Monday 12 November 2018

Nuclear Winter

I am on record as musing that there will be no more nukes built in the UK - including, just to make it interesting, Hinkley Point C.  News that Moorside has fallen by the way (*until someone else steps into Toshiba's shoes*, yeah, right) is clearly grist to that mill.  

However, the government's arithmetic on electrification of just about everything forces them down the nuclear road.  So all attention will now be on what they will come up with for the remaining "prospects" (Wylfa, Sizewell, Bradwell) by way of a financial package.  The counter to my negative hypothesis is of course that with enough government money you can indeed suspend the laws of gravity - for a time. 

But one has to suppose the developers will insist it is up-front money next time.  Which brings us back to Hinkley.  EDF has certainly been beavering away - the civil engineering is moving along purposefully.  But, famously, although the French screwed a handsome electricity price out of George Osborne, they don't get to trouser it until the beast is up and running.  And never mind all that dredging, earthmoving and concrete: construction of the Hinkley reactors is nowhere near being started. 

Hinkley Point C: mud, concrete, but not much else

In short, the sunk costs of Hinkley, whilst by now probably a couple of billion (they'd sunk nearly one billion before they started any work at all) would not be ruinous for EDF if they decided it wasn't worth the candle.  Obviously, Plan B would be to steam round to our resolute Prime Minister and demand some cash, threatening that Plan C would be to walk away: seeing how *helpful* she was back in 2016, when Hollande wagged his finger at her.

Still, it's not clear this would succeed a second time, not least because unless they get motoring, the chance to browbeat May could disappear forever.



GridBot said...

I think it's a bit tragic when articles (such as the first link above) infer that renewables are a magic bullet to everything.

There is a great book called "Sustainable Energy without the hot air" it really is excellent. No hyperbole. Just numbers and facts. and its free:

just look at this free book: (

look at page 103 Can we live on renewables. To summarise average energy consumption per capita in the UK on all activities is 195kWh/day. maximum theoretical (and i must stress theoretical) supply from all renewables is 180kWh/day assuming that all economic considerations are thrown to the wind.

It then proceeds to say that after the "public consultation" a more realistic renewable supply figure is 18kWh/day/person.

So No. We cant just live on renewables.

Surely the answer lies in a combination of the following:
old natural gas.
Old nuclear
new nuclear (modular pebble reactors and plenty of them)
new gas (combination of peaking plants such as those constructed by clark energy in south engalnd and district heating CCHP scaled accordingly)
Solar (using waste industrial space, house rooves - not farmers fields!)
Offshore wind
Demand side mechanisms (not giving a central power control to turn off, but incetivising users not to consume when the market is tight)


Anonymous said...

Just curious: how is it possible to spend £1 billion before even breaking ground? Where the hell does that money go?

DJK said...

Gridbot: 195 kwh/day is a peak value, the average is about half that (and has been constant for about 100 years). So renewables + storage matches supply and demand.

In any case, it is always possible to import power from sunny and/or windy countries.

Jan said...

The answer to whether renewables are feasible for all our energy needs lies in finding suitable ways of storing energy so we have some when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. There is some good work being done here with eg redox flow "batteries"/storage solutions using vanadium.

Nick Drew said...

anon - easy! It's "engineering" ... the share attributed to Hinkley of EDF's massive ongoing efforts to come up with an EPWR design that actually works. Check out the troubles they've had: in France; Finland; at the forging plant; with the French nuclear regulator, etc etc. Until they are done, to the latter's satisfaction (and maybe even to our regulators' satisfaction) they won't be starting on the reactors (beyond the concrete base, at least)

Gridbot - more thoughts from me after eveyone else has had a go

Raedwald said...

When I was a nipper, every town was just getting around to demolishing its gas / power plant in favour of the big grids. Town gas, it was called; coal gas, made from coal. Hydrogen 50%, Methane 35%, Carbon monoxide 10%, Ethylene 5%. Plus useful by-products.

I've asked before, but with thousands of years of coal reserves, why aren't we making coal gas? Hydrogen for internal combustion engines, methane for power. And the technology is so easy the capital cost would be low and delivery rapid.

Timbo614 said...

@Raedwald, The question is: Who will dig/mine it? We can't go back to mining as it was. No one is going hundrreds of feet underground with a pickaxe. So we would need to develop robots to do that?

L fairfax said...

Silly question why not make new Magnox, rather than spending a fortune on a new design?

Nick Drew said...

Mr R, L.fairfax - I don't have the engineering knowledge (or indeed general knowledge) to say whether town gas, or Magnox, are worth reviving. (On the latter, our occasional visitor Mr Wendland may know ...)

I will say that there are (or were) such enormous coal interests in this country that every avenue for new / revived coal uses has probably been explored energetically. May have mentioned before that plans for a new UK coal mine are being pressed forward right now! - an opencast working in Northumberland, which is actively seeking planning consent

GridBot - your list seems perfectly fair, pending a technology breakthrough we can only guess at. But I'd add batteries - not the current technology (& certainly not bloody Tesla), but there is loads of work going on towards something genuinely viable, which you have to think will play a role. Hydro merits a shout-out, too (including pump storage) - although of course we are geographically /geologically limited in the UK.

There is a lot more potential on the demand side, as you suggest - and general hyper-optimisation of the entire system as well - there are several companies working very cosntructively on this. If smart meters actually worked ...

Personally I would have liked more encouragement for the very latest "ultra-supercritical" coal-burning tech, but it ain't gonna happen.

I am dead set against biomass, which is now a noticeable % of the UK fleet. And I remain deeply skeptical about tidal: the lagoon is (I hope) dead in the water, so to speak

CityUnslicker said...

I wrote a really long comment that has not appeared, oh well. I shall be briefer:

1 - Iceland superconnector is now under real development, so free-ish hydro on demand if that works
2 - Nukes are done, just no need with rapidly falling costs of solar and wind
3 - for base load, fracking our own gas cleanly is the way forward.

The UK is one of the few countries that could actually move towards energy self-sufficiency once batteries and storage our sorted out in 20 years or so. When you think of the timeline of kit for energy, that is really no time at all. Govt subsidies available for all of the above so everyone can keep troughing on.

What I really want to see is some entrepreneurs fleece the Govt for carbon capture from the air - the best way ever to rinse liberals and lefties of the guilt. It will make the catholic church look like amateurs.

GridBot said...

Nick - Good call on the batteries,

"I'd add batteries - not the current technology (& certainly not bloody Tesla), but there is loads of work going on towards something genuinely viable, which you have to think will play a role."

Any tips for budding capitalists to invest in?

Nick Drew said...

I can give you a warning or two:

- there was a sudden rush of battery projects that obtained Capacity Market contracts two years ago. But

(a) they are struggling to make any more money on top of that CM revenue-stream (which they were very much expecting to do); there are arguably too many of them and the system rules aren't entirely favourable to them

(b) the technology isn't very good: not particularly % efficient; and performance degrades noticeably when hammered for a while

So for something really strategic & useful we are waiting for better tech, and modified system rules. Both will come.

In the meantime, the players that are interesting to me (incl Electron, LimeJump, Kiwi, GreenFrog, Ovo) are all privately held, of course - and likely to stay that way for years to come. Another warning, in case someone asks you to participate in a financing round: there will be casualties in that space ...

BlokeInBrum said...

We did some work for a company which was developing a Pumped Heat Energy Storage system.

Claimed energy recovery was something around 95%.

Alas they seemed to have gone bump most likely after all the subsidies dried up, however there still seems to be a fair amount of research still being carried on in that area.

I still think that until some sort of game changer comes along, things will remain pretty much as they are.