Thursday, 30 April 2015

Move over fossil fuels, renewables take over worldwide generation installation

As Bloomberg says (see below), time is running out for fossil fuels as installation of renewable electricity generation exceeds installation of fossil fuels. Now that's not yet a lead in electricity production itself, as fossil fuel power plant usually have a higher capacity factor compared to renewables, but at the current rate of change it won't be long until the amount of new electricity production from renewables exceeds new electricity production from fossil fuel power plant. Of course, nuclear is nowhere to be seen. Indeed, as the World Nuclear Status reports indicate, nuclear power's share of global electricity production is actually falling. The are still the usual projections of significant nuclear expansion, but as usual such plans usually fail to materialise.

There is more work being done on integrating renewables, both in developing hardware such as energy storage through schemes organised by Elon Musk and others, and software work to develop more flexible systems based on decentralised despatch of energy. In fact a study by Frauhofer Institute indicates that surprisingly little amounts of energy need to be stored to service energy economies such as those existing in Germany.

Very big falls in wind and solar costs are being observed. Currently, for example, in South Africa, wind projects are being installed for less than £40 per MWh (less than 6 cents/kWh) and in the USA at around 6 cents/kWh. Yesterday Germany announced 'auction' results for ground mounted solar pv at prices of £66 per MWh.

Of course we can expect the dinosaurs to carry on fighting and twitching. In Germany the coal industry is fighting a strong rearguard action to defend its subsidies. In the UK the nuclear industry in the guise of EDF negotiated a proposed 35 year deal for premium prices and £10 billion pounds worth of loan guarantee to try and present a price of £92.50 per MWh as 'cheap'. It seems unlikely to happen, even on those terms, but the pressure for open-ended financing of nuclear power and more incentives for fossil fuels continues. So the renewables lobby and their supporters among NGOs and the green movement have to carry on pushing strongly for a decentralised renewables future.

See some sources below:

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

How the REAL chaos will come with the Conservatives after the referendum

The real possibility of chaos after the election would not come with a Labour Government backed by the SNP and others, but with a Conservative-led Government leading the country into a referendum.  Of course one assumes that David Cameron would contrive to argue to stay in the EU, and that it is most likely that the UK will vote to stay in the EU. That is not the point.

Just as the 1975 referendum was followed by a losing but resurgent Labour left gaining dominance in the Labour Party, and just as the SNP, despite losing the independence referendum are now poised to make major gains in the General Election, so the Tory right would grow much stronger within the Tories after an EU referendum. What would be especially nasty for the Tories is that during the referendum campaign the Europhobes inside the Tories will have formed a common movement with UKIP. 

The resulting political realignment would probably destroy the Conservative Party as we know it. It will surely put them out of office for many years. Perhaps this looming chaos is what has convinced David Cameron to announce his early departure from being Prime Minister.

This scenario is something the Liberal Democrats should think long and hard about as they consider their position in what could be a knife edge Parliamentary position after May 7th. They will not only have to think about whether a majority of a few seats for a continued coalition will really last 4-5 years or whether they could be in a government that could be brought down within 2-3 years – not just by  election defeats but by a civil war within the Conservatives involving a high possibility of defections to UKIP. The Liberal Democrats could end up being sucked down a whirlpool in the process.

It is highly ironic, therefore, that the Tories should now be (practically only) campaigning about a so-called SNP blackmail of Ed Miliband. In fact the SNP have few high cards to play – they have little choice but to end up backing Labour rather than bringing the Tories back into office – because if they did the SNP would lose their newly won seats to Labour at the following election!

But by contrast, a Conservative Government set on course for a referendum that will only generate a right wing activist anti-establishment movement in the process is heading for self-destruction. Little in British politics could compete with the chaos that will result from that. If any election was politic for the Conservatives to lose, and for Labour to win it is this one – for long term Tory interests if not Labour’s! But before we drown ourselves in cynical hopes, we should know of course that we should avoid a referendum that has declining support amongst the electorate and focus on getting some more equality back into the economy. Not to mention some ecological sustainability.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Tories plan huge waste of UK renewable energy resources - and UKIP want to scrap acid rain as well as carbon laws

Nearly 5GWe of onshore wind power schemes already given planning permission and a further 5 GWe awaiting planning consent face the prospect of not having the finance to be installed  if the Conservatives win the election in May. The Tories are promising that onshore wind will not be funded after 2020. Their manifesto proclaims a desire 'to halt the spread of onshore windfarms'. But they will back nuclear power and gas fired power stations. Yet the Conservative manifesto pronounces that; 'We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible'. The contrast between the pledge to give local people a say over proposed windfarms and a refusal to allow the same for fracking is breathtaking.

