UK: solar requires 50% less subsidy than Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, STA finds

The Solar Trade Association (STA) of the U.K. has published analysis that shows solar power would just half the subsidy of the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in order to deliver the same amount of power over the same lifetime.

Head of policy at the STA, Mike Landy, said that the analysis should make people "stop and think" about how inexpensive solar power is, and urged the British government to "explain why it is drastically cutting support for solar energy" while also backing the Hinkley nuclear development with double the level of subsidy.

The answer may lie in this week’s state visit by Chinese premier Xi Jinping, who is touring Britain all week and will personally sign the deal for the nation’s first nuclear power plant in a generation – to be owned by China’s state-backed nuclear company CGN.

China will foot around 30% of the plant’s cost, which is expected to amount to more than £26 billion ($35 billion), making it one of the most expensive ‘objects’ in the world.

However, critics have pointed out that once all construction, maintenance and subsidy costs are taken into consideration, the power plant will deliver nuclear energy for £92.50/MWh, way above the current wholesale price for energy in the U.K., which stands at £45/MWh.

The STA’s analysis should prove uncomfortable for a government that has long argued solar’s subsidies are uneconomic, and must be slashed in order to protect the bills of hardworking families. Not only have renewables helped lower wholesale energy prices in the U.K., but solar can survive, thrive and match Hinkley’s power output over the next 35 years on 50% of the subsidy required for the nuclear behemoth.

"We are not saying that solar is the solution to all our energy problems, nor that it could completely replace other technologies," said Landy. "However, the government needs to explain why it is drastically cutting support for solar energy while offering double the subsidy to Hinkley. It also needs to explain why it is championing overseas state-backed utilities over British solar companies which, given stable support, would have considerable growth prospects."

The STA’s document contains interim reports of ongoing analysis that the trade body will further refine, adding wind into the model to strengthen the arguments for renewable energy against nuclear.