The world's next energy revolution is probably no more than five or ten years away. Cutting-edge research into cheap and clean forms of electricity storage is moving so fast that we may never again need to build 20th Century power plants in this country, let alone a nuclear white elephant such as Hinkley Point.
The US Energy Department is funding 75 projects developing electricity storage, mobilizing teams of scientists at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the elite Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge labs in a bid for what it calls the 'Holy Grail' of energy policy.
You can track what they are doing at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). There are plans for hydrogen bromide, or zinc-air batteries, or storage in molten glass, or next-generation flywheels, many claiming "drastic improvements" that can slash storage costs by 80pc to 90pc and reach the magical figure of $100 per kilowatt hour in relatively short order.
“Storage is a huge deal,” says Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary and himself a nuclear physicist. He is now confident that the US grid and power system will be completely "decarbonised" by the middle of the century.
And more on Hinkley Point:
Perhaps the Hinkley project still made sense in 2013 before the collapse in global energy prices and before the latest leap forward in renewable technology. It is madness today.
The latest report by the National Audit Office shows that the estimated subsidy for these two reactors has already jumped from £6bn to near £30bn. Hinkley Point locks Britain into a strike price of £92.50 per megawatt hour - adjusted for inflation, already £97 - and that is guaranteed for 35 years.
That is double the current market price of electricity. The NAO's figures show that solar will be nearer £60 per megawatt hour by 2025. Dong Energy has already agreed to an offshore wind contractin Holland at less than £75.
Michael Liebreich from Bloomberg New Energy Finance says the Hinkley Point saga will be taught for generations as a case study in how not to run a procurement process. "The obvious question is why this train-wreck of a project was not killed long ago," he said.
Theresa May has inherited a poisonous dossier, left with the invidious choice of either offending China or persisting with a venture that no longer makes any economic sense. She may have to offend China - as tactfully as possible, let us hope - for the scale of the folly has become crushingly obvious.
Every big decision on energy strategy by the British government or any other government must henceforth be based on the working premise that cheap energy storage will soon be a reality.
This country can achieve total self-sufficiency in power at viable cost from our own sun, wind, and waters within a generation. Once we shift to electric vehicles as well, we will no longer need to import much oil either. Rejoice.
Here is a PDF of AE-P’s column.
Modern energy industries are among the biggest beneficiaries of the accelerated rate of technological innovation. The primary incentive is ‘needs must’. For this reason the US Energy Department is currently, albeit belatedly, funding approximately 75 projects dedicated to improving electricity storage capacity. Other countries with developed research capabilities are following a similar path. Electricity storage costs are plummeting and forecast to reach $100 per kilowatt hour before long. This will largely remove the ‘intermittency’ problem which is currently still the main downside for solar and wind power.
Against this background, governments should reconsider proposals for 20th century energy programmes, of which the UK’s Hinkley Point project is a classic example. It was hastily proposed on the basis that energy costs could only move higher - a dubious premise as we now know. In fact, energy prices will plummet in the years ahead, for countries which develop modern and increasingly efficient energy policies including solar, modern nuclear and also natural gas which is readily available via fracking in many countries and the least polluting fossil fuel by far.
The Hinkley Point project, far from providing a helpful source of energy, would saddle the UK with uncompetitive energy costs for at least 35 years, damaging economic prospects in the process.Back to top