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« A Prime Review - Josh 343 | Main | Polar bears walk on water? »
Thursday
Sep032015

The wisdom of the man in Whitehall

Yesterday came the news that another major power station is to close. Eggborough is a big 'un, its 2GW coal-fired capacity meaning that it generates as much as 4% of the UK's supply. According to the operators, electricity prices have now fallen so far that they cannot operate profitably.

Many might wonder whether this is a big deal or not. After all, businesses close all the time - markets have always weeded out the weak and old and uneconomic. But as the operators also point out, we are on the verge of blackouts this winter because of a lack of supply. Ofgem thinks they can avoid this, but only because the government is paying to have diesel generators on standby and because it is going to pay major industrial users to switch off when margins become unbearably tight.

So Whitehall has managed to get us into the situation where we are going to replace (relatively) efficient coal-fired stations and a productive population with inefficient diesel generators and (potentially) people standing around waiting for the power to come back on.

Such wisdom is not seen every day.

Thank goodness.

 

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Reader Comments (66)

There is, just one other minor consideration and to which there is a near example. As they have registered in Germany, that, renewable electricity is more than useless for heavy manufacturing industry. At times the Germans generate oodles of useless electricity and try to sell it on to the Czechs, Poles and Slovaks who don't want it either, quite apart from the blow outs in transformers on the grid - the German authorities and government under the cosh from the corporate giants have in their endless wisodm decided to......... whisper it maybe a rethink on nuclear and are committed to build some luverly old fashioned coal generating plant and which provides BASE LOAD.

And pert to what has been [above comments] said on here, in the UK - the situation has been turned arse about face, where reliable producers of electrical power have to fit in with the nebulous probabilities of the wind and solar sector. Lordy, is that not f999ing madness?

But then, the whole green agenda is just that, MAD - well UAD [unilateral assured deindustrialization]. Plus, why do we try to use cogent reasoning, calm logic to solve an impossible conundrum. A green riddle, which is fashioned by eco warrior English graduates and Marxist pedagogues, as I said - impossible! Thus, as the winter cold follows summer and it will lead to the inevitable - one trip is all it takes, the grid is aging and it could lead to a terrible and prolonged blackout,. what will ensue civil unrest on a scale probably not witnessed since the last English extended riot - a very uncivil war it was and back then, they chopped off the kings head - no king now........but there's a old green charlie.....

Sep 4, 2015 at 2:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Jordan, you know it is not correct to give climate scientists simple figures and equations and expect them to calculate an answer. That is simply not the way that climate science works.

First you agree the answer, then you carefully select your data, homogenise it, throw out anything looking iffy, and marinade it with a blend of secret cubed tree roots for a month, whilst you go on a fact finding tour of tropical beach resorts, returning with the phone number of a good psychopath, a dodgy lawyer and an attractive undergraduate keen to get to grips with the spending of research grants. Thus fortified with a healthy dose of antibiotics, and self confidence, you produce the answer you originally agreed, safe in the knowledge that the anonymous peer reviewers will like it, because they helped you agree it.

Sep 4, 2015 at 2:10 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Coal plants are in no way "efficient."

In fact, they create more damage than value.

That's right, they send the economy backwards.

Generating power with coal and oil creates more damage than value-added, according to Yale economist William Nordhaus in a 2011 paper:

"Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy," Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus, American Economic Review, 101(5): 1649–75 (2011).
http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.101.5.1649

Summarizing that paper's findings: for every $1 in value that comes from coal-generated electricity, it creates $2.20 in damages.

Total damages: $70 billion per year (in 2012 dollars).

Petroleum-generated electricity is even worse: $5.13 in damages for $1 in value.

The National Academy of Sciences estimated that fossil fuel use causes damages of at least $120 B/yr to health and the environment in the US:

“Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use”
National Research Council, 2010
http://books.nap.edu/catalog/12794.html

(Dollar figure for 2005, in 2007 dollars.)

Of course, no one on forums like this wants to mention external costs, because including them makes it clear that we are all subsidizing fossil fuels by a huge amount through worse health and higher medical costs.

As I like to put it, "From each according to their smokestack, to each according to their lungs."

Sep 4, 2015 at 8:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Appell

William Nordhaus, like David Appell, is deluded. I worked on power systems, including inventing key renewable systems and co-developed CCS with the two major international programmes. I've also worked on hydro and our 30 year old solar PV technology eventually ended up with Suntech, which went bust last February.

