More on the long term UK situation

Since it is always useful to find numerical data, there is an interesting column in the Guardian, that cites some of the data on renewable energy and its relative contribution for the UK.
The UK has an installed electricity-generating capacity of 77 gigawatts (GW). Demand for electricity peaks on winter evenings between 5pm and 7pm, when we use some 61.7GW. A recent report by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute estimates that if we do everything possible to improve energy efficiency in the home and install mini wind turbines and small "combined heat and power" boilers, we could reduce our demand from big power plants by 25GW, or 40%, by 2050.

By making what appear to be reasonable assumptions he arrives at the conclusion that not only will there need to be some serious investment in renewable energy, but that there will also need to be a build in nuclear power if this target is to be met.

if either the market or the government swung behind energy storage then something like half the output from our variable power sources could be turned into a reliable supply of electricity. That means 109,000GWh.

To this we could add 17,000GWh from willow plantations grown on the farmland currently under set-aside, 6,000GWh from farm and forestry waste, 6,000 from hydro power and 5,000 from landfill gas, to give a total for reliable electricity generation from renewables of 143,000GWh. Assuming very conservatively that this is evenly distributed across the year (in reality much of it can be held over to meet peak demand), and that at any one time 85% of it is available, this gives us 19GW of installed capacity. We needed 41.9GW, so our shortfall is some 23GW at peak demand and 34.8GW of total capacity. (The need for spare capacity could be greatly reduced if we managed demand rather than supply, as the great free thinker on energy systems Walt Patterson has suggested.)

sounds promising, in the meantime what do we do about big business? this story is from today.
Last week pilkington our largest glass manufacturer had to switch to oil from gas....
this means more oil use...

Honestly this seems to me to be the beginning of something like the end of industrial civilization, mabye it will take years to unravel but I cant help thinking that these sorts of double whammies on our current resources coupled with mostly hot air on the reusables front mean we are running at the wall. 938&newsLang=en

Terra Industries Inc. (NYSE:TRA) announced today that it has suspended ammonia production at its UK facility at Billingham, Teesside.

The shutdown is due to the extremely high price of natural gas in the UK.

Terra does not anticipate resuming ammonia production at its Billingham facility until UK natural gas costs decrease to a level that allows the ammonia unit to operate with positive cash flow.

Terra is operating its other UK facility at Severnside, Bristol, at reduced rates.
Terra expects to fulfill its UK sales commitments from its own inventories and with imported ammonia, some of which Terra will upgrade to ammonium nitrate.

Said Terra's President and CEO Michael L. Bennett, "We remain committed to resuming normal production at our UK facilities as soon as natural gas costs return to more reasonable levels. Terra has been working closely with UK authorities and trade associations to address the price disparity between UK and Continental European gas markets. Restricted gas flows into the UK during recent cold weather have driven its natural gas prices to more than double the level elsewhere in Europe."

Terra's UK business, Terra Nitrogen (UK) Limited, is the country's largest producer of nitrogen fertilizers, and is a major European manufacturer of ammonia, nitric acid and carbon dioxide, key raw materials in the UK chemicals industry.

Terra Industries Inc., with pro forma 2004 revenues of $1.9 billion including the Mississippi Chemical acquisition, is a leading international producer of nitrogen products.

I feel the same, I can't understand that this company doesn't have a long term strategy. Clearly UK NG production has peaked and thus this company has to expect higher prices. They might even have to move to countries that do have NG more reasonable price levels.
The article mentions Walt Patterson. In my opinion he is one of the best, if not the best, writer and thinker on electricity systems today. His first book on the subject, Transforming Electricity (out of print but usually available through, dates from 2000, and he is curently working on another. The papers that will form his new book are usually available on the website of The Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House). The last time I looked there were three of them and a fourth was due shortly. I would imagine his new book would be available soon. I will certainly be buying a copy.
found this intresting financial times article

Where does Britain get its energy from currently?

Britain generates around 20 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, 33 per cent from coal, 40 per cent from natural gas and 4 per cent from renewable sources. The balance is mostly made up of oil and hydroelectric power.

What's the problem?

