Nuclear Power, Hinkley C and Sizewell B.

Today Europe is struggling to build two EPR reactors. To be fair, they are getting there. But progress has been slow and costly.

Today a third EPR reactor is planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. To ensure Chinese and French backers stay with the project the government has given a £2 Billion guarantee against cancellation as well as guaranteeing a strike price of over £90 MWh

The mooted price for this one reactor is over £20 billion. Even at this eye watering price the government is desperate to see Hinkley C progress because it is the only viable 24/7 emissions free power generation available.

Even if they have to pay this ransom it is still cheaper than onshore wind and hugely cheaper than offshore wind, both of which need fossil fuel backup anyway. So the government has little choice but to pay.

But there is something wrong here.

The last UK nuclear power plant was commissioned only 20 years ago. Sizewell B cost £2 billion or about £4 billion in todays money.

Sizewell B came in under budget. The grid connection (planned in 1987) was for Christmas 1994. It actually happened barely one month late. The build took a mere 7 years. At the time it was lauded as a shining example of how to build large infrastructure projects. (See Independent article here)

But even so, Sizewell B is essentially a prototype. No commercial Light Water Reactor had been built in the UK before. So building to timescale and to budget is even more remarkable.

Eight "Sizewell B's" were planned. If they had been built the power supply outlook in the UK today would be entirely different. But due to extreme political fear mongering, opportunism and anti nuclear hysteria the other seven were canned.

The UK ended up relying on Gas backed up by the likes of DRAX and Longannet both burning vast quantities of imported coal for the next 20 years. The number of subsequent deaths and shortened lives from air pollution must be in the order of  50,000. I'll work it out properly in a future post.

(If you doubt this ball park figure of 50,000 dead read these two papers  by some of the worlds leading scientists and figure it out yourself. Karecha & Hansen and Markyanda & Wilson)

So I have to ask: Why is it that in a time scale of twenty years we have gone from  producing a nuclear power plant to budget and on time to a bloated massively expensive and chaotic shambles?

Don't forget the Sizewell B plant is an early example of Generation III reactor (See IMechE article here). As near as dammit Sizewell B it is as good as an EPR and at one fifth the price

I reckon we need to take a pause.

Instead of building horrendously complex and expensive EPR's maybe we should go back to the original plan and build a few more "Sizewell B" type PWR's. After all we still have the prototype - and it has been working for 20 years!

Then we can invest the money saved from not building the ludicrously expensive EPR's in Generation 4 nuclear prototyping and research.

This way within 10 years we can have a reliable cheap carbon free power supply from a proven designs and maybe working PRISM and/or LFTR prototype reactors coming
on line.

Well, its just an idea......


Post posting note:

Thanks to @Davey1233 on twitter there are a few corrections I should add which, while not detracting from the achievement of Sizewell B do restore some of my faith in the EPR.

He correctly points out that Hinkley will be around 3 times the output capacity of Sizewell B and the true "todays" figure for Sizewell should be more like £5 billion not 4. Consequently comparing output power like for like the cost difference shrinks from a ratio of 1:5 to about 1:1.25

So maybe Hinkley C is not quite such a rip off - although I would still suggest the builders are being more than amply rewarded and have managed to secure this lucrative deal simply because the government is over a barrel.

In reality these decisions regarding the construction of nuclear power stations in the UK should have been taken 10 - 20 years ago. Instead the governments of the time simply kow-towed to the ignorance and hysteria of the Green lobby.

We desperately need nuclear power. Without it we could well end up slipping back into dependency on coal - just like they have in Germany. That is in nobodys interest.

Navitus Bay Wind Park – The Community Wins.

So finally, the monster is dead.

Navitus bay wind park – nearly 200 massive turbines threatening to scar the Dorset coast is no more.

There is a possibility the developer (NBDL) may try a Judicial Review. But even if they win it is a long way back.

I think it is worth looking at this heroic community defence against a foreign corporate giant. A giant who had effectively limitless resources, yet still failed.

So why was Navitus Bay rejected while most other coast-scarring monsters have had the go-ahead?

A major reason Navitus Bay was rejected had nothing to do with the amount of seabed damage, or the job losses that would ensue in the tourist trade and certainly nothing to do with the extortionate cost and ineffectiveness of the whole scheme. It was in essence rejected because of its unique position.

Navitus Bay, beggaring belief, was going to be built off the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Arrogant as ever, the NBDL impact assessment estimated virtually a nil impact on this special location.

Luckily for us UNESCO disagreed. The UNESCO report (prepared by the IUCN) comprehensively junked the self serving NBDL documentation.

After the humiliation meeted out by the IUCN report most honourable and decent organisations would have then backed away. But not NBDL.

I suppose they were so used to seeing government assisted wind farm developers trample over local concerns they thought they could ignore a UN agency as well. In most circumstances they would probably have been right.

While the UNESCO report was devastating, NBDL might still have pulled it off.

But then the brick wall of community opposition hit them.

National Records were set. Navitus Bay became the most objected development in UK history.

Thousands of people poured over the mountain of obfuscated and unclear documentation. They exposed howlers, errors and half truths. Many of which may well have been missed by an overwhelmed Planning Inspectorate.

We were particularly blessed by having the “Challenge Navitus” team. A volunteer group who literally took the NBDL documentation apart.

We had the local MP's on-board, and the mainland councils as well. They all made lots of noise about how terrible this scheme would be.

In essence, Navitus Bay was defeated by the community.

