Climate and UK power changes

It seems that a standard feature in the monthly INSIDER Newsletter now necessary is to review the U-turns and changes of subsidies and policies of the UK Government in relation to future power sources. Solar schemes have used up all the Government allocated finance, and wind has fallen from favour, presumably to allow the big nuclear plants from China and France to take the front position – showered with promises of Government money. Then the rather puzzling announcement came that the Government was to cancel any further spend on CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage – for which two prototype experimental plants are being built in the UK. This ignores the major market requirement for such plants in the developing world once the technology is sorted, but at least Shell has other similar CCS projects in other countries.

So the cancellation of Government support for these green climate saving technologies was a really good precursor to the Climate Change talks in Paris in December. However, one week later, and another U-turn, and solar power subsidies, smaller versions, are re-instated!

The UK policy subsequently seems to be that coal fired plants will be phased out completely, with a target end-date of 2025, to be replaced by solar and gas powered plants. Note the gas plants could also benefit from CCS technology, using up the caverns left empty under the North Sea, but there has been no U-turn there yet! Further offshore wind farm developments will also be allowed, provided they can deliver energy at a lower cost than currently. Plus small modular nuclear plants are now back on the list of possible options, too.

The next part of the Government’s spending review involved cutting out all the funding for the Manufacturing Advisory Service, which is, or was, a well-respected advice service for small manufacturers to get help in choosing the right form of automation systems, to enable them to trade competitively. That seems to have been the major area where it had a positive impact. So they cut that too.

Nuclear plant lifetime economics

TXT 3 Alisha Kasam

At Churchill College, Cambridge, Alisha Kasam, a student from Atlanta Georgia, has just completed an MPhil which was entitled Thermodynamic and Economic Evaluation of the Nuclear Air Brayton Combined Cycle. She is now studying for a PhD in Engineering – specifically the dynamic efficiency of energy and the economic viability of resource sustainability and waste minimisation in the next generation of nuclear plant technology. Just the sort of investigative report that an Editor would like to undertake, but obviously it’s a bit more work than might be obvious. Alisha is fully sponsored at Cambridge University by a Cambridge Trust scholarship and a Churchill Pochobradsky Scholarship combined into one.

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It’s a pity Sir John didn’t put a spare reactor in that boiler house!

Yokogawa finds a niche

Yokogawa, or maybe the Irish firm Schwungrad Energie (I have real worries about the Irish!) have developed a system to store and smooth the intermittent or variable power coming out of wind turbines in particular, or solar farms, using a medium-sized flywheel and a lump of their clever electronics. This enables a stable supply to be delivered to consumers, avoiding brown-outs etc. Their system has been installed in Europe’s first hybrid energy storage plant in Rhode, County Offaly, Ireland. Developed in collaboration with the University of Limerick, the Rhode hybrid demo project comprises two Beacon Power 160 kW flywheels and Hitachi Chemical valve regulated lead acid batteries of up to 160 kW. The plant will have a maximum import capacity of 400 kVA and maximum export capacity of 422 kVA. The flywheel system, with very high cycling ability, can rapidly absorb short-term excess grid energy and generate energy as needed by grid operators.

Yokogawa delivered the FA-M3V high speed controller and the Fast-Tools SCADA software to monitor and control the amount of energy that is stored in the flywheels and the charging/discharging of the lead acid battery. Yokogawa are hoping to strengthen its position in the power industry through the provision of such grid-connectable power storage systems as these, and other solutions that can help to build a sustainable society.

Stop Press!

Not yet confirmed, but the rumour is the latest Government U-turn will be that, because of “global warming, which has led to unseasonably warm weather in the UK throughout December”, the GBP100 Winter fuel supplement paid to pensioners early in December is to be recalled, by a levy on their January pensions. Happy New Year!

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Life Goes Full Circle

Now approaching the ripe old age of 70, your Editor was delighted to see a solution announced to the first research project he undertook when fresh out of University. This was in 1967, when starting work at the sensor/detection systems research laboratory of Plessey Electronics at West Leigh, near Portsmouth. The project was on advanced detection aids for the Home Office Police R&D Branch, and the broad feasibility studies looked at methods of improving Police search methods by introducing scientific aids.

One notable idea was that possibly hidden bundles of banknotes might be recognized and located by using an adapted form of ground radar to detect the resonance of the dipole formed by the metal strip embedded in UK banknotes. Various experiments were undertaken that involved dangling bundles of GBP100 in GBP1 notes within a radar beam, but the effective reflective area was still insignificant compared to the background clutter. The conclusion was that detection might be possible if the metal strip was built with an embedded diode junction, which might enable some sort of mixing of dual frequency waves, but this was dismissed as impractical.

TWIPR Twin Inverted Pulse Radar

A Report by Jason Ford in the Engineer suggests that a new type of radar could be used to detect hidden surveillance equipment, explosives, or any other tagged items. Developed by a team led by Prof Tim Leighton from Southampton University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the idea is based on the technique used by dolphins to help their sonar signal processing. Their system, called TWIPS, twin inverted pulse sonar, can enhance scattering from a linear target, such as a fish, while suppressing non-linear scattering from oceanic bubbles. The technique uses a transmitted signal consisting of two pulses in quick succession, one identical to the other, but phase inverted. The Engineer reports:

“The Southampton researchers teamed up with Prof Hugh Griffiths and Dr Kenneth Tong of University College London and Dr David Daniels of Cobham Technical Services to test the proposal, by applying TWIPR radar pulses to a ‘target’ (a dipole antenna with a diode across its feedpoint – typical of circuitry in devices associated with espionage or explosives) to distinguish it from ‘clutter’ (represented by an aluminium plate and a bench clamp). In the test, the target showed up 100,000 times more powerfully than the clutter signal from an aluminium plate measuring 34cm by 40cm.”

Useful Applications

In fact, it is said that TWIPR would work the opposite way round to TWIPS, in that it would look for non-linear scattering by the target. Given that the diode target measured 6cm in length, weighed 2.8g, cost less than €1 and requires no batteries, it allows the manufacture of small, lightweight and inexpensive location and identification tags for animals, infrastructure, and for humans entering hazardous areas. These tags could also be tuned to scatter-specific resonances to provide a unique identifier to a TWIPR pulse.

The technique could also be used by skiers, to enable quicker location after avalanche burial, although the technique could be adapted to look for resonances from within standard objects like mobile phones.