The solution to energy production from 2014 onwards in the UK is simple. You don’t have to write pages of strategy and ponder this way and that, the solution simply falls out because of timescale, costs and lowest pollution strategies.
Firstly look short-term and what is the only solution to meet the projected shortfall in Generation sources as the older generation sources become time expired and get decommissioned ‘one-by-one’?. Just look at the facts; wind-turbines simply DO NOT provide any energy on the coldest days in the winter when the demand is highest, that is a fact and it certainly has occured over the past three winters. The only short-term reliable option is to build new combined cycle gas turbines, CCGT’s, it is therefore the ONLY solution to get us out of the pickle that privatising the UK electrical industry has got us into. It just so happens because of the worlds abundance in shale gas, yes we have our own, but America and other countries are all ready selling this gas on the open-market and gas prices are falling, in America by 50%. Also, it just so happens that running more CCGT’s in America is lowering their overall carbon emissions significantly. This would also happen in the UK if our Government would look to common sense and reason.
When CCGT’s are operated at or near full-load they produce much lower carbon emissions than coal-fired power stations and can achieve efficiencies of near 70% whereas the most efficient coal fired plants operate at 40% efficiency. Also, coal fired power stations have to have sulphur dioxide absorbers fitted to the plants to prevent acid rain and this can lower the outputs of the coal-fired power station by a further 10%. Also, if no more wind-turbines are built, these new CCGT installations can operate at or near full-load for up to 80% of the time. If any heat conversion plant is run at various levels of de-load or on a start stop cycling, the carbon dioxide emissions increase exponentially and therefore a strategy of operating CCGT’s at or near full-load would be preferable. Therefore, by just making the decision to stop building any more wind-turbines and replacing older power stations with new more flexible highly efficient CCGT’s in the short-term we as a nation would be in the best place to lower our CO2 emissions and at the lowest cost of generation also. It is very likely that we will be producing our own shale gas in abundance in the near future and then we will have the lowest cost of electricity achievable in the short-term and it will make our manufacturing industries more competitive on the world stage. The order of scale could be 30GW of new gas fired power stations.
Now, secondly look longer term 2025 to 2065, and what should we do about improving our carbon emission targets further. I think the answer is again quite simple: because again we need the cheapest source of secure electricity with low carbon emissions, the answer is nuclear power. Initially, new nuclear stations should be sited on old nuclear power station sites, utilising the same transmission infrastructure because these have been sited around the coast away from heavily populated areas for cooling water provision and safety grounds. The costs of new nuclear plants is in fact lower than equivalent capacity of gazillions of wind-turbines remembering that wind-turbine capacity factors are of the order of 25%. Therefore 10 to 15GW of new nuclear is more reliuable than 30 to 45GW of wind-turbines. Looking at the very long-term research into Thorium nuclear reactors should be considered beyond 2030.
Now we have sorted the short and long-term strategies, what should happen in the medium term? Well, this again is not too difficult, some of the new nuclear plant would be coming on stream and additionally it would simply be a matter of replacing older CCGT installations with new nuclear and more new CCGT’s.
So, if we want to meet our carbon emission targets quickly the first thing we should do is stop building any more wind-turbines in the UK immediately and agree that CCGT’s are a better option to reducing carbon emissions quickly by ensuring that they operate at or near full-load.
Also, siting new CCGT power stations at or near load sinks would reduce transmission losses. We should certainly stop building any more wind-turbines in Scotland as soon as possible because any transfer of power from Scotland to England causes significant transmission losses for exports to England.
Article written by George Wood, a former National Grid Operator & Engineer
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