back to article Stand by for more big, windfarm-driven 'leccy price rises

The National Grid has released a report into the way things are headed for the UK's electricity supplies in the coming decade, and it's not good news for anyone who finds their 'leccy bill to be a noticeable expense. No matter what happens to fossil fuel prices, British electricity is going to cost a lot, lot more in the near …


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  1. Nigel Brown


    British consumers get shafted again.

    Ok, move along, nothing to see here.

  2. M7S

    I found this bit quite illuminating

    "the grid said it could not cope with the surge of power from wind farms and will have to switch off turbines to avoid overloading the power transmission networks"

    So in simple terms, the grid, who have no enviro-political axe to grind, can't use them when it's calm and can't use them when it's too windy. Short of putting a small turbine on the top of each chimney stack to take advantage of the relatively steady flow of hot gases from the fossil burners, are these things any good at all for on-grid use?

    Dont get me wrong, I'd love them to be the solution and would have one in my field or on my house (vibration issues permitting) if it would do the job (either on- or off-grid) but it's such a shame we've neglected things like tidal mid-sized geo-thermal for this.

    The DT article, which I think you have referenced, is here

  3. Ian Stephenson

    Easy answer

    Scrap the ROC's and subsidies.

    The renewables industry is not about saving the planet - it's about hoovering every last penny from the pocket of the taxpayer.

    If it is viable the industry will survive - if not then we are better off without it.

    I notice nuclear appears viable without the subsidies....

    1. alexh2o


      The simple fact is no renewable/green energy source will be viable when stacked against a modern CCGT plant. The only way to go green is to subsidise it!

    2. Bassey

      Re; I notice nuclear appears viable without the subsidies....

      Erm, not exactly. The power stations themselves were built by the government - not private enterprise. So we aren't paying for ROCs but they certainly required public investment. As always, the Register goes on and on about renewable subsidies as if public funding for power is an exception rather than the 100% norm.

      1. Ian Stephenson


        That was true for the last generation of nuke piles - where the government had a vested interest in a secure source of plutonium.

        The current generation being built by Eon?

        I believe no subsidies are being paid for nuclear, after all the green lobby hasnt thrown a hissy fit about it's not fair! they also get hand outs!

        If I am wrong then I will accept the correction.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No initial subsidy for nuclear

          but the cleanup costs once the power station closes are to be met by the tax payer - these could be astronomical.

          This was the trade-off - Govt gets to say nuclear power plants will be built without subsidy, power generating company get to make money selling leccy and in 50yrs when everybody has forgotten the original deal our great-grandchildren can help pay for the cleanup...

          1. mmiied

            not sure about

            I have been talking to somone in the decomishing industry and the new genration of nuke plants do not have astrronomical clean up costs

            the current gen do but they where built as test plants and wepons genrators and so they have complex clean up. But the new gen desines and easy to clean up and I bleave the ones in the US put asside a little form each MW they sell to pay "cleanup insurance" to cover decomishing costs

        2. Debe

          Useless company

          E.on? Bloody hell I hope not.

          E.on are the most useless company I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to deal with. I’ve seen things dead at the side of the road with better customer support and business efficiency than that bunch of losers.

          I’d fear for my life if someone gave them a load of plutonium.

        3. Chuckster_sta

          Nuclear subsidies

          Not sure what the front end subsidy situation is, but nuclear power plant developers contract with the government to supply electricity at a guaranteed minimum price for a guaranteed period, i.e. they are subsidized, just not up front.

  4. blackcat Silver badge

    Investment in storage

    I think part of the requirements for ROC and FIT should be storage. Can't supply a steady flow to the grid? Sorry, less money.

    I can't think of another industry where you get paid for overstocking. You don't get to the checkout of the supermarket to be told 'we ordered too many loaves of bread today, you've not bought one but we're going to charge you for one anyway so we're not out of pocket'.

    1. farizzle


      work on setting up the smart power grid between the UK and Europe and sell the energy that way...

      1. Mark 65


        It is a system that only a career politician or quango bureaucrat could have thought up. Utter shite.

      2. Steve Crook

        In your dreams

        But that will be ready when and at what cost?

        It won't be much good if the weather across most of Europe is the same on any given day (which, surprisingly, it often is).

        No, the problem is inherent in wind power and most other renewables. I'm sure that in the future it will be possible to store the power somehow. But at the moment it's a liability.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      pay for overstocking

      You do pay for overstocking and waste from every industry. It's factored into the price you pay for all the items. Even if a company finds a way to reduce cost, the price will typically remain the same so the company can increase their profit margin.

      You pay for the store lights that are left on when no one is in the room. You pay for the AC that goes out the propped door while an employee is smoking. You pay to pick up the parking lot where someone else dropped their trash. You pay for the gas in the delivery trucks that run their engines while parked. You may be paying for me playing on the internet while I'm at work.

      Anon... for the last reason, obviously.

    3. copsewood

      there's already plenty of potential storage

      Existing dams in Scotland are capable of handling storage sufficient to take wind electricity up to 40% of UK demand. For the most part you don't need to pump water from one mass of water to a higher one, though that is part of the story. The other part is uprating the generators on existing run of the river hydro dams and allowing the water level to vary more. There are costs concerning repurposing these hydro dams and in respect of extra grid capacity. But that is before you need to build new dams or look at using spare wind electricity for splitting water into oxygen and stored hydrogen etc.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        @copsewood: No, there damn well isn't.

        You know this if you'd actually read the study you linked to, rather than just the conclusion page.

        That study is actually saying "We might be able to build enough pumped storage if we used every single possible location in the Scottish Highlands"

        It completely ignores the environmental cost of doing so, the local outrage (you want to do WHAT to the loch?) and greatly simplifies the massive additional north-south interconnect infrastructure it would need, and the monetary costs of building everything.

        In other words, it's a typical short study done by postgrads.

        It's interesting, and I hope the guys who wrote it got good marks because they do deserve them - but it should not be considered the general 'green light' that you appear to think it is.

  5. Andrew Barratt
    IT Angle

    Power to the people

    or not, as the case may be.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This will please the NIMBYs.

    Time for Thorium based nuclear?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Thorium based reactors are far less advanced,

      in development terms, than almost any other form of renewable energy and have the twin downsides of fuel importation and environmental threat.

      You may not be advocating them but there are far too many folks out there in the world, who should know better, who are.

      We have perfectly serviceable, (comparatively) well developed, 24/7, ecologically appropriate, renewable energy systems, in the form of wave and tidal power and solar furnaces that, if connected to energy storage systems like gas compressors or electrolysis systems, can deliver 'clean' energy at comparable prices to nuclear and yet we persist with completely bonkers 'nuclear power '.

      1. Michael 47
        Thumb Down


        "We have perfectly serviceable, (comparatively) well developed, 24/7, ecologically appropriate, renewable energy systems, in the form of wave and tidal power and solar furnaces..."

        none of those systems are able to provide more than a fraction of the power necessary to for the grid and certainly aren't up to scratch if you consider the price/kwh.

        "Thorium based reactors are far less advanced in development terms."

        Well maybe if they pumped as much into researching thorium reactors as they did into ridiculously expensive windmills we'd all have nearly infinte free 'leccy by now

      2. Aaron Em

        Sure. Renewables are a panacea

        except when the sun goes down or when the wind stops -- or, as we've learned from Mr. Page today, when the wind goes too fast! If you want Goldilocks power for your space heater when it's cold outside, that's fine I guess, but don't expect everyone else to be just as foolish.

  7. Ian 62

    Hydrogen storage

    When we dont need the 'leccy direct from the twirly whirly things why not use it to crack water to produce Oxygen and Hydrogen?

    Dump the O to the atmosphere and store the H.

    Doesn't matter if its 'efficient', as storing anything is more efficient than nothing. Storage tanks could be inefficient and bulky, who cares, it can sit inside the tower.

    Either burn it on site in mini generators to provide power to the grid, or take a tanker round once a week to move it to a big generator.

    You can refit Ford Focus engines to burn Hydrogen, nice little compact generator for when the wind isn't blowing.

    Mines the patent.

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge


      Can't see if as inefficent as it would be using energy that would otherwise be lost, but you'd need a big wind farm and the hydrogen equipment would need to be capable of running with variable voltage and able to shut down where there is no leccy.

    2. Chris 244

      Patents already taken

      Wow, 3 wind turbines with attached hydrogen-storage infrastructure (backed up by diesel generators) can probably power 34 homes! Now just sit back and wait for the royalty cheques to flow in. Just don't forget to watch out for invisible hydrogen gas fires.

      Too bad it makes paying producers to dump the excess power look cheap in comparison.

    3. Liam Johnson

      Re: Hydrogen storage

      How big would the tank need to be for any useful amount of storage and how much of an exclusion zone would you need around it in case it ever exploded?

