Saturday, November 20, 2010
1300 to match 1 nuclear
On Friday a few MSPs in the Scottish Parliament heard a speech which some papers reported. Rupert Soames, boss of a company providing emergency electricity to countrires that have run out frankly told them that:
"Talking about Energy and CO2 reduction allows [politicians] to project all sorts of appealing political characteristics; clean, caring, modern, technically-savvy, far-sighted, broad-minded; and all this could be achieved without any real consequences, no matter how bonkers the policy. So far, politicians have had the luxury of sounding good by setting targets which are so far out in time that whether they are sensible or achievable or not, nobody can possibly know. A 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025? Don’t be a bloody Jessie, let’s make it 34% by 2020, and for good measure, let’s make it legally binding!"
"The First Great Truth is that we cannot live without reliable and plentiful electricity.
The Second Great Truth is that everything about the equipment required to generate and distribute electricity takes a long time to build and is quite fantastically expensive. And the cleaner the source of energy, the more fantastically expensive it is.
The Third Great Truth is that this fantastic expense has to be financed by Global Capital Markets and paid for by the consumers and businesses who use the electricity",
"over the next 8 years a third of our coal-fired capacity, two-thirds of our oil-fired capacity, and nearly three-quarters of our nuclear capacity will be closed down either through age or the impact of the European Large Combustion Plant Directive. Absent a massive and immediate programme of building new power stations, with concrete being poured in the next two years, we will be in serious danger of the lights going out.",
"by 2015, 25% of the world’s power stations will be over 40 years old... utilities are going to be buying new power generation and distribution. There seems to be the view in Government that there is an orderly queue of investors wanting to pour money into UK infrastructure. Wrong"
So what sort of power stations. The basic requirement is that they produce large amounts of reliable electricity & that they are financially viable (perhaps with some subsidy, presumably better without).
So how do the various options stand up?
First lets look at the Royal Academy of Engineering costs which puts onshore wind at 5.4p per kwh, offshore at 7.1p, gas around 2.6p, coal around 2.8p & nuclear at 2.2p.
There is some bias in this - nuclear is being classified as having high decommissioning costs though modern reactors are built to allow it to be done easily, while windmills & all the others are assumed to have zero costs. The wind costs appear to be lower, sometimes very much lower than experience shows. Costings for thousands of future hypothetical turbines do not take account of the lack of the hundreds of barges & tens of thousands of trained workers who would need to come into existence. In this regard the Scottish Executive have decided to produce another £70 million additional subsidy for building the infrastructure needed before we start actually "pouring concrete". This doesn't count when making such costings.
There is no figure given for the cost of carbon capture coal production. That is reasonable since it is still in the experimental stage & if it proves feasible it will probably not be so for at least a decade so no use "in the next 2 years". In any case the Laws of Conservation of Energy show it will take a lot of power to separate out the CO2 burned & to pump it away. Also the equipment will be expensive. We may get away with it only costing half as much again as current coal, or we may not. In any case "environmentalists" who throw up their hands in horror at a few cubic metres of reactor waste, which has a half life making it safe in 50 years, should think about the disposal of 160 million tons of pressurised CO2 produced annually, which, if the whole CO2 scare is true, must remain trapped for millennia.
The various bio-fuel proposals produce very little power even if all of Scotland was turned over to growing them. This is why the industrial revolution was built on coal not wood.
Assuming paying our electricity bills to be of no concern to us, or even to pensioners (though the 37,000 excess deaths of pensioners last year, up from 25,000, suggests otherwise), there is still the even more important question - what happens when it runs out.
Looking at the amount of electricity we produce we see from government figures (table 21) that 37% comes from coal, 39% from nuclear, 19% from gas & only 5% from "renewables". Scottish Renewables, the windfarm lobby group (though heavily funded by government quangos incredibly including Scottish Enterprise) claim wind "capacity to be twice that of hydro (everything else is also ran) but omit to mention that wind turbines only actually deliver 27% of their rated capacity because sometimes it isn't windy, or sometimes is to windy. So it looks likely that despite the billions put into windfarms so far it is producing under 2% of our power. Some may argue that someday it will be far more but that is not going to be the case in 2 years. In any case a 3 MW windmill, runs at an average of 27% capacity so even in theory we need 1300 of them to replace a 1,000MW nuclear plant. In practice we also need something closely approaching a 1,000 MW standby plant to keep the lights on in calm winter days. That would be a gas plant because only they can be quickly switched on & off.
Nuclear is competitive, but only a little ahead of coal & gas. However Professor Bernard Cohen's investigation have shown how regulatory costs have blossomed under the tender hands of those ideologically opposed to it. In one case 13 fold over 17 years. When one bears in mind that nuclear is, by an enormous margin, safer than its competitors, it is clear that the regulatory burden is not justified on safety or any other grounds. Windfarm deaths, for example match all nuclear deaths, including Chernobyl, while producing under 100th as much power. My suspicion is that the regulatory burden is set to ensure that it not rise above the cost of competitors which would visibly hurt the public & make us ask questions. However in the long term if it becomes apparent that Chinese & other nuclear plants are producing power at 1/2 or less than the cost we do, with the same equipment, the rules will be forced to change.
In terms of CO2 release, for those who think that important, the only players are windmills & nuclear. Of these nuclear results in far & away the least amount of CO2. Both are limited in actual production to tiny amounts - mainly from the need for concrete & employees breathing. Even on that score windmills lose slightly per kwh but the real loss is because they need back up power which is virtually required to be a CO2 producer. Perhaps some "environmentalist" who claims to believe CO2 production is dangerous but prefers 1300 windturbines to 1 nuclear plant though the former is responsible for so much more of the dreaded gas can explain. So far none have.
Left to the market alone we would certainly have been building new nuclear plants years ago. Without massive subsidy nobody would dream of building "alternative" power plants, indeed that is why they remain "alternative". There are some real alternatives on the horizon - ocean thermal (not the same as sea turbines), solar power satellites, earth based solar (cell manufacturing costs are falling fast thanks to engineers not politicians), perhaps even hot or cold fusion. However none of these are going to be available in commercial quantities this decade (& I suspect will then be opposed by the "environmental" movement who have a history of supporting impractical nostrums & then opposing them when they become practical). We need to be pouring concrete "in 2 years" or preferably sooner. It could be coal or gas though any attempt to allow that would probably have to await the repeal of the climate change Act. We simply do not have the infrastructure to build 7,000 windmills (let alone 7,000 in the middle of the sea) immediately. I think that means allowing the building of nuclear plants, though the final choice is the market's. The lights going out is not quite inevitable. it is not even difficult to avoid. But it requires our political leaders to stop preventing it being done.