Monday, May 21, 2007

Power Play

The Hunterston 'B' nuclear power station in Ayrshire has come back on-line, after being out of commission for nearly a year. However, in reporting this, BBC Scotland has just repeated the commonplace claim from the pro-nuclear lobby that nuclear stations generate half of all Scotland's electricity.

This is rubbish, and so it can be proven. According to these Scottish Executive/DTI figures, Scotland's total electricity output is 45,517 GWh. Of this, nuclear accounts for 15,863 GWh, or just under 35% of total output. A lot, but nothing like half of Scottish output. It's not even half of Scotland's requirements, as you find if you delve further into the figures.

Of Scotland's total electricity output, just 32,068 GWh is consumed in Scotland. Some 5,208 GWh is lost (mostly in transmission); while 8,034 GWh is exported to England and Northern Ireland through the two interconnectors.

Hunterson 'B' itself produces something like 7900 GWh, or just under 50% of Scotland's total nuclear output (the remainder coming from Torness). In other words, when Hunterston closed, it would have been enough to reduce exports to almost zero, unless the 'slack' was taken up by excess capacity elsewhere.

But common sense should tell us that if nuclear accounts for half our requirements, and Hunterston accounts for half of our nuclear output (which it does), then Hunterston alone would be responsible for meeting some 25% of our needs. Therefore, the outage would have reduced Scotland's capacity to just 75% of normal levels, which would have meant the nightmare of the lights going out becoming a reality.

Did you notice that happening last year? Me neither. This 50% from nuclear figure only holds if you assume that unlike every other form of generation in Scotland, nothing is lost in transmission, and further that it's only coal, hydro and wind power etc which we export.

Lies, damn lies and statistics, eh?


Richard Havers said...

Ah, the old statistics damn lies and....argument. I've always been amazed by the confusion that has reigned in the arguments over our power situation. Like you I cannot get my head around why the figures are not presented in a simpler and easier to understand way. There really only can be one answer. Anyone would think people liked o confuse us! It's the same with the wind farm companies who quote dodgy statistics about how much power a wind farm will generate, they usually quote 'number of houses a WF will power'. These figures only relate to the partial consumption of a home.

It's rather like conversations with someone who has bought a bargain and wants to tell you how much they've saved - it's usually exaggerated. Equally get any group of salesmen together and they will tell you how much they sold things for and it's always on the up side.

Richard Thomson said...

Yeah, zealots on both sides, with the truth lying bedraggled somewhere in the middle.

There seems to be a general campaign going on at the moment to terrify people into accepting new nuclear stations, without consideration of the costs or what happens if a station has to suddenly shut down, as happened at Hunterston.

Uranium is going to become harder and harder to mine as stocks deteriorate. Meanwhile new technologies such as carbon capture have the potential to prolong the life of oil fields in the North Sea. Also, energy efficiency at home and microgeneration, once the market gets underway, can go a long way towards meeting our needs.

But then, that's not such a dripping roast as 2 new nuclear stations and the clean-up contracts afterwards, where the profits are underwritten by the taxpayer. And to get there? Exaggerate the need, underplay the cost, and cast doubt on the alternatives. IBM used to refer to it as the 'fear, uncertainty, doubt' approach :-)