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Hydrogen tank size

        Wakipedia has the numbers for energy storage densities:

        Liquid hydrogen: 10.1MJ/L

        Compressed to 700 bar: 5.6MJ/L

        Atmospheric pressure: 10.79kJ/L has the capacity of real pumped storage facilities like Dinorwig: 9.1GWh

        To store the same energy as Dinorwig, you could fill a cube 14.8m wide with liquid hydrogen (Imagine 7 floor tower blocks built side by side into a cube). Compressed hydrogen would require an 18m cube. At one atmosphere, the cube would need to be 144.8m wide.

        This is the energy as 2 tons of TNT. Lewis is the explosives expert. You will have to ask him what you can blow up with that much TNT.

        Remember Dinorwig provides the extra capacity to boil kettles during the adverts. It does not power the country for 5 cold calm days in a row, or store the proposed surplus energy from windfarms on a windy day.

        1. Liam Johnson

          @Flocke Kroes

          Thanks for that - maybe I should have spent a few moments calculating that myself, it is a lot smaller than I had imagined.

          As for the 2 tons of TNT, youtube has plenty if videos of 2000lb bombs, equivalent to 500kg of TNT approximately for an idea of what that would do. So, big hole, but not that big.

          1. Michael

            Hydrogen -> Methane

            And why not then convert from hydrogen to methane.

            Sure it is even less efficient use of the energy, but we have this massive distribution network already in place and power stations that can use it when required.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        "in case it ever exploded"

        Chemist much? What are you talking about? Hydrogen has no more tendency to "explode" than any other fuel. They all "explode" when you mix them with oxygen and ignite, no sooner.

    4. TheOtherHobbbes

      Don't confuse

      the readers with forward thinking.

      Most El Reg readers seem to believe that the only possible energy solutions are the ones from the 20th century.

      If you start mentioning clever new stuff, they get frightened. And then they downrate you.

      There are some entirely practical physical storage options for renewables which make a damn sight more sense than relying on gas from our Russian BFFs, or radioactive ash-spewing coal from somewhere outside the UK that is going to gouge prices whenever there's a cold snap.

      But everyone here knows these options are UnPossible, so there's no point trying to talk about them - if only because it gives the Reg an excuse to post yet another misinformed and splenetic Lewis rant.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Batteries, not hydrogen

      Because its three times less efficient than just using car batteries.

      Dump the "excess" electricity from wind into car batteries (electric cars). They've sitting there idle most of the time(*). Voila. Storage and non-wasted electricity. I wonder why no ones thought of that? oh, thats because Its the Whole Plan.

      Generator to drive train, losses in power lines, batteries mean 69% of the power from a generator ends up in usable power in electric vehicles. If you use Hydrogen storage instead, that drops to 25%.

      El Reg keeps going on and ignoring the rest of the re-invention of the grid: storage, "smart grid", electric vehicles .. how come?

      1. Bill B


        Flow batteries. Such as Vanadium redox battery. Go look it up. I think development on this is based on European Technology grants.

        A lot of big infrastructure development work depends on Government grants so to complain about the tax payer subsidising research is a bit .. well I normally like Mr Page's articles but .. a bit ignorant.

  8. Turtle

    Simple Question.

    Why are you people doing this?

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge


      I assume its the "in thing", personally if people want to say about being more green they should live in a log cabin and live off the land. I hate always being told I should drive a greener car, but when they drive their prius at 90MPH on the motorway I don't take them seriously.

  9. Buzzword

    Domestic or commercial first?

    Rather than fitting expensive new smart-meters to every house, and fitting every fridge and television with a remote off/on switch, wouldn't it be better to target commercial users first? In most shops and offices, we'd barely notice if the air-con went up by 2°C for a short period. Whether that's sufficient to make a difference, I don't know.

    How predictable is the wind? At present the grid is able to forecast demand spikes (e.g. when everyone switches on their kettles after Corrie); couldn't it also forecast supply shortfalls, and prepare the backup power? Seems easier than reaching into everyone's home and fiddling with their ovens. But yes, the whole thing is a ridiculous expensive charade.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah that will work....

      Commercial use of power by shops running air con isn't that much. Beside which if the temperature in the shop goes outside of certain boundaries (depending up the shop) then the shop could be in breach of regulations covering the working environment. If the lighting is switched off then the customers have to leave (health and safety and liability issues). If the tills go off then they cant sell anything.

      Its industry that is the big user of power and they need a stable supply. A ten minute power outage for a production line can result in hours of work to get it going again. Of course companies in this situation have back up generators that run on diesel so cutting power to these to save on CO2 emissions will result in even more emissions

    2. Mark 65


      "How predictable is the wind?"

      Around Westminster? Very.

    3. TheOtherHobbbes

      Wind loading

      depends how big and smart your grid is. If your grid is tiny and stupid, wind is a bad idea. As the size expands and load balancing becomes more intelligent, drop outs become less and less of a problem.

      An integrated renewables policy might even use other sources, including hydro, hot solar and tidal.

      But perish the thought that the UK might actually build a grid that could almost totally independent and self-sustaining. It makes so much more sense to rely on the good will of friendly foreign powers like Russia, Iran and the Saudis for our energy needs.

      So let's just ignore the fact that it becomes physically impossible to buy gas and coal during a cold snap, and that the UK has nearly no strategic storage capacity for either, and pays some of the highest spot prices in Europe as a result.

      Let's ignore the fact that the deregulated energy companies are profiteering pirates who are only interested in shafting their customers and only do investment when forced to.

      Let's also ignore the fact that the UK's nukes have been underperforming for years now.

      See e.g.

      No, wind is the only technology that doesn't work as advertised - because it's designed and promoted by hippies, tofu knitters and girly men.

      Every other energy technology used by the UK runs at 150% efficiency, never taking a break, outperforming all rational capacity estimates, cuddling seals and kittens in its spare time, and practicing for its star turn on Britain's Got Talent.

      Right. And good luck getting dealing with reality if you really believe that - because when the usual sources fuck up and you're left in the dark, you're going to need it.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quote mining

    Lewis, on your first page you wrote,

    "During periods of minimum demand, renewable generation output is likely to reflect prevailing weather conditions rather than price signals ... it will become increasingly necessary to restrict the output from wind generation onto the system to ensure sufficient thermal capacity is synchronised to meet the technical requirements of operating reserve ..."

    The original said (emphasis mine on the missing parts),

    During periods of minimum demand, renewable generation output is likely to reflect prevailing weather conditions rather than price signals. WHILST THE COINCIDENCE OF HIGH WIND OUTPUT DURING MINIMUM DEMAND PERIODS WILL BE INFREQUENT, it will become increasingly necessary to restrict the output from wind generation onto the system to ensure sufficient thermal capacity is synchronised to meet the technical requirements of operating reserve. Under this scenario it is estimated that it may be necessary to curtail wind output on about 38 days per year by 2020, ALTHOUGH THE COINCIDENCE OF HIGH WIND DAYS WITH LOW DEMAND PERIODS MAY ONLY BE 3 TIMES PER YEAR.

    Any reason for missing that part out, other than it not saying what you wanted it to say?

    1. ChilliKwok
      Thumb Down

      No - Just getting to the point

      Try reading it again carefully: It's saying, for operational reasons, they estimate they'll need to curtail wind output on 38 out of 365 days. So for 10% of the time we'll be paying the wind subsidy farmers compensation for NOT taking their output - during which periods we'll be paying the backup conventional suppliers top dollar for their output - so we'll be paying twice.

      And this is only the high-wind case - at low wind periods we'll again have to pay top dollar for the conventional back-up suppliers - who will also expect compensation the times they're NOT generating due to wind availability.

      And all this is supposed to prevent bad weather right? What a complete farce.

  11. Bilgepipe


    Thank you, green windy hippie-types, for instigating this horrendously expensive farce. I hope your horseshit-powered eco-homes stay toasty warm in the winter while the rest of us can't afford our electricity bills.

    Never though I'd want more nuclear plants....

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      @Bilgepipe: Want more nuclear plants?

      I hear the Germans and Italians will be holding a fire-sale of theirs soon....

      Pity they don't relocate ...

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        RE: @Bilgepipe: Want more nuclear plants?

        "I hear the Germans and Italians will be holding a fire-sale of theirs soon.... " Perfect reason to build those cables to the Continent and lots of nuke stations, then we can make money out of selling electricity to meet the shortfall involved with those expensive green principles. Otherwise the Fwench will become the new electricity Saudis of Europe

  12. boustrephon

    Quote Mining


    Thank you for some clear comment. From the style of article it seemed clear that Lewis is making a bid to be a Fox-style commentator, and your clarification confirmed it.

    While it is true that wind power brings its own problems, the alternatives are not too good.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    @Quote Mining and followups

    Thank you, saved me some typing.

    I've said it before but it bears repeating: I don't know who Lewis thinks he's helping with this kind of "reporting", but he's not: it's just too easy for people with open eyes and open minds to pick holes in.

