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Revolt News 132


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Revolt News 132

1. There were two large pieces in the Sunday Telegraph business section on 20.10.02. The first, on the front page, titled "tough new health rules threaten power groups" says that within the next few weeks the NRPB will issue proposals for new guidelines on EMFs, suggesting they will be much tougher than the present guidance, which recognises only thermal effects which come into play only at 1,600 microTesla, well above the 0.4 microTesla levels of scientific and public concern. We will see! The piece refers to Keith McCormick's wayleave hearing at Northampton (news129.4) and says he is to appeal on the grounds that NRPB are reviewing the evidence so their advice shouldn't be relied on as final.

2. A large article by Mary Fagan on page 9 of the same business section is headed "power failure" and subtitled "Massive over-capacity and plunging prices have robbed the UK's power generation industry of financial reserves - and few doubt that there will be more collapses." This comes after Powergen mothballed two power stations last week, saying the energy market is bust (news129). Drax, the huge coal-fired plant near Selby, is looking seriously shaky. TXU Europe, a US offshoot which took over Eastern Electricity and Norweb, could be forced into administration "within days or even hours" by its American parent. Part of the problem arises from the artificially high wholesale prices created by the trading "pool" in the 1990s and the over-investment in new generation that created. That was how Enron Teesside was born, just as we said at the time about the artificial market and the "dash for gas". Now there is a painful readjustment, pointing again to the Picton- Shipton line being unnecessary and ill-conceived. We await the energy white paper!

3. More comment on the energy market crisis comes in the Independent. On 10.10.02, they say regulator Callum McCarthy's aim of bringing down prices will ultimately fail as capacity becomes scarce, and "there is a California-style energy crisis to look forward to" and "no one is laughing at the DTI where what passes for an energy policy is fast going up in smoke". On 14.10.02 they report TXU Europe as saying it had staved-off the threat of imminent collapse but warned it could give no long-term assurance. On 15.10.02 they say that Callum McCarthy takes the view that company collapses show the market is working brilliantly, but "at this rate the market will be working so well that there will be no one left in it".

4. I have often criticised the regulated electricity market for failing to be cost-reflective over transmission costs and losses. That gives false subsidies to mislocated power stations. Now, the New Electricity Trading Arrangements (NETA) have added commercial chaos. Traders are locked into high source prices through long-term contracts, but they have to sell to the grid through NETA at falling spot prices. You would think that long-term selling contracts could have been included, with the objective of moderating market volatility and protecting security of supply and fuel diversity, along with a balance of spot trading necessary to match generation with demand on a half-hourly basis. There are other objectives than price! Again, we look to the coming white paper.

5. Angela Kelly from Country Guardian sends a copy of a paper by Prof M A Laughton [Platts Power in Europe, 383, 9-11, 9.9.02], which is at Appendix 1 below. It is a patient and sensible explanation of the shortcomings of electricity schemes with large-scale generation, especially intermittent wind generation, targeted on Scotland with bulk transmission to the south of England.

6. Research by Fiorenzo Marinelli at Bologna shows mobile phone radiation effects on cancer cells, making them more aggressive. After 24 hours of continuous exposure, "suicide" genes were turned on, causing leukaemia cells to die off, but after 48 hours this went into reverse. (Northern Echo 24.10.02) This is yet another illustration of the paucity of the industry and NRPB approach which is dismissive of potential health effects below the high-exposure thermal energy effects, both for mobile phones and for power-supply EMFs.

7. NG shareholders are informed that the merger with Lattice was completed 21.10.02. The new company group is called National Grid Transco plc. Its website is http://www.ngtgroup.com/  . It also says it has "long-term responsibilities" and success depends on "prudent and effective management of all forms of risk". Food for thought! The new company would be well placed to take an overall view of transmission of gas and electricity, but its response will be heavily conditioned by regulation under the fairly new Ofgem. At present the false market still subsidises bulk long-distance electricity transmission.

8. A letter to the editor of Darlington & Stockton Times takes issue with reporting the California report on health effects from powerlines. My reply is at Appendix 2.

9. CPRE's Countryside Voice, Autumn 2002, reports that the government received more than 16,000 responses to the Planning Green Paper. Proposals for major infrastructure projects to be decided in principle by parliament have been scrapped, and public inquiries will continue. CPRE campaigned hard on the green paper and claims several victories. Revolt also submitted responses to government. Some challenges remain and may appear in the Queen's speech in November when legislation is expected.

10. Correction! News128 reported PC Paul Reed's response to discussion at the AGM. Paul feels he may have been misunderstood or misquoted and sends this correction. The question was, could an employee of NGC or the contractors be arrested for criminal damage if he sank a peg in the owner's field without specific agreement with the owner. The answer is no, as the employee would believe he had the right, if his boss had sent him to do the job, plus he does not intend to cause criminal damage. This would be very much in the civil law domain. If NGC were refused permission by the landowner to enter the land, prior to the injunction or warrant stage, and they ignored the landowner and continued to start work, then the police would attend and request them to leave the land, but there would be no power to make arrests, as it is still a civil matter. NGC are fully aware that this is the case.



