Owen Paterson, who served as the UK’s environment secretary until a cabinet realignment during the summer of 2014, is planning to begin advocating a dramatic course change for his country’s energy policy. Instead of the wind-heavy plan that was developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) in order to attempt to implement the legally binding goals of the UK’s Climate Change Act of 2008, he believes a combination of additional nuclear energy, natural gas, and demand management would be more affordable and more effective at reducing emissions while maintaining grid reliability.
As reported in an October 11 article in the Telegraph titled Scrap the Climate Change Act to keep the lights on, says Owen Paterson, Paterson voted for the Climate Change Act in 2008 and publicly supported its provisions until recently.
During a trip to the British countryside, Paterson saw for himself the massive disruption required by a system that includes a large portion of unreliable, low energy-density wind. He engaged with a number of electricity system and power generation experts to find out that the future grid as currently planned would also be incapable of meeting power demands around the clock.
The Telegraph article points out that achieving 2050 goals based on the current plan would require installation of an average of 2,500 large wind turbines every year for 36 years and is estimated to cost £1,100 billion. That enormous investment would buy a supply system that cannot meet emission targets or provide reliable electricity sufficient to meet the country’s needs.
Paterson’s proposal, as described in more detail in an accompanying October 11 Telegraph comment by Christopher Booker titled Global warming: Can Owen Paterson save us from an unimaginable energy disaster?, will include adding systems to existing natural gas-fired power plants that will capture their waste heat and use it for useful purposes. The usual terms applied to such systems are “combined heat and power” or cogeneration.
It will also include a plan to build numerous small modular reactors (SMR) that can be built close to load centers. Those SMRs will require less dependence on transmission lines and pylons than the capture of diffuse wind by enormous turbines that must be installed where the wind blows, even if that is hundreds of miles from where people live and work. In the article, the SMRs are described as being similar to the machines that have been built by Rolls Royce to power British submarines for the past 50 years, but I suspect that other SMR designs would also be considered.
Paterson will point out that the often touted technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS) does not exist and may never exist in a form that enables affordable power production.
Both the existing plan and Paterson’s new plan rely heavily on computer driven grid management to reduce overall capacity requirements by cutting power to appliances at selected times of heavy demand.
Paterson’s plan will be more fully revealed in a speech scheduled to be delivered on Wednesday to the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Hat tip to Scott Luft’s Cold Air Currents for pointing out the importance of this development in the UK’s continuing energy and climate discussion.