Guest essay by Philip Foster
COP21 Paris climate conference urged that all home heating should move away from gas to be all electric. In the UK the Climate Change Act already assumes this scenario will be put into practice.1
Just how realistic is this for the UK?
There are around 16 million (16 × 106) households connected to the gas grid network in the UK.
The average household boiler is rated at 60 kiloWatt
To replace that with electric home heating would still require about the same electrical capacity. (Remember even a single electric shower is 7 kW, and an oven approaching 10 kW).2
Here’s the math(s):
16 × 106 × 60 kW = 96 × 107 =~ 100 × 107 = 109 kW = 106 MegaW = 103 GigaW
or about 1 TeraW of extra power.
Drax, in Yorkshire England (which was the UK’s biggest and most efficient coal fired power station), generates about 4 GW, therefore to generate this extra 1 TW we would need to build about 250 Drax sized power stations, or erect half a million 5 MW (in reality, 2 MW) wind turbines [for reference: current requirement in the UK is a mere 40 GW, that is 0.04 TW].
Now let’s go to COP21’s second idea that all cars should be electric.3
In the UK there are about 35 million cars (just over double the number of households).
1 Horsepower is about 750 W
So an average 100 HP car engine = 75 kW (marginally more than the average household boiler)
This means we need, not just 1 TW extra electric power to charge up these vehicles, but more than 2 TW.
That is 500 Drax-sized power stations or one million wind turbines.
Combining household heating with electric cars the UK would need an extra 3 TW of generating power.
Although, arguably, the 3 TW are not always needed, they will be, frequently so, around 5-6pm on a weekday. People return home, plug their cars, switch on their heating, and start cooking – all on electric.
So COP21 (and our very own Climate Change Act) is asking the UK to build 750 more Drax sized power stations4 or 1.5 million more wind turbines. And, of course, we would need to completely rebuild the electricity Grid to take this nearly 75 fold increase in load. Also every street in the UK will need to be dug up to install much higher capacity cabling.
I’m not sure the English language has a word strong enough to describe this. It’s beyond insanity. Perhaps, as Roger T. put it: “the British like their understatement: ‘problematic’?”
1. See Christopher Booker:
2. Much talk about using heat pumps. But here again this is nigh impossible:
a. Most houses using gas are terraced or semi-detached in urban areas where there is obviously a limit to how much heat can be extracted from the ground without creating a local ‘permafrost’.
b. The necessary excavations in such areas would almost certainly hit gas mains (however defunct!), sewers, water pipes and electricity cabling.
3. Issues about electric cars:
a. The Tesla’s battery weighs 800kg – nearly a tonne. That is the equivalent of about eight extra passengers present for a whole journey. Range, if you are lucky, 200 miles. If it’s cold then less, as the power available from the battery drops by 50% for every ten degree drop in temperature. A petrol (gasoline) car for the same range would use fuel that weighed perhaps 16kg, diminishing, with no measurable change in available power for a ten degree drop in temperature.
b. Now imagine you are out on a lonely road in a blizzard in a Tesla. You have no heating; power diminishing due to the cold; you meet a snow drift; the vehicle slowly grinds to a halt with no available power. What can you do? Find a recharging point? Fat chance! Stay in the vehicle and hope for rescue? You’ll probable freeze to death. Get out and walk? a similar fate.
In a gas vehicle, unless you run out of fuel, you have heating, you are less likely to get stuck. Even if you do run out of fuel, you’ll probably have a spare can in the trunk: half a minute and you running again.
4. Just how many US forests will this require? Currently Drax consumes 7 million tonne per annum of ‘biomass’ – mostly imported wood pellets from the USA – for half its boilers. Assuming the new requirement of 750 Drax sized stations have to be built, they will consume a minimum of 5 billion tonne of wood pellets per annum!
convenor Paris Climate Challenge www.pcc15.org
author, ‘While the Earth Endures: Creation, Cosmology and Climate Change’