  14. Desk Jockey

    Missing something...

    Like the decades worth of pissing about by the Government and the utilities companies on this issue. Forget the leccy side of things, our bills were going to go up because no one has been investing properly in electricity so we are going to need to build everything at once at huge cost. All that past privatisation of the electricty supply into a series of local monopolies stinks and we are now paying the price for under-investment and the profit motive shown by those greedy co-oporations.

    Wind power can be used, it is just not really what the grid wants which is a lot of nice, stable and consistent power. Using wind for commercial use is probably viable as large industrial estates could use nearby wind farms to subsidise their electricity costs during the day and just tap into the grid when they need to rather than all the time. In the event of over-supply, such as outside of working hours, they could sell that to the grid. This works as it allows companies to reduce costs, thus selling stuff to consumers/business cheaper. That leccy can then be shoved into the grid during consumer peak hours when people are heading home after work.

    The consumer market is basically an in-competitive market. Consumers need leccy to suit their lifestyles. Taxing them just for having to use leccy when they get home doesn't give them any choice of when to use the leccy. Working hours are what they are and consumers can do sweet sod all to change that. Higher prices for peak demand just means more profit for the utilitiy companies. This market just needs a stable, always on supply that peaks in the evening unlike commercial which peaks during the morning/day. Wind/Storage will not address these issues at all.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Abject fail there - you might want to read up on what National Grid actually does.

      The National Grid is not some amorphous blob that you can throw stuff onto and pull things off whenever you like.

      They work *extremely* hard to balance everything out.

      Right now, they have a very smooth 'base load' that's basically all of industry and office working - most industry and almost all offices have a pretty stable use pattern.

      Then you have domestic use, which is a very large number of very small users who spike up and down continually - however, all these spikes are very short duration, and it only becomes noticeable when a very large number of these users spike together (kettle after Corrie is the usual example).

      The biggest *possible* single domestic 'upspike' is 23kW (zero use to 'about to blow your 100A supply fuse'). The biggest likely would be taking a shower or turning on the oven - 5kW or so.

      Now, even a small industrial user is in the MW range, and places like steelworks and car plants are in the multi-gigawatt.

      Consider what would happen if many small or mid-sized industrial users often (and only semi-predictably) bounced on and off grid at pretty much the same time as their wind power plants took over, then dropped the load (due to under or over wind-speed)?

      As their publication says - The Grid can cope with a few of them. It can't cope with a lot of them.

      And that's before you start to consider that the Grid will have to pay these wind power suppliers to *stay turned off* fairly often due to the idiocy of the contracts the Government have put in place.

  15. P.Nutt

    Screwed again

    As a normal UK tax payer it is me who is getting it in the wallet from these eco hippy types who obviously do not even live on the same planet as the rest of us.

    1. Some Beggar

      And the award for Most Daily Mail Clichés Squeezed into a Post goes to ...

      [plain text]

  16. sisk

    Seems to me...

    the problem lies not with wind farms (which are a fine technology when properly applied), but with the Renewables Obligation Certificates system. You're basically making it expensive to use a technology that should be dirt cheap to run with that system.

    As for renewable energy, it's been pretty well proven that it can work on a large scale. Freiburg, Germany is all the proof I need to know that renewables are viable. The first step to actually making them worth while is to shut the scaremongers up. We're running out of non-renewables quickly. By 2020 we'll really be feeling the strain globally if we don't embrace renewables.

  17. Turtle_Fan
    Thumb Down

    You don't sit on the fence do you...?

    That's quite a worthy rant you published there, right up there with J. Sweeney's scientology rant (ahem, maybe not, Sweeney may have had a point).

    So, renewables are costing more and conventional powerplants are being disadvantaged to make way for renewables. That's been the bloody policy from day one. Make conventional power more expensive to give renewables more of an impetus to see investment directed its way.

    And yes it does work. Solar panels have reduced in costs to the point that they match peak-hours prices in the US. And they've not even started.

    Storage, surges, disconnections of turbines? Under present conditions yes. But turbines with an average lifespan of 40+ years could be operating in a wholly different world. As soon as Electric cars become more widespread, expect to see them participating actively in load balancing of the network. The potential of EV's to act as balancers is tremendous. Better reliability, lower costs, better resilience.

    I'm not a tree-hugger by any stretch of the imagination and I too think the plan is a little ahead of its time. But hey, we must look into adapt for the future. And the future is EV's in most cases.

    As for oil-fired plants, tell me that you believe in your heart of hearts that we don't have better uses for oil other than setting fire to it.

    1. ChilliKwok


      > Solar does work

      Averaged over a year the total KWHr output of every solar panel in the UK amounts to less than 1/300th the output of one conventional power station like Drax.

      > Wind turbines 40+ yr lifespan

      UK round 1 offshore turbines had a 20% annual fault rate over the first 5 years. This is expected to worsen with age.

      >The potential of EV's to act as balancers is tremendous.

      Great - not only do I have to wait 8 hours to refuel my car after every 80miles - but now the grid may need to steal my charge if the winds not blowing. What if I need to drive mum to the hospital?

      >As for oil-fired plants,

      We only have 3 out of some 70 odd UK powerstations - and they're rarely used due to the oil price.

      > I'm not a tree-hugger by any stretch of the imagination

      Yes you are.

      1. Turtle_Fan

        Not quite...

        I can see how I may have come across as a complete tree hugger even though I'm a petrolhead through and through.

        OK, I came across so stupid 'cause what I have in mind (and what the legislation has too) is not what we have today. I was talking about a good few years/decades in the future.

        > Wind Turbines

        Whatever their failure rates were (think early automobiles) I'm talking about turbines many generations later that have been perfected in terms or reliability


        OK, if you think of EV's as the wheezy, plastic, impotent boxes on offer today then yes. But I'm on about EV's with a good range (350+ miles) with proper amenities and levels of trim. By which time they will be the clear majority of vehicles on the streets and ic engined cars will be niche players. At that time (consider that a majority of cars are parked at any one time) the balancing will be unnoticeable to any individual car but it will be substantial on a grid level

        >Coal will always be cheap and abundant. The question is do we want to use it? And that question has been answered negatively for quite a few years now.

        Back to my cave to seek refuge from the downvotes....

        1. Mark 65


          "Whatever their failure rates were (think early automobiles) I'm talking about turbines many generations later that have been perfected in terms or reliability"

          We may all be skint well before then. You may be able to pay twice for your power but I doubt the nation can.

        2. Sean Baggaley 1


          "At that time (consider that a majority of cars are parked at any one time) the balancing will be unnoticeable to any individual car but it will be substantial on a grid level."

          Have you SEEN a typical British residential street? You know: the ones full of endless rows of terraced Victorian housing, with no off-street parking at all, and no way to get a power connection from the house to the car—it's a rare day when I could park outside my old place. (And, thanks to the introduction of "Red Routes" in London over ten years ago, I couldn't park AT ALL on the street I lived on before that!

          Are you seriously expecting to see a convenient 13A power socket every 5 metres or so along every residential street? In every office car park? At every airport? At every railway station? Along every High Street? In every town and village in every part of the British Isles? Good luck with that.

          Electric cars with gigantic batteries are idiotically inefficient: *Transmitting* the electricity to the car makes far more sense, and you won't need anything other than a small "emergency" battery. Yes, that'll require installing lots of expensive new infrastructure (such as the inductive power transmission I mentioned earlier), but then, you'll have to do that *anyway* to support your EV-as-windfarm-storage proposals too. I know what I'd rather spend my money on: the electricity generation system with the lowest deaths and injuries per Terawatt Hour:

          That'd be nuclear, in case you can't be bothered to click the link. (And no, I'm not suggesting building brand new power stations to 40-year-old ex-Soviet Russian, or Japanese, designs. The state of the art has moved on a bit since then.)

          And, before anyone thinks to ask: yes, I'll gladly live near such a plant. I've already lived near Bradwell (back when it was still operational), and am quite certain I'm not dead, dying of cancer, or suffering from radiation poisoning. I'll take my chances.

      2. BenR

        You need to look into this, and do the maths

        > Solar does work

        Averaged over a year the total KWHr output of every solar panel in the UK amounts to less than 1/300th the output of one conventional power station like Drax.

        I *HAVE* done some maths on this, and you're looking at 14 YEARS of Solar just to get back to neutral on the embedded energy used to make the panels in the first place - and THAT assumes that you're using the decent panels with a (relatively) high conversion efficiency.

        (Polycrystalline PV = 4.07GJ/m² to create - ref. ICE v2.0 DB, University of Bath)

  18. Cow Parsley

    Re: Overstocking

    I would have thought a good parallel for this problem is the EU farming subsidy...paid to produce and paid to destroy. I love paying taxes....

  19. T.a.f.T.

    Time to hollow out a mountain...

