Articles from 2012
Keeping the UK Lights on Reality Check
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 12 December 2012
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:
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.