Thursday, 24 May 2012

Sun and Moon

Like Simon Jenkins in the Guardian today, I am utterly confused by the direction of UK energy policy; wind is risible nonsense, so fatuous an answer as a credible energy source that the only rational explanation for those that support it is bribery and corruption on a widespread scale. Tree-hugging lunatics distort the science, powerful industry lobbies such as that for the hugely ineffective Solar PV distort the subsidies. And Westminster and Whitehall just spin about in dizzy confusion not knowing what day of the week it is. Anyhow, here's my take on the options for the UK (experts please pile in ...):

Nuclear - the risk is worth the gain. Serial construction of a standard design would lower costs and there are plenty of places in the world to dump the waste (Mariana Trench looks good to me)
Gas - Methane from the ground is good and there seems to be lots of it, even in the UK
Coal - Coal's greatest potential is through pyrolysis to make Hydrogen and Methane in quantity, and we've got huge reserves

Then the best of the renewables

Solar - through the heating effect of the Sun of the Earth's surface. A couple of metres down in the UK the temp is a constant 14deg - masses of heat that can be extracted via GSHP. I've done this on a commercial scale - it works very well. Solar Thermal and Solar PV are no good - too variable, yields too low and costs too high.
Lunar - The power of the tides is immense, and a diurnal range of up to 7m in the SE as billions of tonnes of  water pushes up the Western Approaches twice a day means it's not just the Severn that could provide feasible installations. Good for the UK, France, Ireland etc but no good for inland States.

Then the worst

Biomass - there's simply not enough of it, but burning wood is good for the environment. 
Wind - a risible and nonsensical solution that suggests massive corruption somewhere - follow the money
Biofuels - Corn to Ethanol is a stupid idea unless you intend to drink it. Bacteria that convert household wastes to diesel have some promise, but too small scale to have an impact
Fairy-power, ley-lines, henges - I suppose sixty dancing fairies doing the Rumba can provide enough power for an average new-age Yurt but the trouble is keeping the little buggers at it. Etc.


Nick Drew said...

Jenkins puts it well. I for one can no longer be arsed to refute the DECC nonsense line by line.

They will defeat us all with the sheer volume of their relentless, ill-conceived interventions, culminating in a real crisis a few years hence and, if they present trajectory is maintained, nationalisation.

I could add a line to your own pithy summaries, Mr R. Solar PV - so laughably uneconomic in our climes, and still getting the most outlandish subsidies, we need go no further for cast-iron refutation of the "least cost to the consumer" bullshit. There are so many greatly cheaper alternatives to achieve ... whatever it was that was wanted.

Anyone espousing subsidies for solar PV, however 'noble' their ostensible motives, relinquishes any moral authority whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

"Nuclear waste" is part-used fuel, and can be burned in newer designs of power station. No need to dump it in the Marianas Trench.

Don Cox

G. Tingey said...

Tidal is enormous, and needs using - soon.

For the "short term" (i.e. 50 years) we must have nuclear - we do know it works after all.

Solar WAS a non-starter...
PV is getting both cheaper and more efficient all the time.
Another halving of cost is inevitable, and another halving again would certainly make a difference.
An upping of the conversion-efficiency (courtesy of the now-just-becoming-"fashionable" ) Graphenes which looks very likely in the next 10 years will change that game completely.
Of, course, what is also needed is a change in regulation, whereby lots of small-scale generators (us) will not be penalised by the greedy big boys, in either solar or - the one you missed: water-mills. Replace every old water-mill in the country with a modern turbine, and you might get a suprising ampunt of power.

Anonymous said...

I am closely associated with this industry in two respects. One, my brother is Chief Inspector of Britains nuclear stations for HSE and the other, I do contract engineering work on CCGT stations in the UK and its the Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) that are the interesting part. In effect, these can be turned on/off at a speed that no other type of generator can - and most of them are now currently turned off.

Now, I firmly believe that there is a reason we are deliberately not using the CCGT capacity in the UK; and that reason is that the big wholesale generators (GDF EON Suez etc) are working hand in glove with the government to maintain the ludicrously high prices in the marketplace.

Call me a cynic, but I'll tell you what, we are NOT short of capacity, and switching on the CCGT capacity would a) fill our market place and drive prices down and b) provide ample for winter and make wind power redundant.

Call me a cynic....

Coney Island

Nigel Sedgwick said...

An interesting pair of issues, that form part of the energy supply problem, are not touched on in what you write. These issues apply particularly to mains electricity, but also to medium-scale remote and mobile use.

The first is place. There is the issue of where the electricity is generated, and that not being where it is to be consumed. Mass generation using solar power is pretty good, between the tropics. Sadly, the UK population (along with many other first-world energy consumers) does not live between the tropics. The cost of shipping the electricity from where it is generated to where it is consumed seriously damages the cost-effectiveness of that sort of arrangement.

