Climbing mount improbable

A picture tells a thousand words.

So reflect on the image above. It shows fuel shares of total world energy supply, including the contribution of fossil sources (oil, coal and gas), nuclear power (providing for about 16% of global electricity demand and 6.5% of all energy use) and renewables (13% of total energy). So, renewables already provides almost double that of nuclear power. Of course, that’s where the breakdown of renewables is rather revealing. Almost all of it comes from burning biomass (wood, crop residue, dung etc.) and hydropower. Of the remaining 0.5%, over 4/5 of that comes from geothermal — almost all based on tapping surface volcanic/hydrothermal heat (essentially nothing to date from hot dry rocks). ‘Technosolar’, as Hayden calls it (wind, solar thermal, solar PV, wave) constitutes just over 0.1%.

The data above come from a useful factsheet produced by the International Energy Agency in 2007, entitled Renewables in Global Energy Supply. The data above are actually for 2004, so technosolar’s contribution has increased a little since them — a few 10ths of a percent — mostly from a ramp up of wind. Indeed, page 5 has a particularly telling statistic. Over the 33 years between 1971 and 2004, the two main technosolar energy sources grew much faster than any other form of renewable energy. Solar grew by an annual rate of 28.1% and wind by a whopping 48.1% per year. Think on that. At a growth rate of 48.1% p.a. over a 33 year period, wind power has staggered up to 0.064% of total energy supply. So don’t be fooled by people throwing around huge growth rates for technosolar as though this means they’ll soon overtake coal, oil and gas (or indeed nuclear) and thus save us from dangerous climate change — when growing from a rock bottom base, high growth rates are prettying meaningless.

The title of the post comes from a book by Richard Dawkins — about how seemingly improbable and highly complex forms of life can arise by evolution, given vast amounts of time. The same may possibly be true of technosolar — it may supplant all other energy sources, given enough time. I doubt it, but anyway, that’s time we simply haven’t got.

Tom Blees, author of Prescription for the Planet, said this to me about the above diagram:

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Next time someone tell you how renewables are enough, show them this picture from the IEA.

Look at Germany for a case study in the potential of renewables. For over 25 years, Germany has had massive public subsidization of wind power to the point where 38% of the world’s wind power is produced there, as well as about half of all the world’s solar power. The upshot? Subsidies for this “green” electricity of up to 7 times USA average rates, and Germany now produces about 6% of their energy from wind and a trivial 0.5% from solar (this from a pro-solar website, no less). Meanwhile people are willing to claim that ten years would be enough to get to 10-15% wind power in places like Australia and the US, despite the fact that 25 years has brought Germany to about 6-7% with massive subsidies.

If Germany can provide such a tiny fraction of their electricity needs now, what happens as they switch to an all-electric future? The idea that Germany and the USA and other developed countries can provide all their energy needs from renewables strains credulity to the breaking point if you look at what Germany’s done, and the fact that they’ve got over two dozen coal-fired power plants on the drawing board now is a damning testimony to the failure of their all-renewable fantasy. But even if, against all odds and at staggering cost, Germany and other developed countries could conceivably pull off an all-renewable energy future, would the entire world follow suit? It wouldn’t matter a bit if Chinese and Indian coal-fired power plants continued to belch forth CO2. We’d all still be cooked (metaphorically if not literally).

Check out the graph again. The 6.5% nuclear portion we’ll want to replace with IFRs (integral fast reactors), some sooner, some later as the current LWR (light water reactor nuclear) plants age and go offline. We also want to replace much — I would say most — of the 10.6% now filled by combustible renewables, since much of that is wood and dung that contributes a lot to air pollution and ill health among the poorest of the poor. And we want to replace all the fossil fuels. I believe, if you ask this directly of anyone in the “all-renewables” crowd, you’d be able to make your point and get them to agree that ultimately these are the goals. So that means we want to build capacity to equal about 97% of the current energy used in the world today.

But wait, that’s not enough. For virtually every projection anticipates a demand at least twice that much by mid-century, even without taking into account the energy we’ll need for massive desalination and pumping projects, which are inevitable. So we’re talking about a minimum of 200% of todays entire energy production by mid-century. Hydro will likely not increase much, so of that demand of 2050 we can probably safely assume that hydro won’t provide more than 2% (that would assume almost double today’s hydroelectric production).

Now let’s look at that last bar graph on the right. Nearly all of it is from geothermal, primarily because of Iceland and a few other easy hot spots in California and elsewhere. Will we make technological leaps in geothermal technology to allow us to use geothermal everywhere and solve our energy problems with one fell swoop? It would be nice to think so, but experts on the subject seems to be shaking their heads and crossing their fingers, recognizing the serious difficulties they face in making that vision a reality. We can’t bank our futures on it.

