A report published today by a newly formed pressure group, 100percentrenewableuk, says that that nuclear power is instrumental in forcing the National Grid to turn off large amounts of wind power in Scotland. Nuclear power is also heavily responsible for the large payments paid by the National Grid to windfarms to turn off (be ‘constrained’) when there is too much electricity on the network. These so-called compensation payments (paid for by electricity consumers in general) have focussed on the Scottish part of the British electricity system. This means that nuclear power is a poor means of balancing wind power.
The newly formed initiative 100percentrenewableuk commissioned a leading energy consultancy, Cornwall Insight, to estimate how much of this practice of turning off wind farms could potentially have been avoided if nuclear power plants were shut down. This allows us to estimate what might happen to windfarm compensation payments if nuclear power plant were able to operate as flexibly as wind farms, that is in being able to turn off production when required by the grid. Two years were selected; 2019 as the most recent completed calendar year, and 2017 the most recent year when both nuclear plants in Scotland (Hunterston B and Torness) were fully operational.
It was found that, in 2017, 94 per cent of the windpower that was turned off could have been generated had nuclear power plant not been operating. In 2019, 77 per cent of windfarm output which was turned off (constrained) could have been generated had the nuclear power plant not been operating. These results indicate a direct relationship between nuclear power and the payments made to windfarms to turn off. Essentially, wind power receives the blame because it would cost a lot more to induce the nuclear power stations to reduce their generation.
Windfarm compensation payments in 2017 were close to £100 million, and around £130 million in 2019. The operation of nuclear power is associated with about £100 million each year paid in compensation to windfarm operators – ie the large bulk of windfarm compensation payments. In 2017, when most nuclear power was being generated, almost all of the constrained wind generation could have been avoided if nuclear power plant had operated flexibly, or shut down.
Dr David Toke, author of the report said: ‘It is wrong for wind power to be ”blamed” by the media for these compensation payments. Inflexible operation of nuclear power plants is switching off wind turbines. Essentially, cheaper electricity production from windfarms is being turned off in order to protect production from nuclear power plant whose production is much more expensive to manage. These nuclear plants either cannot or will not help to balance the grid in these circumstances. This undermines renewable energy and increases the costs to the consumer of operating windfarms’.
This pattern of the failure of nuclear power in the UK to participate effectively in grid balancing has been entrenched in the system of contracts awarded by Government to new nuclear and renewable energy generators, that is Hinkley Point C and offshore windfarms in 2017 and 2019.
These contracts further insulate the inflexible balancing position of new nuclear power. Nuclear power will be guaranteed compensation if they are constrained whilst windfarms will be forced off the grid without being paid for electricity production or compensation for constraints. This will pass the hidden costs of nuclear inflexibility onto wind and solar farms.
In addition, as the proportion of fluctuating renewable energy on the grid increases there will be an increasing number of occasions when wholsesale power prices are negative. But production from Hincley C will always be paid at the premium price even when power prices are negative. On the other hand in future wind and solar generators will lose money irf they generate during periods of negative power prices.
The new group behind the report, 100percentrenewableuk, calls for the idea of providing so-called ‘baseload’ through large centralised generators including nuclear power and fossil fuel power plant to be scrapped in favour of a 100 per cent renewable energy system. Under this system renewable energy should not be constrained but instead stored using various techniques to provide power through both short and long term storage purposes.
Buy the new report giving you the full details on how nuclear power undermines wind power and how we can organise a fully 100 per cent renewable energy system. Just £12 - see 100percentrenewableuk