18 votes

Britain about to pass a significant landmark—two months of coal-free electricity generation—as renewables edge out fossil fuels

5 comments

  1. [2]
    drannex
    Link
    Sadly they are phasing out nuclear power, if they had stayed on their path they would have reached this milestone 10-15 years ago.

    Sadly they are phasing out nuclear power, if they had stayed on their path they would have reached this milestone 10-15 years ago.

    3 votes
    1. ImmobileVoyager
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I hear that Hinckley Point C will be completed, eventually … Also, nuclear has nothing to do with renewables edging out fossil fuels. Once your NPPs are up and running, you don't need to bother...

      I hear that Hinckley Point C will be completed, eventually …

      Also, nuclear has nothing to do with renewables edging out fossil fuels. Once your NPPs are up and running, you don't need to bother with intermittent renewables, and don't need any fossils to generate electricity. Much to the chagrin of the merchants selling natural gas.

      And once your electricity is decarbonated, you can start to tackle all the rest and electrify little things like transportations and heating. Which, of course, is easier if you know how to build and run a reliable infrastructure of high-output dispatchable zero-emission powerplants. I'm not saying that the later must employ the fission of uranium, but I can't seem to think of another physical phenomenon that fits this bill.

      Meanwhile, being serious about our imported carbon footprint will also seriously alleviate the climatic urgency. It should go nicely, we just need to upend the WTO.

      3 votes
  2. [3]
    ImmobileVoyager
    Link
    Just to put things in perspective and see how this news is (in)significant : Coal production and imports in the United Kingdom, 1700 - 2017 Total primary energy supply by source, United Kingdom...

    Just to put things in perspective and see how this news is (in)significant :

    Coal production and imports in the United Kingdom, 1700 - 2017

    Total primary energy supply by source, United Kingdom 1990-2018

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      emdash
      Link Parent
      I don't see how this is insignificant at all. In fact, the two links you've provided make everything seem extremely significant in the grand scheme of things! There's very rarely, if ever, a...

      I don't see how this is insignificant at all. In fact, the two links you've provided make everything seem extremely significant in the grand scheme of things! There's very rarely, if ever, a complete sea change in how the world utilises a technology overnight. Those sorts of things happen once every hundred years.

      But iterative improvement? Well, that powers nearly all of the other things we've accomplished as a society. No single CPU design process revolutionised computing, but Moore's Law and the increasing density of transistors allowed us to accomplish things that even 50 years ago would seem impossible. The same applies here, with coal being phased out for renewable energy. In 50 years, I'd be willing to bet solar will have eaten the world—to the point where using nearly any other form of electricity generation seems absolutely bizarre. Just as using core rope memory in the Apollo program seems outlandish to us today.

      Don't diss iterative improvement, it's way more powerful than you think :).

      7 votes
      1. ImmobileVoyager
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        My admitedly odd spelling as (in)significant was supposed to mean that one could perhaps consider this thingy as significant. Speaking of gradual changes, what the two aforelinked documents...

        My admitedly odd spelling as (in)significant was supposed to mean that one could perhaps consider this thingy as significant.

        Speaking of gradual changes, what the two aforelinked documents illustrate is precisely that, for more than one century, the importance of coal in Britain has been slowly but steadily decreasing and that those two months were not that much of a landmark.

        The graph showing the mix of primary energy by sources shows that fossil fuels still are, by a very wide margin, the main source of energy and still far from being edged out.

        It's funny that you mention Moore's Law. I was thinking about it yesterday night. I've been in the computer business for 30 years and I've witnessed first-hand the progress of computing, networks and informatics. I've always seen Moore's Law being verifyed, and even though there are signs that we are reaching its physical limits, we can count on it for years and years.

        So, I was wondering why it is that Moore's Law does not apply anywhere outside the extremely narrow field of industrial production of integrated circuits. I still don't have the answer but this might be a case of recursion, as more powerful computers allow for the design and manufacturing of ever denser microchips.

        Our continuing, everyday experience of Moore's Law may very well distort our perception of progress. See also the incredible progress of aeroplanes from the Wright Brothers to the B 747, and see how the B-52, designed in the 1940s, will serve on active duty into the 2050s.

        Renewable energy, on the other hand, is nothing new. It has powered everything on Earth for 4 billion years. Fossil fuels are nothing more than solar energy stored by a convoluted chemical process using solar and geothermal energy.

        Just wait until the pandemic subsides (hopefully soon) and the electricity demand rejoins its civilized level, and we'll see coal being brought to Newcastle again. Even when the last coal-firing power station of Britain is decommissionned (again, hopefully soon), that won't be the end of fossil fuels for electricity generation (see North Sea gas), and certainly not the end of fossil fuel as an energy source (transportation and heating), nor the end of GHG emissions (see also cement, fertilizers, belching cows).

        In the grand scheme of things, the Universe reaches thermal death in some billion years. During our lifetime though, and our childrens', climate is changing fast, and our efforts to mitigate this have been awfully slow. Svante Arenius first hypothesised the problem more than one century ago. The IPCC was created in 1988. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992.

        Meanwhile, the way electrons move inside matter hasn't changed a bit since the ancient Greeks played with ἤλεκτρον.

        We don't have time left for gradual change, nor for trial-and-error.

        Good for Britain that, one-hundred-and-twenty-years after passing her peak coal, she can go a couple of days without burning some for electricity, but the real information here is that she is the only nation with coal-fired powerplants that does not have domestic coal production. A rather alarming sign, I might say.