As it stands, the United Kingdom’s nuclear fleet will stop contributing electricity to the National Grid by 2030, barring any newly built nuclear facilities, which seems an increasingly unlikely scenario, with Hinkley Point C (HPC) not being the greatest advert for nuclear power to the general public and potential foreign investors.
With the Scottish National Party, the Green Party and Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn (Labour is split on nuclear energy) all opposed to new nuclear, it would not take too many defiant Tory MPs to go against Theresa May and curtail any potential new project proposals, whether in the new or distant future. This delay in the progress of HPC has allowed sceptics to raise questions over the need for nuclear energy at all, citing cheaper, safer and more immediate alternatives that are available.
The UK Without HPC
A report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has found that the UK can hit climate targets while meeting energy demands through deploying a mixture of established technologies.
A decision on HPC is expected soon. However, Theresa May’s word is not final. There are many potential points in the future of the project that could derail it, from legal issues to funding problems and international relations. This report serves to relieve concerns and uncertainty in the UK. Regardless of the future of HPC, the UK will have no problems with the supply of electricity.
Alternatives To HPC
There is a broad range of tried and tested technologies that are capable of meeting the capacity of HPC. A combination of new wind farms, gas-fired power stations and connecting the UK grid to other countries would be effective in achieving this.
As little as four new wind farms would be needed, which in turn would save the average household up to £20 annually. At the same time, the use of gas-fired power stations would save £16bn in infrastructure expenditure.
It is not just electricity production technologies that could contribute to the progression of the UK energy profile. By simply using electricity more efficiently and enhancing the demand-side response at peak times, 40% of the capacity of HPC would be surplus.
Implications For Nuclear Energy
These findings detail the short-term alternatives to immediate plans. However, as the population of the UK continues to grow, the demand for electricity will grow also. These technologies are unlikely to be able to keep up with the rate of increase, instead pushing the problem back, until fast and effective change is fundamentally important.
Reliance on other countries for electricity, by connecting cables to the UK grid, is becoming an increasingly unviable option as international ties continue to strain in a post-Brexit world.
gas-fired power stations
The involvement of politicians, in a non-technocracy, in significant technological developments can slow down the rate at which the UK innovates. It creates an unstable platform for growth on matters such a nuclear energy, with governments and policy potentially changing every five years.
If HPC goes ahead, it will provide a basis to regenerate the UK’s nuclear fleet and indicate to other countries that the UK continues to be a leader in science and engineering. However, if HPC does not go ahead, it will satisfy the strong opponents to nuclear energy, and enable these alternative methods to be put into practice.
Delaying the construction of new nuclear allows new methods to be tested. If these do not work, the need for nuclear will become more urgent, and new projects may pass through parliament quicker and with fewer complications.