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Nuclear power can’t take up renewable slack

Nuclear power will be unable to meet unpredictable shortfalls in Britain’s energy needs resulting from increased reliance on renewable energy, a leading energy expert said last week.

Coal fired power stations are a much better back up energy source, said principal academic research fellow at the University College London’s Energy Institute Mark Barrett.

“Renewable sources of power − predominantly wind power − can provide the majority of our electricity needs, but if we decarbonise our transport system with electric cars, we will need not just to replace, but supplement our current output,” he told a meeting to promote the renewable “supergrid” in the House of Commons last week.

A 115km by 115km grid of wind turbines could provide enough power for the whole UK.

Barrett said that on windy days, energy could be stored in homes as heat and re-used using heatpumps to generate electricity.

An inconsistent source

But Barrett acknowledged that renewables would be unable to provide consistent supplies, and that when there was a shortfall power stations that can be started easily and have convenient stores of energy would be needed.

“Nuclear power stations are incompatible with this model because they cannot be simply switched on and off,” he said. Coal fired power stations are easier to switch on, he said.

“Nuclear power stations are incompatible with this model because they cannot be simply switched on and off.”

Mark Barrett, University College London Energy Institute

However, even fossil fuels could be redundant if Europe and North Africa linked their renewable energy supplies in a renewable super grid. Modelling by the University of Kassel energy systems modelling specialist Gregor Czisch suggests Britain’s power supply could be supplemented by wind power from North Africa.

Czisch’s research suggests that this form of energy supply could even be cheaper than current models, with renewable energy sourced in Morocco costing some 38p per KWh compared with around 56p per KWh today on the open market.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Do we not have agreed national policies on the provision of power supplies and on climate change models?

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