Editorial – Hinkley May-be in serious trouble

Yesterday I was invited to speak on BBC Scotland’s breakfast show about the state of Hinkley after last Thursday’s dramatic halt. In a short debate along with Tony Blair’s former […]

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By Sumit Bose

Yesterday I was invited to speak on BBC Scotland’s breakfast show about the state of Hinkley after last Thursday’s dramatic halt.

In a short debate along with Tony Blair’s former Energy Minister Brian Wilson, a big advocate of nuclear, we touched on why Theresa May pulled the plug on the deal at the 11th hour for ‘further scrutiny’. Is as reported, the problem not the cost but our PM’s unease at Chinese involvement in such a deeply important bit of national infrastructure?

Or is it less a conspiracy more the avoidance of complacency, as Mrs May is looking to justify the huge price tag and our commitment to pay EDF a whopping £92 per MWhr for about 50 years?

We won’t know until autumn but it is clear Hinkley is having a very troubled birth, if it ever does take its first steps!

A decade ago we were told it would be providing power by 2017. When ELN started we expected it to be half built by now.

And after redesigns, safety changes, investigations, resignations and endless controversy we are now looking at another delay, all of which is costing cash.

I’m actually unsure if it will now go ahead, is it really too big to fail? Well in the scale of things no, when wholesale prices have tumbled so much, when gas is plentiful and cheap, when renewables are developing strongly and when most importantly we have cottoned onto something much easier…energy reduction.

If we could reduce our current energy use by a tenth in the next decade, which is totally possible with incoming demand side technologies, do we need a Hinkley and its 7% baseload capacity, at all?

We know both National Grid, businesses and government are looking to increase how much energy we can save by changing both personal and working practices. Smart meters will change how we look at power use and the growth of EV transport could radically alter our view of renewable energy, which is at present so hard to store.

Tesla boss Elon Musk’s huge battery factory (Giga-factory) in the US, is expected to revolutionise EV driving and with it energy storage as new batteries in cars will be able to store power generated by renewables at any time. If it works he plans to repeat the feat in Europe. Could the EV battery replace the need for the nuclear generator?

I don’t know if any of this is going on in Mrs May’s mind. Is she thinking short term? Go for gas it’s cheap. Or is she thinking long term energy reduction? Perhaps she is worried about Chinese espionage? Or simply delaying an approval after she’s given it more considered thought.

I’m not against nuclear or Hinkley itself, however I see there are some serious difficulties ahead whatever decision is made in autumn.