Thursday, 18 July 2019

Zero carbon by 2050? Make it 30 by 30!

BY ANDREW WARREN

This month the UK formally becomes the first G7 nation to adopt as a legally binding commitment that we shall be living in a net zero carbon economy in 30 years’ time.
It is a clear and bold commitment, that has rightly been lauded practically everywhere..

The few cynics have concentrated upon the undeniable fact that practically all of the politicians taking the plaudits will long since have quit the public stage, well before the magic year of 2050. And thus won’t be around to face any difficult  questions . Or indeed to accept the congratulations that will be due.

That is undeniably a fair point. Doubtless a good reason why many are calling for more immediate targets to be created.  Like the “30 by 30 Energy Efficiency Act.” 

What is this? Put simply, a firm commitment and programme to ensure that around 27 million homes and 3 million non-residential buildings will be made completely energy efficiency. Completed by 2030. Hence the slogan: 30 by 30. 

Already we have the genesis of this, created by Theresa May, who ceases being Prime Minister  this month. Back in 2017, she launched the Clean Growth Strategy for the next thirty years. This identifies the enormous economic potential for  business to save fuel. At least one-fifth could very cost-effectively be saved. Interestingly, the vast majority of this potential (over 80%)  was to be released not so much by improving industrial processes . But significantly  by improving the way buildings are run. 

Doubtless that was one of the main motivations why as Prime Minister she launched  last summer her “Buildings Mission” in a speech at the Jodrell Bank observatory complex in Cheshire.

She promised that within twelve years- in other words, by 2030 - energy usage in all new  construction will be “at least half” of that  permitted under current building regulations . 
“Heating and powering buildings accounts for 40% of our total energy usage.
By making our buildings more energy efficient and embracing smart technologies, we can slash household energy bills, reduce demand for energy, and meet our targets for carbon reduction”, promised Theresa May.
She continued: “By halving the energy use of buildings, we could reduce the energy bills for their occupants by as much as 50%.”
Subsequently the Government has confirmed that whilst such calculations will for the first time  include energy usage from appliances within their calculations, they will not include transport usage. Presumably that caveat is to remove any recharging of electric vehicles from assessments.
Describing her initiative as the “catalyst for new technologies and more productive methods”, which she maintained could be “exported to a large and growing market”, acknowledging the enormous potential to improve the existing building stock. 
As part of the “clean growth and grand challenge mission”, the Government is also aiming to halve the energy costs for the existing building stock - both domestically and commercially by “reaching the same standards in existing buildings too.” 

And not just delivering ecological benefits. The social benefits of  the 30 by 30 programme are uniquely broad. Fusing the public’s clear rejection of continuing austerity and cuts with the growing desire to tackle climate change , it make this the key capital infrastructure investment priority. 

It provides occupants with comfortable living conditions in cold winter and high summer. It requires a massive training programme, resulting  in a wide range of jobs, both skilled and unskilled. Already far more people are employed in manufacturing, distributing, installing and maintaining energy efficient equipment than in any other part of the energy sector. The programme offers new business and investment opportunities in every single constituency. And it will, at last, abolish the scourge of fuel poverty forever.

We know  the technical potential exists to cut energy consumption levels by  over 50%.Achieving this target will require the adoption of world-leading quality standards for retrofitting and constructing buildings. 

This is a genuinely ambitious project. After all, the vast majority of buildings we will be living and working in by 2050 have already been built. Upgrading these has been likened by civil servants charged with delivery as being much akin to the challenge set in President Kennedy inaugural speech in 1961. This was to see a man walk on the moon before the decade was out. 

At that point, nobody knew with any precision how this noble objective would be achieved. But that speech became the catalyst. It ensured that in July 1969, a man named Armstrong would walk upon the moon.

I don’t really think that realising this buildings’ Mission is anything like as difficult. Unlike with space research, we do already have practically all the technologies around to achieve our goal. It is the delivery techniques we have to improve upon. Do that. And we shall have knitted together the most effective social and environmentally beneficial programme. So, 30 by 30 it must be.

