£3bn price rise for cost of building Hinkley Point nuclear power station

September 25th, 2019 no comment

French energy giant EDF said the plant in Somerset will now cost between £21.5 billion and £22.5 billion. The company claim the cost increases reflect “challenging ground conditions” which made earthworks more expensive than anticipated.

Action plan targets have also been revised and extra costs are needed to implement the completed functional design, which has been adapted for a “first-of-a-kind application in the UK context”, said EDF.

The company said that under the terms of the so-called Contract for Difference, the increased costs will have no impact on UK consumers or taxpayers.

A statement said: “The management of the project remains mobilised to begin generating power from Unit 1 at the end of 2025. To achieve this, operational action plans overseen by the project management are being put in place. These involve the EDF Group’s engineering teams in Great Britain and France, buildings and ancillary works contractors, and suppliers of equipment and systems throughout the supply chain.”

Stuart Crooks, managing director of the Hinkley project, said in a message to workers: “We are delivering on our milestones and although the risk of a delay has increased, the schedule is unchanged and we remain focused on delivering the first power in 2025. We remain conscious of our responsibility to shareholders and consumers. Getting this far has cost more money than we anticipated. Our earthworks are complete, but challenging ground conditions meant we overspent to finish them on time.”

“Adapting the EPR design to UK conditions and regulations added costs which are now understood. For example, adding an extra layer of conventional instrumentation and control means we had to build larger spaces to house extra equipment, meaning new layouts and designs. Now that the detailed design implementation is more advanced and we have placed more of our contracts, we have a better appreciation of our future costs.”

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: “The new Hinkley nuclear plant looked like a bad idea when it was first proposed and it’s got worse ever since. New offshore wind now costs less than half as much as Hinkley and it might get even cheaper by the time the much-delayed reactors crank into action. It’s become overwhelmingly clear that a renewable energy system based on offshore wind and other renewables is the cheapest, fastest and most reliable way to cut carbon emissions. Ministers should heed the lesson from the Hinkley debacle and never make the same mistake again.”

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The Government needs to swiftly learn the lessons from the Hinkley Point project, to ensure that the new nuclear power building programme, which is desperately needed in order to keep the lights on is able to proceed and be expanded. The Government’s current laissez-faire policy of simply hoping that private companies will come forward to develop and build incredibly complicated crucial strategic infrastructure projects, is not fit for purpose.”

“We have already witnessed private sector companies pulling out of proposed new nuclear power stations in Cumbria and Anglesey, and the Government’s hand-wringing response is clearly inadequate.”

“The challenges faced by EDF demonstrate why the Government must introduce a proactive industrial strategy which will allow the Government to work in partnership with the private sector to develop future infrastructure projects that are desperately needed if the UK is to meet the challenges of the future.”

View from India: Servers redefined

September 20th, 2019 no comment

All essential services in India are available online today. This results in a huge quantum of structured and unstructured data which requires processing in a central location. Another aspect is that the information or data about the concerned individual needs to be protected and that happens through data centres. It’s only appropriate that the resources inside a data centre should be maximised so that the operations are speedy. This includes devices, base station, on-premise server and switches, all of which drive high digital speed.

High-speed digital design is the norm today. To illustrate, WeChat users send 40 billion messages every day, YouTube users upload more than 400 hours of video per minute and Walmart processes 2.5 petabytes of data every hour.

We are at the heart of a digital revolution and one of its highlights is speed. “We require high-speed interfaces that drive the Internet. Intelligent algorithms are also required to differentiate between data which is of current use and that which is of long-term use,” said Rajkumar Chandrasekar, engineering group director, Cadence Systems India Pvt Ltd., addressing the audience at the Keysight World 2019 event.

Data which is not of immediate use needs to be stored at the backend of the system. This needs to be supported by higher connectivity, speed and systems that process the data quickly and secure it as well. 

Consequently, the infrastructure for data centres needs to be robust. “Our company has created solutions for testing the various stages of the data centre infrastructure. This goes right from the components to the server stage. As well as Internet infrastructure, right from components to the server,” added Brig Asay, director of strategic planning, Internet Infrastructure Group, Keysight Technologies.

