UK Energy Future Must Include Tidal and Nuclear Power

Council for Science & Technology report sees need to include tidal generation and nuclear power, as well as wind to meet electric supply needs by 2020, while meeting Kyoto goals.

Published: 09-Jun-2005

StartFragment -->LONDON, England, June 8, 2005 -- Wind turbines will not achieve Britain’s goals to reduce carbon emissions, and tidal and nuclear technologies should be supported, according to the government's top advisory agency on technology policy issues.

Government should consider incentives to increase the level of investment and training by the electricity industry, with public investment to be targeted towards development of new and renewable fuel sources, concludes the Council for Science & Technology in its report, ‘An Electricity Supply Strategy for the UK.’ The analysis highlights the need for “large-scale non-carbon electricity generators” to meet national targets for carbon reductions by 2020.

“Wind power alone will not achieve this goal,” it notes. “Suitable technologies include nuclear and tidal generation and these options should be further assessed and progressed to the point they could be executable, if deemed appropriate, as soon as possible.”

Government should keep the nuclear option open and look at “continued use of fossil fuel with carbon sequestration or the potential of tidal power as the need for low-carbon options is increasingly important,” the advisory group recommends. A timescale for decisions on technologies with long lead times is needed.

Government should also consult with the public about future energy needs, including the different options, their impacts and CO2 targets, but the process should be seen as “a measure to help to inform decisions and make them more quickly, not a means of delaying decisions.” It should consider incentives that will increase the level of RD&D investment and training by the industry, and encourage business investment by making a commitment to promote hydrogen research and infrastructure.

Government should review its current regulatory structures in the energy to ensure that a level playing field exists, and consider institutional changes to coordinate research funding, achieve greater leverage from participation in international programs and evaluate the outcomes of government investment in the energy sector. It should also recognise the contribution to CO2 emissions from the transport sector as a major additional factor for a low-carbon energy strategy to overcome.

“Tidal generation is another large-scale option, which will add to the diversity of UK generation and reduce CO2 emissions,” and the CST recommends that new feasibility studies be carried out for tidal lagoons or marine current turbines which have “environmental advantages over barriers.” Tidal energy enclosures would “guarantee secure, predictable and sustainable energy supplies, free of atmospheric emissions, for at least 100 years.”

A barrage over the Severn River would provide 8,640 MW of capacity, or 6% of the UK’s electricity requirement, while a similar barrage over the Mersey River would provide 0.5%. The potential for tidal power was recognized in the energy White Paper and the option left open, and “any future decision to re-open this area of work would be socially and politically controversial” so any future work should focus first on environmental issues and the financing of such schemes.

“Although peak generation times would vary throughout the day with the tidal maxima, this could be accommodated because the times are known in advance, some storage can be incorporated, and barrages at different geographical locations have tidal maxima at different times during any 24-hour period,” it adds. A lagoon has significantly higher costs than a barrage owing to the greater length of its retaining wall.

Tidal technology has been demonstrated successfully for 30 years at the 230 MW facility in France, and Britain has identified eight sites with a total resource of 45 TWh per year. “There are also environmental concerns, the severity of which depend on the siting and nature of the barrage although it is almost certain that many impacts could be ameliorated to some degree by technology or design,” and the country has already invested £12 million in research on tidal power between 1978 and 1994, “so we already have a very high degree of understanding of both the technology and the potential for its deployment in the UK.”

Wind generation has been successfully demonstrated in many locations but “the issues of integrating wind power with existing generators have not been widely publicised,” which may lead to “unrealistic targets being set for new renewable energy sources or it may divert investment away from the energy infrastructure which is needed to fully exploit renewable energy sources,” the report warns. “If the government is to achieve its aspirational target of 20%, developments (of green power) will need to take place away from existing grid infrastructure which will cause a further increase in costs,” particularly for wave and tidal resources which are remote from the existing grid.

“Generally, the relative economic costs of pursuing different options are compared to the benefits gained from each option before deciding funding priorities,” the report explains. “This methodology has not always been followed in the development of renewable energy sources.”

“The true economic cost of low-carbon electricity generation technologies should not only include the cost of transmission but exclude direct or indirect subsidies,” it says. “To achieve a global decrease in CO2 emissions, investment in low-carbon technology which can be used in many places worldwide may be a better proposition than attempting to exploit very high-technology methods with the potential of only a low market penetration potential.”

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