Archive for the ‘Green Economy’ Category

Nuclear Cloud or Jobs Opportunity?

mardi, mars 15th, 2011

The current crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, following the major earthquake last Friday, has cast a cloud over the ambitious British government plan to build 10 or more nuclear reactors at selected sites around the country over the next 15 years. Such a plan is viewed as critical to meeting commitments made by the previous Labour government and maintained by the current Coalition to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 34% from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, also published last week the Carbon Plan of the Coalition and in which the government commits to creating a law to set a carbon floor or minimum price for emissions permits. It is planned that by 2013, big polluters will not only be limited under the European Emissions Trading Scheme whereby they have to buy carbon permits for each tonne of pollution they emit above a pre-determined limit, but also by this carbon floor price programme. The current carbon price is generally considered to trade at too low a level to make it worthwhile for companies to be able to profit from cleaner energy sources such as wind or nuclear power that are more expensive to build but cheaper to operate.
If we accept the premise that no technology currently providing the concentrated output capacity and reliability of supply of either fossil-based fuels or nuclear, is absolutely safe or without environmental effects, it is worth considering that a 1 Giga-watt, light-water reactor uses about 25 tonnes of enriched uranium a year, requiring the mining of some 50,000 tonnes of uranium. About 25 tonnes of used fuel or radioactive waste is taken from the nuclear core each year and , if reprocessed as in Europe and Japan, 97% of this can be recycled leaving only 3% of high-level waste amounting to 700 Kilo-grams per year but needing to be isolated from the environment for a very long time. In comparison, a 1 Giga-watt coal-fired power station requires the mining, transportation, storage and burning of around 3.2 million tonnes of coal per year , creating up to 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and also sulphur dioxide, depending on the type of coal. In addition, solid waste from the plant can be substantial and cause both environmental and health problems.
Meanwhile on the jobs front in the UK, initial contracts of the French nuclear supplier Areva to build 4 of its new European Pressurised reactors for EDF Energy, could create up to 4000 building and manufacturing jobs and stimulate a British revival in a high-tech industry, with major growth prospects worldwide. Areva has already contracted Rolls Royce as its main British manufacturing partner and launched a joint venture with the National Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which was set up with public funds to develop British manufacturing. This joint venture will then support the qualification process of other such companies (to date 20 are approved and 370 have applied), in taking them through the educational, training and procedural requirements of an industry in which the safety aspects of manufacturing are fundamentally different from other industries and the standards are exacting but again called into question by isolated, high profile events such as Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Chernobyl in the Ukraine and now Fukushima in Japan.
Certainly the fail-safe systems of nuclear power plants will need to be revisited worldwide, although their generally being sited close to the sea or large rivers is due to the need for large quantities of water for cooling purposes and to drive the turbine generators. It is also understood that the Fukushima nuclear plant in crisis was configured to withstand a 6-metre Tsunami although not the monster which swamped the stand-by generators and the power for the associated cooling system of the nuclear core, whilst devastating the large and inhabited area inland. However, with hindsight, the risks of radioactive contamination of the emergency repair teams and to the surrounding areas would seem to have been multiplied by co-locating 6 reactors at Fukushima, 4 or more of which appear to have been damaged.
WIth enhanced safety procedures implemented worldwide following the lessons learned from this incident, nuclear power can remain a powerful source of energy for the future and in the US President Obama has already spoken in its defence although also ordering a safety review.

