The problem with ‘Generating the Future: UK energy systems fit for 2050′

The previous BNC post, a guest contribution by Douglas Wise, provided an excellent and thorough review of the political and technical issues facing the UK energy scene.  Douglas’ post was also timely, because, last week, the esteemed Royal Academy of Engineering released a new 27-page report on this topic. Although useful as a crystal-ball-gazing exercise, the report has some problems that relate strongly to Wise’s points. Here I discuss the major issues I have with the RAE report.

To introduce the report, I’ll first reproduce the World Nuclear News report on it, as it provides an excellent summary of its contents:

UK needs massive energy program, says academy

The UK needs to exploit its renewable energy resources to the maximum to meet future energy demand and reduce carbon emissions – and will still need to build at least 20, and even up to 80, new nuclear or other low-carbon baseload power stations.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, an independent body comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers, the country will need to mobilise the biggest peacetime program of investment and social change it has ever seen if it is to meet its energy demands to 2050 while delivering the 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions required under the 2008 Climate Change Act.

A newly released report by the Academy, Generating the future: UK energy systems fit for 2050 (PDF download), considers four possible scenarios that could achieve the 2050 targets. While emphasising that the scenarios are not meant to be predictions, the Academy warns that there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution that could deliver the necessary emissions cuts while keeping the country’s lights on.

Each of the four scenarios include reducing energy demand through both increased efficiencies and behavioural change, with much more energy demand than at present being met through the electricity system. All four generally see fossil fuel prioritised for transport use in the future. They also all incorporate the highest levels of renewable energy supplies (other than biomass) that the academy considers could realistically be delivered by 2050. (The amount of biomass use varies in the different scenarios.) Nonetheless, the report still foresees the need for a massive building program for what it calls low-carbon sources – either nuclear power or fossil-fuelled plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS). “The scale of the engineering challenge is massive,” the academy warns.

The two scenarios which the report sees as the more practical options would require significant electrification of the UK’s transport system (up to 80% in one case), and would both require around 40 new nuclear or CCS-equipped power plants fired by coal, biomass or gas. Even in the report’s fourth scenario, with a 46% reduction in overall demand, and a whopping 58% of electricity supplied by what the report refers to as intermittent sources, “well beyond the limits of what has been achieved before,” about 20 new nuclear or CCS-equipped plants would be needed. The figure could be as high as 80 new nuclear or CCS plants for a scenario with the least demand cuts.

Out of time

The timescales involved in such a massive re-engineering of the UK’s energy systems in time to respond to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions mean that the time for talking is effectively over, the report cautions: “We have to commit to new plant and supporting infrastructure now.” Only low-carbon technologies that are already known can make a significant contribution to meeting the 2050 targets, it adds, noting that “untried developments“, such as nuclear fusion, may eventually contribute to the energy mix, but “to meet the 80% target we have to use what we already understand.”

Sue Ion, chair of the academy’s energy scenarios working group, echoed the report’s conclusion when she said: “There is no more time left for further consultations or detailed optimisation and no time to wait for new technical innovations. Infrastructure on this scale doesn’t happen on political timescales.”

Next, I’d like to quote some relevant extracts from the report, and alongside this, provide some annotations sent to me by Martin Nicholson, author of the book Energy in a Changing Climate.

————————————————

The RAE report is interesting and worth a read, if only to see how some might tackle the future issue of low-carbon energy. The report is somewhat political, by taking 4 scenarios to 2050 in a way not to offend any constituency – from the tough but possibly realistic scenario 1, to the fanciful conservationist minimal position in scenario 4. (My assessment, not RAE’s). For some reason they felt it necessary to maximise renewable energy (RE) in all scenarios.

Some selected sections from the RAE report (MN comments in red):

There is no more time left for further consultations or detailed optimisation. Equally, there is no time left to wait for new technical developments or innovation. We have to commit to new plant and supporting infrastructure now.

(So no enhanced geothermal systems or bulk energy storage beyond pumped hydro)

Although the scale of the challenge has often been acknowledged, very few have sought to try to put numbers to it. We do so in Appendix 1 and come up with numbers which are currently beyond the capacity of the energy industry to deliver.

