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« How science works | Main | The special contribution of Vaclav Klaus »
Tuesday
Oct042011

Averting catastrophe

I am grateful to a reader for alerting me to an article in The Chemical Engineer by Stephen Bush and David MacDonald on the subject of the UK's looming energy catastrophe. It's not online, but here are some excerpts:

In the UK, the Climate Change Act 2008 has set the country the challenging target of reducing emissions of CO2 and CO2 equivalents by 34% from 1990 levels by 2020, 50% by 2027, and 80% by 2050, though the 2027 target is subject to review in 2014. Coupled with rising demand and the already painful impact of higher energy prices, meeting this target will be challenging indeed, leaving some engineers to wonder what it will take to square this cirde.

The number of installations required to generate the electricity to replace fossil fuels depends on their capacity and availability. A 1,600 MW Areva-type nuclear reactor working at 80% availability generates 11 TWh/yr, so around 13 would need to be built to meet the 2020 target; an impossible task. A 3 MW wind turbine with 75 m blades on an 80 m mast onshore has achieved average availability of around 24%, while for offshore 30% future availability is claimed yielding 6.3 GWh/yr and 7.9 GWh/yr respectively. To meet the 2020 target would require 20,000 and 16,000 turbines respectively, an equally impossible task over nine years (six to be built every day). The 2027 target is even further out of reach.

Averting catastrophe
Readers will draw their own conclusions from the inexorable figures above. but for these authors only a system with its baseload provided by nuclear power supplemented by gas for peak demand, and retaining the existing wind investment can possibley supply the UK long term with the huge amounts of secure and reliable, predominantly electrical energy it needs. To actually achieve a changeover to a largely non-fossil fuel economy without wreaking catastrophe on our industries the targets set by The Climate Change Act 2008 will have to be pushed back no matter whatever combination of electricity generating technologies is built.

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Reader Comments (140)

"A 1,600 MW Areva-type nuclear reactor working at 80% availability generates 11 TW/yr"

Units? WTF?

Oct 4, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Pedant-General

Power and energy units are weird, aren't they... I work out that 80% of 1,600 MW is 1,280 MW power. Working for one hour, that yields 1,280 MWh. Taking 365 24h days, the power station would spit out 11,212,800 MWh in a year - or, I suppose, 11 TWh/year. Not TW/yr, though.

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Harvey

1600 X 80% X 24 hrs X 365 days
Not that complicated PG

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

In his conference speech yesterday, George Osborne flagged up a retreat by saying that we're not going to save the planet by putting oursellves out of business. Maybe the Conservatives are not so green (pun intended) after all.

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterTC

I love the wind calculations.

using theortical averages makes many problems appear simple. Unfortunately, in the case of the output at any tim will be in th range of 70-90% most likely. Fror wind it will be 0%-60% therabouts.

It is that 0% encompassed in the range of expected output that creates the real problem for wind and means there wind calculation is pie in the sky as a solution for fining the require gap in output.

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Remember the Three-Day-Week?

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

And no inclusion whatsoever of greater efficiency and reduction in consumption. Not that you'd want to try and give a misleading impression at all.....

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"In the UK, the Climate Change Act 2000"

Was it not Ed Milliband's Climate Change Act 2008 ?

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterBob

PG has a point. I know it's conventional to quote power station outputs in watts, but most power stations are working most of the time. When comparing with wind and solar, kWh (units) are a more useful comparison because they include availability, and show how bad renewables really are.

The wind people love quoting MW, as it is automatically the maximum possible. You have to divide by about four to get the real figure, and even that assumes that the power gets used!

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Zed

"greater efficiency"

Of what?

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"To meet the 2020 target would require 20,000 and 16,000 turbines respectively"

I can't help thinking that building and installing those might involve some CO2 somewhere. I suppose if you just banged them in the ground without any concrete, it would help, though...

Oct 4, 2011 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"Zed
"greater efficiency" of what?"
Oct 4, 2011 at 11:49 AM | James P

On the consumption side. Insulate houses, smaller/more efficient/electric cars, solar heating (not strictly an efficiency) etc.

