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No nuclear needed: Renewables could meet UK’s carbon targets, but only with new policies

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

The UK could meet its looming fourth and fifth carbon budgets without the need for new nuclear, but only if renewables policy is urgently ramped up, Cornwall Insight has claimed.

The research and analysis firm has claimed that its power price modelling service has marked a “notable shift away” from previous thinking that new nuclear plants would be crucial towards meeting the country’s carbon targets.

It said that continued improvements in the development and operation of established renewables such as wind and solar has seen them becoming increasingly cost-effective, meaning that they could effectively offset the capacity new nuclear generation would provide, and at a lower cost to consumers.

EDF’s Hinkley Point C reactor is currently under development, but there remains considerable uncertainty over additional new nuclear plant in the UK after a string of developers pulled out of would-be projects citing deteriorating market conditions and economics.

In November last year Toshiba confirmed that it had scrapped plans to build a new nuclear power facility in Cumbria after it failed to find a buyer for its NuGen subsidiary.

That led energy secretary Greg Clark to claim that a “substantial pipeline” of renewables could fill the gap left by the Moorside project’s collapse.

The situation was then exacerbated in February when Hitachi suspended work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear project in Wales, a development which some in the sector said risked “blowing a hole” in the UK’s decarbonisation strategy.

Cornwall’s latest forecasts would appear to indicate that new renewables could effectively curtail the need for new nuclear, at least immediately. But Ben Hall, head of new business at Cornwall Insight, said this could only occur with a significant ramp up of renewables policy.

“Despite the falling costs of solar PV, onshore and offshore wind and other low-carbon technologies, deployment may still need some form of support above and beyond the power markets. Captured wholesale prices for renewable projects will fall relative to baseload prices, leading to lower revenues because of what is commonly termed power price cannibalisation.

“From our modelling it is also evident that the combination of Capacity Market de-rating factors for renewables and projected clearing prices - even if they rise - is not going to be enough to encourage significant new-build merchant renewables,” he said.

Hall’s words echo those made by the Committee on Climate Change, which earlier this month recommended that the UK government establish a 2050 net zero target, but only if it is serious about doing so and willing to follow through on the necessary policy framework.

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