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Climate change and nuclear power: it isn’t broke, but it does need fixing

September 1, 2010

The Guardian’s storyNew nuclear technology ‘could benefit developing countries(reprinted from  SciDev.net) reports on the issue the anti-nuclear power lobby relentlessly ignore – our ability to improve things. Instead, we could discuss in context the urgent need to find new sources of power that don’t add to the climate change burden.

Despite the fact that some of my fellow-travellers rather despair of my views on nuclear power, I must repeat for the record that if we are capable of inventing a thing, we are also capable of improving it.

Nuclear power is like the coal industry a century ago. The need for the coal and the price it maintained meant that economic and legislative measures to address safety and pollution control were simply unattractive, for one ugly reason after another.

Same goes with nuclear – there hasn’t been an imperative to sort out this immature technology, but I would take issue with any argument that suggested it was beyond our ability to do so. It is striking that people I know and respect get really silly, entrenched and regressive when it comes to nuclear power. It hasn’t been some monumental disaster so far – the French are not now a nation of mutants filing into the Parisian version of Fallout 3’s underground shelters – and while there have been spills, a meltdown and a lot of pollution, the situation is no worse than concomitant problems in other areas of the energy industry.

We are a clever race and, when we can be bothered, sufficiently frightened or inspired, prodigiously inventive. All the problems surrounding nuclear power are technological, and can be solved. Perhaps instead of the knee-jerk anxieties that cripple the environmental movement, we should look to our own abilities to make good the promise that nuclear power has yet to deliver.

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33 Comments leave one →
  1. DavidC permalink
    September 1, 2010 1:10 pm

    Hi Graham,

    Rather than framing it as the “anti-nuclear power lobby”, consider that many of us are the “pro-mitigate climate change ASAP lobby”.

    You talk about “our ability to improve things” which is undoubtedly true, but the cost and complexity of nuclear reactors is such that we would need a magnitude improvement in order for them to be considered ‘no-brainers’.

    Just look at the new Finnish reactor: years over schedule and billions over budget. If they manage to hit their latest target of 2013, it will have been under construction for 13 years (including planning, licensing, etc.) This is not unusual for new nuclear reactors.

    In the meant time, renewables are being deployed at an accelerating rate all around the planet. Renewables can be scaled because they are relatively simple.

    > Nuclear power is like the coal industry a century ago. … this immature technology…

    They’ve been building them for half a century and still cannot build them on time and to budget. Search for ‘nuclear power leak OR accident’ – they are a constant companion with nuclear reactors.

    > …the French are not now a nation of mutants…

    No, but they are becoming acutely aware of the large financial hole they’ve dug for themselves. Far from it being the nuclear utopia that some people believe, it has become a massive boondoggle. See e.g. http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1/3907-the-crash-of-frances-nuclear-qsuccessq.html

    It explains why France has just launched a €1.35 billion renewable energy program and are now deploying solar and wind farms.

    > …while there have been spills, a meltdown and a lot of pollution, the situation is no worse than concomitant problems in other areas of the energy industry.

    But that’s what we want to leave behind! And we can with safe, clean, renewable energy.

  2. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 1, 2010 1:54 pm

    Hi David. I don’t mean to be critical – I appreciate you taking the time to comment – but I think it is reasonably clear I’m addressing technological issues – safety and waste disposal. It is significant that your arguments all appear to be economic:

    “…cost and complexity of nuclear reactors…”
    “…years over schedule and billions over budget…”
    “…the large financial hole…”

    So I wonder if we’re discussing the same thing? I don’t really care how much nuclear costs, what I care about is people dying of hyperthermia. The economic argument is predicated on the previous costs of energy, which are utterly unrealistic now we know we are running out of fossil fuels and buggering up the climate.

    And while I absolutely support any and all forms of renewables – and bugger the up-front cost of those too – there is no feasible technology that will provide industrial strength baseload. If we want to keep the lights on and the trains running on time, then it’s coal, gas, oil or nuclear. Take your pick from a bad bunch – but only one is emissions free and has the potential to be made safe and improved considerably, as the Guardian article suggests.

  3. DavidC permalink
    September 1, 2010 3:18 pm

    Graham,

    No worries – criticise away… I won’t hold back either. 😉

    I’m not only focusing on economics. Note that I say ‘complexity’ and ‘years over schedule’. These are due to the technical difficulties of constructing nuclear reactors. The evidence of failures due to complexity are abundant with nuclear power – in construction and operation. Of course, the nuclear lobby assures us that they are now infallible. Sarah Palin has a bridge for sale, etc.

