The Bigger Picture

The cost of low carbon energy : nuclear vs renewable wind and solar

Recent revelations about the £2.9bn cost increase for the Hinkley Point C reactor and likely delay to start of operation are raising alarm bells. As Hinkley C has already been branded the “world’s most expensive power plant“, the UK Government is looking at new ways of funding reactors by adding construction costs to consumers electricity bills.

Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) head of analysis Johnathan Marshall, commented: “New delays and cost overruns highlight why there are concerns around transferring more construction risk of new nuclear power stations onto British bill payers. Under the proposed regulated asset base scheme, energy bills will increase to pay for nuclear power stations before they start generating”

The recently released  World Nuclear Industry Status Report asserts that renewable energy is cheaper and reduces emissions faster than nuclear power.

Given the urgency of reducing CO2 emissions and minimising the cost of energy for consumers – Government investment should logically be going into funding the cheapest and fastest deliverable low carbon option – Offshore, onshore wind and solar PV.

Community Renewable energy projects are the Cinderella of the UK Government’s plans for a low carbon energy future. Yet the potential for local generation and critically – management of supply and demand at a local level – could deliver a sustainable distributed energy system that would be good for the planet at the same time as keeping consumers electricity bills affordable.

A case study for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – Community Energy Strategy Report (2014) – illustrates this: “Feldheim, a small village south of Berlin. The village set up a cooperative to provide heat and electricity from a local biogas plant running on pig waste. They also have wind turbines and a solar PV array all connected to their own independent local Grid. The village is carbon neutral, self-sufficient in energy and any excess electricity they generate is sold back to the national grid for a profit. They also benefit from significantly cheaper energy prices than the national average.”

Norwich Community Solar Coop aspires to generate affordable local energy while returning benefits to the local community through their ownership of the generating equipment. We could see this as potentially opening-up the way to collaborate with others in making a local energy market a reality, bringing benefits ranging from decarbonisation to resilience, efficiency to equity in the energy system, home to Norwich and Norfolk.

[Written by NCS Treasurer Adrian Holmes]