Monitoring UK Electricity Generation

I have been monitoring the UK power generation for about 5 years using Elexon 1 hour snapshots . On June 1st Elexon introduced their equivalent power monitoring system and stopped supporting the snapshot data interface that I have been using for the last 9 years. Therefore it makes no sense for me to continue my old version, so instead I will in future access their data directly However my system will still be able to monitor  the political efforts to”transition” to low carbon power sources (Wind & Solar) which is once again being hyped up as an election issue.  My latest analysis with the bold interface again demonstrates the underlying problems of relying on intermittent power sources (you can’t).

Power generation by fuel type up to January 2024

Winter 2023 suffered several wind deserts, while  demand has actually increased compared to a year ago. I suspect this is probably due to the rapid increase in electric car usage and perhaps also increased use of heat pumps. There is unfortunately no such thing as a free lunch !

The severe anti-correlation of gas generation to wind power to balance the grid is shown below. Even coal generation was needed a couple of times to help meet demand.

Comparison of Wind Power generation with Gas generation. You can see an almost perfect anti-correlation. Natural Gas is an essential fuel for the UK.

All main political parties pay lip service to the “Net Zero” energy agenda. Achieving net zero was even put into UK law by Ed Miliband with his Climate Change Act. The problem though is that achieving such a goal is currently impossible!  Furthermore this conclusion will not change even if we were to double current Wind and Solar generation. Engineers should determine energy policy – not politicians! The only proven way to cut carbon emissions to zero is to invest in more nuclear power like France, but no doubt the Green Party and others will oppose that too. So currently it also makes far more sense to continue extracting  our own North Sea Gas instead of importing liquified gas with a much larger carbon footprint !  As a result energy costs will continue to rise mainly to satisfy  short term political posturing, and there is not a hope in hell Net Zero can be reached based on renewables alone.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, nuclear, renewables, wind farms | 2 Comments

Global temperature update for April 2024

The monthly global temperature anomaly using a baseline of 1961-1990 shows a small drop from it’s peak value of 1.6C in September 2023 to 1.21C.

This is probably due to  a decline in the strong El Nino as shown below

This plot shows temperatures calculated by spherical triangulation of GHCN combined with the HadSST4 sea surface temperature data

It’s too early to say what the annual temperature will end up as but if this cooling trend continues then it is unlikely to be significantly warmer than 2023.

 

Posted in AGW, climate science, Hadley, UK Met Office | 2 Comments

Will Fusion or Fission power the world?

Civilisation needs a long term reliable power source if it is to avoid eventual collapse. Renewable energy cannot achieve this because a) it is inherently unreliable and requires gas backup,  b) lasts less than 20 years yet requires huge areas of land/sea, and c) its renewal depends on steel, tarmac, plastics and heavy machinery.  Nuclear Energy on the other hand  is truly Zero Carbon neutral, lasts over 60 years and can if needed produce hydrogen, biofuel and recharge batteries at night.

The development of Nuclear Energy in the UK was damaged by a bad press, Chernobyl,  and Three Mile Island. The only known fatalities from these incidents were 28 deaths among Fire Fighters in Chernobyl who  extinguished the fire from the roof. Another Chernobyl style accident is impossible in modern PWRs which have an excellent safety record. The Accident at Fukushima was due to a large Tsunami that killed no-one and could have been easily been avoided if the emergency generators had been sited on the roof of the reactor building. Nuclear France has a very good safety record whereas fossil fuels and off-shore wind have far worse fatality rates. France also has the lowest carbon emissions per capita in Europe.

Nuclear Energy comes in two flavours. Fission and Fusion.

  1.  The first Fission chain reaction using natural uranium and a graphite moderator was achieved in a Chicago Squash court 83 years ago by a team led by Enrico Fermi. It was literally a “pile” of Uranium and Graphite bricks arranged to achieve a chain reaction . Luckily the power generated was low (~1watt) since there was no shielding. All the natural Uranium occurring on earth was produced from the dust from a supernova of a first generation massive  star. Modern Fission reactors use enriched Uranium fuel rods in a pressurised water reactor (PWR). France is the leader in deploying low carbon nuclear energy and it’s commercial arm EDF is building Hinkley C and runs Sizewell B Fission Reactors which maintain power for up to 2 years before refuelling.
  2. Nuclear Fusion is the fusion of light elements (mainly Hydrogen) in stars to generate heavier elements up to Iron until the star runs out of hydrogen. The largest stars then explode in a supernova producing heavier elements including Uranium. The quest to exploit fusion on earth to generate electricity began in Harwell  in the 1950s and is still ongoing today. Why is it so hard? To make Fusion work you need to heat and contain a burning plasma of hydrogen isotopes (Deuterium and Tritium) and then extract the heat energy to drive turbines and generate electricity. The  power cycle must also breed new Tritium fuel to maintain  a steady state operational cycle lasting many months of operations. Tokamaks are the leading design for future fusion reactors if they can demonstrate steady state electricity generation like Fission.  ITER  (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is being constructed in France.  However other designs have emerged in recent years such as Spherical Tokamacs and Inertial fusion. The UK is no longer a direct member of ITER and has announced plans to build a Fusion power station STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) on the site of an old coal power station in Nottinghamshire and to be connected to the grid by 2040.
  3. Inertial  fusion implodes small DT samples with lasers or projectiles to release energy and recently the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved ignition through laser implosion of a DT  pellet with a small energy gain. A UK company First Light Fusion PLC uses extreme electromagnetic pulses to focus energy onto a DT target
  4. Commercial Fusion. An interesting development is the increase in  privately funded companies looking to try alternative approaches to the large international efforts. The potential pay-off if successful of a new energy source is immense. In the UK Tokamak Energy is developing spherical Tokamaks with High Temperature Superconductors.
  5. The design of a Tokamak Fusion Reactor is rather complicated. These currently run as a series of energy pulses. The energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel. Just like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators. Any damage to the walls or the cooling system by disruptions must be avoided.

The JET Closing ceremony was held 28th March after a successful DT campaign which beat the word record fusion energy

 

I was recently involved in an on-line discussion about Fusion prospects compared to Fission with John Carr (an ex CERN colleague) and Michel Claessens from ITER.

What is clear is that in the short term ( next 10 – 15 years) we need to build several EPR Fission reactors. There are 8 nuclear sites in the UK and so far just 2 of these sites will host EPRs (Hinkley and Sizewell) providing a baseload power of 6GW.  The UK will need at least double this value to maintain energy security.

It was just announced today (12/03/24)  that the UK  will have to build several new gas powered stations because of the reliability shortfalls in renewable energy supply!

Could Fusion eventually be the game changer ?

 

 

Posted in Energy, nuclear, renewables | 12 Comments