If China pulls the plug, it clarifies the issue. We can bin the whole misguided notion of nuclear expansion and look to cheaper, cleaner, safer, and quicker sources of power.
Hinkely’s strike price is £92.50 per MWh (2012 prices). The latest auctions for offshore wind on the Dogger Bank have come in at £39.65 and £41.61. In 2015 they were £117. Such is the miracle of scale in a nascent technology.
It does not take an eternity to build North Sea wind farms. The towers are shipped in six-packs from the Siemens Gamesa blade factory in Hull to the Hornsea field 70 miles offshore and installed along with the blades in a single day. The next day the system is switched on. The power feeds into the grid. Bingo.
Even if the UK had no net-zero climate target, wind would still be the cheapest way to generate the UK’s future electricity. The Government is targeting 30 GW of offshore arrays by 2030. The Committee on Climate Change wants 75 GW by mid-century.
It is by now our national endeavour, as it should be since the North Sea is arguably the best offshore wind resource in the world, an energy Arabia on our coast. Wind will become the backbone of the system, with power to spare for the production of green hydrogen, to be used in home heating, steel, cement, and ships.
The giant 10 MW turbines coming to the Dogger Bank will have an average capacity factor of 63pc, thanks to hi-tech blades that pitch into the wind, operated remotely from digital hubs. The International Energy Agency says this is “comparable to baseload technologies” and matches the capacity factor of gas plants in Europe or China. Big Wind can now raise equity and debt at a lower cost than Big Fossil. The virtuous circle is accelerating.
Back-up is still needed to cover intermittency but it will come from gas – clean hydrogen in the future – not from nuclear. Big reactors cannot be dialed up and down quickly to match needs. Increasingly it will come from digital demand management. “It is software engineers that matter now, not nuclear engineers,” said prof Burke.
It will come from idle electric vehicle batteries at peak times, and from such new technologies as cryogenic compressed air that can be expanded exponentially at marginal cost to cover weeks of supply – already competing toe-to-toe with shale gas in Texas.