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Britain’s Bridge to a Nuclear Future

From Jolly Olde England:

The UK's remaining coal-fired power stations will be shut by 2025 with their use restricted by 2023, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has proposed.

A little more:

Ms. Rudd wants more gas-fired stations to be built since relying on "polluting" coal is "perverse".

Only if gas-fuelled power can fill the void created by closing coal-powered stations would coal plants be shut, she said.

“Perverse!” Still, that doesn’t sound as promising as it could, from our perspective. But:

"Gas is central to our energy-secure future," she said. "So is nuclear."

She believes that plans for new nuclear power stations, including those at Wylfa in Wales, Moorside in Cumbria and Hinkley Point in Somerset, could eventually provide almost a third of the low carbon electricity the UK needs.

Well, let’s see: coal and natural gas each currently generate about 30 percent of the UK’s electricity, with nuclear energy and renewables at about 19 percent each.

Almost all of the country’s nuclear facilities will close by 2023, with none built since the 1980s, yet the British have determined that without nuclear energy, their carbon dioxide emission reduction goals are sunk. Thus, a lot of new build, including, interestingly, the first nuclear facility in the west sourced from China.

Consequently, the country will transition from coal and natural gas now to renewables and nuclear energy in 2035, with the percentages tipping away from fossil fuels by 2019. I source this from the Updated energy and emissions projections 2015, published by the U.K. government’s equivalent of the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

We initially thought to use this information as a club with which to beat Germany. It intends to close its nuclear plants by 2022 and has been ripping up its economy to do it. Even if Germany wants to leave nuclear energy – and boy, does it ever – it seems backward to close the plants with no viable replacement rather than develop the replacement and then close the facilities.

Therein lies the real difference between the German and English experiences. England is closing its coal plants with something to bridge the lost power while nuclear and renewable sources ramp up. Germany has no such bridge.

Not closing energy doors almost guarantees greater success because it forestalls haste and poor decision making. We’ve sometimes heard that nuclear energy is the bridge to a renewable energy future, but England’s plan suggests that natural gas is the bridge and the future belongs to nuclear and renewable energy. That strikes us as enabling a smoother transition to a viable low carbon  regime and a significant role for base load energy - a net good however one approaches it. A model for Germany? Perhaps not, given the politics. A model for the U.S.? Well, we’ll have to see. But it certainly seems to be a working model, for whomever implements it.

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