Supporters of a revival of nuclear power in the UK say that renewables cannot deliver the 12 gigagatts (GW) that will be lost as existing nuclear power stations are decommissioned over the next ten to fifteen years. This is demonstrably incorrect. Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind could each on their own easily fill this gap at far less cost. All Britain has to do is follow Germany’s trend over the last ten years.
Germany has similar sunshine levels to England and Wales, and the UK has a much larger wind resource. But Germany is around 10 years ahead of the UK in exploiting renewables. Germany has developed ten times UK wind-power capacity and a hundred times its PV capacity. German wind-power already exceeds UK nuclear capacity, and within three years their PV capacity will too . If the UK adopted similar policies wind would by 2020 provide over six times the capacity of British Nuclear Fuel Ltd’s optimistic estimate for new build .
Were wind installation in the UK to follow the trend actually achieved by Germany from 1996 to 2005 it would have as much capacity from wind as the current UK nuclear contribution by 2011. In fact, UK wind-power has been grown faster. Recent studies have shown that the current grid can manage with a very significant wind-power contribution .
If the UK implemented similar policies on photovoltaics to Germany, then by 2020 PV would have installed as much power as the current nuclear contribution.
The current rate of growth of PV has been going on for a decade. It will continue and even increase as generation cells become thinner and cheaper, and as second and third generation cells arrive on the market. Such growth has been a feature of the introduction of many other semiconductor devices. Japanese PV capacity is expected to rise to 100GW by 2030 despite the state subsidies having already been cut virtually to zero.
The nuclear industry prefers to compare electrical energy delivered than electrical power capacities. When averaged over a year, the conversion factors are higher for nuclear than wind, and these in turn are higher than solar. But such comparisons can be misleading due to the massive difference in flexibility in meeting the real time electricity demand.
Wind and solar supply can respond more quickly to daily and seasonal demand, and can also be deployed quickly to meet increased demand. As wind-power capacity factors will continue to improve, any nuclear stations turning on in 10 years time will use new technology, with low capacity factors in the early years.
Building integrated PV delivers the electrical energy when it is needed, where it is needed, and the demand is in many cases not just related to but caused by sunlight. The buildings responsible for consuming over 60 per cent of the UK's electricity supply receive over seven times that in solar energy . Yet for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electrical energy delivered by nuclear at peak demand during the day, approximately one kWh is produced at night, when there is less demand.
In addition to wind and solar resources, the UK also has wave and tidal power resources which are much larger than in Germany.
Nuclear is the option with the lowest potential and the slowest implementation. Also nuclear build may not effectively reduce carbon emissions if low concentration uranium ores need to be exploited .Nuclear facilities are potential terrorist targets. The waste problem has yet to be solved, and every UK citizen is committed to at least £900 a head to clear up waste from the first generation of nuclear reactors. Following the German lead in phasing out nuclear power and exploiting the renewables would benefit the environment, and attract support from voters.
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2. "Memorandum submitted by British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) (NR74)", House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, November 2005.
3. R.Bathelmie et al. "Offshore Wind Potential in Europe"
4. UK Energy Research Centre Report
www.ukerc.ac.uk/content/view/259/953 (April 2006)
5. J. W. Storm van Leeuwen, & P. Smith
www.stormsmith.nl/ (January 2006).