Bleak outlook for UK energy usage
Written by Andy Rowlands
A few days ago I was told about a website called Gridwatch. It was created to monitor the daily power requirements for the UK, and shows the contributions of all the current power generators around the country. It updates itself every 15 minutes.
This is the link to the gridwatch website. Below is a screenshot from the site.
The UK currently gets electricity from a variety of sources, depending on the time of year and the prevailing weather conditions each day. The breakdown of the different methods of electricity generation are, in roughly descending percentages of average daily requirements, gas turbines, coal, nuclear, biomass, wind farms, solar arrays, hydroelectric and pumped storage.
As of the time of writing this article, the actual breakdown was:-
Combined Cycle Gas Turbines – 58.8%
Nuclear – 17.2%
Wind – 6.3%
Solar – 5.5%
Biomass – 2.9%
Coal – 2.16%
Hydro – 1.56%
Pumped Storage – 0.37%
Add up the full list of contributors, and you get to around 95% of our daily electrical requirements, so most days we import around 5% through what is known as the French Interconnector, using their spare nuclear capacity.
There are two other Interconnectors through which we can import electricity; the Belgian and Dutch. If you click on the coloured ‘France’ symbol in the top left corner of the screen, you can see the French power requirements and see they get around 75% of their energy from nuclear power.
The Conservatives want to dispense with ‘fossil fuel’ and nuclear electricity generation by 2050, Labour by 2040 and Extinction Rebellion by 2025, and have us thereafter rely solely on wind & solar. The environmentalists also want to dispense with the hydroelectric & pumped storage installations.
Running flat out, our current wind farms can produce around 12.5gw & solar arrays around 10gw. On clear windy days this equates to just over half our daily energy requirements of around 38gw, the rest being made up by the other forms of generation listed above, but that assumes the wind is blowing every day not too little or too much, and every day is cloudless.
If the wind is too slight, the turbines don’t turn fast enough to generate the correct voltage. If the wind is blowing too strongly, the turbines have to be brought to a stop to prevent them over-speeding and damaging the electric motors and bearings.
If we acceded to Extinction Rebellion’s ‘demands’ by 2025 and discontinued every form of electricity generation in the UK apart from wind and solar, we would have permanent 50% power cuts, and that again assumes that every day from then on the wind will be blowing constantly at the right speed, and every day will be cloudless, which rarely happens.
In reality, we would be lucky to have electricity 20% of the time. The effect on homes, businesses and perhaps most importantly hospitals would be devastating.
There are two other major problems. Dispensing with natural gas, which the government wants to do by 2035, will mean that most people would no longer be able to heat their homes or cook, as most houses now have gas-fired central heating and ovens.
The government wants all heating and cooking to be electric, but the existing national grid cannot support such a large increase in demand, estimated to be around ten-fold, so a massive upgrade would be required of the entire electricity distribution system nationwide, which would involve replacing every pylon, every transmission line, every underground cable, all the associated switchgear and the wiring in most houses. Such a colossal project would take many years and cost hundreds of millions of pounds, costs that would be passed onto consumers.
The other major issue is if we stop using oil, we will not be able to maintain the wind turbines, as there will be no lubricants and greases, so once they fail or reach the end of their working lives, they will likely never work again. If we are to fully ‘de-carbonise’, it will require the virtual elimination of manufacturing and industry, so there will be no way to make any news ones, or replacement parts for existing ones.
Whichever way you look at it, the chances of us continuing to have 24-hour electricity on demand are receding with every passing year. The future for the UK is looking cold and dark.
PRINCIPIA SCIENTIFIC INTERNATIONAL, legally registered in the UK as a company incorporated for charitable purposes. Head Office: 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AX.