So, how can nuclear power, whose already expensive Hinkley C government price tag is proving an underestimate as the scheme falters, be 'cost-effective', even when the government claims for its cost are a lot more than onshore renewables? And how can more gas fired power stations cut carbon emissions when the average amount of carbon per kWh of electricity consumed is already down to the level of power from a gas fired power station? There is no mention at all of solar power in the Conservative manifesto, and the only specific renewables that appear in the manifesto are offshore wind and the Swansea tidal power scheme, for which, as mentioned in a recent blog post, there is no prospect of necessary government support.

So, the Conservatives, even on paper, are heading for a more expensive carbon reduction strategy. Given the likely failure of the nuclear new build programme, even the claimed carbon reductions from that will not happen.

As I said earlier, what is really happening is a massacre of the UK's currently consented wind power portfolio, which the Lib Dems have failed to prevent within the coalition. Some of the 10 GWe of wind power schemes under threat will not gain planning consent, and some will be awarded so-called 'contracts for difference' (CfDs) under the Government's current programme of awarding contracts through auctions under electricity market reform (see previous blog post). But I estimate that at least 5GWe of already planned onshore wind projects that have or will get planning consent will be left stranded with no premium price contracts - and won't be implemented. This represents on its own over 3 per cent of UK electricity consumption - no doubt much  more would be forthcoming if it were not for the threat of the Tory axe. Very few solar farms are being awarded CfDs. No wonder the accountants are writing down the UK as an investment possibility for renewables. See report at

The Lib Dems are promising in their manifesto a 60 per cent 'indicative' target for renewable energy as a share of electricity by 2030. But, given the Tory manifesto such a pledge seems dead in the water if there is another Tory-Lib Dem coalition, or even a Tory minority government where influence on the specifics of energy policy would be even weaker. The Lib Dems could gain a specific target only in a coalition or deal with Labour who have pledged complete electricity decarbonisation by 2030. A specific target for renewable energy is important, for otherwise Labour may rely on fantasy nuclear power stations and CCS projects that usually don't happen to provide the bulk of the target. Labour is promising to give the task of deciding the content of their decarbonisation programme to a committee, I assume of the great and the good in the increasingly out-of-date centralised power station industry. But of course, do not get me wrong, a Labour-led Government is much, much, preferable to the increasingly energy-atavistic Tories whose biggest concern seems to be placating stone-age UKIP leaders.

The Green Party is the most specific about targets for renewable energy, and also the most realistic since they do not rely on nuclear power to achieve carbon reduction targets. They don't specify complete decarbonisation of electricity but would set a regulation so that, in effect, carbon emissions would be reduced to 10 per cent or less of what they are now by 2030. The Green party set ambitious targets from offshore wind and solar pv to be achieved by 2020.

The SNP manifesto is generally supportive of renewable energy, focussing particularly on offshore wind and also connecting up Scottish islands to the mainland so that they can develop renewable energy more efficiently and economically. That is one issue where they can be reasonably confident of achieving concessions from a Labour Government, and presumably the Lib Dems would not object. It is a pity that the SNP manifesto did not also mention solar pv, however. In the past, at least, some SNP people have mistakenly seen solar pv as a 'southern Tory' resource. In fact the difference between Surrey and Scotland in terms of solar pv output and economics is much more marginal than many people assume.

As for UKIP, well, oh dear. I'm surprised that this 'back to the 50s' party are not demanding a return to steam powered trains! They have, perhaps predictably, opposed subsidies for wind and solar power, demanded the repeal of the Climate Change Act, but more curiously highlight a wish to scrap the 'Large Combustion Plant Directive'. For the uninitiated the LCPD is an EU Directive issued originally way back in the 1980s designed to curb acid emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides. Not content with wishing to promote carbon emissions, UKIP appears to want to promote acid rain as well. I mean why worry about a few fish swimming around in the rivers, or Norwigian's who used to complain about us dumping acid rain into their rivers?


