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UK Power Industry - a turning point?

Discussion in 'Speaker's Corner' started by PlacidCasual, May 12, 2016.

  1. PlacidCasual

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    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/...ime-on-record/

    As described in the link above on Monday night between 11pm and 3am no UK coal stations were in operation. At this time of year many stations will have units or whole stations off for major maintenance works. In addition the number of coal and oil stations has dropped dramatically in the last 5 years. But nonetheless some stations are still operating and available as some were operating the next day.

    What this shows is that generation by coal ceased on Monday night for financial reasons, it was not economic to generate electricity with coal.

    Many will cheer this news as yet another nail in the coffin of King Coal, I would urge caution. The erosion of profit margin in coal is undermining energy security in a way that won't be reported. Maintenance budgets are down on reduced profitability as are staff numbers. The plant is getting older and the action of turning off a coal station overnight is called "TWO SHIFTING" is quite damaging to the integrity of a coal power station, this is because when these beasts were designed in the 1960’s they were designed to baseload (continuous operation). Two shifting stresses the components hard and uses up fundamental elements of the stations life and exposes the stations to poor control (think over revving) which further causes damage.
    As of yet we cannot do without coal fired generation in the winter but we are attacking the financial basis of the industry reducing profit which knocks on to reduced maintenance and then operating the plant in a destructive manner. From an engineering perspective we are certainly going to suffer unplanned breakdowns of our coal plants at a higher rate. These plants will only be operating during high demand periods so the breakdowns will occur in high breakdown periods. Our energy security is at risk.

    Further on in the article it mentions there was a Notification of Insufficient System Margin on the same day that coal plants were not generating. This is a clear sign of system stress. On a wider security of supply basis wind and solar are intermittent and there is no practical way to store large amounts of electricity (hydro power stores only small amounts of emergency or balancing supply). We are now no longer self-sufficient in gas and gas for electricity supply ranks below domestic supply should we run short. Coal stations routinely stored several months worth of generation in coal stocks alongside the station. It is not practical to do that with gas, wind or solar. Our energy security is at risk.

    Monday night may have been the canary in the mine before the UK lights go out in the next few years, because all of the decisions and economics seem to be pushing us to a less secure future.
     
  2. Haggisman

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    We need to go nuclear, it's more efficient and far cleaner than any fossil fuel generation when done properly... Unfortunately there's too much nimbyism and scaremongering surrounding it, so it's unlikely to happen :(
     
  3. Vonhelmet

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    We should have been building nuclear plants 20 years ago. Now we're stuck.
     
  4. Rroff

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    We also need to be building the right nuclear plants - they've ended up spending tons and wasting a lot of time going with certain options when better, proven, designs exist of late :(
     
  5. Ricochet J

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    By "they" you mean EDF, and by EDF I mean Areva who EDF part own and have designed the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR).

    EDF wouldn't go with any other reactor technology since they financed (implicitly) the research and development into the EPR.

    As someone who works in the nuclear industry, frankly I think the Westinghouse AP1000 is a better reactor.
     
  6. PlacidCasual

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    I know the AP1000 is a simpler design than the EPR but I can't think of any being built in the West, I think the Chinese are building some though.

    Personally I'm dissapointed we haven't done more to move beyond PWR's the basis of the technology with high pressure heat exhangers and high thermal densities makes it a less robust and less passively safe design than we could achieve if we put our minds to it. The problem is the lead time on design makes this a moot point. The lead time on build makes all nuclear discussion moot, as none will be built before we need them.

    Effectively the only technology that is useful that can be deployed in a reasonable time is combined cycle gas. The coal fleet could be made to limp through until new nuclear is on stream but the financial and operational burdens that seem to being imposed on it will certainly curtail their useful life well short of that required.

    What a horlicks.
     
  7. Rroff

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    Although it seems to be coming to the surface recently that AP1000 isn't without its issues.
     
  8. Werewolf

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    I would have used another s word to describe it.

    For decades we've put off building vital infrastructure because of nimby's and scare mongering.
    People complain a lot about things like the fact our train network isn't as good as other countries, they complain about the lack of better internet connections, lack of local facilities etc.

    Then thy get up in arms and complain when the roads are dug up to replace vital infrastructure such as gas pipelines so they're less likely to go boom, or when even an electrical substation or new street cabinet if built, let alone anything bigger.

    If 50+ years of nuclear power has taught us anything, it's that it's got a far far better safety record in the real world than many other industries, and even 30+ year old reactors based on a 40 year old design survived a disaster of a magnitude larger than they'd been designed for, whilst "safer" industries suffered almost immediate catastrophic failures (IIRC Fukushima basically failed "safe" until the last backup power system failed, and if the Japanese national grid hadn't suffered such widespread damager, or if they'd managed to get a suitable generator into place it wouldn't have failed as badly as it did in the end).

