High nuclear power costs and Scotland’s call for a „national plan“ are urging Britain’s government to reconsider renewable energy strategies.
It seems like the tide is turning for Britain’s energy future. After government figures revealed that solar and wind power will be cheaper by the time Hinkley Point is built, observers outside the green lobby are questioning the value of the plant and nuclear power in general. Various experts have concluded that the “on-all-the-time” power Hinkley delivers is no longer what is required. Since then Theresa May has delayed approval on the troubled nuclear power plant’s construction and researchers are looking for more efficient ways to store renewable energy.
So far, criticism of nuclear plants in the UK has mainly been confined to the green sector. But in a recent statement even London investment bank RBC Capital Markets said: “We question whether such large-scale nuclear generation is needed in a rapidly changing and decentralising electricity market where the costs of renewables and storage are coming down.”
A message like this usually comes from leaders of the solar and wind sector – such as Jeremy Leggett. He is a figurehead for the wider green industry. He is delighted that others are picking up on arguments of the green sector. “Finally the message is getting through that Hinkley, and indeed nuclear, make no sense today simply because wind and solar are cheaper. If we accelerate renewables in the UK, we can get to 100% renewable power well before 2050,” he told the Guardian.
Scottish parties call for “national plan” for renewables
At the same time Scotland’s parties are calling for a „national plan“ to ensure financial security and flexibility for renewables. Both the SNP and Scottish Greens have urged the UK Government to develop a national renewable energy storage strategy.
Callum McCaig, SNP MP and spokesperson for energy and climate at Westminster, said: “It is time for the UK Government to develop a comprehensive national strategy for energy storage, including financial plans and what incentives can be put in place to encourage new technologies in the sector. Implementing such a plan with the electricity market should be a key focus going forward.” He also demanded a “stable framework” to ensure stability for investment and guarantee support for projects. He was talking about the the proposed 400 mega watt Cruachan pump hydro energy storage scheme and the Coire Glas scheme.
“For the potential of renewable energy to be fully realised we will continue to need newer and better storage technologies”, he continued. “Mastering that is the solution to making renewables as attractive financially as they are environmentally.”
New storage technologies are the future
It, therefore, all comes down to cheap, light and long-life batteries. Scientist like Cambridge professor Clare Grey are working on this technology. She focusses on the science behind lithium-air batteries, which can store five times the energy in the same space as the current rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are widely used today.
She is also working on sodium-ion and redox flow batteries; the latter store power in a liquid form, contained in vats or tanks that in theory can easily be scaled up to power-grid sizes.
“There has been an amazing transformation in this field. There is an explosion of interest and I am extremely lucky to have decided early on to concentrate on this area,” she says, although she is keen to play down the idea that a eureka moment is just around the corner.