Right now is as good a time as any to understand some issues about both the UK electricity generation mix and a realistic assessment of the chances of both renewables and gas. In fact 1800 on December 12 is a really good time. Demand is likely to be one of the highest of the year. It's the perfect electrical storm:

It's a Tuesday - always a good demand day, better than the weekend or Friday

It's cold: It's not hit 0 degrees at Heathrow or most of England all day. It's also very foggy and we'll not get much solar gain (sunshine to most people) pouring through several millions windows.

While 85% of people use gas for central heating,  even that uses up more energy to run compressors and heat pumps. People with badly insulated homes will use electric heaters in cold spots

It's dark.That sounds obvious, but lighting use at it's annual peak at about 17 to 18. Everyone's still in the office, stores are open late, restaurants are at their peak Christmas party season and of course all those decorations. Throw in that demand with the domestic peak time. Dinner's cooking the TV's on, the lights are on, people come home and put the heat on etc etc.

Meanwhile the food processing industry is at it's peak.

Next week, people start going away, offices begin to empty, the food is on the shelves not in the factories,  schools start to shut etc etc.

We can see this here from the excellent real time electricity demand site at 1808:

december 12

Demand is approaching the red zone. Coal burn is almost maxed out. Nuclear is a base load source: you can't  simply turn a nuke on and off. CCGT means gas power.  It's flexible.  And as we can see from wind at less than 1% of demand,  gas needs to be. Coal can't be quickly ramped up the way gas can. We can see how finely balanced, as in minutes from disaster, by how much oil is being burnt. Oil is flexible too, but oil is peak, or even emergency, power generation, yet oil is today actually greater than wind. Someone seriously asked me earlier why solar isn't included. 

The point here highlights how divorced from reality Friends of the Earth and the WWF were during their appearance at the Energy and Climate Change Committee hearing yesterday. To Chairman Time Yeo's frustration the debate moved away from shale gas towards one on renewables when Dan Byles and Peter Lilley MP asked how the lights would stay on. Despite Kevin Anderson's previous insistence that all shale gas stay in the ground, forever more when confronted with reality the WWF and FOE backtracked quickly to a world where gas supplies backup renewables. The FOE and WWF disagree over nuclear of course, but the FOE seemed to think that with a little demand management, wind would step up to the challenge. In other words, to keep the lights on tonight, we just need to cut some

Later Tuesday, this irrealism, an essential disconnect from both the electricity grid and reality, was described by Professor Dieter Helm at a lecture in London. I have to give a plug for Dieter's excellent book The Carbon Crunch, which he told me was doing very well, or at least, is in the US. It seems to me that a few years back when Dieter was big nuclear fan, he was all over the place in the UK media, but now he's a big gas fan he's as invisible as any of the few supporters of shale are in the press.

Dieter caused some very long faces among the greens in the audience, but what he told them needs to be said:

18 years of Kyoto has produced zero.  Nothing at all in the way of reduced emissions.

Whether the UK uses shale or not is meaningless. We would pay the international price one way or the other and it's likely to be lower.  He wasn't going to bet, but that was the point. The Greens were going to bet on higher prices. He simply didn't know.

UK Greens have to start thinking more about climate change and less about the Committee for Climate Change. The CCC, and the UK, is not going to fry the earth, or not, any five minutes or so sooner. As soon as we start accepting that basic scientific fact, the more we can actually reduce climate change.  The answer to climate change belongs in the climate. That means outside Britain. To pretend otherwise is foolish. We could pretend the US shale gas revolution is some kind of hype not for the likes of us for various social and geological reasons.  But if we reject it, we better understand more fully what we give up.

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  • Striebs

    I watched about three quarters of the committee sitting .<br /><br />What struck me is that it has become impossible to maintain the pretense that the UK can achieve it's CO2 reduction targets .<br /><br />The only possible conclusion is that parliament screwed up by promising something which was never , ever achievable in the time available .<br /><br />What I was waiting for was for one of them to actually say the unsayable .<br /><br />The longer this goes on the more damage is done to the country .<br /><br />Nick , when do you think Parliament will be confronted with it's mistake and what do you think their responses will be ?

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  • What struck me about the 3 Eco people at the Select Committee was that they go on about 'electricity' as if it is 'energy'. No mention of heating, no mention of transportation, very poor.<br /><br />Once we let shale gas be developed, they will pay taxes. We can use this taxation to fund insulation (to save gas) and renewables. The gas saved can then be used to run our trucks, saving oil imports, improving air quality, reducing GHG.<br /><br />By doing all this we can move towards our decarbonisation targets in a way that creates jobs, reduces imports. Its not that difficult. Key is to find out how much of the shale resource can be converted into shale reserves. If there is as much as we all hope then we can put nuclear and CCS on the back burner and focus on Shale gas +Insulation + Renewables + CNG trucks....<br /><br />Sorted.