    Dig hole two caves, one above the other. Stick a turbine/pump into a shaft between them. Extra power = pump up, too little power = let it flow down. Already used for some nuclear plants so they can run at a steadier rate. Apparently water starts to fall back through turbines quite quickly when you open the gate. Sure you loose 30~40% of what you put in but you can store it for quite a while. No need for fuel cells or escaping gases either.

    Ok so digging out a mountain costs a bit... but we can surly sell the granite or aggregate to someone? Perhaps a few roads can be resurfaced.

    1. SteveK

      No hollowing required.

      Don't even need to hollow a mountain, lakes top and bottom work as well - look up 'Electric mountain' on wikipedia - a pumped storage hydroelectric station in North Wales (although they apparently did still dig out 12 million tonnes of rock to make all of the tunnels).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Electric mountain


        Visitors welcome in the real world too, last time I checked. Well worth a look, but pre-booking necessary in high season.

  20. hp


    I'm interested in renewables, so thought I'd look up Freiberg as you say it tells you 'all you need to know about renewables being viable'. I was hoping for some great examples that would help spread the fact that renewables work, but according to their web page 30% of their electricity comes from nuclear, 3.7% from local renewables and the rest from natural gas and woodchip being burnt, hardly the great example I was expecting. They have done some good stuff on energy saving though.


    1. sisk

      Seems my figures were wrong.

      That's what I get for trusting the Discovery Channel. A documentary I saw on the place had said that all the solar panels provided more power than the city could use. Still, I believe that renewables can, and should, provide most of our electricity.

  21. ChilliKwok

    Chris Huhne Says...

    "I've got some good news and some bad news:

    The bad news is you're all going to be paying 3x as much for your energy due to all our green stealth taxes.

    The good news is there's a slim chance this will make the weather 0.0001oC colder long after you're all dead.

    Wait... you're still thinking about the bad news right?"

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hold on a mo...

    "the grid said it could not cope with the surge of power from wind farms and will have to switch off turbines to avoid overloading the power transmission networks"

    Surely the grid is just a big complicated bit of wire? If you have a supply of a certain voltage and a particular load the amount of current in the wire is dictated by the load, not the supply. To put it crudely if you had a number of 12v car batteries wired in parallel feeding a 60w the bulb would be drawing 5A. You could double the number of batteries connected to your "grid" if you wanted, but the current drawn through your grid would still be the same 5A.

    I suspect this is more to do with actual power requirements. At any given time the grid only requires a certain amount of power. What's nice about more conventional stations is that they are predictable. OK so they can take a while to get on line and off line again, but the operators are in total control of the output. Over the years the grid have got very good at predicting what the power requirements will be at any given time. As such they can queue up stations to come on line in time for times of predicted peak demand. Hydro dams are apparently very good at this as they can be switched on and off more or less at will when compared to something like a coal fired station. Virstually any of the more conventional stations can be worked into thes plans. The grid tells a particular operator they will need a particular amount of generating capacity online for the end of the Britain's Got No Hope final when everybody switches the kettle on and the capacity will be there and online. Wind power isn't nearly so predictable and as such may often be spinning but not in use because the operator could not confirm they would have the power available at the predicted time.

    I don't think it's that the grid can't cope with the power from these wind farms, more that it can't rely on it.

    1. Aaron Em

      Not really

      "Surely the grid is just a big complicated bit of wire?"

      I gather it's more like an enormous complex of railroads, all of which carry freight trains with heavy loads at full speed, and the whole thing equipped with some unimaginably complex switch gear that tries, and mostly succeeds, to keep from routing two locomotives into a collision -- under normal conditions everything works fine, but if things get too badly out of kilter then the whole thing falls to pieces and it takes relatively forever to get all the debris cleaned up and restore normal operation.

      Such, at least, was more or less the sense of the explanations given a few years ago for why power on most of the US east coast was out, for anywhere for three days to a week, during one of the hottest summers I've ever endured.

    2. Liam Johnson

      re: Surely the grid is just a big complicated bit of wire?

      Think of it more like a car. You want to drive along at a constant 50mph (50Hz). If you are driving up a hill, you need a certain throttle position to keep your speed. If the hill is steeper, you need more throttle. If you suddenly start going down hill, then you will need to throttle right back to avoid going too fast, you may even need to apply the brakes (dump the energy). Either way, you can't just expect to keep adding power and everything to remain in balance.

      1. mmiied

        no it is more like

        this sort of wibbley wimmly timey wimie ball

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It's more like a truck.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    We should get the Eurofighter, to fly past the wind turbines and thus make them spin faster thus achieving better efficiency... Or give up on UK electricity as UK made electrons suck anyway, and just buy USA made leccy that give you much better charge per electron, and can do both AC and DC at the same time.

  24. Mike VandeVelde

    So what you're saying is...

    The main problem is that these power plants are in private hands?

    In order to satisfy the profit motives of corporations little people are getting shafted? <sarcasm>Shocking, isn't it.</sarcasm>

    Wind turbines are not the magic bullet, but they do help to generate needed electricity, but in order to prop up the corporations who build them they are crippled with extortionate fees to *guarantee* a return on investment for the "risk" that investors are taking.

    So nationalize them. Problem solved. You're welcome.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: So what you're saying is...

      ".....but in order to prop up the corporations who build them they are crippled with extortionate fees...." Nope, the extra fees are there to prop up the stupid idea of renewables in the first place as they can't compete in the open market with conventional coal stations.

      ".....So nationalize them. Problem solved...." It's political meddling that got us in this mess in the first place. First by crippling nuke research in the UK to please the greens and the miners' unions, then by getting us reliant on foreign fuels (Mid East oil, foreign coal and Russian gas), and now by trying to buy votes by caving to rediculous "global warming" hysteria rather than following the simple and scientific choice of nuke power. Scrap moronic ideas like carbon credits and windfarm subsidies, invest in electric vehicle research, and build more nuke powerstations If windfarms can truly stand on their own two feet then they will without subsidies, otherwise the windfram proponents can dry up and blow away.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        except that coal, oil, gas aren't priced correctly

        "can't compete in the open market with conventional coal stations"

        The reason coal (and oil and gas) are relatively cheap is that a lot of hidden costs are externalised. For example increased health problems from soot are paid for by the taxpayer through NHS, so these costs are hidden even though they're there and still being paid for ultimately by the taxpayer. the price of fossil only reflects the cost to dig it out of the ground, it does not take into account environmental costs. Just because it's next to impossible to put a monetary value on these costs doesn't mean they don't exist.

        Secondly, and more importantly, the cost of fossil on the market is based on the fiction that a 100-200 year supply is approximately infinite. If we keep going for the cheaper option and not account for finite supply in the price, fossil will continue to be cheaper than anything else right up until when they run out, when the world's economy will tear itself apart.

        So what's the way forward? (1) Tax fossil fuels and use the income to finance renewable research. Consumer cost will still go up a bit, this is inevitable since current prices do not reflect real cost (2) Phase out mechanisms like ROCs. As new generation renewables get cheaper and with the tax on fossil fuels in place, the most efficient renewables will eventually become the better choice (3) Nuclear, nuclear, nuclear! It will act as a stopgap while fossils are phased out and renewables phased in as per step 2, and it will anyway be needed for a big chunk of baseload power even if there is a high takeup of highly efficient renewables.

        I can't see it happening though, since the whole thing would be a 50 year plan and most decision-makers nowadays can't see beyond the next election.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          RE: except that coal, oil, gas aren't priced correctly

          Was that lifted from "Totally Fatuous Arguments for Dummies"? As a reasoned argument for renewables it was truly an Olympic gold of fail.

          "The reason coal (and oil and gas) are relatively cheap is that a lot of hidden costs are externalised....." Like what?

          ".....For example increased health problems from soot are paid for by the taxpayer through NHS..." Complete male bovine manure! The predominant cause of lung cancer is cigarettes, not powerstation soot, and has been for decades. Modern coal-fired stations have very good filters which mean your argument should have been dropped back in the Victorian era.

          "....Just because it's next to impossible to put a monetary value on these costs doesn't mean they don't exist....." But it doesn't stop you making a completely invalid and far-fetched argument out of it. It is very easy to put a price on lung cancer treatment, the NHS do it all the time.

          "......If we keep going for the cheaper option and not account for finite supply in the price, fossil will continue to be cheaper than anything else right up until when they run out, when the world's economy will tear itself apart....." Firstly, the idea is we burn fossil fuels only whilst building new nuke stations, then fossil fuels become irrellevant (at least in the nations that can build nuke stations). This also covers cars as nuke is about the only way we're ever going to have enough excess energy to cover the corrent amount of driving we do in the First World when we switch to EVs. Secondly, it's all a supply and demand issue - as coal supply becomes restricted its price will rise, to the point where coal becomes uneconomic to mine (just ask miners in Wales how that works). At that point, Third World countries are likely to be still stuck with coal- or oil-fired stations, we should have (hopefully) dumped morons like Huhne and got some nuke stations online by then. The markets reliant on burning a fossil fuel will have to find a replacement for coal or oil (methanol from crops or dried seaweed or whatever). Capitalism is a very resilient system that will look to replace failing sources of income (fossil fuels) with new ones (as shown by the people getting rich off the current windfarms subsidies), and is unlikey to "tear itself apart" (did I get the right tone of hysterical melodrama there?).

