This week, the long-awaited UK government approval for the construction of Hinkley Point C was granted. This will be a pair of modern light water reactors of the French EPR type, will generate 3,260 megawatts at full power, and has a design life of 60 years. An exhaustive description of the costs, subsidies and national context for this huge piece of energy supply infrastructure is available from the World Nuclear Association.
Inevitably, many will wonder if the 25.5 billion kilowatt hours and 14 million avoided tons of greenhouse gas can be achieved some other way – maybe even cheaper. Indeed, solar has already been advanced as a prefered option… by the UK’s Solar Trade Association. Just as inevitably, 1) this is solar plus storage, and 2) the amount of necessary storage isn’t specified.
This has already been dissected over at Energy Matters where it was estimated to be 7 billion kilowatt hours of storage capacity when relying on solar alone – “roughly the equivalent of eight hundred more Dinorwigs”. Dinorwig is the largest pumped hydro storage facility in the UK. Ironically, it was originally intended to store nuclear power overnight. Alternatively, it would take over 87 thousand of the largest battery storage installations ever proposed.
To be clear, solar plus storage still won’t provide what huge reactors do. And EPRs can’t provide anything like the flexibility of distributed solar/storage combinations. They have fundamentally different profiles, different scales. Since they can’t substitute for each other, it’s perverse to feed the persistent nuclear vs renewables struggle with them.