The end of the road for Didcot A?

25 July 2012

Last week the team at Aether were joined by some colleagues from the UK emissions inventory team at AEA for a tour of Didcot A power station, one of the UKs largest predominantly coal firing facilities at 2,000 MW (enough to provide electricity to 2 million homes!). In addition, a small amount of biomass is now also burnt at the plant. The tour provided a great chance to get away from the desks and get an up-close idea of just what goes into keeping the UK energised.

It’s fair to say that the 300 acre site has the slight feel of a ghost town. Commissioned in the late 1960s, there used to be well over 2,000 workers at the site, though I dare say the figure isn’t anywhere near that these days due to the computerisation being used. During our two hours on site the only human activity we saw was in the form of our very friendly and informative tour guides, a couple of fork lift drivers and the three men working in the control room. That in itself is quite a bizarre mixture of the old and the new. I imagine in the 1970s it was technology at its grandest, reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise. The huge computers, screens and flashing beacons showing the latest data coming through from each of the four 500MW generators are all still there. But the control room engineers now sit at flat screens much like any PC user, providing all the information at a more usable scale.

Energy generation in the UK is currently going through an interesting and testing transition. With the European Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) introduced in 2001, power stations with a thermal output of >50MW either have to opt in to new environmental standards or opt out and close after 20,000 hours or 2016. The power stations choosing to opt in can either meet stringent emission limit values or be part of the National Emission Reduction Plan (NERP).

The result is that a number of existing power stations have had to implement abatement equipment with large associated costs, to reduce emissions to an acceptable level. Didcot A has opted out under the LCPD, and therefore will shut down at some time within this period, as it has chosen not to install systems such as flue-gas desulphurisation. In the meantime, the power plant burns low sulphur coal, the majority of which is imported from Russia. Whilst the specific date for closure of Didcot A is not yet certain, our tour guide explained that they are currently working to plans assuming likely closure in 2013.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years at both the national and local scale. As a local resident to the power station, the cooling towers provide a significant landmark, particularly as a navigation point when I first moved to the area four months ago! However, I’m sure that whilst it will seem a little odd for locals when Didcot A is eventually decommissioned, the national issue is of most pressing concern. With a number of power stations set to close in the next few years, there is a significant lack of immediate replacement. The Government have expressed an interest in new nuclear stations, but with a number of energy providers pulling out of development plans, the UK will need to find more immediate ways to fill the shortfall.  It seems that increased energy imports are the most likely result, at least in the short term.

See all news


Don't just take our word for it...

“Chris was excellent to work with and always very pro active in making suggestions, taking work forward and applying his considerable technical knowledge in effective ways.”

Robert Vaughan, Defra Air Quality Team

“It is always an absolute pleasure working with Aether. I always know what is expected of me. Their work ethic is of a very high standard and projects are always handled in a very professional manner. I have learnt many skills in terms of project management, quality control and workshop training styles from Aether and I hope to carry these principles forward in my own work. I look forward to collaborating with Aether more in the future.”

Luanne Stevens, Gondwana

“The Aether team were a joy to work with and I would recommend the consultancy - the service provided throughout the process was exceptional. Where there were problems, they provided solutions. The team were working to very short time scales but were able to deliver a high quality piece of work within the specified time frame.”

Sefton Council - for the Merseyside Atmospheric Emissions Inventory

“Aether delivered training workshops and generated learning materials for our SSN members, providing technical content in a manageable and comprehendible format. We particularly benefitted from their extensive knowledge and ability to interpret the needs of our members into the training materials.”

Jennifer Anderson, Sustainable Scotland Network

“Professional team and very collaborative communication. Effective result in terms of suggestions for improvement in the quality of the inventory and proposals on how to streamline specific topics.”

Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research

“Aether's approach to couple innovative visualisation with high expertise manpower delivered valuable insights for our inventory work.”

Umweltbundesamt (Germany)

“Aether is a great partner for work in the area of European Air Emissions. The team was committed, reliable, well organised and had a deep technical understanding and motivated other partners with their good spirit.”

Umweltbundesamt: Environment Agency Austria

“The Aether team were a joy to work with and I would recommend the consultancy - the service provided throughout the process was exceptional.”

Clare Bayley, Defra

“Engaging Aether to support us to develop the first GHG Inventory System and first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the United Republic of Tanzania has been a rewarding experience due to their high level of professionalism, creativity, timeliness and value for money. We will definitely consider Aether in our future initiatives.”

Abbas Kitogo, Programme Specialist Energy and Climate Change, UNDP Tanzania

“A heartfelt thank you to all the Aether team for this very comprehensive review – this is certainly turning out to be one of the most beneficial capacity building projects I have ever been involved in.”

Saviour Vassallo, Senior Environment Protection Officer, Malta Resources Authority

Contact us

Get in touch

Call us on +44 1865 261 466, complete the short form below, or go to the Contact page

 Security code