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Gas power stations 'to cover electricity supply gap after Hinkley Point delays'

Joseph Flaig

A computer-generated image of how Hinkley Point C could look (Credit: EDF)
A computer-generated image of how Hinkley Point C could look (Credit: EDF)

Ageing gas-burning power stations may need to fill an electricity supply gap after newly-announced delays at Hinkley Point nuclear power station, an expert has said.

One reactor at the previously-delayed Hinkley Point C risks running 15 months behind schedule and another may be nine months late, EDF said today. The French energy company also announced the Chinese-backed project, the UK’s first new nuclear power station for more than 20 years, is estimated to be £2.2 billion over budget, up from £18.1 billion.

Any delay to the project’s planned 2025 completion date could cause an electricity supply gap, said Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at IMechE. The UK is facing “significant challenges” in energy supply, she said.

“With new technologies coming online, UK population growth and likely increases in the use of electricity in transport and heating to help meet carbon reduction targets, it looks almost certain that the electricity demand profile be ever more challenging over the next 10 years,” said Dr Baxter. Extra energy demand may have to be filled by fossil fuel-burning plants, she said.

“Today’s news that the Hinkley Point C project will cost more and maybe take longer means that it’s possible that some existing power stations will require further life extensions. It is not an option to ‘turn the lights off’, and that means that any gaps will need to be covered by gas and other technologies to secure supply and meet changing demands.”

Many were quick to criticise the delays and budget increase at the Somerset power station, which was confirmed in September 2016 by prime minister Theresa May. Greenpeace called the news a “damning indictment” of the government's agreement to go ahead with the project, and claimed today’s teenagers will still be paying for Kinkley when they approach pension age.

“A better solution would be through increasing ambition and investment in the British offshore wind industry,” a Greenpeace spokeswoman told Professional Engineering. The industry is booming because of previous Government support, she said, with costs falling and the source set to meet 10% of the UK’s electricity needs by 2020. She also highlighted a national specialism in battery and smart grid technology development.

“With the right investment and support now, the industry could scale up even further - ensuring low cost, secure energy at scale, capturing the expanding global export market, and creating thousands of new British jobs in economically deprived areas, whilst lowering the UK’s carbon footprint,” she said.

The Green Party also renewed criticism of Hinkley Point after EDF’s announcement. “It's not safe, it's not clean and it's certainly not cheap,” the party wrote online. “Another £1.5 billion added to Hinkley estimate. Scrap it.”

The estimated increased costs are the result of “a better understanding of the design adapted to the requirements of the British regulators, the volume and sequencing of work on site and the gradual implementation of supplier contracts,” said EDF. 

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