Lacking such a transformative development, that leaves energy systems that currently provide about 0.1% of the world’s energy with the herculean task of providing at least 200% of current energy production, and all this by 2050. Look again at what Germany’s accomplished after a couple decades of focusing on wind and solar power. Look again at their plans to build dozens of coal-fired power plants.

I’d say “Wake up and smell the roses” but for the fact that the only thing we’ll smell is coal smoke.

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Ahh ha!”, cry the anti-nukes, in a retort that hints of schadenfreude. ” If renewables can’t supplant fossil energy in time, as you claim, then why do you expect nuclear power to fare any better?” (The even more disingenuous [or seriously  misguided] actually claim that we should pursue ONLY renewables because nuclear is “too slow”, with the absurd implication that technosolar will somehow be faster). The answer is fairly obvious, even putting aside for a moment the fact that nuclear currently supplies 50 times more energy to modern society than technosolar.

Coal, oil and gas rule because they’re a highly concentrated form of stored energy. Indeed, hydro and biomass win the renewable stakes hands down because of the fact that they are the only natural forms of stored energy (along wit geothermal — powered by natural nuclear decay). Nuclear fission power draws on the most concentrated form of stored energy that we are currently able to harness. It requires no backup. It needs no new transmission infrastructure. It can be installed in the same places that the coal and gas plants used to occupy (for these must all be ripped out  — we cannot afford to let them ‘retire in old age’). It is the only plausible replacement for the huge number of new coal-fired power stations being installed at a frantic pace in the China and India. Anyone who says we don’t need nuclear is gambling recklessly with the future of our civilisation, and much else that we value on this planet.

——————————————-

Postscript (in response to comments):

I don’t think the discussion on renewables is over. To close them out as a useful option would be as reckless as the oft-cited position that ‘the debate’ on nuclear power is over (i.e. the case that many in the environmental movement posit, that nuclear should be excluded). No. What we need is a decent (and rising) price on carbon emissions (a tax) to give ALL non-carbon sources a level playing field, plus some other government incentives to fast-track ALL zero-carbon energy sources (including S-PRISM [a Gen IV nuclear blueprint] certification) with investments in RD&D (research, development & demonstration/deployment) commensurate with what they are delivering — plus some ‘hot bets’.

Some otherwise well-meaning environmentalists certainly need to change their attitude and stop giving nuclear power such grief, and the Australian governments need to get over their nonsensical ‘no nuclear power’ party policy — as soon as possible. We cannot give up on nuclear or renewable energy. We must also recognise that we currently DON’T have the technology commercialised to solve our energy/climate crisis fully. The pursuit of what is now available, and the ramp up of RD&D, including Gen IV nuclear and new forms of storage for renewables, are all critical priorities.

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152 Comments

  1. Well, there’s a glimmer of hope in the USA since a couple weeks ago the new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu went before the Senate Energy Committee in a discussion about Yucca Mountain and essentially told them that we could solve our spent fuel problem with fast reactors and recycling. Though he didn’t say “IFR” it’s exactly what he was talking about. Chu gets it. Whether or not that’ll translate into finally building the thing is another matter. It’s political, as usual.

  2. I think the speed of the wind build in recent years has been due to a mixture of financial incentives, proximity to existing transmission and ease of constructing load balancing gas plant. Take away these complementary factors and the build rate will slow.

    I believe under pseudo business-as-usual at least 50% of electrical output will have to be controllable. It looks like Australia could achieve this with halved CO2 through gas fired generation. That will shadow permanently minor wind and solar so greenies can claim a victory of sorts. When the gas is gone or half CO2 isn’t enough then what?

  3. If we only were to reduce emissions by reducing the carbon intensity of energy via the deployment of zero-emission energy sources we would have a very difficult and expensive task ahead of us. The fact is that there are many other ways of reducing emissions — we can reduce our energy usage, we can reduce the carbon intensity of energy by replacing coal-fired power with gas, we can reduce emissions from agriculture by eating and farming less cows and sheep and more kangaroos and vegetables, we can sequester carbon in biomass by ending native forest logging and re-vegetating cleared land.

    I would recommend looking at some of the ‘cost curves’ in the reports by the McKinsey Global Institute. Not only do they suggest that cheap substantial emissions reductions are possible, but also that most of these emissions reductions are not from deployment of zero-emission energy sources. To make these things happen, what we need is comprehensive carbon pricing that is sufficent to drive deep emission reductions, and international cooperation. This may not be as sexy as “100% renewables”, but it is what will get us out of the mess that we are in.

  4. I just wanted to make a remark on growth rates. Suppose that the growth rates quoted above continue into the future, how much energy would be generated by wind and solar in 2020 or 2030? There is 16 years between 2004 and 2020, and 26 between 2004 and 2030. This means that the amount of energy from wind and solar in 2020 would be

    0.064*(1.481^16) + 0.039*(1.281^16) = 36% of 2004 total energy (24% wind, 2% solar)

    The amount of energy from wind and solar in 2030 would be projected to be 1,764% of total 2004 energy. It is of course unlikely that growth rates will continue at their current level (especially until 2030), but this does suggest that high growth rates are not meaningless.