Furthermore, even if the mitigation target for 2050 is met, that does not mean the problem is solved. The RCEP analysis shows that, for both the 550 ppm/60% and the 450 ppm/80% cases, a further halving in greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 will be needed to avoid serious climatic risk. Therefore, it must be remembered that 2050 is only one stage along a path that will subsequently need further, even more demanding measures.

For renewable sources of energy other than biomass, the four scenarios are the same, incorporating the highest levels that could realistically be delivered by 2050. (my emphasis) Table 3 summarises the average power supplied from each of the major sources of renewable energy, along with the corresponding installed capacity and an illustration of what assets would be required to provide that capacity and the scale of the resulting challenge.

(note the average capacity factor of 21%)

The major assets themselves – the power plants and renewables energy installations – will require a major construction programme. For the renewable sources of supply, table 3 gives an indication of the considerable number of assets required to provide a significant proportion of the UK’s energy demand.

For example, building over 1,000 miles of wave power machines equates to building almost three miles a month for the next 40 years or roughly the equivalent length of one London underground train a day – and that does not take into account the repairs and replacements that would be needed as sections age. Also, large numbers of different types of turbines would be needed for on and offshore wind, tidal stream and tidal range; all of which would need to be sourced from an increasingly competitive global market. The situation for the non-renewable sources is no less challenging.

As in the original RCEP report, we restrict ourselves to four scenarios, chosen to highlight some of the most important aspects of the future energy system. In general terms, the scenarios are:

Scenario 1 Level demand – Fossil fuel prioritised for transport

Scenario 2 Medium demand reduction – Fossil fuel prioritised for low grade heat

Scenario 3 Medium demand reduction – Fossil fuel prioritised for transport

Scenario 4 High demand reduction – Fossil fuel prioritised for transport

(Based on my theory that only conservationists really believe that overall demand reduction is possible it looks like Scenario 1 is the only realistic scenario. The interest thing is the resulting reduction in GHGs isn’t a lot different between the scenarios)

(The scenario numbers are for 2050 and cover all demand sources including low and high grade heat and transport. Scenario 4 looks like “hair shirt” territory to me)

I am concerned about how they did their GHG reduction calculations. They never discuss the split between nuclear and CCS. Given the significant differences in emission intensity between the two, how did they come up with their numbers?

No mention of costs beyond this last sentence in the Conclusions:

It also needs to be recognised that the significant changes required to the UK energy system to meet the emissions reduction targets will inevitably, involve significant rises in energy costs to end users.

This is actually quite a depressing report. I can only conclude that the UK will NOT reduce its GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. You have to think that a Scenario 5 with much less RE and more nuclear would have given a much better outcome at less cost.

————————————————

The unmodelled ‘Scenario 5′ that Martin wishes to see might look something like the ‘Plan E’ of Mackay (Chapter 27, pg 211 of ‘Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air‘):

Producing lots of electricity – plan E

E stands for “economics.” This fifth plan is a rough guess for what might happen in a liberated energy market with a strong carbon price. On a level economic playing field with a strong price signal preventing the emission of CO2, we don’t expect a diverse solution with a wide range of power-costs; rather, we expect an economically optimal solution that delivers the required power at the lowest cost. And when “clean coal” and nuclear go head to head on price, it’s nuclear that wins. (Engineers at a UK electricity generator told me that the capital cost of regular dirty coal power stations is £1 billion per GW, about the same as nuclear; but the capital cost of “clean-coal” power, including carbon capture and storage, is roughly £2 billion per GW.) I’ve assumed that solar power in other people’s deserts loses to nuclear power when we take into account the cost of the required 2000-km-long transmission lines (though van Voorthuysen (2008) reckons that with Nobel-prize-worthy developments in solar-powered production of chemical fuels, solar power in deserts would be the economic equal of nuclear power). Offshore wind also loses to nuclear, but I’ve assumed that onshore wind costs about the same as nuclear.

Here’s where plan E gets its 50 kWh/d/p of electricity from. Wind: 4 kWh/d/p (10 GW average). Solar PV: 0. Hydroelectricity and waste incineration: 1.3 kWh/d/p. Wave: 0. Tide: 0.7 kWh/d/p. And nuclear: 44 kWh/d/p (110 GW).

