systems. And likewise, geo-thermal, clean, inexhaustible (in real terms), free. Iceland has 5 major geo-thermal power stations, they generate 26% of the country's electricity. The main problem with geo-thermal and tidal is that the big oil companies will see their profits cut, and that is a situation that politicians will not be allowed to tolerate. Of all the available options apart from these, nuclear is the dirtiest, most costly, most dangerous, most short-sighted... and we'll even pay Chinese companies £billions to build and deliver 'our' white elephant nuclear options. Our great grandchildren's great grandchildren's ancestors will not thank us for the ever growing legacy of radioactive waste we are leaving them, buried, out of sight, out of the public mind. A peek at the Wiki page on "Radioactive_waste" is a relevant read. Here's a snippet : "High-level waste (HLW) is produced by nuclear reactors. The exact definition of HLW differs internationally. After a nuclear fuel rod serves one fuel cycle and is removed from the core, it is considered HLW.[33] Fuel rods contain fission products and transuranic elements generated in the reactor core. Spent fuel is highly radioactive and often hot. HLW accounts for over 95 percent of the total radioactivity produced in the process of nuclear electricity generation. The amount of HLW worldwide is currently increasing by about 12,000 metric tons every year, which is the equivalent to about 100 double-decker buses or a two-story structure with a footprint the size of a basketball court.[citation needed] A 1000-MW nuclear power plant produces about 27 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel (unreprocessed) every year" Nuclear waste - The gift that just keeps on giving.

    Report this comment

    Catseye

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • Solar & Wind are fine until you get a cold calm winter night when neither gives you any power at the time of peak demand. To remedy this you have to have all the power stations and transmission lines that you would need if you didn't have it at all. Solar & wind might be part of the answer but they are not a solution.

    Report this comment

    Sleepboot

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

  • I have never quite understood why a lot more effort has not been put into the development of wave and tide power. The wind may not blow, and the sun may not shine - but the sea never stops moving!

    Report this comment

    Wymspen

    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

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