UK: Renewables eliminate need for nuclear power

14. November 2012 | Global PV markets, Investor news, Markets & Trends, Research & Development | By:  Becky Beetz

According to a new report, the "explosive" growth of photovoltaics in the U.K., and the related falling costs, mean the market for nuclear is disappearing. Combined with "stiff competition" from other renewables, the case for investing in nuclear is shaky at best.

UK Dounreay nuclear power plant

There is good evidence that, contrary to the often-repeated claims that nuclear power is cheap, it is one of the most expensive ways of generating electricity.

The report, The Financial Risks of Investing in New Nuclear Power Plants, published by U.K.-based Energy Fair, criticizes the government’s plans to introduce nuclear power subsidies and states that in the face of renewable energy growth, the market for nuclear power is diminishing.

"By the time any new nuclear power station could be built in the UK (2020 or later), the market for its electricity will be disappearing-because of explosive growth in photovoltaics (PV) and because consumers will be able to buy electricity from anywhere in Europe," state the report’s authors.

They continue that investment in new nuclear stations is "commercially risky" in light of long build and payback times – at least seven years, and 30 years or more, respectively – and changes in the markets.

"There is good evidence that, contrary to the often-repeated claims that nuclear power is cheap, it is one of the most expensive ways of generating electricity," state the authors, adding "The inflation-adjusted cost of building new nuclear power stations has been on a rising trend for many years. The introduction of new safety measures after the Fukushima disaster will push up prices further. Meanwhile, the cost of most renewable sources of power is falling."

Specifically, on the back of falling costs, improved technology, and comparatively quick installation times, renewable energies are considered to be a much safer investment option.

In its latest report, World Energy Outlook 2012, the International Energy Agency says that by 2015, renewables will grow to become second only to coal as the world’s largest source of power generation; and, by 2035, they will rival coal as the primary forms of global electricity.

Of this, electricity generated by photovoltaics in 2035 is expected to rise 26-fold from 2010, increasing from 32 terawatt hours (TWh) to 846 TWh, and for renewables as a whole, from 4,206 TWh in 2010, to 11,342 TWh in 2035.

In contrast, it says that following the Fukushima disaster, "prospects have been clouded". Under its new policies scenario – the course of events realistically envisioned by the report – by 2035, the share of nuclear generation will fall from 13 to 12%. Currently, it says there are there are 64 reactors under construction across the globe, totaling 66 GW of capacity. By 2035, nuclear production is expected to increase from 2,756 TWh in 2010, to about 4,370 TWh.

Subsidized

The Energy Fair report goes on to discuss nuclear subsidies. Referring to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2011, the author’s say it has been proven that nuclear is not viable without subsidies. Currently, it receives seven different types of remuneration, including: limitations on liabilities; underwriting of commercial risks; subsidies in protection against terrorist attacks; subsidies for  the short-to-medium-term cost of disposing of nuclear waste; subsidies for the long-term cost of disposing of nuclear waste; underwriting the cost of decommissioning nuclear plants; and institutional support for nuclear power.

On top of this, the U.K. government is additionally proposing further nuclear subsidies on the back of the news that Japanese company Hitachi had bought Horizon Nuclear Power from German owners E.ON and RWE npower and will press ahead with plans to build eight new nuclear reactors at Wylfa on the island of Anglesey, north Wales; and at Oldbury in Gloucestershire, England.

While party spokespeople have denied this is the case, a new bill to be presented to parliament this month contains a Contracts for Difference (CfD) regime – which has been described as a tariff by another name. Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns for Friends of the Earth, told pv magazine, "It seems to me the CfD instrument will be a subsidy."

The Energy Fair report authors continue, "There is good evidence from reputable sources that, in general, renewables can be built much faster than nuclear power stations, they are cheaper than nuclear power (taking account of all subsidies), they provide greater security in energy supplies than nuclear power, they are substantially more effective in cutting emissions of CO2, there are more than enough to meet our needs now and for the foreseeable future, they provide diversity in energy supplies, and they are largely free of the several problems with nuclear power. Evidence in support of these assertions may be found on www.energyfair.org.uk/oppcost and in sources referenced there."

Energy Fair counts among its members, Gerry Wolff, coordinator of Desertec-UK and The Kyoto2 Support Group, Pete Roche an energy consultant and policy adviser to the Scottish Nuclear Free Local Authorities, and the National Steering Committee of UK NFLA, and David Lowry an independent research policy consultant, specializing in nuclear issues.


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