This plan has a ten-fold increase in our nuclear power over 2007 levels. Britain would have 110 GW, which is roughly double France’s nuclear fleet. I included a little tidal power because I believe a well-designed tidal lagoon facility can compete with nuclear power. In this plan, Britain has no energy imports (except for the uranium, which, as we said before, is not conventionally counted as an import).

Or, if we want to be bolder still (and I firmly believe this is what is really needed), we could imagine something quite different to any ‘energy futures’ scenarios yet envisaged — a ‘settled-down’ system with 270 GWe average power for the UK (which, via various substitutions, then covers all needs — electricity, heat, synthetic transport fuels/electric vehicle charging, agriculture inputs etc.). This would represent growth in total energy production in the UK of 30% between now and 2050, which I think is far more realistic when considering necessary oil/gas replacement and demographic changes, with only modest gains with energy efficiency (i.e., commensurate with historical experience). If >90% of this energy is delivered with nuclear (gen III+), I suspect — even if calculated using a back-of-the-envelope approach — that such an alternative scenario would be shown to be by far the cheapest and most complete, low-risk (in terms of probability of failure) option for achieving a fossil-fuel-free energy future.

In sum then, the problems with the RAE study seems to be four-fold:

1) Like Mackay’s work, it ignores the economics underpinning this massive energy transformation. Yet I (and my guest commenters, such as Peter Lang and Steve Kirsch) have argued that a non-economic approach, whether physically possible or not, can lead to seriously misleading conclusions about what is possible or desirable. If the $$ don’t add up, the plan fails.

2) It makes heroic assumptions about the gains to be made with energy efficiency and conservation — gains that would be unprecedented — indeed quite unlike the historical energy development of any developed nation — and would, for the first time, constitute a wholesale contradiction of Jevon’s Paradox / Khazzoom-Brookes postulate. History is the best guide to the probable, rather than the possible.

3) Although the RAE say they rely only on existing technology, they don’t really. After all, a fleet of Pelamis wave machines, stacked 4 or 5 deep along 1,000 miles of the British coast, is bordering on fantasy. Likewise, coal or gas with CCS is totally unproven on the scale required, and is hard to imagine will every be economically competitive. Of the low-carbon energy sources used in the scenarios, only Gen II/Gen III has been shown, historically, to be scalable and economic. (see France for details)

4) In an apparent effort to ensure a ‘diversified’ energy supply, the planning locks in — with absolutely no option — a huge tranche of intermittent renewables (33 GWe), along with an extraordinarily large amount of biomass (26 to 45 GWe). If these fail to achieve their maximum conceivable potential, then all 4 of the RAE scenarios go belly up.

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!" "True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 1895.

So, I’m forced to conclude that the RAE report is a Curate’s Egg. Good in parts… but it’s the bad bits that spoil the whole meal. Thus,  my seemingly vain search for a realistic energy plan — released by an august body that government might actually listen to — goes on…

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

About these ads

36 Comments

  1. If we don’t expand electricity to adequately cover declining use of fossil fuels, then we will have an energy disaster. To understand what that means you have to look at the key consequence of the Industrial revolution. When energy became cheap then (skill-weighted) labour became the scarce resource and wages rose to give our current prosperity, while energy prices were driven to the floor. Once there is a shortage of energy you go back to (or at least towards) the normal condition of mankind, where wages are driven to the floor because labour is not the scarce resource. Of course once labour costs go down then so do a lot of your costs of building and running energy production. So you get to a balance point, similar to a supply-demand balance point. We don’t want to go there, and with nuclear power we don’t need to. However it does mean that you can’t be simplistic when talking about costs: they will be driven down if they have to be.

  2. This report is indicative of the present disconnect from reality which is so widespread.Even people with a great deal of knowledge in their own field can’t,or won’t see the bigger picture.

    The hour is late.If we don’t get off our backsides and start taking practical actions it will be too late.

  3. The more I understand of this debate, the more I am becoming convinced that to avoid steeply rising energy costs and probable energy shortages over the next 10 years , it makes economic sense for SOE’s and SOHO’s (at least) to take advantage of the FiT and REC schemes to go decentralized solar.

