Wednesday 27 May 2009

Yet More Realism on Energy Policy

A month ago we reported that a new wave of realism had swept through the DECC (crazy name, crazy logo), and sure enough, a few days later, along came Ed Miliband’s brutally cunning new plan for coal.

We are pleased to say that the new realism continues unabated. This, from a senior DECC official – who can’t be named, it wasn’t that sort of occasion, but it’s verbatim:

The development of considerable amounts of new nuclear capacity – which is base-load – and considerable amounts of new renewables capacity – which is intermittent – is potentially incompatible

Nice civil service understatement, there.

and would result in the need for a great deal more grid interconnection with mainland Europe. The National Grid is working a lot of scenarios

What this refers to, is that the only way Denmark and northern Germany manage (just about) to tolerate so much lame wind-powered generation is that they have ready access to the instantly-available back-up from Scandinavia’s plentiful hydro-power, to which they are connected. We aren’t. The UK’s hydro resource is de minimis.

So - Whitehall knows the score: this is all about Telling Truth to Power. About Power. If you see what I mean. Hopefully, the grown-ups are listening.

Meanwhile, National Grid are loving it. The crazier the UK’s electricity generation mix, the more they have to invest to accommodate it all – at guaranteed rates of return ! What’s not to like ?



Simon Fawthrop said...

The grown-ups are listening, sadly none of them are in Government or the commentariat.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that huge amounts of wind power are generated in Spain; apparently a much higher percentage than is normally reckoned to be safe for grid connection.

What's different? Is it not true? Have they more reliable wind, or a different grid setup, or what happens to it?

Demetrius said...

I generate a great deal of wind, alas not reliable enough to power my home. A pity because as the figures stand, unless we reduce energy use in the UK by up to thirty per cent we could be in trouble. I recall the winter of early 1955 in Germany when a blocking windless high froze the rivers for two months. Luckily we had a large heap of coal to keep us going and back up generators.

Nick Drew said...

Anon - Spain has a lot of hydro-power too.

Plus, they never really broke the regional power-generating monopolies & subsidy regimes. Anything's possible if you don't mind throwing money at it !

roym said...

Whats the potential for hydro here? I read somewhere that the Scottish Govt were mad keen on it. Would they have a heart and send some of it southwards?

I thought spain was in trouble with regards to drought conditions over the past couple of years?

Anonymous said...

Time to invest in companies that make supply and fit HV submarine power cables me thinks. Then set the SAT-NAV for the French coast. See wind and froggy lectric at:-

Nick Drew said...

Surprisingly little, Roy - and there's every incentibve to exploit any potential that does exist.

Though not an engineer, I'm forced to conclude we ain't gonna solve our problems that way by our own hydro - we need to import it from Norway

(maybe via Holland, which is getting itself a Nordic connection)

rwendland said...

ND: I thought underwater HVDC lines (including the hairy AC/DC converters) had about 98% availability, with about a 1% unanticipated fault downtime. That's about 4 days per year unanticipated downtime. Is that a lot better than the fabled windless cold winter mornings, which at least have several hours of warning to bring up old standby plant, unlike a HVDC line crashing out which does indeed need instantly-available back-up?

Isn't the real answer appropriate diversity? And perhaps more use of demand-management contracts (e.g. for heavy industrial users like the smelters)?

rwendland said...

Hang-on ND. Could you have misunderstood the DECC official. The intermittent wind + grid interconnection with mainland Europe argument is stand-alone, and not much to do with other base-load generation like nuclear.

Could his real point be that if wind + nuclear capacity exceeds base-load demand then at windy times the price set by the Gas base-load generators will no longer be the base-load floor price, so both nuclear and wind will get less income? And we would want more HVDC lines to export the surplus at night, as well as import leccy at peak times? And the nuclear lobby is jumping up and down on him about this.

Nick Drew said...

RW - I am a big fan of diversity, and interconnection, and demand-side management (which, like conservation, has huge unrealised potential). Can't comment on the unreliability of HVDC lines, except to say - build several !

Diversity can be hard to price, unless it comes in coordinated clusters (e.g. a wind-farm combined with pump-storage): the Grid should be exerting itself to facilitate this.

You could be right that the argument for more interconnection is to shift surplus nuke baseload BUT isn't it utterly out of the question that UK wind + nuke could be as big as that inside, say, 20 years ?

My interpretation is that when there seemed no prospect of old nuke being replaced 1-1 by new nuke, then wind + carbon-thermal (coal, gas) is at least a technically feasible combo, even if a lot less efficient than the windies pretend.

Now, if we take EDF's wilder statements at face value (= 4 new nukes by 2020 or some such nonsense), we can at least contemplate the sustaining of a high nuke baseload: and wind + nuke + much-less-carbon-thermal is altogether an uglier proposition for grid-balancing.

That's how I heard it, anyway.

rwendland said...

ND Yes, it is hard to see this being a base-load price problem within 20 odd years. But I guess it is a worrying factor in the nuke proposal financial spreadsheets. It would be within thier investment recovery time horizon.

BTW If we ever get a lot of tidal power - like the severn barrage, the cycles there will make handling intermittent wind look easy! I'd have thought this should be the nuc-fans main take-out target.

NB Have you looked at this MIT EU-ETS effect on UK generation paper? Generally interesting, and especially the Monthly Generation by Plant Type, 2002-2007 chart. I had not appreciated that in the UK it has been coal not gas that is the main seasonal variation switcher, unlike most other countries. I'd guessed that is to best use the limited hours remaining on some plants under the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive, but the paper has more complex explanations. Nice 2002-2007 cost charts as well.

Nick Drew said...

thanks for the link, RW.

yes, the general UK rule for a good number of years has been: gas is at the margin, = power-price-setting, in winter (seasonally high gas prices, so coal = cheap = baseload); coal at the margin in summer (demand low, gas-year comes to an end in Sept, take-or-pay 'penalties' loom, gas prices slump, gas-generation base-load)

the only reason this doesn't operate so clearly on the Continent has been distorted gas markets (and, in several countries, very much less gas-fired power gen in the fleet)