Government confirms renewables will be massively cheaper than Hinkley C nuclear power even including system integration costs

A Government report issued last month confirms that renewables would be at least one third cheaper than a Hinkley C type nuclear project, and that is even despite the fact that the report ignores the cheapest available storage technologies.

The report, issued by BEIS tries to take into account the extra system costs of absorbing renewable energy. In doing so the report completely ignores what many people think are going to be the cheapest way of integrating renewables, but, such is the cheapness of renewable energy sources such as offshore wind, solar pv and onshore wind, even then renewables comes out much cheaper than Hinkley C.

In the case of offshore wind, for example the report says that in 2035 the ‘enhanced’ levellised cost of offshore wind, including integration and balancing costs will be ’59 to 79′ £/MWh (middle range figure = £69 per MWh). This is expressed in 2018 prices, so to compare with Hinkley C you have to convert the much quoted £92.50 in 2012 prices to 2018 using the consumer price index. This produces a 2018 cost of Hinkley C of just over £102 per MWh. This, obviously is a lot higher than the mid range total cost of offshore wind of £69 per MWh and nearly double the mid range cost of solar pv (as stated by BEIS) of £53 per MWh.

Quite how some press reports have managed to spin this as good news for commissioning another version of Hinkley C at Sizewell C is beyond me. My bewilderment increases a lot further as I see from the BEIS costs analysis that they seem to have ignored many storage technologies being developed which promise to be greatly cheaper than the old-fashioned centralised power plant solutions costed by BEIS.

Glaringly there is not a single mention of vehicle or building based battery storage systems which would not cost the electricity system anything but which are likely to be increasing in availability by 2035. The biggest component of this will be vehicle-to grid (V2G) battery storage. Because this involves electricity trading between the electricity system and what will be already existing batteries in electric vehicles V2G will save the system very large amounts of money. In other words, renewable energy, including all the system costs you can think of, is likely to be a great deal more than a third cheaper than a Hinkley C like development.

We simply will not need so many gas peaking plants (as assumed by BEIS) because the electricity supply peaks will be greatly reduced by such techniques.  Not only does the BEIS report (or a report written for it by Mott Macdonald) fail to analyse the impact of V2G technology but it also fails to mention storage technologies involving ammonia, storage at sea by offshore windfarms or indeed various other promising options that can take us to 100 per cent renewable energy.

So, if BEIS was hoping for some figures that would justify giving a blank cheque to EDF to build another version of the Hinkley C power plant at Sizewell C, this falls a long way short.

Indeed, BEIS is silent about nuclear power’s system integration costs. As Andreas L. Kraemer puts it: ‘System integration cost relating to nuclear power are massive: Spinning reserve to cover the largest unit, and instantaneous reverse flow capacity throughout the high-voltage transmission grid are needed. That is not be case with cheaper diversified & distributed renewables’

Sadly the BEIS report illustrates precisely what is wrong with the Government’s approach to decarbonisation. It is determined to support an old fashioned centralised dispatch model of the energy system. Rather, what it ought to be thinking of is how a renewables based system can be integrated using a decentralised system involving the integration, through digitalised control technologies, of energy supply and demand.

by David Toke

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