The energy crisis is pressing science at CERN and other key sites | Whuff News

A pressure gauge in the cryogenics plant at CERN.

A pressure gauge in the Large Hadron Collider’s cryogenics, which accounts for more than half of the accelerator’s power consumption.Credit: Adam Hart-Davis/SPL

As energy prices rise due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which could lead to a global recession and fears of blackouts – especially in Europe – science labs are not spared. The situation has raised some alarm at CERN, the European laboratory for particle-physics outside Geneva, Switzerland, which already has a large number of cases in normal years.

On September 26, CERN’s governing council agreed to significantly reduce energy consumption at the facility in 2022 and 2023, after Électricité de France (EDF), the French electricity supplier, asked the lab to reduce the load on its network. The council decided to bring forward the lab’s annual technical stop for two weeks, to 28 November, and to reduce work by 20% in 2023 – which will be largely achieved by closing for four weeks at the beginning of next year, in mid-November. . Operations will resume as planned at the end of February, 2023 and 2024.

CERN has also developed plans with EDF to reduce the energy balance, in case energy consumption should be further reduced in the coming months. Small steps were taken to reduce overall energy consumption on the CERN campus, including turning off street lights at night and delaying the start of the building’s heating for one week.

You keep your cool

CERN’s flagship machine, the 27-kilometer-long Large Hadron Collider, is the most power-hungry, largely because of its 27-megawatt liquid-helium cryogenic system, the largest of its kind in the world. During normal operations, CERN’s annual electricity consumption is about 1.3 terawatt hours (for comparison, nearby Geneva uses about 3 terawatt hours per year). The LHC’s maintenance seasons are scheduled during the winter months, to save on its bills. Consumption drops by about 0.5 terawatt hours during extended shutdowns, as occurred in 2020-22. After extensive upgrades, the LHC restarted in April, and the total cost of electricity is expected to be about 88.5 million Swiss Francs (US$89 million), says Joachim Mnich, director of research and computing at CERN. The job cuts will be much lower next year, although not by the full 20%, because the accelerator magnets still need to be kept cool while the site is offline.

The move will help save money amid rising energy prices, but Mnich says cost was not the main driver of the decision. Natural gas is the main source of electricity and heating in winter in many parts of Europe, and the CERN council wants to reduce their use of limited resources, leaving many people to heat their homes. “This is not what we save money, but as a sign of social responsibility,” he said.

The long-term shutdown will affect scientists who rely on CERN’s other accelerators for their experiments. Those scheduled for the last two weeks of this year will have to be postponed until next year, and competition for next year’s season cuts will be hotter than usual, Mnich says. The total number of proton-proton collisions at the LHC will be fewer than usual this year and beyond, but Munich does not expect it to have a major impact on science. “On the scale of the entire run 3, which will run until the end of 2025, there will be little effect,” he said.

Electricity prices are also rising significantly in the United Kingdom, although institutions there will not say how this will affect their operations in the short term. A spokesman for Imperial College London says that, although the university, like all large organisations, is affected by rising energy costs, “we are confident of our resilience and ability to respond to the challenge”. The Science and Technology Facilities Council, which runs several large facilities, including the Diamond Light Source in Discot, says that all its facilities have “worked on energy reduction plans for many years to meet net-zero commitments and reduce costs.”.

Belt tightening

The German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg is also affected by high prices. The facility buys most of its electricity up to three years in advance, to avoid sudden price increases. So it has already bought 80% of its energy needs in 2023, 60% in 2024 and 40% in 2025. But the lab will have to make a quick decision about buying the remaining 20% ​​next year, says Wim Leemans, director of the accelerator division. “With current prices we can’t afford it,” he said.

DESY is in discussions with the German government to seek additional funding to maintain the activities, which make important scientific contributions in areas important to the future of Europe, such as the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, battery technology and solar energy, Leemans. shows. But its managers are also preparing for the worst. Next week, they will run tests to see if active instruments such as the European X-ray Free-Electron Laser and the PETRA III synchrotron at low energy levels will affect the experiments. And as a last resort, DESY is also considering a long winter break, like CERN. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure our 3,000 users aren’t left out to dry,” says Leemans.

Research centers in other parts of the world are also facing rising energy costs. Bill Matiko, chief operating officer at Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon, says electricity costs make up a “significant” portion of the lab’s annual budget, about 8%. Although Canada’s domestic energy production, particularly natural gas, means the situation is not as dire as in Europe, prices are still rising due to high inflation – electricity prices rose 4% on September 1, and will rise again. with another 4% on April 1 of the following year. About half of the increase was expected and budgeted, Matiko said. “It’s something we can easily address by moving things around in the budget,” he said.

CLS, like many large, energy-intensive facilities, has been working to improve energy efficiency for the past several years, Matiko said. For example, all the lights in the facility were replaced with LED bulbs, and the cryo modules were replaced with new high-efficiency cooling devices. “Those have significant savings in terms of energy consumption,” he says. “The energy bills are part of what could have been otherwise.”

Labs in North America, like CLS, will not want to reduce the working time, but probably will not be able to accommodate European scientists who lose the time of the beam. CLS is already oversubscribed, Matiko said. With the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois, closing in April 2023 for at least a 12-month upgrade, beam time in North America is about to be constrained as well. “Already, some APS users want to access our beams,” said Matiko. “There will be a huge increase in demand for us and others.”

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