Andrew Warren is Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, and this post is reproduced from an article by him published in the July/August edition of 'Energy in Buildings and Industry', page 10

 Note from David Toke: I asked Andrew if I could post this article because I thought it was very important to do so. This fact is underscored by the fact that this is the first time I have EVER carried a contribution by anybody else on this energy blog!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Now EDF want us to pay for nuclear build cost overruns - tens of £billions down a nuclear black hole?

EDF is angling to get the UK Government to commit to pay what could be tens of billions of pounds  for  cost overruns on the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power project. This is part of the so-called 'Regulated Asset Base' (RAB) formula it wants the Government to adopt to fund the double plant power station. RAB is usually used for purposes where cost overruns occur much less frequently than they do with nuclear power stations. Usually they do not involve any commitment by the Government to pay for cost overruns.

Under this (RAB) system nuclear power is to be given a privileged postion (certainly not afforded to renewable energy plant) whereby its costs are guaranteed to be paid by the electricity consumer before the plant even starts generating any energy. But not only that, EDF wants the Government to effectively guarantee that anything above cost overruns of 30% are borne by the Government (with the electricity consumer or taxpayer footing the bill). The system is claimed to save consumers' money by allowing the project to be financed by the consumer (none of which have been asked of course). In reality, if applied to building new nuclear power plant, it is likely to do exactly the opposite and blow a great hole either in Treasury budgets, electricity consumer pockets, or both.

This means that we will be paying out increasing amounts once the construction period overruns by more than around 20 months. It should be borne in mind that construction of a similar reactor to that planned for Sizewell C (and also Hinkley C), at Flamanville in France, has already taken getting on for 12 years to build, far longer than the original plan to complete in 5 years. Flamanville already has cost overruns of over 200% compared to the original budget.

It is not too difficult to calculate the approximate minimum impact of construction overruns. This is because, on a rule of thumb basis, construction costs are akin to a multiple of the time taken to build them, plus additions to cover the cost of borrowing money to finance costs already incurred. Essentially, you have to employ a team (very large one in this case) of workers to do the job, and the longer you have to hire them the longer you have to carry on paying them.

Let's assume that EDF choose a slightly less implausible time to build the project at Sizewell C project than they did for Flamanville. Say they chose 7 years. In that case (still implausible compared to what they usually take in the West), then it would take less than 2 years of costs overruns before the Government would be expected to start carrying the can for the cost overruns.

It's going to be a very big can. Especially if, as I suspect, that EDF is projecting an implausibly short construction period. I have heard suggestions that Sizewell C's cost are going to be reduced by 25% compared to Hinkley C. How is that going to happen? It's the same design with the same highly specialised materials and parts that do not come off a production line. The only explanation is that they expect Sizewell C to be built in a short time compared to Hinkley C (whose real construction has hardly started). Another stab at doing it in 5 years? You must be joking! If they are planning on 5 years build time then the consumer will start paying for the cost overruns in under 6.5 years after the plant was started to be built.

I've been predicting for a long time that the Government would end up underwriting the costs of building nuclear power plant. It's likely to happen by stealth with Hinkley C anyway as costs mount, but in the case of Sizewell C, EDF seem to be going to get it written into the contract from the start. That could mean the state passing onto the electricity consumer tens of billions of pounds of costs for construction cost overruns.

Reference

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/business/sizewell-budget-meltdown-could-hit-taxpayers-under-edf-proposals-wrjdkdx20


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Offshore wind: the power source that could blow all other power sources away just on its own


As offshore wind technology fully blooms as its own distinct mass industrial technology producing power at low prices, and as the prospect of floating wind turbines comes closer, the potential for the technology threatens to eclipse everything else - at least in countries with a large waterline, such as the UK.

In reality solar pv technology costs are coming down at least as quickly, so that what is likely to happen in the coming years is that these two technologies will compete with each other (and onshore wind of course) for market share. Indeed such is the rate of cost reductions that some are now suggesting that the way to approach 100 per cent renewables targets is to minimise the use of batteries and other storage techniques, and simply to build gross overcapacity in wind and solar. That of course ushers in the possibility of uses for excess production, such as conversion to hydrogen, but that is another story.

