The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

4.1.3 The energy gap

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MAGGIE PHILBIN
In winter, Britain uses on average 50 gigawatts of electricity. That's 50 billion watts. The grid meets that demand using seven gigawatts from nine nuclear power stations. Coal power stations generate around 25 gigawatts, gas power stations make a little more, and renewables, including wind, provide around 10 gigawatts. Another six gigawatts comes from abroad or other sources.
At the moment, the grid has more than enough power to supply all our needs. But over the next 10 or 20 years, that will change. Government have set ambitious carbon reduction targets, at least 34 per cent less carbon emissions by 2020. To hit that target, we have to close almost all our coal power stations.
And as our nuclear stations reach the end of their lives, almost all will need to be switched off, too. So within 10 years, Rachel and the team at the grid might not have enough electricity to meet all our needs, and that could be catastrophic. Day to day, to make sure there's no disruption, Rachel and her team make a detailed energy plan, estimating the amount of power they think the nation will need minute by minute.
RACHEL
We've got years worth of demand data, and we use that then to build up what we think we're going to get today looking at things like the weather, time of day, what day of the year it is, and make our forecast.
MAGGIE PHILBIN
And as the morning progresses and we as a nation settle down to work, the grid's predictions help her manage any change in demand.
MAGGIE PHILBIN
So it's 20 past 11. And if you take a look over here, the graph has really levelled off.
RACHEL
Yes, Yeah. During the morning into the early evening, it does have quite a flat shape there because people are now kind of doing things consistently. So people are sat at their offices working. They're not changing their uses of electricity, so we tend to get a flatter profile.
MAGGIE PHILBIN
This morning, the plateau is about 45 gigawatts, and this is mainly supplied by three key types of power station.
So in terms of managing that power demand, what do you use?
RACHEL
Well, we've got a lot of our steady, reliable generators on. So we've got a lot of gas and coal on and the nuclear with six there as a base load.
MAGGIE PHILBIN
And this is the heart of our looming energy problem. Our base load is currently supplied by power stations that are closing. So why are we turning off our precious stations?
Coal currently forms the backbone of our supply, providing the largest single power contribution. But coal is very dirty, with one of the largest carbon footprints of any fuel. So to meet our 2020 carbon reduction targets, six major coal power stations are closing.
End transcript
 
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The UK National Grid faces supply problems due to the closure of gas and coal powered power stations.

These are being closed, primarily, to reduce carbon emissions and meet targets. But even if there weren’t environmental reasons, the amount of fossil fuel of any type is finite and the reserves within the Earth will run out in the future.

The video mentions the use of nuclear energy as an energy source that will fill part of the gap in energy resources that is left from the diminishing use of fossil fuels.

In the next section, you will look at nuclear energy in the context of carbon emission and cost.

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