Posts Tagged energy

Nuclear innovation must be part of the climate and energy solution

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on November 1st, 2016

Director Stephen Tindale has written a piece for Bright Blue, the independent conservative think tank. Find the original article published here:

http://green.brightblue.org.uk/blog/2016/10/28/nuclear-innovation-must-be-part-of-the-climate-and-energy-solution

 
Nuclear is a necessary part of the UK’s energy system. It currently provides about a fifth of UK electricity. Reactors are expensive to build, cheap to operate, then expensive to decommission. So it makes sense to run them for as long as regulators say it is safe to do so. Angela Merkel’s decision to close Germany’s reactors early makes no economic sense.

However, the UK has not opened a new nuclear reactor since 1995. (Labour was, for most of its 13 years in power, anti-nuclear.) So most UK nuclear plants are reaching the end of their design life. If we are to meet the legally-binding carbon budgets of the Climate Change Act, new nuclear will be needed, alongside energy efficiency, renewables and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

Amber Rudd promised, while Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, that there will be no coal generation without CCS after 2025 – but only if this is consistent with energy security. By this she presumably meant ‘only if there is enough non-coal generation capacity to keep the lights on’. In the broader energy security sense, ‘where does the fuel come from?’, nuclear clearly is consistent: the uranium comes from friendly countries like Australia and Namibia.

The Coalition Government did well to make progress on new nuclear, which the Conservative Government has continued. Prime Minister May has now given final approval to EDF to construct Hinkley Point C. The reactor EDF will build, the European Pressurised Reactor, is a very complicated design – with additional safety features added to an old design. This complexity increases costs. EDF’s efforts to build such reactors in France and Finland have been beset with difficulties, delays and budget overruns.

Nevertheless, now the decision has been made Hinkley should be supported. So should new build proposals on Angelsey and in Cumbria. These projects will use less complex reactor designs, so will very probably be cheaper to build. But they are again not the most modern reactor designs. So the Government should also promote nuclear innovation.

Last year, the think tank I work for, Weinberg Next Nuclear, called for public investment in nuclear innovation. In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne promised £250 million for nuclear R&D. Earlier this year, the Government launched a competition to develop and demonstrate small modular reactors, which can be made in factories. They are then delivered to sites, where the modules can be combined to provide a power station as large as desired. This will almost certainly cut construction costs.

The Government should go further on nuclear innovation, as Weinberg argued in our April report Next Steps for Nuclear Innovation in the UK. Britain has an enormous legacy from past nuclear activities: spent fuel and the largest plutonium stockpile in the world. Burying it in a very deep – and very expensive – hole has been the favoured option of successive governments. A much better approach would be to use the legacy to provide clean energy. Most of the energy that was contained in the uranium remains unused in spent fuel, so the fuel should be re-used, not thrown away. Plutonium can also be used as fuel. Advanced molten salt and fast reactors could deal with the nuclear legacy as well as providing clean energy. Because safety is built into the design, they will be cheaper to construct than the Hinkley design will be.

Why can’t energy policy, including technological innovation, simply be left to the market? Because there is not a proper carbon price, so the market delivers dirty energy, not clean energy. A carbon price set in the UK alone damages competitiveness. There could in theory be an international carbon price at a respectable level (so unlike the EU Emissions Trading System). But this debate has been going on for 30 years, with little progress. We cannot afford to wait longer. As Christine Lagarde has pointed out, climate change is the greatest economic threat of the twenty-first century.

Chancellor Hammond should therefore continue Osborne’s investment in nuclear innovation. He should reverse one of his predecessor’s mistakes and re-start a UK CCS programme. And he should support innovative renewable energy technologies: tidal lagoons, floating offshore wind farms, bioenergy from seaweed. Innovation, like energy policy generally, must include a diverse portfolio.

The Conservative Party has – as the name suggests – a strong commitment to conservation. It has a proud record on climate change: Margaret Thatcher’s 1989 speech to the Royal Society helped shape the global climate agreement reached three years later in Rio. Theresa May and Greg Clark now have the opportunity to build on this record by publishing, then implementing, a clean industrial strategy.

Industrial Strategy Consultation – Weinberg’s submission to BEIS

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on October 17th, 2016

 

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee launched an inquiry this summer to which Weinberg Next Nuclear submitted a response. Our recommendations have now been published and can be found below or at this link:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/business-innovation-and-skills-committee/industrial-strategy/written/38936.html

 

A commitment to industrial strategy is welcome, and must include sustainable development, decarbonisation and energy security at its core.

