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
CCC’s “Low Capacity” estimate (GWe)
Our assumed capacity factors[6]
Our Low generation estimate (TWh/year)

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.

[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
Low capacity estimate (GWe)
High capacity estimate (GWe)
Assumed capacity factor
Low estimate for generation (TWh/year) (3)
High estimate for generation (TWh/year)

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