    This investment gets paid off during the first 7 years. Then you are home free until IFR gets delivered, at which point electricity retail prices will drop and a decision can be made at the end of the 25 year solar system life to go back to the grid or upgrade the decentralized system, perhaps by then with affordable storage.

  4. Basically, the report is just code for MORE NUCLEAR, AND FAST. Sort of like how in 1998 the IEA said global oil supply will rise due to “unidentified unconventional” which Campbell alleged was code for uncertainty. If they wrote what they really thought, there would be panic on the markets.

  5. It aways makes sense to go off the grid. But why would you junk your 25y pv? It will work quite well then.
    You can always add new panels…we can only fantasise about the prices in 25 years.
    For 2010/11 we can expect prices for pannes to go down another 10-20%.

    An outlook for 2050 really is nothing but a look in the crystal ball.

  6. Cost is of course the most important single factor in the success of any carbon mitigation scheme, and to am amazing extent discussions of carbon mitigation are completely devoid of discussions of cost. This is an indicator that we are not yet ready to get serious about preventing climate change, and the people who are least serious about preventing climate change are the self styled “greens,” who never acknowledge the real cost of renewable schemes.

  7. Something as basic as flipping on the light switch is the end result of a series of political decisions that begin at the voting booth and make their way through the vast dark spaces of politics, bureaucracy, and commerce. No one wants to turn and face the music on this, even as our backs are being pressed up against the wall.

    Nuclear energy is the only way to retain a liveable planet without lowering our living standards or letting the Third World raise theirs. It’s just that simple, and until that truth sinks in to the general public to the point where it becomes politically impossible for a government to not to support nuclear energy, we will just be shouting into the wind. The longer we prevaricate, the longer we chase rainbows, the harder it’s going to be when the crunch comes.

    There are no other options on the table: we move forward with nuclear fission, or it is coal & gas, and accept with the environmental consequences. This message has to be driven home as quickly and as vigorously as possible. It is our only real hope.

  8. “significant rises in energy costs to end users.”

    It really is frustrating when costs aren’t factored in properly. What does that conclusion even mean? I could never conclude an essay with that sentence and get away with it – and I’m just an undergrad.

    It’s not a horrible paper, but it reads incomplete. There’s vital information they’re skipping out on.

  9. DV82XL-Well said. Nuclear is in front on every score eg. cheap electricity, energy payback,greenhouse gas, capacity factor,economy of area and certainly in overall performance. Hydro and geothermal are pretty good and so is natural gas except that it’s a fossil fuel. Time is too short to muck about with part timers [wind,solar]. The planet needs to replace the fossil fuels,especially coal with the only option that can deliver the volumes of power we all need while maintaining our standard of living and helping raise the third world standard and that’s nuclear power. And we all need to start now. In Australia, we have to badger the Rudd government to get it’s head out of the sand, to stop putting unrealistic claims on what the renewables etc can achieve and to start the ball rolling for a nuclear future. Start shouting folks. Time is short.

  10. Why is it that the Royal Academy Engineers was not able to figure out what I was able to figure out in one afternoon in 2007? i never took one college hour in engineering, yet I figured out a way to make turning nuclear power into the very sort of silver bullet that the RAE denies exists. In one afternoon I was able to figure out how to answer all of the objections to nuclear power, including the cost objection, and to produce all of the nuclear power plants we need by 2050 with out breaking the bank, while assuring inherent reactor safety, solving the nuclear waste problem, assuring sustainable nuclear power, and decreasing the likelihood of nuclear war. What is more, once I came to these conclusions I looked around the internet and discovered that other people had come to the same or similar conclusions.

    The solution was quite simple. If you want to build a lot of industrial objects, you build them in factories. If you want to build a lot of reactors, you build them in factories. But how do transport a huge 1000 MW reactor out of the factory? The answer is that you don’t, you make the reactor small enough to transport by rail, barge or truck, say 100 MW. You can do things t make the reactor lighter too and if you make it less complex, it will cost less to build. I knew of such a reactor, an advanced reactor design that my father had spent 20 years working in developing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. That was the Molten Salt Reactor.

    i quickly realized that the MSR had the potential to answer all of the classic objections to nuclear power, and that it could be built in factories is sufficient numbers by 2050, to provide all of the worlds energy needs. Furthermore, the MSR could run on a thorium fuel cycle, in fact would run better on a thorium fuel cycle than on a uranium fuel cycle, and could be made to breed thorium until we ran out of thorium several billion years from now, thus rendering the “uranium is not sustainable” objection absurd.