The debate on the extent of state involvement, in reference to climate change and sustainable development, is a valid one. However, the market is far from free. It would only be free if all externalities were included, but they are not. If there was a strong carbon price the government would be able to be less involved, but there will always be a need for some government intervention. Examples of this include research and development for industrial innovation that often requires initial government support.

The government must ensure that the Climate Change Act remains central. It has now been proven that the costs of action on climate change are far less than the costs of inaction (Stern review), with key industry and market leaders in agreement. The CBI says:

Ensuring that we maintain a secure, affordable and low-carbon supply is vital to British business. Additionally, we must continue to use energy more efficiently. The CBI is lobbying for government to provide a long-term, stable policy framework to enable continued business innovation and investment in the UK’s low-carbon transition.[1]

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said:

The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking. [2]

Christine Laggard, of the International Monetary Fund, agreed saying:

If climate change issues are not adequately addressed—if we keep running those nice energy subsidies, if the price on carbon is not adequately set, if policymakers dont have it on their radar screens—then financial stability in the medium and long-term is clearly at stake.[3]

It is thus essential that this significant threat to industries, markets, and the environment is mitigated.

The government also needs to accompany the targets on climate change with action by investing in future solutions. Research and development must continue to nurture infant industries that not only have the potential to benefit the UK’s energy and environmental security, but could also offer exciting new export potential. Initiatives like the Swansea tidal lagoon (a world first), advanced nuclear power including the SMR competition, floating offshore wind farms, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and advanced bioenergy from algae are all great opportunities for the UK to pursue. Until externalities are internalised, low carbon energy industries will often require public financial support. The UK Government should provide this, where necessary, from taxes not consumer bills, and should also stop subsidies to unnecessary high carbon energy, including coal-fired power stations

An industrial strategy should be about developing new industries, whilst providing what existing industries need. Developing sustainable energy options not only consolidates the UK’s position in the growing green economy but also contributes to achieving affordable, sustainable and secure energy that is essential for existing industries. Some options, such as CCS, could give new life to declining existing heavy industry as a new report suggests[4] and development at already approved nuclear sites could help improve the rural economy in those areas. Combining heat and power provision through systems like district heating, also offer promising mutual benefits once the initial investment and development is made.

Industry needs security, but in the uncertainty wrought by the Brexit vote it also needs consistency. Blocking low cost, green solutions such as onshore wind, is unwise. A consistent approach should be used between energy sources. For example, if local communities are not allowed a veto vote over shale gas developments, they should also not be allowed a veto on wind farms. Whatever is decided on veto policy, it should be consistency across technologies.

Similarly, industry needs consistency over time. Regulatory stability and long-term agendas help investor confidence. One of the key mechanisms for delivering regulatory stability was EU membership. In the Brexit scenario that the UK now finds itself in, it is essential that a stable, consistent and long-term approach to policy is developed, to maintain confidence and ensure industrial progress.

The UK must also ensure it stays competitive and open to EU and global markets, whilst also maintaining its leadership in certain fields. One of these fields is emissions. The Industrial Emissions Directive, is a key policy that keep relationships with Europe strong whilst protecting our local and global environment. It is essential that that this, and other environmental initiatives are maintained and strengthened to allow the UK to continue to be a key part of Europe’s sustainable industrial future.

Finally, the UK should take inspiration from around the world. In the USA, Obama’s “all of the above” strategy allows security in energy to be achieved through variety of supply. Germany became a world leader in wind and solar development largely due to its Stromeinspeisungsgesetz law, ensuring a very attractive feed in tariff for renewables. This policy was so successful they now need to invest in storage and interconnection to integrate the renewables into a wider energy system. Sweden’s NUTEK created demand for new technologies with greater energy efficiency by technology procurement and government guarantees for market demands. By keeping abreast of these policy developments elsewhere, and future-proofing industry by investing in sustainability, the UK can ensure it continues to prosper.

A well-designed industrial strategy can propel the UK into a leading role in a number of policy areas, including energy, as well as provide some much needed clarity in the post-Brexit environment.

