Sizewell C has achieved the “biggest milestone so far” in its approval process, after the government gave development consent for the power station targeted for Suffolk.
Once operational, the 3.2GW plant would be able to meet 7% of the UK’s power needs, provide enough low carbon power to supply 6mn homes over a span of 60 years and avoid 9mn tonnes of carbon emissions each year. Carly Vince, Sizewell C’s Chief Planning Officer, described the government’s planning consent as a “big endorsement” of their plans, supporting their view it is “the right project in the right place”.
Negotiations are now continuing with the government on how to raise funds for the project, ahead of a Financial Investment Decision expected for 2023, though considering renewed hydrogen ambitions as set out within the Energy Security Strategy, it is perhaps worth exploring just what Sizewell C could mean for hydrogen.
EDF Energy has previously emphasised how the project is a “bridge to some of the future technologies that are essential to Britain’s energy transition”. This includes the rollout of clean hydrogen, with low carbon nuclear electricity and heat able to power electrolysers to produce green hydrogen, and enabling direct air capture.
In setting out how Sizewell C could be a low carbon energy hub, it noted that around 60% of low carbon heat that is produced by nuclear plants in the UK is cooled and released into the sea. As well as generating low carbon electricity, Sizewell C could use some of this heat it produces for hydrogen production, data centre cooling, storage solutions, industrial processes and district heating, meaning it has the potential to act as an energy hub and provide a flexible service to the national grid.
Sizewell C has also been exploring a number of ways it could produce and use hydrogen, including lowering emissions during its construction and, once operational, using some of the heat it generates to make hydrogen in a more efficient manner. It has been looking to launch a demonstrator project to produce hydrogen, powered by electricity from the neighbouring Sizewell B, with a 2MW electrolyser producing up to 800kg of hydrogen per day, before being scaled up to meet demand.
The subsequent hydrogen produced could then be used to power vehicles and machinery, lowering the emissions during Sizewell C’s construction. Past this, the hydrogen could also be used for some public transport, namely local buses.
It further pointed out how Sizewell B and C’s potential as suppliers of heat and electricity for hydrogen actually formed part of the proposals that have led to the Port of Harwich and Felixstowe being granted freeport status. The Freeport East Hydrogen Hub will allow nuclear and renewables in the East of England to work together, supplying hydrogen as a fuel for port vehicles and shipping, with 1GW the target figure for hydrogen.
As well as hydrogen, Sizewell C could also enable direct air capture (DAC), with the captured carbon dioxide even potentially combined with hydrogen to form synthetic fuels. Funding was awarded for a design study for a unique DAC system in May 2021, before Sizewell C and partners from the University of Nottingham, Strata Technology, Atkins and Doosan Babcock were handed £3mn in July 2022 to construct a demonstrator DAC unit.
This will be capable of extracting 100 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year and, should it prove successful, a scaled-up DAC unit powered by Sizewell C heat could capture as much as 1.5mn tonnes of CO2 every year.