Without mass community objection then even this World Heritage Coast scarring monster may have been approved. The solid and long term opposition to this planned outrage is to the eternal credit to the people of Dorset.

So if you are confronted by one of these money hungry coast defiling carpet baggers always remember your community is probably more powerful and resourceful than you think. Encourage community objection.

Developers love to insist that resistance is useless.

It never is.

Wind Turbines: More Ghosts in the Gearbox

There is a wall of silence from the wind industry regarding wind turbine reliability. But once in a while data seeps out through the wall to the general public. A little bit of new seepage has just come to my notice.

The last time I blogged about wind turbine reliability was after I had come across an obscure department within the USA government National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) called the Gearbox Reliability Collective (GRC). The purpose of this U.S. government sponsored department is to address the appalling and largely hidden reliability problems with wind turbines, particularly gearboxes.

The GRC has their own website here: 

My first post on the GRC is On This Link 

The GRC is not alone. Clearly there are several European agencies and groups working on this problem too. Unfortunately information on them is very obscure. I am unaware of any public access to their data other than when it is mentioned by the GRC.

What has just caught my attention is a 2013 paper from the GRC. The  paper is titled: 

Report on Wind Turbine Subsystem Reliability ─ A Survey of Various Databases.

The paper is on this link:

If you look at the linked document above you will find a survey of many wind turbine failure databases held in Europe and the USA.

As far as I can ascertain there is no public access to any of this data except to that presented in this paper. If I am wrong I would be grateful for any links – I have found none.

The figures from Europe in this survey stop short of fully quantifying failure rates. They do though hint at a failure rate increase for larger turbines and crucially, also for direct drive turbines.

We also have the USA data in the same document. Some of the USA data goes right up to 2013. This American data is far more open and definitive. It gives failure rates for all major components not just the gearboxes.

Here is the table (see page 31) relating to expected annual gearbox and generator failure rates for on-shore turbines.

The NREL reckons for gearboxes this averages out at 5% per year for the first ten years. Notice that in year 5 it hits 10%. 

Whatever way you cut it statistically around about 50% of turbines will suffer a gearbox failure within 10 years. Remember this is for properly maintained, serviced and generally “looked after” turbines.

But also remember – that is ONLY the gearbox. The generator is “slightly” more reliable coming out at an average failure rate of 3.5% per year or 35% over ten years.

So for an onshore turbine in the USA the chances of a properly serviced and maintained turbine failing due to gearbox or generator issues within 10 years is 85%.

If you include the other potential failure areas (say the blades - failure rate quoted at 2% per annum) then statistically, it is almost surely that a properly maintained and serviced wind turbine will suffer a major failure within 10 years. It looks like most failures will occur in year 5 or 7.

All rotating machinery can (and will) break down. But wind turbines are operating in a chaotically changing and hostile environment (offshore turbines even more so). A gas plant by comparison is operating in a closely controlled and regulated environment. So per Megawatt-Hour, the wind turbine will require much more maintenance.

The energy return from a wind turbine is simply inadequate to pay for the very high demands placed on maintenance and repair. As the machine gets older more maintenance and repair will be required. Eventually the point will be reached (7-10 years?) where the maintenance/repair bills exceed the returns.

The often hyped 25 year life span for a wind turbine would appear to be hopelessly optimistic.

Currently the only way round this problem is to hugely increase the price of the electricity generated by the machine from day one. This is essentially what the current government subsidies do.

But one day the subsidies will have to fall. When this happens, or as the turbines get older and more unreliable, the wind farms will end up being be sold on - and on.

The new owners will be ever more dubious organisations. Eventually the turbines will be run until they suffer the final major failure that renders the turbine beyond economic repair. Then they will be abandoned.

When the last one fails and the payments stop, the bailiffs will arrive to claim the “guaranteed” decommissioning fund. But by then the main company office will be a post box in Belize and the decommissioning fund will be long gone.

Remember almost all of the data in the above paper is for on-shore turbines.

When you go offshore the maintainability and reliability falls off a cliff. The consequent subsidies sky-rocket.

But more on that in another post.

Sendai Nuclear Reactor Restart

Both Sendai reactors (unit 1 and unit 2) have now been restarted. Sendai unit 1 has just started providing electricity to the grid. (August 14th)

So how will this affect Japans Carbon Dioxide emissions? And how would renewables (say wind) compare?

When nuclear was shut down in Japan it was replaced with an unholy mix of coal and gas (with about 7% oil) A rough estimate of the amount of Carbon Dioxide from the generation that replaced nuclear would be around 750Kg of Carbon Dioxide for every MegaWatt Hour of energy generated (750KG/MWh)

Sendai, during its last year of full operation generated just short of 13TWh of electricity (13000 GigaWatt Hours) So today, the first day of generation, Sendai unit one (half of the power plant) will have generated around 18GWh of energy. This will displace energy that would have otherwise been generated from the coal/gas/oil mix

So a rough estimate of the amount of Carbon Dioxide prevented from being dumped into the atmosphere by this single day of generation from half a nuclear power plant amounts to 18000 x 750 = 13.5 million Kg of Carbon Dioxide or 13500 Tonnes.

A single day of operation from half a nuclear power plant prevents the emission of 13500 Tonnes of carbon Dioxide.

Amazing isn't it?

How would a renewables option compare?

