Thursday, 23 May 2019

Academics tell Labour that its support for nuclear power prevents it from achieving its own plans for renewable energy

Published below is a memorandum from the 'Red Lion Group' of 12 academics, to the Labour Party Shadow Energy Secretary, which sets out how Labour's support for new nuclear power prevents the achievement of its plans for renewable energy. This means that Labour's plans to give many £billions of state support for new nuclear power will merely replace cheaper renewable energy. The analysis was based on projections for energy demand used by the Committee on Climate Change.

Review of the CCC's projections of energy supply and demand
Letter to Shadow Energy Secretary from 12 academics and policy analysts

Dr Ian Fairlie, consultant, former Government advisor (for correspondence)
Emeritus Professor Andrew Blowers, Open University
Emeritus Professor Dr Godfrey Boyle, Open University
Dr Tom Burke, Visiting Professor, Imperial College and University College
Emeritus Professor Dr David Elliott, Open University
Dr Philip Johnstone, SPRU, University of Sussex
Dr David Lowry, senior research fellow, IRSS, Cambridge, MA, US
Ms Samantha Mason, policy advisor, PCS Union
Mr Peter Roche, editor, UK Nuclear News
Professor Andrew Stirling, FAcSS, SPRU, University of Sussex
Emeritus Professor Steve Thomas, University of Greenwich
Dr David Toke, Reader in energy policy, University of Aberdeen

Carbon Reduction Targets
Labour has recently announced plans to expand both renewable energy (RE) and nuclear power[1] to reduce carbon emissions. But our projection below, based on key parameters set out recently by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)[2], demonstrates that Labour’s targets for carbon reduction would be achieved more quickly and cheaply by focussing solely on renewable energy (RE) and excluding new nuclear power. If a Labour Government were to back more nuclear, this would mean less renewable energy would be used. As discussed below, there is more than enough planned RE available to meet CCC (and Labour) carbon reduction targets by 2030. Giving nuclear power financial advantages over renewable energy through direct state investment, Treasury loan guarantees, insurance indemnities and R&D support will mean that taxpayers and electricity consumers will be paying more than if renewable energy sources alone were used. According to the CCC’s recent report, using RE to reduce carbon emissions reduces costs to consumers, whereas nuclear power adds to them[3].

Renewable energy potential
The CCC’s report says: ‘... updated resource estimates, in line with other assessments, suggest potentials for 29-96 GW of onshore wind, 145-615 GW of solar power and 95-245 GW of offshore wind in the UK’[4]. (Other RE sources, such as wave, tidal and biomass, were omitted by the CCC.) We can convert the CCC’s cited potentials into annual power generation by applying the most recent available capacity factors[5] as a guide to future generation capacities. This is done by us in Table 1.

Table 1 – Our analysis of CCC’s estimates for potential UK renewable energy generation
(for justification of capacity factors -see endnote 4)

Offshore wind
Onshore wind
Solar PV
CCC’s “Low Capacity” estimate (GWe)
Our assumed capacity factors[6]
Our Low generation estimate (TWh/year)

Projected electricity demand
In 2018, the UK’s annual electricity generation was 335 TWh. Under its carbon reduction plan, the CCC estimates UK annual electricity demand will be 365 TWh in 2030 and 645 TWh in 2050[7]. These figures take account of the increasing trend for energy in transport and building heating sectors to be incorporated into the electrical power sector, where it is more efficient[8]. Hence even using the CCC’s“Low Capacity” for wind and solar power, our key RE estimate of 778 TWh/year from table 1 shows there would be considerably more electricity generating capacity than that required to meet demand in both 2030 and 2050 – even when other renewable energy sources (biomass, tidal, wave, etc) are excluded, and even using the CCC’s lowest estimates for RE.

% Generation from RE: Labour’s Plan for 2030
According to the CCC: ‘Our power sector scenarios for 2030 include 75-85% of electricity generation being met through low-carbon sources’ [9]. In fact, Labour’s plans for RE already more than meet this, as Labour has projected 52 GWe of new offshore wind for 2030[10]. Taking into account the increased capacity factors for the latest wind turbines, a new 52 GWe offshore wind fleet would deliver around 70% of the 365 TWh of electricity demand projected by the CCC in 2030[11]. Added to the 24% from existing renewable energy would amount to 94% of electricity supply in 2030. Add Sizewell B’s contribution (2%) and there is not even enough room for Hinkley C’s output (were it to ever overcome its manifest problems), never mind onshore wind, solar PV and the other renewables.

More nuclear power would mean less renewable energy
The reality is that Labour’s renewable energy and nuclear plans are in conflict. Labour’s plan to support more (highly subsidised) nuclear power would mean less (much cheaper) RE being used, not less gas generation.Such is the potential for quick and cheap deployment of renewable energy (whose costs are still falling) that Labour’s targets would be easily achieved, even if the mooted Hinkley C were cancelled. Indeed, in order to make space for Labour’s published RE plans, Hinkley C would have to be cancelled. In our view, this would be a sensible step for other reasons, including its spiralling construction costs, EDF’s poor finances, ever-lengthening construction timetable, state security questions, its high electricity prices, legal obstacles, and serious technical flaws yet to be resolved in its French prototype under construction.

