The warnings of future electricity shortages follow the failure of the private power companies to invest in sufficient new capacity. The National Grid is looking to save up to 330 megawatts (MW) of power demand capacity this winter and is offering to pay companies to cut their electricity use to prevent blackouts. The company explains that the UK is facing a reduction in electricity generation as old plants shut and new ones are slow to start up.
But adding to the fossil-fired capacity will increase the discharge of carbon dioxide and other pollutants which lead to increasing sickness and deaths from lung disease as well as adding to the fears of climate change. The obvious solution would have been to build new nuclear capacity, but after years of inaction on the part of all concerned – this and the previous government, and also the private power companies, the proposals by EDF for the new Hinkley Point station have come too late to avoid probable blackouts later in this decade. Even if this new station does not fall foul of EU regulations on government subsidy the expectation that it will only come on line in the early years of the 2020’s, is far too late for the impending shortages.
To avoid this the proposals by EDF to extend the operating life of all seven of EDF Energy’s Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors (AGRs) offers a welcome and necessary means of avoiding the worst features of the electricity shortages that would otherwise occur. This solution comes with an agreement between EDF Energy and construction firm Doosan Babcock for lifetime extension services to seven nuclear power stations.
Under the contract, said to be worth £70 million, Doosan Babcock will provide lifetime support services for EDF Energy’s seven Gas Cooled Reactor (AGR) nuclear power stations. The seven stations, Dungeness B, Hinkley Point B, Hunterston B, Hartlepool, Heysham 1, Heysham 2 and Torness together have a capacity of 7,550MW of electricity. Doosan Babcock will deliver projects to support life extension, which will extend the reactors’ operational lives, apart from supporting the current operation of the power stations. In addition to this,
Doosan Babcock will also provide operational support and lifetime extension services until the seven power stations cease power generation. Doosan Babcock Ltd is 75% owned by the Doosan Group of South Korea. company. The company has a long experience of involvement in nuclear projects in the UK dating back to supplying the boiler for Calder Hall. It is also currently involved in nuclear decommissioning services. The contract to keep the AGR stations in operation shows that there are no obstacles to competent S. Korean companies taking an active part in nuclear activities in the UK.
With operating lifetimes of around 45 – 50 years for the gas-cooled reactors, and the probability that further extensions could be economic there is a striking contrast with wind turbines. Although this is disputed, the studies by Professor Hughes published by the Renewable Energy Foundation in December 2012 claimed that “after allowing for variations in wind speed and site characteristics the average load factor of wind farms declines substantially as they get older, probably due to wear and tear. This decline in performance would mean that it is rarely economic to operate wind farms for more than 12 to 15 years, after which they would have to be replaced with new machines.”
With the arrival of the first reactor vessel at its site in Barakah in the United Arab Emirates, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation and its South Korean supplier, KEPCO, remain on track to deliver the country’s first nuclear energy reactors. Work on Units 1 ‘&’ 2 is said to be now over 44 percent complete, with construction progressing safely and on schedule. Unit 1 is scheduled to enter commercial operations in 2017, and Unit 2 is scheduled for operations in 2018. ENEC will apply for an Operating License for Units 1 and 2 in 2015 and expects to break ground for the third plant later this year. With four plants operational by 2020, nuclear energy will deliver up to a quarter of the U.A.E’s electricity needs, while saving up to 12 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
In 2011 the build cost was put at $30 billion: $10 billion equity, $10 billion export-credit agency debt, and $10 billion from bank and sovereign debt. South Korea may earn a further $20 billion from operation, maintenance and fuel supply contracts.
The four Barakah units will have a capacity of 5600 MWe, but ultimately the
UAE wants 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity as part of a plan to meet energy demand
that has been growing at 9% per year. The country’s policy documents state it
must have total installed generating capacity of 40,000 MWe by 2020. At that
time, with Barakah in operation, nuclear power’s baseload role would see it
meet about 25% of electricity demand. Renewables are expected to provide up to
7%, domestic gas about 50% and imported gas the rest.
The three bidders in 2009 for Barakah were Areva, with Suez and Total, proposing its EPR; GE-Hitachi proposing its ABWR; and the Korean consortium with its APR-1400 PWR. This consortium led by Korea Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), involved Samsung, Hyundai and Doosan, as well as Westinghouse, whose System 80+ design (certified in the USA) has been developed into the APR-1400. The UAE expressed an intention to standardize on one technology.
KEPCO claimed later that the reason for their selection in the face of strong competition from France, USA, and Japan was their demonstrable highest capacity factor, lowest construction cost and shortest construction time among the bidders. A claim that seems to be supported by the delays and cost overruns now being experienced by Areva in the construcion of the plants in Finland and at Flamanville in France.
It is worth noting that, in contrast with the hesitations in accepting nuclear power in Europe, the World Nuclear Association has reported that 82% of people in the UAR surveyed in December 2012 were in favour of nuclear power, and 89% also supported a plant being built in their emirates, up from 67% in 2011, before Barakah construction started. The 2012 poll also found that awareness of nuclear energy had increased, 89% of residents now felt that peaceful nuclear energy is “extremely important, very important or important” for the UAE, and 55% viewed it as a main source of power generation, second to oil.