Britain's ageing nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their lives. The proportion of electricity generated by nuclear power stations, which produce no carbon emissions, has already slipped from 24 per cent in the past few years. By 2020, only 7 per cent will come from nuclear power stations. If they are not replaced, all but one of Britain's nuclear plants will be closed by 2023.

Because of strict new European Union rules, the amount of power generated from coal is also set to fall sharply. The government expects coal to generate just 16 per cent of the UK's power by 2020 -- half its current contribution. If nothing is done, this emerging gap would most likely be filled by generators using natural gas. Gas would then produce more than 60 per cent of Britain's electricity by 2020.

With this mix, however, Britain would not be able to meet its commitment to cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 - the central plank of its effort to combat global warming. Because the country's own supplies of North Sea gas are running out, it would be highly dependent on imports from politically-unstable parts of the world.

Didn't we already have an energy review?

In 2003, the government published a white paper setting out its energy policy. It gave strong backing to renewable energy sources as a way to reduce carbon emissions and cut reliance on imported energy sources.

The government is committed to generating 10 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and waves, by the end of the decade. The white paper set a goal to reach an even more ambitious goal of 20 per cent of electricity generation from those sources in the following decade.

However, the government seems unlikely to meet its first goal in 2010, let alone the second. Widespread local opposition to wind farms has stymied their construction in many parts of the country. And research from countries such as Germany has shown that wind farms have to be backed up by conventional generators because the wind is not always available.

The 2003 white paper sidestepped the issue of nuclear power, saying only that the option should be kept open. Critics called it a fudge, spurred by the fact that the government was having to bail out British Energy, the privatised owner of Britain's oldest and least economic nuclear plants.

So what will the new energy review look at?

The government has said it will be a wide-ranging, cross-departmental review, looking at both the supply and demand sides of the energy problem. The review will look at the role of existing electricity generating technologies - renewables, coal, gas and nuclear - as well as emerging technologies, such as carbon capture.

It will also look at ways to reduce demand, including energy efficiency in homes and even transport policy, although no details were given. The government is at pains to say that this will be a comprehensive energy review and not just focus on nuclear energy. It also said there are "no foregone conclusions about nuclear or anything else".

Behind the scenes, however, there are strong indications the government is laying the groundwork for the construction of new nuclear plants.

What is the timetable for all of this?

The government said that that its timetable was "urgent" but wanted to involve the public and business in the process. It will launch a public consultation in early January and embark on talks with the myriad interest groups with strong opinions on the issue.

The review team is due to report to the prime minister and trade and industry secretary in "early summer". If it concludes nuclear power stations should be commissioned, the government may wish to wait until a committee releases recommendations on how to dispose of Britain's existing nuclear waste. The panel is due to report in July 2006.

What's the rush?

Coal and nuclear power stations accounting for around 30 per cent of Britain's current generation capacity are due to shut down by 2020, the government says. However, companies do not want to start building replacements until the government gives some clarity on its future energy policy.

Given the long lead times on investment decisions, industry says it needs government to make choices now. New nuclear reactors could take 10 years to start producing electricity because of the lengthy approval and construction process.

I have to take issue with your statement

"electricity generated by nuclear power stations, which produce no carbon emissions"

Strictly speaking it is true that nuclear fission does not involve carbon emissions. However, the entire process of mining and processing uranium, manufacturing the materials needed to build a reactor, supporting a reactor all consume large amounts of fossil fuel. As yet we have little information about the fossil fuel required to decommission a reactor.

An analysis has been done showing that in the case of hard rock ores containing low levels of uranium more energy is consumed in processing the ore and enriching the uranium than is produced in the reactor.

Obviously not all reactors are run this way but the point is that it is wrong to assert that nuclear reactors produce zero carbon emissions.

> Strictly speaking it is true that nuclear fission does not involve carbon emissions. However, the entire process of mining and processing uranium, manufacturing the materials needed to build a reactor, supporting a reactor all consume large amounts of fossil fuel.

I can google up nuclear industry papers assuring that the volumes are small compared with the energy output from the plant. But they are of course not independent papers. They give figures like 1.35% lifecycle energy input of the electrical output for the Forsmark nuclear plant in Sweden. Other statements are 1,7% up to 2.9% with poor ores. If all that energy is oil and it is 3% we get one unit of oil energy giving 33 units of electricity.

> As yet we have little information about the fossil fuel required to decommission a reactor.

