Energy Matters’ 2050 pathway for the UK

The DECC 2050 calculator is simultaneously brilliant and frustrating. It allows individuals to experiment with different energy scenarios for the future and calculates aggregate costs, security of supply, environmental footprint and provides a wonderful energy flow diagram. But it is also built around the UK 2008 Climate Change Act forcing the user into Green thinking and in some cases surreal choices.

For these latter reasons I have avoided using the calculator for years – a form of protest. But following a friendly email exchange with David MacKay a few weeks ago where he explained how to get around some of the Green options, I decided to give it a go.

Guiding principles

By default, the calculator is there to assist in the design of a carbon free energy future. My priorities in designing our energy future in very approximate descending order of priority are as follows:

  1. Health and safety
  2. Security of supply
  3. Cost
  4. Pragmatism
  5. Total environmental impact
  6. Emissions

Emissions therefore are not off the menu but are significantly de-rated. Other vital aspects of my thinking are that the UK cannot afford to go on importing large amounts of energy and must therefore prioritise indigenous supply [1]. And improved energy efficiency is a guiding light for energy use. I have borrowed many useful tips from David MacKay’s book, Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air, in particular electrification of everything that is practically possible.

Quick guide to the 2050 calculator

The calculator provides 42 choices to be made on patterns of energy supply and use with 4 options available for each of the 42 choices. The main outputs are in 8 tabs labelled as follows;

  • Energy
  • Electricity
  • Security
  • Flows
  • Map
  • Story
  • Costs
  • Air

The choices made are stored as part of the URL, which for the Energy Matters’ pathway is shown below.

To guide the user each choice has a one page explanation accessed through the “i” buttons – these are very helpful and essential guides.

The Energy Matters’ 2050 pathway

And so here are the bare bones of the Energy Matters’ (EM) 2050 pathway. Armed with the knowledge that UK indigenous oil and gas production will likely decline close to zero by 2050 (contingent on what happens with shale gas), coal fired power causes large health problems beyond CO2 emissions, renewables on current experience are expensive, unreliable and environmentally degrading, I made a simple choice for nuclear power – the lesser of many evils.  The calculator provides three nuclear options with 13, 30 or 50 power stations. If we are going to have 13 nuclear power stations – why not 30? Selecting option 3 on nuclear power, gives me 30 * 3 =90 GW of generating capacity with proven reliability and muscle to electrify Britain. The other significant choice to set alongside nuclear is option 2 on storage that requires 4 GW with 30 GWh capacity – Coire Glas alone provides that capacity, and 10 GW of interconnection with Europe. The EM pathway produces a significant electricity surplus, hence, power may flow both ways through the interconnectors. After making these choices (Figure 1), most of the other choices are window dressing.

Figure 1 Summary of the choices made for the EM pathway. The left hand column are demand side choices. The right hand columns are supply side choices. Click on graphic for a larger version.

I have included some tidal stream since it helped to balance the security of peak supply without significantly increasing cost. And since tidal stream is fossil supernova (like nuclear) it is predictable and strong. I have also been impressed by German experience where solar PV can help with diurnal load following and so have significant, though not ridiculous high solar PV and sensible deployment of solar hot water (preferably installed on S facing roofs). The map (Figure 5) tells me that the UK would need a single 1.2 GW flexible thermal station (gas or biomass) to balance load. Job done, lets get building new nuclear power stations, cutting turf on one new power station every year for the next 30 years. But more importantly, let’s get researching (with some real urgency) the thorium fuel cycle so that most of this can be done using what is reported to be safer, cleaner and cheaper nuclear power.

Energy flow

I’m happy with the way the energy flow diagram looks (Figure 2) with a few exceptions.

  • The enormous amount of waste heat from thermal nuclear generation, there must be a way of using some of this.
  • I can’t get rid of oil imports, which I believe is a function of the structure of the calculator. But the end uses are diverse (industry, road transport, aviation, shipping, etc) which perhaps underlines how important oil is to the current global economy.

The EM pathway also has significant electricity exports which is great though not clear where these might go to. The Republic of Ireland, currently going down a high wind route will likely be desperate for cheap dispatchable electricity in the not too distant future. At any rate, spare capacity is a good thing.

Figure 2 The only significant imports are oil where sensible deployment of EOR may increase recovery from mature UK fields that could eliminate the need for imports. Oil still gets used in aviation, shipping, road transport and industry. In the transport demand choices I’ve tried to make realistic as opposed to idealistic choices. 


I’m really happy about how the cost fell out (Figure 3). The cost of the EM pathway is the lowest of all those published by DECC on the calculator. It’s lower than the low cost pathway. Perhaps there is a lesson in pragmatism to be learned here, as opposed to the pursuit of climate ideology. The cost chart tells me my pathway doesn’t reduce emissions by 80% to 1990 levels – but I bet you it is close!

Figure 3 Beyond the observation that the cost of the EM Pathway is the lowest shown, I don’t understand what this display is supposed to be showing.

Energy security

I don’t like the way the calculator treats nuclear as imported energy [1]. Counting nuclear as indigenous reduces UK dependence on imported energy from 819 TWh/y in 2007 to 466 TWh/y in 2050. I could get rid of these oil imports with deployment of CO2 EOR.

The EM pathway passes the DECC stress test (0 GW of additional peaking plant required)(figure 4). This was principally achieved by the introduction of tidal stream and solar to the mix.

With 69% of all primary energy coming from nuclear, over dependence on this source is perhaps a valid criticism. I would argue that the notion of security through diversity is an outdated concept from the time of plenty. Now that we are entering the time of scarcity, what sense is there in relying upon scarce sources of imported energy, or upon unreliable renewables if it is just for the sake of creating a diverse supply.

I would certainly argue that the UK should not settle upon a single reactor design since if that design is flawed, it could create serious problems. Likewise, it makes sense to explore thorium fuel cycle reactor technology creating diversity of nuclear supplies.

