Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Innovative Energy Solutions

  1.  We are most grateful for this opportunity to contribute our views on these critical issues to the EAC.

  2.  ResponsiveLoad Limited is a small private knowledge-based UK company pursuing innovative technologies to facilitate and enable lower carbon behaviours within the Electricity Supply Industry (ESI). We hold a UK patent. Several UK and European patent applications, with successful PCT searches, are in progress.

  3.  I, David Hirst, am the principal and inventor, and I am actively supported by the ResponsiveLoad Limited board. David Slater, ex Chief Regulator of Pollution for UK and Royal Academy of Engineering Professor of Sustainable Engineering at University of Manchester is non-exec Chairman. Robert Spears, chairman of the Utility Consumers Consortium is a non exec board member.

  4.  We are pleased to provide this evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, as we believe our technologies, although not yet fully mature, enable a vision of a fully sustainable ESI, able to meet the challenges of Climate Change without compromising or risking current or future well-being.

  5.  This document represents the views of the company derived from internal debate. We have restricted our comments to the areas where ResponsiveLoad Limited has particular expertise.

  6.  We have no fundamental objections to nuclear power, but do not believe the envisaged "new nuclear build" programme will successfully address the critical issue facing us, but rather detract from more sustainable solutions that could.

  7.  The following paragraphs explain some of the issues that a nuclear power programme will need to address.


  8.  Nuclear plant is very limited in its ability to adjust its output—it is essentially baseload with emergency cut off. This is a fundamental constraint, as the cost of designing and implementing controls to adjust the reactor output is very high, and would compromise many current safety arrangements and certifications. This is because, with current control systems, modulation of the reactor output causes changes the balance of radio nucleotides in the reactor, and these poison the chain reaction. The poisoning decays quite rapidly (days), but impacts the capacity of the reactor to increase its output. In France, they are able to make limited reductions of power output for weekends, but this is only possible when the reactor has been recently refuelled.

  9.  If the power station is subject to an emergency shut down, then it is usually days before it can be restarted—due to the poisoning of the reactor by the shutdown process. So should there be a major or significant blackout in which one or more nuclear plants have to shut, then those plants become unable to contribute to the immediate recovery, and restoration will depend on other sources and nuclear power stations that have not shut down. As a consequence dependence on nuclear baseload will increase the impact of blackouts, or requires other investment to deal with this (rare, but feasible) contingency. After the US NE blackout of 2003, shortage of nuclear generation was an issue for some days. [172]

  10.  In the UK, the inflexibility of nuclear plant has largely driven the need to ensure adequate "off peak" load, with the extensive and expensive infrastructure of "white" meters and electricity storage heaters. The cost and losses associated with this inflexible infrastructure is rarely factored in to the costs of nuclear electricity generation.

  11.  In Europe, the inflexibility of French nuclear plant drives large overnight exports of electricity to countries where the generation portfolio includes more flexible generation that can be switched off. Often, the low cost enables pumped storage to be replenished and so contribute power during the day. The large overnight export from France to Italy may well have been a contributor to the major blackout of Italy in 2003. [173]


  12.  The suggested nuclear plants are individually large scale—around 1GW. [174]This is at variance with the trend towards smaller plant, more amenable to series or mass manufacture. This smaller scale is evident in the high efficiency evolution of other power station technologies. [175]

  13.  The large scale also means that the transmission and distribution system will continue to need frequency response capable of coping with the unplanned loss of such plant. At present, the largest credible single loss of generation is considered to be the Sizewell plant (1.3GW), followed by the loss of half the link to France (1GW) (a link largely dedicated to exporting French nuclear generation to the UK). This need for frequency response is currently largely met by holding a "spinning reserve" of part loaded but flexible plant. This plant must be in a position to replace lost generation within a few seconds. This means it cannot be nuclear plant, and it tends to be older (and so less efficient) coal fired plant.

  14.  A continuing fleet of nuclear plant (or even just one large scale installation) will thus require the grid to maintain the same scale of spinning reserve that has become traditional. This will create an obstacle to more distributed, participatory forms of electricity market, such as that advocated by the Government (via, for example, the Distributed Generation Co-ordination Group[176]), by Greenpeace, in a recent report1[177], and by ResponsiveLoad Limited in a recent submission to the DTI. [178]

  15.  This ResponsiveLoad Limited submission to the DTI is attached to this letter [not printed], as it articulates a vision of how the ESI can evolve to participatory disturbed electricity markets, incorporating smart price sensitive appliances, large and small scale renewable generation, as well as low carbon domestic generation, such as Domestic Combined Heat and Power, wind and solar technologies. The opportunities to pursue these sustainable and low impact technologies would be damaged by pursuit of the "new nuclear build" programme.

  16.  Nuclear reactors create steam that is converted to electricity by steam turbines. Steam turbine generation (which is at best 40% thermally efficient) is inherently wasteful. If the power station is large and sited in a remote area, they will be unable to use more than a small proportion of the unused heat, which becomes wasted. This waste heat will have significant local thermal impacts. For example, during the drought summer of 2003 depleted French rivers were unable to meet the cooling needs, and, despite raising the permitted river temperatures, power stations had to be shut.

  17.  The skills needed to operate and keep safe a large scale infrastructure will be increasingly scarce. In an engineering world concentrating on large volume production of highly efficient small scale generating equipment, the skills and engineering infrastructure associated with large scale custom built equipment will inevitably decline.


  18.  The problems raised here are soluble, but at a cost that will have to be carried by the rest of the ESI. They are not easily quantified, but are substantial.

  19.  Nuclear power could, at least in principle, address the issues by appropriate technology. Long series production of small scale and flexible generation units, capable of being safely and securely used in, for example, a district Combined Heat and Power plant, would fit well within the vision proposed. We would expect the costs of such systems to be reliably predictable and individual deployment to be quite rapid. Such systems could become "ordinary" and so fulfil criteria for public acceptability. [179]We hope that this is a challenge the nuclear industry will pursue.

  20.  Our resources in insufficient to provide meaningful analysis to address the specific questions raised in your enquiry brief, but we hope the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that realistic alternatives to a new nuclear build are desirable and possible. We would be happy to address questions you wish to raise or provide further oral evidence.

  21.  We look forward to the results of your inquiry.

21 September 2005

172   DOE, 2004 Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: Causes and Recommendations U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force. Back

173   UCTE, 2004 Final Report of the Investigation Committee on 28 September 2003 Blackout in Italy, Union for the Coordination of the Transmission of Electricity Back

174   1GW = 1,000MW. The peak demand for the whole UK is around 56GW. Back

175   Lovins, A B, et al, Small Is Profitable: The Hidden Economic Benefits of Making Electrical Resources the Right Size. 2003 Earthscan Publications Ltd, 1881071073: Back

176   Distributed Generation Co-ordinating Group. DTI & Ofgem. Back

177   Greenpeace, 2005 Decentralising Power. An Energy Revolution for the 21st Century, Greenpeace. Back

178   Hirst, D R, Microgeneration Strategy and Low Carbon Buildings Programme. ResponsiveLoad Consultation Response. 2005. Back

179   MacKerron, G, Nuclear Power and the Characteristics of "ordinariness"-the Case of UK Energy Policy. Energy Policy, 2004. 32: p 1957-1965. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 16 April 2006