Today French state owned company EDF made the long awaited ‘final investment decision’ with its Chinese state owned partners to spend over £21 billion building Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset. 10pm Update: From BBC News: “Contracts were to be signed on Friday. But Business Secretary Greg Clark has said the government will “consider carefully” before backing it. According to reports, EDF’s chief executive Vincent de Rivaz has cancelled a trip to the UK on Friday following Mr Clark’s comments.”
Dr. Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association commented: “This decision defies logic, the energy world has fundamentally changed in the decade since the decision on new nuclear was made and the fundamentals of this project no longer stack up. In those ten years, nuclear costs have rocketed, whilst the price of renewables have dropped spectacularly and from a standing start now produce 25% of the UKs generation.
“Technologies such as solar, onshore wind and biomass are already cheaper than nuclear, are quicker to deploy and has none of the construction or economic risk. Assuming that EPR technology can ever be made to work and does deliver in 2026, it will be obsolete well before it’s opened. We are seeing grid-scale battery storage already being deployed commercially in the UK this year, coupled with smarter grids and technology driving up efficiencies.
“The pace of technological change in the last decade has simply left this project behind, a relic from another time. In another ten years it will look preposterous, and then we are stuck with the extraordinary costs for another 35.”
Also responding to the news Good Energy chief executive Juliet Davenport OBE said: “Giving the go ahead to Hinkley C is a bad move. It will take at least a decade to build and leave our grandchildren an inheritance of high energy costs, hazardous waste, environmental damage, and a plant that needs complex and costly decommissioning. No wonder only 36% of the British public support nuclear, compared to a whopping 76% for renewables. The same future generations that will blame us for Hinkley, could instead thank us for a legacy of investment in renewables. The transition to renewables is inevitable and brimming with economic opportunity – the UK should embrace it and move forward with a clean, green energy plan.”
ClientEarth Director of Programmes Karla Hill said: “This deal is less than visionary and centralises the UK’s power production even more when the government should be creating a decentralised energy system for the future. What is more, state support for this project is the subject of two ongoing legal cases. We need strong, positive policies on renewables and energy efficiency, rather than relying on big, centralised and heavily subsidised projects like Hinkley.”
Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said: “What’s really striking about Hinkley is that EDF and the French government aren’t just betting the farm on this project, they’re effectively betting the entire hillside, the river at the bottom and the next few hillsides as well. With similar reactors in France and Finland seriously over time and over budget, France needs a Hinkley success if it’s to persuade anyone in the West that it’s still a serious player in the global nuclear industry. So it’s a risk worth taking for France; but is it for Britain? In a world moving towards cheaper, flexible, decentralised power systems, investing in eye-wateringly expensive always-on ‘baseload’ power plants increasingly looks like a 20th century solution for a 21st century problem.”
Hugo Chandler, director at New Resource Partners, agreed that it wasn’t clear that the project would be ‘good for the UK’. “This may be good for confidence post the referendum, and good for jobs, and it’s something of a relief to know one way or the other, but it is still not clear that it’s good for the UK. The fact is that Hinkley C’s electricity will be very expensive, as will management of its waste, and we still don’t have a long-term solution for that,” he said.
“When Hinkley C finally does come online it will indeed produce low-carbon electricity, but not as cheaply as offshore wind. And it will need to generate around the clock to justify the cost of building it. Then if more reactors follow, we will have a fleet of inflexible behemoths that do not fit well into a market with lots of variable wind power. We need more flexibility, not less. If Hinkley C takes as long to build as Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, also an EPR and 9 years late, it may be born into a system that has outgrown nuclear power altogether.”
John Sauven Greenpeace Executive Director said: “Every time EDF has tried to build a reactor like Hinkley, it has failed. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Hinkley can be built on time or on budget. And if it hits the same problems as its predecessors, it can’t be relied on to keep the lights on in the UK. There is no way that Hinkley can deliver power by 2025 which is already 8 years later than originally promised. And it is costing many more billions in subsidies than initially thought.
“The UK government doesn’t have to sign the contract with French and Chinese state owned companies. The government should make the sensible and pragmatic decision to quit while we’re still ahead. We need a clean break from Osborne’s pet projects.
“The new government should have the vision to come up with a serious plan to boost our energy infrastructure that will keep the lights on and the costs and carbon emissions down. This isn’t going to be delivered by outdated nuclear technology and handing over the keys to our energy system to companies associated with the Chinese military.”
Tony Ward, Head of Power & Utilities at EY, comments: “Today’s announcement by EdF’s board is a major vote of confidence in the UK’s energy market, and in the vital role that new nuclear will play in delivering the UK’s low carbon aspirations. The decision to proceed with Hinkley is also a major fillip in terms of long-term highly skilled employment, supply chain opportunities, and economic improvement in the local West Country region.
“Investment decisions in major, nationally significant, infrastructure projects are rightly taken only after due care, scrutiny and challenge. In the case of Hinkley, its scale has also required the drawing together and commitment of EdF’s Chinese partners, and negotiation of appropriate support from the UK Government.
“We should recognise that the UK’s electricity system is changing rapidly, especially in the transition to a more distributed, diverse mix for our power generation. However the robustness and reliability of the system as a whole will still demand large-scale base-load power. Today’s announcement is the start of a process to replace some of the existing low carbon nuclear capacity that the UK has already closed, and more that will close in the years to come.
“Much preparatory work has already been done, with many contractors and partners in place. The challenge now shifts from getting the project structured to that of delivering to time and cost.”
Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Confirmation that Hinkley Point C will go ahead does not provide the UK with an answer to the management of power generation, potential generation gap and the need to balance the grid.
“Given the UK is facing a 40-55% supply gap by 2025, the UK Government must put in place clear guidance for developing near and long term sustainable power generation that meets the needs of UK carbon targets, creates a good mix of low emission technologies and develops skills and economic growth in the sector.
“The UK Government must now have a flexible vision of our nuclear future due to the potential opportunities that could be offered through innovation and demonstration projects. The experience of those involved in developing Hinkley Point C should be used to get the most out of other developments in the nuclear sector, such as small modular reactors. This will build up a bank of shared experience, best practice and opportunities for learning.
“Further ahead, it is vital is for there to be more investment into the management of the whole nuclear life-cycle. We need more thorough research and development into methods for recycling and maximising the energy returns from nuclear waste ― including the growing stockpile at Sellafield.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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