No one will be surprised that Greenpeace is against the construction of new nuclear power stations, but what some may find unusual is one of the solutions we are proposing to meet our energy needs and reduce our CO2 emissions - industrial CHP, or combined heat and power.
Around Britain, industrial sites are using vast quantities of fuel to generate heat for processes such as oil refining and chemical manufacture, which produces high levels of CO2. We need to ultimately decarbonise our transport system and move away from oil, and facilities such as oil refineries will become redundant. But right now we urgently need to tackle climate change and these sites currently present an economical opportunity to provide new bulk electricity generation whilst cutting fuel and CO2 emissions.
Combined heat and power is the most efficient use of fuel for combustion making use of the unused heat from thermal electricity generation. Currently power stations in the UK waste on average almost two thirds of the energy they generate and therefore two thirds of the fuel they consume. In fact, 20 per cent of all of the UK's CO2 emissions come from the fuel burnt in creating this wasted heat. That means a fifth of our nation's emissions come from something that has no useful purpose.
By using more of the energy in the fuel, CHP can double the useful output from the power station this increasing efficiency and lowering emissions and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.
All sounds a bit dweeby so far? Well, not if you consider that 49 per cent of the UK's energy needs are in the form of heat. And we're currently wasting a lot of it.
Almost all of the government's focus has been on electricity generation which accounts for only 17 per cent of our final energy demand. The government has no heat strategy for the UK and is focusing its attention on nuclear power which can only provide electricity.
A new report released by world leading energy experts Pöyry Energy Consulting shows there is an untapped potential sufficient to generate an estimated 14GW of electricity by siting combined heat and power plants at existing industrial sites - that's equivalent to the annual needs of two thirds of UK households.
In a few industrialised sites in the UK, there is enoromous localised heat useage, but only a limited use of CHP. Yet it is relatively easy to develop the infrastructure for combined heat and power.
Click on the map to download the sites as a pdf
Pöyry has identified nine specific industrial sites around the country where CHP plants could be installed to meet the local industry's heat and power demands and also supply electricity back to the national grid. These nine sites could provide 13GW of the 14GW potential electricity generation capacity.
Sounds like a good deal? It gets better. Based on the ConocoPhillips CHP development at Immingham, industrial CHP is quicker and cheaper to build than nuclear power stations. The Immingham plant supplies two refineries in Humberside with heat, steam and power. It is currently being expanded and when this expansion is complete it will reach the same electricity generating capacity as the UK's flagship nuclear power station, Sizewell B. Reports suggest that the total cost of the Immingham development has been around £560 million.
Current estimates put the cost of a single new nuclear power plant significantly higher than CHP capital, between £2.87 and £6 billion, and that doesn't included the cost of managing and storing waste.
According to Pöyry, the CO2 saving from fully developing 14GW of CHP (compared to the current system of delivering heat and power separately) is between 10 and 26 million tonnes of CO2 annually - that's as much as 4.6 per cent of the UK's CO2 emission.
For as long as the UK continues to use fossil fuels, we should be using them as efficiently as possible to minimise CO2 emissions. Matching industrial heat users with large scale gas-fired CHP achieves that goal on a grand scale and could play a major role in replacing our current electricity system. It would reduce UK fuel consumption and help insulate against fuel price increases and supply concerns. Most crucially of all, industrial CHP will reduce CO2 emissions while providing a solid stepping stone towards a more decentralised and increasingly renewable energy system.
You can also learn more about combined heat and power and how this could work within a decentralised energy system across the country by visiting our climate friendly town - EfficienCity.