I have a hard time imagining any reasonable way for a decomissioning to need large ammounts of fossil fuels. Most of the volume of materials are not radioactive and can be recycled. The rest needs concrete etc for the burial. It ought to be significantly less then for building the powerplant.

> An analysis has been done showing that in the case of hard rock ores containing low levels of uranium more energy is consumed in processing the ore and enriching the uranium than is produced in the reactor.

This ought to mean that someone is giving energy (oil) for free to the nuclear fuel industry. If the energy input for making the fuel is as large as the energy output from the fuel it would give an enourmous price increase for the  uranium fuel.  

Was it a calculation for the EROI where the rock isent an ore any more?

> Obviously not all reactors are run this way but the point is that it is wrong to assert that nuclear reactors produce zero carbon emissions.

It is wrong for simpler reasons. Much of the mining machines and  all of the transportation infrastructure is run on fossil fuels.  It is worse for some of the nuclear fuel wich for historical reasons use old inefficient gas diffusion plants run by large ammounts of coal generated electricity. I do not know why those plants have not been replaced by gas centrifuges 10 years ago or more.

It is worse for some of the nuclear fuel wich for historical reasons use old inefficient gas diffusion plants run by large ammounts of coal generated electricity. I do not know why those plants have not been replaced by gas centrifuges 10 years ago or more.
It's simple:  the diffusion plants are paid for, and current demand for fuel isn't enough to justify building more.

When demand increases to the point that new enrichment plants must be built, they'll be gas centrifuges.  Even the GD plants aren't that bad; look up the number of SWU to fuel a reactor and the kWh/SWU, and you'll see the enrichment burden is a single-digit percentage of plant output.

I'm sorry but your information on the amount of energy required to mine uranium is not correct.  Among other things uranium is found quite often in rather rotten sandstone, which is not that hard to mine relative to most other minerals.  And while it does fall into the definition of hard rock (not being coal) it is actually in most cases almost as weak, or weaker than coal.
The information I have is from this site:

Nuclear Power: the Energy Balance
Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith

I can't speak for the accuracy of this work but it is thought provoking. They calculate from published sources the energy required to build, operate, supply fuel for and dismantle a reactor. They also calculate the CO2 generated by all of these processes.

The short of it is that the authors would agree with some of the above statements. Relatively rich ore in soft sandstone can easily produce a healthy energy yield and fewer CO2 emissions than a gas fired plant. The issue is as poorer ores from harder rocks are used at what point does the net energy yield fall to zero.

The UK isn't looking great:

For the three months June 2005 to August 2005 compared to the same period a year earlier:

  • production of petroleum fell by 16.2%;
  • production of natural gas fell by 17.0%;
  • production of coal and other solid fuels fell by 24.9%;
  • electricity produced from nuclear sources rose by 11.8%;
  • electricity produced from wind and natural flow hydro fell by 4.4%.

We also know that 70% (capacity) of the UK nuclear fleet (providing 22% electricity) will be decommissioned within 9 years, North Sea gas (providing ~35% electricity) will be almost totally depleted by 2020 and UK coal (providing about half of the 35% coal fired electricity) reserves of 220 million tonnes has a R/P ration of 9 years!

With an increasing trade deficit we can't import the energy so where's it going to come from?

Energy Island
Until very recently the UK was an energy island, self sufficient in energy. This situation is changing rapidly. Domestic gas, oil and coal extraction rates are all crashing and the nuclear fleet is ageing, soon to be decommissioned. Whilst not impossible to sustain a successful economy and high standard of living on imported energy (see Japan). The rate of change could be devastating to the UK, both in terms of reduced security of supply and the negative effect on the trade deficit.