As their experience and competence in nuclear power developments grows both S
Korea and China are seeking to expand their nuclear export capabilities. An
agreement between the UK and Chinese governments, now confirms the
participation of Chinese companies in the 2×1.6 GW Areva EPRs at Hinkley Point
C . The share of equity is to be divided between EDF with 45-50%, China
General Nuclear (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) with
30-40%, Areva with 10%, and “interested parties” with up to 15%.
Can we now hope that the Chinese will not be content to wait 10 years before seeing a return in their investment in Hinkley Point , but will inject some of their own experience and expertise into the project. Construction started in 2009 and 2010 on the two EPRs which Areva is building at Taishan in Guangdong province in a consortium with the China Nuclear Power Engineering Company and China Nuclear Power Design Company. These stations are expected to be up and running later this year and will be completed within the budget – a marked contrast with the difficulties , delays and cost- overruns experienced with the EPRs being built in Finland and France.
Perhaps even more interesting is a second agreement with the Department of Energy and Climate Change which would enable Chinese companies to own and operate Chinese-designed nuclear power plants in the UK, provided they meet UK regulatory requirements.
In a separate announcement Rolls-Royce also confirms its growing interest in civil nuclear power with an identical memoranda of understanding with the Chinese nuclear reactor vendors, to explore possible collaboration in areas such as engineering support, provision of components and systems, supply chain management and instrumentation & control technology.
The Costs of Intermittency
A comment by Gail Tverberg (Our Finite World June 10th) points out that with the intermittency of supply a large part of the costs -up to 42% – of providing new electricity capacity , relate to transmission and distribution. Proper pricing needs to include all of the additional costs involved, including the additional cost for storage, the additional cost for long distance transmission, and the additional costs encountered by fossil fuel providers in ramping up and down their generation to match changing output from intermittent renewables. “To look at the situation properly, one really needs to look at the total system cost of generating electricity with intermittent renewables (of a given amount) compared to the total system cost of generating electricity without intermittent renewables.” When full costs were considered wind and solar PV were “an order of magnitude” less effective than fossil fuels, hydroelectric or nuclear. There are also doubts as to whether there is any real carbon savings from wind and solar PV.
Other studies confirm that Europe’s drive toward a power system based on renewable energy has gone so far that output will probably need to be cut within months because of oversupply, and this will become more common as wind power capacity increases. Rather than switching off or curbing output at coal and nuclear plants that take hours to return to full output, some producers may keep generating, knowing prices may turn negative, which means they will have to pay users to take the power.
This is seen in the constraint payments by National Grid Plc (NG/) made to wind power generators which rose to 47.3 million pounds ($79.5 million) in the 12 months through March from 7.6 million pounds a year earlier. These constraint payments to wind farms occur during periods of high winds, low demand or overcapacity on the grid as well as grid repairs.
The Renewable Energy Foundation has also pointed out that March 2014 has seen
both the largest monthly volume of wind energy (107 GWh) constrained off the
GB electricity system, and the largest monthly amount paid for wind farms not
to generate (£8.7 million), a trend that has been steadily increasing over
time as the wind capacity increases. In calling for an investgation by Ofgem
the REF has said “Conventional generators (coal and gas for example) are not
paid extra to stop generating. Indeed, because of avoided fuel consumption
they pay back to the system when constrained off. Wind power, on the other
hand, loses subsidy when it is told to stop generating, and therefore asks for
compensation, and in practice wind farms ask for compensation well in excess
of the lost subsidy. This excess is clearly an abuse of market power and
should be investigated.”
To pay subsidies to build renewables and then pay to have them stop when demand is low is, to say the least, “very cost inefficient.”
Confusion over the Anthropcene
There are a number of different opinions about the Anthropocene. When did it
start? How long will it last?
Some believe that the influence of human activities on the planet began with the first hunter gatherers and the beginnings of early agriculture, others that it should be dated to the Industrial Revolution and the mining of coal with perhaps a second wave that began in the 1950’s with the large expansion of all human activities (NI March pages 7 & 8)- The Great Acceleration.
But there are now doubts. Although it is only to be expected that those who are fundamentally opposed to continuing economic growth, claiming that ever- increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, and also of methane from methane hydrates under the sea which will be released as the oceans warm will raise gobal temperatures and trigger a runaway global warming with temperature increases of up to 20°C+ by 2050.
“Without action, it appears that the Anthropocene will lead to extinction of
the very human beings after which the era is named, with the Anthropocene only
running from 1950 to 2050, a mere 100 years and much too short to constitute
an era. In that case a better name would be the Sixth Extinction Event.”
(Arctic News May 4, 2014).
There must also be more realistic doubts about whether the ever- expanding requirements for fossil fuels that will be required for the Anthopocene can continue to be met. Growing shortages and ever-higher prices for oil and gas will bear most heavily on the developing countries who also have the greatest need, as their populations and economies continue to exapand. The possibility of conflict over dwindling resources is unfortunately not impossible.
There should then be no surprise that while ‘old’ Europe hesitates on building new nuclear stations, the countries on the outer fringe, and most notably Finland have ambitious plans, as do the countries of the far East led by China and India, the Middle East and those of Latin America.
All this leads to seeing the Anthropocene as a nuclear age. It began with the atomic bombs on Japan, or more constructively with the first nuclear power stations in the 1950’s and will continue to offer safe and emission-free energy.