Friday, April 4, 2008

Britain's Electricity Woes

A recent Economist article discusses how Britain will be facing electricity concerns in the coming years. Britain will have to make big decisions on what kind of new electricity will be implemented, since nuclear reactors are aging and coal plants will be closing under European policy “requiring more efficient scrubbing of sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen in power-station chimneys” the article states. Only one nuclear reactor will still be online after the next fifteen years, and coal plants not in accordance with the Large Combustion-Plant Directive will have to close by 2015 or within 20,000 hours (whichever happens first). The article explains how Britain will begin to see a supply shortage of electricity, as the current electricity production methods are brought off offline. It’s expected that by 2015 the electricity demand will exceed the supply.

Now, Europe is looking for alternatives and solutions to this electricity problem to avoid an unlikely worst case scenario blackout. Britain now has to consider the many tradeoffs for different electricity options:

Natural Gas: it’s cheap, relatively clean, and easy to build, but much of the electricity mix in Britain is already from Natural Gas. This is a concern because the North Sea production is declining so Britain will have to look abroad to import natural gas, which could result in natural security concerns.

Coal: it’s a more secure energy source but not very good for the environment. Carbon capture is an option, with storage options in abandoned oil and gas fields, however carbon capture does not seem ready to on the market.

Renewables: are great for the environment but intermittent which won’t guarantee electricity supply all the time.

As we’ve often discussed in class, there is not silver bullet. The most promising solution for the future will have to incorporate a diverse collection of energy sources.

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