An 150m high 2MW wind turbine with a typical 25% capacity factor would intermittently produce 12MWh in a day. Or using same units as Sendai - 0.012GWh

So to match the single day output from half of Sendai nuclear power plant (and ignoring the problems of intermittency) would would need 1500 turbines.

Or to put it another way, for a single turbine to match a single days energy generation from half of Sendai nuclear power plant would take that turbine four years, one month and nine days.

Don't figures like that just knock you out?

Lies Propaganda and Methane

I find myself an unlikely defender of fracking. This is not because I think there is anything particularly dodgy (or wonderful) about fracking but because I think that gas is only useful in the short term. The hope for a low pollution low emissions future lies firmly with nuclear.

Even so, I feel I need to blog the rampant scare mongering, lies and black propaganda surrounding what is a relatively minor modification to a well established industrial activity.

I wont bore you with yet another synopsis of fracking or how fracturing rock in non horisontal wells has been common practice for about 40 years. Instead I'll cut straight to the fear mongering surrounding fracking.

Fear Mongering Item One: Water Table Pollution

After years of outright lies, faked or irrelevant videos (including flaming faucets) and other general hysteria about water table pollution, the US Environmental Protection Agency produced a mammoth report on the potential and real impacts of Fracking on drinking water (Executive Summary Here)

This report, while carefully worded, essentially demolishes the whole basis of the propaganda alleging widespread pollution and water contamination from fracking.

True, there have been a small number of spills and pollution incidents, mainly from poor well head and surface maintenance. These have been dealt with and in some cases prosecuted as you would expect.

In the USA, fracking is a very, very large and diverse industry. Sadly occasional errors do and will occur. All industries suffer similar and often much worse failures.

But rampant water table pollution? No.

Black propaganda always has a shelf life. Today the lies and gross exaggeration peddled about fracking and water table damage is now pretty much an embarrassing busted flush.

So instead, now we have:

Fear Mongering Item Two: Methane Leaks

Using natural gas (Methane) as a replacement for coal in Electrical generation cuts the Carbon Dioxide emissions by about a half. That is why people are excited about it as a way to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Since around 2007 when Fracking took off in the USA Fracking gas has replaced coal to such an extent that USA Carbon Dioxide emissions from electrical generation have been reduced by about 15%.

Her is a graph on how its dropped in the last few years.

It might not look like much but it is the largest drop for any country in the world in the last ten years. Today Dirty USA has electricity emissions that are lower than Energiewende obsessed Germany.

Notice how the drop correlates with the rise in fracking in the graph below.

So whats not to like?

Methane is a Greenhouse gas about 25 times more virulent than Carbon Dioxide. So if you use Methane to cut down Carbon Dioxide emissions by replacing Coal with it, but then manage to lose somewhere between 4 and 7% of your gas into the atmosphere you end up back at square one. Lose a higher percentage and you are in negative territory.

(First of all - as an analogy, would you happily slop close on to a gallon of fuel over your shoes every time you filled your car because the filler cap leaked? Or would you get it fixed?)

The general anti-fracking hysteria surrounds a respectable 2013 paper by Karion Sweeney et. al. In their paper on a single day they measured rogue Methane above one area of the USA. They found leakage rates corresponding to 6-11%.

Is that bad? Yes.

Does it need investigating further? Yes.

Does it mean that gas fields in USA are leaking between 6-11%? No.
(Paper is Here)

To be fair to Karion, Sweeney and colleagues - they do say in the introduction:
This study demonstrates the mass balance technique as a valuable tool for estimating emissions from oil and gas production regions and illustrates the need for further atmospheric measurements to determine the representativeness of our single-day estimate and to better assess inventories of
CH4 emissions.

The main and most definitive source for data on Methane and other gaseous emissions in the USA is the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). They have been accumulating evidence on American rogue Methane for over 30 years.

Firstly the EPA have produced a breakdown of the different industrial areas that release rogue Methane. (document ref Here )

They also give an idea of Methane release by year.

From this graph we see rogue Methane from all sources has actually fallen by 15% since 1990 to 2013. The greatest decrease has actually coincided with the massive shale gas bonanza from 2007. Furthermore the EPA state that while rogue Methane has fallen by 15%. the rogue Methane emitted by farming has actually risen and has been offset by a bigger fall in release of rogue Methane from the oil and gas industry. So while fracking has been rapidly expanding, Methane loss has actually gone down in the oil and gas industry by somewhere between 15-20%.

The main reason organisations like the FoE continually promote mistruths about Methane release is because of the success Gas has had in cutting Carbon Dioxide emissions in the USA while their poster boys of wind and solar have barely scratched the surface. Gas has shown us how their dogmatic obsession with wind and solar has led us all down a blind alley.

We must make sure we judge fracking in the UK by the plentiful scientific evidence from the USA and not by the manipulated half truths from the FoE.

Sendai Restart and an Early Christmas Gift

The anti-nuclear lobby is getting all bent out of shape by the restart of one of the two reactors in Sendai in Japan. The restart of one of the worlds most effective anti-greenhouse-gas and anti-pollution power generation methods really rubs their medieval superstitions right up the wrong way.

Not to be outdone by the Sendai reactor, I thought I would indulge in a bit of Luddite antagonism as well.

Of course the best way to antagonize a superstitious hysterical self feeding fear monger is by referencing some impeccably researched and peer reviewed science and then to couple that to a small amount of simple mathematics to show that nuclear actually saves lives.

