Transition to a Green Economy

Given our commitments to moving to a “carbon free” economy, I thought I’d take a break from Europe and look at some of the implications of this.  I think they are much bigger than people realise.

Let’s start with the big picture. 65% of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are from three sources: electricity generation (28%), non-electric heating and hot-water (16%) and transport (21%).

There is one more large contributor, which is combustion and other processes in industry which accounts for a further 19%, but I have no idea what to do with this so for now, I’ll ignore it!

Conversion of electricity generation to low-GHG sources is an obvious target, and non-electric heating and transport can also be reduced to almost zero by use of low-GHG electricity sources.

So what does this mean for electricity generation? By 2012/13, the UK aggregate power station capacity will be ~95GW.  Of this, 10% will be nuclear (9.5GW) and ~4% will be wind (~4GW).  The remaining 86% (~82GW) will be from high-GHG sources (which accounts for that 28% figure above).

To cover the requirements for non-electric heating and transport, we would probably need to double our aggregate electricity generation capacity.  This is a difficult calculation to make as the differences in efficiency are difficult to assess.  For example, petrol or diesel engines are considerably less efficient than power stations, but replacing them with either battery power or hydrogen adds other inefficiencies.  So I’ve made the simple assumption that these roughly cancel out.

This doubling of capacity means we will need an additional 95GW of low-GHG sources in addition the to conversion of 82GW to low-GHG sources.  Also, the 9.5GW of nuclear needs replacement soon.  In total, over the next 20+ years we need to build ~187GW of low-GHG capacity.   This is an immense task!

To give you an idea how big, our biggest power station (Drax) generates 3.9GW, so we need to create roughly 50 times this in low-GHG capacity!

I’ll talk about the options in the next post.  Suffice it so say for now that I think nuclear is very much on the table.

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