The story here is that on its own the economic potential offshore wind available could generate over five times the anticipated total energy requirements for the UK in a 'net zero carbon' scenario. That is, based upon the Committee on Climate Change estimate that conversion to an all-electric economy supplied from low catbon sources would require 615 TWh of power generation in 2050. It could do this as the cheapest electricity source available - apart from solar power of course, with which the competition will probably be intense in the future.

BVG Associates, in collaboration with Wind Europe did a study two years ago of offshore wind potential in North Europe alone. It concluded that just on the basis of the North European exlusive economic zones (EEZ) (excluding Norway's EEZ) offshore wind could generate over 10,000 TWh a year - that's actually rather more than three times the current total of EU electricity consumption.

The development of floating wind turbines would be important to realise this for approaching half this potential - they are not yet as developed as the monopole or jacket based 'fixed' machines that are mostly used at the moment. But even here optimisation is being acheived quickly, with Equinor recently announcing a project near the Canaries with a capital cost that has dropped quickly, traveling towards the levels at which fixed offshore is at the moment. Rapid advances in improving turbine efficiency mean that even the criteria used by BVG Associates is being surpassed with the latest machines such as the 12 MW GE machine which, says GE, boasts a capacity factor of 63%.

Costs for the fixed offshore windfarms continues to plunge downwards, with the latest contact prices dropping well below below £50 per MWh for the Dunkirk offshore windfarm granted by the French authorities. These prices are very competitive with even power from gas fired power plant. Sceptics who say that such prices should be taken with a pinch of salt are being coinfounded by preparation for the commissioning of such projects, the first of these approx £50 per MWh schemes being the Danish Kriegers Flak scheme which is being installed as we speak (contract awarded in 2016). The latest British offshore wind auction, taking place now, is also expected to produce contracts with prices lower that the £57.50 per MWh (2012 prieces) issued in 2017.

Of course, the onward march of the offshore windfarms won't happen very quickly unless Government issues enough long term power purchase agreements, which they call 'contracts for difference' (CfDs)

Some References

Dunkirk offshore wind https://renewablesnow.com/news/edf-led-group-wins-600-mw-dunkirk-offshore-wind-tender-in-france-658075/

https://reneweconomy.com.au/norways-equinor-to-build-worlds-biggest-floating-wind-farm-near-canary-islands-88138/

https://theconversation.com/a-radical-idea-to-get-a-high-renewable-electric-grid-build-way-more-solar-and-wind-than-needed-113635

https://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/11/15/offshore-wind-power-vattenfall-denmark-record/

https://www.worldconstructionnetwork.com/news/vattenfall-commences-work-on-kriegers-flak-offshore-wind-farm/

http://www.vivideconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/20190522-CCC-Accelerated-Electrification-final-report.pdf - offshore wind potential pages 48-49 up to 642 GW (inc 352 fixed)

BVG Associates offshore wind regime Europe https://windeurope.org/wp-content/uploads/files/about-wind/reports/Unleashing-Europes-offshore-wind-potential.pdf
 gross potential of 10,000 GW and over 50,000 TWh page 27

Committee on Climate Change(CCC) (2019) ‘Net Zero Technical Report’



Saturday, 15 June 2019

Labour and energy nationalisation. Why power should be given to local councils, not the pro-nuclear GMB


Labour’s proposals to take the national and regional energy grid back  into public ownership may give a boost to workers’ interests  over shareholder profits, but the way the proposals are set out produces an increased risk of nuclear power being given priority over renewable energy.  Put simply that is because the way the proposals are structured means more power to the GMB in particular, a body which is very pro-nuclear and which is relatively hostile to renewable energy and  a smart energy network.


Labour announced the plan, in May, to take the transmission and distribution energy structure into public ownership, as well as plans to set up a ‘National Energy Agency’ (to run the National Grid), Regional Energy Agencies (to run regional distribution), and give opportunities for municipal ownership of distribution on a local basis.

This plan can achieve traditional Labour Movement objectives, but its impact on pushing forward a green agenda is doubtful. Put bluntly, the more that power is given to  bodies that will be  influenced by organisations like the GMB (who favour centralised power station solutions), the less useful will be the outcome. The proposals make a gesture in favour of municipalisation, but for most places the reality will be central control.