    > I don’t really care how much nuclear costs, what I care about is people dying of hyperthermia.

    But we’ve got to care – there are limited funds. We need to spend it wisely. Many experts believe it is best invested in renewables – see: Open letter from British scientists and energy experts: “There are viable and pragmatic energy futures: where offshore wind, waves, tides, biomass and photovoltaics collectively offer the potential to harness enormous energy resources. … the nuclear option is the dearest and riskiest of gambles.” http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/letters-nuclear-power-1961532.html

    > …there is no feasible technology that will provide industrial strength baseload.

    This is a fallacy. Biomass, biogas, geothermal, OTEC can all provide baseload. And the need for baseload is also provided by a widely dispersed network of wind and solar – the wind off Kent is not going to die down at the same moment as the wind on Salisbury plain and the wind off the Shetlands. Also, management of renewables is not the insurmountable hurdle that some want us to believe – backup is needed for every source, including multi-GW nuclear reactors.

    There is a never-ending stream of propaganda and promises from the nuclear lobby and assorted, excited pundits such as the Guardian article you cite – much the same as there has been for the last several decades. For some reason, reality never quite matches the sales brochure.

  4. September 1, 2010 5:10 pm

    “If we want to keep the lights on and the trains running on time, then it’s coal, gas, oil or nuclear. Take your pick from a bad bunch –”

    Brave words.
    The next question is how much improvement do you demand , Graham. Nuclear is a thorny issue but if the boffins could master nuclear fusion I’m told that would be considerably safer. As for power stations not being built on budget , well nothing is, that’s builders for you.
    Nuclear Power – Yes Please

  5. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 1, 2010 5:25 pm

    Ah Hengist – you get to the point! Nothing is both built on time and on budget – you get one or t’other. We can test this theory against the next Olympics, can’t we? How much improvement – well, I’m not the one making the demands, but not puking radioactive waste all over the shop when some oik takes an extra long fag break would be a start. Not being able to make bombs out of the reactor fuel would also be helpful, since one thing I really don’t fancy is a proliferation of dangerous technologies in the developing world. But fusion – that just makes me grin. It’s been ‘just around the corner’ my entire life.

    David – actually, I really don’t have the expertise to dispute the arguments you put forward, but I’m happy to concede you may be right and I’m wrong on this. But I have to tell you that as a technologist, while I can concede that all the renewable sources might provide a baseload that can power industry, I will also state categorically it will take four times as long to make it happen and be reliable as anyone thinks – and cost three times as much.

    “Biomass, biogas, geothermal, OTEC can all provide baseload.”

    Can they? This is not a fact, it is a belief. Perhaps you are right, but you must surely concede you could also be wrong. Anyway, I think it’s too far away to depend on. You put all your faith in unproven technologies, some of which are going to be very problematic (tidal – most hostile environment on earth). I cannot take issue with your argument, which I read with an open mind, but I believe that the most viable energy technologies are those we can improve, not those we haven’t really designed, built or tested at any large scale.

  6. DavidC permalink
    September 1, 2010 7:37 pm

    Graham,

    I’m no expert either – but I’ve read plenty of expert opinion and the case for focusing on renewables and not throwing money at nuclear is compelling to me.

    > …it will take four times as long to make it happen and be reliable as anyone thinks – and cost three times as much.

    That’s what a lot of expert opinion says of nuclear – and it is constantly borne out by its failure to deliver. Whereas renewables can be rapidly scaled and are doing that now with the resultant falling costs, nuclear continues getting more expensive. Oh, and there’s a chronic shortage of nuclear engineers worldwide – so they simply cannot be built quickly enough.

    – A Comeback for Nuclear Power? Experts give their opinion: “Federal efforts to force construction of the plants will prove economically counterproductive. … The well-known obstacles to nuclear power have not diminished with time or been addressed. … Building wind and solar projects and natural gas power plants would be cheaper, faster and safer.” http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/a-comeback-for-nuclear-power/

    – The evidence constitutes a case against building new nuclear power stations and for halting nuclear reprocessing altogether. http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/sites/default/files/secureenergy.pdf

    – Nuclear Energy Steals Billions from Other Technologies. Costs of nuclear skyrocket while costs of renewables falling quickly say energy experts. http://stephenleahy.net/2010/07/19/nuclear-energy-steals-billions-from-other-technologies/

    > Can they? This is not a fact, it is a belief.