    Furthermore, the thorium breeding molten salt reactor, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LF’tR), could be operated at temperatures as high as 1200 C, hot enough to for many industrial process uses, hot enough to produce hydrogen.

    I became convinced that mall LFTRs could be built in factories at low price, set up rapidly and could revolutionized the energy economy with a time frame of as little as ten years after the completion of LFTR development and the completion of a LFTR factory. I grew up in the shadow of the Manhattan Project . I knew and know what people are capable of accomplishing within a short time, if they set aside the business as usual model, and commit to an all out effort to develop new technology, Far more was accomplished in Oak Ridge between 1942 and 1945 than would be required to see hundreds of LFTRs rolling off assembly lines. But the will has to be there to accomplish it.

    What the RAE lacks is a vision, and a willingness to commit to it.

  11. Subscribing – this lets me read your commends with much ease on my iPhone. I’ve ditch the nearly all the rest of my reading (entertainment and educational) to follow this blog and it’s comments

  12. The real lesson of the Manhattan Project, is not so much what can be done when there is combination of need and focus. Humans have proven time and again what can be done under extreme pressure.

    It is what followed that is particularity instructive, and must serve as a warning. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. embarked on huge programs to try and out do the other in building nuclear warheads. The perceived need was real, and although hindsight is twenty-twenty, there was at the time no other choice.

    The problem was that in their rush to build weapons, little concern was taken for the environmental impacts of their actions, and as a result, both sides have been left with huge cleanup tasks that might have been avoided had there been less haste.

    Now the problems are far more evident in in Russia than the States it is true, because there was some recognition at the time of the issue, in the U.S.,and some steps were taken to keep things from getting out of hand. However there are real legacy problems in the ex U.S.S.R. that even the most ardent supported of nuclear technology cannot ignore.

    This is relevant to this debate, because the time will come when energy will be in short supply to nations that will not be able to pay rising prices, and they will turn to nuclear energy. Without access to good safe technology, they may well fall back on cruder designs, or more likely be less concerned with the impacts of the fuel cycle in their rush to acquire nuclear energy. What we do not need is more nations taking a ‘this is an emergency, we’ll deal with it later’ attitude.

    Nuclear reactors and the nuclear fuel-cycle can be operated safely and cleanly, however they are not inherently so, a panicked rush to nuclear energy is the last thing we need or want. To avoid this we must start the conversion to a nuclear economy now, while we can do so in calm measured ways.

  13. Charles…you fail politically.
    You should rund for pri…äh…king of GB.
    Then even the problems some here have with democracy could be handled…
    Not that it is not amazing eneough what problems you have solved in 2007.

    Till today I thought the answer to live and everything was 42.

  14. The year 2050 is 40 years hence. In that time, even if business as usual were continued, most of the current electrical generating infrastructure would need be to replaced anyway. So the choice is not between enormous costs and no cost, but between various (costly) choices. The answer is to choose nuclear. The second part of that answer is to make nuclear more economical, to make it clearly less expensive than staying with fossil fuels. Higher costs may need to be endured in the short run in order to get to economical long-term solutions.

  15. Charles…

    Ever concluded you may be completly wrong?
    Maybe the RAE knows the true costs around the whole mess with nuclear. They seem to know more than you do.
    Do you have these posts prewritten or are you really writing these every day? Any new ideas or the same old story for the last 50 years….

    Why are you screaming for government R&D when it is so easy to built a LFTR.
    Why is it so hard to get some money? Somebody had 400Mil$ for the bloombox…

    Sound a little bit fishy your pipe-dreams.
    Do you feel any better by repeatingt it over and over?

    There is only a small group of people that believe that pv is not THE future of energy.