Huge list.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

dnftt

The Government has a renewable energy policy enumerated in Watts. WTF! How mad is that? They do not want to know (or admit) that energy and power are different, as it would reveal that the Emperor has no clothes. Responses I have received from Government Ministers state that it is easy for bureaucrats to use power rather than energy (they are just about capable of adding up a column of numbers, but they cannot do multiplication). So it is current Government policy (among this generation of technically illiterate) to make it easy, even though it is wrong. In my generation, we got it right, even if it was difficult.

No wonder the current youth are worried about what the current generation of leaders like Cameron, Clegg and Milliband, are doing to their future. Get your home generator ordered before it is too late.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Zeddy, I have long been uneasy about your presence on the planet we're talking about, but here on earth and in UK, as elsewhere, our population will grow over the next fifty years, so there will be more, not less, consumption. And as you're not sharing the planet with us you could be forgiven for not knowing that "greater efficiency" has to some sort of context.

As for the paper, it has long been obvious to me that the engineers have not been consulted at all, or have been ignored, because this reality has been with us for a very long time, i.e. that the only solution is nuclear, and that we can't build enough nuclear plants in the timescales to meet our targets.

We are in the grip of a bout of religious fanatacism where reality and evidence are ignored to follow the tenets of the religion. It's scary, because the people who claim to be saving the world for our grandchildren are wilfully destroying the future energy supplies to do so. And do you know what? I believe they know they're threatening future energy security and don't give a FF.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Our resident troll has obviously not read Prof David Mackay's book "Sustainable energy: without the hot air" or she would not make such ridiculous suggestions. As the prof says "every little does not help".
If she were a physicist she would realise how ridiculous her suggestions really are. Has she heard of, or does she understand, the term "energy density" I wonder?

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"Zed
"On the consumption side. Insulate houses, smaller/more efficient/electric cars, solar heating (not strictly an efficiency) etc.

"Huge list.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM | ZedsDeadBed

Eh, isn't a switch to electric cars going to increase the electricity demand? Or are electric cars going to be powered by their own windmils strapped to the roof?

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJason F

Philip Bratby

Astonished to see that you have the balls to try and play a science card with statements like this behind you a few weeks ago:

"I've yet to see any evidence that CO2 affects the climate."
Aug 9, 2011 at 8:06 AM | Phillip Bratby

Which is absolute bunkum of the first order, and shows that you don't actually have any idea at all about climate science, and that all your posturing is from a position of total ignorance.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

It is obvious that the only solution to this problem is to restrict people to using one light bulb, one meal a day, one electric bar, one bath a week and to force them to wear thermals - just as the aged are currently doing.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

And what terrible sanctions would we apply to ourselves if we failed to meet the targets in the CC Act? Would the Government 'fine' DECC by reducing its grant?

Would the Secretary of State himself for failure? Or throw himself off a tall building? (Should Huhne still be in office, p;ase can I have a ticket?)

But seriously folks...what difference would it make to anything real if we missed these stupid targets?

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

"Eh, isn't a switch to electric cars going to increase the electricity demand? Or are electric cars going to be powered by their own windmils strapped to the roof?"
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:17 PM | Jason F

Another rather daft comment. A switch to electric cars reduces CO2 emissions for a country overall. It produces less CO2 generating the energy in a power station to get a car 10 miles, than it does burning petrol/diesel in the car itself.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"But seriously folks...what difference would it make to anything real if we missed these stupid targets?"
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:22 PM | Latimer Alder

But they're clearly not stupid are they. They're an attempt to tackle AGW. Most other countries are trying to tackle it too. It's cooperation. We all have to work together. How can we expect other countries, for whom it is harder to hit the target, if we don't hit it ourselves?

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"It is obvious that the only solution to this problem is to restrict people to using one light bulb, one meal a day, one electric bar, one bath a week and to force them to wear thermals - just as the aged are currently doing."
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:21 PM | Mac

*sniffs*

*wipes fond tear*

Gawd bless 'em. They're thinking about their grandchildren and leading by example.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"But seriously folks...what difference will it make to anything real when we miss these stupid targets?"