Figure 4 The level of dependence on oil is a nuisance. Another option to get rid of that is to convert vehicles to run on shale gas.

Environmental impact – land use

The map (Figure 5) tells me that the EM pathway will have 39 small waste to energy facilities dotted around the country and these presumably may perform as peaking plants. There will be 30 * 3 GW nuclear reactors and the first of these will be built on existing nuclear sites with effectively a tiny footprint. And there will be a single thermal gas station running on shale gas from the Bowland shale. Frustratingly it is shown with carbon capture and storage. There is no need for that technology to be developed or deployed in Britain. It might make sense to have CO2 capture for enhanced oil recovery.

Tidal stream, assuming sensible and safe technology can be developed, may be focussed on two or three sites around the UK, starting with the Pentland Firth. The Hydro footprint is that of the existing hydro dams and lochs. Solar thermal and solar PV will be deployed on existing roofs with barely any environmental impact. The energy crops footprint equates to the status quo of what we have today – since temperate latitude energy crops do not produce significant primary energy, I’d prefer to see that land turned back to food production. The forest footprint equates to what we have today and I by and large support programs of expanding natural rejuvenation of forests with indigenous species providing habitats for indigenous fauna.

Figure 5 Many of the choices I made were designed to minimise environmental / landscape impact. The footprints of thermal generating plant are shown top left as tiny black dots. The area of sea required for tidal stream as the small blue box. The areas required for hydro, solar thermal and solar PV are the blue, orange and yellow squares. The large green squares are the existing deployment of energy crops and forest in the UK which are not impacted by this pathway that includes zero new energy crops and biomass.

Environmental impact – air quality

Replacing coal fired power, that evidently destroys health and kills thousands[2], with nuclear power results in a dramatic improvement in UK air quality.

Figure 6 The EM pathway shows a dramatic improvement in UK air quality.


Civilian nuclear power  probably has the best safety record of any power generation technology. There are well worn arguments about safety and waste disposal. Society either accepts these risks and is rewarded with a 21st Century power delivery system. Or it chooses the Green path that resembles more an 18th Century system that ironically is wrecking our landscape whilst achieving little. Since the safety record of the oil & gas industry and the nuclear industry is continuously held under the government microscope, I would also welcome a government report into the safety of the renewables industries, normalised to the amount of energy they produce.

I do not believe that a capitalist market system can redesign and deliver our whole energy system. Government control of these markets is currently sending us down a highly questionable route. Trying to understand the future cost of nuclear power is extremely challenging, near impossible to estimate. And so the only option may be for The Government to assume responsibility to initiate nuclear new build and in this way discover what the real costs actually are.

The justification for all the choices I have made will be written up as a separate post. I had hoped to have this ready now, but its completion is likely weeks away. What is published today is a work in progress.

1. The calculator treats nuclear power as imported since the U fuel is imported. However, BP treat nuclear as indigenous, correctly in my opinion, since the nuclear fuel only represents about 2% of the overall cost.
2. This statement is based on DECC 2050 calculator. The veracity has been questioned in comments, rightly in my opinion.

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49 Responses to Energy Matters’ 2050 pathway for the UK

  1. Hi Euan,

    The calculator was fun. I didn’t assume many nukes and ended up with a lot of imported oil and gas. 🙁 May be pretty expensive in 2050.


  2. Kit P says:

    Keep in mind that I work in nuclear power. The time when air pollution was a health hazard has passed in North America. Statistics for the health hazards come from a time we heated our houses with coal, and there were no pollution controls on factories, power plants, cars, and trucks. The fleet of US nuke plants may have reduced the need for coal plants near cities helping with air quality.
    Good air quality is achievable in an industrial society.

  3. G. Watkins says:

    Thanks Euan.
    Nuclear must be the long term future but, sadly, you and I will not be here to see it.
    Good to see mention of Thorium reactors which I believe China and India are already developing. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors seem to me the best long term solution as they run at atmos. pressure with very low long lived ‘nasties’ although I realise lots of research development needed.
    Of course, my opinion is formed from reading without the skills to be meaningfully critical. It would be useful to know your opinion on LFTRs as well as other knowledgable commentators like Kit P.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I understand that U fuel cycle was developed to get Pu for bombs. What I don’t understand is why Th fuel cycle has not since been developed. All I know about this is what I read in Wikipedia. Th is a bitch to separate from host mineral monazite, which is also a source for REE. But only 1 isotope, so no fuel enrichment required, but it needs a neutron source to “light the fire”.

  4. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, can you explain what health problems in the “coal fired power causes large health problems beyond CO2 emissions” are please for a newly constructed Coal Power Station with the latest clean air technology?
    As I wonder why Germany chose to go down that route with much dirtier “Coal” than ours.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      First of all don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. Received this by email a couple of weeks ago. And have had general corroboration from other sources – which could all of course be influenced by the same source. One thing I’m reasonably sure about is that coal fired power generation will be phased out in the UK by 2020 – we have a giant fleet of CCGTs waiting in the wings to take over – not sure what they’re going to burn.

      “Emissions from coal power plants in Europe contribute significantly to the burden of disease from environmental pollution. The brand-new figures published in this report show that European Union-wide impacts amount to more than 18,200 premature deaths, about 8,500 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and over 4 million lost working days each year. The economic costs of the health impacts from coal combustion in Europe are estimated at up to €42.8 billion per year”

      “The results of this expert assessment are well within the range of the coarse factors for mortality and morbidity established by the ExternE project and cited in a study in The Lancet in 2007. To each of the adverse health outcomes a theoretical price tag is proposed in scientific literature. The total costs of ill-health and mortality in the EU together amount to €15.5 to 42.8 billion annually (lower and upper bound due to two different expressions of mortality). Premature deaths, health care costs caused by additional cases of chronic bronchitis and restricted activity days account for the largest expenditures. These costs are paid from different budgets, ranging from national health care budgets, to those borne by the overall economy in lost productivity, and ultimately individuals’ household budgets and savings.”