    No, it is a straightforward statement of fact that biomass, biogas, etc. can provide baseload just as coal and natural gas can now. Geothermal is also a proven tehcnology – see Iceland. Also, consider that we are already networked with Europe and regularly shuffle electricity back and forth – this further increases the resilience of our grid and reduces the need for ‘old-fashioned’ baseload.

    > You put all your faith in unproven technologies, some of which are going to be very problematic (tidal – most hostile environment on earth).

    There is nothing unproven about wind and solar. Biomass and biogas use existing technologies already employed in coal and natural gas plants – with some improvements such as gasification. Tidal generators are certainly in their infancy, but they’re little more than underwater wind turbines so the level of complexity is not a hurdle – and they’re not a significant part of the renewable portfolio.

    > …viable energy technologies are those we can improve, not those we haven’t really designed, built or tested at any large scale.

    Renewables Global Status Report: Renewables accounted for 60% of new power capacity in Europe in 2009; China added 37 GW of renewable power capacity, more than any other country in the world; Globally, nearly 80 GW of renewable capacity was added, including 31 GW of hydro and 48 GW of non-hydro capacity; Solar PV additions reached a record high of 7 GW; 83+ countries have policies to promote renewable power. http://www.ren21.net/globalstatusreport/g2010.asp

    Compare that to new nuclear – it’s barely keeping pace with old reactors being taken offline. That is not going to change in the next decade or two.

    To a degree the battle is over and nuclear is the big lass looking for a dance partner after the lights have come on.

  7. adelady permalink
    September 2, 2010 3:23 am

    Hostile environment, GW? If we can build and operate oil rigs in the sea north of Scotland, I reckon there’s a good chance we can manage other technology in other hostile environments.

    As for nuclear. I’m coming around to the idea of newer technologies, but …… cooling.

    France and Tennessee have both had to shut down reactors during periods of low river flows in the hottest summer periods.

    I’m happy with the idea that nuclear can contribute to energy supply, but given this year’s Arctic melt and catastrophic weather, I’m a bit reluctant to see it as major.

    If the IPCC reports have understated either the scale or the speed (or both) of climate impacts, which they clearly have in obvious ways, then site selection and operating constraints can mean that there are much more severe limitations on nuclear.

    As soon as we say we can’t rely on rivers, we’re left with the sea. And sea level rise, and temperature rise of the water, means that we’ll have to build defensively. And the costs are once again blowing up to prohibitive. Especially compared to others where the costs are coming down.

    These issues make the technologies that rely on sun, wind and tide a lot more attractive.

  8. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 2, 2010 6:33 am

    David – sorry your post was held up. For reasons I don’t understand, some posts just get held for approval, others go straight in. That said, I’m happy to concede the issue at this point, given my concerns about technologies that appear promising but have not been scaled up. What you describe is theoretical – no country is supplying base load in this way yet – but you may well be right that it’s possible.

    Adelady – hello again. I’m sure we can manage the hostile environments, but as the Gulf spill demonstrates, when things go wrong it’s all much more tricky to sort out – and the costs are prodigious.

    Generally, let me expand a little on my original argument. My point has always been that nuclear has not been developed very far because there was neither economic nor legislative reason for improving them. Perhaps that can be addressed.

    However, I personally favour solar for a number of engineering reasons. And I am obliged to admit here I would rather see a shed-load of money going into solar R&D because cost-effective, mass produced PV panels at the 40% conversion rate they get in the labs would make PV and solar heat systems viable pretty much anywhere in the world. I also like ground heat source systems but they are very pricey right now. What I don’t understand is why all developers are not obliged to put in communal ground heat systems – one per 6 – 10 houses, because in new builds the install is cost effective as part of the ground-breaking, and shared systems are good value for house buyers.

    I also agree that in the end, we will need a mix of all kinds of energy generation. I just think we’re taking much too long to get new systems up and running.

    Good discussion – thanks to you all.

  9. DavidC permalink
    September 2, 2010 10:59 am

    Morning Wayne,

    > What you describe is theoretical – no country is supplying base load in this way yet – but you may well be right that it’s possible.

    This is largely true, but when a country like Germany says they are going to be 100% renewable by 2050 (and already ahead of schedule), I choose to accept that their engineers know what they are doing.

    – The Combined Power Plant. How Germany will provide 100% renewable electricity by 2050. http://www.kombikraftwerk.de/index.php?id=27

    Like you, I am very concerned about climate change which is why I’ve taken an interest in energy. Like climate change, energy is awash with propaganda, distortion and fabrication – particularly from the usual suspects who see their multi-billion $$$ business models threatened.

