Britain has first day without coal power generation since industrial revolution


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/22/britain-has-first-day-without.html


#2


#3

Visiting Maui last year, it was pointed out to me that the wind generator we could see spinning, needed to be constantly supplemented by the coal fired plant at the bottom of the hill. Variable winds meant that in order to keep voltage at a usable level, the coal plant was on constant standby, ready to spin up and keep the grid going at a moment’s notice. It seems that idle state burns enough coal that it’s not that big a benefit having the wind generator in the first place.

I have to wonder if that island were grid-tied with the others, if it would make a difference?

Anyway, if I hadn’t heard that story in Hawaii, Britain’s accomplishment wouldn’t mean as much to me. Not having any standby coal generation for a full day sounds like a pretty big deal!


#4

Elon Musk could fix that in 100 days. He’s done it in California, and will do it soon in Australia. Batteries in high voltage substations ensure continuous power; taller wind powered generators supply power almost all the time. The last gasp of PR from shysters representing coal interests will, hopefully, occur before the last gasp of many oldsters like us.


#5

Yes. When the wind dies down over here, it might be blowing over there. Also, bad days for wind tend to be good days for solar. Also also, there are a number of strategies for storing power, some as simple as pumping water uphill, so it can come back down later and run a turbine.


#6

There’s still a carbon factor with wind, in that the turbines use a lot of concrete. As an island, you’d think the UK would use tidal power. However, we’re still waiting for the government to sign off on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.


#8

What about the research into wave action? They’re a freaking island. There’s ocean everywhere.


#9

Sure, but you’re not burning the turbines. You build them once and maintain them. You could also look into more sustainable methods/materials to build them out of.

Could work! It seems to me that the switch to renewables isn’t about a singular solution, but what collection of solutions will work for each individual place. Harnessing the strengths of each location seems crucial.


#10

Unfortunately, lobby $$$$ can often trump education… and common sense.


#11

Do you see Brexit affecting the signoff in any way? I’m assuming that the project would have subcontracted out some of the SB project work to some on the Continent.


#12

Oh, that’s a good question in general, about Brexit and environmental issues, especially considering how key regulations have been in helping to rally support for Brexit.


#13

Artificial hydro is going to be interesting: only recently, a proof of concept demonstrated that concrete spheres pumped full of air/empty of water can work to conserve energy.

And FTR, I vaguely remember that while concrete production nowadays is net emitting CO2, there are ideas to use it as a CO2 sink.

The future stays interesting, but we are still totally fucked. There’s no talking around it.


#14

A step in the right direction. What’s the Tory policy on coal? It can’t be as brain-dead as that of the current regime in Washington, but on the other hand the Conservatives’ golden age is somewhere in the 1870s.


#15

It’s actually kinda funny how this has worked out. In a nutshell, right after the UK enacted one of the highest carbon taxes in the world (the ‘Carbon Price Floor’), gas production boomed and prices came way down.

Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, it became cheaper to run a gas-powered station than a coal-powered station - and what we’re seeing now isn’t energy producers falling over themselves to lower their emissions - they’re simply trying to cut their costs.

It sounds like a success of policy, but it’s more a fluke of timing. Oh well, we’ll take 'em where we get 'em, I guess.

(for anyone more interested in facts than headlines - http://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-uk-cuts-carbon-record-coal-drop )


#16

Is it somehow less satisfying when good things happen without any legislation being required??


#17

It’s much more likely that that spinning reserve was to cover failure of a large fossil plant that would have been generating at the time.

Wind and solar don’t unpredictability fail, they can be forecasted with high confidence for quite a few hours out.

Large fossil and nuke plant does occasionally drop off the grid without warning and that’s where spinning reserve is needed. It’s a necessary evil of modern grid management.

That’s not to say that wind and solar don’t currently need support from dispatchable thermal plant, but their distributed nature makes them quite predictable (but not dispatchable).


#18

There may be circumstances which make that impractical or impossible. From what I know of grids it’s never as simple as it seems.


#19

Musk’s batteries can’t even supply enough continuous power to work an electric cooker. At the moment the payback is simply nonviable for any energy-intensive economy, and a rapid expansion in battery capacity will increase the cost of lithium, so don’t expect prices to drop. Lithium is simply not the battery technology to displace baseload. Its life is too short, it’s too hazardous, the electronics are too complex and the raw materials are in insufficient supply.
I’m not saying a suitable technology will not eventually appear, but there may be a good reason flying saucers from other planets aren’t visiting us. It may just turn out we’re another species that eventually goes into decline due to using up its essential resources, but on a bigger scale than most.


#20

Kudos for the 1870s observation which I agree with on the whole - though universal literacy was already starting to erode it.

But I think the new Conservative policy is “Mr Trump we’ll buy all the coal in Kentucky if it gets us a trade deal.”


#21

Well, there’s this company that’s been running for over 10 years:

The engineer who started it works from home, uses batteries at night, and still generates enough electricity from roof tile solar panels that he sells electricity back to the grid.

His house is in Surrey. Not exactly the sunniest place in the world.