      • Hi Euan,

        It is interesting that if you look at the PM2.5 history for the US, back in 1980, the bad cities in the US were in the places where coal was being burned. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Steubenville, Ohio both checked in at 30 micrograms/m3. However, by 2000, the the bad cities were the car towns. Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia are at 20 micrograms/m3, compared with the typical US city running 15 microgram/m3 The studies indicate that each microgram/m3 is worth about 3 weeks of life.

        “we have a giant fleet of CCGTs waiting in the wings to take over – not sure what they’re going to burn.”

        You have got at the heart of the matter in that statement. And at what price? My guess is that going without heating would affect the life expectancy in the UK more than the air pollution at this stage.


        • Kit P says:

          Dave, the PM2.5 hazard is just a theory. This theory is 20 years old and has not been validated. Repeating a lie frequently does not make it true. The theory was about very old and chronically ill. Claiming an 80 year old with a 2-pack a day habit is a ‘premature death’ is what a practical person would call absurd. Second there appears to be a threshold where the dose response is flat. Third it is not 2000 anymore. The only time I have seen poor air quality it is the result of forest fires.

          • Hi Kit,

            Here’s the classic pm2.5 reference.

            Arden Pope et al, 2009, “Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States”

            It’s a superb article. and yes, they do control for smokers.


      • Kit P says:

        From Euan link. In bold letter: “Chronic disease from long-term exposure to air pollution”
        Of course the small print does not actually cite any and the reason is that there are none. I am not saying there are not chronic disease such as ‘chronic obstructive lung disease’ aka emphysema. This caused by smoking. The cause of asthma is unknown.
        Emissions are not the same as exposure. Air quality is easy to measure. The sources of pollution are generally well know. I have seen this same type of junk science during the debate about coal regulations in the US. California has not coal plants but included in the totals. Models devoid of common sense by design of the fear mongers. No junk science publication would be complete without a picture of pregnant women and a warning about ‘children exposed to mercury or lead’. The US CDC found no cases of mercury above the threshold of harm. Lead is trending down since removing it from gasoline.
        While I think that coal plants should have modern pollution controls, I think that chronic health problems will increase. I blame all those stupid MDs who seem to think that keep us alive so we can live with chronic disease is better than the alternative.

    • Joe Public says:

      1. I suspect Germany prefers the ‘coal’ route, both because it’s cheaper; and, supplies are on their doorstep & next door (Poland).

      2. Pollution from coal firing in geographically-compact countries is more-likely to be detrimental to your neighbours than your own population if the smoke-stacks are tall enough.

      3. In the UK alone during winter 2011/12, there were 24,000 “excess winter deaths” associated with fuel poverty. Compare this with the “European Union-wide impacts amount to more than 18,200 premature deaths” as per Euan’s answer.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Joe, you need to be careful with the interpretation of excess winter deaths. This is a somewhat natural phenomenon and the trend for decades has been down. But there are signs of the decline bottoming out. Chart is for England and Wales.–provisional–and-2011-12–final-/stb-ewm-12-13.html

        • Joe Public says:

          Thanks for that chart, Euan. The point I endeavoured to make was the comparison of one UK number to the other EU number.

          Presumably the Brussels bean counters have a figure for excess winter deaths in the entire EU, to compare with the ‘mere’ 18,200 premature deaths from environmental (air-quality) pollution, only some of which can be blamed on coal-fired power stations.

          Over 25 years ago I witnessed a simple demonstration – white handkerchiefs were held over the tailpipe of two buses – one a diesel, and one (specially driven over from Holland for the demonstration) LNG. The handkerchief over the former turned black within a minute or so.

          Verifying your 09:56 20th Dec comment.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Joe, there is a very complex health, safety and environment case around energy. My family works very close in this area so I know more than most. Enough to know that I don’t know enough;-) The excess winter deaths issue is a complex one. Different patterns in different countries. In the UK more old people die in winter than other times of year – doesn’t surprise me given our climate and pattern of “infections”. There’s some loose talk about this on a couple of very good blogs. I hope to do a post on this soon. Energy poverty is perhaps a better metric to focus on. But I’ve not yet had time to check the stats. E

  5. Clive Best says:

    Australia has about one third of the world’s total reserves of Uranium. That is a secure market especially as they currently have no plans for nuclear stations themselves.

    The 2050 pathway does not allow a nuclear fusion option. David Mackay is a little dismissive of Fusion because of past false promises. However, I am pretty confident that by 2050 fusion will be generating electricity essentially from sea water. This won’t happen in the UK if by then all available funds have been wasted on inefficient and expensive wind farms. However, I am pretty sure that common sense will prevail once we have a couple of blackouts next year and the backlash starts.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Clive, got to take care on Australian U reserves. Olympic Dam – a gigantic underground Cu mine with U by product was bought by BHP Billiton ( I think) with a view to converting it to an open cast U mining pit. Then the cost of energy went up and the project I believe went tits up cos of the energy cost of removing overburden. It also included a dessal plant on the coast to pipe in fresh water for U recovery process. Olympic Dam I believe is booked as the largest U resource in the world with no plan as to how it can be economically mined – hopefully someone will be off to tell me this is all botox. And some Ozzie States have a moratorium on mining U.