So here goes....( all figures rounded to one decimal place)

Take one Pressurised Water Reactor. As it has just restarted, we'll use the Sendai Reactor - See Wikipedia Here

The Sendai reactor produces just short of 13TWh of electricity per year. As they have only started one of the two reactors on the site then that will be around 6.5 TWh.

Or to look forward to the festive season: 2.2TWh by Christmas.

Now as for out impeccably researched and peer reviewed let us take this table from a paper by Markyanda & Wilson (published in the Lancet, referenced by Jim Hansen among others) (Full Paper Here)

I suppose we should figure out what fossil fuel the Sendai nuclear reactor displaces .... From an earlier post here we have the break down of what has replaced nuclear during the shutdown in Japan. (Post is Here)

Basically it breaks down as follows. Nuclear in Japan during the shutdown was replaced by:

46% Coal
47% Gas
7%   Oil

So the single restarted Sendai reactor (6.5 TWh/yr) will displace approximately 3 TWh coal, 3 TWh gas and 0.5TWh oil in a year.

Or if we want to get into the festive spirit, the Sendai restart will displace approximately 1 TWh coal, 1 TWh gas and 0.2TWh from oil by Christmas.

Lets rephrase these figures into death and illness using the table above.

The deaths, disease and illness prevented in a year from the single unit restarted at Sendai ( i.e. half of a solitary nuclear power plant) will cut pollution by such an extent that it will:

Prevent the deaths of 90 people
Prevent serious illness (hospitalization) of 840 people
Prevent minor (time of work) illness of 45000 people (yes you read it right - 45 thousand)

Or to simply look to Christmas 2015. This single restart late in the year (August) will.

Prevent the death of 10 people
Prevent serious illness in 91 more
and prevent minor illness in no less than 15000 people

Now whether you are a Luddite or not, that is a hell of a Christmas present for 15100 folk in Japan this year.

France and Germany: Electricity and Emissions

There is a question at the bottom of this post - maybe you have an answer.

The vast majority of French electricity is generated from from nuclear and hydro-electricity. There are only residual amounts of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

You can see live data on French electrical generation Here At GridWatch. Below is a snapshot taken today.

In the snap shot, along with coal at 0.01GW (0.02%) France is using gas to generate 0.68 GW (1.4%) and Oil 0.13GW (0.27%)

So in France electrical generation from fossil fuels account for less than 2% of production.

But how does this relate to emissions?

For simplicity I'll leave out the real nasties like Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrous Oxide and just deal with Carbon Dioxide. When we compare these figures with Germany (see below) the real nasties would be just about in the same in country to country proportion as the Carbon Dioxide.

From The EIA FAQs here (and a little bit of maths) we know that electricity generated from coal produces about one Tonne of Carbon Dioxide for every MWh of electricity.

Over the day, from burning coal to make electricity, France dumps 10 x 1 x 24 Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. Or 240 Tonnes

From gas (550Kg/MWh) they dump 670 x 0.550 x 24 or 8844 Tonnes.

Finally today oil (816Kg/MWh) will dump 130 x 0.816 x 24 or 2545 Tonnes.

In total today, from producing electricity from fossil fuels, France will dump 11629 Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. So say: 12000 Tonnes max.

Now let us look at Germany. To reduce emissions and do away with its nuclear fleet, Germany has invested hugely in a plethora of wind turbines and solar panels. But its generation is still dominated by coal, with no real prospect of any significant reduction.

The German daily generation data is presented as a graph and the live graph can be found Fraunhofer interactive chart here. A snapshot is below

First of all, notice that Germany is actually using the dirtiest fuel known to man as base load (thats lignite or brown coal). Also its remaining nuclear fleet still adds about 9 GW.

Useage of coal and lignite averages out over the day at around 31GW. Gas averages out at about 2GW.

Although Lignite is significantly more polluting than hard coal I'll treat it all as hard coal for simplicity. Although Oil use is significantly above that in France we'll ignore it as it gets buried in the rounding as the rest of Germany's fossils fuel numbers are so large.

31GW of coal generation will over the day, produce 31,000 x 1 x 24 or 744,000 MWh and will dump 744,000 Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. Gas produces 2000 x 0.55 x 24 = 26,400 Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide. So say 750,000 Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide in total.

So, today in the real world, Electrical generation in Germany will dump somewhere around (750000/12000) 62 times more Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere than Nuclear France.

Of course, Germany 82.5M has a larger population than France (64.5M) So per capita the
emissions ratio is less, at about 50:1

But just think on that.

In Energiewende obsessed Germany, every time an electric kettle is boiled to make a cup of coffee, 50 times as much Carbon Dioxide is released as when a kettle is boiled in nuclear France.

So tell me, who has the more valid solution to the emissions problem?

Navitus Bay Adopt Worst Case Turbine Option

Navitus Bay Development Ltd (NBDL) is the company planning a huge offshore wind-farm sitting directly off the UNESCO World heritage Jurassic Coast and the nearby Bournemouth beaches. 

The planning application is still going through the planning process but NBDL (arrogant as ever) have already ordered the turbines. The turbines they have ordered are the largest within their application. Vestas VT164 turbines. 200m high with a rotor diameter of 170m.

NBDL have ordered 121 of these monsters even though these turbines will maximize visual impact on just about the whole of this coast. This is not just my opinion. It is the opinion of paid NBDL consultants and even NBDL themselves.

There are a number of documents submitted by Navitus to the planning inspectorate that describe the relative impact of these monster turbines on the environment. 