    You need to let go of the past.
    Maybe there will be some Gen4 plants to deal with the waste problem. But nuclear is a dead industry delivering only 2% of worldwide energy. Thats pathetic for something that has been around for 60 years. not?
    How much power is going online every year…how much new nuclear…
    Some should open their eyes and get out of this little blogging world (and maybe get a life).

    I will stop writting again and go back to reading and laughing in silence. have a nice one.

  16. “There is only a small group of people that believe that pv is not THE future of energy.”

    “But nuclear is a dead industry delivering only 2% of worldwide energy.”

    Oh my.

    Oh well. Back here in reality, the only debate left worth having is what kind of nuclear, and how to introduce it.

  17. Slashdot is covering nuclear right now if anyone wanted to jump over to the uber-geeks and help inform them. It’s a very popular techno-geek site, and signing up over there, even subscribing to their once-a-day email summary, is probably a good move for activism.

    http://tinyurl.com/yac5jxs

    Speaking of such things, make sure you announce any moves towards a Podcast Barry!

  18. Heavyweather, The Chinese currently are developing upwards of 150 GWs of nuclear capacity which certainly will be ready by 2030.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

    The Indians have announced plans to build at least 25 GWs of new nuclear power plants by 2020, and the indian AEC is “talking about 500 to 600 GWe nuclear over the next 50 years or so” in India, plus export opportunities.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf53.html

    I would not be too sure that the time has arrived to write the obituary for nuclear power.

  19. Sure there are all these number from nuclear indutry propaganda…

    You never know how these programs work out once they might..
    -run into cost problems
    -experience technical problems
    -something in the sozial framework changes
    -political changes happen.
    -fuel shortage
    -competition

    But we`ll see in 2030.
    You are not the only one with ideas and visions.

    http://www.4-revolution.de/

  20. DV82XL, on 22 March 2010 at 11.13 Said:

    Nuclear energy is the only way to retain a liveable planet without lowering our living standards or letting the Third World raise theirs. It’s just that simple, and until that truth sinks in to the general public to the point where it becomes politically impossible for a government to not to support nuclear energy, we will just be shouting into the wind. The longer we prevaricate, the longer we chase rainbows, the harder it’s going to be when the crunch comes.

    There are no other options on the table: we move forward with nuclear fission, or it is coal & gas, and accept with the environmental consequences. This message has to be driven home as quickly and as vigorously as possible. It is our only real hope.

    Well said

    Terry Krieg. Excellent post. And your letter in today’s Australian is excellent too.

    Terry Krieg, on 22 March 2010 at 16.02 Said:

    DV82XL-Well said. Nuclear is in front on every score eg. cheap electricity, energy payback,greenhouse gas, capacity factor,economy of area and certainly in overall performance. Hydro and geothermal are pretty good and so is natural gas except that it’s a fossil fuel. Time is too short to muck about with part timers [wind,solar]. The planet needs to replace the fossil fuels,especially coal with the only option that can deliver the volumes of power we all need while maintaining our standard of living and helping raise the third world standard and that’s nuclear power. And we all need to start now. In Australia, we have to badger the Rudd government to get it’s head out of the sand, to stop putting unrealistic claims on what the renewables etc can achieve and to start the ball rolling for a nuclear future.

    donb, on 23 March 2010 at 4.05 said:

    The second part of that answer is to make nuclear more economical, to make it clearly less expensive than staying with fossil fuels. Higher costs may need to be endured in the short run in order to get to economical long-term solutions

    This is the crux of the matter. But few recognise it.

    This can be achieved if we remove all the impediments to nuclear.

    However, a fundamental concept we need to recognise is that we must always strive to reduce the cost of electricity, not raise it. So artificially raising the cost of electricity, through government imposed taxes or an ETS, is the wrong approach, in my opinion. Instead, we should provide regulatory support for nuclear until it gets over the cost hurdle that has been created by 40 years of regulatory imposts and delays. Society needs to contribute to get over this mistake that society caused (by following the advice of the anti-nuclear protesters).

  21. As Peter Lang pointed out, the real reason for the high cost of nuclear energy is a regulatory environment that seems bent on driving the price of NPPs as high as possible. I’m convinced that this is in fact their unstated mandate, at the behest of their political masters, who themselves are in the pockets of large fossil-fuel interests.

