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How Theresa May can say ‘no’ to Hinkley Point and still work with China

Hinkley Point C aerial
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Theresa May is on the brink of approving a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. But with Chinese sustainable-energy technology now so advanced, there really is no need for it, argues Bill Dunster

In July the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, Somerset, received an unexpected setback when new prime minister Theresa May announced she needed time to review the project before giving it the go-ahead. It was reported that there were concerns over China’s role in funding the scheme, and the security risks this might cause.

If Hinkley Point is now approved as expected, the £18 billion scheme will create Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades; one it is claimed could provide 7 per cent of the nation’s electricity. But is such a plant even necessary?

Decentralised battery storage with smart grid inverters and solar electricity prices have come down so far that the viability of nuclear power stations is seriously questionable. An all-electric energy-efficient home only needs to draw power from the National Grid for 20 per cent of its life, and this only needs to happen in winter when wind turbines are producing their maximum output.

There is a better and more robust suite of technologies available from China that doesn’t leave radioactive waste legacies 

Rejecting nuclear collaboration with China does not need to cause upset with the superpower. There is a better and more robust suite of technologies available from the same international trade partner that doesn’t leave radioactive waste legacies for thousands of years. The components for all three of these technologies – battery storage, grid converters and wind turbines – are easy to source from volume producers in China, which have achieved significant economies of scale from stable long-term government policy. These can easily be designed and assembled in the UK and tuned to meet our infrastructure context. 

Brexit also presents us with a further opportunity for lower costs as we won’t have to artificially increase the cost of Chinese solar (via the anti dumping tax) to protect the German solar industry.

If integrated solar electric panels replace conventional roofing and facades, the cost drops even further. Imagine if all the end-of-life concrete tiles installed in the 70s were replaced by energy-generating building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) with smart grid battery storage. This would be far more resilient, create more jobs and lead to an excellent long-term trading relationship with China.

The zero bills home at bre innovation park

The zero bills home (pictured) at the BRE Innovation park in Watford is a case study application showing how this collaboration could work by merging the best UK design and prototyping skills with Chinese industrial muscle. The home demonstrates the level of UK expertise in this area. If such expertise informed UK government policy for both new-build and retrofit of existing stock, the benefits for everyone would be spectacular and the UK would even be able to meet its COP21 climate-change commitments. All we need now is for some politicians to visit the BRE in Watford. 

It is, I believe, very important to collaborate with Chinese industry, and that, working together, we can create a viable future that doesn’t rely on either fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

We at ZEDfactory and our partners have been doing this for years, and it’s about time politicians looked at the choices and cost-evidence that is already available for this kind of beneficial strategy.

Bill Dunster is principal of ZEDfactory

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