I expect that there are those who are hoping that these documents have been buried in the mountain of planning bureaucracy surrounding this application. But sadly for them at least two of the documents have popped up again. I detail some of the findings from these two below. 

The abbreviation used both by NBDL and their consultants to describe the worst visual impact option is RWCS. That stands for “Realistic Worst Case Scenario” 

Remember, what you read below are not my words. Nor are they the words of any of the many organisations and individuals who oppose this travesty. 

They are the words of paid NBDL consultants and NBDL themselves.

First let us first look at a document paid for by NBDL and commissioned from LDA Design Consulting LLP. It deals specifically with visual impact from the various turbine options.

The document forms an early part of NBDL's planning application and  is available on the planning inspectorate portal via the following link:

This document presents a summary of RWCS in a table (Wireframe Summary Table ) on page 20 (pdf page 23) 

Of the eleven view points shown in the table, six of them including Bournemouth beach, Sandbanks, Durlston Head (and so the Jurassic Coast) and Milford  have VT164 turbines as the RWCS (Realistic Worst Case Scenario).

The quotes regarding these six view points from the NBDL consultants document are detailed below. They are  taken verbatim from the summary for each viewpoint:

Remember RWCS: – Realistic Worst Case Scenario.

Durlston Head
Due to the closer proximity of this viewpoint, it is easier to distinguish between the heights of turbines than the density of turbines. It is considered that the 8MW layout is the RWCS for this viewpoint.

The statement for this viewpoint driving this conclusion about 8MW turbines states the following:
The turbines appear noticeably taller than in other layouts.

Sandbanks Beach
Additional height of the 8MW turbines, especially in proximity to neighbouring landform, suggests the 8MW layout to be the RWCS from this viewpoint.

The statement for this viewpoint driving this conclusion about 8MW turbines states the following:
Turbines are relatively clustered and irregular;the additional turbine height is visible.

West Cliff, Bournemouth
The additional height of the turbines and the lack of visual consistency leads to the conclusion that the 8MW layout is the RWCS for this viewpoint.

The statement for this viewpoint driving this conclusion about 8MW turbines states the following:
Turbines are relatively dense and irregular. The additional turbine height is judged perceptible

Milford Promenade
The additional height of the 8MW turbines is particularly noticeable due to the proximity of the Needles as a visual reference point. It is considered that the 8MW layout is the RWCS for this viewpoint.

The statement for this viewpoint driving this conclusion for 8MW turbines states the following:
Particularly dense along much of the horizon, turbines broken into sections, additional height perceptible

The Needles, Isle of Wight
Difficult to differentiate between the layouts but marginal leaning towards the 8MW layout
on account of perceived greater depth and greater proportion of turbine extending above the horizon line.

The statement for this viewpoint driving this conclusion for 8MW turbines states the following:
Increased turbine height registers. Layout appears more chaotic.

St. Aldhelm's Head
Overall, there are few meaningful differences between the layouts from this viewpoint but site work suggests a leaning towards the 8MW layout.

Then, showing they have taken this fully on-board, we have references to visual RWCS within later NBDL submission documents.  As an example take this document published in January 2015. It concerns the so-called mitigation option.

Section 15.2.3
[quote] had been judged appropriate to identify the fewest, tallest turbines as the RWCS. There is no reason to deviate from this given the reduced variation in turbine numbers for the Mitigation Option.

Section 15.2.7
Experience derived from many other offshore wind developments and feasibility studies has also confirmed that it is turbine height rather than turbine numbers that most usually determines the RWCS ….

Clearly, even by the developers own analysis the visual impact of VT164 turbines on just about the whole of this coast equates to the worst possible option. To be fair all the options are pretty horrendous. But even so, the chosen option judged by the developers own documentation  is the worst and most destructive.

But one hundred and twenty one of these coast-line scarring monsters is cheaper for the developer than one hundred and ninety or so of the their ugly, shorter cousins. So a greedy foreign multinational might well consider cutting costs at the expense of the local environment a "good idea".

The arrogance, the willful desecration and the mindless pseudo-science that defines this travesty has yet to meet a match anywhere within the planning process.

It is not that they don't understand the damage this scheme will impose.

It is more like they just don't give a damn.

A General Election? Or a Lottery?

The General Election tomorrow promises to be the closest and probably unfairest election in recent UK history.

Tomorrow we may well see the SNP with about 5% of the UK national vote return 40 - 50 MPs while UKIP with 15% will return 2 or 3.

The Greens will get a national vote share of about 5% will return just one MP. Meanwhile the Lib-Dems with their 5-8% will return anything up to 30.

To emphasise how bizarre, awful and anti-democratic this all is, be aware that the single Green MP may well only get elected after fluking it with support of only 31% of the Brighton electorate (like she did in the last election).

But without that fluke the Greens with their 5% would have no representation at all.

Meanwhile Labour expect to maintain their tribal vote in the North while the Conservatives will expect to maintain their tribal vote in the South

Most of this gross unfairness is down to the rubbish voting system we use. The First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system is both prone to fraud and can easily return an unfair result.

The FPTP voting system strongly favours tribal voting. That's why Labour and the Conservative love it.

That's why five years ago both Labour and Conservative unleashed a wave of fear-mongering to get the referendum on proportional representation rejected. That coupled with an incompetent campaign run by the Lib-Dems led us to voting against reform. (Seriously, who put the Lib-Dems in charge?)

Because we now have many parties with significant (4% or more) support, tomorrow will be more like a lottery than a fair and democratic election. All thanks to FPTP.

