EU Referendum

Energy: a cure for megalophilia


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While the energy planners tear themselves apart over the fate (and spiralling costs – up to £24bn) of the Hinkley C nuclear plant – with its two giant, 1.6GW generators, the Germans are showing that the other end of the scale works.

Us "dregs", who are actually working on serious ideas on how to keep the lights on, have picked up on this fokesy website, which shows a 2-litre Volkswagen, gas powered engine in the basement of a house, used for cogeneration – producing heat and electricity. And trust the Germans to have a word for it. They call it Schwarmstrom (swarm power).

Teamed up with LichtBlick, the plan was to sell 100,000 units called "EcoBlue" to create the equivalent of a 2,000 megawatts power station. Run with Volkswagen natural gas engines and eventually intended to be fired by biogas from non-fossil sources, the new units would produce power on demand, store heat and thus produce a constant hot water supply, with excess electricity being sold to the grid.

Honda are playing with something very similar, indicating that this idea has serious legs. Strip the green rhetoric from the promotional material and you have a hard-edged, serious answer to the electricity supply crisis.

But it is the combination of sizes and flexibility in application which provides the real solution, allowing Freiburg in Germany to produce about 50 percent of its electricity with CHP, up from just 3 three percent in 1993. The town has 14 large-scale and about 90 small-scale CHP plants (e.g., at the city theatre and indoor swimming pools).

The two large-scale plants located near landfills use recovered methane gas as fuel. Others use natural gas, biogas, geothermal, wood chips, and/or heating oil. An important concomitant development is new district heating systems which can replace individual oil or gas burning furnaces.

This is the future, but once again we have to cut through the green rhetoric to get there. Yet, some of the ideas being adopted by the greens have been around for ages. Slough Trading Estate, home of the Mars Bar. It has a 40MWe CHP plant which was upgraded not so very long ago (pictured below), but it has been supplying heat and power to the estate since 1920. 

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These ideas have to be recaptured from the greens. Just because they like them, or promote them (such as elements of demand management), doesn't mean they're necessarily bad.

When it comes to CHP, however, the "right" in British politics has been almost completely blindsided. That even applies to mini-nukes (Small Modular Reactors). Yet David Clarke, chief executive at the Energy Technologies Institute, recently told a House of Commons select committee:
Fundamentally, we see the small module opportunity driven by economics in terms of the potential for low-cost energy and reduced need for cooling water compared with big nuclear plants, meaning that you open up more opportunities for sites on which you can build these units, and then there is potential for siting them closer to centres of population so that you can use the waste heat off-site.
Rolls-Royce Chief Scientific Officer, Paul Stein, is just as forthright, effectively arguing in front of the same committee that small nukes effectively provide the only answer if we are to meet the government's target of 40GW from nuclear power. He envisages a plant capable of producing a 150MW reactor a month, producing 1.8 GW a year, which is the equivalent of producing one big power station, in terms of energy output, a year.

And tomorrow, Owen Paterson is going to call for expedited development of SMRs, a policy which Bob Ward calls "bizarre", demonstrating that the greens, like UKIP, are way behind the curve. But it's actually megalophilia that is destroying our energy policy. CHP and SMRs are the solution.