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Faults found in EPR rector core threaten projects in France, China and the UK

As if things were not bad enough for the prospect of completing constructions of the ailing European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design, things have now gotten worse with the discovery of a serious flaw in the reactor design. This threatens the future of the already very late EPR at Flamanville in France, but also may threaten the completion of two (also late) EPRs being built in Taishan, China, the disastrously late plant at Olikuoto Finland and the increasingly unlikely plans for a twin reactor for Hinkley C in the UK (see previous blog post). This is because the company that produced the faulty reactor also makes parts for the other EPRs.

This turn of events has been dubbed 'a disaster for French nuclear power' by Le Parisien newspaper. According to Reuters the French nuclear regulators (ASN) have been told that tests 'had shown that in certain zones of the reactor vessel and cover of the EPR there was a significant concentration of carbon, which weakens the mechanical resilience of the steel and its ability to resist the spreading of cracks.....' .AREVA (the French state owned nuclear constructors)  'declined to comment on whether the tests would lead to new delays for Flamanville and impact three other EPRs under construction, one in Olkiluoto, Finland, two in Taishan, China.'

There is interest in the impact on the Chinese reactors insofar a) the extent to which the reactors for China are being made by the same company as is supplying the French parts b) the way that the Chinese regulatory authorities will respond to any problems that may exist. In the past the French nuclear regulator has complained about a lack of cooperation with their Chinese regulatory counterparts.
Updates: 1) Chinese safety regulators say that Taishan plant will not be commissioned until safety issues addressed - Chinese regulators will cooperate with French nuclear regulators. See
2) French nuclear safety chief dubs reactor flaws as 'very serious'. Analysts are lining up to pronounce doom for the UK new nuclear programme and the French nuclear industry as a whole. See
3) 'A disaster for French nuclear power';

Other sources:

Friday, 3 April 2015

EDF abandons Hinkley C project after Chinese demands cannot be met

As EDF has for the umpteenth time put back of the date of its 'final investment decision' on the building the Hinkley C nuclear power station, it has emerged that key stumbling blocks are two very tough demands being made by the Chinese nuclear companies on the British and French Governments. EDF has suspended its work on the project. It has been a marvel how the 'groundwork' has been carrying on for so long. I suppose you could call it a job creation activity digging holes in the ground for probably little purpose.

The Chinese nuclear interests, who are needed to provide a large part of the equity investment in the project, are demanding that the French Government agrees to carry the can and pay for cost overruns on the project. Given the delays and thus cost overruns in the four EPR projects currently being built in Finland, France and China, cost overruns seem a racing certainty if Hinkley C goes ahead. So in this way the Chinese are only being rational.

Chinese nuclear interests are demanding that, in effect, the British Government give them the go-ahead to build a Chinese reactor design at a future power project at Bradwell in Sussex. In other words, it seems that the Chinese are interested in the Hinlkey project in so far as it can advance their interests in getting into the British electricity market.

But there are big problems with the idea that either the French or the British government will or can agree to these demands. In the case of France, it is already trying to fund the massive deficit in an effectively bankrupt (albeit state owned) nuclear industry, including the massive debts accrued by constructors AREVA in its development of the EPR reactor. The nuclear interests are very strong in the French state. But are they really going to persuade the French taxpayer to effectively pay for a large chunk of a very expensive power station for the alleged benefit of British consumers?

In the case of the British Government it seems very difficult to understand how it can undercut all of the regulatory procedures to give an automatic clearance, in advance, for a new reactor design - wherever it could be from. The procedure will take years.

Of course the supporters of the project argue that without it the light will go out, Given the tremendous uncertainty about when such a project would actually generate electricity, it would seem more plausible to argue that the lights are much more likely to go out if we are excluding other projects (particularly renewable ones) in order to wait for Hinkley C to come online!

It has always been irrational to expect the economic projections made by government on nuclear power to come to fruition, since the project defies any commercial logic to it. In that sense reality is merely calling the government's bluff.

For background stories see: