It might sound like the kind of material used as a plot device in a comic book blockbuster, but it could solve the fuel crisis in the real world.
Chemical element thorium is being hailed as the key in the bid to find safer and more sustainable sources of nuclear energy to provide our electricity. And just like in a Hollywood movie, the race is on to be the first to fully harness that power.
Named after Norse god (and Marvel comic book hero) Thor by the Swedish chemist who identified it in 1828, thorium has taken almost 200 years to be taken seriously as an energy contender.
After a period in the 1950s and 1960s in which it flirted with thorium, the US government shut down its research into the radioactive element, preferring to go the uranium route. Critics say thorium was pushed aside because uranium was an easier component for nuclear weapons. But times have changed, and thorium’s status as a safer alternative to uranium is now a help, not the hindrance it was during the Cold War.
India, which has hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the metal amid its terrain, has announced plans to build a thorium-based nuclear reactor by 2016.
But it faces competition from China, where the schedule to deliver a thorium-based nuclear power plant was recently overhauled, meaning scientists in Shanghai have been told to deliver such a facility within the next ten years.
While thorium nuclear exploration is not new – Britain had its own reactor in Dorset carrying out tests 40 years ago – the will to make it a viable energy source is growing stronger.
Professor Roger Barlow from the University of Huddersfield is part of a team researching thorium power generation.
‘Thorium is an alternative to uranium as a way of doing nuclear fission,’ he told Metro. He said thorium is safer because an overheating thorium reactor can be simply switched off, avoiding the problem that occurred at Fukushima, for instance.
Thorium also produces less radioactive waste than uranium, waste which needs to be secured for hundreds rather than tens of thousands of years. He added that it is extremely difficult to weaponise.
UK commits to £82m to spur innovation in energy
The UK Government has pledged to provide £82 million to spur innovation in the energy industry. It is part of the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) 2014-15 Delivery Plan, which outlines investments worth more than £400 million across different sectors. It aims to introduce a business growth programme for small and medium sized businesses to provide a package of skills, mentoring and coaching support.
An online platform will also be developed to help match innovators with possible investors. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “Innovation is booming in this country and it is part of our long term economic plan to invest in ambitious entrepreneurs and businesses to help them grow and succeed in the global race.”
Source: Energy Live News
Stephen Fitzpatrick: Taking on the big six energy firms
Last autumn, the founder and boss of small provider Ovo Energy made headlines when he attacked price increases by the “big six” suppliers.
Speaking to MPs on the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Mr Fitzpatrick said: “I can’t explain any of these price rises.”
The 36-year-old added that Ovo was, by contrast, not increasing its prices because the cost of wholesale energy – the electricity and gas that suppliers buy before selling on to consumers – had not actually risen.
Mr Fitzpatrick’s comments came at a time of growing public – and political – anger at higher fuel bills.
Thanks to the publicity, Ovo’s customer numbers rose sharply.
“Everything was crashing down in the City at the time, and there I was handing in my notice – it was a great time to leave”
And Mr Fitzpatrick’s hard-hitting testimony was no doubt a contributory factor behind energy sector regulator Ofgem announcing last month that it had asked the new Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether the domination of the big six – British Gas, Npower, SSE, Scottish Power, E.On, and EDF – was hampering competition.
For someone who only launched Ovo Energy in 2009, and prior to that had never worked in the energy sector, Mr Fitzpatrick is certainly making a name for himself and his company.
Born and bred in Northern Ireland, Mr Fitzpatrick launched his first company in 2001 after graduating from Edinburgh University.
The business advertised properties to rent in Scotland’s four largest cities, first via a website, and then in a free newspaper.
Mr Fitzpatrick says it was “moderately successful”, but that ultimately he closed it down because it wouldn’t be possible to scale up the business sufficiently.
Speaking at Ovo’s office in the London district of Notting Hill, he says: “The big problem was the limited number of estate agents. Some of them were customers, and some of them would never be customers.
“The thing it really taught me was that if I was going to go into business again, I wanted to be in an industry where I’d never run out of new customers to talk to. So I started to look at big businesses and industries, and energy was the one that genuinely caught my attention.”
“Had I launched an energy business in 2003, it is almost certainly the case that we would have been out of business very quickly… there is a lot to get right”
Doing some research, Mr Fitzpatrick discovered that it would be possible to get a licence from Ofgem to launch an energy supply company. The only catch was that he calculated it would require a minimum of £350,000 to get such a business up and running.
With little money to his name at the time, and no-one prepared to lend him any for such a hare-brained idea, Mr Fitzpatrick decided he would simply save up.
He says: “That was in 2003, and so I decided to move to London, get a job in the City, and save the money to launch an energy supply company in 2008. That was my five-year plan.”
And so Mr Fitzpatrick went to work as an investment banker at JP Morgan, while researching all he could about the energy industry in his spare time.
And while some of his colleagues lived extravagant lifestyles, he and his girlfriend made do with things like buying an old, second-hand car from eBay.
