Posts Tagged UK energy

The impact of Brexit on clean energy

Posted by Stephen Tindale on June 27th, 2016

What will be the impact of Brexit on clean energy in the UK? Answer: nobody knows, because nothing is remotely clear in British politics now. Who will be prime minister? Will there be an early general election? What will be the relationship between the UK and the remaining EU member-states? Will there even be a UK?

However, some broad predictions can be made – and they are not optimistic.

In the short term, there will probably not be significant change in the policy framework. But there will be further slowdown in investment in energy infrastructure: potential investors do not like instability. Investment in renewables will be reduced because the UK will no longer be obliged to meet the 2020 legally-binding renewables target. Investment in new nuclear will also be reduced: progress on Hinkley looks even less likely this week than it did last. Investment in new  interconnectors will probably suffer less. Other countries’ governments may be very cross with Britain, but that will not stop them wanting to sell us more electricity.

In the medium- to long-term, some laws governing the energy sector will probably be revoked or weakened. The free market right of the Conservative party has been strengthened, and attacks on ‘Brussels red tape’ were frequent in the successful Leave campaign. There were criticisms of the EU’s 2010 Industrial Emissions Directive, which limits air pollution emissions from power stations and protects public health ( However, air pollution is quite high on the UK political and media agendas. So the Industrial Emissions Directive will probably remain in force post-Brexit.

Weaker climate policies

Climate policies look more vulnerable, because there is a significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate scepticism. The UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent (from1990 levels) by 2050, was passed with all party support in 2008 – only five MPs voted against. There are more climate sceptic Conservative MPs now than there were in 2008, and likely to be even more following a general election called by the new prime minister. But the new government is not likely to repeal the Act. Instead, it will probably weaken it by adopting less ambitious ‘carbon budgets’. The Act requires governments to set such budgets for four year periods, on advice from a Committee on Climate Change. The Cameron government has yet to accept the Committee’s latest recommendation.

The 2010-15 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government implemented an Emissions Performance Standard banning the construction of new coal power stations unless they have carbon capture and storage. The opposition Labour party tried to get this applied to existing coal as well (as Obama is doing with his Clean Power Plan). There is now little likelihood of this happening. And the promise made by energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd (a leading Remain campaigner) to close unabated coal by 2025 looks unlikely to be met. Rudd said in her speech announcing this target that it would only be implemented if consistent with energy security. The slow down in energy infrastructure considered above makes the target much more challenging.

The coalition also introduced a ‘carbon floor price’: emissions allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System are not sold in the UK if the auction bid is lower than £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide. This raises around £2 billion a year, ( ), so a Chancellor of the Exchequer will not want to abolish it. But making UK operators pay around three times the cost of allowances elsewhere in Europe does not help UK competitiveness, so the next Chancellor will come under considerable pressure to scrap it.

Advanced nuclear power

Post-Brexit, there will be less Europe-wide collaboration on energy R&D. This will hamper research. In the words of Universities for Europe:

“Working together, UK and European researchers can pool their resources, expertise, data and infrastructure to achieve more together than they could do alone. Many of today’s challenges are global, not national. In the EU, researchers can collaborate more easily to come up with solutions on an international scale, making the most of Europe’s diversity to achieve bigger and better results. EU frameworks, programmes and funding support collaboration are reducing the barriers to working across borders.” (

This additional barrier does not make energy R&D impossible. The UK must continue to invest in energy innovation. Chancellor George Osborne promised in his 2015 Autumn Statement £250 million over five years for nuclear innovation. In his March 2016 Budget he allocated £30 million to a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) competition. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently talking to potential SMR developers.  This is in line with our recommendations (see  However, the referendum result means that the UK government has less money than expected. And a competition does not guarantee that money will be provided. The UK ran a competition on Carbon Capture and Storage but then cancelled it without giving any awards. The top priority for Weinberg Next Nuclear in the coming months will be to try to ensure that the SMR competition continues and leads to financial support to developers.

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.

Why I have joined the Alvin Weinberg Foundation

Posted by Stephen Tindale on June 4th, 2015

“I cannot really complain too much about solar utopians: their dreams are noble and ought to be encouraged. On the other hand, when these dreams of solar utopia are used as political instruments to eliminate the nuclear option, I believe it is most important to object.”

Alvin Weinberg, ‘Toward an acceptable nuclear future’, 1977.

I am a former renewable energy utopian – though, since I live in the UK, I am more excited about wind power than I am about solar. I spent 20 years campaigning against nuclear, the last 5 of them as head of Greenpeace UK. I protested outside nuclear power stations. Then I realised that I had been wrong; that renewable energy cannot expand quickly enough to phase out fossil fuels and protect the climate. I concluded that opposition to nuclear power is not compatible with any attempt to control climate change. And, because many of my former colleagues in green groups were continuing with anti-nuclear campaigns, I too felt that it was important to object. So for the last 6 years I have been speaking out in favour of nuclear power, and was delighted last month to start working for the Alvin Weinberg Foundation.

