This is the second edition of Geek Week. Today, I’ll try to figure out what the deal is with HS2. If you want to have this delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up here every week.
Unusually for a nerd, I’m not a big train person. me I like Trains: I like sitting on it, content knowing that Wi-Fi won’t work well enough for me to get any work done, so I can read without feeling completely guilty. But I couldn’t tell you what model of locomotive was pulling me. I’m concerned that this glitch might lead to someone revoking my credentials.
But I want to know more about them, and especially about High Speed 2 (HS2), the new railway connecting London to the North. Phase one, from London to the West Midlands, will open sometime between 2029 and 2033. It has been quite controversial. But I wanted to know: is it good value for money?
You can buy a lot of nuclear power for £100 billion
The reason that made me think of it is that Someone pointed out That the cost of HS2 was, roughly, three times the cost of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, which is due to be commissioned in Somerset around 2026. Theoretically, HS2 should cost £55 billion in currency. 2015, this is its official budget fee, above £33 billion initially, but a government review estimates its cost will end up between £80 billion and £100 billion.
Meanwhile, Hinckley Point C, all that What’s more He always talks about budget cost and over budget, and it ends up costing around £25 billion. And Hinkley Point C will finish toasting 7 percent (Seven! per cent!) of the UK’s total electricity.
So, to be clear, for the cost of building HS2, a new railway, we could build three or four nuclear power plants, providing between one-fifth and one-fourth of the UK’s total electricity demand between them. Electricity generation makes up about 15 per cent of UK carbon emissions; In 2020, about 44 percent of our electricity (see here, but beware downloading the Excel file) came from zero-carbon sources, leaving 56 percent from gas and other sources. A naive multiplication of all these numbers suggests that creating three or four new Hinkley Points could reduce UK emissions by at least 6 per cent, and will be even more important in the future, as transport and home heating are electrified. This is a big problem.
I think even the most optimistic estimates of HS2 don’t come close to these numbers. HS2 himself says Which is expected to replace 1.2 million rides and 4.8 million cars “by 2050”. That’s cool, but 1.2 million flights equates to about two years over 20 years, and aviation is responsible for about 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, so again, it’s probably naive here, but it’s a rough estimate. – I imagine it would reduce UK emissions by about 0.7 per cent. (Since the number of car trips a year is measured in the billions, I wouldn’t bother calculating the impact of eliminating 4.8 million trips over 20 years.) That’s nothing, but it’s barely a tenth of what you’d get from building nuclear weapons.
I imagine HS2 will end up being a good net for streaming. But if you want to reduce emissions as efficiently as possible, this is not the way to do it. Hell, I would expect paying per home for a solar panel would likely cost the same as HS2 (27m households x £4,000 solar installation = £108bn) and would also reduce emissions impressively.
To be clear, we should definitely do both.
Being able to generate electricity is great and we need as much as possible; Not just replacing what we have, but building more, because energy is good. So I would be very happy if we build four Hinckley Points And the Every home in the UK is covered with solar panels. It could still potentially add up to about two years of NHS spending, spread out over several decades, and change our energy supply and emissions profile. (And our dependence on unstable petro-states).
But when I went and asked two people familiar with HS2, they said I was looking at it through the wrong end of the telescope. It is not there to reduce carbon emissions: it is there to increase economic growth in an environmental way.
The HS2 is nicknamed “High Speed”, but its speed is an occasional feature, not the target. The point is to keep high speed trains off the tracks with low speed trains on them. This blog post explains it well: If you only have one line, the express trains should wait behind the slow trains, so you have to wait for the slow train to leave before the express train leaves.
However, if you have separate dedicated lines for the two speeds, you can run as many trains as you want, limited only by the distance you want to leave for safety (and how much stock you actually have in circulation). The blog post uses HS2’s own numbers to conclude that the new line will enable Euston to triple its charging capacity. You can have many, many passengers going through the system. You no longer have to wait half an hour in rush hour for a train with enough room to board. One (possibly optimistic) estimate puts interest for the UK at £15 billion a year: given that HS2 will be around for a century or more, it will have to pay for itself many times over, even if this is a massively overestimated estimate.
However, the opportunity cost remains. We can spend £100 billion or whatever we get Is there anything else?Maybe we can get all the economic benefits And the Greater environmental benefits.
Here’s why I don’t think we should: because Is also do HS2. he’s there. We have planned it. We have allocated a lot of money for this. We could stop and find a cheaper way to do it, but realistically it’s very difficult to launch large infrastructure projects because of resourcefulness, financing, planning rules, etc. The Treasury is pretty good at finding ways to avoid spending £1 now, even if it would save £10 a year from now: It has (under the unforgettable political blogger Jeremy Driver) an exhilarating mindset, hesitating “Oh! We’re too weak to do.” this situation “.
HS2 is far from perfect – you could probably do better if your hands were free to design it from scratch. But we don’t: We have a hardened system and a host of special interests (homeowners, green lobby) saying they want green transportation, but not if they really have to. created which – which. (“Trains please! No tracks. Only trains!”) So since we’re never going to get anything perfect, it seems like a really bad idea to give up on the better-than-nothing things we already do.
Nerd Blog Post of the Day: Why? He is Nuclear is expensive anyway?
We talked about Hinkley Point, upstairs, which got me thinking about this. The great success of recent decades has been the extraordinary reduction in the cost of renewable energies. The standard cost of a megawatt of solar energy has fallen by 99.6% since 1976. It is absolutely unbelievable and unexpected. (The International Energy Agency continues to automatically predict each year that solar power will stabilize; each year it continues to increase.)
However… the same does not happen with nuclear energy. The cost of building nuclear power plants fell year after year until about 1970 and after that… it started going up! why? Any other technology becomes cheaper as you become more mature. Nuclear power is still more expensive than coal, per megawatt-hour.
This blog post, is a review of a book called Why was nuclear power a failure? By Jack Devanney, he gives a reason I hadn’t thought of:
Excessive concern about low levels of radiation has led to a regulatory standard known as ALARA: as low as reasonably achievable. What defines “reasonable”? It is an increasingly strict standard. As long as the costs of building and operating a nuclear plant are at the level of other energy modes, they are reasonable.
This might sound like a reasonable approach, until you realize it It eliminates, by definition, any chance that nuclear power will be cheaper than its competition. Nuclear energy can’t even find its way out of this situation: Under ALARA, any technology, any operational improvement, anything that cuts costs, the regulator simply gives more room and more excuses to push for tougher safety requirements, until the cost rises again to make Nuclear power is a little more expensive than anything else. In fact, it’s even worse: it basically says that if nuclear power gets cheap, regulators won’t do their job.
This is obviously ridiculous, because nuclear and renewables are already the safest forms of energy. So we should stop imposing this criterion (assuming the book is correct), and then we can build dozens of Hinckley points. favorable!
I will soon begin to include reader responses in this newsletter. Just reply to this email if you think I was wrong or if you think I understood it correctly. Alternatively, you can always annoy me on Twitter – @tomchivers. I will try to answer everything.
This is the second edition of Geek Week, an exclusive newsletter for subscribers of i. If you want to have this delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up here every week.
“Future teen idol. Hardcore twitter trailblazer. Infuriatingly humble travel evangelist.”