A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The UK's energy gap (finally) understood.....

At last, the UK's gaping energy gap is being acknowledged, as is the continuing role of fossil fuels and the serious limitations of wind power:

Nuclear power plant.First, here are two excellent live reports by Tom Fielden on BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme this morning, November 10 (audio on: select the 'Listen Again' audio clip slots for the Thursday archive, 06.09 and 07.40). [Right: nuclear power plant, with water vapour and sunflowers: image - free use from Wikipedia.]

Secondly, here likewise is a good report from Richard Black at BBC Online: 'Britain facing large energy gap' (BBC Science/Nature Online News, November 9):
"Fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy source - there is no alternative" (John Loughhead of the UK Energy Research Centre, who compiled the new 'Report' following a two-day conference held last month under the auspices of the Geological Society of London)...

"... The immediate issue is the impending closure of most British nuclear power stations and many coal-fired units.

By 2015, all four Magnox nuclear stations still operating will have shut down, as will five of the seven stations running Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs).

Under the European Large Combustion Plant Directive, many of the nation's coal-fired plants will also close in the next decade.

In principle, the gap could be bridged by new power stations burning gas or coal; but this would work against the government's short term targets and long term aspirations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

'Without the need to reduce emissions, there would not be an energy gap by 2050,' said Dr Loughhead.

Meanwhile, demand may continue to rise; and managing that demand, says the report, is a key issue..."

In the meantime, the serious limitations of wind power in relation to the UK National Grid have just been highlighted in yet another meticulous study by Hugh Sharman [I have also written an article on this piece for Country Illustrated magazine, out soon]: 'UK wind power takes a battering' (New Scientist, November 12):
"... Hugh Sharman, Principal of the energy consulting and brokering company Incoteco in Hals, Denmark, argues that the UK's energy grid will not be able to handle more than 10 gigawatts (Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineering, vol 158, p. 161)."

And, here is part of what I have written for Country Illustrated magazine (in press):
"As Mr. Sharman points out, wind power poses an entirely new challenge to the grid operator, above all because big wind farms tend to be remotely located, with the majority sited in the north and west of Britain. By contrast, the demand load lies in an epicentre lying between London and Birmingham. First, wind generators are paid at the station boundary and they do not carry a financial penalty for the fact that up to 15% of the power they generate is lost during transmission. Secondly, of the additional 10.7 GW being built or planned, 6.8 GW will be generated in Scotland. Scotland’s electrical inter-connection is currently limited to 0.5 GW with Northern Ireland and 2.2 GW with England. Even with upgrading, it appears that only a small part of the total 7.3 GW ultimately proposed for Scotland can ever be connected. In Mr. Sharman’s words, precisely 'how much can actually be accommodated will depend on the willingness of the politicians and the public to make very large investments in grid upgrades and, possibly, power storage, but these issues are not currently at the forefront of debate, and there are no mechanisms in place to pay off these investments.'

One is tempted to add: 'So much for integrated government thinking on the energy issue.' To date, government has been claiming that the UK’s system can accept anything up to 26 GW of wind power. By contrast, Mr. Sharman's detailed analysis illustrates, worryingly, that this is not the case, and that, as witnessed in the much larger wind systems of Denmark and Germany, 10 GW (+/- 25%) will prove to be the safe upper limit of all wind capacity. This means that the push for wind power inevitably fails to fulfil the government's aim of using wind to offset some of the generating capacity now being lost through the closure of coal-powered and nuclear-powered generators..."

So the energy chickens are at last coming home to roost, if somewhat belatedly. Slowly, but surely, the media and government are starting to listen to the energy experts rather than to noisy, but hopelessly utopian, 'Green' activists. The change is urgent, and much needed, for the UK: Conservatives (aka RHons Cameron and Letwin) and Lib-Dems (aka Hon Norman Baker), please take note.

And, finally... just as I have been predicting for some time on EnviroSpin, it now appears to be dawning on Lord May and Sir David et al. that not too many folk are heeding their ecohype on 'global warming' - from the same Today programme as above:
"Lord May, if you have been following his utterings of the past year or so, has been getting more and more and more shrill on the issue of climate change. He is sounding like a desperate man. But he is shouting and shouting, and people aren't hearing." (Roger Harrabin, BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 10 November: audio clip 06.38).

Philip, promoting gas, clean coal, and nuclear for a powerful UK future. And, of course, morning coffee. It's an energy wake-up call everyone!

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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