While Internet infrastructure needs to be equipped to handle loads of traffic smoothly and at a fast pace, the server brings its share of challenges. These include issues revolving round the bandwidth. Power, cost and size are other factors. By and large, the server tends to lag behind compared to the other sections of the system. That’s due to the fact that it relies on the other parts of the system for its functioning. 

It’s then appropriate to look at improving the server performance. What is required is a suite of solutions to increase the bandwidth, including the width of the fibre deployment.

A combination of technologies will help ease the flow of data into the server. These include data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), video transcoding and geonomics that help push more data into the server. Machine learning (ML) takes over the server communication between the central processing unit (CPU) and server. In fact, ML and big data analytics are changing the way data is being processed. “About 90 per cent of the compute happens off CPU limits. It means that the interconnecting parts should be fast enough to handle the speed and the memory utilisation needs to be improved,” said Asay.

Digital standards are of a higher order to cater to the new parameters of speed in the data centre networking. Technologies like CXL (compute express link) have been conceptualised to overcome issues related to bandwidth.

“The server design is crucial for achieving economy of scale. A pool of tech building blocks is required in order to solve challenges that crop up in the various segments of the infrastructure,” highlighted Chandrasekar.

Today’s engineers need to have a multidisciplinary outlook to cater to the requirement and pace of speed. They need to understand the wired world as well as wireless, electrical and optical, along with the physical layer of the infrastructure.


Huawei launches Mate 30 range without Google apps

September 19th, 2019 no comment

The phones are the first Mate-branded devices launched under the spectre of Huawei’s blacklisting by US President Donald Trump. The company was added to the US Entity List in May 2019, following allegations that the company presents a national security risk and could act as an earpiece for the Chinese government. Huawei denies all the allegations. The blacklisting forbids US-based companies from working with Huawei without a license, forcing the company to pause business with Google, Intel, ARM and other partners.

Huawei’s Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu entirely sidestepped the Entity List issue during his presentation, instead focusing on the phones’ impressive hardware offerings.

“The Huawei Mate 20 Series unleashes the full potential of the smartphone. Designed to stand out, it challenges convention while delivering an unrivalled user experience. The era of 5G is an opportunity to rethink smartphone technology and the Huawei Mate 30 series is the ultimate expression of what’s possible,” Yu said.

According to Huawei, the phones are “inspired by the design principle of minimalism” and showcase “the perfect example of how aesthetic design fuses with technology”. The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro feature very thin bezels and notch, with either a 6.62” (Mate 30) or 6.53” (Mate 30 Pro) OLED screen which curves at an 88° angle to maximise display area. While the phones still have a power button, they have replaced the side volume buttons with “invisible virtual keys” which allow users to customise their position. This touch sensitivity also allows for virtual L and R gaming buttons to be added.

 “It’s got a large screen, but it’s very compact in your hand,” said Yu.

The phones will come in Emerald Green, Space Silver, Cosmic Purple and Black, with Forest Green and Orange also available as a vegan leather coating.

Huawei’s iconic ‘quad’ camera module, which was first introduced in the Mate 20 series last year, has been updated to feature four cameras rather than three cameras and a flash. The four cameras (40MP ‘Cine’ camera, 40MP ‘SuperSensing’ camera, 8MP telephone camera, and 3D depth-sensing camera) are housed within a circular metallic ‘halo’ rather than within a square module, while the flash is housed nearby. According to Huawei, this set of cameras allow users to take “stunning photos that rival high-end cameras”, as well as low-light video and ultra-slow-motion video at 7,680 fps.

Richard Yu speaks in Munich

REUTERS/Michael Dalder

Image credit: REUTERS/Michael Dalder

The phones contain the Kirin 990 SoC, first unveiled at the 2019 IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin earlier this month. Notably, the Kirin 990 features ‘big-tiny’ or ‘Da Vinci’ architecture, combining large and tiny neural processing units for more efficient AI processing, a 16-core GPU and a built-in 5G modem with 14 antennas in its 5G variant.

The Mate 30 has a 4200mAh battery, while the Mate 30 Pro has a 4500mAh battery.