      UK blackouts, should they occur should be on a weekday, late afternoon, late February / early March when UK gas storage is run down to near zero following a very cold winter. UK gas supplies are probably a bit stronger this year with Elgin and Franklin a kind of restarted and new HPHT field Jasmine on line. But nukes keep tripping and the wind keeps blowing so hard that it has to be switched off. Passed a small gnarled turbine today – pic tomorrow on my way home. E

    • Leo Smith says:

      The development cycle times are massive on any nuclear technology, even if a prototype fusion reactor were to work next year, you would still be looking at 20 years plus before it actually went ‘on stream’ commercially and with economic viability.

      it would be great to actually have fusion power but we simply dare no rely upon it. It is the 50:1 shot that might romp home., meanwhile the each way bet is on fission.

      And it actually doesn’t change the landscape much if it does. OK a different radiation and waste problem, but the same sites, boilers steam turbines grid connections, and usage patterns of fission electricity would suit fusion as well. Plug in replacement.

      And if SMRs get to be popular, it might LITERALLY be plug in.

      • Clive Best says:

        JET produced 16 MW of fusion power. ITER will produce 500 MW of fusion power after 2020 but this it is still not a power reactor. Currently the plan is to build a demonstration fusion reactor generating electricity around 2035.

        So yes you are right. Fusion is not going to be a viable solution much before 2050. However there is a short cut which fusion purists don’t like – Fusion-Fission hybrid. Paul Rebut who designed and directed JET now advocates Fusion-Fission hybrid. He was also director of ITER and tried to change the design to a self sustaining ignition machine but could not get political support. To quote him now:

        “In a pure fusion reactor,” he explains, “the 14 MeV neutrons are slowed down in the blanket to produce heat, but they are not used to their full potential. Another solution is to take advantage of their considerable energy to induce fission reactions in a blanket that would include some fission fuel, like natural Uranium (U 238) or Thorium. By doing this, the energy produced could be multiplied by a factor 10… This is what the ‘hybrid reactor’ is about.”

        The fission blanket could not go critical. It is simply an energy amplifier similar to that proposed by Carlo Rubbia.

  6. Roger Andrews says:


    I went to the DECC calculator, entered your choices and got the same numbers as you did, so you can now consider your results peer-reviewed 😉

    But the numbers don’t add up. For example, in 2050 we get a final energy demand of 1,390 Twh and a total energy supply of 2,791 Twh, which to me represents a surplus of 1,401 Twh. The “Dependence on Imported Energy” table, however, shows 2,399 Twh of imports, 1,933 Twh of which is “uranium”, and the “total energy supply” graph shows this 1,933 Twh of “imported uranium” rather than the ~630 Twh of electricity that your 30 nuclear plants generated. Maybe DECC can make sense of this, but I can’t.

    Funny things happen with the DECC calculator too. I reset all the boxes to “1” or “A” and started to adjust them up individually, keeping all the other boxes at “1” or “A”, to see what happened to energy supply, and here’s what I got:

    Add nuclear: Total energy supply goes up, natural gas goes down.
    Add CCS: Total energy supply goes up, coal goes up, natural gas goes down.
    Add wind, wave/tidal, solar, hydro: Natural gas goes down, total energy supply goes down.
    Go to zero-emissions transport: Natural gas goes up, oil goes down, total energy supply goes down.

    The DECC calculator has obviously been tweaked to control the energy mix (note that there are no boxes that allow you independently to specify the amount of coal, natural gas and oil), so I wouldn’t be too sure that the energy mix you think you specified is what you actually got.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Roger, I think your first point about primary energy input and final demand is all about losses. It was responding to a comment on Linked In on this very subject that actually led to correspondence with David M that led to this post. By way of example, BP gross up wind electricity by a factor of about 2.5 to ,make it comparable to coal where there are significant thermal losses. DECC don’t do this in their stats (I think) so there is a mismatch between BP and DECC stats on this point. Its complicated: oil – refinery – gasoline – car – kinetic energy – energy service.

      On your other points, these are my frustrations with the calculator. There are built in assumptions about what needs to be done to reduce emissions – not to deliver a sensible energy system.

      This calculator is potentially a weapon of State Control since it only provides outputs alined with existing State policy (Law). I need to focus hard to write the justification post (that will be 5000 to 10000 words long) where I intend to highlight all of the points, which you reference, that choices are so limited as to bias outcome.

      Q1 should be “enter your energy mix in 2050”, coal is off the menu, as is FF thermal without CCS.

      DECC will be following along here, and there is good chance they may respond or react to inputs made in my justification post – that’s my aim anyway.

      • Roger Andrews says:

        If DECC is following along maybe they could explain how 90 mW of added nuclear capacity manages to add 1,933 tWh to supply in 2050.

  7. Kit P says:

    I try not to offer an ‘opinion on LFTRs’ because my expertize is LWR using enriched U-235. The reason I am an expert is because it is one very practical way to get the job done. Engineers tend to like practical solutions. First light water reactors are small. You can fit one about the size of a ship. A core that will supply the power for the life of the ship is about the size of a refrigerator.
    Because of the small size, at stationary power plants we can put a containment building around the reactor. It is not the ‘long’ lived ‘nasties’ that is the problem. It is the short lived fission products that we worry about most. It is one of the big misconceptions about fundamentals of ‘modern’ physics. The longer the half life, the less radioactive it is.
    So it is a matter of the practical. Most of our power is produced with steam turbines. The choice of heat sources include nuclear, combustion, geothermal, and solar. The ‘past false promises’ of fusion is the present false promise of fusion.
    Providing a affordable, reliable power with insignificant environment is what the power industry does every day. It is not a problem and will never be an engineering problem. If you want power from pixie dust my advice is just pretend the old ways have been shut down.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Kit, I return to a recurring theme in my responses to you. You live in N America, gigantic continent, massive FF and U resources, relative low population density and a capitalist system that enables resource exploitation. Russia is similar but lacks the true capitalist system – history – watch out! Other parts of the world like Europe have much higher population density without the energy endowment. Pixie dust will hit a barrier when it costs pixie dust – 000.1 pixie dust to produce it. Thinkers in this area actually say 7* pixie dust minus pixie dust is a limit for industrial society. But its a lot more complicated than that 😉

  8. Euan Mearns says:

    @ Dave and Kit, the health issues from atmospheric particulates I know nothing about it. Real world experience, when I’m down town (not very often) and a diesel bus goes by (usually with no passengers on board) I try and hold my breath for 2 minutes. I don’t have any particulate polluting industries within a hundred miles of where I live.

