This is turning into a very interesting discussion and I am grateful for all the comments which are given me pause for thought. Unfortunately I am pressed for time and can respond to all of the points made and will be away next week, however I will do my best.
The comments about the number of deaths ascribed to coal burning compared to those from nuclear power stations I fully take on board. In Europe, much of the concern about health hazards from burning coal in industry is addressed by the Large Combustion Plant Directive. This means the imminent closure of many polluting power stations, unless they take steps to mitigate their emissions using flue gas desulphurisation. Therefore several coal burning power stations in the UK and many others throughout the European Union will be closing in 2015, including Ironbridge, Kingsnorth and Grain.
Some commentators mention energy storage and baseline requirements. One technology that has not been mentioned is solar thermal. Whereas solar PV has reached grid parity in many Sunbelt regions including Italy and Spain, concentrated solar thermal power has yet to do so, but shows great promise. Plants using both of these technologies can be erected in one fifth to one quarter of the time it takes to build and commission a nuclear power station of compatible size. I appreciate that there are many problems. A report by the Carbon Trust for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change found that there are critical barriers to deployment of CSP in industrial applications, namely the low awareness, lack of confidence, and unattractive payback periods. An intervention focussed on demonstration of plants would directly address these critical barriers, they said. A major advantage is that heat can be stored for up to 8 hours after sundown and used to generate electricity from molten salt.
I wish that some commentators had at least read the reports I link to and can critically appraise them, instead of arguing a priori.
One commentator here both criticises nuclear sceptics for needing education in the benefits of nuclear, while simultaneously criticising renewables enthusiast's on the basis of what has happened in the '90s and '00s (Amory Lovins etc), while the period of recent history has seen, for example costs fall dramatically especially in the area of PV and offshore wind, whereas a 40 MW wave power installation, the largest in the world is now being deployed off the coast of Scotland.
I quite agree that none of this makes most countries '100% renewables-ready'. But the scenarios I link to or not about today or next year, but a transition up to the year 2030 or 2050 according to the report.
On timescales, in Britain at least, suppose Horizon is going to build, as it expects, two nuclear power stations on Anglesey. The time from this announcement until their commissioning is not expected to be sooner than 12 years.
Meanwhile, the Technology Strategy Board, backed by the Department for Business Industry and Skills is funding research and the development into energy storage and smart grids so that it becomes a market-ready service, and offshore wind is undergoing major developments, and the European Grid is to be modernised and expanded as I mentioned in a different response.
Many other scenarios anticipate a pan-European, cross-Mediterranean SuperSmart Grid with an overlaid HVDC Super Grid. in PricewaterhouseCoopers's 2050 vision, the development of a pan-European, cross-Mediterranean SuperSmart Grid would enable electricity production at the best sites for each technology, regardless of national or regional borders and distance to the central European load centres. This both increases the efficiency of the system and reduces the intermittency problems.
This would enable the development of a highly diverse mix of European renewable generation capacities at the most suitable renewable sites. It would combine both centralised generation through large, single units such as large CSP plants, offshore wind farms or large biomass power plants, and decentralised generation with smallscale units such as roof-mounted PV, smaller onshore wind farms and biogas power plants.
Due to differences in geography and population density, the power mix, although very diverse at a European level, would still be skewed towards single sources in a national or regional perspective. Regional SuperSmart Grid clusters would have developed to maximise the efficient use of local resources. The share of wind would be high in the windy North Sea region, the share of solar power high in the sunny south of Europe, whereas the Baltic Sea region and eastern Europe would be rich in both wind and biomass.
This scenario does raise concerns about the sustainability biomass, however. Short rotation coppice on non-arable land is preferred.
The mountainous regions in Scandinavia and the Alps would provide hydro generation and storage resources. A general tendency would be that the peripheral regions, including North Africa, supply the central European regions with a share of their electricity supply. All clusters would be strongly interconnected via the HVDC transmission grid. The North African 2050 power system would mainly be based on onshore wind power and solar (including CSP plants with storage and PV), with significant differences depending on resource availability.
In some countries, especially on the western and eastern coasts, wind power would be dominant, whereas the majority of power generation in the central desert regions would be CSP. Because of the high overall share of CSP, electricity for both local consumption and for export would be completely dispatchable throughout the year36, using CSP plants with storage, in conjunction with other renewables as appropriate.
North African exports to Europe would come from all countries in the region, but exports from Egypt would be limited by the large growth of its domestic electricity demand. In total, we assume that the North African countries would produce 60% more electricity than they consume in 2050 and that there would not be any interruptions in electricity trade between North Africa and Europe due to political conflicts. Intermittent sources such as PV would also be widely used in a decentralised manner to support off grid and small scale local demand.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that €500bn will be invested in transmission and distribution networks by 2030. We may also need an additional investment of approximately €180bn by 2030 in ICT alone to deliver Smart Grids.
But what are the first priorities for investment? And do we have enough understanding of the opportunities and challenges to ensure that investments made today will deliver the Smart Grid vision? According to one study, Smart Grid solutions could contribute more than 2Gt of CO2e savings annually by 2020, mainly through enabling renewable power and optimising the power generation and transmission and distribution network. Smart Grid demonstration projects today are testing the full potential of the savings, which could be accelerated if a range of new services are developed.
To drive investment, political certainty is required. That is why we need political agreements to curb emissions, decarbonise agency supplies, and not in a way that, as in the shale gas explosion in the US, merely allows the export of cheap coal and emissions elsewhere in the world.