So tomorrow, why not just vote for who you believe in?

True, you can try and be clever and second guess a secret ballot by voting tactically.

But really the chances are you'll either guess it wrong or it won't make any difference anyway. You will also disguise your true opinions.

Stay true to your principles.

Of course this travesty of an election is not a one off. First Past the Post has failed us many, many times in the past.

But there is one thing worse than voting in a FPTP election. That is NOT voting at all.

Below are the three biggest FPTP howlers. No prizes for spotting the unfairness.

The Devils Mark and the UKIP Witch.

As the General Election approaches we watch a comedic and vacuous contest between the main parties as they attempt to variously bribe, frighten or deceive the electorate into electing them.

The major parties need bogeymen. So whether it's the SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP or the Greens, you can bet the spin doctors are working overtime vilifying those who threaten their traditional voting base.

Generally the pompous self serving propaganda is more high farce than high politics.

But even so, a special and vile black propaganda is reserved for “racist” UKIP. While the other minor parties are disliked, UKIP is despised - and feared. Probably because it offers the biggest immediate threat to the status quo.

Racist. What a word!

A vile word speaking of Eugenics, pseudo science and demonic bigotry.

A word that today, is chanted, screamed and spat out. A vile word currently aimed at generally decent and politically virginal folk. Folk who generally wouldn't know how to be racist if they tried.

It is the modern day equivalent of the 17th century Witch-Finder judgement of Witch! Witch! Witch!

A word of hate screamed with the aim of subjugating opposition and silencing dissent.

Most of the supporters of UKIP are blue collar working people. Folk who feel impelled to support UKIP because they feel disenfranchised by the ruling metropolitan elites. In some ways UKIP support is a mirror of the way working class Scots have rallied behind the SNP and abandoned a complacent, tired and irrelevant Scottish Labour Party.

But Racist!

The word racist, by such gross misrepresentation, loses its meaning. It is now a word that has become the property of anti-democratic bigots all the way from the upholstered boardrooms at the BBC down through to the vile spiteful losers that inhabit the sewer like recesses of the extreme left.

But the word racist screamed out by a hate filled zealot and aimed at a decent, kind and moral 80 year old pensioner is of course, still sadly undeniable. Just as terrified young girls in the 17th century found that being tortured and then declared a witch was undeniable as well.

In the 17th century a woman accused of witchcraft would be “Pricked”. Pricking involved drawing blood with a needle. If a place was found that either didn't bleed or had maybe become numb from the torment then the woman bore the “Devils Mark” and was clearly a witch.

It was a pathetically stupid way of determining guilt for a non crime.

Today's equivalent of pricking is the continual hostile interrogation. The perpetual attempts to put words into people's mouths. The sneering innuendo and trickery perpetrated on simple folk as they seek to explain their position. A media inquisition (led by the BBC) intent on building an ugly image, no matter how false.

Truly, like other political parties, UKIP policies need to be subjected to tight scrutiny and clear analysis but conducting a hate filled pogrom against their right to free-speech is simple mindless witch hunting.

There is no place for it in modern society.

Please Note:

Billothewisp is not a member of UKIP or any other political party. He knows nobody within UKIP. He has never had any direct contact with anyone within UKIP. He is unlikely to vote UKIP in the coming General Election. 

He does however believe in free speech. 

If such a travesty was perpetrated against the Lib-Dems or the Greens or even the Labour or Conservative parties, he would write the same.

The Trouble with Bio-Fuels

I was going to post (again) about the Bio-fuel environmental catastrophe and how the EU and particularly Energiewende supporters are promoting it. But Biofuels Reform has beaten me to it.

The short animation below says it all. (h/t to @Thor at twitter for the tip off)

If you thought the Biomass scam was bad (see This Post) then make sure you sit down or stand well clear of breakable objects before you press the play button.

If you want to know some more about the utter environmental carnage taking place in Indonesia with Biofuels and burning Peat forests try this post of mine Fiddling While Sumatra Burns and read links to some of the peer reviewed papers .

Then there is this older post CO2 and Indonesian Peat Fires that gives a comparison of the biofuels scam to favorite Green "enemies" such as air travel.

The Trouble with Biomass

Biomass is the term used for burning vegetation (mainly cropped trees) for the production of electrical energy and heat. Although not exactly the poster boy of Renewable energy, Biomass is actually the largest contributor to renewable energy generation worldwide.

Here is the energy share from Germany for 2014. ( from

Notice that the largest contributor to Germany's renewable energy mix comes from biomass.

In the UK it is no different. Even old coal plant like DRAX is turning to burning imported wood pellets from Virginia to replace coal because it is “Green” (and also attracts massive government subsidy)

But how “Green” is Biomass? How much CO2 (and other pollutants) does it mitigate?

How much does it reduce pollution from the dominant , ugly and disgracefully growing German addiction to Coal? In the UK - how much does it actually reduce CO2 (and pollution) output from DRAX?

An alarming report from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) calls the whole Biomass methodology into question ( See Here ) This is explored further by this article (plus references on the CO2 Science Website in this Article Here

First lets look at the model that biomass implements. Biomass is a mostly a euphemism for burning wood.

The idea is that a forest plantation is cut down and burnt to generate power and/or heat. Of course this generates CO2 and pollutants, but if the forest is re-planted then it should, over a number of years lock down the CO2 as the forest grows.