Alvin Weinberg was not only a world-renowned nuclear scientist, but also one of the world’s first climate campaigners. He warned of the dangers of increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the 1970s; over a decade before James Hansen’s historic Congressional evidence in 1988. (That is not in any way intended to downplay Hansen’s immense contribution to climate science or, indeed, to campaigning.) Weinberg also spoke out against the dangers of technology tribalism. We need to use every tool to mitigate the climate and energy crises. We do not need nuclear or renewables; we need nuclear and renewables. That is even more strongly the case today in 2015 than it was in the 1970s.

In the 1977 paper quoted above, Weinberg speaks of the need “to set the nuclear ship back on course”. Thirty -eight years later, it definitely needs to be set back on course again, particularly in Europe. The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) that is supposed to be constructed in the UK may well get abandoned; EDF have not yet taken a final investment decision, and the EPRs being built in France and Finland are well over time and over budget. The latest in a long line of problems is that Areva have used the wrong type of steel at the EPR site in France, and the steel is already encased in concrete.

The EPR is a very complex design. Other existing nuclear reactor designs (so-called generation 3 or 3+) are less complex and need to be built, because they are proven, demonstrated and ready to go. However, more advanced designs must also be researched, developed and demonstrated. This should include both Integral Fast Reactors and Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs), the technology which Weinberg himself pioneered at Oak Ridge in the 1960s. MSRs have many potential benefits over current nuclear reactors:

* The plant can operate at near atmospheric pressure. The fuel salt used in MSRs has no chemical reactivity with air or water. So MSRs cannot explode.

* The liquid salt returns to a solid form at ambient temperatures. This, combined with installed passive safety systems, would automatically shut down advanced reactors avoiding future situations like  Fukushima and Chernobyl.

* Some advanced reactors could be fuelled by existing nuclear waste from conventional nuclear reactors. This ‘waste’ still contains over 90% of the energy that was in the uranium, so can be used many times as fuel. At the end of the process these advanced reactors would still produce some waste, but much less by volume than the waste produced by a conventional nuclear plant.

* Certain next-generation reactors can use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the world’s largest stockpile of plutonium, a result of two decades of reprocessing and failure to use mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel.

* Advanced reactors could be very fuel efficient – up to 75 times more electricity per ton of fuel than an out-dated conventional light-water reactor.

*Next generation reactors could be designed to be small and modular (producing up to 300 megawatts) which would suit power needs in remote locations. Compact versions of MSRs could be built in a central factory and assembled on site. This would reduce costs.

* Modular reactors could be constructed adjacent to industrial sites so that waste heat from the reactor could be used for heat-intensive processes such as desalination or the production of aluminium, cement, ammonia and synthesised fuels.

* Some advanced reactors are ideally suited to the sustainable production of medical isotopes, used for scans and to treat cancer. These isotopes are currently in short supply.

* Most next generation reactors would use approximately 97% less water than conventional nuclear reactors.

The Alvin Weinberg Foundation is committed to highlighting these benefits, to politicians and the public, and seeing the potential of advanced nuclear power realised. There are companies seeking to build prototype MSRs in the UK. If the EPR is abandoned, a sensible reaction by the new British government would be to support an advanced nuclear technology demonstration project in the UK.

At a meeting yesterday ahead of the upcoming UK energy bill, the Chancellor, George Osborne, reflected the Conservative party’s growing scepticism about current climate change policy in referring to the green lobby as “environmental Taliban”, reports The Independent:

‘Vote blue, get green’ – clearly an election promise smoke screen.

EDF gives assurance on Hinkley Point energy costs

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 15th, 2012

In an interview in today’s Telegraph, EDF boss Vincent de Rivaz dismisses speculation of a £165 per MWh price tag, reportedly seeking a price cap of £140 per MWh – matching current offshore wind farm pricing

Britain must act now to not fall dangerously behind the clean energy race

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 15th, 2012

Nicholas Stern, eminent British economist and chair of Grantham Institute for Climate Change, presses the point in the Observer that the energy bill just a few weeks away, the Coalition must incentivise the markets to reduce high-carbon output – or regulate against them:

It’s not as though there’s no interest from UK plc in marketising (sic) green technologies, as two recent letters from some of the country’s leading industry players clearly demonstrated; calling for the government to adopt a target to decarbonise the power sector by 2030.

Time is of the essence for government to demonstrate leadership through its energy and climate policies, supporting creativity and innovation in the power sector, and stand up against Mr Osbourne’s pro-gas, anti-green policy push.

What price UK nuclear – and who’s to pay?

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 7th, 2012

‘Pro nuclear’ energy minister, John Hayes, reviews underwriting cost risk of new plants – whilst “optimistic” about interest from China, despite stalled bid for Horizon

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