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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


This letter of mine is in the Herald today. It is a reply to this previous one.

Nick Dekker produces a well-argued but extremely optimistic letter (October 27) about our electricity supply.

Scotland may be using "only" five gigawatts of power, as he says, but we are also supplying another one to the Irish and English grids, and I doubt if either would let us break long-term contracts. Most of the 2.3GW from Peterhead is oil-fired and we simply cannot afford to keep it going. In any case, lack of transmission capacity would severely limit its ability to help us in the central belt. Wind farms only produce, on average, about 26% of their rated capacity, often less (hence the term average) and under the strictures of Murphy's Law would be unavailable in a mid-winter snowstorm when we needed it.

Most of the rest of his 6.5GW theoretical wind farm capacity is even more theoretical because it has not been built. Indeed, we have previously had the word of Scottish Renewables, hardly opponents of the concept, that wind farms cannot provide part of base load.

Pump storage is only useful if you have had 60% more spare capacity in the first place to pump it up. Hydro is valuable but its rated capacity is misleading, since any loch emptying water at maximum capacity will very quickly empty.

Ignoring these & the oil generator at Peterhead gives us a top capacity of just over 6GW for a peak demand, including export of 6GW.

Absolutely no problem whatsoever, then - so long as the ageing reactors at Hunterston and Torness never need repair, or if Longannet goes offline by accident, as it has previously, or, indeed, that previous peak demand is not exceeded in a cold winter.

And this takes no account of the fact that electricity usage goes up with economic growth - though I grant it looks like we may be spared economic success.

And it takes no account for the fact that all high-emission coal stations are to close in 2015, leaving us with blackouts, even without a growing economy.

It takes four years to build a new nuclear reactor, though even in England the government intends to first spend five years doing paperwork. We know that French nuclear designs can produce as much electricity as we want at 1.3p per kWh, because they have been doing so for decades. Our politicians, who know all this perfectly well, have been grossly irresponsible for decades.

We have recently seen politicians of all parties claim to be opposed to fuel poverty and the 24,000 pensioner deaths that it has caused each winter, even without blackouts or this year's prices. It is not possible for any of them to do that honestly while opposing the only practical way out of this unnecessary catastrophe.

How much capacity is a typical sort of nuke compared to Peterhead? That seems incredible to me, one oil fired power station is enough for 5 million people plus export.
Most are about 1 megawatt, though down to 600 mw or up to 2,000 are not unusual. A lot of small ones mean more mass production econbomies of scale, bigger ones mean more running economies of scale.

The Peterhead one has 1.3 gw of oil & 1.07 of gas
and in coming to the figure of 6 gw I was excluding Peterhead's oil portion & as well as the hydro, wind & pumped storage as not being suitable for baseload - this may be pessimistic of me but better safe than sorry. The letter I was answering had listed conventional power stations across Scotland as totaling 7.4GW so taking out the oil from Peterhead (either because we can't afford oil or because it is to far a away to carry all that power to Lowland Scotland) leaves about 6.1.
Damn - have just noticed 5th paragraph starts "Ignoring these, the oil generator at Peterhead gives us a top capacity of just over 6GW" when it should say "Ignoring these & the oil generator at Peterhead gives us a top capacity of just over 6GW" which is somewhat different. Will change it here, a bit late for the paper.
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