    I have an evidence-free theory that the fossil industry is behind nuclear – largely because it takes so long to deploy it gives them plenty of breathing room to squeeze out as much profit as they can, but also because it perpetuates the massively centralised control of power generation to a few corporations. They do not want you and me generating juice from our roof, or a community buying their own wind turbines.

    Cheers.

    P.S. I expect my previous comment was held because it contained more than two links. I think WordPress defaults to holding comments with 3+ links in them. You can change this in your control panel.

  10. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 2, 2010 11:30 am

    Good tip David – thanks for that. (No need for formality old bean – my name’s Graham… :))

  11. DavidC permalink
    September 2, 2010 11:48 am

    > (No need for formality old bean – my name’s Graham… 🙂 )

    Sorry, old chap – lack of brain engagement and subsequent discombobulation! 🙂

    All the best.

  12. September 9, 2010 12:28 am

    Afraid I haven’t had a chance to read the comments thread, but just a quick note.

    It hasn’t been some monumental disaster so far. […] All the problems surrounding nuclear power are technological, and can be solved.
    My answer to both these points is a single word: Iran.

    That is, while it would be nice to have nuclear tech that wasn’t associated with the proliferation of weapons, we are not there yet, and the nuclear geopolitical landscape has been one of the curses of the last sixty years. Hard to say what would have happened without it, but it continues to cripple the UN security council and forms the backbone of many a foreign policy. Whether this is or is not a monumental disaster is an open debate, but hard to discuss these matters without considering the effects of proliferation.

  13. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 13, 2010 9:12 pm

    Matt (RenegadeConservatoryGuy) made this comment in another thread, and I’m responding to him here, since this is where our discussion started, more or less. This is Matt’s post:

    Hi Graham

    Yes, the thread has also made me consider my thoughts on nuclear. David C argues such a good case. Since I read James Lovelock’s book I’ve been rattling on to people about the need to go nuclear.

    I run a home improvement company and have avoided getting into the solar panel market because I’ve felt that if the government needs to pay a feed in tariff then it must be an inefficient method of energy creation. Yet, there’s an argument that if someone invests £10K on a solar panel, at least they won’t be spending the money on a car (or whatever). And, as the market develops they become more efficient and cost effective

    If I could believe in Solar PV then I’d invest myself in one for my home, and then look at retailing them to others. Do you have a view on this?

    Matthew

    PS. Sorry I’ve changed the topic. Maybe email me if you have a view

    ********************

    OK Matt, can I tell you that I favour solar a lot. Right now in lab conditions, PV efficiencies are around 45%. Now of course these are phenomenally expensive hand-crafted units, but one of the things that David C made me think about was the best direction of investment. My argument that nuclear can be improved is true, but is it a desirable or wise thing to do. If the same amount of time and effort went into achieving something like this conversion rate for PV – and it could achieve manufacturing economies of scale that made the price sensible – that would certainly be a better investment that nuclear, no matter how safe we made it. Splitting atoms is always going to be inherently violent, whereas collecting sunlight is so “nice” it’s like a Disney energy solution.

    Right now, as an investment however, it doesn’t appear to be a good enough return over the lifetime of the unit. That of course is a reflection of current energy prices, since it is through savings at these prices that investment is calculated. If energy goes up, which peak oil makes pretty certain, even the current generation of solar PV will start to look more attractive.

    But can I suggest a different way of looking at government intervention through feed-in tariffs. I don’t see them as a negative in the equation. Their view is the same as mine – it’s not really quite there yet, but we cannot wait for the market to catch up with demand, we need to stimulate that demand with feed-in tariffs. It is, technically, sleight of hand, because at raw market prices the deal is a dud. When you factor in peak oil and climate change, the figures change drastically.

    This is the tax issue as we should be discussing it. Why does the government need to raise carbon taxes? So they can fund the tariffs like this to speed up market processes (and create jobs, by the way). If we don’t hurry up, we will be overtaken by energy shortages before we’ve got alternatives in place. The market must design and build those alternatives – governments are crap at that – so stimulating the uptake through tariffs is as sensible as government intervention gets, in my opinion.

  14. September 13, 2010 10:54 pm

    Graham

    Brilliant. That was just the nudge I needed in this direction. I visited a solar panel company to discuss setting up a deal with our network of installers. I do feel that our installation companies are uniquely placed to sell and install solar panels with teams of sales staff, fitters, plumbers and roofers on hand. However, the company I visited made double glazing companies look like seriously ‘soft sell’ and the whole experience put me off. As a result I didn’t believe a word they were saying to me.

