L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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17 September 2008 Blog Home : September 2008 : Permalink

UK (No)Energy Policy

Reuters and the BBC have items about a new report out (PDF here) which states that in about 5 years Britain will experience power cuts unless the grownups stop pandering to the eco-children and build some new nuclear and coal power plants. Oh and we have to tell the EU where to stuff their moronic carbon reduction obligations as well.

A report entitled "A Pragmatic Energy Policy for the UK", by Professor Ian Fells and Candida Whitmill, said renewables would not fill the impending energy gap so old nuclear and coal plants had to be kept going while new ones were built urgently.

"Current UK energy policy is not fit for purpose. Something has to be done about it if we are not going to run into serious problems around about the middle of the next decade," Fells, an advocate of nuclear power, told reporters.

The government should guarantee a minimum electricity price to the power companies for the next 30 years to give them a secure investment outlook to finance the 4 billion pounds each nuclear power plant is likely to cost, he added.

"We are looking at something that looks like a slow motion train crash," Fells said, accusing the government of vacillating over climate change and energy policy, starving the power industry of direction and reducing investment to a minimum.

Needless to say the enviroMENTALists don't approve but in typical fashion they prefer to play the man not the ball and miss the point:

"Professor Fells has a long standing love affair with the technologies of the 20th century, but as time goes by his fetish for coal and nuclear power looks increasingly naive," said Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr.

"All over the world jobs are being created in the renewable energy sector, but Britain has been left behind for too long by the negative, white flag approach to climate change that this report represents."

Since the same quote is given in both news items and nothing else is it looks like Doug Parr is one of those scientists who is unable to do basic sums (in other words a typical product of an arty farty university like Oxford :) ). Let me put my objection to his response in words of one syllable:

Jobs are not joules you fool!

It doesn't matter how many jobs renewable energy creates (and since the UK has a fairly low unemployment rate I think it is fair to say that most of the jobs created would go to factories in China and immigrants from E Europe anyway) because the problem isn't a lack of jobs its a lack of (kilo)joules and (mega)watts and we almost certainly cannot build sufficient renewable energy generastion to replace the stuff we're shutting down. In addition remember that building (or rebuilding) 20 nuclear and coal powerstations would create masses of jobs too so the entire argument collapses even further.

For those that want the sums.

UK Energy Demand is in the 60,000 MW range (current real time demand at time of writing is 42,578MW but this is September so no heating is required - December 2007 has some hours where we're at 58,000MW or so and I may have missed peaks of higher demand) and current generator capacity is around 80,000 MW (see this BERR excel sheet). According to the report closures of nuclear and coal/oil mean that the UK will lose "23 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generation capacity between now and 2020". This equates to (23/60=)38% of current UK demand and (23/80=)29% of total UK supply. Indeeed basic subtraction (80-23 = 57) implies that unless we build some more power plants now we will not be able to support current demand (even ignoring all the usual caveats about losses and assuming we can run 100% efficient and import 2GW from France as we currently do) in 2020.

So how can we do this using renewables as Greenpeace would like? The BERR excel sheet I linked to earlier also shows how much renewable energy contributed in 2007:
Hydro-electric stations:
    Natural flow 1,420
    Pumped storage 2,744
Wind (5) 1,042
Renewables other than hydro and wind 1,565
Total 6,771
So to replace our 23GW of lost capacity the Greenpeace way we have to slightly more than quadruple our renewable energy supplies. This doesn't sound too bad until you look a little closer and realize that over half that is Hydro-electric and there aren't (m)any more rivers to dam. Hence what this basically requires is that "Wind" and "Renewables other than hydro and wind" have to increase tenfold in 10-12 years.

To put this in perspective the same spreadsheet informs us that from 2003 to 2007 (5 years) wind has increased from 312 to 1042 (slightly more than tripled) and "other" has increased from 1062 to 1565 (50%). Overall this means in 5 years we doubled our non-hydro renewables usage. Does anyone think we can realistically do much better than quadruple non-hydro renewables generation in the next 10-12 years? Quadrupling means we generate about 10GW of renewables instead of 2.5GW and hence we replace 23GW of shut down power with 7.5GW of new power. This leaves a gap of some 15GW assuming that the UK has no increase in demand in the next 10-12 years. The only possible was the sum works is if we manage to reduce demand by 10-15GW (c. 20%) in 10 years and Loft insulation, CFL lighting etc. is NOT going to produce anything like the required savings.

In other words Fells is right and Greenpeace and their Ecofreak friends are wrong. Still I do have one suggestion as a stop gap while we build masses of new generators. Identify all greenpeace members and other activists and put their homes on a special meter that drops them off the power grid first. Oh and do the same to Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth etc. offices, shops etc. Maybe if they start suffering power outages they'll grasp the problem ...