ALTERNATIVES TO NUCLEAR ENERGY
‘To keep the lights on’ is the excuse always given by the nuclear industry for the need for further plant building. There is an implied threat that if we don’t build new nuclear power stations, not only will the lights go out, but society as we know it will fall apart. It is the worst kind of scaremongering possible.
And it also exposes the gambler’s attitude of those behind the drive for new nuclear capacity, ‘whatever the long-term risks and costs, we must build nukes, otherwise the lights will go out and society will break down’. It is a ‘casino’ energy policy.
Because there are alternatives.
A study in Germany by the University of Kassel showed that a combination of wind, solar, storage, and biomass could supply ALL of Germany's electricity. Since Fukushima, Germany has decided to phase out all nuclear energy.
But what’s the cost? Renewable energy costs tend to be loaded at the front – the cost of a turbine, bio-digester, solar panel is in the manufacturing, distribution and installation. Once erected, most alternative energy technologies require a relatively low-level maintenance schedule and there is an expense in dismantling. Of course, the true cost of decommissioning a nuclear power plant no one seems to know. What we do know is that the cost is so prohibitive that very few have ever been deofmmissioned.
The cost-benefit life cycles of alternatives and nuclear are completely reversed. The former requires investment, the latter is hire-purchased on the ‘never-never’.
One of the advantages of renewables is that their scale is small and local, more suited to retaining jobs, capital and profits within communities and districts.
The most important ‘Alternative’ of all
The most important ‘alternative’ of all, of course, is reducing the consumption of energy. It cannot be said enough. It is so boring compared with all the exciting new technologies for generating energy – but conservation of energy is key.
In tackling the energy dilemma saving energy is the cheapest of all measures. It has been pointed out that by 2050, Germany projects a 25% drop in electricity demand: the UK projects a rise of up to 66%.
There are two ways of conserving energy:
- energy reduction eg you drive less miles
- energy efficiency eg you drive a more fuel-efficient car
Both are important, but the UK has been slow relative to some of our European neighbours in changing the way we think about energy.
The UK has failed to upgrade a dilapidated and inefficient housing stock, that wastes energy on an unparalleled level. Transport comes a close second.
In 2009, about 16% of global final energy consumption came from renewables. In 2011, at times over 50% of electricity in Germany and Spain came from wind and solar power.
Many consider renewables to be a growth industry with the ability to create thousands of new jobs across the country.
Although absolute contributions from renewables in the UK is low, but the rate of growth is encouraging.
Several countries have achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 21% of stationary electricity production in Denmark, 18% in Portugal, 16% in Spain, 14% in Ireland, and 9% in Germany in 2010.
Solar power involves using solar photo-voltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight into electricity, using sunlight hitting solar thermal panels to convert sunlight to heat water or air, or using sunlight entering windows for passive solar heating of a building.
Solar panels can be placed on roofs or ground-mounted in fields in solar farms covering several hectares.
Biomass production involves using wood or other vegetation to generate electricity. Vegetation and wood can be burned directly to generate energy, like fossil fuels, or processed to form alcohols. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country's automotive fuel.
Anaerobic digestion is widely used as a source of renewable energy. The process produces a biogas, consisting of methane, carbon dioxide and traces of other ‘contaminant’ gases. This biogas can be used directly as cooking fuel, in combined heat and power gas engines or upgraded to natural gas-quality biomethane. The nutrient-rich digestate also produced can be used as fertilizer.
Anaerobic digestion facilities have been recognized by the United Nations Development Programme as one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply, as they are less capital-intensive than large power plants.
Geothermal energy harnesses the heat energy present underneath the Earth, and is capable of supplying all of our energy. Geothermal power has the advantage that it is not variable, like most of the other renewable sources.
Due to local geological factors, many areas along the Severn are well placed to benefit from heat pumps both on a domestic and more industrial scale.
Tidal power can be extracted from Moon-gravity-powered tides by locating a water turbine in a tidal current, or by building impoundment pond dams that admit-or-release water through a turbine. The turbine can turn an electrical generator, or a gas compressor, that can then store energy until needed. Coastal tides are a source of clean, free, renewable, and sustainable energy. There are a number of potential tidal projects that have been proposed for the Severn, including:
- The Barrage
- tidal turbines, placed into the stream of the incoming and outgoing tide
- lagoons, a series of separate contructions to capture the tide and release through turbines
In 2000, the German government announced its intention to phase out the use of nuclear energy by 2020.
Anti-nuclear activists had argued the German government had been supportive of nuclear power by providing financial guarantees for energy providers. Also it had been pointed out, there were, as yet, no plans for the final storage of nuclear waste.
However, when Angela Merkel was re-elected chancellor following the 2009 Bundestag elections, her government passed a law extending the operating lives of the country's 17 nuclear power plants by 8–14 years each. Then, in March 2011, after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, the Merkel government reversed course. It immediately shut down about 40% of its nuclear generating capacity (8 of 17 plants) and announced plans to shut all other nuclear plants within a decade. Considering that Angel Merkel was a trained scientist with strong pro-nuclear views, this was a significant U-turn.
Germany’s nuclear phase-out and switch to other fuels is estimated to require $180-340 billion (depending of different estimates) worth of investments over the next 10 years. Despite fears of an electricity shortage, Germany was a net exporter fr electricity in 2012 to the tune of an estimated 14.7 TWh, due to the rapid expansion of renewable energy sources.
Have the lights gone out in Germany? NO.
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