 

[1] http://www.cbi.org.uk/business-issues/energy/

[2] http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2015/844.aspx

[3] http://www.wri.org/blog/2013/04/lord-nicholas-stern-identifies-3-obstacles-international-climate-action

[4] http://www.ccsassociation.org/news-and-events/reports-and-publications/parliamentary-advisory-group-on-ccs-report/

Being pro-nuclear does not undermine climate and energy goals

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 26th, 2016

By Stephen Tindale and Suzanna Hinson

“EU member states with pro-nuclear policies risk undermining Europe’s 2020 Strategy on climate and energy goals, an academic study has found.”

Maxine Perella: “Pro-nuclear EU countries ‘slower to tackle GHGs or boost renewables’ – study.” ENDS Europe, 24 August 2016

The study referred to is “Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s ‘Energy union’: coherence or continued divergence?” by Andrew Lawrence, Benjamin Sovacool and Andrew Stirling, from the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Relations.[1]

The authors consider data from all European countries. They divide them into three main categories: always anti-nuclear (13 countries); now anti-nuclear (7); pro-nuclear (8). The headline conclusions are that:

– The always-anti countries have reduced their emissions by an average of 6% since 2005, and had increased renewable energy sources to 26%.

– The now-anti countries reduced emissions on average by 11% while expanding renewables to 19%.

– In pro-nuclear countries, greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2005 by an average of 3%, and only 16% of energy is from renewables.

– On the basis of these figures, the authors conclude:”[The] intensities of national commitment to nuclear power tend to be inversely related to degrees of success in achieving EU climate policy goals.”

The study was published in the journal Climate Policy, so will have been peer reviewed. It deserves to be taken seriously – and has already been widely discussed. However, the authors’ conclusions are, in our view, based on two significant mistakes:

– The categories of pro- and anti-nuclear are too broad and do not compare like with like;

– Reduction of greenhouse gases and promotion of renewable energy are presented together as a single objective. They are not.

The authors group countries together into always anti-nuclear, now anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear. To be in the ‘now anti-‘ category, a country’s government must have a policy to decommission existing nuclear power stations and not allow replacements. Germany clearly belongs in this category. Does Sweden, which the authors also place there? In 1980 Swedes voted in a referendum to phase out nuclear power, though no timetable was set. Since then Swedish policy on nuclear has been, to use the diplomatic word used by the World Nuclear Association, “ambivalent”.[2] In 2010, at the behest of a centre-right government, the Swedish parliament lifted the ban on new nuclear construction. In 2014 the Green Party entered a centre-left coalition, so new nuclear was off the political agenda for a while. But on 10 June this year (so shortly after the publication of the Climate Policy article) the government lifted its moratorium on nuclear new build, and also reduced the tax on nuclear. Sweden is not, therefore, an anti-nuclear country.

The countries which the authors do place in their pro-nuclear category are Finland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the UK: countries with very different economic and political circumstances. We do not believe that it makes analytical sense to compare western European countries – established democracies with strong economies – with ex-communist central and eastern European ones. And the existing energy mix is also a determining factor in a country’s attitude to climate action. The reason the Polish government opposes strong greenhouse gas reduction targets is not because it wants to build a nuclear power station; it is because Polish society and economy are currently so dependent on coal.

If one narrows the category to western European countries, how do pro-and anti-nuclear countries compare? In terms of greenhouse gas reductions since 2005, the figures given in the Climate Policy article are:

Country Authors’ category Greenhouse gas reduction since 2005
Denmark Always anti -20%
Ireland Always anti -20%
Austria Always anti -16%
Finland Pro -16%
Netherlands Now anti -16%
Belgium Now anti -15%
France Pro -14%
Germany Now anti -14%
UK Pro -14%
Italy Always anti -13%
Spain Now anti -10%
Sweden Now anti -10%

 

Denmark and Ireland, the countries that have reduced emissions most since 2005, have always been anti-nuclear. But two examples do not constitute a proven link. Beyond these two, the figures do not establish correlation, let alone causation. In joint second on -16% are one country from each of the three categories. Anti-nuclear Germany and pro-nuclear Britain and France have each reduced emissions by 14% since 2005.

Performance on renewable energy

The authors then consider how well countries are performing on renewable energy. They mention the drawbacks of some renewable energy technologies, including large hydro and bioenergy, but nevertheless present single figures, covering all renewables, for each country. Bioenergy and nuclear can be used anywhere, but other renewables, especially hydro, are geographically dependent.