A good case can be made out that the privatisation of the energy infrastructure monopolies (the electricity and gas grids) did not lower consumer bills; it merely transferred money from the labour force (by reducing its numbers and pay) to the private owners/shareholders. Piketty has written much about how income has been transferred from labour to capital, and monopoly energy infrastructure might make a good example of this trend. Public ownership could reverse this in this sector, albeit in the context of an argument about how much compensation the private shareholders should be paid.

However, if the (currently) putative national and regional energy agencies are set up, and as the Labour plan says, they  oversee decarbonising targets, there is little doubt in which direction policy on this topic will shift – towards nuclear power and away from  a decentralised renewable energy system. Currently the National Grid Company has been making noises in the direction of a more flexible, renewable energy, based system. 

Yet under a centrally controlled energy network, under Labour plans,  policy power would pass to a quango which could be much more easily influenced by trade unions. That, of course, as a matter of principle, is not bad. The problem is that the most important union in this sector (the GMB) has shown explicit hostility towards renewable energy and the ‘smart’ energy systems needed to integrate it.

For example, in 2016 Justin Bowden, the National Secretary of the GMB, described National Grid’s promotion of a ‘smart energy revolution’ as ‘fanciful nonsense’. Instead he promoted new nuclear power plants. Earlier this year Justin Bowden was again attacking National Grid plans for more electricity interconnectors, and in the same press release the GMB attacked the performance of solar power and wind power. 

The GMB has consistently urged the Government to shore up plans for nuclear power stations with state money. This is despite the fact that the nuclear power plant are taking decades to deliver at  very high costs for the energy consumer and almost certainly also the public finances.

Of course the GMB is guided by its members, and many of them work in nuclear power stations. Fair enough. But why should this fact dominate UK energy policy? Yet Labour’s centralist dominated proposals seem destined to achieve just this. Of course there is mention about how local authorities will have an option to take over their local grids, but the usual practice will be centralised ownership. Clearly the Labour plans are wrong. 

Control over the grid should be given to local authorities as a matter of course, perhaps in consortia (certainly at a national, transmission, level). Local authorities are influenced by the local electorate and local citizen groups. They will be sympathetic to green energy priorities. On the other hand centrally owned quangos  will be insulated from such democratic input and will be under the thumb of the existing  industrial establishment. Innovation will go out of the window.

People forget that in 1948 the electricity industry was not taken into public ownership. It was already largely owned by local authorities. It was nationalised, yes, but this was primarily an act of centralisation, not public ownership. What we need today is more decentralisation, not control by the dead hand of the fading industrial establishment.

References






Thursday, 23 May 2019

Academics tell Labour that its support for nuclear power prevents it from achieving its own plans for renewable energy


Published below is a memorandum from the 'Red Lion Group' of 12 academics, to the Labour Party Shadow Energy Secretary, which sets out how Labour's support for new nuclear power prevents the achievement of its plans for renewable energy. This means that Labour's plans to give many £billions of state support for new nuclear power will merely replace cheaper renewable energy. The analysis was based on projections for energy demand used by the Committee on Climate Change.

Review of the CCC's projections of energy supply and demand
Letter to Shadow Energy Secretary from 12 academics and policy analysts

Dr Ian Fairlie, consultant, former Government advisor (for correspondence)
Emeritus Professor Andrew Blowers, Open University
Emeritus Professor Dr Godfrey Boyle, Open University
Dr Tom Burke, Visiting Professor, Imperial College and University College
Emeritus Professor Dr David Elliott, Open University
Dr Philip Johnstone, SPRU, University of Sussex
Dr David Lowry, senior research fellow, IRSS, Cambridge, MA, US
Ms Samantha Mason, policy advisor, PCS Union
Mr Peter Roche, editor, UK Nuclear News
Professor Andrew Stirling, FAcSS, SPRU, University of Sussex
Emeritus Professor Steve Thomas, University of Greenwich
Dr David Toke, Reader in energy policy, University of Aberdeen

