How Prof. Helm’s proposals might change the relation between nuclear and wind energy

Sir,

You recently published a short article/letter from Iain Staffel and Grant Wilson. There are several points at issue and this letter is a response to the article by Iain Staffel and Grant Wilson presenting a different viewpoint.

The price comparison between Hinckley agreement and supposed off-shore wind generated electricity has frequently been made.  

Nuclear however provides reliable electricity, wind does not. Like apples and oranges you wouldn’t expect them to cost the same price.

A stable and reliable supply of electricity is essential to our economy, medicine and home functioning.

In this respect intermittent sources of electricity can be considered as parasitic; the more they penetrate the electricity supply, essential stable sources, nuclear and gas-fired generation are used less frequently.

Consequently their price increases as companies attempt to reclaim the costs of construction and maintenance. In the worst case scenario no-one will finance any nuclear or fossil fuel construction at all and electricity supply – like any third world country – will become dependent on totally unreliable sources.

Generators of intermittent electricity generation have simply ignored these consequences and assumed that it is someone else’s problem.

The construction of any wind farm takes place anywhere companies and investors fancy building them – this unplanned expansion costs of maintenance, stability and connection.

Whereas previously the grid was a planned enterprise with stability uppermost allowing sufficient excess of stable supply to avoid a black condition once in a hundred years, the present risk is one in four years.  

Recovery from a black condition in which system demand can exceed the capacity of available generation or other major disruption, is now made much more difficult.  Premature closure of coal fired stations and reduction in use of those remaining makes recovery from a black condition much more difficult.

Meanwhile, Professor Dieter Helm, CBE, in his requested contribution to what was DECC (and is now BEIS) states quite clearly that the costs of intermittency which are causing increased householder bills should rest with those that cause them.

Dieter Helm (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cost-of-energy-independent-review)

All low carbon sources, he indicates, should be merged into an equivalent firm power capacity auction thus incentivising intermittent sources  to invest in the demand side, storage and backup facilities. Wind power companies should thus oversee the sufficient construction of gas fuelled plants that counterbalances their variable contribution.

However most wind farm companies are of insufficient size to fund such requirements.

The high cost of Hinckley of £98-MWhr and about double the price of present nuclear power arose mainly because DECC incorrectly forecasted that oil, coal and  gas prices would continue to rise. However, since these have instead fallen, the deal looks at present unattractive. But that may change in the future.

The price offered £57.50-MWhr in one (not two) successful bids under contracts for difference for one offshore wind farm (which won’t be built for five years) contains no penalty clause for failure to build.

If the price of electricity from other sources in 2023 is above £57.50 it won’t be built at all. Viewed in this way this proposal is not a serious offer but a speculative proposal designed to keep competition at bay. Current offshore prices are above £140-MWhr.  

However when all integration costs are properly estimated the price of offshore wind has hardly fallen at all in recent times and remains at £265 ( www.iesisenergy.org/lcost/ ). It is these costs that currently impact on consumer electricity bills.

 

Professor Tony Trewavas FRS FRSE

Scientific Alliance Scotland

7-9 North St David Street

Edinburgh

EH2 1AW

31 Jan 2018

 

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