It is hard to see how these giant EPR reactors – already weakened by the closure of Taishan 2 in China due to a design flaw – will one day compete with Saharan solar power. The big nuclear isn’t quite as versatile either.
The network had to pay Sizewell frightening sums to cut power during the pandemic. “We can turn it on and off in a snap,” Mr Morrish said.
The next wave IV of small modular reactors will be more flexible, faster to build, and possibly much cheaper. But it’s absolute certainty that the government’s plan for up to eight giant old-vintage reactors – culminating in a 24GW nuclear fleet by 2050 – will look ridiculous long before the ground is even cleared. In my opinion, they will be quietly abandoned.
Vladimir Putin reminded everyone of the risks of energy blackmail, as did Emmanuel Macron in his charming way by threatening to cut UK electricity interconnections because of Brexit.
No country will bet entirely on power cables beyond its control or susceptible to sabotage by submarines. Nor will anyone bet too heavily on a North African state within striking distance of IS cells in the Sahel, even if Morocco is a haven of relative stability, largely untouched by the troubles of the Arab Spring.
The most important point is that we are being catapulted into a new energetic order. It will be based on renewable energy where it is cheapest on the planet, and produced on a colossal scale for transcontinental demand. It will be exported either by electric cable – surely the most efficient – or by hydrogen pipeline, or in the form of green ammonia transported by tanker, a bit like crude oil or LNG gas today.
Australian tycoon Twiggy Forrest has just signed a deal with Germany’s E.on to supply up to five million tonnes a year of green ammonia by 2030 from a solar and wind estate in the outback. country of Pilbara. This alone is equivalent to a third of Germany’s total hydrocarbon imports from Russia, measured by their calorific value.
This is just the start of Mr. Forrest’s imperial dream of a 1,000 GW renewable energy link spanning the globe, but it’s yet to be seen where he’ll find enough electrolysers to make it happen.
CWP Global is planning similar giant hubs in Patagonia and the Sahara, producing clean ammonia for sea shipping. These are the largest projects in the world, each akin to another North Sea of oil and gas. Ultimately, they will undermine and replace the OPEC-Russia system. Nothing can compete with desert solar which is already testing $10 per megawatt hour.
You’d barely know Project Xlinks existed if you followed the government’s energy security strategy debate earlier this month, a document that made an agonizing separation between big nuclear and big wind, like trying to straddle two horses galloping from different angles.
The British energy debate is sometimes oddly insular. One wonders if the government and seasoned political pundits – many of them – have grasped the fundamental point that ultra-cheap, transferable energy from places they’ve never heard of is going to blow up the old regime. . They seem to speak beyond the real world.
Xlinks will be our first glimpse of this new order, and it’s coming very soon in energy history time.