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  • Rozza

    Interesting post, I've a quick question, hope you can help. According to the NETA website http://www.bmreports.com/ the UK has roughly 26GW of CCGT available, but at peak demand the generation from gas was more like 20GW. Why was the 'emergency' oil making up the shortfall if there was extra gas generation available?

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  • roger

    In reply to: Rozza

    [quote]Interesting post, I've a quick question, hope you can help. According to the NETA website http://www.bmreports.com/ the UK has roughly 26GW of CCGT available, but at peak demand the generation from gas was more like 20GW. Why was the 'emergency' oil making up the shortfall if there was extra gas generation available?[/QUOTE]<br /><br /><br />Oil is VERY rarely used in the UK these days for electricity generation.<br />It makes up less than 0.01% of our electricity.<br /><br />It is only used when there is a unexpected spike and none of the other sources can be ramped up quick enough or where if they ramp up it is inefficent<br /><br />There may have been gas capacity available but you are more likely to run the oil plant for 1 hour than to run the gas plant for 1 hour. The gas plant doesn’t reach peak efficiency instantly while the oil one does quickly.

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  • Andy

    This story will be the story of shale in the USA.<br /><br />This is lawfare by the blue states with no shale or no hydraulic fracturing against all the states with either.<br /><br />For the sake of saving us from the 0.4% to 0.6% of the methane that leaks, they will attempt to shut down:<br />Marcellus<br />Bakken<br />Eagle Ford<br />etc.<br />and <br />US Steel<br />Valuorec (sp?)<br />TNK (sp?)<br />Exxon<br />Chesapeake<br />Devon<br />Youngstown, OH<br />North Dakota<br />Energy Security<br />etc.<br /><br />Is anyone in the Obama administration familiar with the phrase "friendly fire" during lawfare? (see first paragraph)

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  • DP

    In reply to: Andy

    If the lawsuit goes against them the producers can just shut doen the wells and we will see an almighty crash. That would concentrate minds somewhat.<br />On a different tack about windpower where I am it is foggy and below freezing but not a breath of wind. What if we relied on wind for power?

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  • Nick,<br />Thanks for another excellent post.<br />It is an inditement of our media that such common sense realism is not getting any airtime.<br />That graphic of the generation balance should be the backdrop to every TV feature on energy - brilliant.

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  • Riddi of England

    I think I sense some hard left progressives ... watermelons even... starting to grow up. We all do eventually thankfully !

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  • John Law

    The obvious green solution , if you believe AGW ( I am sceptical personally), is to go to nuclear baseload with some increase in CCGT, certainly needed in the shorter term. I think though that the bonus (I think Nick will be right on the size of the bounty) should be mainly used to supply home heating (already a big use), chemical feedstock, gas to liquids particularly for transport fuels. We should also logically make a big energy conservation effort.<br /><br />To suggest we set about burning this wonderful fuel solely for electricity generation is short sighted and probably selfish, I would prefer to eke it out for future generations.<br /><br />We should only look at wind and solar on a big scale when we come up with a practical storage mechanism and we should not defile the countryside with them at any cost. I see hundreds of them at sea near where I live and don't like that, but it is prefereable to destoying the beautiful Welsh ( or English)Countryside. Biofuels other than from waste products are an obscenity for which the so called greens should be ashamed

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  • roger

    In reply to: John Law

    [quote]The obvious green solution , if you believe AGW ( I am sceptical personally), is to go to nuclear baseload with some increase in CCGT, certainly needed in the shorter term. I think though that the bonus (I think Nick will be right on the size of the bounty) should be mainly used to supply home heating (already a big use), chemical feedstock, gas to liquids particularly for transport fuels. We should also logically make a big energy conservation effort.<br /><br />To suggest we set about burning this wonderful fuel solely for electricity generation is short sighted and probably selfish, I would prefer to eke it out for future generations.<br /><br />We should only look at wind and solar on a big scale when we come up with a practical storage mechanism and we should not defile the countryside with them at any cost. I see hundreds of them at sea near where I live and don't like that, but it is prefereable to destoying the beautiful Welsh ( or English)Countryside. Biofuels other than from waste products are an obscenity for which the so called greens should be ashamed[/QUOTE]<br /><br /><br />I used to think this<br /><br />But when you consider that coal has a lot of chemicals that are very useful you realise coal is more important to humanity than NG<br /><br />You can make NG from coal<br />You cannot make coal (and its important volatile components) from NG<br /><br />So burning NG for electricity at 60% efficiency makes a lot more sense than coal at 38%

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