    I was born in 1957 and the real issue here is that life expectancy in the UK has increased by about 10 years since I was born. It is now 3 score years and 20. This is a major socio economic problem in itself. But how did this happen? By folks dying at Windscale fire or by living beside coal fired power stations? Or by the wealth proceeds provided by FF and FSN (fossil super nova) energy sources? Its an extremely complex system to analyse.

    • Kit P says:

      Not that complex. The UK as did large American cities solved there extreme air pollution problems by replacing coal home heating check it out. One of my skills is root cause analysis as opposed to finger pointing.

  9. Kit P says:

    Dave, I have read your reference before, It is superb junk science. It uses old data, ‘fine particulate air pollution that occurred in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s.’ It does not specify the source of the pollution. Really big on the junk science scale if you are citing this study for closing down coal plants. It does not address a threshold level. It suffers from confirmation bias. Association is not causation. In the US, life expectancy increased while air pollution was increasing. I suspect advance in health care had a lot to do with it.
    There is a better use of statistics. Smoke detectors, seat belts, and not smoking are very cost effective ways to maintain your health. Vaccines and clean drinking water are very cost effective. Of course my favorite is all electric-houses. Making power very expensive to achieve insignificant gains is silly. Sure you can call dying a 74.5 instead of 74.6 is a premature death but really…..

    • Hi Kit,

      You comments are unfair to the paper and to me. Life is short, so I will limit myself to thee points.

      “It uses old data”

      A major point of the paper is to use the improvement in pollution levels over time to test their hypotheses. This makes it entirely appropriate to use data sets from different time periods.

      “Sure you can call dying a 74.5 instead of 74.6 is a premature death but really”

      The word “premature” does not appear in the article, nor did I write it.

      “if you are citing this study for closing down coal plants”

      I came closer to doing the opposite, pointing out that the paper showed that the particle levels are now higher in the commuter cities, that the differences are now modest, and that expensive heat in a cold climate has its own health impacts.


      • Euan Mearns says:

        Dave and Kit, I actually think this is a good discussion, albeit a bit rough around the edges on occasions. When I first received the information on health hazards associated with coal fired power I was suspicious of it. I’ve never heard any news reports about people getting sick because of coal. Thought it might be linked to actual workers – but we have strict health and safety laws that would mandate the need for protective clothing and respirators if the need was there. And if health risks are that bad, it begs the question why European governments have allowed this situation to persist.

        But we have some interesting data points. In Mexico the wealthy subsidise the poor via electricity pricing. In the UK, the poor subsidise the wealthy via ill conceived subsidies to produce expensive and often useless electricity. We have seen remarkable increase in longevity the last 60 years brought about by the surplus wealth created by burning FF and U, and as kit points out mandating numerous low cost, common sense measures. But European governments now want to wreck the power supply system that has brought that prosperity and replace it with system that is unreliable and expensive.

        In UK The Clean Air Act was introduced in 1956, moved coal fired power away from the cities and forbade the use of coal as heat in many areas. Up until then smog was a dreadful problem and a major killer and solving that problem was the big health gain to be made. I think what Kit is saying is that any residual health problems with coal are in fact small and potentially expensive to tackle.

        • Kit P says:

          There is a principle in nuclear power called ALARA. I like As Low as Reasonably Achievable because it is practical. Others say the science does not support reducing risk. While I might agree, it is easier to practice ALARA argue with regulators. I will argue with those who want to bad coal or nuclear power based on junk science. In the US PCB have been banned because Japanese fishermen cooked food with PCB oil. I much wiser choice would be to regulate PCB use when it is a a safer choice in electrical equipment. My point is the risk have to be compared to the benefits. There are clear benefits to a reliable and affordable power supply.
          My wife has a chronic hereditary heart condition. I know to get her into air conditioning when there is a heat advisory. While on vacation in the PNW (the hot part) we like to sail but when it is hot there is no wind. So we head to the nearest luxury hotel. One year while waiting for check in time, we went to the emergency room and she stayed in the air conditioned hospital getting several stints. The root cause is hereditary exacerbated by weather. It has nothing what so ever to do with pollution.
          Safety is about using science to mitigate risk based on the root cause while junk science is used to further an agenda. Pope et al make a living peddling junk science not making the air cleaner.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          “In Mexico the wealthy subsidise the poor via electricity pricing. In the UK, the poor subsidise the wealthy via ill conceived subsidies to produce expensive and often useless electricity.”

          The situation in a nutshell. Bravo, Euan!

          • Clive Best says:


            Actually it is even worse than that.

            According to Lord Stern the meek must pay now so that the rich can inherit the earth in 100 years time.
            His cost benefit analysis for climate change is that future generations have equal value as people alive today. He then uses a discount rate assuming that these future generations are 3 times richer than we are today. According to him this shows that the extra energy costs paid by old grannies is for the future benefit of rich people yet to be born.

            In the meantime you are correct. The poor pas subsidies to large landowners and fellow members of the House of Lords with directorships and consultancies with renewable energy firms.

          • Roger Andrews says:


            In 100 years’ time a Briton’s wealth will be measured by the number of mammoth hides he owns, the way things are going.

        • Roger Andrews says:

          Euan, you say: “I’ve never heard any news reports about people getting sick because of coal.”

          And you maybe never will. According to a 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force air pollution from coal-fired power plants accounts for more than 13,000 premature deaths and 20,000 heart attacks in the U.S. each year, but the Clean Air Task Force won’t be able to put a name to a single person who died prematurely or suffered a heart attack because of coal. This is because the estimates are based entirely on statistical analysis, and from what I’ve been able to discover pretty dodgy statistical analysis at that.

