How many gas plants does Greenpeace want?

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The UK Chancellor George Osborne recently succeeded in getting a scenario into the UK government’s gas strategy. This involved having up to 48 GW of gas capacity in the UK by 2030. It is my view that this amount of gas capacity is, under any realistic scenario, more gas capacity than is consistent with decarbonising electricity by 2030. This view, it would appear, is also held by Greenpeace.

However, let’s consider how much gas capacity Greenpeace wants. Or, more importantly, how much gas capacity we would need if Greenpeace got what they wanted in terms of renewable energy.

To avoid any suggestion that I am cherry picking evidence let us begin by considering a recent report commissioned by Greenpeace and WWF into the economics of offshore wind and gas. The Wind scenario in this report actually required a total of 36 GW of gas capacity to back up wind. So, at this point we can say that what Osborne and what Greenpeace wants differ by about most 12 GW.

However, as Clive Bates pointed out, the n-word is suspiciously absent from this report. The Wind scenario actually appears to be identical to the “very high renewables” scenario considered by the CCC. This scenario is shown below. Renewables Review The renewable energy review_Printout.pdf

Now, I don’t think I would pushing things out to suggest that Greenpeace do not want that much power coming from nuclear, or CCS for that matter. Put simply Greenpeace will want to replace all of this nuclear generation with renewables of some sort. So, how much nuclear are we talking about here. The CCC says of this scenario (see page 76):

 To decarbonise to 50 g/kWh this scenario would still require around 12.5 GW of new nuclear and CCS capacity during the 2020s, in addition to the 5 GW added by 2020.

What is the consequence of replacing 17 GW of nuclear with some form of renewable energy? More gas plants as back up. How many? To get a rough idea let’s look at some modelling done by Poyry for the CCC. Below is the energy mix under different levels of renewable power. Renewables Review 232_Report_Analysing the technical constraints on renewable generation_v8_0.pdf

So, a good ballpark estimate is that for every 8 GW of nuclear you replace with renewables you need about 5 GW of gas back up. Replacing 17 GW of nuclear with wind is therefore going to require about an extra 10 GW of gas capacity for back up.

Add this to 36 GW, and suddenly we are up around 46 GW of gas capacity. The difference between this and the amount of gas capacity George Osborne wants would appear rather negligible to me.

Now, my analysis above may or not be right. However, before Greenpeace claims George Osborne’s plans will bust the UK’s carbon targets they must first explain how the UK can decarbonise with their preferred level of renewables and without Osbornesque numbers of gas plants


16 thoughts on “How many gas plants does Greenpeace want?

    Craig Morris (@PPchef) said:
    December 11, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Robert, are you confusing GW with GWh? Carbon emissions come from GWh, not GW. We may need more GW as backup, but that’s different.

    And when are you going to start writing about reducing tons of nuclear waste? Why the focus on carbon? Seems one-sided.


      Robert Wilson said:
      December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am


      The post is about the need for back up, and the contradictions of Greenpeace. Do you have anything to say about the topic?

      And I’m happy to say I worry a great more about carbon going into the atmosphere than nuclear waste, which kills more or less no one.


      Rod Adams said:
      December 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Here a good answer to “why the focus on carbon?” Carbon dioxide is a gas that is produced in massive quantities that can only be dumped into the atmosphere. All talk about storage is just that, talk. The total quantity being discharged is roughly 30 billion tons per year.

      For all of the talk about “nuclear waste” the physical nature of the material makes it rather simple to store in containers that are not terribly expensive. It rarely, if ever, enters the environment. It has never hurt anyone. The total quantity produced each year is a fe thousand tons, not a few tens of billions of tons. In other words, all f the talk about nuclear waste is also just talk, not amounting to much of an issue for either environmental or public health.


      Humphrey said:
      December 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      Robert is doing a PhD in mathematical modelling, so I think he can be relied on to get his units right. Yes, its GW that matters, the amount of power we need.
      The Greenpeace report only mentions backup once, in one short and vague sentence “some gas-fired power is needed to provide backup”. It seems like a good idea to try to work out how much.


