The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has recommended that UK ministers support the construction of only one new nuclear plant after Hinkley Point C in the next few years, indicating that renewables investment could be a safer investment.

According to the National Infrastructure Assessment: “Government should not agree support for more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley Point C before 2025.”

The organisation advised ministers to scale back proposals to build up to six new nuclear plants under a new programme. According to the NIC, while it would have been unwise to back renewables as a more affordable alternative to nuclear ten years ago, lower costs today mean renewable energy sources could play a major role in the UK’s electricity generation.

NIC chairman Sir John Armitt said: “They [the government] say full speed. We’re suggesting it’s not necessary to rush ahead with nuclear. Because during the next ten years we should get a lot more certainty about just how far we can rely on renewables.”

Armitt noted that big nuclear programmes can be challenging and pose much more risks than wind and solar, which can now deliver the same generating capacity as nuclear at the same price.

Armitt added: “I don’t think anybody’s pretending you can take forward a new nuclear power station without some form of government underwriting or support. Whereas the amount required to subsidise renewables is continually coming down.”

A government spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy said: “Upgrading the UK’s infrastructure is at the heart of our plan to boost growth and productivity.

“The UK is a world leader in tackling climate change and renewables, having reduced our emissions by 30% and our Industrial Strategy prioritises the research and development of clean energy sources. As we continue our transition to a low carbon economy and meet this challenge the government is committed to providing a secure energy system with a diverse energy mix in which new nuclear has an important role to play.

“We established the NIC to provide independent, expert advice and today’s report does exactly that. We will respond in due course.”

UK nuclear builds go ahead

The NIC affirmed that a minimum of 50% of the UK’s energy mix should come from renewables by 2030, up from 30% currently.

Energy analytics firm EnAppSys found that renewables have overtaken nuclear for electricity generation, with wind, solar and biomass accounting for 28.1% of power in the last three months. Nuclear made up 22.5% of power generated for the same period. This is the third consecutive quarter renewables have outperformed nuclear generation capacity in the country.

However, ministers have shown support for new nuclear power stations despite the figures supporting greater renewables investment.

A government spokesperson said: “As we continue our transition to a low-carbon economy and meet this challenge, the government is committed to providing a secure energy system with a diverse energy mix in which new nuclear has an important role to play.”

Armitt maintained that renewables investment is a “golden opportunity” to make the UK low-carbon without the risks associated with nuclear.

He said he did not know whether the next power station to be built after Hinkley Point C would be the proposed Wylfa in Wales, by Japanese multinational Hitachi, which is currently under negotiation, or the facility EDF Energy is planning to build in Suffolk.

In response to the recommendation, Thrive Renewables managing director Matthew Clayton told Power Technology:

“No new electricity capacity – gas, nuclear, renewables, anything – will be built, unless we allow the wholesale electricity price to reflect the marginal cost of building a new plant. We’ll be locked into a continuation of energy policy driven by knee-jerk reactions to perceived needs, which will layer up complexity.

“However, if the market had medium-term policy stability and visibility, then it could make investment decisions against the fundamentals, evaluating market – rather than regulatory risks. In this context, renewables capacity could continue to grow and deliver the majority of our energy needs at an affordable price, complemented by some gas and storage, which could deliver higher premium power at peak demand.

“This approach, coupled with a changing relationship between supply and demand, may just enable us to achieve the crucial emission reduction targets, keep the lights on and ensure a competitive cost of energy.”