Despite their impressive hardware offerings, Huawei’s latest range of smartphones faces the serious roadblock of lack of access to Google apps and services.

While the Mate 30 phones run on EMUI 10 – the latest version of Huawei’s take on the basic, open-source Android OS, with new features such as dark mode and ‘AI gesture control’ – the phones will not have access to basic Google apps such as Maps and Photos, or the Play Store. Yu said that the new phones would use the Huawei Mobile Services app system, App Gallery. While the Play Store has more than 2.5 million different apps, AppGallery has approximately 45,000 apps.

The lack of access to Google services – particularly the Play Store – could be critical for Huawei’s international consumer business, as European customers may be unwilling to invest in a high-end smartphone without access to familiar software.

The Mate 30 is priced from €799, with the Mate 30 Pro starting from €1,099. The Mate 30 Pro 5G starts at €1,199. A luxury leather-covered Porsche version, meanwhile, will cost €2,095. It is not yet known when the Mate 30 will be available in Europe.

At the same event in Munich, Yu also demonstrated a number of other devices, including the Earbuds 3 wireless headphones – which attracted attention at IFA for their strong noise-cancellation performance – and the GT-2 smartwatch, with “class-leading battery life”.

Massive seabed auction could double UK’s offshore wind power

September 19th, 2019 no comment

If fully used this would nearly double offshore power output in the UK and represents more than two times the amount of energy that will be generated by the upcoming Hinkley Point C nuclear plant.

The tender process will take place over the next year and will encourage developers to include the latest technical innovations in their projects while ensuring geographically dispersed facilities in order to balance capacity across the country.

The UK currently has more offshore wind power installed than any other country and the cost to build new farms has fallen to record lows in recent years.

The latest round, which is being launched by The Crown Estate, a body that acts as manager of the seabed around the UK, focuses on water depths out to 60 metres which are suitable for fixed foundation technology.

The move comes ahead of an expected announcement from the government on the latest auction for renewable energy schemes which will reveal the price that will be paid for electricity from new offshore wind power projects.

The first seabed rights could be awarded in early 2021, The Crown Estate said. Its last major licensing round for offshore wind took place a decade ago, with winners including Britain’s SSE and Norway’s Statkraft announced in early 2010.

Huub den Rooijen, director of energy, minerals and infrastructure at the Crown Estate, said: “The UK is home to the world’s largest offshore wind market, attracting global investment, meeting UK electricity needs, and playing a crucial role in the transition to a net-zero economy.”

The fourth major leasing round is “the next chapter in this remarkable transition”, he said.

“Round four projects will take the UK sector from strength to strength, delivering clean, affordable, home-grown electricity and joining a robust pipeline of projects in UK waters, which together will deliver a fourfold increase in operational offshore wind capacity by 2030.”

Industry body RenewableUK said the UK’s current capacity of 8.5 gigawatts of offshore wind provides more than 8 per cent of annual electricity needs, while new projects already under way would increase capacity to at least 30 gigawatts – generating at least one-third of the country’s power by 2030.

RenewableUK’s chief executive Hugh McNeal said: “It’s great to see the UK stepping up its ambition with a new round of offshore wind development now under way.

“This will engender further momentum in our world-leading offshore wind sector, securing billions of pounds in investment in new infrastructure.

“These powerhouses of the future will create thousands of highly skilled jobs, continuing the rapid regeneration of our coastal communities, as well as benefiting our UK-wide supply chain.”

In March the energy minister at the time Claire Perry said that offshore wind will account for more than 30 per cent of British electricity supply by 2030.

Johnson’s 2025 full-fibre rollout pledge does not ‘grasp the extent’ of the problem

September 18th, 2019 no comment

In a report on rural broadband and mobile, the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee said that it welcomed Johnson’s commitment, but was “unclear” how the target would actually be met.

“Although there has been a significant improvement in both broadband and mobile coverage since 2015, it has only barely kept up with increasing demand,” the report reads.

“Many rural communities and businesses, particularly in the hardest to reach areas, still struggle as a result of poor or no access to broadband and poor coverage of mobile data services.