The second issue is time. If generated electricity is not wanted when it is generated, it costs a lot to store it until it is needed. Even moreso, there is a problem when surges of electricity are required, that cannot be easily satisfied. Seasonal variations (especially warming in winter) are a recurring problem. So are the diurnal variations in industries that do not run shifts over the whole 24 hours. [Aside. These two issues are well known to those working in the field. We have electricity generation capacity well above the average requirement because of the peaks, and some generator types (eg gas) that can be powered up (or vary their power generation) more easily than others (nuclear). This itself is inefficient in terms of capital infrastructure; however, it is currently the best known solution - really.]

The best mass-energy storage mechanism available to us is actually chemical (liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons in particular). Such stored energy is relatively easy to transport and use at a place and time of convenience. However, we lack the cost-effective mass-mechanisms to turn electricity into chemically stored energy.

For the UK's portable and most remote medium-scale use (eg vehicles and habitations remote from mains supply), there is actually not much better than oil-based combustion engines; that is unless you are fortunate enough in locality for small-scale hydro-electric to be practical. Though vast amounts of effort (in addition to that on wind, tide and the too-weak solar) have been put into electrical batteries and fuel cells (both with useful advances), mainstream use is still so far from practicality and cost-effectiveness that, IMHO, the over-enthusiastic posturings of the greens and other enthusiasts have become a bit of a joke.

When all these things (green power conversion to easily transported chemical, direct electrical to chemical, and medium-scale chemical to electrical) become practical and cost-effective, they will enter widespread use. Then I (and every other sceptic - I fully expect) will view each one of these as a very good thing.

But wanting widespread societal use of any technology that is not yet ready is a waste of the resources of society (ie a waste of the combined resources of all the people). To want that is to want to lose the other opportunities (for which societal needs are matched by existing technology and other solutions): hence disadvantaging the very society that its proponents claim is so important.

Over-zealous green enthusiasm costs: it costs the lost opportunities. We are all poorer because of it.

Best regards

Anonymous said...

"Fairy-power, ley-lines, henges - I suppose sixty dancing fairies doing the Rumba can provide enough power…"

Hey Raedwald... are you referring to our MP's here?

'Cos there six hundred of them, rather than sixty…

They makes a lot o' noise, but they don't keep the lights on.

Robert said...

Like Coney Island I seem to be a cynic. The mix of global warming and EU regulations is toxic when applied to energy policy and energy prices. Ever since the drought that never was and particularly some of Dr North's (EUREFERENDUM.CO.UK) posts on the EU's roll in the lack of investment in the water infrastructure, I have been thinking that the same applies to our energy system.

Our government seems to be very reluctant to acknowledge the potential of shale gas in this country. Could it be that the scale of the gas finds would make a mockery of their energy projections? When all their plans are based on higher costs it must be a shock to find that US gas prices have fallen so far and so fast.

Elby the Beserk said...

Confused by the UK's energy policy, Raddled? How can you be? We don't have one - it's really that simple. We don't have one.

Richard said...

Thorium nuclear, is cheap, plentyful, clean, safe, and doesn't produce nuclear weapons, or very much waste, indeed it will consume all the current waste accumulated from older nukes.
It can also be scaled down to local power stations, thus reducing large, ugle power line systems.

What's not to like? Vested intersts most likely.

Elby the Beserk said...

Shale gas, did someone say? ...

Anonymous said...

To put it basically then, to keep energy prices up, fear factors are being used to keep control to create a false shortage. This I imagine is why companies like DeBoers don't put every single diamond in their warehouses on the market at the same time thus squashing the perceived value of shiny rocks. Catastrophic warming, Peak fossil fuel etc is the industries way of sucking through their teeth and saying "It's gonna cost you mate".

Talking of methane, there may even be another source in clathrates, so once the catastrophe is finally debunked another fossil fuel may provide energy.

Scrobs... said...

We got involved in a group intent on exploiting Jatropha oil in the far east for biodiesel, a few years ago.

The subsidies were eye watering there too...

Never saw the light of day unfortunately!

Dave_G said...

There is nothing wrong with the CURRENT methods of production OR the ability of the same generators to run for a lot longer than is currently hyped.

Closing of coal-fired power stations is a political move rather than a technical requirement.

We should be looking to develop replacement supplies - not promoting them at a time when the current technology and fuel stocks are at levels that could last another 100+ years.

Wasting time on systems that look likely to be succeeded by more advanced/cheaper/efficient methods (thorium for example) before they are even fully rolled out is madness.

Tidal power? Too expensive to maintain - even a supertanker only lasts a few years without constant and expensive maintenance.

Richard said...

Thorium has been around as a fuel since the sixties, the reason it was not developed was it didn't produce plutonium for bombs. The Indians are currently building a thorium nuke. They will leave us behind in the west.

djy said...

"When all their plans are based on higher costs it must be a shock to find that US gas prices have fallen so far and so fast."

And carbon dioxide emissions too...