Personally, how the transportation issue is handled there is where I am watching (of course, I'm a transportation engineer so there is some bias).  From my experiences in England (circa 1994-95), the British were fairly dependent on motor vehicle for freight, much more than on 'The Continent'.  Suburbanization is well along and there did not seem to be a significant Local Grower economy, just some weekend farmer's markets stuff.  I don't mean to say it is "Kuntsler's Worst Nightmare" but I feel the rising cost of petrol will be a big problem for the Brits in the very near future.  
As we have seen shortages in many developing countries, could it be that UK is the first to go Poof. --- A worrying winter indeed, will watch events closely as the weather turns colder.
Oops, I meant to say, first fully developed country to go Poof.  Sorry about that to friends over there...
Opinions are clearly changing. In September I commented that we will turn to nukes as fossil fuel dollar and environmental costs climb, but several posters thought nukes are just too dangerous. THese days nukes don't seem to draw as many negative posts. Cold Britishers, not able to afford to keep the gas on, might be sitting in the dark if utilities can't either. Politicians, even popular ones like Blair, need a crisis to embark on an expensive, controversial course; a cold winter might be just the thing.

Some worry that the fossil fuel cost to build a nuke and/or mine the fuel will too high. These will be happy to note that bean counters will carefully set (ever higher) fossil fuel costs agains the (ever higher) value of fossil fuels avoided over the plant's 40-year life. Many at TOD think fossil fuel prices will rise over time, in which case the value of future fossil fuels saved will be much higher than those consumed today. Of course, renewables may also look good with a similar cost/benefit analysis, even though ASPO worries about the cost of building (unpopular) wind farms.

Indeed, it seems a good idea to take advantage of our declining fossil fuels to build infrastructure that avoids future fossil fuel usage. THose countries that successfully solve the technical, financial and political hurdles required to make the transition seem likely to look somewhat different from those that do not.

My earlier post suggested 400 nukes, including breeders, would be sufficient to replace all US coal plants, leaving coal to supplement declining liquid fuel supplies. The longest journey begins with but a single step...

Yes, opinions are shifting--even Tony Blair is in the fray.

Although I agree that we will need nuclear power, there are real logistical issues that will prevent widespread near-term use.

Uranium availability is one big issue. The OECD said that in 2002 there were 67,000 tonnes of uranium consumed, but only 36,000 tonnes mined. The remainder came from diluting enriched uranium from decomissioned nuclear weapons (largely Russian). Russia has decided not to sell more uranium, as they will need it at home. As a result, most new nuclear plants under construction right now do not have long-term contracts in place for fuel supply. More plants will mean a bigger shortfall. Breeders could fix that, but haven't they been disastrous so far?

The other issue is one of capital and expertise. I'm guessing that liability issues will make many companies reluctant to invest in nuclear without government indemnity or guarantees of some sort. And if they choose to, where will the engineers and other experts come from?

Countries that made the investment in nuclear in the past, like France (75% of electricity from nuclear) and Japan (35%), will look pretty smart. Later converts will have a lot of hurdles to overcome, even if they want to.

Breeders could fix that, but haven't they been disastrous so far?

I'm under the impression that the reasons why breeders haven't been taken into use are almost completely political. I can't claim any deep knowledge of this subject, but it seems that there are some extremely promising designs in existence. One example is the Integral Fast Reactor.

If the IFR and other advanced reactor designs are as great as they seem to be, why are we worrying about peak oil? And why spend massive resources on fusion research if breeder designs could be finished with relatively little effort?

Breeders are more expensive to build and harder to maintain since it is fairly easy to maintain water filled equipment but much harder with equipment full of molten metal or salt. Molten metals and salts are not transparent making inspection much harder and they are not liquid at room temperature.  You can for instance easily use acids to etch away the irradiated surface inside a water based reactor vessel and then go down and make manual repairs inside a reactor vessel that has been in use for 20 years.

Breeders do not make economical sense when nuclear fuel is cheap.

But imagine if coal power worked like nuclear power. When coal get scarse you dig up the ash, put it in a twise as expensive powerplant and get at least  ten times the energy you got the first time you burnt the coal.

Spending lots of money on fusion research makes sense for me, plasma physics and extreme materials will likely have other uses and if we get fusion to work in an economical way we have another exelent energy source.  What is dumd is to not also spend research money on better fission technology, your example of one such promising technology is very good.

All kinds of energy production and efficiency in energy use needs to researched and developed in parallell.