          Here, for example, is Figure 2 from the 2009 Arden Pope study that Dave Rutledge cites above. According to the trend lines (solid line and circles for metro areas, dashed line and dots for counties) life expectancy decreases by about three years as PM25 increases from 10 to 30 micrograms/m3, a ratio that can be translated into X premature deaths caused by coal over the 1978-82 period covered by the the results. However, it’s questionable whether trends drawn through this much scatter are statistically significant.

          Then there’s the question of whether there really is a “trend”. Here’s the same plot with the trend lines removed. Now we see an abrupt drop in life expectancy above PM25 = ~21 but no clear trend above or below that value. Is this stepwise shift related to PM25, or is it caused by something else? And how does PM25 cause the bimodal distribution in the “metropolitan” data, with points clustering around 73 and 75 years?

          Then there’s the question of how steep the trend, if it exists, really is. Figure 2 gives the impression of a respectable slope, but notice how the Y-scale removes all the years between zero and 67.5. Here’s what we get when we put these years back in:

          If I were reviewing these results – and I get involved in reviews like this from time to time – I would now begin to look into the possibility that the observed changes in life expectancy had nothing to do with PM25. But if my goal was to prove a relationship between life expectancy and PM25 I probably wouldn’t.

  10. JohnStephenson says:

    Every major nuclear accident to date (as far as I know) was due to a combination of human error and one or more events that were not covered in the original reactor safety analysis. Hence beware of what you ask for!

    I am not anti nuclear (13 years at Harwell and 21 years with Ontario Hydro as a Health Physicist) but believe that nuclear reactors need extreme care. I also think that reactors should be limited in their power density, so as to give reactor operators as much time as possible to determine the cause of an error and to take corrective action ( engineers like to improve efficiency and reduce costs by making reactors smaller and increasing power density).

    I would also recommend going for one design in order to reduce costs – both construction and operational. Components should be interchangeable, and staff can move from one unit to another fairly easily.

    But the U.K. Had better get started building if they don’t want to freeze in the dark!


    • Euan Mearns says:

      I would also recommend going for one design in order to reduce costs

      John, thanks for this comment. I gather with current UK fleet of reactors that we never built 2 the same – a major problem, especially when it comes to decommissioning. One problem with the UK these days is that vested interests often influence decisions more than merit. And in this kind of environment there is risk that opting for one design, you opt for something that is not best and may not work. The French I believe opted for one design, and built lots, seems to have worked OK for them.

      This country has the skills but needs to get its procurement and decision making process sorted. UK needs to return to honest science and engineering excellence.


    • Kit P says:

      JohnS next time you get behind the wheel please use ‘extreme care’. I read lots of detailed reports about fatal accidents associated with the production and use of energy. No fatal accidents are associated with LWRs. If fact, I am not aware of any ‘design basis accidents’. There have two beyond design basis events that have resulted in economic loss. If a flood damaged your house, would you call it a ‘water accident’? Furthermore, ‘power density’ density has nothing to do with it. The four LWR cores damaged were shut down at the time. We design bigger LWR to make them more economical to operate but ‘power density’ is the same. We improve efficiency at the steam plant end.
      The reactor vessel in a reactor in China was ordered for a US plant that has not started construction. How is that for interchangeable? I was qualified to supervise reactor operations (SRO) at ten LWR in 12 years and worked at 6 more as an engineer in the next 5 years. Moving from one unit to the next is easy just really hard on the family. The problem is finding people who want to move.

  11. Roberto Zavattiero says:

    It looks like I was right with my previous calculations on the excessive cost of Hinkley point C


    “….. Too expensive?

    As well as the debate about whether the UK should build any new nuclear plants at all, questions have been raised about the minimum price EDF will be paid for electricity produced at Hinkley Point.

    It is scheduled to start producing power in 2023, and the government has guaranteed a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour (Mwh), regardless of what the current market price is at the time.

    Earlier this week Ineos, one of the UK’s biggest energy consumers, warned that the terms of the Hinkley deal made the power too expensive.

    Ineos said it had recently agreed a price of £37.94 (45 euros) per Mwh in France itself…..”

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Roberto – I really don’t know what to make of the Hinkley Point deal and how government provides incentive for investment whilst securing the best interests of the consumer. You got take care comparing £37.94 / MWh today using legacy plant and £92.50 10 years in the future.

  12. Leo Smith says:

    Love it Euan.

    I’ve been playing similar games, but not using the energy calculator.

    My rationale is slightly different, but arrives at a similar result.

    1/. Baseload overwhelmingly nuclear. If coal and gas rise above a falling nuclear price, its is the sane (and if it bothers you) carbon free option.

    2/. That leaves peaking demand. Currently that is covered by a mixture of gas hydro and pumped with a bit of interconnect helping out. WE could make some of the hydro, pumped and perhaps save a nuke or two, or a gas plant or two. In the end as fossil prices rise, the economics of using nukes to load follow improves. Frackable gas will last some period, and is the probably most cost effective peak follower in the medium term. Ultimately peak to trough demand variation has to be catered for with either storage (hard to see where we would put it) low duty cycle dispatchable plant, or by balancing demand management. I suspect we would end up with all three.

    3/. Ruthless cost benefit analysis applied to waste biomass would show whether in fact it was more valuable as compost, landfill biogas or simply to be chucked in a CHP style incinerators, or indeed recycled. CHP is never dispatchable of course, since primarily it’s there to heat. Biogas could be a small but useful ‘peaking demand’ fuel.

