I work for Turquoise investing in and raising funds for Energy, Environment and Efficiency companies that in the main are in competition with Nuclear Power. In my previous career, I have never worked on nuclear projects. So why am I making a case for Hinkley?
Let’s start at the beginning. The UK has now adopted the Fifth Carbon Budget, limiting our emissions of pollutants such as CO2 to a level 57% less than that recorded in 1990 en route to a target of 80% reduction by 2050. We have, as the UK (note: not as the EU), made this the law of the land; in theory it would be an illegal act for any Government to fail to deliver on this commitment.
Science tells us that, during this century, we will probably need to stop using any form of fossil fuel in our heating, transport and power systems unless we capture the pollutants and store them.
So far we have met the early carbon targets because we have been lucky, not through any particularly brilliant and consistent energy policy intervention. Gas became cheaper than coal in the 1990’s, we have quietly become more energy efficient and the 2008 crash reduced industrial activity. All of this would have happened with or without a carbon budget. Of course, we have made significant progress in wind power and some other nascent areas but basically we have not really begun the task of decarbonisation in its own right in earnest.
The carbon budgets are for ALL energy use: heat, transport and electrical power. It is clear that in heat so far we have done nothing, in transport practically nothing and in power quite a lot. In most forecasts the power system will be the first (by miles) to become 100% decarbonised and that will be necessary to compensate for the lack of progress in the other two sectors. So, how are we going to do it?
Now we could build gas fired CCGT at a cost of £47/MWh but that assumes they run for 15 years or so and a lot of the time, as above we are not allowed that freedom by the simple fact that the fails in heat and transport require power to do all the heavy lifting. If you try and pay for a new CCGT in say a 5 year period to avoid this conundrum its cost of power goes up in a material way and certainly above the Hinkley price.
I’m Chair of the Energy Research Partnership Steering Group analysing how a utility might look in 2050 (we call it #Utility2050 – genius). If we wish to watch TV and drive our Teslas ‘whenever’ whilst not freezing ‘ever’, we need to balance a growing power demand with a shrinking power supply and to do that every 1/50th of a second (as is the grid requirement). Not an easy thing, so we look to energy storage and demand side management to help.
OK batteries are here and getting cheaper but the long term stated targets are $50/MWh all-in (compared to around $400/MWh for Tesla Powerwall currently) and then you have to add the cost of power itself on top of that so $50/MWh to store and £115/MWh to make (using wind) is an all in costs of say £141/MWh; are we sure it’s not cheaper to just dump abundant renewables if we can’t use them or ship them somewhere that can and use an old coal station converted to biomass use and revamped to cover the gaps? Demand side could make a huge difference but we have to explain that to consumers as it’s probably going to involve giving something up, most likely the ‘whenever’. What seems clear from the initial #Utility2050 work is that we don’t know a lot more than we do know.
HMG is the buyer of all new capacity in the market, no one invests in what we used to call merchant power, and it is all CfD or Capacity market fed. So if you are the buyer of all new electricity capacity in the market what power would you buy on behalf of the nation? Well here are three reasons why, given the above, you would buy from Hinkley:
- Hinkley is cheap: forget all the baloney about the world’s most expensive power station, we are only paying for the power at £92.50/MWh (and if it doesn’t work we don’t pay). Compared to, say, intermittent offshore wind at £115/MWh (which by the way I think as an industry has a massive future, so relax if you’re in wind defence mode) it looks attractive. As mentioned long term and hard running gas CCGT is cheating on our carbon aims.
- Hinkley is baseload: it runs all the time, can be turned up and down more than you think and I, for one, will sit eating a mince pie on December 25th in the mid-2020s at about 16:30 with the TV on hoping it is a dark crisp winter’s night outside and confident that Hinkley Point at least is blasting out electrons full tilt.
- Hinkley is consistent: we have had 14 Energy Ministers since 1996, we have flipped and flopped from Carbon pricing ON/OFF to competition ON/OFF to state buyer models to feed in tariffs ON/OFF and ROCs ON/OFF and I don’t know what else. HMG has spent considerable time attracting investors into Hinkley and changing its mind for no good reason (and there are none) would be a very bad step for meeting the funding needs of an energy system in unprecedented state of transformation. Note that we are not increasing our nuclear fleet in the UK, just replacing old stations (something that good old engineers like me would have quietly done in the past without fanfare).
The energy industry needs to come together to explain to society how we are going to meet our decarbonisation targets in the medium and long term. It’s not Nuclear v Renewables or Low Carbon v Fossil; we will need all concerned working to a common goal to transform the system whilst keeping the lights on at a cost we can live with in 2050.
Hinkley should proceed with confidence from investors, owners and customers that it is a useful part of the bigger and harder-to-solve jigsaw puzzle. Politicians should man (or woman) up and say so.