Sunday, 31 August 2014

Business for Britain

Business for Britain, produced a report called Energy policy and the EU - How a better deal could bring down the cost of energy and save jobs. Since 2003 the cost of UK retail electricity has more than doubled: from 4p/kWh in 2004 to 10p/kWh today [page 14]. BfB blame much of the price rise on EU regulation. Gas prices have seen similar price rises. A further 33% increase is projected by 2030. These price rises will cripple UK industry, especially energy intensive industry such as steel, chemicals, ceramics, glass and aluminium. We will not be able to compete with India, China or the USA which have the lowest world-wide electricity prices. EU regulation is the main reason for the price rises. By regulation BfB mean EU mandated carbon taxes and such. Page 21 has a cost breakdown where they factor the contribution from 12 regulatory sources. Some of these regulations may have reduced costs but most have increased costs dramatically. 2 regulations leading to highest cost increases are:

  • EU Renewable Energy Directive
  • EU Climate and Energy package

The immediate effect of these regulations has been a forced phase out older cheap coal-burning electricity plants and price increases as energy companies raised prices to cover future investment. Wind-farms and domestic solar panels are subsidized and energy markets deformed to ensure that wind suppliers benefit even when they generate no electricity. Coal and gas generated electricity has also risen in price because such generators must be kept on standby (burning fuel) just in case they're needed; because wind is intermittent. Money from price increases has been invested in unworkable alternative zero-carbon energy sources. The money Britain has invested in solar and wind generation has been a total waste.

There's no doubt in my mind that BfB have a point. We never needed to increase prices as far as we've done. A small carbon tax could've generated a few billion sterling per year and the funds invested in R&D for Gen IV reactor designs such as the IFR and molten salt reactors. The overriding weakness of the BfB document is in offering no alternative pathway for a European energy future. The phrase "global-warming" is only mentioned once in their report - when referencing another document. They conclude that energy prices must come down (by deregulation) but don't have a policy to tackle global warming and ocean acidification.

I have no problem with a carbon taxes provided they are not too high and the money is invested in R&D for low cost zero-carbon energy. Let's consider the technologies we could be investing R&D in:

  • fuel-cells
  • energy storage
  • synthetic fuels
  • CCS
  • biomass
  • biofuels
  • onshore wind
  • offshore wind
  • solar CSP
  • solar PV
  • tidal
  • wave
  • geothermal
  • hydroelectric
  • Gen IV fission breeders
  • Gen IV fission converters
  • Gen III+ fission reactors
  • Fusion
  • Electrical transmission

There are a lot of potential R&D pathways. We should realistically concentrate on those which can lead to real benefits:

  • fuel-cells
  • synthetic fuels
  • Gen IV fission breeders
  • Gen IV fission converters
  • Electrical transmission

Here's my rationale:

  • fuel-cells: have be shown to work for many liquid fuels and give much greater efficiencies than the internal combustion engine
  • synthetic fuels: If we want to decarbonise, we must move away from petrol and diesel driven vehicles. Ammonia has been used in the past as a vehicle fuel and it could be in future, especially in a fuel cell.
  • Gen IV fission: Only Gen IV nuclear reactors with closed fuel cycles have the scope to reduce electricity costs by any worthwhile amount and satisfy the public's need for safety. Transatomic Power calculate a price of 6¢/kWh; about what we were paying 10 years ago before these recent EU-mandated price increases. [see: slide 11]. It's been argued that nuclear power is risky. I argue that the risks are exaggerated by 3 or 4 orders of magnitude by anti-nukes. For example the LNT theory upon which our regulators and governments base their rules are fraudulent - literally. [see: Ed Calabrese - Researching Dose Response: blog | 1½ hour podcast (ignore the 30 second jingle). Also see my previous post on LNT: Linear no-threshold, LNT, evidence, contra-evidence and links]
  • Electrical transmission: This is probably an ongoing area for R&D. Transmission line power losses are huge.

I have good reasons for rejecting R&D in all the other technologies

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