Monday, 20 April 2009

Labour Out of Power: Reality Creeps Into the Energy Debate

After years of misinformation and delusion, it is good to report that the enviro-energy lobby has essentially given up pretending the UK can meet its fatuous renewables targets. Formerly, the wind lobby in particular was keen to assert that wind farms could bridge the gap between where we are heading on current trends, and keeping the lights on post 2015. But now, Miliband has

“...asked officials to draw up a new coal plan to meet conflicting warnings about global warming emissions and a looming gap in Britain's energy supplies when old coal and nuclear plants are closed in the next decade”

This is because he has been advised, correctly, that otherwise the lights will indeed frequently be flickering, and periodically going out altogether. (It is to his credit that he even cares about this, because the chances of his being in power at the time – pun intended - don’t seem terribly good.)

He’ll discover – if anyone’s willing to tell him the truth - that renewables cannot, in any circumstances (even with the precipitate collapse in industrial electricity demand), fit the bill. This means, inter alia, there is no chance whatever of the UK meeting its ‘obligations’ either on GHG emissions or on renewables as an end in themselves. Even George Monbiot now recognises this. Of course, this will not stop the renewables lobby redoubling its demands for ever greater subsidy, but it ought to stop them getting it.

All over Europe the same penny is dropping. In Germany, as soon as the next election is safely over and Merkel no longer needs a coalition, she will be ditching their accelerated decommissioning programme for old nukes. This, incidentally, offers hilarious prospects: the old generation of lib-lefties consider the Atomkraft? Nein, Danke! campaign their major achievement in life – and they are all coming up to retirement age, with nothing better to occupy their days than reprising their finest hours on the picket-lines.

This gives Germany a very cheap way out of the bind, because their nukes really can have their lives prolonged at relatively low cost. Ours can’t. But the same thought-process raises the interesting question as to whether some of the old coal plants across the whole of Europe, currently scheduled to be closed under the EC’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (hence the looming shortfall in capacity), can have their lives extended.

My hunch is that it wouldn’t be particularly cheap, because the plants earmarked several years ago for closure under the LPCD won’t have had much more than essential maintenance carried out on them for quite a while. This tends to have a self-fulfilling result. But it could be quicker and cheaper than new-build – and very much so versus the timetable and cost for carbon-capturing plant, the latest fantasy-fiction.

Look forward to a decade of vehement, probably violent anti-coal protests. Arthur Scargill, eat your heart out.



Unsworth said...

I'm familiar with Dungeness. Frankly it's in very poor condition.

Depends on what you mean by 'essential maintenance' I suppose, but as far as I can see it means just doing the minimum to stop it all from going BANG!

And it's good-bye to Kent...

Nick Drew said...

Unsworth / Dungeness - I was really referring to LCPD coal plants when I said they'd moved onto a minimum maintenace regime: I hope (!) that nukes are regulated to a standard a bit higher than that (- am I wrong ??)

Anonymous said...

Unsworth, you may be familiar with the plant, but surely you jest (or exaggerate, for effect, perhaps)?

There just is no mechanism for those things going bang in quite the way you imply. We're not talking Chernobyl here, after all.

Unsworth said...

@ Anonymous

Well I guess we'll need to take you word for that. But, if you're wrong, will we be around to point that out......?

Unsworth said...

@ Nick

Like everything else, the regulations are there. The question is: are the resources?

When you walk around the station it feels like a decaying 1960's establishment, which after all is what it is. The whole thing is run to budget, rather than to high quality maintenance - in my view. Little things, you know, like painting, cleaning, clock-watching, a sort of canteen culture, and so on. It's all pretty relaxed. The site police are pretty much OK, but it's the operational side that worries me. I'm aware of some aspects of the cooling systems which are pretty bodged-up. They work - but not as originally designed and commissioned. It all just feels too laid back...

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's just that particular establishment. Maybe it's because so much is now outsourced.

rwendland said...

@Unsworth: Sleep easily.

Our gas-cooled reactors like Dungeness may be unreliable, massively uneconomic and have graphite cores shot to pieces by neutrons, but they have one advantage over Three-mile Island and Chernobyl - no water in them. So they cannot go bang in quite the same way!

Nick Drew said...

RW - which reminds me that oil-refineries can go bang if you get water in them

this used to happen periodically at the Fawley refinery on the Solent: a bit of water in an extremely hot distillation column ... high-pressure vapour under a large slug of crude oil ... boom, like firing a vertical cannon

a mighty cloud of oil droplets would shoot into the air, and with the usual SW wind, would drift over and land on Hamble

the Fawley management would then mobilise the Hamble Scramble - carloads of employees with fistfulls of fivers to pay off the good housewives of Hamble as their washing-lines started to bear evidence of what had happened

happy days

Unsworth said...

RW. Your counsel actually doesn't make my nights any more restful, I'm afraid, because GCRs and AGCRs themselves can be astoundingly dangerous. However, perhaps I can console myself with the thought that if it all goes terribly wrong:

"we will all go together when we go,
all suffused with an incandescent glow"

- to quote that eminent scholar and mathematician, T Lehrer.

rwendland said...

@Unsworth. I see you know quite a bit about GCRs. I was going for amusement with my post. And I forgot to add the final sentence I intended:

Just don't mention earthquakes.

If anyone wants to understand what could happen, at an accessible but fairly technical level, and has 45 mins or so to play a powerpoint presentation, try John Large's Oldbury Nuclear Power Station - Graphite Core Degradation presentation. (Use SlideShow/ViewShow)

It is about an older Magnox station, but much is a general GCR concern. The "like Jelly on a plate" line is a good one! As British Energy life-extend the AGRs to sweat more profit some of these risks will increase again.

NB Oldbury Magnox has been life-extended 1 year, and I live 20 odd miles away. At the moment I'm probably at more risk than you in Kent!

not an economist said...

"But now, Miliband has

“...asked officials to draw up a new coal plan to meet conflicting warnings about global warming emissions and a looming gap in Britain's energy supplies when old coal and nuclear plants are closed in the next decade” "

Does this mean that this especially odious member of this govt would now classify HIMSELF as (to use his own words) a Global Warming denier?

Sorry - this may sound like a rather arcane point to make but some of his speaches on global warming over the last few years have really got my goat, esp when he tried to subtly use the imagery of the holocaust to cast aspersions on the character and sincerity of people who are at best sceptical about global warming and the potential impact of the green environmentalist agenda on the health, wealth and general wellbeing of this (and other) countries.

Nick Drew said...

NOE - may be mixing yer Milipedes here: the new DECC model is Ed, rather than banana-boycan't speak for either of 'em, but I hope he's just dealing in Facts, however inconvenient

Unsworth said...

@ RW

Well, let's keep our fingers crossed - after all it's unlikely that there is any means of protection short of a paper bag over the head....

Magnox is really unimpressive - Dungeness is a Magnox establishment. It's clear that the commercial side dominates. I'm not surprised by the 'extension' at Oldbury. I suspect it will be further extended.

At the heart of this is the real concern about supply/demand (Peak Energy). In about five years (interesting timescale) we'll probably be seeing the effects, unless the current economic disaster has a major impact on demand - which frankly I doubt, bearing in mind current government lunacies.

I'm expecting BE profits to be entertaining in the long term.