Carbon Reduction Targets
Labour has recently announced plans to expand both renewable energy (RE) and nuclear power[1] to reduce carbon emissions. But our projection below, based on key parameters set out recently by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)[2], demonstrates that Labour’s targets for carbon reduction would be achieved more quickly and cheaply by focussing solely on renewable energy (RE) and excluding new nuclear power. If a Labour Government were to back more nuclear, this would mean less renewable energy would be used. As discussed below, there is more than enough planned RE available to meet CCC (and Labour) carbon reduction targets by 2030. Giving nuclear power financial advantages over renewable energy through direct state investment, Treasury loan guarantees, insurance indemnities and R&D support will mean that taxpayers and electricity consumers will be paying more than if renewable energy sources alone were used. According to the CCC’s recent report, using RE to reduce carbon emissions reduces costs to consumers, whereas nuclear power adds to them[3].

Renewable energy potential
The CCC’s report says: ‘... updated resource estimates, in line with other assessments, suggest potentials for 29-96 GW of onshore wind, 145-615 GW of solar power and 95-245 GW of offshore wind in the UK’[4]. (Other RE sources, such as wave, tidal and biomass, were omitted by the CCC.) We can convert the CCC’s cited potentials into annual power generation by applying the most recent available capacity factors[5] as a guide to future generation capacities. This is done by us in Table 1.

Table 1 – Our analysis of CCC’s estimates for potential UK renewable energy generation
(for justification of capacity factors -see endnote 4)

Offshore wind
Onshore wind
Solar PV
Total
CCC’s “Low Capacity” estimate (GWe)
95
29
145
269
Our assumed capacity factors[6]
63%
30%
14%
-
Our Low generation estimate (TWh/year)
524
76
178
778

Projected electricity demand
In 2018, the UK’s annual electricity generation was 335 TWh. Under its carbon reduction plan, the CCC estimates UK annual electricity demand will be 365 TWh in 2030 and 645 TWh in 2050[7]. These figures take account of the increasing trend for energy in transport and building heating sectors to be incorporated into the electrical power sector, where it is more efficient[8]. Hence even using the CCC’s“Low Capacity” for wind and solar power, our key RE estimate of 778 TWh/year from table 1 shows there would be considerably more electricity generating capacity than that required to meet demand in both 2030 and 2050 – even when other renewable energy sources (biomass, tidal, wave, etc) are excluded, and even using the CCC’s lowest estimates for RE.

% Generation from RE: Labour’s Plan for 2030
According to the CCC: ‘Our power sector scenarios for 2030 include 75-85% of electricity generation being met through low-carbon sources’ [9]. In fact, Labour’s plans for RE already more than meet this, as Labour has projected 52 GWe of new offshore wind for 2030[10]. Taking into account the increased capacity factors for the latest wind turbines, a new 52 GWe offshore wind fleet would deliver around 70% of the 365 TWh of electricity demand projected by the CCC in 2030[11]. Added to the 24% from existing renewable energy would amount to 94% of electricity supply in 2030. Add Sizewell B’s contribution (2%) and there is not even enough room for Hinkley C’s output (were it to ever overcome its manifest problems), never mind onshore wind, solar PV and the other renewables.

More nuclear power would mean less renewable energy
The reality is that Labour’s renewable energy and nuclear plans are in conflict. Labour’s plan to support more (highly subsidised) nuclear power would mean less (much cheaper) RE being used, not less gas generation.Such is the potential for quick and cheap deployment of renewable energy (whose costs are still falling) that Labour’s targets would be easily achieved, even if the mooted Hinkley C were cancelled. Indeed, in order to make space for Labour’s published RE plans, Hinkley C would have to be cancelled. In our view, this would be a sensible step for other reasons, including its spiralling construction costs, EDF’s poor finances, ever-lengthening construction timetable, state security questions, its high electricity prices, legal obstacles, and serious technical flaws yet to be resolved in its French prototype under construction.