Green Energy Reforms

mardi, décembre 21st, 2010

Increased penalties for pollution and generous subsidies for off-shore wind and nuclear power, were included in a set of reforms announced by the government last week, to launch an estimated £200 billion, low-carbon upgrade of the electricity generating industry. Mechanisms proposed include:
? A feed-in tariff
? Guaranteed payment per megawatt for higher-cost technologies (such as off-shore wind & nuclear power), in addition to the wholesale price paid.
? A defined, minimum carbon price for European Union pollution permits.
? Extra payments to power companies for new gas-fired power plants required as back-up during windless periods.
? New emission standards with increased penalties for fossil-fuel generators.
Although these reforms, if passed into law, should speed up the phasing out of coal-fired power and favour nuclear and off-shore power generation, the consumer it seems will have to pay much higher electricity bills which, according to Ofgem the regulator, could increase from the average of £1,100 today up to £2,000 per household by 2020. This is a consequence of the government having signed up to binding international targets for reducing carbon emissions. To achieve these targets, 30% of electricity generated in the UK will have to come from low-carbon sources (currently at only 7%) by 2020.
Critics respond that replacing all coal-fired plants by modern, gas-fired ones would achieve the same pollution reductions by 2020 at around 10% of the cost, with enough supplies of gas to meet demand for at least another 250 years from e.g. new shale gas discoveries, although this alternative approach would have to rely on viable carbon-capture technologies becoming available by then. The new localism bill giving councils greater powers to veto projects in their areas of responsibility and put before parliament last week by Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, could at the same time undermine key planning for regional, electricity generating and distribution infrastructure, by local councils vetoing the construction of unsightly and disrupting, on-shore wind farms.
Following a period of consultation, a decision by the government next March on a minimum carbon price and a white paper covering these proposed green energy reforms to be published in the spring of 2011, the above mechanisms could be in force by 2013.

Green Economy

vendredi, juillet 30th, 2010

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, has been pressing his fellow environment ministers to increase the already challenging carbon emissions reduction target of the European Union. However, across Europe countries under severe budget constraints are already cutting back on their expensive carbon reduction programmes or modifying them. The Spanish and German governments for example are reducing their subsidies to solar power by some 30%. In Britain, the governing Coalition has scrapped plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport, supposedly on environmental grounds, but has abolished the Sustainable Development Commission, the official watchdog originally created to oversee the drive to a so-called Green Economy. It seems that the government is also abandoning the previous Labour plan to invest £1 billion raised by the sale of state assets, such as the Channel tunnel link, into a so-called Green Investment Bank and instead use the money to reduce the budget deficit.
To meet the carbon emissions reduction target, major subsidies will be needed to enable the electricity supply industry to switch from fossil fuels (which currently are used to generate some 70% of UK demand) to renewable sources of energy such as solar or wind power. Mr Huhne favours renewable energy but seems to dislike the thought of nuclear generated energy (and its associated toxic waste disposal problem) which at source can be recycled and has stated that there is no money in the budget for nuclear power stations. Currently nuclear power stations provide some 22% of UK demand with renewable energy sources only producing around 5%. The remainder is imported (via a sub-Channel power cable) from France which, for energy security reasons following the oil crisis in the 1970s, produces around 80% of its electricity output from 50 nuclear power stations and around 50% of its total energy needs.
The current generation of nuclear power stations in the UK will be completely phased out by 2020 and 10 sites have been identified for construction of the next generation, which with planning and procurement delays together with a typical 4-5 year construction phase would still not come fully into service until late in the decade. Although a nuclear power station could cost an additional 50% or more of a conventional gas-powered equivalent, the more stable prices and supply sources for the uranium fuel with station operating costs at 10% of total capital, offer major savings compared with the 80% operating costs of the fossil fuel alternative, which in the case of gas is much less predictable in price and sources of supply. The latest, more fuel efficient, nuclear reactors over their design lives are also said to generate only 10% of the waste produced by the entire UK nuclear sector to date.
Given then the non-constant nature of renewable energy supplies e.g. from less predictable wind power (as of 1st August, 2010 there were 264 wind farms in the UK producing nearly 4.5 gigawatt of electricity) and that the McKinsey consulting firm has calculated renewable investments could cost £430 to save one tonne of carbon dioxide compared with the £8 per tonne offered by nuclear the latter, granted an appropriate in-feed tariff to the national grid, should play a major role in meeting the future energy demand of the UK and the carbon emissions reduction target of its green economy.