It has been another tough 12 months for businesses in the South West region. Operating costs, driven by high inflation, have been exacerbated by spiralling energy bills. Despite surviving the pandemic, for many companies, the increased price of electricity has been the final straw.
The energy crisis has left Britain vulnerable to a reliance on imported gas – which has soared in price due to global post-covid demand and the war in Ukraine. Though some policy interventions have shielded businesses from the full force of the impact, it has come as a real shock for many.
It has also been a wake-up call for those planning the energy system, teaching an important lesson. If we want cheaper bills and a secure electricity supply, we need to overcome our addiction to imported gas – and fast. Amid the gloom, there is some reason to have hope. Britain is leading the way in moving towards clean, home-produced energy.
EDF and other companies are investing in all types of low-carbon power. Over the new year, strong winds meant that there were times when nuclear and renewables produced almost 90% of the UK’s electricity.
Of course, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the energy crisis has driven action to get more reliable nuclear power. At Hinkley Point C, EDF knows getting the plant finished is more urgent than ever. When it is switched on, it will produce 3,200 megawatts of power, making it capable of supplying six million homes. Compared to current electricity prices, Hinkley Point C would be saving consumers £4 billion a year in energy bills if it were in operation now.
EDF’s plans to build another power station at Sizewell C, in Suffolk, have also recently been backed by direct government investment.
For businesses in the South West, the building of nuclear plants presents an abundance of opportunity. Mega projects require mega supply chains – for materials, services, and expertise. Around 1,400 businesses in the South West are benefitting from Hinkley Point C contracts, which has so far generated £4.2 billion for the local economy.
Hinkley Point C’s delivery director, Nigel Cann (Image: EDF Energy) Nuclear means jobs, too. Around 8,500 people are working at the Hinkley Point C site every day, and 22,000 jobs are being supported by the project across Britain. It is an opportunity for local people to upskill or start new careers. Last year, EDF hit the target of training 1,000 apprentices during the power station’s construction phase – and is still adding to that tally.
Modern engineering continues on-site – including the precision placement of 5,000-tonne water intake heads on the seabed, in the summer. Made in Bristol, they’ll be connected to the power station’s cooling systems, ready for the nuclear reactors to be switched on.
This year, EDF will also receive delivery of the first reactor – a steel cylinder that contains the nuclear fuel. Around 80,000 hours have been spent on its construction by Framatome in France, the same nuclear company which built Britain’s last nuclear reactor, at Sizewell B in 1991.
The building which will house the reactor is also taking shape. With the help of Big Carl, the world’s largest land-based crane, a huge steel liner ring was lifted into place in December. The reactor building now only has the iconic dome to be placed on top, which is scheduled for later this year.
The construction of Sizewell C is crucial to EDF continuing this momentum to get more reliable, home-grown electricity on the grid. The quickest way of building new nuclear power stations is to take an existing design and repeat it. Sizewell C will be a near-replica of Hinkley Point C – meaning it can be built faster, cheaper, and more predictably. It also means the robust supply chain and expertise EDF has developed can be retained.
Homegrown, clean, reliable, and affordable energy is coming. Alongside wind and solar, the building of Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C will be crucial in protecting us from future gas price shocks, as well as critical in the fight against climate change.
Britain’s biggest net zero project
Mat Danby, Level 3 Chef apprentice (Image: EDF Energy) EDF is one of the largest producers of zero-carbon electricity in Britain. It is investing in wind, solar and nuclear to create a secure and affordable supply, which can allow the UK to cut its dependency on gas.
Two new nuclear reactors are under construction at Hinkley Point C in Somerset – the first in a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain.
The power station will generate low-carbon electricity for six million homes and will help to avoid the emission of around nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
New analysis has also confirmed that the lifetime CO2 emissions from the electricity generated will be even lower than wind and solar power. Sustainability and environmental protection are also key features in construction.
Alongside wind and solar, Hinkley Point C will be crucial in securing Britain’s energy supply and helping the country hit net zero, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
Charlotte Casey, Nuclear Engineering apprentice (Image: EDF Energy) Hinkley Point C has been designed to maximise opportunities for local people, and in 2022, the project hit its target of training 1,000 apprentices during the construction phase. The programme is making a real difference regionally, with two-thirds of all apprentices living within the area.
Apprenticeships continue to be available on the project and are open to everyone, regardless of their previous experience and background. The courses are not just for the younger generation – they offer people of all ages a chance to upskill or retrain. Due to the wide range of skills and services needed on the site, there is a course for everyone, from engineering, steel fixing to HR and catering.
Charlotte Casey, 22, from Bridgwater graduated from her Nuclear Engineering apprenticeship last year and is now working as an operational development engineer on-site. Speaking about her experience, Charlotte said: “My course was action-packed.
“Lots of my school friends didn’t get many GCSEs, but they’re now working on-site and gaining skills while making a good income. Plus, we’ll take what we’ve learned onto future projects when Hinkley Point C is finished.”
Mat Danby, 28, from Bridgwater, is a Level 3 Chef apprentice with Hinkley Point C’s catering provider, Somerset Larder. Explaining his journey, Matt said: “Before I came here, I was frying chicken in KFC – and now I’m making meals for hundreds of hardworking people every day. The best bit about my job is the training and progression I’m being given – and seeing the workforce enjoying my food!”
This article was written in collaboration with Hinkley Point C’s delivery director, Nigel Cann and explains how EDF Energy is investing in all types of low-carbon power.
To find out more about the work going on at Hinkley Point C, visit the EDF Energy website here.