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UK, France should put citizen solar ahead of nuclear, says former EDF chief

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PV Magazine

Gérard Magnin, the former director of EDF who stepped down from the board in July in protest at the Hinkley Point C approval, says French nuclear industry is in its worst situation ever, and calls on UK to promote citizen solar.

Both France and the UK have planted their flag in nuclear, but the hard math shows time and again that renewables are an increasingly attractive option.

Both France and the UK have planted their flag in nuclear, but the hard math shows time and again that renewables are an increasingly attractive option.

The nuclear energy strategies of France and the U.K. are short-sighted, expensive and very risky, and citizen-owned solar and wind schemes should be the way forward, says former EDF director Gérard Magnin, who resigned in the summer in protest at the U.K. government’s approval of the Hinkley Point C plant.

Writing in the Guardian, the ex-EDF board member also labeled the current state of France’s nuclear industry as being in “the worst situation ever”, and called upon British and French energy regulators to ditch its nuclear plans in favor of increasingly affordable solar and wind energy schemes that put individuals and communities at the heart of a decentralized system.

“The potential for citizen involvement in electricity production is considerable,” Magnin wrote. “A recent study showed that by 2050 half of all Europeans could produce their own electricity either at home, as part of a cooperative, or in their small business. Counting generation from wind and solar power alone, these small actors could meet almost half of Europe’s total electricity needs.

“Even more people could support the energy transition, and share in the benefits, by storing power in batteries, electric vehicles and smart boilers. This enables the grid to draw power when it’s cheap and plentiful, and temporarily lightening the load if there’s a peak in demand.”

Magnin left EDF in July when the company was given the greenlight to build the Hinkley nuclear plant in Britain, calling the technology earmarked for use in the plant’s design as “very risky”. Known as the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), the technology is said to be too sophisticated and expensive to ever be viable. “But a lot of people in EDF assume their commitments and try to save the face of France.”

Since approving the nuclear plant, British officials have conceded that the energy produced at Hinkley will be more expensive than solar at GBP 85-125/Mwh by 2025. Official government calculations forecast that solar will cost as little as GBP 50/MWh by that date.

“The most surprising thing for me is the attitude of the U.K. government that accepts the higher cost of electricity in a time where the costs of renewables is decreasing dramatically,” wrote Magnin. “In ten years, when Hinkley Point C is due to be completed, the cost of renewables will have fallen again a lot.”

Much of the controversy around the proposed nuclear plant has been rooted in perceived costs and dangers, but for a former EDF head to so publicly attack the plans is particularly noteworthy. Magnin has since gone on to create a community renewable energy platform designed to support citizen-driven schemes in solar and wind, and is convinced that a decentralized system is the way forward for both France and the U.K.

“Renewable energies are becoming competitive with fossil fuels and new nuclear, such as Hinkley Point where EDF will try to build the most expensive reactors in the world and provide electricity at an unprecedented cost,” said Magnin.

Recent nuclear closures in France have seen the U.K. exporting electricity across the English Channel this week for the first time in four years. Nuclear currently meets around 75% of France’s energy needs, but the French government has pledged to reduce that figure to 50% by 2025 while increasing the amount of solar to 20.2 GW by 2023.

This year, France will install just over 1 GW of new PV capacity, which is just below the U.K. However, in 2017 France looks set to remain a gigawatt market, while British installations are expected to tail off sharply.

Source: PV Magazine. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • onesecond

    A man with a backbone, willing to speak the truth even while being on the board of EDF. My respect to Gérard Magnin.

  • Coley

    Looking at it from a UK perspective he will be proved right, I doubt if Hinckley will go ahead and I think our present PM and govt think the same, but because of not wanting to offend the Chinese ( Brexit, future trade deals etc) they will pay lip service to the idea, while hoping spiralling costs, and the general unworkability of the proposed reactor will allow the project to die a natural death.
    The only thing keeping it afloat is the prospect of 25,000 jobs, 20,000 of them in France!

  • dhm60

    Magnin left EDF in July. In October, the French nuclear watchdog ASN pulled 5 reactors because of “abnormalities” in the metallurgy of their containment vessels made at Areva Creusot Forge and JCFC – related to carbon content; not good with things that get bloody hot. In ASN French: “..en carbone et conduisant à des valeurs de résilience mécanique plus faibles qu’attendues.” The last bit is worrying – how much weaker? Later ASN increased it to 7. There are currently 18 French reactors in service which may have the same issue. Investigations are continuing. The guillotine is being wheeled out and oiled in anticipation of someone guilty being found.
    It all started when “dodgy” metallurgical reports (again, carbon levels) for the containment vessel covers (two), also made at Areva Creusot Forge, for the very slowly evolving EPRs at Flamanville were discovered in late 2014/early 2015 .
    Now France is really pulling out all the stops to get enough renewables in place to cover their “all the eggs in one basket” scenario. In the mean time, Germany, running on very risky (according to the Murdoch fools) 32% renewables, is coining it to the tune of a couple of hundred million euros a month.
    Presumably, the Finns – soon to be proud and beaming owners of their own shiny EPR at Unit 3 Olkiluoto any year now – are looking at the situation with some alarm. Don’t want to have to call Vlad and tell him they are returning the Chernobyl iodine cloud with interest.
    Lots of gory details here: http://www.asn.fr/Informer/Actualites