Generating News

The media is full of Brexit, but behind that in the “other news” is the long anticipated release that Hitachi are pulling out of the Wylfa nuclear build. This follows the news that Toshiba were also stepping back from nuclear, and of course the long running fiasco that is Hinkley C. Nearly all our nuclear generation is on the verge of end-of-life shutdowns, and although nuclear only produces little more than ten percent of our demand, it is demand that will have to be met elsewhere.

screenshot 2019-01-17 09.47.18

Graphic courtesy of https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

The obvious thought, at least from any ‘green’ perspective, is that we will need a lot more renewable generation to make up for the lack of nuclear – Wylfa was planned to generate almost 3GW and as shown above current nuclear generates 5GW of base load. But we aren’t currently in a political climate where renewables are obviously the preferred option. And coal hasn’t gone away…

In Northumberland, an application for a vast open cast coal mine has recently come back into play after initially being blocked on climate change grounds. In November the High Court allowed the legal challenge against the government’s decision, meaning the application will now be looked at again. If the coal mine goes ahead, that’s a new three million tonnes of coal that might be available for generation. And there are still coal generators, currently mothballed, that could be brought back into service.

I’m a fence sitter when it comes to nuclear, ok, more towards renewables but unlike many I see both sides. In times when carbon emissions are paramount the fuel is generally carbon neutral. Probably more CO2e is generated by the concrete used in the build than in the powering of it. There is however always the issue of generational (pun intended) waste fuel storage, and the fantastical, nonsensical subsidies that are “negotiated” for nuclear generation.

At the same time, although we’ve radically reduced electricity demand over the past decades through energy efficiency – LED lighting, improved motor technology, etc – we’re about to push on with electric vehicles, and that’s going to increase demand, albeit possibly it will be largely off-peak as the cars recharge overnight.

But if we were serious about vehicle technology we might move more to hydrogen vehicles, and if we did then the off-peak use of nuclear for water to hydrogen production would make a lot of sense. It could as easily be upscaled to HGV too, which are less likely to run on batteries.

For now, we could argue we are approaching the end of the nuclear era. But are we moving to a renewables led hydrogen economy, or back towards King Coal?

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