So by 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, Mr Fitzpatrick had successfully saved up £350,000, helped by the money he made by selling his home in London.
He says: “Everything was crashing down in the City at the time, and there I was handing in my notice – it was a great time to leave.”
“Essentially unless we fixed that problem we’d have had to pay the £3m, and we wouldn’t have got any electricity for it”
Launching Ovo in 2009, Mr Fitzpatrick says his time working for JP Morgan gave him crucial experience of dealing with complicated finances.
“Had I launched an energy business in 2003 it is almost certainly the case that we would have been out of business very quickly… there is a lot to get right,” he says.
“At the moment we are buying between £10m and £15m of gas and electricity each week, and we have to make sure we know very clearly how much we expect our customers to use.”
Mr Fitzpatrick adds that getting the numbers right is crucial because “it is very expensive” to buy too little or too much electricity or gas.
Yet he admits that mistakes were made very early on, such as buying £3m of electricity before Ovo had the correct licence to buy it.
He says: “Essentially unless we fixed that problem we’d have had to pay the £3m, and we wouldn’t have got any electricity for it. We solved it, but it took us a couple of months, and cost us a fair bit of money. But it was a good lesson.”
Attention to details
In terms of the strategy for making Ovo successful, Mr Fitzpatrick says the central mantra from day one was “trying to figure out ways in which we can do hundreds of little things better”.
He adds: “A lot of perceived wisdom says you have to be really good at one thing. But it is too often the case that a more established competitor can simply emulate your unique selling point, and do so at a lower price.
“So instead I thought I would employ a strategy of looking at lots of little things… which when you add them together make a great difference.”
And so Mr Fitzpatrick says the company is obsessed with things like making its website so user-friendly that fewer customers need to ring its call centres, thereby helping to keep its costs down.
Meanwhile, it tries to work out the best possible weather and demand forecasts so it buys only the energy it requires, again to keep expenditure as low as possible.
And for those account holders who do phone its call centres, staff are picked and trained to be as friendly and helpful as possible, to ensure high customer satisfaction levels and therefore large numbers of recommendations.
This has all helped Ovo see a big rise in customer numbers, which have risen by 50% since the start of 2014 and now stand at 310,000, albeit still less than 2% of the market.
The number of staff at Ovo now totals 400 across its offices in Bristol and London, with 150 new people hired in the past eight weeks.
Mr Fitzpatrick admits that such rapid growth has caused some problems, but that customer satisfaction levels have held up strongly.
“We have literally not been able to hire people fast enough,” he says. “There is a lot of change happening, so it is not perfect… but at the moment our customer satisfaction levels are staying very high, so we seem to be doing a good job.”
Looking ahead, Mr Fitzpatrick says he wants Ovo to have one million customers by 2017, whom he says he is confident of securing from the big six.
“Like most entrepreneurs, I love the competition, and it is much better being the fast-growing small firm rather than a market leader.”
Source: BBC News
It revealed global water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were estimated at 583 billion cubic metres (bcm), out of which water usage – that was withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66bcm or around 11%.
Water is critical for electricity generation as well as the extraction, transport and processing of fossil fuels and the irrigation of crops that go into biofuels. Water shortages in India and the US, among other countries, have however limited energy output in the last two years while the “heavy use of water in unconventional oil and gas production has generated considerable public concern”, the IEA said.
Its report looked at three difference scenarios – the New Policies Scenario, the Current Policies Scenario and the 450 Scenario.
Global water withdrawals for energy production reach 690bcm in 2035 in the New Policies Scenario, with growth slowing after 2020. Withdrawals in the Current Policies Scenario – which assumes no change in existing energy-related policies – continue to rise throughout the projection period, climbing to 790bcm in 2035.
Read more here http://www.energylivenews.com/2014/03/18/energy-sector-accounts-for-15-of-global-water-use/?utm_source=feedly&utm_reader=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-sector-accounts-for-15-of-global-water-use
Source: Energy Live News
EDF chooses Hydratight for new framework agreement
Hydratight has just completed the first package of steam generator tooling as part of the recently secured six-year frame agreement with Électricité de France (EDF), France’s main electricity generation and distribution company, which manages all of the country’s functioning nuclear power facilities.
Hydratight has been EDF’s preferred provider for the previous six years during which time the company has supplied products and services to ensure the safe running and up-time of France’s nuclear power plants. This has included providing multi stud tensioning systems and manway lifting devices.
Gavin Coopey from Hydratight commented: “Over the last six years we have grown and developed with EDF. The team recognised our expertise and capabilities and this is what won us the new agreement.
“We have an excellent working relationship with EDF and all of the team are looking forward to continuing with what has proved to be a very productive agreement for both companies.
“France is a very important market to be involved with in the nuclear energy sector and we are delighted that EDF have chosen to again trust Hydratight as a chosen supplier.”
France derives nearly 75% of its electricity from nuclear power plants, making it the most nuclear reliant country in the world.