Friday, 7 October 2011

Problems on the HORIZON?

Its being reported today that RWE N.power — one half of Horizon Nuclear Power, the joint venture company behind Wylfa B — is looking to pull out of the UK new nuclear programme because of the huge costs it is having to bear due to the forced closure of nuclear plants in their home market of Germany. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster the German government, under pressure from Germany's historically strong Green Party, decided to close down all of its 17 nuclear reactors by 2022.

It was always clear after the German decision to scrap nuclear power that the sums for Wylfa might begin to look decidedly shaky if the potential to duplicate similar new nuclear plants elsewhere was diminished — especially when you also add into the mix the deteriorating European economic situation. Indeed, this is not the first time that rumours about the demise of Horizon have appeared in the press — back in July the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that both RWE and their other partner, E.On, were on the verge of shelving their UK nuclear projects. More recently there have been further rumours that Horizon had been looking for a third energy company to join the joint venture in order to both generate more investment and spread the risks further.

So, will this stop Wylfa B? My guess is probably not. Why? See the below diagram:

Source: The Economist

The fact is that most nuclear plants (including the current Wylfa reactor) and half of UK's coal plants are due to close over the coming decade meaning that of a total of around 75GW in generating capacity in the UK, 20GW will disappear by 2015. And as the current peak demand is around 65GW and growing, that means that the UK could be facing energy blackouts by as soon as 2015.

So ultimately the fact is that the UK Government needs Wylfa B far more than Horizon needs to build it. Lights will start to go off within a few years so there is no option but for the UK Government to ensure that plants like Wylfa are built, by hook or by crook… 

23 comments:

RedMist said...

But factor in that 'ready-made' energy can easily be imported from countries like France and the picture starts to look very different.

And especially so if EDF goes ahead with its proposed four new UK stations.

Jac o' the North said...

There's a disaster waiting around the corner and it's partly due to the politicians' obsession with being seen to be green.

Once it becomes inescapable that 'renewables' cannot deliver, there'll be a panic, and a rush into sources such as shale gas, which may also carry problems.

It's just a pity that they can't wake up to this issue before it's too late and start planning now.

Anonymous said...

"'ready-made' energy can easily be imported from countries like France"

The French interconnector is only 2GW. It's good to have, but far from enough.

"wake up to this issue before it's too late and start planning now"

We've had two decades or more, for much of which a so-called "Labour" government was in power, and electricity and gas supply was in the hands of the privatised utilities.


It's not renewables that can't deliver, it's market forces.

The post privatisation "dash for gas" which led to the rapid construction of ridiculous numbers of gas-fired jet engines to generate electricity was an insane waste of a resource far too valuable to be used to generate hot air and electricity.

It's also a bit ridiculous, Mr Druid, to have a graph showing installed capacity vs PEAK demand.

The size of peak demand, and its timing, on any given day *is* actually to an extent subject to market forces (hence off peak tariffs, back in the day, and things like maximum-demand limits and interruptible contracts which still exist).

Give people and organisations sufficient financial motivation to reduce their electricity demand at peak times and they will do so, thus the peak demand is not necessarily linearly increasing with time.

That being said, we do have a relatively imminent problem with increasing demand in general and decreasing supply in general as coal becomes unfashionable and old nuclear comes to the end of its lifetime. Combine that with minor details like long lead times on major underwater interconnectors, and decade-long lead times on nuclear stations and it looks like market forces haven't really done the right thing for the UK.

Buy your LED torches now, while stocks last.

Anonymous said...

Grr.

I had meant to go back and add a "welcome back" and change some of the words a bit. It seems I hit the wrong button, and I thought I'd lost the lot, and only now discover that it all got posted anyway.

I hate this Internet thing.

Anyway, welcome back Mr Druid :)

Gruntfuttocks said...

So, looking on the black side of things, if this consortium to build Wylfa B goes tits up as appears distinctly possible, who is going to fund the new station. If tree-hugging Chris Huhne has his way we will all be reading by candlelight and cooking over open fires before too long because he has stated that no funding will be provided by the Coalition govt.

The Red Flag said...

Long time no see Paul.

That's not the only financial problem though is it. There is also the carbon rod tax that the Germans are considering. That will make any German company involved in nuclear power pay a tax to the German government even if the site isn't in Germany.

We are in this mess because every government since Wylfa A was planned has had an absolutely garbage energy policy, relying on the next government to sort it out.

In all probability that's running in Cameron's mind as well ("not my problem, I'll be out in 2015").

What makes it even worse we are building a dirty white elephant as there are better alternatives - Thorium for example, and fusion is not that far off either.