Then when the forest reaches a certain maturity and so stops absorbing CO2, it can be cut down again and the whole cycle repeats. Do this over a sufficiently large forested area and you end up with a CO2 neutral energy generation.


Unfortunately the main underlying foundations of this model look increasingly wrong with disastrous consequences.

The trouble with the Biomass model is two-fold.

First it assumes that a forest stops being a net absorber of CO2 when it reaches maturity.

In fact a mature forest continues to lock down CO2 in leaf litter (that turns to peat) Dead standing and fallen trees take very many years to decay as they are naturally replaced. In fact the CO2 lock down from a mature forest is significantly more than that from a mere 20 year old plantation that has ironically been deemed mature enough to be cropped for energy production.

Secondly: The whole forest maturity thing is just plain wrong.

The Biomass concept of a mature forest or plantation is dictated by an illusionary time scale. It has nothing to do with the reality of Carbon lock down. The twenty year maturity figure on which the cropping cycle is typically based is out by a factor of five (at least)

The net result from these two problems is that relatively little carbon gets sequestered down by newly planted forest. Meanwhile thousands of Hectares of mature forest is destroyed for a momentary gain.

Renewable Energy may be fashionable. But its Biomass bedrock is in fact little better than Amazonian Slash and Burn.

So how bad is it really?

From the above RSPB report, generating energy from biomass is considerably worse than even burning even Lignite.

The cyclic burning of 20 year old Conifers generates 180% CO2 of burning hard coal or about 172% CO2 of burning lignite (not shown on graph) 

It is difficult to express how awful this is.

The RSPB report indicates that if you want Biomass CO2 equality with coal you need to give the conifers plantations around a 100 year lifespan. So essentially just to stand still on emissions you need to increases the area of mono-culture forest by a factor of five.

This is terrible.

I must admit, cynical as I am of renewable energy, I never-ever thought biomass could ever be as bad as this.

Biomass has been revealed as a terrible counter-productive catastrophe driven by fashion and pseudo-science. It is making the situation worse not better.

From these figures we can estimate that Biomass (KWh for KWh) produces about 4 times the CO2 of fracked gas - the current Bette Noir of the Greens. Even if you adopted a 100 year cropping cycle Biomass would produce twice as much CO2 as gas.

Nuclear (the ultimate monster of Green nightmares) is at the very least an order of magnitude less polluting than biomass (yes – read that again)

In fact (and I NEVER thought I would say this!) Germany and UK would be more environmentally friendly, produce less CO2 and less other pollutants by burning coal rather than biomass.

Prove me wrong.

But more importantly prove these guys wrong - if you can.

Energy Storage: The Trouble with Power to Gas

There is a fundamental law of Physics called the Law of Conservation of Energy.

It's a real bitch.

Basically it demands that whatever the system you use, you can never get more energy out of it than you put in. So many beautiful dreams have come to naught - just because of this one damn law.

Even so there should be an adjunct to the law of conservation of energy. Something more like a serious health warning really.

Something like:

"Whenever you change from one form of energy to another - you will get screwed."

And I mean really screwed.

If on your last foreign holiday you thought changing currency was robbery then believe me, that was as nothing compared to the losses when changing energy form.

Truly, energy can neither be created or destroyed. But Oh Boy can it get "mislaid" dispersed or changed into unwanted useless forms whenever you try to convert one form into another.

You always (and I mean ALWAYS) end up with less than you started with. Mostly you end up with significantly less.

How good a system is at converting energy is its energy efficiency. It can never-ever be more than 100%.

90% is mind bogglingly good.

An old 19th century steam engine by comparison is about 10% efficient - on a good day.

By burning fossil fuels and liberating their stored chemical energy as heat and then changing that heat (from burning coal or gas) into electricity - you will lose about 50% of the energy as waste heat up the chimney. Still, we do it because electricity is far more useful to us than a lump of coal or a pocket of trapped gas.

Now, what would be the best way to store the energy in (say) gas for a rainy day?

Would it be by just not burning it until needed? Or would be by converting it to electriciy (50% loss) and then post generation converting it back to something else? (say another 50% loss)

I hope it is obvious that by doing a "gas->electricity->something else" you will get royally screwed. In this example you would end up with 25% of what you started with.

You are far, far better off not burning the gas until needed.

Wind turbines and solar PV do not have the luxury of having their energy pre-stored like coal, gas or nuclear. If there is excess generation by wind or solar they either waste the available energy by not converting it or they have to convert it to electricity and then convert it again to some other storeable energy form.

So, with wind (or solar) you have no option but to bear the pain and go with:

"wind->electricity->something else".

One of the much hyped "something elses" for wind/solar is called Power to Gas (Wikipedia article Here).

Twitter is alive with excited windies who see Power to Gas as the the "Great Breakthough" - The mythical silver bullet that will slay the demon problem of energy storage for wind/solar.

To be fair, Power to Gas is technically clever. It takes any excess electricity from wind/solar and via some clever chemistry uses it to generate flammable gas - either hydrogen or methane. This can then be stored and used at some later date either for heat or electricity generation..

The trouble with Power to Gas is is not the cleverness of the technology. The trouble is that damn law of physics about energy conservation. Especially the health warning attached to it.

Turning electricity to potential chemical energy (gas) is at best 75% efficient but more realistically it is around 60%. Then turning that gas back to electricity again reduces the overall efficiency to around 40% at best or more realistically about 30%. In other words we lose about two thirds of the energy - Of course the missing 2/3rds is not destroyed. It is simply just dissipated and lost to the system.