System costs for renewable energy
According to the CCC report which drew on work by Imperial College, the costs of integrating high levels of penetration of fluctuating renewable energy sources could be reduced to ‘to £20/MWh or below’ by measures of system flexibility[12]. The report adds ‘It is worth installing wind up to the cost of alternative forms of generation (e.g. nuclear or CCS at £70-80/MWh). Various analyses differ as to what this limit is, although some studies have shown that overall system costs continue to decline until penetrations reach over 80%’.[13]

Lower RE costs
NB. CCC assume some energy saving but Labour should plan for more. That would make it even easier to avoid nuclear and reduce supply needs.Offshore wind contracts for £57.50 per MWh in 2012 were considerably lower than the (much longer) contracts offered for Hinkley C at £92.50 per MWh (its 2012 price: in 2019, over £106). This nuclear contract was further supported by several £billions of loan guarantees unavailable to wind or solar projects. In recent years, wind and solar PV projects have been built for around £50 per MWh without government-backed long-term contracts. Many more onshore wind and solar PV projects would be forthcoming if offered long-term CfDs, and these would be for less than £50 per MWh. Clearly, offshore and onshore wind and solar power are more cost-effective than nuclear power. In addition, they can be added online more reliably and quickly compared to nuclear plants.

[2] Committee on Climate Change(CCC) (2019) ‘Net Zero Technical Report’
[3] ibid Table 2.3 page 43
[4] ibid, page 26
[5] That is, the percentage of potential power output actually realised on an annual basis
[6] The latest 12MW GE wind turbine boasts a capacity factor of 63%, bi-facial solar PV installed by Gridserve
will increase production by 20% and new systems such as LiDAR are boosting onshore wind performance
[7] See CCC (2019) endnote 2
[8] see CCC report, endnote 2, for more details
[9]See CCC (2019) endnote 2, page 43

[10]See David McPhee, 26/09/2018 ‘Labour pledge ‘seven-fold’ increase in offshore wind at conference’

[11] This assumes an average capacity factor for the offshore wind fleet of 56% - less than current ‘best’ of 63% (see endnote 6)
[13]See CCC (2019) in previous endnote


  1. 95 GW of offshore wind is equivalent to 100 Moray East offshore windfarms costing £180 billion and lasting 25 years. X2.4 for 60 years of generation would cost £432 billion. 100 such windfarms would occupy 29,500 sq km.

    29 GW of onshore wind is equivalent to 54 Whitelee windfarms costing £32.4 billion and lasting 25 years. X2.4 for 60 years of generation would cost £78 billion. 54 such windfarms would occupy 2862 sq km.

    145 GW of solar pv is equivalent to 414 Cleve Hill Solar Parks costing £165.6 billion and lasting 30 years. X2 for 60 years of generation would cost £331 billion. 414 such Solar Parks would occupy 1,511 sq km.

    On a sub-zero winters evening at peak demand, when there is no wind or Sun, this higher level of electricity use would probably peak at around 135 GW. That would necessitate CCGT backup equivalent to 160 Keadby 2 plants and costing £56 billion for 30 years. X2 for 60 years is £112 billion.

    The total is £953 billion for 60 years of intermittent electricity with backup - £1 trillion, give or take.

    The COD for GE-Hitachi's BWRX-300 SMR has moved forward to 2028. In 11 or 12 years, these 300 MW nuclear power plants will be available in the UK at £452 million each - that's less than 1/4 of the cost per MW of Hinkley and competitive to gas.

    It would take 330 BWRX-300 to supply 778 TWh of low-carbon, 24/7 electricity every year for 60 years at a cost of £150 billion, requiring no backup and occupying 30 sq km.

    Up goes the cry - What about the nuclear waste!!!
    The USA measures it in football fields. All of the nuclear waste created by all of the nuclear power generated in the USA since the 1950s would fit on a single football field to a height of 30 feet.

    Forget about all of those wind turbines with 3 non-recycleable blades each - a lot of landfill. Just think about the solar panels:

    414 Cleve Hills would consist of 13,846,000 solar panels, 2m x 1m x 4cm. They would fill the football pitch at Wembley Stadium to a height of 153m [500 feet]. Every 30 years, they would need to be landfilled and would contain 4,000 tonnes of lead to leach into groundwater. Lead - particularly deadly to children's brain development; causes kidney problems, premature births and has kidney tumour and cancer links. There is no safe lower limit.

    Wind ans solar with backup costs 6.35X more than advanced nuclear power plants and the reason is very simple:
    Renewables use between 10X and 20X more precious material resources, with the attendant fossil fuel use at every stage from transport, mining and quarrying through raw material processing, manufacture and installation.

    And for environmentalists everywhere, add onto that 1000X more scenic desecration, ecosystem destruction, species wipe-out and waste mountains.

    12 academics and policy analysts - you seem unaware of burgeoning developments in advanced nuclear power plants. Would your recommendations be of more value to politicians and the general public and far more informative if you were to include such cost information?

  2. How disingenuous of you, Dr Toke, not to post my comment.

    The content was purely factual, in a form of arithmetic an 11 year-old could understand.

    You do the 'academic and policy-analyst' world no good by blocking comment. Posting the comment and countering the contents would have been far more appropriate.

    It really is quite shameful of you, Dr Toke; I wonder how many of your colleagues agree with you? I'll see if I can find out.

  3. Thank you for this David, the commentor who talks of the US nuclear waste fitting into a football field should come and sample the beaches of Cumbria where americium cesium and plutonium are routinely found in every few shovels worth of silt.

    1. How many Bq per shovel-full? Any more than in a banana do you think?

      If you're trying to imply the levels are dangerous, you need some figures to back it up.