The U.K. could save money, reduce the risk of blackouts and more quickly achieve its carbon-cutting goals by abandoning plans to build more nuclear power facilities and instead invest in a flexible electricity grid, new analysis has found.
According to the report from Finnish energy tech firm Wärtsilä, the U.K. would stand to save $860 million per year if, instead of new nuclear power, the government backed grid flexibility measures, such as battery storage and thermal generation. That equates to a saving of about $33 dollars per British household per year. Crucially, the analysis revealed that even if energy generation was to remain the same as it is today, Britain could increase renewables’ share of that generation to 62% simply by adding more flexibility (renewables currently account for around 47% of electricity used, according to the government).
The Wärtsilä report is timely because, in a ten-point plan released earlier this month, prime minister Boris Johnson promised an additional $684 million for the nuclear sector, and the building of new large and small nuclear power stations. Notably, grid flexibility was not mentioned in the plan.
The report also raises questions about the necessity of the 3.2 gigawatt Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, under development in Somerset, southwest England, which has been dogged by controversy and delays since its inception. In addition to coming with all the usual challenges associated with nuclear fission—not least the storage of radioactive waste—the project is at least $3.6 billion over budget and has been the target of numerous lawsuits and both local and international complaints.
Rimali noted that the coronavirus crisis had highlighted energy system inadequaciesacross Europe and further afield, with extreme price volatility and regular negative prices caused by reductions in demand. According to the Wärtsilä report, Germany at one point paid almost £800,000 ($1.1 million) per hour to export 10.5 gigawatts of electricity, while the U.K. paid its Sizewell B nuclear power station some $97 million to halve its output during lockdown. Such inefficiencies, Rimali said, were indicative of inflexible electricity systems—while countries that had built flexibility into their power grids had no such issues.
“During the first Covid-19 lockdowns when we saw that nations with more flexible power systems—such as Norway—were able to greatly benefit by purchasing surplus power from less flexible countries at low or negative prices,” Rimali said. “Norway was able to fill its bathtub without the risk of a flood!”