I'd rate Wylfa B as less than 50/50. Private consortia were only going to build it because of the back-door subsidies they were going to get. Now that their father country is stamping on them they have funding shortfalls - major ones (and they may yet have more via the carbon rod tax.) The UK government certainly can't afford to throw money in that they haven't got and won't have for a very long time to come. Where would they get it? Put VAT up even more? Increase petrol duty even more? Put income tax up? Increase VAT on electric bills? All brilliant vote-winners.

Ultimately this is now a German political matter and if anyone can think of a reason why Wylfa B is politically a 'must do' for the German government - especially when we are doing our utmost to obstruct their 'Tobin Tax' proposals I'm sure we will all be interested.

Make the bankers pay for it.

Paul Williams said...

Red Flag

"That's not the only financial problem though is it. There is also the carbon rod tax that the Germans are considering. That will make any German company involved in nuclear power pay a tax to the German government even if the site isn't in Germany."

Not sure how Germany would be able to apply a nuclear fuel rod tax on companies operating outside of Germany, but even so it looks like the rod tax could be declared unconstitutional:

http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20110919-708908.html

"We are in this mess because every government since Wylfa A was planned has had an absolutely garbage energy policy, relying on the next government to sort it out."

Agreed. This is something which should have been tackled at least 10 years ago.

"What makes it even worse we are building a dirty white elephant as there are better alternatives - Thorium for example, and fusion is not that far off either."

I had an opportunity to speak with an Expert recently who told me that Thorium reactors are at least 10 years away from becoming feasible in this country. What do we do in the meantime?

"The UK government certainly can't afford to throw money in that they haven't got and won't have for a very long time to come. Where would they get it? Put VAT up even more? Increase petrol duty even more? Put income tax up? Increase VAT on electric bills? All brilliant vote-winners."

Equally being the Government which presides over rolling power cuts would be a brilliant vote loser.

"Ultimately this is now a German political matter and if anyone can think of a reason why Wylfa B is politically a 'must do' for the German government"

The German Govt has shown its hand; only political will on the part of the UK Govt will ensure Wylfa B is built.

The Red Flag said...

I had an opportunity to speak with an Expert recently who told me that Thorium reactors are at least 10 years away from becoming feasible in this country. What do we do in the meantime?

Wylfa B (if it goes ahead)won't be built and operational this side of 10 years. These things are never ever built on time or to budget. 10 years ago the commencement of Wylfa B was 'imminent'. As it was five years ago and as it will be in 5 years time probably.

The 'Brown Outs' are going to happen. There will be a shorage of electicity in this country from around 2015 onwards ( date which you mentioned and a date which the government already bandies about). What's another couple of years after all this time just so that we don't get left with a very expensive dirty system.

Incidentally, the Chinese (in conjunction with the Norwegians) intend to have a string of Thorium reactors and molten salt reactors using smaller 600MW reactiors built in or close to cities up and running by 2020.

India is currently building a 500 MW sodium reactor - one of a series it plans, and is in the advanced stages of setting aboutThorium (they actually built one at Point 1 but closed int in 1974 because they couldn't sort out some technical issues. They have apparently - with Canadian help, overcome those issues)

Ice Cold in Alex said...

Putting aside the question about people reading the 'Daily Mail', you need to consider that the two main arguments put foward by them may be wrong.

In the first place they say "a larger factor is the value of costs RWE has incurred in Germany with the compulsory closures of the country’s nuclear power plants"

However this puts aside that "The second largest German power company, RWE, wants government compensation after parliament voted to abandon nuclear energy by 2022, its boss Juergen Grossmann said in an interview Sunday." see http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Power_company_RWE_wants_compensation_for_nuclear_opt-out_999.html

And it's wrong for the Mail to claim that "The cost of decommissioning them is not yet known"

In Germany at least "private opertors of nuclear installations ... are obliged be law to set up accurals to cover future decommissioning costs."

see: http://www.wupperinst.org/uploads/tx_wiprojekt/EUDecommFunds_DE.pdf

As can be seen Germany has a very detailed knowledge of decommissioning costs.

I have a feeling that if this story is about anything, it is about RWE and Eon seeking a guarantee from the UK Goverment that should they decide to change policy on nuclear power in the future, they the private companies would be given fair compensation.

The Red Flag said...

Blackmail you mean Alex?

Nah, never for a second would I accept that major industries - seeing their 'host' backed into a corner would attempt to socialise any risk.

You wouldn't see the banks do it.

Anonymous said...

Have Horizon chosen which design to use yet? At one time they were suggesting either EPR or Westinghouse AP1000. EPR is the same underlying design as the massively overbudget massively delayed Olkiluoto (Finland) and Flamanville (France) plants currently being constructed; there's plenty to read about them elsewhere. Not sure if there are any AP1000s around in Europe.