Our non-supercritical coal fired power stations are more thermodynamically efficient than windmills plus STOR for the simple reason that the extra losses of the latter plus near 9 years' CO2 payback time for onshore windmills mean they have the same utility as the Easter island statues, a monument to political hubris which, unchecked will led to the economy contracting and many tens of millions dead earlier than otherwise.

So inner city dwellers, vote for these ignorant fools and kill your family as sewage ceases to be pumped and the black marketeers control the new favellas, particularly London where inter-ethnic and inter-religious battles will add to the mix.

Now that Hinkley point can't start until later than 2023, expect that homeowners and shopkeepers will have to install diesel generators, making the cities like Baghdad but with freezing winters in the new Little Ice Age.

Sep 4, 2015 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

"From each according to their smokestack, to each according to their lungs"

Should it not be ....."To each according to their preferred source of energy production"

Then we would see how long you keep supporting ruinables.

Sep 4, 2015 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Well this is a great opportunity for the fabled free market to step in and provide us with silent home-generation equipment at reasonable cost. Let's see.....

And the Scot's sense of grievance is easily surpassed by the English innate sense of superiority that seems to survive despite masses of evidence to the contrary. It is beyond hypocritical to unjustly blame the manifestly innocent and then complain about a blame-culture. It's like talking to 5-year olds - or tabloid editors.

Sep 4, 2015 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

David Strudel brain said:

As I like to put it, "From each according to their smokestack, to each according to their lungs."

Obviously, some bod who rather conveniently ignores the fantastic pollution produced when, through the heating process of Si via the 'Siemens process' to fabricate polysilicons - most of which are manufactured in China - and lots of coal needed there mate. And PV solar, which produce precious little "solar energy" - we posit - is it bloody worth it in a country which is set at +52º North and the answer to that is - no, coal is a better idea up here.

Plus, not forgetting the enormous environmental costs of mining, digging up the rare earths in Africa and their transport and consequent processing in China in order to fashion the bearings of bird mincers and oh......... and all that steel too, plus therein, the transportation of all that iron ore to China, after that, the Bessemer process requires heating up to 1250º C [coal again] and then, installation of said whirlygigs - social and environmental costs when they plant them at fantastic costs - over here in dear old [stupid] Blighty and we have no say so at all in the whole of this green idiocy.

Burning coal, keeps the lights on mate, have you any idea - you clever people - made any projections and cost estimates of what a financial and social calamity it would be when the lights go out here in Britain? How many deaths would occur? NO?

Finally, I bet that there has been No factoring in of the benefits of cheap power has brought to the nation, the social benefits of warm houses, warm schools and heated and lit Hospitals - coal did all that, now we want to wean ourselves off cheap and plentiful energy................what's it gonna cost?

Sep 4, 2015 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

"markets have always weeded out the weak and old and uneconomic"

Indeed.

But this isn't the market, is it? It's a completely artificial travesty of a market, heavily biassed for political (actually religious) reasons, in favour of the new, weak, and uneconomic.

Ocean-going, copper-bottomed, world-class idiocy. But we all knew that anyway.

Sep 4, 2015 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

D. Appell
Alas you can't include external costs without also considering external benefits. As per usual what you get depends on what you leave out of the numbers and Nordhaus worked back from his ideologically preferred result so had to ignore the offsetting benefits that made nonsense of his paper. No doubt those were covered in the ceteris paribus caveat that academics like him like to fall back on. The reality is that economic growth is directly linked to the availability of cheap fossil and every economist in the world knows this to be irrefutable fact. The eco-friendly argument is only a faint notion that it need not continue to be this way. Well we engineers like to hope so too but we cannot advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Fossil fuels, by any scenario; green or otherwise will remain a big part of our energy future until the alternatives can replace them on a cost and reliability basis. For future reference, there is a simple test to know if an economist is worth listening to; ie did he predict the financial crash or not!

Sep 4, 2015 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Unreliable power generation depends on unreliable maths and logic.

The unreliable maths and logic can be recycled, time after time, and is considered renewable.

Sep 4, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Athelstan

+10

As for "when the lights go out" I wonder if we need a more telling phrase, given our reliance on electricity? Some reference to a new dark age perhaps, which is what we will have, both literally and figuratively.

At least it will be some comfort to know that Mr Appell and his friends will be joining everyone else in their quest for a few sticks to rub together.

Sep 4, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

jamesp, when the internet stops working?

Having worked in an office where nothing worked when the "server went down" apart from the lights and kettles ......