“The digital divide between urban and rural areas, and between rural towns and sparser rural settlements, continues to marginalise communities and be the cause of significant frustration.

“Given the continued challenges posed to rural communities and businesses, we are not confident that the Government has fully grasped the extent of the problem, the scale of the challenge, or the wider cost of poor connectivity for rural communities and the rural economy.”

It added that poor connectivity has been hampering rural businesses and prevents people from using online services like the rest of the country does.

Johnson first pledged to install full-fibre connections across the country by 2025 as part of his Tory leadership bid – an acceleration of the original 2033 target.

Last month, senior figures from the UK’s telecoms industry wrote to the Prime Minister to say “work needs to start now” to meet the target and urged him to tackle the necessary regulatory issues within the next year.

Whereas connections that rely on copper wires tend to be slower, full-fibre networks use fibre-optic cables to connect homes directly to broadband services, making them capable of delivering speeds greater than one gigabit per second (Gbps).

Ofcom reported that as of February 2018, 95 per cent of UK premises had access to the internet at speeds of up to 24 megabits per second (Mbps).

The final 5 per cent, however, are the most difficult to connect, infrastructure-wise. Under the current Universal Service Obligation, the government is obliged to provide a download speed of 10 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s to all homes in the UK by 2020, although some peers have objected to the plan saying that the proposed speeds are too low.

Kim Mears, managing director for strategic infrastructure development at Openreach – the firm which looks after the UK’s broadband network – said that while the company is “determined to lead the way” in installing new connections, she admitted “building full-fibre technology to more than 30 million front doors won’t be quick or easy”.

She added: “The vast majority of the £33bn required will come from the private sector, so we welcome the committee’s recognition that government can do much more to help the industry go further and faster.”

Organic solar cells harvest indoor light to power IoT devices

September 17th, 2019 no comment

While the cells may only be capable of producing small amounts of power, it should be enough to feed many IoT (internet of things) devices that have low requirements.

IoT devices are expected to proliferate in the coming years; many will be sensors that detect and measure moisture, particle concentrations, temperature and other parameters.

The demand for small and cheap sources of renewable energy is increasing rapidly so that the devices can be powered without the need for frequent and expensive battery replacements.

Organic solar cells are flexible, cheap to manufacture and their light-absorbing layer consists of a mixture of donor and acceptor materials. This gives considerable flexibility in tuning the solar cells so that they are optimised for different spectra – for light of different wavelengths.

Researchers in Beijing, China, led by Jianhui Hou, and Linköping, Sweden, led by Feng Gao, have developed a new combination of donor and acceptor materials, with a carefully determined composition, to be used as the active layer in an organic solar cell.

The combination absorbs exactly the wavelengths of light that surround us in typical indoor environments such as living rooms, the library and in the supermarket.

Two variants of the solar cell were developed, one with an area of 1cm2 and the other 4cm2. The smaller solar cell was exposed to ambient light at an intensity of 1000 lux, and the researchers observed that as much as 26.1 per cent of the energy of the light was converted to electricity.

The organic solar cell delivered a high voltage of above 1V for more than 1000 hours in ambient light that varied between 200 and 1000 lux. The larger solar cell still maintained an energy efficiency of 23 per cent.

“This work indicates great promise for organic solar cells to be widely used in our daily life for powering the internet of things”, said Feng Gao, senior lecturer at Linköping University.

“We are confident that the efficiency of organic solar cells will be further improved for ambient light applications in coming years, because there is still a large room for optimisation of the materials used in this work”, said Jianhui Hou, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Last year researchers found that waking up IoT devices using inaudible ultrasound patterns could greatly improve standby battery life.

Smart meter rollout delayed to 2024

September 17th, 2019 no comment

They will now have until 2024 to complete the process, a four-year extension to the original 2020 date, following warnings that the original deadline would not be met in time.

In 2017 it emerged that the rollout was being hampered by a shortage of installers, weak mobile network signals and interoperability problems.

It was also revealed that some of the first-generation devices did not support switching energy suppliers and so many waited until new technology was available.

The EU has decreed member states must implement smart metering across at least 80 per cent of households by 2020 wherever it is cost-effective to do so – although with the UK soon to leave the Union it may become exempt from this requirement.