          ".....As new generation renewables get cheaper...." Here's the problem for that fallacy - wind turbines and the like are actually very developed and have a very experienced aeronautical and elcetrical industries behind them helping them with tech and materials. There is very little scope for immediate or even longterm improvement over what we have now. Even superduper fantasy renewables like tidal have very limited options both for deployment (you can't just do it anywhere) and their potential to supply anything more than a fraction of out needs (which means you still need more nuke stations). This "subsidise renewables " schpiel is coming from the companies looking to get rich off the subsidies, end of. It would be a much simpler and surer idea to take one penny out of the already rediculous 70% UK tax on each litre of petrol for building modern nuke stations. Time for politicians to stop pandering to a few hippy swing-votes and get some serious scientific work going.

      2. Mike VandeVelde

        re: Matt Bryant

        There's an open market for energy???

        Conventional coal stations are competing entirely on their own two feet??

        Everything boils down to cost, so that if something doesn't generate acceptable income then there is no possible other reason for that something to exist?

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          RE: re: Matt Bryant

          OK, economics 101 for those who were obviously asleep at the back of the class. We live in these things called "economies" because we, as individuals, find it easier to do one job and sell our services/products to others. Everything has a price because we like to get paid for doing or making stuff so that we can in turn buy other stuff, otherwise we would have to limit ourselves to subsitance farming. Therefore, everything has a price and every political decision will have to look at that price as there is a limit to how much stuff the governments can buy without the people being taxed back to the subsitance trip. Spend too much on one area (renewables) and another will fail (UK public pensions, it seems). Just go ask the Greeks how unrestrained "feel-good" politics worked out for them.

          Coal is cheap now (foreign coal, in the UK's case). So is oil (relatively). Stations for either are cheap to build, storage and distribution are relatively easy and there appears to be enough of the stuff for a good few years yet. BUT, when either starts to run out, it will become uneconomic to mine/drill them, and either we will see staions becoming much more expensive as they strive to be ultra-efficient, or we will see other fuels being substituted which are still economic. This is also the problem for the internal-combustion engines which dominate our transport systems. At that point, it becomes a lesser of two evils, but be sure the capitalist mind will seek one or the other to make a profit.

          Firstly, we can go hydrogen - but that needs lots of leccy to split it out of water, so we'd probably end up with nukes anyway. Or the second option is likely to be ethanol/methanol, which really gives the greens heartburn as they think it will mean World hunger (well, Third World anyway). Don't you think it would be smarter now to start building the one power source that is already proven: does not need years of expensive research to get to the point where it is even remotely viable (nuke power is proven to be effective in generating electricity); doesn't mean Third World people have to choose between feeding themselves or making fuel crops; and even offers us a route out of fossil-fueled cars? There is as you say a finite limit to both fossil fuels and nuke fuels, so doesn't it make sense to get started on replacing fossil fuels with nukes now so we can spare the time later to look at what comes after nukes?

  25. Anonymous Coward

    "the grid ... can't rely on it"

    It's no worse than (insert here).

    The grid is already perfectly capable of dealing with the loss of 1-2GW at zero notice and many times more at relatively short notice, due to the existing hierarchy of generation capacity and standby capacity, in conjunction with "interruptible contracts" for big users.

    There have been plenty of times when a UK nuke has been taken offline at zero notice due to unexpected observations in the plant, followed within hours or days by the shutting down of all UK nukes of the same design, while investigations proceed into whether a problem needs addressing or not. Sometimes they're shut down for months for that kind of thing.

    Handling the intermittency of wind isn't that much more difficult, especially if (as noted above) a sensible quantity of storage is available locally or via an interconnector (e.g. to the lovely fjords in Norway).

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Try some real numbers with pumped storage

      The UK uses about 35GW. If we aim for 20% from wind, that is 7GW. Most years, Europe has about 5 consecutive days of calm when the windfarms use more energy than they generate. So that is 600TJ of energy not supplied by windfarms. Now lets start adding up storage facilities:

      Cruachan: 36TJ

      Dinorwig: 32.7TJ

      Foyers: 22.7TJ

      Ffestiniog: 4.7TJ

      Over 500TJ more to find. If you use anything outside the UK, you have to increase the storage requirement to include the host country's demand. The four I have mentioned are used every day to deal with peaks and troughs in demand. Storage for windfarms has to pay for itself with only a couple of weeks work each year.

      Why is it every time I see proposals for wind farms I find the numbers are nowhere near reality?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Flocke Kroes

        Nice numbers. I like pumped storage, but as you rightly point out, it is largely for peak lopping (or for instant response to unplanned outages).

        "Storage for windfarms has to pay for itself with only a couple of weeks work each year"

        Storage is storage; whether it's to cope with wind farms or peak lopping or rapid response to big-station outages, there's not enough in the UK. There's not enough storage for gas either. That's what happens when energy planning is left to the markets and an alleged regulator.

        Meanwhile, back to how we manage: if 6GW of wind is offline for a few days, then we manage the same way we currently manage when >>6GW of nuclear capacity is offline for weeks (months) on end because of safety issues. Where's the problem?

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          The problem is that backups for wind make wind pointless

          Wind is too changeable to make up a large proportion of the power supply.

          The first counter argument from the wind lobby is that if it is calm somewhere then it is windy somewhere else. Unfortunately that is not very true. Most years have a calm spell lasting days that cover the whole of Europe.

          The next counter argument is pumped storage. Storage facilities buy when the price is low and sell when the price is high. If you increase the quantity of storage, the price fluctuations fall and the incentive to build more disappears. The current facilities pay for themselves because most of their capacity is used every day. If you have enough storage for wind then all storage will spend almost all the time using hardly any of its capacity. As a result increasing capacity to match government wind targets would require even bigger stealth subsidies than the next generation of wind farms.

          The next bogus figures from the wind lobby are "enough to power 34 homes". This means the installed capacity (power output on a windy day) would run some lightbulbs and fridges. Central heating and cooking from gas and transport from petrol.

          Next you have to include the load factor. Wind turbines were built on the best sites first. Load factors used to be 30% (variations in wind speed result in the average output being 30% of the installed capacity). As the best sites filled up, 27% became a good load factor. Now we are down to 25% and still nowhere near the target installed capacity.

          Installed capacity in mega watts and load factors used to be a good indicator of the value of windturbines. On windy days, wind farms on the scale of government targets would produce more power than demand, and more power than can reasonably be stored. That power cannot be used for anything useful so the turbines must be shut down. This shut down is not included in the load factor. Wind power is proportional to wind velocity cubed. This means that windy days contribute a large amount to the load factor even though they are not that common. If you included this, load factors would take a severe thrashing.

          When the wind does not blow, the difference has to be generated elsewhere. The cheapest source is currently gas. If you want wind power, you need to add equal amount of gas standing idle most of the time and paying for itself only in the calm periods. The entire purpose of building expensive wind farms was to burn less gas.

          When you go through the numbers properly nuclear is far cheaper than large windfarms. Waves do not contain much energy. Hydro is excellent if you have a suitable site. Geothermal is difficult in the UK because the earth's crust is thick here (can work if a natural fissure reduces the amount of drilling required). Tide and currents are interesting - it would be nice if some pilot schemes got some funding to see if they really are a good choice. Solar voltaic is only cost effective in sunny deserts. Solar thermal can reduce heating bills significantly (make sure they have the right amount if thermal insulation to match the local climate). Ground sourced and air sourced heat pumps massively reduce heating (and cooling) bills. Biofuel is even more daft than wind turbines.

          If you want a sensible energy plan: Cut wind down to the best sites. Blow up the excess wind turbines so they cannot claim subsidies. Replace some of them with gas because that is a quick cheap way to meet demand (and you had to build them anyway to handle calm days). Use the money saved to install heat pumps and solar thermal to cut the demand. Start building some nukes so they will be ready when gas becomes expensive again. Look under the cushions on the sofa for loose change and use the money to double the funding for research into tidal generators. Stop arguing about climate change. It does not matter whether it is real or fiction. A diverse energy supply means we are not locked into price hikes from any one type supply.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            "backups for wind make wind pointless "

            Maybe that's true, if you believe in leaving these things to the market.

            The bigger point is that leaving everything to the market makes all your bright ideas (which are entirely reasonable) largely pointless.

            The market wants profits this quarter.