        Robert Wilson said:
        December 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm


        Ultimately it is GWh that matter when it comes to carbon emissions. This is the measure of power generated, not GW. The post was purely about the gas capacity needed to back up renewables. This is measured in GW. The GWh involved in this is a completely separate issue.


    Rouget said:
    December 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Let’s consider capacity factors:
    – 90% for nuclear (average in a mix with a low nuclear proportion, Finland or South Korea are even above 95%)
    – 25% for renewable energies considering high range for offshore wind only (solar is much lower but in Great Britain it’s not really worth it and the DECC appears to go big on wind)
    – 50% (max 60%) for natural gas power plants: these beasts are very efficient but can’t run all the time and considering that their purpose is to back-up wind then it would appear much lower.

    So with a 8GW nuclear versus 8 GW wind + 5 GW gas, we have around 63 TWh versus 53 TWh (18+35) so we are 10 TWh short, it needs further around 4,5 GW in wind capacity (without back-up) or around 1.5 GW in additional natural gas power plants with the same capacity factor.

    Usually the “smart grid factor” is coming in but it’s not magic and the current grid is far from being dumb.


      jmdesp said:
      December 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      Countries that have a very high capacity factor for nuclear have a relatively low penetration of nuclear, they use it a pure baseload production all year round.
      Getting as much nuclear production as possible is then very valuable, and you’re ready to spend a lot of money to keep the time it’s shut down as short as possible.
      But if you have a lot of nuclear, it’s more efficient to use the planned shutdown as a way to regulate the seasonable variation in power use. EDF shuts down nuclear for reload in summer because there’s not a lot of demand anyway. And it can spend less on doing the reload because it doesn’t need to restart that quickly. At the end, the capacity factor is lower than 90% but it’s not that a bad thing.


        Robert Wilson said:
        December 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

        I have been forced to start moderating your comments. This sort of thing is just veering completely off topic. If you want to do this please create your own blog. Your off topic response are annoying to me, and no doubt the readers who are getting emails saying someone has responded to their remarks.


      jmdesp said:
      December 11, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      But I didn’t properly read your comment, Rouget, sorry, just commented on when you can use nuclear at 90% load.
      Comparing average yearly production is misleading, it doesn’t say if the wind + solar capacity will have a comparable ability to match a given demand level all year long. As guaranteed wind production is almost zero, you will actually need a lot of gas for that.
      Germany can currently close nuclear because they have a huge fossil capacity, 100 GW (that number might be fossil + remaining nuclear), significantly higher than their highest demand.


        Robert Wilson said:
        December 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm

        Can you please stay on topic? If not I will be forced to block you. You seem to be taking over my comments sections with stuff that’s vaguely related to the original post.


    Jenny Banks said:
    December 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    WWF and Greenpeace commissioned Cambridge Econometrics to analyse two illustrative future power sector scenarios. The report is based on two scenarios drawn from Poyry modelling for the CCC’s 65% renewables scenario from the Renewable Energy Review. These scenarios are not Greenpeace or WWF scenarios and do not represent our vision for the future power sector. The key points are that GDP is £20bn higher in the high offshore wind scenario, net jobs are 70,000 higher and that there is only a marginal difference in electricity prices.

    Jenny Banks, WWF-UK


      Robert Wilson said:
      December 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm


      A key problem then is why Greenpeace or WWF would publicize this report, when it includes a hefty chunk of nuclear power. Surely the actual economics of this scenario would be a lot different if you removed nuclear from the mix?

      If Greenpeace and WWF were so confident a no nuclear mix would be better for the economy then why did they not ask the authors of the report to model the economic impacts of an energy mix Greenpeace and WWF would be happy with?

      And also, why does the report never point out that nuclear power is part of the scenario they considered?


      Clive Bates (@Clive_Bates) said:
      December 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      Dear Jenny Banks

      Then what are your scenarios and what is your vision? Greenpeace and WWF are forthright in their opposition to gas and nuclear, and highly optimistic about renewables, interconnectors, storage, efficiency and distributed generation. Can you come up an evolving mix or system design that (a) meets your decarbonisation aspiration; (b) works? Surely, you need to stand on firm territory and open yourselves up to challenge before you start rounding on others struggling to make these commitments work, keep the lights on and bring the paying public more or less onside.


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