The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) welcomes the publication of a detailed report today by the new campaigning group ‘100% Renewable UK’ which shows how nuclear power is instrumental in the National Grid having to turn off large amounts of wind power in Scotland. (1)
The report outlines that nuclear power is heavily responsible for the large payments paid by the National Grid to windfarms to turn off (be ‘constrained’) when there is too much electricity on the network. These compensation payments (paid for by Scottish, English and Welsh electricity consumers) have focused on the Scottish part of the British electricity system.
The newly formed initiative 100percentrenewableuk, which NFLA supports, commissioned a leading energy consultancy, Cornwall Insight, to estimate how much of this practice of turning off power from wind farms could potentially have been avoided if nuclear power plants were shut down. This allows an estimate to be made of what might happen to windfarm compensation payments if nuclear power plant were able to operate as flexibly as wind farms – that is in being able to turn off production flexibly when required by the grid.
It was found that, in 2017, 94% of the wind energy that was turned off could have been generated had nuclear power plants not been operating. In 2019, 77% of windfarm output which was turned off (constrained) could have been generated had the nuclear power plants not been operating. These results indicate a direct relationship between nuclear power and the payments made to windfarms to turn off. Essentially, wind power receives the blame because it would cost a lot more to induce the nuclear power stations to reduce their generation.
Windfarm compensation payments in 2017 were close to £100 million, and around £130 million in 2019. The operation of nuclear power is associated with about £100 million each year paid in compensation to windfarm operators – i.e. the large bulk of windfarm compensation payments. In 2017, when most nuclear power was being generated, almost all of the constrained wind generation could have been avoided if nuclear power plant had operated flexibly, or shut down.
Dr David Toke, author of the report said: “It is wrong for wind power to be ‘blamed’ by the media for these compensation payments. Inflexible operation of nuclear power plants is switching off wind turbines. Essentially, cheaper electricity production from windfarms is being turned off in order to protect production from nuclear power plants whose production is much more expensive to manage. These nuclear plants either cannot or will not help to balance the grid in these circumstances. This undermines renewable energy and increases the costs to the consumer of operating windfarms.”
This pattern, of the failure of nuclear power in the UK to participate effectively in grid balancing, has been entrenched in the system of contracts awarded by the UK Government to new nuclear and renewable energy generators in the Hinkley Point C development and contracts given to offshore windfarms in 2017 and 2019.
The report notes that these contracts further insulate the inflexible balancing position of new nuclear power. Nuclear power will be guaranteed compensation if they are constrained whilst windfarms will be forced off the grid without being paid for electricity production or compensation for constraints. This will pass the hidden costs of nuclear inflexibility onto wind and solar farms. During the current Covid-19 outbreak, which has seen a major reduction on electricity demand, it has been reported that EDF Energy will be provided with £50 million funding from the National Grid for partially switching off the output of the Sizewell B reactor in Suffolk. (2)
The group 100percentrenewableuk calls for the idea of providing so-called ‘baseload’ through large centralised generators including nuclear power and fossil fuel power plant to be scrapped in favour of a 100% renewable energy system. Under this system renewable energy should not be constrained but instead stored using various techniques to provide power through both short and long term storage purposes.
NFLA Scotland Convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton said:
“This illuminating report shows that Scotland’s moves to a renewable energy future are being constrained by the inflexibility of nuclear power. As Scotland is getting ever closer to producing all of its electricity needs from renewables it surely is time to push forward with a reformed energy market that moves England and Wales in the same direction. As Councils are a core part of the process to a 100% renewable energy future due to their work in supporting decentralised energy solutions, the key has to be to move away from the inflexibility of the current centralised energy market. This report is to be welcomed.”
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn added:
“NFLA is delighted to support the new 100percentrenewableuk group as part of the way to deliver policies and projects that can deliver a target we are fully committed in supporting – a complete renewable energy system across the UK and Ireland. This report confirms to us that the outdated baseload energy model is hindering the growth of renewable energy. It is time for wholesale reform to a decentralised energy model that responds better to public and business needs whilst tackling the climate crisis which Councils are committed to overcome. 2020 has been the year renewable energy has come of age. This report shows that, with a change of policy direction, the goal of 100% renewable energy generation can be realised much earlier than ever thought possible.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) More data on the new 100percentrenewableUK initiative is available from the website https://100percentrenewableuk.org/. 100percentrenewableuk Ltd is a Not for Profit Company limited by guarantee whose registered address is: 70 Christopher Road, Selly Oak Birmingham, B29 6QJ. Full versions of the report can be obtained from the website. 100percentrenewableuk will be holding its inaugural webinar-conference on October 17th.