    I’ve just finished reading ‘How Bad are Bananas’ and Mike’s conclusion was:

    Are there any reasons to get a solar PV roof? Perhaps. You might want to invest in a developing technology. Or you might simply want one for fun. If you need to buy things to prove your status in society, solar panels are one of the most carbon-friendly options. We spend billions on mindless junk and flights around the world for that very reason: status. With the panels you can show everyone that you have spare cash but that you also think about the world. PV panels can replace the SUV, and you might still be in the vanguard of this trend if you are very quick.

    Looks like I best start looking at suppliers 🙂

    Matthew

  15. BlueRock permalink
    September 13, 2010 11:16 pm

    Matthew,

    [edited] Installing solar panels – if you have the capital and suitable roof space – is a lot more than a status symbol for shallow people with too much money.

    Solar PV will reduce carbon emissions dramatically over coal-fired electricity. That alone is reason enough to install it if you can. Apart from that, yes, you would be investing in new technology that allows it to improve and reduce in cost. All of these things are highly worthwhile and valuable.

    Assuming your anecdotal story about the hard-sell solar firm is true, there are many others who I am sure are totally professional and courteous.

    [Bluerock – I’ve removed the opening remark, which was gratuitous. Your comment is fine, personal remarks are not – Graham]

  16. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 14, 2010 9:04 am

    Matt – you might be interested in this article that just turned up in the Guardian, coincidentally:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2010/sep/13/solar-panels-ethical-companies

    I would urge you to consider getting involved, for no other reason than there will always be unscrupulous characters getting in on the act when new initiatives and funding are available. We need honest brokers, so we don’t get a repeat of the heat pump farrago:

    UK ‘heat pumps’ fail as green devices, finds study

  17. BlueRock permalink
    September 14, 2010 10:03 am

    Graham,

    You need to read further than the title for that Guardian article – ground source heat pumps are not a ‘failure’ in the UK. Like every other device, they need certain criteria to be matched to work effectively – poorly insulated homes using radiators don’t provide that.

    P.S. You have a very different definition of ‘gratuitous’ to me. Even the delicate Grauniad mods would have let that comment past. This clearly isn’t a blog for me!

  18. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 14, 2010 10:17 am

    Bluerock,

    …and you need to stop patronising me. What makes you think I haven’t read an article I’m linking to, for God’s sake, or that I failed to comprehend what it says – that the systems are good, but the installers are cowboys.

    As for gratiuitous, well – this is what I removed: “That is quite disingenuous – or ignorant – of you”.

    I don’t know which blue rock you live on, but on Earth, calling someone like Matt ignorant is considered pretty rude. And this ain’t the Guardian mate, so perhaps you’re right. If you comment again on this blog, be polite or your comments will go straight in the bin, since I have better things to do than tidy up your indignation or suffer your self-aggrandising – and so far wholly unconstructive – comments.

    (Your comments will now be pre-moderated. Thanks for increasing my utterly non-productive workload).

  19. BlueRock permalink
    September 14, 2010 11:28 am

    You linked to an article with a title that provides a misleading summary of that technology. Either you did not understand that fact or you are content for readers to be potentially mislead by not qualifying it.

    I don’t know Matt so I didn’t know he is “someone” that requires special deference! We are all ignorant about many things, Matt’s comments re. solar were at best ignorant – and nothing wrong or “gratuitous” with that – or he was being disingenuous in portraying solar as a rich man’s trinket to impress the neighbours. Those are the only options I can see and there is nothing “gratuitous” in stating that opinion. Rather, you are being desperately delicate and stifling debate. Your choice – you’re the boss here.

    Your opinion on what is “unconstructive” is not persuasive given that you are clearly lacking knowledge in this subject.

    Anyway, I’ve clearly pricked gpwayne’s pomposity bubble again so we’ll leave it at that. Apologies for adding to the huge workload involved in moderating this high-traffic blog! 😉

  20. Graham Wayne permalink*
    September 14, 2010 12:10 pm

    BlueRock: no, I assumed that people would actually read the article, not believe they could divine the nature of its contents from the headline. I agree the title is poor and misleading, but I figured Matt had quite enough sense to work that out for himself. As for you, if you wanted to point out that the title was misleading you could find a way that was less confrontational.