Consumer group Citizens Advice has been calling for an extension to the deadline since August 2018.

The body’s chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Extending the smart meter rollout deadline is a common-sense move that is good news for consumers. It’s been clear for a long time that the 2020 deadline wouldn’t be met and today’s announcement finally recognises that reality.

“This new deadline gives suppliers time to fix ongoing technical problems and make sure customer service isn’t sidelined as the rollout continues. We’ve seen some energy companies use aggressive techniques to try to persuade people to have smart meters fitted as soon as possible to meet the existing timeline.

“It’s also apparent that the cost of the rollout is escalating, and the public are picking up the tab through their energy bills. People will still benefit in the long run, but today’s cost-benefit analysis shows focusing on speed hasn’t worked.”

The Department for Business, Energy and industrial Strategy estimate that billions will be saved every year from their implementation due to improved energy efficiency, fewer site visits and meter readings, and better forecasting of energy use.

The Government said it predicts only half of households will have a smart meter by 2020 and that the cost of the rollout will rise from £11bn in 2016 to £13.5bn today.

The number of smart meters in homes has risen steadily over the past few years, although the speed of growth has slowed more recently as problems start to arise.

Lawrence Slade, chief executive of the sector’s trade association, Energy UK, said: “Suppliers have been working tirelessly to meet the 2020 deadline and offer all households a smart meter so that as many customers as possible can benefit by saving energy and money – as millions of smart meter owners have already reported.”

In June a team at the University of British Columbia in Canada announced it had developed a system to improve the resilience of smart meters to hacking.

Wasted gas levels worldwide reach record high; enough to heat every home in UK

September 17th, 2019 no comment

The value of gas lost to flaring also increased by 29 per cent, up $3.67bn to $16.4bn (£13.19bn), thanks to the dual effects of the rising price of natural gas and the increased volume of gas flared, research by data analytics business Brainnwave has found.

Gas flaring is used at oil refineries and processing plants to manage pressure levels, but campaigners are calling for companies to be more responsible in reducing the release of harmful gases into the atmosphere.

The volume of gas flared rose from 120.6 billion cubic metres in 2017 to 145 billion cubic metres in 2018 – the highest since records became available in 2012.

According to the World Bank, 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year is emitted into the atmosphere.

Brainnwave pinpointed gas flaring events throughout the world using night-time satellite imagery from visible infrared radiometer data. That data was then used to measure the volume of gas flared.

According to the data, Russia, Iraq, Iran and the US were the four most wasteful nations in 2018, flaring over 70 billion cubic metres of natural gas – enough to heat 38 million homes for a year, more than all the homes in the UK and Ireland combined.

The four countries also flared more gas than the next 30 most wasteful nations combined.

Steve Coates, CEO of Brainnwave, said: “Gas flaring is a major environmental issue, but it is also a commercial one. Oil producers often lack the infrastructure to export natural gas from their wells and face few alternatives but to flare it in order to reach oil.

“There are commercially viable solutions to gas flaring, but they rely on the technology being available and the financial incentives to make sense.”

Governments, oil companies and development institutions around the world have been encouraged to endorse the World Bank’s ‘Zero Routine Flaring by 2030′ initiative.

£22m fusion energy research facility to open in Rotherham in 2020

September 16th, 2019 no comment

The facility will see UKAEA working with industrial partners to put the UK in a strong position to commercialise nuclear fusion as a major source of low-carbon electricity in the years ahead.

Located at the heart of the UK’s advanced manufacturing region, the UKAEA base will bring 40 highly-skilled jobs to the South Yorkshire area and foster increased collaboration with research organisations including the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC).

The Rotherham facility will be at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, whose existing occupiers include Rolls-Royce, McLaren Automotive and both the AMRC and NAMRC. It will be funded as part of the Government’s Nuclear Sector Deal delivered through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. An additional £2m of investment is coming from Sheffield City Region’s Local Growth Fund.

The key role of the facility will be to develop and test joining technologies for fusion materials and components, e.g. novel metals and ceramics. These will then be tested and evaluated under conditions simulating the inside of a fusion reactor, including high heat flux, in-vacuum and strong magnetic fields.