Issue 383, 9 September 2002, pp 9-11.

Renewables and the UK Electricity Grid supply infrastructure Professor M.A.Laughton, FREng, Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of London, and Visiting Professor at the Imperial College Centre for Energy Policy and Technology.


Mainland UK has an island electricity supply system that is not supported to any significant degree by those of neighbouring countries. As for all European systems, renewable energy sources can make a contribution to electrical energy supply, but their contribution will be necessarily limited to an extent far below that envisaged by the Government and Green lobby groups.

In contrast Denmark is often quoted as an example of the way forward with wind contributing some 13% of electrical energy, but this is only made possible by the existence of three interconnections to Germany, Sweden and Norway. The Norwegian link is of particular significance because it can supply balancing energy from fast-acting hydro stations to counter the natural variations in output of the Danish wind generators. Each country is unique with regard to the use of renewable resources and the example of one is not necessarily any guide for another.

GB electricity supply system

The physical structure of the UK electricity supply industry is characterised by large stations away from the centres of population delivering power in bulk via the high voltage grid. This system cannot be altered either rapidly or without great expense. There is an absence of lines in the North West of Scotland where so much of the wind and wave resources exist (said to comprise 40% of European resources). The building of new transmission lines is a very lengthy and difficult process because of environmental opposition and gaining rights of way. It is also not clear in a liberalised market how changes are paid for, e.g. by deep or shallow charging.

There are only two interconnectors between Scotland and England and these inevitably impose capacity constrictions on the envisaged transmission of large amounts of renewable energy southwards.

These two limitations serve but to illustrate the need to consider such infrastructure constraints that would reduce the exploitation of Scottish renewables for the UK as a whole.

Power demand ­ daily load curves

The power demand on the national grid varies over the course of a day, a rise and fall every 24 hours, a night-time minimum and a daily maximum, with a minimum summer load of about 19GW and a winter peak above 50GW. A mixture of different types of conventional generation plant with varying degrees of responsiveness is indispensable to meet the base-load, mid- range and peak-load requirements. The significance of the difference between power demand (the height of the graph, see figure 1) and energy demand (the area underneath the curve) appears to escape many of those involved in the energy debate. Whereas the commercial operation is measured against energy delivered, the central grid control by the National Grid Company (NGC) has to ensure that the power generated balances the power demand at all times, otherwise the system collapses.

Figure 1 Daily load variation on the NGC system

Guaranteeing power supply quality is a lesser, but more pervasive variation of the security question. Here the presence of large amounts of intermittent renewable capacity will not help either security or quality of supply. The importance of maintaining good power supply quality without voltage dips, frequency variations or interruptions in supply even for milliseconds does not feature in debates on the future of the industry, yet without high quality electrical power supplies the operation of a modern industrialised society is not possible. Already the estimated cost to European businesses of periods of poor power quality amounts to some 13­20 billion euros per year and even larger figures are quoted by the Department of Energy in Washington for the United States.

Security of supply and intermittent renewable energy sources

Now into this picture put a substantial capacity of randomly intermittent wind energy connected directly to the electricity supply system as advocated by the PIU in its recent report (³Energy Review², February, 2002).

The following points summarise the problems posed. 1. Every electrical power system has to have sufficient capacity installed to meet the annual system peak power demand (and likewise for the gas supply system). 2. To do so requires having sufficient spare capacity so as to meet not only expected generating plant outages for repair and maintenance, but also unexpected events causing breakdown of plant and thus non- availability of generating capacity. The spare capacity installed in the GB system today is around 23% or about 12,000­13,000 MW. This is a level in keeping with past practice and justified by probabilistic analyses as meeting the UK accepted security standards governing an expected loss of supply. It also corresponds to the reserve capacity necessary at present for conventional generation without any significant penetration of wind power. 3. Some of this spare capacity would be on 'hot standby', i.e. connected to the network and operating at part load to ensure a stability of connection as in the case of steam plant, or available for instant start-up and connection as is the case for hydro and gas-turbine plant. 4. The total load on the system fluctuates throughout the day according to society's habits of work and sleep (Figure 2). These large predictable changes are met by scheduling / contracting the generation accordingly; however the load also fluctuates continuously in a random manner on a much smaller scale within a few percent of the expected value. Generation of power has to equal load plus losses at all times, so balancing generation from plant such as gas turbines has to be brought in and out of the system by NGC as required. 5. With regard to wind, the total wind power available over a short period of time, say one to three hours, will also vary randomly, but these variations are small enough, e.g. a few hundred MW, for the NGC to balance out using their existing controls and available plant.

Large-scale intermittency

The big problem occurs when small-scale random intermittency power variations give way over longer time periods to large changes. Such large-scale intermittency would occur for wind or wave power when a large high-pressure weather system moves in over the whole country or a large part of it and, with little or no wind, wind power output drops to near zero. The same large-scale intermittency would occur for PV generation at night or for the output of the Severn Barrage twice per day.