System costs for renewable energy
According to the CCC report which drew on work by Imperial College, the costs of integrating high levels of penetration of fluctuating renewable energy sources could be reduced to ‘to £20/MWh or below’ by measures of system flexibility[12]. The report adds ‘It is worth installing wind up to the cost of alternative forms of generation (e.g. nuclear or CCS at £70-80/MWh). Various analyses differ as to what this limit is, although some studies have shown that overall system costs continue to decline until penetrations reach over 80%’.[13]

Lower RE costs
NB. CCC assume some energy saving but Labour should plan for more. That would make it even easier to avoid nuclear and reduce supply needs.Offshore wind contracts for £57.50 per MWh in 2012 were considerably lower than the (much longer) contracts offered for Hinkley C at £92.50 per MWh (its 2012 price: in 2019, over £106). This nuclear contract was further supported by several £billions of loan guarantees unavailable to wind or solar projects. In recent years, wind and solar PV projects have been built for around £50 per MWh without government-backed long-term contracts. Many more onshore wind and solar PV projects would be forthcoming if offered long-term CfDs, and these would be for less than £50 per MWh. Clearly, offshore and onshore wind and solar power are more cost-effective than nuclear power. In addition, they can be added online more reliably and quickly compared to nuclear plants.



[1]https://labour.org.uk/press/tory-energy-cancellations-risk-power-20-million-homes-rebecca-long-bailey/
[2] Committee on Climate Change(CCC) (2019) ‘Net Zero Technical Report’
[3] ibid Table 2.3 page 43
[4] ibid, page 26
[5] That is, the percentage of potential power output actually realised on an annual basis
[6] The latest 12MW GE wind turbine boasts a capacity factor of 63%, bi-facial solar PV installed by Gridserve
will increase production by 20% and new systems such as LiDAR are boosting onshore wind performance
[7] See CCC (2019) endnote 2
[8] see CCC report, endnote 2, for more details
[9]See CCC (2019) endnote 2, page 43

[10]See David McPhee, 26/09/2018 ‘Labour pledge ‘seven-fold’ increase in offshore wind at conference’

[11] This assumes an average capacity factor for the offshore wind fleet of 56% - less than current ‘best’ of 63% (see endnote 6)
[13]See CCC (2019) in previous endnote


Friday, 17 May 2019

Why we may be heading for a Tory 'no deal' General Election

And how the only chance of stopping a Tory 'no dealer' winning that election is for Labour to declare its full, unqualified, support for another referendum on UK EU membership

Barring some miracle and Mrs May manages to stay in office as PM until much later in the year it looks almost certain that the next Tory leader will be pledged, in effect, to 'achieve' a 'no-deal' Brexit at the end of October this year.

There will be a Leadership election in which it is highly likely the winning candidate will promise to attempt to 'renegotiate' the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement to remove the backstop ( a la the 'Brady' plan), and failing that, to leave the EU as early as possible. This will probably mean the end of October. Given that the EU will not abandon the firm wishes of the Irish Republic to avoid a hard border, and assuming that the Tories will reject having separate trading and customs arrangements for Northern Ireland, then this leaves 'no deal' as the only option acceptable to a likely future Tory Leader.

The Tory grassroots, (who make the final choice between two candidates selected by the MPs) are almost certain to back a 'no deal' candidate, assuming at least one of the two candidates put to them is that way inclined! The polarisation at the Euro elections, leaving the Tories well behind the Brexit Party will give little succour to any Tory looking for a compromise Brexit.

In fact the Tory Govt is in a perilous Parliamentary position. It has just a nominal majority of 4 even with the DUP's continued support. That may not  survive the end of October when the Commons could well vote against a No deal (even to revoke Article 50), and leave the Government without any majority at all, - either that or the country would tumble into a chaotic exit with the Government taking the blame. Indeed that is what Corbyn would prefer to see in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. Far better, from the Tory Leader's point of view, is to call an election (an offer Labour couldn't refuse) before the end of October. It would be an election, effectively about a 'no deal' Brexit. The Tories, (with most Remainer Tory MPs being cowed into submission) would have a coherent message.

