Expensive energy is being burned into the future of Britain


Anoon January 7 Hunterston Twin Reactors B The power plant in Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland was finally closed. Plants were once the future. It was part of a fleet of (failed) high-tech British nuclear reactors designed for export and was connected to the power grid in 1976, shortly after the rise in oil prices in 1973.

Its closure is another small tightening of screws for countries facing another type of fossil fuel shock.Hunterston just before closing B It was supplying a stable 1GW (1 gigawatt)GW) About 2% of the typical winter day demand for electricity to the grid. Most of the slack is occupied by power plants that burn natural gas, and its price has nearly tripled over the past year. The UK is extraordinarily dependent on gas, which averages more than a year, accounts for about 40% of electricity generation and heats 85% of homes (mostly old and poorly insulated).

As a result, inflation has risen above 5%, the highest in 10 years, due to soaring prices. It has already bankrupted more than 20 energy companies and has hurt companies suffering from covid-related blockades and the absence of staff. In April, the government’s upper limit on the prices that suppliers can charge households will be revised.energy UKAn industry group believes that prices could rise by more than 50% and average billing could exceed £ 2,000 ($ 2,700) annually.

The worried minister is thinking of some ideas to relieve the pain. One is to abolish the value-added tax on energy charges, which is only 5%. Others include increasing distributions to poor families, lending to surviving suppliers to spread costs to absorb customers in closed businesses, and from invoices for renewable energy subsidies to general taxation. There is a migration of. The opposition Labor Party wants to impose a storm tax on oil and gas producers in the North Sea, whose fate is rising with prices.

All of these policies come with unpleasant trade-offs. In most cases it means higher taxes, but it is not considered to be much more popular than high invoices. In any case, Dieter Helm, an energy economist at Oxford University, says he’s just tinkering with the edge of an energy system that remains heavily dependent on gas and is likely to be expensive.

The main reason is the government’s willingness to decarbonize power generation. The proportion of wind and solar on the grid has risen sharply over the last decade, replacing dirty coal-fired power generation (see graph). The government wants to continue it. We hope that offshore wind power will increase by 25% by 2030. But renewable energy is unreliable. The past few months have been the quietest for decades, reducing the amount of electricity produced by British wind turbines. Helm says that the more renewable energy added to the grid, the more backups need to be built, even if many of the backups are idle. Gas-fired power generation may be a candidate because coal is over-contaminated and grid-scale batteries are still in their infancy.

At the same time, low-carbon, reliable, nuclear power, which supplied about 16% of Britain’s electricity last year, is shrinking, leaving more room to fill. Three of the remaining six stations in the UK will be closed by 2024. By 2028 only one will remain. Ministers were keen to build more, but so far only one is actually under construction at Somerset. It will be ready by 2026, but it is already late and over budget.

Even if global gas prices fall, the green transition will bring higher costs. The more renewable energy on the system, the larger and more expensive the backup will need to be. (Helm believes that wind power can be even more expensive than nuclear power, given the intermittentness.) The government is very much going to completely decarbonize power by 2035. I have set ambitious goals. -Recovery technology to bury waste underground. It’s not done on a large scale anywhere in the world. But if the ministers are serious, it will push prices even higher.

The general public pays in some way, either through higher invoices, higher taxes, or a combination of both. No matter what the government does about the immediate problem, the debate about the cost of energy will continue. ■■

This article was published in the UK section of the print edition under the heading “Being green is not cheap”.

Expensive energy is being burned into the future of Britain

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