In a power cut, office life without lighting is bearable, without a kettle, intolerable, but without the internet and phones you have to try and make conversation with real people sat in the same room. This is not always a pleasant experience for everyone.

Sep 4, 2015 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

David Appell,

"That's right, they send the economy backwards."

Wow. During the 20th century, the OECD nations are generally distinguished by having had access to abundant relatively cheap energy, mostly sourced from fossil fuels. Since under the model proposed by Muller et al the lion's share of the external damages arise from mortality and morbidity, then in these nations over the twentieth century, we should be able to detect a fall in total wealth, an increase in absolute measures of poverty, a reduction in general health, and a reduction in life expectancy.

I suggest that you read the Muller et al paper with a little more care. It is quite explicit in stating that it makes estimates of externalities added to the cost/damage side, but makes no estimate of externalities added to the value side. Wealth creation (and poverty reduction), general health improvements, life expectancy and population growth over the 20th century all indicate that the net benefits have (hugely) outweighed the cost historically.

Your interpretation of Muller et al results is simply incorrect.

Sep 4, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul_K

As for "when the lights go out" I wonder if we need a more telling phrase, given our reliance on electricity? Some reference to a new dark age perhaps, which is what we will have, both literally and figuratively.

jamesp,

I know that, it is a great fear of mine and I have a very bad feeling about it, an ominous fear.

I have said it before, that, the veneer, a warm cosy cardigan of civilization the cognoscenti coat themselves in, is a thin coat indeed. Furthermore, how hard was life when you couldn't instantly switch on warmth and light, oh yes people could hack it, they were a lot tougher in those days though. What would we do now, and when I read stories about away from mom and dad student freshers unable to boil eggs and fend for themselves, I muse what about the rest of our youth -these college students: are supposed to be the brighter end of a generation.

Evidently, mankind has a very short memory and an even shorter attention span.

And it wasn't so long ago either [electric light availability] but we have many of us at any rate all grown soft, the modern way life has become too easy and though many on here have the cognitive reasoning to be aware of it, many do not realize the facts of just how lucky we all are - night and day. From not so far away, they know it in Syria though, the poor emigrants who cross the sea in search of a share of the profligate and easy western ways and the Daesh see it too - they'll bypass Israel.

I also think that, those UK engineers who have in the past and are now still keeping the lights on, have done a sterling job but the margins have grown too thin, this back-up idea is fantastic news for the corporate boys to once more stiff the taxpayer but using thousands of diesel generators to keep the lights on?

It might well be OK [in the minds of the DECC and their advisers] for the first few times, it may be that the untested system collapses on first try - but do we want to really test it? Certainly not me but I fear greatly that, as each winter passes and commencing with this forthcoming winter - STOR will have to be switched on at some point.
What really vexes me, if the grid goes down, one power station failing will trigger an event which causes [as has happened in the states] a cascade effect - affecting potentially [oops] of all and other sections of the grid and maybe the whole shebang will splutter and then give up the ghost. If that happens, we will be in the dark for weeks, maybe months.

Our society, our whole way of life cannot sustain itself without - electricity. The consequences of a major outage are increasing with each closure Eggboro' an example. Dire is the word, the consequences of an extended interruption in power generation will be absolutely awful - too awful to contemplate and here I may add, I have some elderly friends and relatives who need help and assistance to which I am a willing helper - what happens when the lights go out and then, if I can no longer fill up the motor because that will be the first after shock - no deliveries, hence no food, no gasolene, followed by societal breakdown into nothing but violence, savagery and chaos.

Who will write the epitaph................or, will it be prophesy? The politicians, the corporate elite with their civil servants deliberated, stalled, did nothing but cut and facilitate enforced non solutions and then, after lights went out, they came to put out their lights.

Sep 4, 2015 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

"no longer fill up the motor"

Indeed. A long time ago (60's) I had a summer job at a garage, where the occasional power cut required the pumps to be operated manually. A crank handle was procured and petrol could be (slowly) delivered with plenty of cursing and sweat. Not possible now, although if I were a pump manufacture, I might consider restoring the feature, together with a mechanical totaliser.

Payment would have to be in cash, of course, and someone numerate enough would have to be on hand to work out the amount...

Sep 4, 2015 at 2:51 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Payment would have to be in cash, of course, and someone numerate enough would have to be on hand to work out the amount...


Damn right!

:¬))))))))))))))))))

Sep 4, 2015 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

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