But this would be perilous for Labour, because, if the more pro-EU vote splintered among Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, PC, ChangeUK and Labour, a right wing Tory Govt could be given a mandate for 5 years. By promising to leave at the end of October without any strings, the Tories could recapture most of the votes lost to the Brexit Party in the EU elections. Meanwhile if Labour continued with its ambivalent position it could lose - big time.

The only way that Labour could possibly win such an election would be to marshall the pro-EU vote by putting itself forward as the only Party able to deliver another referendum on the EU. Any other election stance - eg a continuation of the the present ambivalence - would play into the hands of a united pro-Brext front which would now be consolidated behind the Tories.

Corbyn has no other choice but to make an EU referendum the unequivocal Labour pledge under this scenario.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Committee on Climate Change sinks nuclear power in the UK in favour of renewables



Few people seem to have noticed how the Committee on Climate Change, in their 'Net Zero' report (net zero carbon emissions for 2050 for the UK), have effectively junked nuclear power in favour of renewable energy[1].


 Indeed a careful reading of the evidence produced by the CCC completely upends the former received wisdom that renewable energy could not, on its own, achieve the UK's long term carbon emission reduction targets. The late David McKay's argument (see 'Sustainable Energy without hot air') that large quantities of nuclear power were necessary have been quietly sidelined by the CCC. Rather, the evidence presented by the CCC says that not only can renewables do the whole job (on the supply side, having taken account of demand reduction measures), but renewables can do things much more cheaply than either nuclear power or carbon capture and storage. 

The CCC argues that investment in renewable energy will save consumers money, whilst investment in nuclear power and carbon capture and storage will cost a lot of money (eg see Table 2.3 page 43).

The CCC estimate renewable energy resources to be very large. According to the CCC: ‘Our updated resource estimates, in line with other assessments, suggest potential for 29-96 of GW of onshore wind, 145-615 GW of solar power and 95-245 GW of offshore wind in the UK’[2]

This is very interesting because if you turn this into electricity generated then even under the 'low' estimate the potential for  just wind and solar will provide all of the electricity needed for a net zero energy economy in the UK. That's not even counting other renewable energy sources, including biomass and marine renewables, and I believe there is great potential in tidal and wave power if they can exploit niche application to build up their economics. 

I analyse the numbers in the Table below. 

Analysis of Committee of Climate Change estimates for potential renewable energy generation in UK


Offshore wind
Onshore wind
Solar PV
Total
Low capacity estimate (GWe)
95
29
145
269
High capacity estimate (GWe)
245
96
615
954
Assumed capacity factor
63%
30%
14%
N/A
Low estimate for generation (TWh/year) (3)
524
76
178
778
High estimate for generation (TWh/year)
1352
252
754
2358

The CCC estimated that total UK electricity demand to be, under its carbon reduction plan, 365 TWh in 2030 and 645 TWh in 2050 This compares to 335 TWh in 2018. Hence, under the 'high' estimate for wind and solar, renewable energy could supply nearly four times the total electricity requirement in a net zero energy economy. That is one under which transport and heating services are supplied through electricity as well as other services. 

Of course there's a crumb of comfort offered for nuclear power. Their costs might come down. But I've got a dose of cold shower here: nuclear costs have not gone down for decades. Why should they do so now? Moreover, renewable energy costs have been coming down a lot in recent years. Why shouldn't this trend continue?

Alas, news of all of this doesn't seem to have reached may of our senior policymakers who talk endlessly on the same old discourse about how nuclear is needed or else the lights will go out. Clearly they won't, except that is because the country is spending so much money on paying for nuclear cost overruns that we can't afford to pay our bills! 

Yet the Labour Party, who may be forming the next Government in the next year, are clinging to their pro-nuclear stance. Again, few people seem to be objecting to this, even though it is clear that most of the 'green' money promised by John McDonnell will be flowing into a nuclear black hole rather than renewables or energy efficiency! 

Shouldn't we be talking more about this?


[1] Committee on Climate Change (2019), ‘Net Zero Technical Report’,


[2] ibid, page 26
(3) The latest 12MW GE wind turbine boasts a cf of 63%, bi-facial solar pv installed by Gridserve will increase production by 20% and use of systems such as LiDAR are boosting onshore wind performance