    4/. Intermittent renewables are a waste of time altogether, including tidal flows. Current CFD contract prices indicate them (TF) to be three times more expensive than nukes, with no dispatch capacity. Ergo forget them. Nukes do all the not intermittent baseloads stuff better, and the requirement beyond that is for highly dispatchable plant, which intermittent renewables ain’t.

    5/. Energy security is catered for by stockpiling YEARS of nuclear fuels .

    6/. Demand management could be done again with joined up thinking, by looking at users of large amounts of electricity that are not time critical. The problem is that most of those imply capital intensive plant, and you want to turn capital intensive plant 24×7, not just when there is spare electricity. However low grade heat is an easy way to store energy, if what you want is low grade heat, so for example electrically powered underfloor heating using either heat pumps or direct, combined with large insulated concrete blocks or water tanks as heat banks does allow (Ive done the calcs) the modern equivalent of ‘storage heaters’ that would actually WORK. If gas and oil (the predominate ways to heat houses) were replaced by nuclear electricity, such a heat bank is enough to carry a house through several days. Not only that but ‘smart heaters’ that responded to changes on frequency could be used to modulate the demand to balance with other demands. This does NOT require ‘smart meters’ – merely a frequency sensor on any heating elements that reduce the load if grid frequency falls, with enough lag so that instability is not introduced. The amount of effective storage introduced by this is massive. For example my peak heating demands are 10Kw – 3 days is 720kwh. That CAN be stored in a hot water tank of reasonable dimensions. Multiply that by 20 million households and its a staggering 15 terawatt hours .

    It works if, and only if, what you want is ultimately warm to hot water. But winter energy demand excess is precisely that, plus a bit of extra lighting and TV watching;-)

    In the end the cost benefit of cheap off peak electricity versus the cost of installing a heat bank would drive this process. It’s the only process – apart from charging up electric cars overnight, which is contingent upon decent cheap batteries,being available, that makes any sense.

    7/. You mention the vast amounts of waste heat available from a 24×7 nuke, which mainly go to creating warm seawater (yes, my wife swears its warmer swimming near Sizewell: I don’t swim in UK seas, spoilt by the Caribbean)..well that sounds to me like a case for fish farms and desalination by evaporation. Or nice recreational swimming! Or greenhouses kept sub tropical by condenser outflows…running a network of salt-water pipes under 50 acres of land with topsoil plonked down and a poly tunnel over is a remarkably cheap way to grow stuff in winter. You could even use off peak electricity to grow stuff by might., The cannabis growers ultimate dream 😉 Add in desalinated water and you have something any desert place would die for. I haven’t done any costings on this, but it does not sound expensive to me. Again there is no need to explicitly ‘make it happen’ – if a nuclear power company offered it at a price to a horticultural company, either it would be worth doing, or it wouldn’t.

    8/. One of the things that DECC understands, but not many other people appreciate is, that if fossil fuels ex of the electricity supply industry are gong to disappear, we need a lot more grid. How much is again hard to say without analysing how electricity would replace fossil in any given application. For example, if (and hell its a big IF) electric battery cars become viable, we would be replacing fuel energy at a ratio of 3 or 4 to 1, because fuel cars are inefficient, but BEVS are not. So overall 1kWh of electricity replaces 4kWh of diesel. In other areas we might find the reverse. If we need to synthesise hydrocarbon fuels because we do NOT have battery cars, we might end up with a heck of a lot MORE electricity input than the calorific energy content of the fuel so produced.

    So we will see a massive grid expansion to be needed to accommodate an electricity supply that might be anything from 90-300GW in final size.

    10/. Immediate policy implications are clear. Intermittent renewables need to be discarded completely – they will never represent a cost effective way of achieving anything. Nuclear is in the medium and long term the only way ahead. So we should help it be cheaper, and create the right infrastructure to support it (e.g. Sellafield, MkII, done better) WE should stop worrying about climate change we cannot do anything about, and which may in any case not be worth worrying about at all.,

    11/. Beyond that, it is a question of detailed analysis by power companies and users as to what technologies represent the best value for money. Government should go technology neutral de regulate as far as safety and sensible pollutions and so on measures allow, and allow all technologies to compete. It has not required anything more than a rising cost of electricity to push e.g. hosting centres into looking at ‘MIPs per watt’ rather than ‘MIPs per square inch’ as the prime metric of merit when choosing server architecture.

    • Roger Andrews says:


      Assuming there was no compelling need to cut carbon emissions, what would your energy mix for the future be?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Leo, I have no axe to grind on renewables. I’ve seen how German solar peak shaves in Summer months and this helped with getting the “grid stress test” to zero. I was kind of surprised that tidal stream also helped on stress test since as we all know peak load from tidal shifts every day I don’t understand why that should have helped. I agree that a lot of simple sensible stuff could be done to reduce peak demand and its frustrating to see so little action on that front. Hugh sent round a note the other day saying that the computer control system for the smart grid was f*d up and was going to be scrapped – didn’t have time to read the details. The Swiss, apparently, for decades have forbidden use of clothes driers during the day. On storage, I think there are likely ample sites along the great Glen, the problem will be controlling / maintaining outflows. Storage makes so much sense to help follow diurnal load but is bonkers when it comes to storing a weeks worth of electricity. I’d be interested to hear from the likes of John Muir trust (who represent views of hill walkers in Scotland) if they could tolerate three or 4 large pumped schemes if at the same time it meant no more windmills. Maybe the River Lochy needs to be sacrificed in order to provide grid balancing service for the whole UK. Not sure about flow control on the Caledonian canal though.

      One area where I disagree with you is the mechanism by which we arrive at a 90 GW nuclear future. I am all in favour of the free market but don’t see free market can deliver this. I think it needs some form of State guidance / control – and urgency. How did the French bring about their nuclear policy? I think with the core strategy in place the peripheral services may be delivered on a competitive basis.

