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Tag Archives: government policy

Beyond pessimism

by Dave Elliott

One of the justifications for the UK government plan to expand the use of nuclear power is the assertion that energy demand will double in the decades ahead. That seem a little odd given that DECCs statistics show that in 2011 electricity consumption went down by 3.3% and gas use fell by almost 20%, while renewable generation expanded, albeit from a low level, by 33%. Renewables seem likely to continue to expand, given that the UK has amongst the EU’s (if not the world’s) best renewable energy resources, even if we have not developed them much yet.  As then Tory Energy minister Charles Hendry said at the opening of the annual All Energy conference in Aberdeen last spring, ‘It is shameful that with some of the strongest winds and highest tidal reaches in Europe, the UK is currently third from bottom in the whole of the EU in its use of renewables.’   He was removed from office a few months later.


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UK progress on green energy

By Dave Elliott

The policy battle in the UK over green energy technology continues, with those holding right of centre views regularly claiming that, as the sub head to Peter Liley’s pro shale gas Spectator article put it, “If we give in to the green lobby, Britain will drift into an energy crisis.”

A report from Centrica using data from the Renewable Energy Foundation says the cost to the UK of hitting EU targets on green energy was likely to be over £16bn by 2020, including subsidies for wind and nuclear power, improvements to the national grid and VAT on green projects, i.e £600/household per year. DECC disagreed. It said bills will be around £166 lower than they would otherwise be, partly because of lower energy usage. The DECC said: “The report is a manifesto for locking the British economy into excessive reliance on imported gas from far-flung, unstable parts of the world…it’s the global gas price, not green subsidies, that has primarily been pushing up energy bills.”


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Nuclear power – dead end or in with a chance?

The public debate and the
government consultations in 2006 and 2007 on nuclear power were framed in the context of a replacement programme for
existing reactors scheduled to
close. On this basis it has been suggested that there was if not a clear
consensus then at least a majority in favour.

However, subsequently the government began to talk about going
beyond replacement. For example, in May 2008 Prime Minister Gordon Brown
commented “I think we are pretty clear that we will have to do more than
simply replace existing nuclear capability in Britain” while Secretary of State John Hutton said, that, although
it was up to the private sector developers, he would be “very disappointed” if the proportion of electricity generated by nuclear did
not rise “significantly above the current level”. In August 2009 Malcolm Wicks MP, the PM’s Special
Representative on International Energy,
produced a report calling for a UK nuclear contribution of 35–40% “beyond

government has also indicated that it saw a major role for exporting UK nuclear
technology and expertise. Gordon Brown has indicated that he believes the world
needs 1,000 extra nuclear power stations and has argued that Africa could build
nuclear power plants to meet growing demands for energy. In 2009 a new UK
Centre for supporting the export of nuclear technology was set up with a budget
of up to £20 m.

do not have to be anti-nuclear to feel some sense of unease over the global
expansion programmes being discussed, not least since they could lead much
greater long-term risks for global security in terms of the proliferation of
nuclear weapons making capacity and the potential for nuclear terrorism. There are other geopolitical issue as
well. For example, uranium is a finite resource and, if a major global
expansion programme emerges, based on existing burner technology, then there
must inevitably come a time when there will be conflicts over diminishing
high-grade reserves. That is one reason why interest has been rekindled in fast
breeder reactors, which can use the otherwise wasted parts of the uranium
resource, and also in the use of thorium, which is more abundant than
uranium. But those options
are some way off. For the moment, the programmes around the world are mostly
all based on upgraded versions of the standard Pressurised Water Reactor, with
passive safety features to reduce the risk of major accidents, plus in some
case, higher fuel burn up, so as to improve their economics – though that wlll
result in higher activity wastes, which could present safety and waste
management problems.

are also other operational issues. In the UK the various contenders – EDF, E.ON
etc – have “reserved” a total of 23.6 GW of grid links for new nuclear capacity
with National Grid. That’s about the same as the wind power capacity we are
aiming to have by 2020, albeit with lower load factors. But as EDF have pointed out,
there are operational and economic reasons why a major expansion of nuclear
would be incompatible with a major expansion of renewable electricity
generation – at periods of low demand you would not need both. So which would
give way?

addition, the renewables and nuclear will inevitably also be in direct conflict
for funding. A major nuclear programme could divert money, expertise and other
resources away from renewable energy and energy efficiency, which arguably are
the only long term sustainable energy options.

used to be argued that renewables were interesting but marginal. Now however,
they have moved into the mainstream – with, for example, more than 120 GW of wind
generation capacity in place around the world. And they are expanding. Last year solar PV
generation capacity grew by 70% around the world, wind power by 29% and solar
hot water increased by 15%. By 2008, renewables represented more than 50% of
total added generation capacity in both the United States and Europe, i.e. more
new renewables capacity was installed than new capacity for gas, coal, oil and
nuclear combined. Interestingly, by 2008 China had installed as much wind
capacity as it had nuclear capacity (8.9 GW) and there are plans for continued
rapid expansion of wind, to 100 GW and beyond. However, there are also plans for nuclear expansion.

It is sometimes argued that you can and
should have both nuclear and renewables – to ensure diversity. But, quite apart
from the conflicts mentioned above, nuclear is not only one of the most
expensive options, it is only just one
option. By contrast, there are dozens of renewable energy technologies of
various sorts, using a range of sources. It is true that they are at varying
stages of development, but given proper funding, they seem likely to offer a
more diverse set of options.

the best bet for the future? An energy source with limited resource
availability and major waste and security implications? Or a range of new
technologies based on natural energy flows, with no emissions, no wastes, no
fuel resource limits, no fuel price rises, and no security implications, unless
that is we start squabbling over the wind and solar resource around the

used some of the arguments above in a recent resignation letter to the Labour
Party, as reported to the Guardian.

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