    I'd prefer to live next to a nuclear plant than a coal, or gas one.
     
  9. Orionaut

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    No, we should have been building nuclear plants for the last 20 (30!) years!

    Our Nuclear industry needed to be nurtured. It is not something that one just does once every 20-30 years or so.

    We needed to always have at least one plant under construction at any one time otherwise the knowledge and experience to do so will have been (Has been :( ) lost.

    That is why we are having to go crawling to the French and Chinese (And risk paying heavily for the privilege too)

    As an aside, had we gone down the Nuclear route in the 80's, we would likley have a great deal more pumped storage in place, renewables would still play a part in a nuclear economy, but storage would still be an issue. Access to large amounts of pumped storage would have made the integration of it easier.

    I am betting that the wonderful green world of Monday had little to do with renewables, rather we were mostly burning Gas.

    I have always felt that Gas is a stupid fuel to use for electricity generation. Gas is a very useful premium fuel in its own right (Industrial and space heating, and indeed, CHP systems where appropriate)

    Using it to generate electricity is dumb, we should really only use low grade fuels for that, like Coal and indeed, Uranium

    (By Low Grade, I mean fuels that have little or no alternative application)

    Incidentally, My vision for the future of coal is as a feedstock for synthetic gas/liquid hydrocarbons in combination with Nuclear/renewable produced Hydrogen. (In-situ gasification produces the wrong mix of CO and H2, we need extra H2 to get the mix we actually need)
     
  10. b0rn2sk8

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    Solar panels + wind with power banks is the future for individuals.
     
  11. Werewolf

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    A very long way off into the future...

    Unless everyone's energy consumption drops significantly.
    For a start we'd need some massive technological innovations and probably completely energy storage methods to even have a hope of it working at current levels of energy usage.
     
  12. Vonhelmet

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    Yep, but that's no good for industry or infrastructure.
     
  13. PlacidCasual

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    Well said. Energy storage is a long long way from making the renewable dream anything more than a indulgence. If we're willing to bear the cost an all electric car infrastructure we might get close on a distributed storage basis but I wouldn't hold my breath.
     
  14. Screeeech

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    This is interesting,

    Someone I know recently got a contract working on the hive system for british gas, apparently one of the reasons it exists is to try and smooth out the battering the national grid takes, every day at 5-6pm when everybody gets in from work - as there isn't enough *grunt* in the system to cater for everything at once, so they have to resort to all manner of exotic methods to make it work, which seems bloody stupid to me.
     
  15. Meridian

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    While some infrastructure is doomed because of NIMBYism, most is doomed because people don't want to pay for it. That includes the privatised power generators, who don't want to eat into their profits either. Especially as they know that they can probably extort the government into funding most or all of the bill for new power stations.
     
  16. MaX_PoWah

    Wise Guy

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    Never mind the electricity. The PFA the construction industry uses from these power stations and a slow down in supply is causing big issues..
     
  17. PlacidCasual

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    I hadn't considered that, I knew it was used cement and cinder block type products but blithely assumed that was because it was cheap rather than particularly attractive as a commodity.

    PFA pulverised fuel ash also known as fly ash I think?
     
  18. Haggisman

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    That IS interesting actually... I guess theoretically these smart thermostats could be overriden by the manufacturers/energy companies and actually forced off/staggered etc. in order to manipulate the demand (entirely unethical, probably illegal, but technically possible)
     
  19. adolf hamster

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    Tutor once told me things like fridges can tune their cycles according to grid demand, the whole ad break scenario where everyone boils their kettles and everyones fridges turn off for 5 minutes (at least the ones who's compressors are running at the time)

    Energy storage is going to be tricky, pumped water works but like hydroelectric its very terrain limited, compressed air sounds like an future headline disaster waiting to happen and battery storage just hasnt had the major breakthrough we need.

    I do like the sound of thorium reactors, ridiculously hard to weaponise and could theoretically be made into "cells" the size of a house that you just bury near a village, or a cluster near a town, and runs like a battery for 20 years then you dig it up, recycle/dispose of it and plant a fresh one.
     
  20. Werewolf

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    I don't think that's possible, not with most fridges (they don't have anything to pick up a signal).

    However I think they may have a safety to shut down the compressor if the voltage drops too much or the mains frequency varies too much* but I suspect the effects on other devices would be noticeable first.

    Also most fridges/freezers won't be running at any one time, and the net effect of them running will be negligible compared to the other demands on the grid.


    *I vaguely remember there being potential issues with some designs of electric motor if the operating conditions vary too much, but given the tolerances on appliances to make them compliant with EU wide voltages, it would have to be a huge drop.