      Glad to see the problem with the small comment box is somehow miraculously fixed 😉

  13. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, perhaps now, after the input of the other posters you can see the thrust of my question at
    December 20, 2013 at 2:57 pm
    You see I actually lived just outside London in the 50 & 60s and remember well the Smogs of the 50s where you could not see for more than about a Yard or two in front of your face. By the 60s when I was an Apprentice in the Woolwich Arsenal and cycling to work there was still Fog where you could not see more than a Yard or two in front of your face, but it was of a different colour and smell to the 50s.
    After the clean air act we changed from using Coal in our open fireplaces to using Coke, which burnt much cleaner.
    But the main point was that even with the Smog we were much better off and far healthier than those living prior to the world wars. Even with all that smog we had far less “Asthma” and breathing allergies than we see in both children and adults today.

    The real problem with Coal deaths, apart mining accidents was from was from the lung diseases from working with the coal and coal dust itself.

    • Clive Best says:

      I also remember London smogs in the early 60s. I remember having to walk in front of my mothers car with a torch to guide her back to our house as you could not see more than a few yards in front of you. Every house in London had coal fires for heating. The coal lorry would deliver a couple of cwt of coal to each house every week. The street lamps were still lit by coal gas. A bad London smog would kill a few thousand mainly old people. The Hither Green rail disaster was caused by smog when I was still in Nursery school. Once power stations were moved outside cities and the clean air act passed the difference was immediate. It then took another 10 years to clean the thick black soot of civic buildings across the UK.

      This is totally different to a modern efficient coal fired power station. Emissions apart from CO2 are negligible in comparison. Another complete red herring is the idea that the EU is to blame for the UK to abandon coal power stations. The large combustion directive is about air quality – not CO2 emissions. The intention was to close old pollution power plants not to ban the construction of new efficient clean coal plants. Germany is building 10 new plants. Holland has 3 new ones about to open. UK energy policy is driven by ideology. It is UK policy not to build new coal plants without CCS not EU policy. It is UK policy to impose a carbon floor price on fossil fuels – not EU policy.

      In 2009 E-On planned to replace the existing coal station at Kingsnorth with a modern efficient plant. Demonstrations by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth egged on by the media essentially stopped them.

      Greenpeace campaigner Ben Stewart, one of the so-called Kingsnorth Six who climbed the existing power station in a protest against carbon emissions two years ago, described it as “a really big setback” for E.On and “really good news for the environment”.
      “As time goes on people get more concerned about climate change, there’s more time for renewables to get built and that squeezes out coal,” he said.
      “[It is now] becoming increasingly unlikely that this power station is going to be built”.
      E.On wants to replace the current Kingsnorth plant, due to shut in 2015, with two units it says would be 20% cleaner.
      But campaigners say coal should not be part of the UK’s energy future and want money spent on green technologies.
      E.On first applied for permission to build a new plant at Kingsnorth in December 2006.

      see :

      Kingsnorth was closed last December and E-on announced it had also abandoned any plans to build stations with CCS as they are too uneconomic. E-on is building the same 2006 plant design in Germany instead.

      Blame past Energy secretaries for Britain’s failure to renew generating capacity – not the EU.

  14. Euan Mearns says:

    AC – its been a good discussion. I was suspicious of that report when I first got it. But I bet you this data or data like it are widely cited in the UK government quest to close down coal fired generation.

  15. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, I think you are right it is used and USA EPA has made up their own “research” for shutting down just about everything, even down to Fire Hydrants because of Lead. You couldn’t make it up how mad the world has gone, although the book 1984 came pretty close.
    But the main push for the UK shutting down Coal generation comes from the EU directives and Germany just plain ignores them even though they are using much dirtier Lignite.
    The inmates are running our asylum.

  16. Clive Best says:

    One last comment. The 2050 pathway is really more of a 2050 straightjacket forcing UK energy policy along a set previous policy decisions. Just one example of that is the policy not to build any new coal stations without CCS and to impose a carbon floor price to hike up the market price of coal and gas compared to wind. We will price ourselves out of the energy market and face power cuts unless we reverse some of these policy decisions.

    However in the rest of the world coal is booming (IEA report Paris Dec 2013)

    – Over the next six years, additional coal production capacity of a half million tonnes per annum will be added worldwide each and every day. Coal prices are also falling. Coal price in ASIA is $4/mBTU whereas LNG prices are $16/mBTU – 400% higher.

    – More than 60% of the rise in CO2 emissions since 2000 is due to burning of coal to produce electricity and heat in ASIA. In China, the scale of coal in the economy is simply incomparable to fuels elsewhere. Replacing coal with gas in Chinese power generation would require twice the volume of all global LNG trade. Coal therefore will continue to play an important role in economic growth and energy security worldwide.

    If just the new coal plants under development in India and Indonesia were instead to be completed using latest technology it would save as much CO2 as all the wind turbines in Europe combined. Technical subsidies by Europe to achieve this would be a far cheaper means to tackle climate change than are current policies.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Clive, I agree that the 2050 calculator at present is a straight jacket. You can’t choose coal. You can’t have thermal FF without CCS. You can’t have CO2 EOR. I will do a follow up post detailing the reasons for the choices made and highlighting the deficiencies of the calculator. Would like to entice MacKay out for a discussion, though in email he simply says he is following guidance from legislation, which I imagine he is largely in agreement with.

      I once wrote a post called “The Chinese Coal Monster” – about 50% of all coal mined on Earth is in China. There was a famous statistic that China was completing one new coal fired power station per week. What often was forgotten that they were closing very old inefficient plant and replacing with new. Don’t know how close to state of the art the new ones are. Improving energy efficiency is the way to go. CCS of course takes us back to the dark ages.

      In run up to next election the Tories need to develop an energy policy that is very distinct from the other parties. 1) tear up climate change act, 2) place energy efficiency and welfare of the people at the core.

      Hopefully our paths may cross in 2014. Have a good one.

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