Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Snow. My son is five days old today. Energy security tonight is keeping him warm. It’s a warm bath, lemon tea, a separation of our lives from the wind and falling snow outside. Energy, in its most important form tonight, is heat. But also light, light to read by, to write by. Light that is the words on the page, the page itself; this light, if a bit sickly, shines nonetheless.

Post partum is a strange elation, and then a contest, perhaps, of new pleasures and new stresses, all atop the old. An all-consuming time. But the world of energy is alight, so much happening, I will try to document a few pieces that have come my way.

The most recent, a comment by German regulators that things may not be well in old Europe.

German regulator warns of Europe power shortages

Tue Feb 19, 2008 6:06am EST

ESSEN, Germany, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Europe risks power shortages if it does not press ahead with new power station projects to replace and add to ageing generation capacity, German energy regulator Matthias Kurth said on Tuesday.

Coal-to-power projects were being cancelled because operators feared tougher emissions rules or because citizens did not want polluting plants in their neighbourhood, while rising prices of materials and labour added to delays, he said.

"The EU needs an overall strategy to deal with blocked decision-making, protests and the CO2 question," he said at a conference during the E-World trade fair.


Germany had planned to replace 20,000 megawatts of ageing power station capacity up to 2012 alone, but his authority only had knowledge of projects underway for 7,000 MW, Kurth said.
Aging power stations need replacing, no doubt about it, but it's not clear the plans are in place. An important contribution to the Oil Drum from Chris Vernon, "Nuclear Britain", showed a daunting scenario with respect to future nuclear generating capacity in the UK. It looked something like this:

The image of falling off a cliff, literally as we speak, seems a powerful one. What lies below? Is there a cushion? Is it simply darkness, impenetrable with our current tools? Does this image not generate a sense of intense insecurity?

The nuclear generation problem is compounded by a looming decline in the quality of uranium ores, and thus a rise in (energy) costs, and a declining EROEI for uranium. On a global view, according to this fact sheet from the Oxford Energy Group (pdf) we can expect the EROEI from nuclear power generation, excluding the energy costs of building and maintaining generating stations and all the other infrastructure, will reach one by about 2070. At that point it will be so difficult to mine a kilogram of uranium that no (energy) profit can be obtained from its use in a power plant. Coincidentally, they also use the image of an "energy cliff".

But the ORG's focus in this project ("Secure Energy") seems less oriented toward the problem of supply, than the problem of "security" under the demands of nuclear energy. That is, as nuclear forms an essential part of Europe's energy mix, its future is assured. Yet nuclear poses its own dangers, not least concerns about "nuclear terrorism" and the links between uranium processing and nuclear weapons proliferation. Thus while seeking to respond to the twin challenges of climate change and energy security, the UK government's Energy Review, "The Energy Challenge", suggests nuclear energy as an essential component. Yet this arm of the "secure energy" agenda generates its own insecurities, both nationally and internationally.The continuing threats toward Iran are a case in point.

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