Solar power technology could deliver the same levels of electricity as the planned nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, at a similar cost and in just two years – rather than the decade it will take for the power station to come online.
In a letter to David Cameron, Mark Turner, operations director at solar power firm Lightsource Renewable Energy, says that an increased and immediate rollout of solar could help avoid the predicted power shortages that the regulator Ofgem expects the UK to suffer by 2015. This is when a number of coal-fired power stations are set to be retired.
A deal to build another nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset – the first new nuclear plant in the UK in 25 years – was confirmed on Monday. However, the plant is not expected to begin generating electricity until 2023, which Turner says doesn’t solve the problem of blackouts.
“Whilst the announcement of Hinkley Point C will make a material contribution to plugging the gap without further perpetuating our dependency on fossil fuels, this new power station will only be of use in 10 years’ time at the earliest”, he writes.
“It is our belief that something needs to be done now to address our energy security needs.”
Turner adds that solar power can “provide energy security quickly, reduce electricity bills and protect the environment at the same time”.
His comments, while specific to solar, are applicable also to offshore wind. In 2010, the Offshore Valuation group produced a report which found that just 29% of “practical offshore renewable resources” around the UK could account for the equivalent of one billion barrels of oil. It added that harnessing this could make the UK a net exporter of electricity.
A spokesperson for the renewables industry’s trade body the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said that clean technologies such as wind, biomass and solar were the only large-scale, low-carbon power technologies that could be deployed quickly and at volume to bridge the looming energy generation gap. They therefore said Lightsource’s suggestion to Cameron was feasible.
The Hinkley C nuclear plant has been given a static strike price – the price the government has guaranteed site operator EDF for every megawatt hour of electricity produced – of £92.50. However, research by the Solar Trade Association (STA) – which is affiliated with the REA – shows that the strike price for solar could actually be lower than nuclear (£91) by as soon as 2018.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) caused a stir earlier this week, after its press materials for Hinkley C included an infographic that pitted the proposed plant directly against solar and wind in terms of land use.
The nuclear facility is expected to produce 26 terawatt hours of electricity a year when it comes online in 2023, using up just 430 acres of land in Somerset. To produce the equivalent electricity, DECC said solar would need 130,000 acres and onshore wind 250,000.
REA chief executive Nina Skorupska described the infographic as “unhelpful”. She added, “As [energy secretary] Ed Davey stressed […], it is not an either/or choice – we need a diverse energy mix.”
The graphic has since been removed.
In his letter to the prime minister, Turner concludes, “Solar power will not be the entire solution but if we supported its deployment then within a couple of years we could have 10% of the UK’s energy mix completely free from the vagaries of the global fossil fuel markets. This would then combine with the 9% from Hinckley Point C when it eventually comes on stream.
“We urge you to provide more education and resource to the nation regarding the true benefits of solar power technology and make the nation aware that we can take this whole matter into our own hands if we chose to.”