Large high-pressure systems with little wind pass over the country or parts of the country throughout the year. Those occurring in the winter are invariably accompanied by low temperatures, frost and fog, the occasions when heating and lighting loads can also be at maximum, i.e. at winter peak load times. Electrical power has to be available and so wind power capacity has to have 100% back-up.

The absence of wind power for many hours, even days, on such a scale far beyond the ability of energy storage schemes to provide compensation, requires the existence of alternative capacity not catered for by the normal standby plant and, of course, this extra plant capacity has to be paid for.

Implications for UK wind power targets

Figure 2 summarises the UK situation based on actual weather data. It shows the probability (vertical axis) of achieving various power output levels from wind turbines over the whole country, given a theoretical total wind turbine installed nameplate capacity of 7300MW (The actual installed capacity at present is about 600MW). It is seen that the total average hourly power output calculated from met office wind data covering the country for every hour over the last five years can vary from 7300MW to practically zero.

Figure 2 5-year hourly probability of total wind power generation

An output of, say 4000MW, for example, would have been obtained during only 1% of the hours recorded over the past five years. The maximum probability is for about 200MW of power output.

The total electrical energy supplied from this theoretical capacity of 7300MW over one year would be only approximately 20TWh, or of the order of half of the energy required for the Government¹s annual target for renewable electrical energy by 2010. This energy is equivalent to the annual output of conventional coal, gas or nuclear plants of about one third the capacity.

This graph as well as common sense shows that electricity generation from all the wind turbines in the UK is effectively subject to common mode failure¹, i.e. one event, a large anticyclone, can cause zero power output at most or even all sites. No significant engineering system is ever designed with such a characteristic!

If the wind turbine capacity of 15­25GW advocated in the PIU report were to be installed by 2020 and supplying some 15% of electrical energy needs, then the provision of a 100% level of conventional back-up plant to provide security of power supply would prove intolerably expensive. It would also impose severe technical problems of control, all leading to the loss of power supply quality and security.

Such plant has to be paid for from the earnings derived from the smaller part of the annual energy load left to it by the wind and possibly other intermittent generators. With Renewable Obligation Certificates supporting wind output, only reduced revenue streams would be available. If, as more than likely, these were insufficient to prevent some back-up plants being withdrawn from service, then security of supply would be at risk.


Regardless of the amount of wind power capacity installed, wind generation has no reserve-capacity credit. It follows that the entire peak load plus reserve margin has to be covered by conventional plant as at present.

With the Government policy to increase the electrical energy from renewable sources to 10% by 2010 and possibly 20% by 2020, incentives have to be found to ensure that the present level of conventional generation capacity in the system is retained and replaced as needed.

In this respect the assumptions as contained within the PIU report are high-risk theoretical solutions. The proposed 20% target for renewable generation by 2020 is neither technically nor economically feasible. If accepted within Government as a possible way forward, then it is misleading and, therefore, dangerous, because the prevailing beliefs about the potentials that are foreseen impinge on and delay other decisions in this area that should be being taken today.

************************************************************************ ** APPENDIX 2 reply to letter in DST


Pylons and cancer

It is no surprise to see Dr Roger Fiskin again (DST 25.10.02) committing the sin he attributes to others. It is the same sin, of prejudiced comment in ignorance of the evidence, which he committed in the round of correspondence on alternative medicine last year (see my reply DST 3.8.01). He is letting science down.

As for evidence of "cancer link with pylons", he can be assured that the full report from the California Department of Health is on Revolt's shelves in hard copy as well as available to Revolt by internet link. Revolt has had the full 329 pages of a draft version, with some 300 scientific references, and its several hundred more pages of appendices, for many months. The final report, published two weeks ago, is unchanged in substance but for moderation of the wording of its conclusions, and Revolt had an advance copy of those.

Revolt in the person of two scientific professors has discussed the Report in person with the Energy Minister and his senior civil servants. Revolt has also contributed to the scientific evidence with publications in academic journals and at international conferences.

Revolt's shelves also contain the two main UK Reports on the subject, from the NRPB, the US NIEHS report, and many others, including the conclusions and recommendations of the key draft NCRP Report in 1995 which the US political vetting process blocked.

The evidence for harm to public health from power lines is not conclusive, but it is extensive and does give rational cause for concern, on a "more likely than not" basis in some cases. The UK authorities have so far side-stepped assessing uncertain evidence, and with it the case for precautionary policy. California, with a growing minority of other countries, has done much better.

It is too complex to go further in this letter, but Dr Fiskin is wrong to assert that Revolt has not seen the evidence, or that there is "precious little evidence for any adverse health effects" from powerlines.

Blind dismissal of reasoned and evidenced health concerns is as dangerous as unfounded scaremongering.


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Mike O'Carroll


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