    One can build CANDUs at least, at prices that are competitive with modern supercritical boiler thermal coal plants of the same electrical output, especially if they incorporate any of the current CCS systems out there.

    The only limiting factor seems to be regulatory foot-dragging, and to some extent, overly complex financial rules for new power plants, (that also seem to favour natural gas) that are in effect in many jurisdictions.

    In other words, this is a pure political play, devoid of any meaningful technological issues. Thus it is in the political forum where the battle will be won or lost, and it is there where efforts must be focused.

    I have written elsewhere, that we have no time for indirect means to encourage a shift to nuclear energy. This must happen by legislative fiat. Most Western democracies, no matter how closely they have held to the capitalist model, have in the past passed laws to drive a sector in a certain direction, when it was clear that this what was needed. There is need now, and there is precedent – the only thing that is lacking is will. This is what we must provide via public pressure, because it is the best (and only) tool we have.

  22. What’s striking about the situation in the UK, and what hasn’t really been emphasised in this post (or in Douglas’ excellent post) is how rapidly the nuclear argument has turned around in the last five years: from nukes being widely disliked and completely dismissed in a 2003 Energy white paper, there’s now a general acceptance that they will be necessary to meet future energy needs, with both main parties speaking out in favour of a new generation of NPPs. So flaws notwithstanding, the RAE paper is a reflection on how far things have come. Yes, of course it needs to go further and faster still.

    When the penny properly drops and it becomes universally recognised that fossil fuels need to be abandoned as a primary source of baseload electricity generation, nuclear advocates will find themselves pushing at an open door. The numbers speak for themselves. It’s just a question of how big a slice of the energy pie nuclear will end up providing, and how quickly. I realise this is the question that greatly exercises people on this site, and I’m sure it needs to be addressed at some point. At the moment though, isn’t it putting the cart before the horse?

    On a slightly different tack, I do wonder about the UK’s underlying motivation for its policy shift- whether this has got less to do with AGW and more with the fact that North sea gas is running out, and a reluctance to buy it from Russia.

  23. “Uni-Solar is not alone. Manufacturers that make traditional crystalline silicon solar panels are boosting efficiencies and dropping prices thanks to equipment improvements plus cheap Chinese labor and materials. Another U.S. company, First Solar, claims it can make its variety of thin-film solar cells for less than $1 per watt.”

    SCIAM at either:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=does-solar-power-need-a-revolution-10-03-21&sc=CAT_ENGYSUS_20100325

    or

    http://tinyurl.com/yczyx3o

    So where was that $8 / watt calculation I read somewhere here? And that’s just the incremental advances in Solar PV… there are plenty of other “Black Swans” being born out there, some are just hatching, and others are now little chicks getting their first feathers, and others, like Better Place, are just about to learn how to fly.

  24. No, they’re talking about (hypothetical future) costs of just the PV cells themselves. They’re also talking about peak watts, not average, so for the typical Australian rooftop, multiply that peak cost by 5 to work out actually energy generated (i.e. capacity factor of 15 – 20%).

  25. Also:

    “… the lifetime of polymer photovoltaics is at present much lower than of mc-silicon photovoltaics, we first compared the PV cells per watt-peak and next determined the minimum required lifetime of polymer PV to arrive at the same environmental impacts as mc-silicon PV. We found that per watt-peak of output power, the environmental impacts compared to mc-silicon are 20-60% lower for polymer PV systems with glass substrate and 80-95% lower for polymer PV with PET as substrate (flexible modules). Also in comparison with thin film CuInSe and thin film silicon, the impacts of polymer modules, per watt-peak, appeared to be lower. The costs per watt peak of polymer PV modules with glass substrate are approximately 20% higher compared to mc-silicon photovoltaics.”

    Ex-ante Environmental and Economic Evaluation of Polymer Photovoltaics, Roes A. L.; Alsema E. A.; Blok K.; Patel M. K. Progress in photovoltaics 2009 ISSN 1062-7995

  26. Pingback: Nuclear century outlook – crystal ball gazing by the WNA « BraveNewClimate

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s