Actually the reasons are both political and economical.
In recent years (before 2004) price of uranium was well below 12$/lb. This was mainly due to Russia flooding the market with fuel from decomissioned nuclear weapons.
With the surge of oil and NG prices the uranium price also rose to 22$/lb now and predictably is set to rise. At some point breeders will become economically feasible. Anyway this is the future because something must replace fossil fuels and this will no way be renewables only. IMO we will sooner or later get there but probably a major crisis should happen first.
Gas cooled fast reactors work very well, but the political support is for liquid metal cooled reactors because the existing companies have invested in the technology and won't gain if we switch emphasis.
Are opinions shifting or is it that those in positions of "authority" are ratcheting up the propoganda machine? The real problem with nuclear energy always has been and always will be how to deal with the waste. My assumption is that this issue will be buried (pun intended) in the rush for any electrical generation capability. We will pay the price for ignoring this issue - or should I say our grand children's grand children' grand children's... (etc.)... will pay the the price. Iraq isn't going to be the only place unliveable due to radiation poisoning of the environment.
Why is it that where nuclear power is concerned, the really long term issues seem to carry significant weight, while  such impacts from current or proposed energy sources are barely acknowledged?  We have already done a much, much better job of poisoning the environment burning coal and oil than we are ever likely to get a chance to do with nuclear.  The grandchildren's grandchildren will not need to worry about nuclear waste if the grandchildren end up starving in some world wide famine.

Can we accept more coal burning power plants, with their short term contribution to air pollution that kills thousands every year, and their long term contribution to CO2 that is probably already tipping us into some chaotic and unfriendly climate regime? If we can, then we should accept nuclear power plants as well, which have not killed anyone in the general public and which produce only a minute fraction of the CO2 that coal does.

My main concern with nuclear power is that it doesn't mix well with political and economic instability, both of which are likely to occur for a polonged period post peak. It is possible to operate nuclear reactors quite safely now, but, as one of the most complex manifestations of our complex society, the conditions they require in order to be able to deliver their benefits at an acceptable cost and risk (as we would currently make that judgement) may not last much longer.

I have no doubt we will build new ones anyway, keep the old ones we already have running far beyond their design lives, and live with the risk which would eventually result from trying to run them in a resource constrained and unstable world. If we're desperate enough, we might even build nuclear cogens near inhabited areas as well as near the Alberta tar sands. However, in a post-peak world in the midst of a global depression there won't be an international community able to offer millions of dollars for renovations as happened in Eastern Europe after the Soviet collapse. We will be on our own to live with the consequences of our actions, whichever of our unattractive options we choose.

They do on the other hand have a stabilizing effect due to the power they provide. No power, and we get nothing to stabilize with.
Quite true. There are likely to be many such conundrums facing us in the not so distant future. The era of easy answers and relatively low risk scenarios is coming to an end.
I do realy enjoy living in a country with approximately 45% Hydro, 45% nuclear power, a fairly solid grid, a fair electrified rail network  and enough biomass to provide for about half of the current road traffic.

I would not feel in any way safer if we abandoned our nuclear powerplants. I find it a lot more reassuring that they are being renovated, uprated and able to run for several decades more. I am sad that most of the nuclear building industry is goned in Sweden due to no builds during the 90:s. But the extensive upratings and the building of a 1600 MW EPR in our east neighbour Finland gives hope.

It feals reassuring that major reinvestments are being made in the grid, hydro and nuclear powerplants and new investments in the grid, railroads, district heating, district cooling and combined heating and electricity powerplants. But the infrastructure for making fuel from biomass is more or less in a pilot plant stage.

Two out of 12 nuclear reactors have been closed by aged "enviromentalists" making us a net electricity importer when we fairly easily should become an exporter displacing coal power abroad. I am afraid that they will keep enough power to close more nuclear powerplants when new production comes on line and savings are made. The cost for closing these two powerplants could have paid for half of the cost for a new high speed rail link between our two biggest cities. :-(

If peak oil is near as I am afraid it is I would wish for massive investments in railways and roads to get the rail network ready to take most of the long haul and city to city traffic and the road network to a consistent standard that will be realy nice and fuel efficient to have for the coming years when we only can afford maintainance if things get rough. The current build rate needs to be about doubled to get it finished in less then 20 years. This gives us a 50-100 years of light maintainance before it is time to start replacing the bridges built during the era of cheap oil.

one cold winter with energy shortages should get the debate going nicely...

anyone reccomend some good films that could be useful to distribute?

mabye we should work collectively to make one??

how hard can it be?

have it as a download??