Post-privatisation barely-regulated market forces in the UK entirely predictably went for cheap to install cheap to run profitable (while natural gas lasts) systems, e.g. CCGT, in the "dash for gas".

This despite the fact that anyone with a clue could see that before too long there would an obvious but currently mostly unprofitable need for substantial quantities of energy storage, to allow generators and users to make use of the daily demand cycle [1] to match demand and supply.

The load following needed for the daily demand cycle is a consideration which applies to inflexible nuclear capacity as much as it does to somewhat intermittent and unpredictable renewable (wind, UK solar).

There is at least one Dinorwig-style pumped storage plant being constructed in Scotland, but in the bigger picture it's a drop in the ocean.

The need for energy storage can apply both at the generation level and at the user level.

Domestic or commercial combi-style systems are absolute insanity on this basis as the system has no energy storage of any kind - any time you want heat output you have to have energy input (usually gas). That's not going to work economically for much longer.

On the other hand the considered-obsolescent calorifiers etc historically seen in many larger installations (based on storing sensible volumes of high temperature hot water or similar) are exactly what's needed for worthwhile energy storage near or at the point of use, to make use of ddaily off peak energy or even just to ride through short term energy shortages (an hour or two at peak time?). The same may even apply to those old-fashioned electric storage heaters.

District heating from stored hot water? Maybe the eastern Europeans had that one right.

[1] UK electricity demand varies on a daily cycle, typically from a bit over 20GW minimum to somewhat under 50GW maximum. From memory the average is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 30GW. Hence the irrelevance of E.on's graph of "peak demand", if appropriate storage (or demand management) is available.

Live electricity demand figures:
http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/Data/Realtime/Demand/Demand8.htm

Ice Cold in Alex said...

To anon 18:32 may I apologies if I have not understood your argument.

At the moment for a continuous supply of electricity we have to rely on; as you say steam power, be that from gas, coal or nuclear.

One simple answer for the varying demand for Wales at least would be a coastal barrage - like the one proposed for the Severn Estuary, or on a smaller scale the proposed systems around Anglesey.

And this is a technology that is already proven, and if we had the any sense would have already been built.

But no some birds have a veto on those schemes apparently.

We could do without Wylfa B, but until we have a credible system of power generation with a viable storage system that could meet peek demands I see little alternative.

Anonymous said...

Hello Alex, anon 18:32 here.

If you have misunderstood, it doesn't show.

The very readable freely downloadable book "Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air" (Prof David Mackay, www.withouthotair.com) suggests that batteries in a sufficiently large population of electric vehicles (nb it doesn't need to be just cars) might go some way towards reducing the required peak generating capacity, by using them to generate household 240v when the cars aren't in use but the electricity would be useful. You charge them up again during the overnight low demand period. The technology to do this already exists in the increasingly popular but arguably mostly irrelevant domestic photovoltaic installations.

As for birds on the Severn: a set of tidal lagoons rather than a complete barrage could have achieved much of the benefit with little of the habitat disruption. Such a proposal was made a long time ago, and more recently there was a dispute between the original proposer of that scheme and a company he alleged copied some of it for the most recent set of proposals.

Another less destructive proposal involved constructing a set of "windmills" underwater rather than a classic barrage.

Meanwhile, leaving it to "the market" results in a generation gap to fill before too long, although perhaps not quite as large as the E.On graphic would indicate.

the outsider said...

Red Flag "make the bankers pay for it" (re.Wylfa B)

The bankers I know are busy buying the UK's forests.

And yes I agree that thorium and/or fusion technologies have a better chance than Wylfa B of becoming the most likely route to resolving the forthcoming 'energy gap'.

Prometheuswrites said...

Outsider: Don't worry about the idle rich or the bonus bankers ... there's a hyper-inflationary storm front building which will blow away any monetary savings (including those stashed away in off-shore tax-havens) ... however, the upside is that either that cash will need to be invested in something materially and socially productive ... or it will evaporate; much like banking sector jobs, when all those CDS (credit default swaps) and credit event/default re-insurances play out and come home to roost ...

And ... Welcome back Paul ... I suspect it will be an interesting six months coming up ... ;)

Anonymous said...

The SNP have decreed today that all of the Scottish Energy recources belong to Scotland, when will we declare that the rescources we have in Wales belong to Wales?

Anonymous said...

BBC news was interesting this morning, a special report from Fukushima, the plant devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Conclusion: "Nuclear Power is dangerous and if we think that it is safe then we are really crazy!" this comment was attributed to a Japanese worker who did not want to be identified. You can watch the snippet on BBC news that was on the television early this morning.