The figures for western European countries are given below. Again, there is no correlation between attitude to nuclear and performance on renewables.

Country Category Percentage of energy from renewables (2013)
Sweden Now anti (according to authors) 52%
Finland Pro 37%
Austria Always anti 33%
Denmark Always anti 27%
France Pro 14%
Germany Now anti 12.5%
UK Pro 5%
Netherlands Now anti 4.5%

 

Sweden get about 40% of its electricity from hydro; Finland 18%. Finland got 16% of electricity from bioenergy in 2013, Sweden 6%. Both countries also use bioenergy extensively for heating.[3] They have strong criteria for minimising the biodiversity impact of biomass, but not for assessing the carbon footprint. EU rules on the carbon footprint of bioenergy apply only to biofuels, not to biomass. Bioenergy is necessary, particularly for heating and for transport. But not all bioenergy expansion is desirable. Being renewable is not the same as being good for the climate. Similarly, large-scale hydro, has some severe consequences to habitats, erosion and hydrology meaning though it is good for the climate, it is not necessarily good for the environment.

Are renewables better than nuclear?

Does it matter whether greenhouse gas reductions are achieved through expansion of renewables, or through other measures? It does not matter to the global climate. In our view, the scale of the climate crisis is such that we need rapidly to move beyond arguments about which low-carbon technology to support and accepted that all are required. (Our next report will be on this issue.) But the way in which emissions are reduced appears to matter to the Climate Policy authors. Professor Andy Stirling, said about his report: “By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive.”[4]

Academics should always define their terms. So we have a question for Professor Sterling: better in what sense?

 

[1] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2016.1179616

[2] http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-o-s/sweden.aspx

[3] https://www.iea.org/countries/membercountries/

[4] http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/36547

Weinberg Next Nuclear has been working closely with new reactor designers and finding out about the different innovations that companies are developing to provide a low carbon energy future. As part of this, our director, Stephen Tindale, recently interviewed the Co-Founder of Moltex Energy, Ian Scott, about their Stable Salt Reactor design. Ian talks about how he came up with this design from the work done by Alvin Weinberg decades earlier, and the benefits that come with this new design.

This interview is part of our current work on a report entitled “How Nuclear Innovation Should be Delivered”. The report has generously been sponsored by three Nuclear companies: Terrestrial Energy, Moltex Energy and URENCO on behalf of their reactor design, U-Battery. This project specific funding allows us resources to research and publish papers that we hope will have significant influence on the future success of the nuclear industry. Vital as this funding is to our work, we are careful to ensure it does not limit our objectivity and balanced view of the industry. Weinberg Next Nuclear retains editorial control and does not lobby for any particular company’s design. We are in agreement with our sponsors that nuclear power is vital for a sustainable future and we will continue to work together to achieve the changes necessary to achieve it.

In February, some of the Weinberg Next Nuclear Team travelled to Canada to learn more about the exciting developments that Canada is achieving in advanced nuclear. In this series of videos, Weinberg Next Nuclear’s director Stephen Tindale interviews Terrestrial Energy’s director Simon Irish in Tornoto about his reasons for joining the nuclear industry, opinions on the molten salt reactor design and views on the future of nuclear power. 

The Canadian trip and interviews are part of our current work on a report entitled “How Nuclear Innovation Should be Delivered”. The report has generously been sponsored by three Nuclear companies: Terrestrial Energy, Moltex Energy and URENCO on behalf of their U-Battery design. This project specific funding allows us resources to research and publish papers that we hope will have significant influence on the future success of the nuclear industry. Vital as this funding is to our work, we are careful to ensure it does not limit our objectivity and balanced view of the industry. Weinberg Next Nuclear retains editorial control and does not lobby for any particular company’s design. We are in agreement with our sponsors that nuclear power is vital for a sustainable future and we will continue to work together to achieve the changes necessary to achieve it.

We have the energy to change minds

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on December 20th, 2012

IEA World Energy Outlook shows why planet needs nuclear

Posted by Mark Halper on November 13th, 2012

IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven has warned in the past that fossil fuels are keeping the world is on a disastrous warming trend.

The International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook yesterday, and you could sum up its power generation recommendation with a simple paraphrase: Keep the fossil fuels in the ground.