            The people, at least those with a clue, want to know their children will have reasonable quantities of energy available twenty years from now (ideally, more than that).

            The two are totally incompatible.

    2. ChilliKwok

      Wind Shill Factor

      This point is addressed in the report. Wind makes the operating reserve requirement go thru the roof - due to wind instability and the potential for large scale cut-outs at high wind. As a result the reserve costs sky-rocket.

      My question is this: Why would anyone argue FOR this unnecessary cost burden to be placed on consumers? Surely no intelligent Reg readers still think wind subsidy farms will have any effect on the weather?

      I smell a big-wind shill in our midst.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Strange how...

    Strange how no one questions whether the concept of the national grid itself may be part of this problem. In a new regime like the one we're facing, the classic hammer-nail syndrome may not be ideal. It would be good to see some thinking about alternatives to current assumptions like the grid, massive centralisation of power generation etc. There are figures bandied around of the grid losing up to 25% of the power it carries but there seem to be few remedies. An efficient DC transmission option from the Western Isles, for example, was dropped because it was more expensive than a conventional option.

    Just a thought.


    1. Anonymous Coward

      Wait what

      DC transmission? Efficient?

      You're gonna have to run that one by me again.

      Icon is my brain right now.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        No need to run it past you again

        But yes, DC /transmission/ can be more efficient than AC. Try or if you want the wikipedia take,

  27. Sad Git

    Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

    Read David MacKay's free book (title as above) on sustainable energy, that might put things into perspective for you all.

    It gives facts and figures so you can make your own mind up.

    Me, I'd go for the Nuclear option, it looks safer than all the other forms of energy to boot.

    And yes you can build it near me. The controls of radiation levels emitted from a nuclear plant are far more stringent than the radiation levels released from a coal burning plant!

    Let the flame wars begin!!!

    1. ChilliKwok

      Mackay's Book

      I'm not a fan of Mackay's book. For a start he refers to CO2, the life-giving, plant-fertilizing, colourless, odourless trace gas we all exhale as "carbon pollution" - at least 20 times in the course of the book. I assume he also refers to clouds and rain as hydrogen pollution.

      Secondly - while calculating how much power could theoretically be generated by carpeting the countryside with industrial wind turbines and stopping all the rivers with hydro dams he proudly states: "I'm not interested in economics". I bet he isn't. But we energy bill payers are.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        The book is not about the weather

        It is about the scale of energy demand and resources. If CO2 was not demonised, devout global warmists will scream "blasphemy" and stop reading. That would be a pity because somehow, they need to understand that windmills will not keep people warm in winter. Even with an enormous subsidy, windmills can only provide a limited proportion of the UK's power. The idea of the book is that people can calculate for themselves if an energy strategy is even physically possible. It would take a bigger book to calculate the costs.

      2. James Micallef Silver badge

        Not interested in economics

        The whole point of Mackay's book is that even if renewables were cheap as chips, to supply all of UK demand with renewables would require wind turbines and / or solar panels on about a quarter of britain's surface, most of the scottish highlands converted into pumped storage, a much more efficient use of energy, a UK-wide fleet of electric cars, a mind-bogglingly huge Severn barrage, heat pumps in every home.

        In other words, even though Mackay himself in the book is careful not to champion one technology over another, he shows clearly that the only way to keep a 21st century lifestyle without burning stuff for energy is nuclear. If he were to add economics into it, the picture would clearly be even worse for wind.

        If as an energy bill payer you want lower bills, call your MP up and ask for more nukes

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "the grid losing up to 25% of the power it carries"

    Oh no it doesn't.

    See e.g. Mackay and his documented sources.

    From memory the UK grid transmission losses are under 10%. Most of the losses are in the low voltage bits close to the end customers, and would therefore not be greatly different if the electricity was generated on the other side of town rather than on the other side of the country.

    Domestic-scale generation has neither the resilience or overall efficiency to be a serious alternative to grid electricity for most people. If Lewis wants to have a rant about that based on facts and logic, he'd have a much better target than the current (sic) one.

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    why is it that the UK government seeem to think about *one* non fossil sourrce at a time?

    The assorted civil servants cannot seem to get the idea of a *split* energy policy and run lemming like for wind in the way their predecessors "Dashed for gas."

    Micro hydro, geothermal, anaerobic digestion, tidal, *any* would be more reliable and *predictable* (people whine about tidal being cyclic but it will turn up each day *every* day till the Moon breaks up, 10s of 1000s of years from now. If anyone reading this is still on Earth by then you're either stupid or have a death wish).

    And of course the N word (that's not a game).

    Instead this deeply stupid energy mono-culture.

    The UK energy "market" (and I use the term *very* loosely) is highly regulated.

    The UK has the situation it has *because* of those rules. They are made by politicians. They are not laws of nature.

  30. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Some facts

    Not directly related to this article, which is an admission of how the deregulated utilities have repeatedly been able to shag the customer, but about Lewis' favourite bugbear - renewables. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer, of Viagra fame and not renowned for its hippy tendencies, is currently operating its Freiburg plant with 93 % of power being supplied by renewables, because this is the cheapest and most reliable thing to do*. The move to 100 % is planned.

    ROI within 2 years - (in Jorman)

    I don't care that much about climate change. I do care about reliable power and that pretty much means you have to produce it yourself. Even with considerable capital investment that *does* pay off.

    1. umacf24

      Facts <> Real World

      The idea of every serious facility generating its own power on site is a nightmare. Imagine if you couldn't go into business without a plan to supply all your energy from renewable sources! Pharma firms are even more shameless liars than the nuke industry, so Pfizer need all the cosy PR they can get, but don't imagine that Freiburg is a model for business in general.

      The point about business is a serious one. In fact, many businesses do generate the vast bulk of their energy on site -- by burning coal or gas. The issue with windmills is not whether they can deliver the ten GW or so that might make a difference to the national grid at current loads, but whether they'll have any relevance at all when we demand that brick kilns or cement works or blast furnaces chose carbon sequestration or low carbon electricty. (And if we have any integrity at all, we'll be making the same demand whether the bricks are made here or abroad.)

      I'm with the other commentators on this story who say that if you actually do the numbers, and if you believe that the economy needs reliable energy at 10p/kWH instead of 50 then nuclear is necessary. And, I would add that a lot of that nuclear needs to be generating process heat (for the brickworks, say, or fischer tropf), which means that we need to do something now about molten salt or liquid metal cooled designs. (For my unsophisticated pick, google molten salt thorium and see what you think.)

      I worry a little about nuclear waste but I worry more about the vastly greater quantities of CO2 from carbon sequestration: radioactive poisons decay and are really only a worry to people, but CO2 -- bubbling and leaking wherever we try and put it -- retains the capacity to wreck the climate for ever.

  31. David Ramsay

    Damned if I am paying ...

    When I retire, which may well be in the near future, I have NO intention of paying for Gas, Electricity, Water or Council Tax - come get me.

  32. Mark Lockett
    Thumb Up

    In New Zealand we do some demand management .....

    nice article, but I haven't checked all the figures.

    Just one point about demand management:

    Here in New Zealand we have had a system for decades where the power company (or, before privatisation, the Power Board) can switch off the hot water cylinder at will, using a ripple control. This effectively means that the company can switch on the hot water during mid afternoon, and (mostly) between midnight and dawn. Most people have a big enough hot water cylinder to provide a full day's supply of hot water, so there is absolutely no effect on consumers, but it does allow some smoothing in demand, at practically no cost (hot water is close to half domestic demand).

    (here in NZ, most electricity is hydro, and the rivers have to keep running at night, when the spot price of electricity drops to almost nothing).

    Mark Lockett

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    " hot water cylinder ... full day's supply of hot water"

    Very sensible too, both at home, and on a larger scale where something similar is called a calorifier.

    Back here in accountant-ruled UK, because the people in charge are utterly utterly brainless and only understand costs and definitely don't understand the potential value of stored energy such as stored hot water, people are actively being encouraged to remove their hot water cylinders and replace them with the modern "high efficiency" equivalent of the 1950s "multi point geyser", now renamed as the combi boiler, and force-fitted into heating the radiator circuit as well as the hot water (but often not both at the same time). Same goes for new build homes too.

    Which means that the time you need the hot water (for taps or for radiators) is the time you need the energy. No storage. No load shedding. No off peak tariffs. So whilst the combi boiler may be "high efficiency" on paper while the burner is lit, in the bigger picture it's really quite unhelpful because of its inflexibility.

    The energy economics of the madhouse.

  34. Head


    Why don't the EU get together and set aside some land in the middle of europe and build 50 nuclear reactors or something, then shell the power out to all the countries that want it?

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      Like in France, they seem to like nuclear

  35. PolicyWatcher

    MPs warn on hidden nuclear subsidies

  36. PolicyWatcher

    And of course...

    We don't ever get big price increases in non-renewable energy now do we?