The biggest mistake that we have done is allowed ourselves to be sucked into a poisonous belief that Wylfa B will be the salvation for the desperate and the unemployed.

This con trick is drip fed into our mentality that the jobs provided by this monster will be " good for the people of Anglesey!" Let me tell you, this is not the case, the jobs provided by Wylfa B will not be coming to the locals, these jobs have been agreed to be given to professionals who will be able to build this at a fixed cost, in euros.
This is the critical bit, when the Europeans come over to Anglesey to build Wylfa B they will bring their own workforce, our locals will be employed to do other important tasks, brush the roads, make the tea for the workers, clean their toilets and clean out their living accomodation at the tank farm in Rhosgoch, maybe the locals will be given more responsibilities like cutting the grass on the verges of the road with petrol strimmers, leading to and from the new power station.

Then after the jubiliation at having had the Wylfa B built we will all cry and moan, when we see the twin lines of pylons leading away from Wylfa across Anglesey.

Oh, how terrific we all are at moaning and wringing our hands in anguish, the horror of seeing another line of pylons creeping across our beautiful island, what will you all do then?

Write reams of letters complaining about these eyesores, who will you write to? the planning department? They have slept with the power company and can do nothing, their power to intervene in this calamity went the day they went to bed with the power consortium.

I know let's complain to the MP, AM? What will they do? Nothing, they have no teeth to do anything to stop this development, even though they know about these giant pylons, their ploy is still to encourage the spin that Wylfa B will create hundreds of jobs for us all.

I know some bright spark will think I know I'll write to the Welsh Assembly, and to show the Welsh Assembly how smart I am I'll write it in Welsh, big mistake, most of those clowns in the Assembly handle letters written in Welsh like something they have wiped their arses with, they have to be translated, and believe me, the mention of giant pylons and people distressed about it all, will be lost in translation, and by then it will be too late, the Welsh Assembly sold out Wylfa B and handed the whole lot to to Westminster.

It get's worse doesn't it? Some genius who moved here to retire and live his days doing nothing will probably take pen to paper to protect us all, probably using his influence to contact the energy minister for help, being the master of his retirement home, he feels obliged to fight for us all, as he knows, the Welsh are incapable of fighting their own battles do you think Westminster will listen?

Again, no, the greed and the need of our neighbours for electricity will silence the "under people that live in Anglesey. In a nut shell, Wylfa B, IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?

Ice Cold in Alex said...

at anon 9:26

Oh please, feel better now for your rant.

You give your position away when you say "This is the critical bit, when the Europeans come over to Anglesey to build Wylfa B they will bring their own workforce, our locals will be employed to do other important tasks, brush the roads, make the tea for the workers, clean their toilets and clean out their living accomodation at the tank farm in Rhosgoch, maybe the locals will be given more responsibilities like cutting the grass on the verges of the road with petrol strimmers, leading to and from the new power station."

What complete bullshit.

And as to Fukushima, they where second generation nuclear plants - boiling water reactors (BWR) and not the type proposed for Wylfa B.

P.S We in Wales need electricity

The Red Flag said...

Alex - I think the anon with his line "when the Europeans come over to Anglesey to build Wylfa B they will bring their own workforce" is actually correct. The part of the initial development at Land & Lakes at Penrhos will be temporary accommodation for some of the workforce of the Wylfa build. That would suggest that a substantial chunk of the workforce will be imported.

Druid - I scoffed the idea that Land & Lakes would create up to 600 permanent jobs once built, using the Haven parks ar Pwhlelli and Prestatyn as an existing example. I went to the open day at the Town Hall yesterday. The proposed development is massive - absolutely huge. It's not just Penrhos as most people thought, but right across Holy Island from Penrhos, through the AA site and Kingsland and onwards to near the outskirts of Trearddur Bay. Most of the people that were there while I was there were absolutley appalled. I think there is going to be significant opposition to this unless it is diluted.

The Red Flag said...

Alex, I almost forgot. There's also a document on the Council website regarding the accommodation of the imported workforce for Wylfa B :-

http://www.anglesey.gov.uk/download/16506

Have a look at the graph at figure 2.1 in para 2.6

Anonymous said...

I wish people would get a real grip on the real cost of Wylfa B.

Make the most of the opportunities that you have to visit Cemlyn because it will soon be closed and part of the exclusion zone............

Anonymous said...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/01/india-thorium-nuclear-plant

Prometheuswrites said...

Anglesey Energy Island? ...

http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/earthrise/2011/10/2011102793243195209.html

'The Isle of Eigg'

'Earthrise visits an energy self-sufficient island and discovers that community spirit may be at the root of it all.'