Just tidied a bit for you Latimer :-)

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

ZDB where do you see the money to pay fopr 24 million new electric cars in the UK over the next decade coming from, and what about the additional money to replace completely all of those batteries after about 3 years?
For that matter, any idea what type of batteries you'd prefer to se used, where the materials to make them are going to come from, you now, the parctical side of any such proposals?

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

ZBD

The more you write the more stupid you look. Survey out today from the US. The people want an electric car that charges within 2 hrs, that runs for 300 mile minimum. Engineers say can't and won't happen for many years. So scrub electric cars even if you could magically produce electricity 24/7 with non-CO² producing generation. Housing regs worldwide have been specifying higher insulation for 20yrs in the uk and elsewhere along with double glazing installations over the same period being enormous so gains there have already been accounted for.

Lastly "Another rather daft comment. A switch to electric cars reduces CO2 emissions for a country overall. It produces less CO2 generating the energy in a power station to get a car 10 miles, than it does burning petrol/diesel in the car itself." What power stations are you thinking about. Gas and coal develop less energy per mole than any of petrol and diesel. Windmils are intermittent and don't produce electricity under an anticyclone. Photovoltaïque only works when the sunshines (efficiency is greatly reduced under cloud) and produce no electricity at night.

So any more stupid suggestions?

Stephen Richards BSc MSc (physics)

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

Oops - this was retyped from an OCR'd scan - the units got mangled in the process.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:38 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

ZDB

"A switch to electric cars reduces CO2 emissions for a country overall. It produces less CO2 generating the energy in a power station to get a car 10 miles, than it does burning petrol/diesel in the car itself."

Any sources for this? What if I travel 400 miles in the cold?

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

ZBD

Name "most other countries" please. Don't start with any european or asian countries because none of them are among your other countries. I live on the continent of europe and speak the local language and read the local papers and none of the euros are following the UK.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

Zeddead since you consider the statement "I've yet to see any evidence that CO2 affects the climate."
so obviously risible you will have no difficulty in producing some actual proof of it doing so - not theory but actual proof on the ground.

Or not.

Incidentally your assertion about the alleged increased efficiency of electric cars omits mention of the losses in transporting electricity, storing it and manufacturing the batteries. It also omits mention of the fact that, since we use virtually no petrol for electricity generation, replacing it with electricity would increase electricity usage.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

There is a closely related and quite substantial document Averting Catastrophe by the same authors available on the web.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaulM

There is direct correlation between excess deaths, weather and energy pricing. Current estimates are that every time the temperature drops one degree Celsius below average in winter, 8,000 more elderly people will die in the UK.

Fuel poverty is on the increase, it is now impacting on working families, and there is now a growing need to provide cheap energy.

So in this new-age-of-austerity, rising energy costs and CO2 targets how do we stop more families falling into fuel poverty, and very importantly how do we stop more people from dying from the dual effects of hypothermia and malnourishment?

In these very difficult times the UK cannot economically, socially and politically be seen to do nothing on energy security, energy pricing, growing fuel poverty and excess deaths just in order to meet targets on CO2.

It seems obvious but our politicians are blind to it.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Please, please, everyone, DNFTT - it only encourages them.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

"Name "most other countries" please. Don't start with any european or asian countries because none of them are among your other countries. I live on the continent of europe and speak the local language and read the local papers and none of the euros are following the UK."
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:40 PM | stephen richards

I love stuff like this, it shows how bonkers you lot actually are. It's a request to find something which is available to anyone in less than 30 seconds searching online, but somehow couched in insane parameters about which continents can be included in this, based on what papers Stephen reads.

Loved all the chucking of your qualifications straight into your first post as well. I'll give you a clue, you're trying to use the argument from authority. It's something people do when they have little confidence in what they are saying. If you did, you'd have left the qualifications out.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"Zeddead since you consider the statement "I've yet to see any evidence that CO2 affects the climate."
so obviously risible you will have no difficulty in producing some actual proof of it doing so - not theory but actual proof on the ground.
Or not."
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Neil Craig

Gladly, I've just put together a couple on a word document ready to c and p over here. But I'd like you to answer something first that I'm genuinely hugely interested in.

