Conservative think-tank hails renewables as ideal Hinkley ‘Plan B’

Conservative think-tank Bright Blue has said that renewables must be the government’s ‘Plan B’ in the event that the controversial Hinkley C nuclear power project falls through.

Bright Blue’s ‘Keeping the lights on’ report, published yesterday, profiled how it considered the UK should best fuel its energy sector as unabated coal firing plants are phased out by 2025.

It uses research commissioned from Aurora Energy Research to provide three scenarios – ‘base case’, ‘low stress’ and ‘high stress’ – under which the security of the UK’s energy supply is tested in light of the government’s planned coal phase out.

While all three scenarios indicate that energy security will be maintained, the ‘low stress’ scenario – which entails above-expectations deployment of renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency technologies – results in greater energy security and cheaper household energy bills.

Principle in the report’s findings however is the government’s actions in the event that the planned 3.2GW nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point C is not built. The project’s fate continues to be scrutinised and EDF has yet to commit to a final investment decision despite repeatedly granting assurances that a positive announcement would be forthcoming.

The report indicates that should it collapse, greater renewables deployment “should be ‘Plan B’” given the technology’s capability to “easily fill in the capacity gap” throughout the late 2020s.

It highlights the drastically falling costs of solar PV and onshore wind alongside their ability to be constructed quickly, allowing the technologies to “plug significant gaps in capacity”.

“The ability of these technologies to deliver this capacity is already impressive and will be even more so in the mid to late 2020s.

“In contrast, we believe that proposed small modular nuclear reactors are very unlikely to be available at all, let alone before the 2030s in any scalable, cost-competitive or politically acceptable way,” the report states.

In order for this to be achieved, the report has proposed several recommendations for the government in order to pursue the low stress scenario it considers ideal, which includes further encouragement of renewables, interconnectors, storage, demand-side response and energy efficiency.

Among those recommendations are targets for DSR and storage, with the report suggesting that between 4-5GW and 5-6GW of the respective technologies should be deployed by 2030. This, coupled with greater renewables deployment and an earlier than anticipated phase out of coal (by 2023) would realise the low stress scenario and deliver annual household bills £2.40 cheaper than the base case.

Former energy minister Lord Greg Barker said that the report was “well-researched” and “timely” considering the much-publicised difficulties with Hinkley.

“Thanks to a Conservative government, the UK is now committed to taking dirty, polluting coal out of our energy mix completely. So we should take maximum advantage of this bold move. The government should heed the recommendations, give investors even greater certainty and with that, put UK plc firmly at the forefront of the global drive for clean and smart energy technologies,” he said.

Meanwhile the report’s author Ben Caldecott said: “Despite what some exaggerated claims suggest, coal phase out even under a ‘high stress’ scenario, will not result in the lights going out. Our analysis shows the significant benefits for pollution and system security of further encouraging renewables, interconnection, storage, demand side response and energy efficiency.”

The report will however sit at odds with the government’s recent rhetoric surrounding renewables, which has insisted that spending on clean energy be curbed to “protect hard working families”.