Or, to take, some liberty with IEA’s words – the planet should transition to clean non-fossil sources like safe alternative nuclear technologies, and, of course “renewables” such as wind and solar.

Paris-based IEA said the world is not doing enough to change energy practices and that it therefore risks causing a 2-degree C average rise in the earth’s surface temperature – an increase that many climate scientists say would be catostrophic.

“Taking all new developments and policies into account, the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path,” the IEA says in the report’s executive summary.

A major culprit is the continued burning of fossil fuels, especially now that cheap natural gas is abundant in the U.S. and is prompting that country to export coal to other countries. The U.S. will out produce Saudi Arabia in oil by 2020 and will become a net oil exporter by 2035, the IEA predicts.

NOTHING FOSSILIZED ABOUT THE SUBSIDIES

Fossil fuel subsidies also played a major role in the continued supremacy of carbon intensive power, as they soared almost 30 percent in 2011, to $523 billion, the IEA reported.

IEA is a 28-country organisation that is part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that was founded in response to the 1973-74 oil crisis. It has been addressing issues of energy and sustainability since then.

This year’s annual Energy Outlook came with a prescription:

“No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal,” IEA cautioned. “Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22 percent to oil and 15 percent to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia.”

The IEA executive summary made no mention of “alternative nuclear” technologies that could help mitigate global warming consequences. Those technologies include thorium fuel as well as reactors that use designs like molten salt, pebble bed and fast neutrons that offer a safer and potentially less expensive option to conventional uranium-based nuclear reactors.

NUCLEAR DECLINING, BUT

Thus, the IEA pointed out that nuclear power’s share of global power generation will decline, even though the planet will generate more nuclear power as total energy demand increases. IEA said that last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident is causing a nuclear retreat as some countries like Germany back off. Again, the report does not take into account the prospects for alternative nuclear.

Coal will continue to play a dominant role, and renewables use will rise dramatically, according to IEA.

The executive summary notes: “The world’s demand for electricity grows almost twice as fast as its total energy consumption, and the challenge to meet this demand is heightened by the investment needed to replace ageing power sector infrastructure. Of the new generation capacity that is built to 2035, around one-third is needed to replace plants that are retired. Half of all new capacity is based on renewable sources of energy, although coal remains the leading global fuel for power generation.”

Renewables will become the second largest power source by 2015, and will account for about a third of energy output by 2035, according to the IEA.

ALL EYES ON CHINA, INDIA

Exactly how strong coal’s role will be will depend on policies in countries like China and India among others.

“Whether coal demand carries on rising strongly or changes course will depend on the strength of policy measures that favour lower-emissions energy sources, the deployment of more efficient coal-burning technologies and, especially important in the longer term, CCS (carbon capture and storage). The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in Beijing and New Delhi – China and India account for almost three-quarters of projected non-OECD coal demand growth (OECD coal use declines).”

The IEA outlook strongly recommends the adoption of CCS. (It’s Interesting to note that the CCS and renewables industries, both of which get plenty of attention in the IEA report, teamed with nuclear in the UK last week to urge the government to write low carbon measures into its pending energy bill).

Other key points from the IEA outlook:

  • Efficiency efforts have been abysmal. The IEA says industry could slash global energy demand in half by 2035 by taking simple efficiency measures. “Four-fifths of the potential in the buildings sector and more than half in industry still remains untapped,” IEA claims.
  • Nearly 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity and 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities.
  • Energy production’s use of water will grow at twice the rate of energy demand.  “Water is essential to energy production: in power generation; in the extraction, transport and processing of oil, gas and coal; and, increasingly, in irrigation for crops used to produce biofuels,” IEA says.

Alternative nuclear could help in all these areas. IEA’s reference to industrial efficiencies makes me think, for example, of how small, safe reactors could serve as a clean and efficient source of industrial process heat. Here’s hoping that next year’s IEA summary looks in the direction of alternative nuclear.

Photo from IEA via Flickr

UK and China calculate energy futures together

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on September 18th, 2012

China’s Energy Research Institute (ERI) has been working with its British counterparts to adapt the UK Government’s ‘2050 Calculator’ to their own economy. The 2050 Calculator is a ground-breaking tool to help countries to better plan their future energy strategy using the evidence-based system.

http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12_103/pn12_103.aspx

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