Do you really think there's no empirical evidence for the greenhouse effect? If not, have you actually looked into it at all? I'm constantly fascinated by people like you and am very interested in what makes you tick.

Oct 4, 2011 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"Any sources for this? What if I travel 400 miles in the cold?"
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:38 PM | Alan Reed

Why are you so interested in what, for the average UK car driver, is an unusual occurrence?

The most useful thing is the average journey, yet you straight away focus on the journey that's likely to be most problematic for the electric car, no matter how infrequently it would crop up as an average of UK journeys?

You're displaying pure bias confirmation Alan. You're clearly not interested in how electric cars could be made to work, but are looking for ways in which you think you can dismiss electric cars.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

So Zed, are we to assume you have no idea about the cost of all of these electrical cars or the source of their batteries?

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

Latimer Alder

The targets are there to ensure the outcome of those who set them.
Meet the targets........ cripple the economy with energy costs.
Miss the targets........ cripple the government with legislation costs.

Only a body of enough wealth and influence can excerpt this much control and we had a post about one of their officers and her passage into the HoL only the other day, and another exploring the crime of Ecocide.

This is what the War on Terror should be focused on! We now live in a society under siege.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

"But they're clearly not stupid are they. They're an attempt to tackle AGW. Most other countries are trying to tackle it too. It's cooperation. We all have to work together. How can we expect other countries, for whom it is harder to hit the target, if we don't hit it ourselves?"
Oct 4, 2011 at 12:24 PM | ZedsDeadBed

Stupid is as stupid does. A few moments of reasoned analysis is all that's needed to begin to realise that none of the targets is realistic, even if squinting through rose-tinted specs. Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that none of the UK targets is even remotely realistic; the country has not the money nor the wherewithal to get even close to achieving them. Then there's the not inconsequential matter of whether those targets, even if met, would result in the desired outcomes. It's already becoming clear that they would fail.

As to the maxim "every little helps", a picture springs to mind of a male passenger on the Titanic, realising the lifeboats are full, throwing his gold watch into the sea to "lighten ship".

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterMostlyHarmless

With regards to the production by wind for planning purposes, remember the distinction between load factor and dispatchability. Yes, they produce around 20-28% of the nameplate capacity, but not necessarily when needed. So when planning capacity the dispatchability is used - How likely is it that that capacity will be available when needed - and this is usually around 10% of nameplate I believe, not the 20%+ usually quoted as load factor. So, it really is worse than we thought.

Looking at opportunities for reducing consumption by insulation etc, etc, from memory a 10% reduction for existing users is regarded as readily 'doable' (though this was a while back, so a large part of that may have been done) but as noted in earlier comments the overall demand (new users) is growing faster than that. So demand reduction allows a slower growth in production, but growth there must be.

Put the two together and you raise the interesting question: if you spent all the billlions being allocated to renewables instead into bringing all the housing stock in the country up to a decent standard of insulation (or knock them down and rebuiild to high standard) you'd achieve a far higher reduction in demand, and the population would be more comfortable.

None of which changes the conclusion the engineers reach, that the existing methods of generation need to be kept, and enhanced, very very quickly.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

There's no point arguing, just don't feed it!

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Wilson

Mac,

The 'powers that be' are already developing their response to your various points :-

"(UK) Families will have to get used to only using power when it is available" -

Steve Holliday, CEO National Grid. (Sunday Times 22/5/11)

Actually I've never been sure if he was stating official policy, or protesting against it.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommentermikemUK

Gerry Northam was on the Business News of the Today program on BBC radio 4 this morning, talking about how the climate change taxes are already impacting on UK business. More importantly is the bit from Huhne saying that they will help certain industries, but not just anyone.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterKriek

Arguably the most important piece of infrastructure in the country is the grid (transmission and distribution). If it fails the economic damage will be enormous and people will die by the thousand. How long can most people survive with no electricity (for most people this means no shops, no travelling, no frozen food, no cooking, no heating, no work, etc etc). So you would think that the most important job of the energy ministers would be maintaining the integrity of the grid. This means ensuring that the grid code is rigorously applied, i.e. that generators connected to the grid enhance its stability and integrity. So what do we find? Well of course the grid code is relaxed so that harmful generators like wind turbines can be connected to the grid. And what does our chief energy minister think of a policy designed to destroy this most important piece of infrastructure? He thinks wind turbines are pretty and beautiful. Truly we are governed by buffoons.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Zed

The point of this thread is that engineers are saying: look, the emissions targets in the CCA are unrealistic. No feasible build-out rate of nuclear, gas, wind or any combination of them will get us where the politicians have said we must be.

