Why Not Both
This is the brief, simple story of two major clean energy projects, and how one exposes the double standards suffered by the other.
The projects are the recently-announced artificial wind energy island for the North Sea off Denmark’s coast, and the second pair of modern EPR nuclear units planned for the existing Sizewell site in Suffolk, England.
- are 3 gigawatts or more of nameplate capacity
- use existing technology
- will produce substantial volumes of practically zero-emissions electricity that’s safe for our climate
- have practically no land-use impacts.
Additionally, they’ll both:
- take more than a decade to start up
- benefit from government support.
There’s no hint that these are points against Denmark’s ambitious offshore wind development. Yet they are the standards which nuclear energy is relentlessly judged by and accused of failing.
Furthermore, EDF estimates that Sizewell C will be worth £20 billion, benefiting from learnings gained during the construction of the identical nuclear units at Hinkley Point C. “Thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid and long-term jobs across the supply chain” will be supported by the project. This is all in the context of a national energy transition featuring nuclear energy and offshore wind both contributing extensively.
Meanwhile, the government of Denmark will take a 51% stake in the £25 billion (€28 billion) offshore wind energy island project. It may be expanded, and it may not be the only one, with eventual capacities of 12 GW and costs of €37 billion previously mooted.
Only one of these national projects ever gets called ‘too expensive’.
Like Denmark, Australia currently excludes modern nuclear from energy transition planning, in policy. Unlike Denmark, we have no offshore wind industry.
The Star of the South is an offshore wind project announced for an area of sea off the Gippsland coast of Victoria in 2017, although preparatory work has been underway since at least 2012. The company will invest up to $10 billion AUD and would like to reach full power by 2027.
In Australia, preparatory work (including relevant cost estimates) for nuclear energy can’t even begin anywhere thanks to the federal prohibition. Even so, the capital cost of the UK’s new EPR units is reliably cited by some as evidence that nuclear’s just too expensive to bother with. These particular reactors are 1,650 electric megawatts each — over twice as large as the largest single generators on the NEM today. Thus, anyone citing the UK’s new reactors doesn’t only have to explain why large offshore wind projects get a pass, but why the reactors are even relevant for Australia’s circumstances.
To be clear, the first-of-a-kind cost of Australia’s initial SMR project (a considerably better fit for the grid) wouldn’t be low — exactly like our first offshore wind project. Then, they’ll fall. Then we’ll be well on the way to serious decarbonisation, with these foolish double standards left in the rapidly clearing dust.
Oscar Archer holds a PhD in chemistry and has been analysing energy issues for over 15 years, focusing on nuclear technology for six, with a background in manufacturing and QA. He helps out at Adelaide-based Bright New World as Senior Advisor (we want your support!) and writes for The Fourth Generation. Find him @OskaArcher on Twitter.