Wind versus Nuclear: The real story in pictures

Here’s an interesting, balanced analysis of the statistics of wind power versus nuclear power in the UK over the past couple of months. There’s obviously room for more growth in renewable energy generation, but I still think we’ll need to increase nuclear capacity to provide a counter to the intermittent variability of wind power if we are to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, which still produce most of the UK’s energy…

Protons for Breakfast Blog

Graph showing the electricity generated by nuclear and wind power (in gigawatts) every 5 minutes for the months of September and October 2014. The grey area shows the period when wind power exceeded nuclear power. Graph showing the electricity generated by nuclear and wind power (in gigawatts) every 5 minutes for the months of September and October 2014. The grey area shows the period when wind power exceeded nuclear power. (Click Graph to enlarge)

For a few days in October 2014,  wind energy consistently generated more electricity in the UK than nuclear power. Wow!

You may have become aware of this through several news outlets. The event was reported on the BBC, but curiously the Daily Mail seems not to have noticed .

Alternatively, you may like me, have been watching live on Gridwatch – a web site that finally makes the data on electricity generation easily accessible.

I was curious about the context of this achievement and so I downloaded the historically archived data on electricity generation derived from coal, gas, nuclear and wind generation in the UK for the last three years. (Download Page)

And graphing the…

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9 Responses to “Wind versus Nuclear: The real story in pictures”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    How about another reader poll, Peter: carbon, nuclear or lights out? Because those are the real alternatives.

    • False trichotomy. The way forward depends on developing better techniques for storing energy generated by non-constant sources. While I can understand somewhat people who reacted to Chernobyl by saying that their reactors were safer than those in Chernobyl (though admittedly this doesn’t matter if contamination spreads beyond national borders), a similar reaction to Fukushima is not credible. Apart from accidents, there is the problem of long-term storage of waste, of presenting an attractive target to terrorists etc.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I only wish it were a false trichotomy. The German experience is proving it true. I am all for research into energy storage on the necessary scale but nothing is on the horizon.

      • Depending on the local topography, pumping water into an elevated reservoir is a possibility. Charge the batteries of electric cars when there is “too much” electricity. Produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis then use the natural-gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen or, if considered better, produce methane (the main component of natural gas) artificially and use the existing infrastructure for distribution (also, the technology for running Otto engines with natural gas is mature). There are many possibilities. It’s not a technological problem at all, merely a problem of investing in the right technology.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        If it’s not a technological problem then why is there so much research into energy storage and why do people say it is the big problem with solar and wind?

        Cars that take hours to charge and then run 100 miles are good only for commuting which is what is meant to be superseded by public transport. Reverse hydroelectric power is OK only in a small number of locales which added up are vastly insufficient.

      • “If it’s not a technological problem then why is there so much research into energy storage and why do people say it is the big problem with solar and wind?”

        Various people have axes to grind. Who says there is a big technological problem? “Experts” paid by the petroleum industry or perhaps Putin, sure. Of course the technology is not completely mature, but there is no obvious reason that it is impossible, and no indication that it might be really difficult (as seems to be the case with fusion).

        The main problem is probably political (and, directly and indirectly, some axes are ground here too). The requisite infrastructure etc. are not things which some small firm can set up and expand if people decide that they want that sort of energy. It needs top-level decisions.

        Renewable energy is not just solar and wind. Other things, such as biomass, don’t have the problem of being intermittent.

        “Cars that take hours to charge and then run 100 miles are good only for commuting which is what is meant to be superseded by public transport.”

        I don’t think that electric cars are the answer, at least not in the present form. However, there are people who do short commutes where public transportation is not an option.

        Any single source is insufficient, but together they could be. There is also the potential to save a lot of energy without any loss of comfort.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        You have given an answer to why people might be saying that there is a technological problem. I don’t agree with your answer; go quantitative and there simply isn’t the energy storage available in the suggestions you make, by an order of magnitude. That is why research goes on, which would not be the case if the problem were one of will rather than technology.

      • Let me rephrase that: the problem is the will to research or the lack thereof. There is no obvious impasse, no obvious reason that an order of magnitude more storage is impossible.

        Even if there is not enough storage now, that is no reason to stick with 1950s technology forever.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        As I said, I am all in favour of research. But it does remain an unsolved problem to store energy on that scale.

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