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Heavyweight physics prof weighs into climate/energy scrap

Zero-carbon UK plans for all: Greens, nimbys, even Libs

The baseline plan is D, the “domestic diversity” plan, where the UK emits no carbon and lives off its own resources as much as possible. This means:

A 30-fold increase in wind power over the 2007 installed power. Britain would have nearly three times as much wind hardware as Germany has now … wave power requires 7500 Pelamis deep-sea wave devices occupying 500 km of Atlantic coastline … tide power comes from 5GW of tidal stream installations, a 2GW Severn barrage, and 2.5GW of tidal lagoons, which can serve as pumped storage systems too …

Nuclear power (40GW) is a roughly four-fold increase of the 2007 nuclear fleet … clean coal (40GW) corresponds to taking the current fleet of coal stations, which deliver about 30GW, retrofitting carbon capture systems to them, which would reduce their output to 22GW, then building another 18GW of new clean coal stations. This level of coal power requires an energy input of about 53 kWh/d/p of coal, which is a little bigger than our current rate of burning of fossil fuels, and well above the level we estimated as being ‘sustainable’.

This rate of consumption of coal is roughly three times the current rate of coal imports … the UK would not be self-sufficient for coal [even if all our own mines re-opened].

Next, MacKay offers Plan N, “the ‘NIMBY’ plan,” for people who object to a land filled with windmills and who won’t have nuclear plants either. This means massive imports of energy.

First, we turn down all the renewable knobs … (Don’t misunderstand! Wind is still hugely increased over its 2007 levels – by a factor of 7.5, to be precise) …

25GW of nuclear power could, I think, be squeezed onto the existing nuclear sites. I left the clean coal contribution unchanged.

This plan requires the creation of five blobs each the size of London (44 km in diameter) in the [North African] desert, filled with solar power stations. It also requires power transmission systems to get the power up to the UK, and storage systems to store energy from the fluctuating sun. Once we’ve decided to import solar power from other countries, there’s little point having solar PV on our roofs at home – the same panels could always generate more in a sunnier country.

This plan gets … 72 per cent of the UK’s electricity [thus, most of its power] from other countries.

You could say you’ve exchanged a pipeline to Russia — or tankers out of the Gulf — for HVDC lines to Libya in this scenario. MacKay nonetheless thinks that the relationship with Colonel Gadaffi would be much more positive than our current dealings with the Saudis, Iraqis, Moscow et al.

Next, there’s a plan for those who just hate nuclear:

We can create a nuclear-free plan by taking plan D, keeping the renewables, and doing a straight swap of nuclear for desert solar power.

This plan imports 64% of UK electricity from other countries. I call this ‘plan L’ because I think it aligns fairly well with the current policies of the Liberal Democrats.

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