Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thinking Nuclear.

I suppose it's a bit sad really.  Saturday night in the bath, relaxing after couple of hours dividing grasses, and thinking about things nuclear. Not what I'd have been thinking about 50 yrs ago for sure. Only concession to debauchery today is to be drinking a nice dry white(or two) at the same time.! Anyway, thought it would be good to write a blog about current energy policy. Bit elementary, but hopefully strategic. Helps me put my thoughts in order for meetings this coming week.

The UK Gov't has to develop energy policy that's affordable (in the long term), gives us security of supply and meets our carbon reduction targets. Not everyone is fully signed up to the decarbonisation targets, but it is Govt policy, backed by vast majority of MPs. So it's going to happen, whether you like it or not. I receive a fair few emails which seem to think renewables is the complete answer. It's true that renewables are a key part of the future, but only a part. The key long term strategy is to expand  renewables (especially offshore wind and solar) but it needs further development of storage/battery technology to cope with inconsistent supply. But it's on it's way, and will be much more significant source of our energy by mid-century.

Crucial to security of supply is gas. Gas is also key to decarbonisation in the short/medium term, enabling a move away from coal. Over last year or two, crash in oil prices has slowed down gas supply developments, but it's on the way. Gas has a major role to play in UK energy supply for another 20 yrs plus. Biggest unknown is whether we have to import all this gas (sometimes from unstable overseas sources) or access shale gas from under our feet. We still don't know whether shale gas is viable in the UK. Maybe permission to frack for shale gas will be given in Yorkshire this coming week. It's still very controversial. Must admit I don't quite understand why. So much misinformation being spread and believed.  Anyway we will see what happens.

And then there's Nuclear.  Biggest focus in UK at present is on the EDF development at Hinckley Point, backed by Chinese finance. French Govt and UK Ministers seem very confident this will go ahead. I'm not so sure. Wouldn't surprise me at all if this massively expensive project bites the dust - no matter what French Ministers and EDF are currently saying. But I feel much more certain that the Nugen development at Moorside in Cumbria, and the Horizon development on Anglesey will go ahead. Both projects are progressing as planned under the radar, while the publicity spotlight is on Hinckley Point.

Alongside these developments, there is growing interest in the development (mostly in US) of Small Modular Reactors. Nothing been built anywhere in the world yet. But I sense it's going to be big - and soon. Energy and Climate Change Committee are off to California for a week to get a grip on what's happening in SMR and storage technology later this year, though my homebird tendency will mean I'll miss the trip. They'll tell me what they see.

And there's so much else as well. Tidal lagoons are under consideration, while Carbon Capture and Storage  is still being developed across the world, even if the UK has dropped back in the race to develop the technology. So much happening in the energy policy field. But at present the biggest deal is nuclear. That's why it's on my mind tonight. And I'm open to amending this post in response to persuasive comment.


Tim Hughes said...

One question, Glyn.
Why are the CDF's awarded to solar projects being withdrawn after several months for not meeting minor milestones on development/construction, yet a a CFD promised to EDF is still on the table years later despite major delays?
There appears to be a lack of consistency in UK energy policy.
This government have taken the department of energy and climate change and rebranded it the department of fantasy.

Mark Wilson said...

You, and many other commentators, use the term 'energy security' but I don't see how many of the current developments help that. To me this term suggests that we need to be in control of the provision of our future energy needs and I do not see how putting this under the control of private enterprise, whether UK based or foreign funded (even worse in my view), gives us that security. I am philosophically against widespread nationalisation but there does seem to me to be a compelling argument for putting the supply of the fundamental elements we need to exist under some kind of state management - energy is one, water is another.

I do also admit to being one of those concerned about the impact of fracking - with impacts on ground water and ground stability being well documented and there is no reason to suggest that a UK implementation would be any different. Sadly though as ever much of the discussion is over-emotional and fact free and that needs to change. Fundamentally though it is another fossil fuel so how is this going to help towards our carbon reduction targets?

Renewables long-term are undoubtedly the right way forward if (and it's a big if) the continuity of supply can be maintained -0 this needs significant leaps forwards in storage technology - that will take time. But we do live on a little, pretty insignificant rock in the North Atlantic and as such are ideally positioned to capture energy from the sea and more focus should be put on developing this approach - yes I believe the Government should be funding this work as part of their responsibility for ensuring the long-term well-being of the UK (and long-term in this context is beyond the normal maximum 5 year view taken by any Government)

Bottom line for me that like the previous response I do not see a coherent energy policy in place - getting that in place with some hard targets for service delivery would be a huge step forward