It is hoped that the initiative will help UK companies win contracts as part of ITER – the international fusion project being built in the south of France. It may also enable technology development for the first nuclear fusion power plants in the future, which are already being designed.

The planned 25,000 sq/ft facility will require regular supplies of specialist metals and materials, providing opportunities for regional companies in the UK.  

Colin Walters, director of the National Fusion Technology Platform at UKAEA, said: “Momentum is growing in fusion research and we believe the opening of this facility in South Yorkshire represents a practical step towards developing power plants.

“This facility will provide fantastic opportunities for UK businesses to win contracts and put UKAEA in a great position to help deliver the necessary expertise for the first nuclear fusion power stations.”

Andrew Storer, chief executive officer of the Nuclear AMRC, added:”We’re delighted to welcome UKAEA to the Advanced Manufacturing Park, and to the Sheffield region’s world-leading cluster of applied innovation. We look forward to working with UKAEA at their new facility to develop manufacturing techniques for fusion power plants and help UK manufacturers win work in this growing global market.  

“This development has the potential to create many jobs in the local supply chain as fusion technology matures. This is a huge deal for Sheffield and the North, and we are really pleased to have played a part in this and to be working with UKAEA.”

Fusion research aims to copy the process that powers the Sun for a new large-scale source of clean energy here on Earth. When light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. To do this, fuel is heated to extreme temperatures – hotter than the centre of the Sun – forming a plasma in which fusion reactions take place. A commercial power station will use the energy produced by fusion reactions to generate electricity.

It is anticipated that nuclear fusion could have huge potential as a long-term energy source that is environmentally responsible, with no carbon emissions, and inherently safe, with abundant and widespread fuel resources, as the raw materials are found in seawater and the Earth’s crust.

Researchers at UKAEA are developing a type of fusion reactor known as a ‘tokamak’ – a magnetic chamber in which plasma is heated and controlled. The research is focused on preparing for the international tokamak experiment ITER, now being built in southern France. ITER – due to start up in 2025 – is designed to validate technology for the prototype power stations that are expected to follow it, and if successful should lead to electricity from fusion being on the grid by 2050.

Fusion research at UKAEA is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and by the European Union under the Euratom treaty.

‘Renewable is doable’, says Unilever, as it hits 100 per cent green energy goal

September 16th, 2019 no comment

The consumer goods giant supported the transition partly through supporting the development of local renewable energy markets, with 38 per cent of its grid electricity supplied through corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and green electricity tariffs.

Many big tech firms are also trying to increase their usage of renewables: in April 2019, Apple said that nearly all of its manufacturing overseas is now powered with green energy, while Google has also made similar moves.

Unilever’s ultimate goal is to become a carbon neutral company before 2030 and has been working with partners around the world to generate renewable electricity at its own sites, with solar power in use at facilities in 18 countries.

The company said that it has halved carbon emissions per tonne of production since 2008, due to its energy efficiency programme.

The company may be trying to clean up its act after facing numerous criticisms over the years. Its activities have caused deforestation in Indonesia and it was blamed for a salmonella outbreak in India after the disease infected some of its cereals.

It is also trying to allay global concerns about single-use plastics and has promised its packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Marc Engel, chief supply chain officer at Unilever, said: “The climate emergency is one of the most urgent challenges we’re all facing. Our team have worked hard to secure renewable energy contracts for our sites across five continents, accelerating the delivery of our 100 per cent renewable energy targets.

“Of course, there is more work to do, but we hope that today’s announcement will inspire further action elsewhere and help to prove that it is possible to combat the climate crisis and hold global warming at 1.5°C. Renewable is doable.”

Sam Kimmins, Head of RE100 at The Climate Group, said: “Congratulations to Unilever – achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity across five continents means the company is quickly advancing on its RE100 goal as it works to become a ‘carbon neutral’ company by 2030.

“Through its membership of RE100, global companies like Unilever are sending a strong demand signal to the few markets where renewables remain harder to access. They want to be able to source renewable electricity locally at an affordable price – and they want to do that now.”