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  • Nuclear Power Stations or Wind Farms - Which Is More Cost-Effective?

Nuclear Power Stations or Wind Farms - Which Is More Cost-Effective?

Dec 19 2017 Read 3575 Times

Historically, wind farms have come under fire from their critics for being too inefficient and expensive to be cost-effective. However, rapid developments in the technology have resulted in plummeting costs, and the chief of a leading energy company now believes that it is nuclear, and not wind, which won’t be able to compete going forward.

Hans Bunting, the chief of renewables at Innogy SE, pointed to the wind farm his company are developing off the coast of Lincolnshire, which has secured a government subsidy allowing it to offer energy at £74.75/MWh – that’s significantly lower than the £92.50 secured for the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear plant.

Winds of change

Even when the finalised plans for Hinkley C were announced last September, the plan was greeted with scepticism from certain quarters. Critics said the technology behind the incentive was out-dated and unproven, as well as involving all of the quandaries normally associated with nuclear waste.

One aspect not thought to be under threat, however, was its cost-effectiveness in comparison to renewable technologies such as wind power. In the intervening 12 months, the government have since granted three sizable subsidies to developments at Triton Knoll (mentioned above and set to employ the biggest world turbines in the world), Hornsea (near Yorkshire) and Moray (up in Scotland).

All three have secured a significantly cheaper MW/h than Hinkley, with the latter two guaranteeing £57.50. Triton Knoll is more expensive as it is scheduled to be completed a year sooner, though all three will become operational before Hinkley C.

What they say

Bunting has cited those prices as evidence that wind is already significantly cheaper than nuclear – and added that the falling costs in the industry mean that wind will be even more affordable by the time Hinkley C comes online.

“A few years ago everyone thought 10MW [turbines] was the maximum, now we’re talking about 15[MW]. It seems the sky is the limit,” he explained. “[It] means less turbines for the same capacity, less steel in the ground, less cables, even bigger rotors catching more wind, so it will become cheaper.”

However, not everyone is in agreement. A spokesman for EDF Energy (the company behind Hinkley C) said that the nuclear plant could take advantage of the same falling costs as the wind sector. “EDF Energy’s follow-on nuclear projects at Sizewell and Bradwell will remain competitive with other low-carbon options and we are confident they can be developed at a significantly lower price than Hinkley Point C,” he said.

Nuclear being pushed out?

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why Hinkley C has remained an option thus far is the Conservative Party’s enduring support for the project. Moreover, public opposition to wind farms among Tory strongholds in the south of England has prevented the industry from spreading its wings in those areas.

However, Bunting believes that the surplus of wind in Wales and Scotland would make such locations unattractive for the industry in any case. He also went on to say that Innogy would expand into new solar power projects (like those being explored at Lufft) if the government reopened subsidies in that sector.

For their part, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have maintained both power sources are vital to the future of the UK. “We need a diverse energy mix to ensure that demand for energy can always be met, and both nuclear and renewables will play an important role in this for many years to come,” said a statement.  

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