Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The United Kingdom faces an crisis. During the next decade power plants representing one third of the countries generating capacity are slated to be shut down. While the British Government has made some plans, including the construction of a 40 GW wind generation system serious doubts remain about those plans. Professor Ian Fells who has recently writing a report of the British electrical crisis, describes the British situation as "watching a slow-motion train crash".

I have pointed out some of the problems with the UK wind plan, a plan which the current government believes will both fulfill EU renewable electrical generation mandates, and fill the electrical generation gap. In fact the UK wind plan is in shambles. A recent investigation by the Guardian reveals just how badly the plan is failing.

Yesterday I pointed to a report by the Carbon Trust, which simply ignored the issue of inflation in assessing the projected cost of a 29 GW off shore wind development. The Guardian noted that the output of windmill manufacturers had already been booked up for the next 5 years. The wind industry is in the grips of a demand driven inflation that has seen the price of wind double during the last 5 years. Considering the wind craze, there is no reason to expect the wind inflation will stop until investors and politicians recover their sanity.

The Guardian noted that environmental opposition to wind mills in the UK is growing. That opposition does not come from traditional environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, but from grassroots local movements, that object to windmills because they are ugly, and the will destroy some of the most beautiful landscape (and sea scape) in the UK.

The story quotes Stephen Tinsdale, a wind industry spokes person, 'It can cost up to £200,000 just to put an application in, and you can expect it to take three to four years to go through planning. Two-thirds of all applications are refused. On top of that, there are conditions from the Ministry of Defence over radar and conditions by local authorities on when we can and cannot erect them. England has very few places left where you can build large farms. There are potential delays at almost every stage."

Grid connections are another pressing issue, In Scotland alone, 115 renewable projects with a total generating capacity of 9 GWs, are waiting for grid hook up approval, projects have been told to expect a wait of up to 13 years and are expected to deposit Millions of pounds for the right to hook up to the grid.

The National Grid believes that offshore windmill targets are not credible, and that it cannot hook up more than 12.9GW of off shore wind projects. Government plans call for 5 to 6GW wind farms located 10 to 20 miles offshore. Even the Carbon Trust doubts the practicality of this scheme, and wants to move the windmills closer to land. Some off shore backers are getting cold feet.

Planners may also have underestimated the challenge of building a large number of very large off shore windmills. An enormous amount of resources will be needed. One executive stated:
'We are going to need different boats, a whole fleet of vessels, offshore cable installers, helicopters. We are already getting close to our hurdle rates. If things get worse, it makes it a marginal decision whether we invest in them or not. It's all very risky. Because the UK is a difficult place to do business, the utility companies will just go elsewhere. We are not threatening to go, but if a utility finds a project which it can build quickly, it will go there. We are committed to the UK, but it is difficult.

'Until you get absolute consent from government, people will dither and it will take longer to install farms. Industry costs have become very, very expensive, and both government and companies need to work hard to tackle this.'

What we have is a premature plan, paradoxically premature, because the implementation of the plan appears to have begun to late. Yet the implementation is being delayed by by planning flaws, and a lack of commitment. Both the Government and the people of the UK lack a sense of urgency and a commitment to resolving the crisis. They are not fully aware of what is going to happen if the crisis is not addressed, and completely unaware of what will be neccessicary to address the crisis. The crisis threatens the standard of lliving enjoyed by the people of the UK, and threatens their ability to not pay attention to it. Unfortunately if the people of the UK wait till the crisis is upon them it will be too late. In this they are not alone. Nor is this the only energy related crisis faced by the people of the UK and the rest of the world during the next few years.


DV8 2XL said...

The only thing the Brits can hope for at this point is that the current economic crisis gets peoples heads out of the clouds on this stupid program. Somewhere, someone must realize that there can be no real economic recovery without a supply of reliable, low cost electric power. I hope that a more reasoned approach to this issue will come to the fore, as the impact of the Meltdown starts to bite. Not just in the U.K., but everywhere.

Charles Barton said...

We have just begun to wake up, and are stll very confused. This is the first in a series I intend to write, on facing the crisis during the next few years. The UK, bad plan and all, is actually ahead of the United States, in beginning to confront the energy crisis. My hope is that we may be able to learn something from what is going on in theUK, but it will take us a while.

donb said...

What I see of the present situation in the United States is that natural gas is saving our bacon (for now). A lot of natural gas generation has been built in the last 10 to 15 years, so nameplate capacity is available. Problem is, despite the current relatively low price, the fuel to run all that generation is not going to be available over the long term. In addition, base load coal and nuclear plants are aging, and will be coming to end-of-life at a time when natural gas supplies will probably be tight.

As Charles Barton has demonstrated numerous times, wind and solar just won't cut it for base load generation.

The unfortunate fact seems to be that significantly large portions of the country will have to freeze (or swelter) in the dark before significant progress is made in providing the new sources of generation and transmission we need. But at that point it will take years to fix the problem.

Technological progress is hiding the problems to a degree. I work for a company that makes power system controls. These controls allow power transmission systems to be pushed closer to their physical limits. With careful design this can be done. But this also makes the systems more "brittle", so when something does go wrong, the bad affects can spread more widely.

Jason Ribeiro said...

The wind zombies keep coming and coming!!

Solar won't help the UK either. In the winter months it's very dim and the bright summer months don't last long enough.

Any idea on how many GW's are planned to go offline?

Charles Barton said...

Jason, As I recall about 22 GW of generating capacity is planned for shutdown between now and 2020.

Charles Barton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Why is it until recently there was scarcely any mention of nuclear at all in the British media? Has there been a "conspiracy of silence" masterminded by corrupt politicians in the pocket of the gas industry?

Charles Barton said...

George, actually the British do plan new nuclear builds. But rather than acknowledging that a crisis exists in the electrical sector of their economy. the politicians have taken a business as usual approach. This approach is why the train wreck is about to happen.

MCrab said...

The reality will be rather more mundane than you project, Charles. We're likely to squeeze a few more years out of the AGRs at great cost and similarly upgrade old coal plants to keep them on the right side of the EU clean air directives.

The big story in British energy policy in recent years is nuclear's rehabilitation, with both main parties now considering new nuclear build as essential. By contrast, nobody really expects renewables to get anywhere near what is targeted, but pretending otherwise reduces opposition from those whose energy policies are essentially aesthetic in nature.

Charles Barton said...

mcrab, you paint a picture of a society that has not yet focused on solving its problems. You describe the unreality, the pretense. Of course you keep the reactors running as long as possible, and the coal fired plants churning out CO2, until new nuks start replacing them. The EU bureaucracy will have a fit. If you don't you will have hell to pay,

Anonymous said...

those whose energy policies are essentially aesthetic in nature

What do you mean by this? Or do you mean "ascetic"?

Charles Barton said...

George, I am not sure what mcrab meant, but esthetic makes as much sense in the context as ascetic, and aesthetic is the word he chose.

Anonymous said...

By the way, have you seen this film by the (anti-EU) UK Independence Party?

Charles Barton said...

Interesting video, George, I understand that the EU is a big headache, and both undemocratic and corrupt as well. I also understand that the Independence Party has fallen apart.

Jason Ribeiro said...

That was a very interesting video, thanks for sharing.


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