Monday, November 17, 2008

When Nuclear Fades

oldbury You don't get a very good result:

Power suppliers are turning back the clock to use coal-fired plants as their main source of electricity in a bid to avert potential shortages this winter.

Latest figures from the National Grid show that the fuel accounted for 42.5% of all power generation, overtaking natural gas production for the first time in years.

This is happening in Great Britain. Why?

The surge, from a usual level of little more than a third of total output, comes as the major networks seek to fill a gap caused by a slump in nuclear energy output at East Kilbride-based British Energy.

This is because a couple of plants are closed to have their boilers changed. That's the closing of two count 'em two plants that have caused this result.

It gets worse. If you've looked at the stories pointed to in the post about clean coal below, this next sentence will cause bitter and ashy laughter:

The major power companies stress that the increased use of coal is compatible with the drive for cleaner energy, and ScottishPower is investing heavily in "clean coal" technology at its Longannet and Cockenzie plants which could provide a quarter of Scotland's energy needs.

Now, we really, really want clean coal technology to work because a lot of people depend on it for their livelihoods. Having an industry collapse is not pretty - imagine, which you can now do, the American automobile industry completely shuttering and you have a sense, though on a global scale, of what a cratering (so to speak) of the coal industry would look like.

However, the clock is ticking. When it ticks, governments around the world have to find a way to expand their nuclear energy fleets before the current generation ages into obsolescence; when it tocks, they have to find solutions to the massive challenge of clean coal.

And if we really wanted to be alarmists about it, we'd have to add that we don't really know how many ticks or tocks are left in the clock.


Every time we read something about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), it seems to represent a massive Catch-22:

A power plant equipped with a CCS system (with access to geological or ocean storage) would need roughly 10–40% more energy than a plant of equivalent output without CCS, of which most is for capture and compression.

On the one hand, you could use nuclear energy to supply the juice, but then again, you really don't need the coal plant if you've got the nuclear plant. Oops, that's another Catch-22!

The Oldbury plant, due to be decommissioned next year. Maybe they'll have that carbon sequestration thing worked out pretty soon. (Another nuclear plant is actually due to be built here, but that'll take time.)


Marcel F. Williams said...

And that's the bitter irony. Nuclear power plants need to start replacing baseload energy from coal power plants as soon as possible.

No new coal power plants should be allowed to be built anywhere.

Marcel F. Williams

GRLCowan said...

"...but then again, you really don't need the coal plant if you've got the nuclear plant ...

Interestingly though, one nuclear plant dedicated to pulverizing olivine can take down the carbon from eight coal plants, somewhere else in the world, that -- even if you don't need them -- you've got.

perdajz said...

NEI gets off message from time to time. No, I don't want clean coal (if ever there were an oxymoron, this would be it) to "work" because it will never rival nuclear power, and because burning coal must be relegated to the history books ASAP. I want the erosion and final collapse of the coal powered industry. That's creative destruction. That's technological progess: industries collapse, only to be replaced by better ones.

jagdish said...

I do not think we need to take extreme positions. I hate the particulate matter and sulfur that comes from coal burning.But we have to live with coal as a major power source at least in my lifetime.
It shall be best if coal and nuclear power coexist and co-operate for least side effects. Steam or hydrogen from nuclear power can convert coal to gas which can be cleaned of particulate matter and sulfur (Mercury also where applicable) and to liquid fuel where necessary or desirable. Carbon dioxide is still under discussion. Gradually we can go to waste bio-mass (which is burnt off sometimes burning houses with it!) and convert it to gas and liquid fuel. We,our children and grandchildren can continue to use energy in an orderly manner.