We hate to say we told you so, but we have heard form EDF that Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in a generation has been delayed and will not start generating power by 2023 as previously planned.
The plan was to build the new power plant in Hinkley Point and it was to replace one of our existing nuclear power plants since they are all reaching the end of their useful life. In fact of the 16 active nuclear reactors in the UK, all but one of them is scheduled to close by 2023.
Nuclear power accounts for about 19% of our energy mix
Of the 335 TWh of electricity produced in the UK during 2014, nuclear accounted for 63.8 TWh, so 19% (it was interesting to see that renewables for the first time took over nuclear – with 64.4 TWh generated from Renewable sources).
Now that it has been confirmed that Hinkley Point is not going to be operational before 2023 we need to start planning for much reduced energy supply in our grid. If the 15 active nuclear reactors were all to shut by 2023 then we would need to find an additional 20% of supply – or alternatively demand could be reduced by introducing large scale energy efficiency schemes.
If nuclear plants are decommissioned – how do we avoid blackouts?
It goes without saying that gas power plants are far easier to build than nuclear power plants, but that still puts at the mercy of the Middle East and Russia – and even though the Government seem exceptionally keen to fast track Shale Gas here in the UK, realistically that is not going to meet the timescales either.
It is going to be incredibly interesting to see how the energy mix changes over the coming decade. Existing nuclear plants may get a stay of execution otherwise the UK could be faced with potential blackouts, but if they are considered unsafe then obviously they will have to close. The UK Government would be deemed hugely irresponsible were a Fukashima type incident to occur on these shores, especially if it occurred after the plants should have been decommissioned anyway.
The cuts to renewable incentives that have occurred since the new Government has come in to power suggest this is not the way they want to go, despite being quick and easy to install and requiring no outside fuel (e.g. we don’t need to import Gas to power a wind turbine).
Since America now has such huge gas reserves, they are exporting coal very cheaply, so it may be that we bring back online some of our mothballed coal power plants, although there are EU regulations over emissions, but again will the Government suck up EU-issued fines rather than allow blackouts to occur. In our opinion that would be a huge shame to go back to coal, but the wrath of the people if there were blackouts may force their hand.
Surely logic suggests energy efficiency is the answer!
Again, for us the most logical answer is energy efficiency – that is to reduce demand. LED lighting for example cuts electricity demand in the home by as much as 20%. Insulating homes and installing efficient heating systems will all have a part to play in reducing energy demand too. Of the 335 TWh of electricity generated in the UK in 2014, approximately a third went towards helping power businesses. There are huge savings to be made there, but it is all about educating the decision makers on how to make these savings. Energy saving schemes like the Green Deal surely will have a huge part to play (although the Green Deal itself was good in theory, practically it just didn’t work), but there will no doubt be future schemes that come into play.
So going back to the first point about EDF making the delay announcement, to be honest you would have to be blind to not see that coming, but crunch time is coming and the Government need to make some big decisions otherwise whichever Government come into power in 2020 will be left a ticking time-bomb!
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