This is called 'bad energy policy' because it is impractical.

As usual you start on about 'efficiency' and demand-reduction. You accuse people here of having odd ideas - well this is one of yours. There will be an increase in energy demand over coming decades, especially in demand for electricity. It's in all the reports and projections - do take a few months to read them.

So the objective is to meet an anticipated rise in demand (eg 30 million electric vehicles by 2030) while at the same time reducing emissions.

As the article points out, nothing - including nuclear - can do this fast enough to keep on the emissions trajectory required by the CCA.

So the CCA is fundamentally flawed, and must either be substantially re-drafted or repealed.

Remember, it's not denialist scum saying this. It's engineers.

So why don't you shut up and pay attention?

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Thank you BBD. If only politicians would listen to engineers (and physicists of course).

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

So why don't you shut up and pay attention?

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:26 PM | BBD

I like you, as you're clearly not as daft as most that post on this website. But you may want to calm down a touch there.

I've eaten too much of my day here already today, but I'll go and have a look at demand projections taking into account efficiency/demand reduction strategies.

You seem to have done this before, could you save me the search and point me a couple if you have them to hand?

Thanks.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

The surprising thing BBD is that engineers have been saying it for over ten years now, certainly since TAR 3 and have been consistently ignored. The whole of our energy policy is based on the Pollyana logic of the Greens. It goes something like this:

1. CO2 is causing catastrophic global warming;
2. We must reduce CO2 output by 50% by 2050 to save the world;
3. We cannot use nuclear;
4. The gap can be filled by renewables, people not using as much and efficiencies.
5. Er, that's it.

Engnineers: "It's not possible to do that we cannot build the necessary replacement energy systems in the time we have available." So greens respond:

6. "We'll ration energy".

Initially this will be done by price so eff the poor and needy. Then we will control it with smart meters (the government has already set aside £7bn for the roll out of smart meters) making sure each person in a household has only X amount of energy. This will have the added benefit of driving poor old people out of big homes. Meanwhile our industry will move, with the money to China. That's the future these evil bastards are planning for us, remember you heard it here first.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

So Zed, are we to assume that not only do you have no idea either how we're giong to pay for all of these electric cars or where we're going to obtain the materials to produce the batteries which, I'm also assuming you have no idea as to what type of battery they will be, but that also, when asked a direct and fairly straightforward question you would prefer ignore it rather than to actually think?

On the other hand, if you do have any kind of practical answer I (and I would assume the car industry as a whole) would be really interested.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

Remember the Three-Day-Week?
Oct 4, 2011 at 11:27 AM Mac

I remember it vividly.

I remember flying in some important French customers, leading them through an ostentatiously candlelit reception area and sales office into a (windowless) laboratory and secretly ( and illegally) demonstrating a 15kw piece of hi-tech equipment.

Although somewhat bemused, they gave us the order - I think they thought we were participating in some sort of religious festival.

Another dose of that would just about nail down the coffin lid on "UK Ltd" for good.

Oct 4, 2011 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

Zed

But you may want to calm down a touch there.

You made several risible statements earlier in this thread. They add to an already considerable list on energy and energy policy. I was being restrained.

There are reams to read, but you can start with the EIA International Energy Outlook 2011.

World net electricity generation increases by 84 percent in the Reference case, from 19.1 trillion kilowatthours in 2008 to 25.5 trillion kilowatthours in 2020 and 35.2 trillion kilowatthours in 2035 (Table 11). Although the 2008-2009 global economic recession slowed the rate of growth in electricity use in 2008 and resulted in negligible change in electricity use in 2009, worldwide electricity demand increased by an estimated 5.4 percent in 2010, with non-OECD electricity demand alone increasing by an estimated 9.5 percent.

Oct 4, 2011 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

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