    But your latest post seems to suggest that’s your style, unpleasant, patronising, personal and smug. I will leave your comment in place so that others may make up their own minds about what’s been going on here. Please don’t post here again.

  21. September 14, 2010 4:54 pm

    Moving back to the earlier topic: the need for more investment in renewables now, here is a quote from Prof Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies: “We should be starting now to develop the infrastructure for alternative energy. We cannot start soon enough and cannot spend enough on this. And in a way it almost doesn’t matter if any amount of money gets wasted on this because it is so vital to the way we live. If we don’t make these investments and start making them on a large scale now we’ll find the transition very difficult when we do hit peak oil.”

    Warning: brief ad, though very relevant
    I’ve recently come across a UK company who supply 100% renewable energy. They only cost about £1 more each week than most of their competitors, which could be considered an investment in the planet’s future. They also give £25 credit for every new customer you recommend: so if you sign up and mention my name and postcode (contact me if you’re interested and I’ll send it), you and I both get £25 off our next bill.
    Here ends the ad

  22. September 14, 2010 4:59 pm

    PS They were also the only company to get the top rating from the Ethical Company Organisation’s review of green energy suppliers.

    OK, no more ads. Back to your usual programming.

  23. September 14, 2010 7:35 pm

    Ouch! I was blissfully unaware how my comment above had created such debate.

    Graham – once again thanks. I’ll check out the Guardian link.

    Bluerock – yes I am relatively ignorant about solar. I’m at the very early stages of researching the topic. Had we been having a face to face discussion, though, and you suddenly accused me of being ignorant I don’t think that would have been acceptable. Do you? Maybe you should have a think about your online conversation skills….

    Byron – I’m with Good Energy at home. Worked out cheaper than another supplier when we switched, although I’m not sure the ‘ethical’ side is as it seems.

  24. September 14, 2010 8:49 pm

    although I’m not sure the ‘ethical’ side is as it seems
    Can you tell more about this?

  25. September 16, 2010 12:39 pm

    Hi Byron

    Sorry for the delay in responding.

    I was referring to the following points made by Mike Berners-Lee is ‘How Bad are Bananas’:

    “All electricity suppliers in the UK are obliged to submit Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) to the govt for up to 10.4% of the electricity they sell to customers. They can get these certificates either from generating their own renewable power or by buying from others. Suppose a company has a tariff in which all electricity is sourced from renewables. It sounds great. However, this means that a supplier gets a lot more ROCs than they need to hand over to a govt. The normal practice is for the ‘green supplier’ to sell these to other suppliers, thereby allowing them simply source less of their own power from renewables. So the net carbon benefit is zero – but the ‘green supplier’ is quids in because it has managed to charge you a premium. The tariff only makes a difference to the extent that the provider retires some ROCs (tears them up) instead of selling them on. In the UK, Good Energy claim to do this with 5% of them, although this has been challenged. It doesn’t much matter, because they are arguing over such low percentages. The main point is that well over 90% of the ROCs are kept in circulation. If you switch to the ‘green tariff’ offered by one of the electricity suppliers, the chances are that no ROCs are retired at all and you are allowing them to worsen the energy mix in their other tariffs, while using the ‘green’ story line as a way of charging you a premium.”

    Matthew

  26. September 16, 2010 4:47 pm

    Thanks – that’s helpful. So basically, you’re saying that the existence and practices of Good Energy simply allow other suppliers to generate more bad energy than they would otherwise do, so the net result is close to zero?

  27. September 16, 2010 6:13 pm

    Hi Byron

    I’m not saying that, Mike Berners-Lee is. But it certainly sounds that way.

    Matthew

  28. September 16, 2010 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. Hmmm, more to think about here. I wasn’t aware of ROCs (I’d heard of them, but haven’t really looked into them).

  29. September 16, 2010 6:30 pm

    From the government site it doesn’t sound like there is a direct market for ROCs in which one energy provider can buy from another with excess. Instead, those who don’t meet the quota are fined and those who surpass it are rewarded. I’m not sure if this makes a difference.

  30. September 16, 2010 11:00 pm

    There’s a write-up here:

    http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2242781/ecotricity-questions-energy-roc

    Difficult to know what to make of it all…

  31. September 17, 2010 12:39 am

    Wiki has a useful article that gives a bit of context. It is not the best ever article, but the bottom line sounds like both Good Energy and Ecotricity are above the rest of the pack, but not perfect.

    I’m not sure why Ecotricity was not included in the Ethical Company Organisation’s evaluation of green energy schemes in the UK.

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