  37. John Stirling

    evening out windpower

    A bloody great big flywheel at the bottom of every windmill (or group of windmills). The mills power it up, the grid draws off power at a steady regular pace - even out the supply from 'anywhere between nothing and loads' to somewhere in the middle.

    Quote this as prior art if you like when someone patents it.

  38. nederlander
    Thumb Up

    Wholeheartedly agree.

    That's right Lewis, lets all save money on electricity, we can spend it after we are extinct.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    "rivers have to keep running at night,"

    Rivers have to keep running at night, although valves can sometimes be closed if required.

    Nukes have to keep running at night too, and there are no practical cost-effective valves to close.

    Nukes can't follow the daily demand cycle, either because it's physically impossible because of reactor physics or because it becomes uneconomic because of reduced lifetime output and increased thermo-mechanical stresses in non-repairable structural stuff.

    So in order to match the varying daily demand (between roughly 20GW min and 50GW max in the UK) and the unvarying nuclear output, nukes need "backup" and storage and interconnects and all the stuff that Lewis and friends are trying to tell you are only needed by wind. They're lying (or at best, ignorant).

    I'd be a lot keener on nuclear if its supporters weren't so obviously misleading so much of the time.

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Demand following

      The French nuclear operators have worked out how to modify the output of their modern nuclear plants to allow for reduced demand; last reports I saw said they could swing the output of some stations between 70% and 100% in 30 minutes at the cost of fuel burning efficiency -- given the low cost of nuclear fuel that is less of a consideration than a carbon-burning station.

      With more of their neighbours such as Spain and Germany commmitting themselves to being dependent on renewables the French may not need to do this much as they will be able to sell excess nuclear baseload across their borders to prevent brownouts and blackouts in such countries. As an aside, Britain has been buying about 2GW of French nuclear power pretty much continuously since a cross-Channel HV DC power connector was installed back in the 90s.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: "rivers have to keep running at night,"

      Which all avoids the other issues you greens squeal on and on and ON about - cars! When we switch to EVs (the only really practical replacement for the internal combustion engine) we will be driving the majority of them during the day and recharging them at night, which means we will likely see massive electricity demand at night too in the future. If anything, we may even have to store during the day to meet the demand for night charging!

  40. nigglec

    Just a bit of common sense....please?

    Just got back from the soon to be “nuclear free” Germany. Considering the huge numbers of wind turbines all over the place and the fact that they are going to have to start importing leccy from nuclear France why can’t they just build one or two conventional power plants. If the nimbys think that new nuclear is so unsafe, they should realise that if a new nuke plant went up like Chernobyl (Impossible!) in France it would still make them glow in the dark.

    Reliable renewables are few and far between. How much more hydro could we realistically build in this country? And we know that the environmentalists would go “nuclear” if you started talking Severn barrage tidal generation.

    I believe electricity should be either government or not for profit owned. We should have a far greater energy efficiency policy and increase micro generation as much as possible. New build housing should by default have photovoltaic or thermal panels installed. Buying leccy from other countries is just lazy and costly, but is politically an easier thing to sell than the harsh reality of new nuclear/coal /gas power plants.

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Digging deeper

      Germany is commissioning 6GW of new coal-burning power stations this year, with more to come. They've got hundreds of years of surface-mined brown coal they can dig up and burn to supplement their renewables. It's filthy, polluting and extracting it destroys the countryside but it's cheap and nobody cares enough to put a stop to it they way they do about nuclear power.

  41. Magani

    'Sir' is a title

    "The cost of constraining wind will become increasingly significant."

    The potential for fart jokes seems to have been missed by the El Reg constituency so far.

    Wazzup? Lost the urge for a double entendre?

    Icon = Fart + ignition

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Where will the LibDems be when the lights go out?

    Sack Huhne now, before it's too late

  43. simoncm

    Microturbine anyone

    My last bill put gas at about 3p / kWh and electricity at 12p / kWh. Not sure we have the technology yet, but if you could make a micro-gas-turbine (assumed efficiency 50%) and a bank of batteries work (smoothing and all that) you'd be looking at £200 per year in "savings".

    Obviously the "savings" would go towards the equipment costs, but you'd still break even on £1000 worth of kit over 5 years (not unreasonable).

    And that assumes electricity prices (relative to gas) are staying the same, if they go up then...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      already being done

      quite popular in japan, apparently.

      although it costs a lot more than a grand to Do It Right.

  44. Annakan

    Did you forget already

    "Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate"

    biased beyond redemption

    1. Mostor Astrakan

      That particular article...

      That particular run of articles was a welcome balance to all the ones that said, basically, "O My God We're All Going To Die."

  45. scatter

    Big numbers. What does it work out as per kWh?

    Taking the worst case additional costs as £286m + £945m gives you £1.231bn

    (and I imagine that operating reserve requirement isn't the marginal cost so it's probably going to be less than this).

    According to DUKES, in 2009 we consumed 322,417GWh in the UK.

    I make that 0.38p/kWh or about 3% of current retail prices.

    I hope you'll understand if I don't worry too much about this.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @French demand following

    OK Robert, maybe they've sorted the physics, now all they have to worry about is the increased thermo-mechanical stresses and resulting shortened safe lifetimes and the resultant increase in the price of their (taxpayer-funded?) electricity. These bits of irradiated plumbing aren't exactly easy to replace once they've reached the end of their design lifetimes. Yes you can probably use even more exotic alloys than are currently in use today to give the next generation a longer lifetime. These new alloys will take time to find and develop and test and certify, and will likely cost more, obviously.

    "Britain has been buying about 2GW of French nuclear power pretty much continuously since a cross-Channel HV DC power connector was installed back in the 90s."

    Careful with your words please.

    If by "continuously" you mean "for peak lopping most days", then fair enough. If by "continuously" you mean 24x7, the facts disagree; the interconnector is used for both importing and exporting.

    For example, as I write this, the UK is exporting ~ 200MW to France (ie France's nuclear reactors aren't yet fully capable of demand following).


    1. Robert Sneddon

      Stresses and strains

      Why would swinging a nuclear power plant's output put much thermomechanical stress on the core and vessel structures? The temperatures stay very much the same, it's the heat energy output that's reduced so the amount of coolant (which is also the moderator, one factor that makes this operation non-trivial) flow is reduced. This means a smaller amount of secondary-loop steam is generated hence less torque at the generator turbine blades and less electromotive power in the generator set. It's not optimally efficient and it helps if the genset and secondary loop systems are built from the outset to cope with variable output, not an option in older existing designs.

      There are other problems such as neutron poisoning when swinging a reactor's output but I don't know the details of how the French are able to deal with those particular issues.

      As for replacing the sparkly bits, the new EP-1000 design is actually capable of allowing this to be done. The reactor building is constructed before the reactor vessel itself is installed rather than the usual technique of building the structure and containment around the vessel in-situ. In the case of a fault developing or the vessel wearing out it could be removed and replaced without knocking down the building to get at it. This capability is really there to allow for cheaper end-of-life decommissioning of the reactor rather than allowing running repairs though.

      At the time I'm writing this (late evening 16th June) we're taking 800MW from the French pool according to your link. It swings through the day but as I understand it most of the time the link feeds power to us from the French side. Wintertime might have a higher load on the link for us rather than this period of near-arctic long summer daylight with lower demand peaks.

  47. Tom Reg

    Look to Denmark - 'the leaders'

    They already have really expensive electricity. They also have the highest wind percentage (about 20%). The result is among the dirtiest electricity in Europe. The reason is of course that 90%+ of their electricity comes from coal + nat gas. Much of the wind is exported to Norway for free. If instead of all the wind madness, they had just switched to 100% nat gas, then they would have cut carbon emissions much much more. But they don't want to be at the mercy of the people on the other end of the gas pipe. So they choose pollution and super expensive, almost worthless wind power. Keeps the voters in the cities happy.

    Here in Ontario (peak demand 30GW) with only 800 turbines, we already get many nights where the spot price for electricity goes from the typical $0.03 to MINUS $0.30! We are paying people to ship the stuff away. They want to install 4500 turbines! Madness. We pay $0.15/kwh for wind with the contract - about 5 times what its worth. We also have things like Niagara Falls, etc to handle load variance, but it is not enough.

    My analysis shows that in basically every juristiction where wind has been installed, simply turning all wind permantly off would reduce price (even after allowing for payout to the wind turhines) and create stability in the system.

    The companies who transmit electricity also love these things - they get to raise rates to build lots of transmission that is hardy every used.

    1. scatter

      Can you

      link to the analysis?

    2. Anonymous Coward


      You need to re-write that. I think you're trying to say something interesting but your percentages add up to more than 100. Why is the wind power being given away free? That sounds unlikely.

      It still seems obvious that the key problem here is storage, not the generation. Instead of paying people to take the lecy away, put the money into building a hydro-electric buffer.