Remember this proposed technique is there to bale-out an already massively subsidized generator. Even if you totally ignore the actual cost of plant and plant operation the price of the re-generated electricity would have to be three times that of the source price just to stay level.

In reality though the price of Power to Gas has been estimated at anything from £500-1000 MWh. Or from 10 to 20 times as expensive as current gas/coal/nuclear generation.

A whole order of magnitude more expensive. Breathtaking!

Power to Gas is a nice idea. It may even have some practical niche applications. But storing excess energy from wind and solar? Dream on.

And all because of that damn law about the Conservation of Energy.

The Trouble with Energy Storage

Energy Storage - The Holy Grail for intermittent electrical generators.

Reading the tweets and articles from the wind and solar industries (and their avid followers) you could be forgiven for thinking that large scale energy storage was a done deal. Something that just needed the bureaucrats in Westminster or Berlin or Washington to rubber stamp.

Sadly though, large scale wind/solar energy storage is not only not a done deal it is not even on the horizon. Even if it was it would still be very far from being a “solution” to intermittent and dilute electrical generation. But more on why that is in a later post.

First of all lets be clear about what I mean by energy storage.

In a way, all current thermal generation and hydro depend on “energy storage” The difference between energy storage at (say) a coal plant and a wind farm is that the coal plant stores its energy pre-generation (i.e. as raw fuel) whereas a wind turbine has to convert its energy into a non-electrical form after excessive generation in order to store it. So the wind turbine has to convert its excess energy into some form of fuel to be stored for later use. The coal plant simply does not use the fuel until it is needed.

(by the way I am using coal plant here because it is a good comparator – not because I am a fan of coal generation – I prefer nuclear)

Typically the front runners for renewable energy post generation fuel storage revolve around two technologies:

  1. Pumped hydro (pumping water up hill into a reservoir)
  2. Or as is the fashion - in some form of Battery.

Pumped Hydro.

Pumped hydro is an old and proven technology. It existed a long time before the current wind/solar obsessions. Originally pumped storage facilities ( like Dinorwig in Wales) were built to store energy when the price was low (typically at night) and then sell that stored energy at peak demand (when prices were high). Using this model, pumped hydro works very well. It is a profitable and very worthwhile addition to the Grid.

But things change when you try and use it to store excess solar and wind energy. You essentially break the pumped hydro economic model, especially with solar PV. (See Speigel Online article here )

You have to buy in energy when prices and demand is high while sacrificing your profitable market as well. Then you then have to sell on when prices and demand is low.

It does not work. Even if you created some subsidy regime to support this broken model, the number of potential pumped hydro sites are very limited anyway.

But at least, individual pumped hydro sites can store relatively large quantities of electricity.

Although UK pumped hydro could not deliver the energy quickly enough to actually take over the whole UK grid, they do hold enough energy to power the entire UK grid for about 1 hour. 

While that may not sound much, it is overwhelmingly better than any form of battery storage.

When we get to battery style storage the practicality and price viability of large scale energy storage falls off a very high cliff.


The biggest battery in Europe is in Leighton Buzzard in the UK. It can store 10MWh of electricity. It could (say) store half the output from a single small 10MW wind farm running at maximum output for two hours. It cost £20 Million. An average UK demand is around 30GWh. So this single battery would power the entire UK grid for about 1.2 seconds.

OK, you may say – let us distribute/duplicate it and use a cheaper technology After all why not have a cheaper 10MWh battery for every (say) 5 wind turbines? You know - Spread it out a bit.

Lets look at the (arguably) most viable and cost effective large scale battery technology available today – Vanadium Redox flow batteries.

(Incidentally - this is VERY clever technology and has many potential applications – I am not knocking the technology – only the application) .

Flow batteries store the energy in the electrolyte. The consequence of this is that theoretically the only limitation to the their storage capacity is the amount of electrolyte you can to store. 

Currently Vanadium Redox batteries store about 20 Wh per litre of electrolyte. So for 10MWh you need to store around 500,000 litres of highly corrosive Sulphuric Acid based electrolyte.

Lets say technical innovation decreases that by a factor of 10. You would still need to pump/store/process 50,000 litres or nearly 100 tonnes of electrolyte. 

That is for 10 MWh. Or 1.2 seconds of nationwide supply.

So, why not just store more electrolyte? Simple eh?

But remember, this stuff is lethal. It is massively corrosive and is a liquid. Then remember this is one SMALL wind farm.

Multiply that by thousands of wind farms. Then avoid killing anyone or regularly risking massive environmental pollution. That really is a challenge!

Of course there are other technologies (Lithium-ion being the other main and more expensive player) but whatever you look at, the problems of large scale energy storage are immense. They are effectively intractable.

Remember, what I have discussed above is the LATEST and most promising technologies. On Twitter people often eulogize about lead-acid batteries or compressed air, but really their capabilities are far below pumped hydro or flow batteries.

But Tom Murphy on his appropriately named blog Do The Math has done a very good analysis of a theoretical (USA) National Lead Acid Battery and its practicalities On this Link

A very interesting post on the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) on  storage with RE has been written by John Morgan  On This Link

Large scale post generation energy storage is not viable.

Bit even worse – not only is it not viable, it is also potentially very, very (and appallingly) dangerous.

But more on that in another post.

(Here I am not considering issues with charge/discharge rates, resource availability or lifetime cycle expectancy – they all just make things worse)