      Aside from anything, paying people to take away something that can just be turned off is simply moronic. Perhaps you need to stop voting morons in to power?

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Register has a funny position on renewables

    If you want to scream and shout about 'oh how expensive it all is' get the facts right, these are global figures:

    $312 billion — the cost of consumption subsidies to fossil fuels in 2009.

    $57 billion — the cost of support given to renewable energy in 2009.

    $36 billion per year — the cost of ending global energy poverty by 2030.(EIA)

    Suddenly puts it all into perspective doesn't it?

    The UK who led the world into the industrial revolution needs to lead the way out of this greenhouse gas mess.

    Wind alone is not the solution but part of a portfolio of green energies, which removes a lot of the variability issues.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge

      Global figures don't tell the whole story

      The vast majority of the $312 billion subsidies to fossil fuels are paid in the OPEC countries. For citizens of these countries it is either too expensive to buy oil at market price, or politically unacceptable to pay loads for oil when they're swimming in it. So the governments of these countries pay to subsidise their oil so it's dirt-cheap, even while it gets really expensive elsewhere.

      In western Europe on the other hand there are AFAIK no oil subsidies, and maybe minor ones for coal / gas. The vast majority of the $57 billion on renewables subsidies is paid in Europe,

      Wind can contribute something of course - given production vs consumption figures it can produce between 1-5 % of a countries' requirements depending on geography and climate. Not to be sniffed at, but not a mainstay of generation. Once the optimal sites have been taken, there's no point building more wind farms on non-optimal sites, getting less and less efficiency and output

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Greenhouse Gases are a global issue

    The vast majority of green subsidies being paid in Europe means that Europe is taking a lead and responsibility in a global issue. This has got to be a good thing, not a bad thing?

    So lets talk about the UK. Other reports indicate that the UK can generate 20% of power from wind. As another post indicates, in the bigger scheme of things the renewables subsidies are only a small percentage of total energy bills. No one knows the true cost of the externality due to GHG emissions... if weird weather patterns cause damage, then this is potentially billions of dollars...... hypothetical of course, but I think the article is too narrowly focussed on a specific nat grid report, so maybe I am going the other extreme in the bigger picture to try and counterbalance that viewpoint.

  50. M7S

    this might help, new user of powers to shut windfarms down

  51. Anonymous Coward

    @Robert re demand following physics

    OK, let's for a moment assume hypothetically there are no physics issues in following the demand cycle. Whether or not your theory is correct, it has to be hypothetical because no one's really done it yet, certainly not for long enough to see if it does or doesn't affect lifetimes.

    So now let's look at the economics as well.

    Over a given number of years, a reactor constantly maxed out will generate a given amount of electricity.

    Over the same number of years a reactor cycling up and down following the demand curve on a daily basis will generate significantly less electricity overall, but the costs (operating costs and finance costs) will be much the same as they were for the maxed-out one (the fuel costs are negligible).

    The electricity it does generate (at peak times only) will therefore be substantially more expensive per "unit" than the maxed out one, and the lifetime income will therefore be less, and there will therefore be less profit in it (if it's profitable at all). Does that matter?

    If it is significantly more expensive and if it does matter, where does it leave the future of demand following for nukes?

    Unmanageable wind power has trouble matching current-magnitude daily demand cycles without storage and interconnects and...

    Inflexible nuclear power has **the same** trouble matching matching current-magnitude daily demand cycles without storage and interconnects and...

    Today's grid survives an unplanned loss of a few GW of nuke for weeks on end, and will have to be built to do so tomorrow. Tomorrow's grid will therefore also be able to survive losing a few GW of wind for a few days on the occasions when we're becalmed.

    See what I'm getting at?

    And all that's before we even think about the time it takes to build a nuclear station (not to mention the waiting time before construction actually starts).

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      The problems are very different

      The Grid doesn't really care how much anything costs to build etc. From their point of view:

      Nuclear's problem is that it's "best" to run the nuke at approx. 90% max rated output continuously. Thus you need to shunt their 'spare' power into something else when demand is low and pull it back later in the day when demand is high.

      Wind's problem is that it will very often flip from 'high output' to 'zero output' without warning.

      Thus when wind is producing the most, the 'spinning reserve' also has to be at the maximum just in case wind tips over the top and shuts down.

      So you see the issue? It is relatively easy to trim your nuclear so it can sit producing the daily mean, with pumped storage handling the variation. The spot price will bounce in exactly the way pumped storage needs (nuclear station might be paying them to take it away at times).

      For wind, we need to have enough spinning reserve* to cover the entire wind generation capacity - and we are only expecting to actually use those warm spares for 38 days each year. That's going to make those spares extremely expensive!

      *The spinning reserve would have to hold the grid up until some warm spares could sync, so wouldn't necessarily have to be able to handle the expected >5-day wind blackouts. However the full controllable capacity has to be there as otherwise we go down the rolling blackout** route, which would greatly increase the sales of diesel generators.

      **Brownouts are not an option anymore. Gone are the days when the demand was primarily resistive, it's now mostly constant-power so reducing voltage actually increases demand due to increased cable/transformer losses.

  52. Anonymous Coward

    @Richard 12

    Voltage reductions are indeed now a pointless exercise. Even with resistive loads, if there's a thermostat or similar control mechanism in the picture, all that happens is the equipment spends more time switched on (e.g. electric heating for water and rooms and processes) so there is no worthwhile reduction in demand.

    I take your point also about adjusting nuclear capacity to match mean demand and using pumped storage to match, but in practice UK demand varies between (say) 20GW and 50GW and currently that's not practical to do with pumped storage. If you do build lots more storage (directly or via interconnectors) so that nuclear's inflexible output can match the plus or minus 15GW of demand, that storage can also be used for wind, no? Not to cover a few days, mind you, but that leads back to my previous comment which I don't see your reply addressing: "Today's grid survives an unplanned loss of a few GW of nuke for weeks on end, and will have to be built to do so tomorrow. Tomorrow's grid will therefore also be able to survive losing a few GW of wind for a few days on the occasions when we're becalmed."

    Which bit of that don't you agree with? Unless you are claiming some miracle increase in reliability of nuclear stations and significant changes in the operating regime, then the grid has to be able to handle the simultaneous unplanned zero-notice loss of all nuclear stations of the same design in the case of a safety incident. Note that the proposed UK nuclear regime is pretty much an "all eggs, one (or two) basket" plan - if there is a shutdown due to the risk of a common design fault, as has historically happened from time to time, then we lose a lot of GW of nuclear.

    Surely it doesn't matter whether that loss of generation is handled by spinning reserve or by demand management (interruptible contracts already, smart meters maybe, rolling blackouts inevitably) or a mix of the two; what matters is that if it can be done for a few GW of nuclear going offline for a few weeks, it can be done for a few GW of wind going offline for a few days?

    NB I'm not particularly a fan of wind but I don't like misrepresentation either.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      There's a big difference in scale

      The biggest single site steam plant in the UK is Drax, at 3.9GW.

      On the current plans with >30GW of installed wind, National Grid think that we are likely to lose 15GW over a two hour period, relatively often.

      In other words, they think that we could be losing nearly 3.8 Draxes over a couple of hours, several times a year.

      Now, that's scary.

      Not to mention that Drax can't fail that fast anyway because it's not a single generator - there are six complete independent generating sets.

      All large steam plants (Coal/Oil/Gas/Nuclear) are built the same way.

      So in fact, right now if we lost the whole of Drax, we'd get a blackout. We don't think it's likely that we'll lose Drax, but we might lose one or two of its generating sets, and we can cope with that.

  53. Anonymous Coward

    "All large steam plants ... are built the same way"

    They may be built the same way on the steam+electric side but afaik there is one major difference in the operating regime between nuclear and conventional.

    While conventional plants do hiccup occasionally, it is unusual for multiple identical conventional plants to be offline at the same time for extended periods, whereas there have been (and will likely continue to be) times when all the UK nuclear plants of the same design are shut down for weeks on end because of some safety related incident or other which has the appearance of being a design related issue. So the operating regime says, shut all the similar ones down till we know what's what. Which surely seems fair, right? Same goes for conventional too, I assume, but I can't recall any notable instances of multiple identical plants being taken out of service in this way, for safety reasons.

    "with >30GW of installed wind, National Grid think that we are likely to lose 15GW over a two hour period, relatively often" [citation welcome]

    Wind's unpredictability is inconvenient (to put it politely) but if we can cope with occasionally losing tens of GW of nuclear capacity at short notice, potentially for weeks on end, why can't we cope with losing tens of GW of wind capacity at similar notice, for no more than a few days?

    "We don't think it's likely that we'll [completely] lose Drax, " [1]

    Maybe not, but a few people with angle grinders who know which pylons are important could achieve the same result, in minutes not hours, for Drax or any equivalent. Then what? Is bigger really better?

    [1] Who's "we" here? Does it matter?

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