    I would contend that this implies that we need to get carbon pricing right, because that will sustain high growth rates in the cheapest low emissions technologies, whatever they are. This would avoid “picking winners”, regardless of whether the winners are wind, IFRs, or something else. I would also argue that getting the carbon pricing right is more important than arguments about what the winners may be.

  5. Peter that geometric growth may not be valid past a certain point. Some claim for example there is no benefit to Denmark in increasing its wind fraction, around 20% if I recall. Australia has decades of gas but it could be better used in CNG vehicle fuel, ammonia production and local heat applications. I also suspect Australia’s forests aren’t absorbing much additional CO2. However I agree nothing will happen without carbon penalties.

  6. Wind power accounts for around 7% of all electricity generation in Germany and 19% in Denmark. There is clearly a huge scope for increasing these numbers, especially when you take the newly designed 6MW offshore turbines.

    Wind power in Australia will get a huge boost once the Silverton wind farm near Broken Hill is completed. That’s over 1GW of power. How many other places in Oz are there with winds strong enough to make Wind Power viable? Huge amounts.

    Geothermal is also a viable option – it just takes the will to build the necessary plants to drill down 4-6km and then pump the water down. The technology is hardly bleeding edge – it’s just hard work and money.

    Think – if renewable power was in the hands of private enterprise or government, what sort of damage could corruption do? Some, but any damage could easily be fixed. Now think about what would happen if a nuclear power plant was in the hands of corrupt government officials or greedy businessmen. The damage would be far worse – and that’s why I am opposed to Nuclear power, because the potential for disaster is far worse, no matter how “safe” it is designed.

  7. Barry,
    “Next time someone tell you how renewables are enough, show them this picture from the IEA.”
    this is equivalent to showing a graph of nuclear energy in 1970, but using 1965 figures to show that nuclear can never contribute significant amounts of energy.

    Any energy resource growing at 30% per year, is going to look totally different 5 years later. So for wind energy, at end of 2004 world capacity was 43GW(13GWa), but a third of that was installed in 2004 so actual production was about 10GW.
    Now at end of 2008, we have 121GW capacity(40GWa about x4 that would have been counted in 2004) about 0.25% of energy. But wait, electricity from nuclear or wind is 2-3 times more useful than coal on a BTU basis,x2 more useful than natural gas, so it makes more sense to compare proportion of electricity generated from renewables and nuclear( ie low carbon energy) with whats generated by coal and NG.

    In the US it may have taken wind 20 years to get to 1% of electricity production but that’s the take off point, for example wind power produced 1.25% of US electricity in 2008, but capacity at 1st January 2009 would indicate it contributed 1.7% and by May this year will be up to 2%(9GW average out of 450GW average electricity consumption). Still behind hydro in US(7.1%;30GWa) but will be level with hydro in 2013 if average of last 10years growth rate continues.

    In Australia, wind and nuclear can displace coal for electricity production, but neither at present can displace natural gas, but for every GW of NG capacity( or hydro capacity) can have either a GW of nuclear or 2GW of wind capacity.For Australia, with 15GW natural gas and 8.5GW hydro capacity that allows a lot of wind and or nuclear, enough to shut down 3/4 of coal burning for electricity.
    So far wind is up and running with 1.3GW installed capacity a 60% increase in 2008, >1GW planned for (2009?), only 7% of what could be installed(48GWc) without adding more pumped storage.

  8. John,
    You are correct that we need to have 50% of electricity CAPACITY able to supply at peak demand times. This doesn’t mean we have to generate 50% of electricity using NG, capacity factor can be 0.1-0.2 (as in US). In Australia hydro capacity is 8.5GW(18% total capacity) but we only generate 6.5 % of power(capacity factor 0.35).

    Wind, geothermal and solar( and nuclear) could account for >80% of electricity, providing a large capacity of NG plus hydro was available, which we have and could expand both considerably by building additional NG peak plants and adding more reversible turbines to existing hydro dams

  9. Might I make a request for information from Tom Blees? In his post #3, he provides a link to a discussion between Dr Chu and an influential US Energy Committee. He suggests that Chu’s comments relating to nuclear waste disposal are an endorsement of IFR technology in all but name.

    In the UK, the mass media scarcely ever mentions fast fission technology. However, the laser-based fusion approach combined with a fission cloak (Livermere) is gaining a lot of attention for all the potential benefits that Tom Blees claims are available from IFRs. Could Chu not have been referring to this fusion/fission technology which still seems a long way from being attainable from a practical standpoint?

    If what Tom says of the IFR is correct, there would be, as Barry has mentioned on a previous thread, little point in waiting for fusion power and, in any event, no real need for it. Why, then, do the potential benefits of the IFR appear to be so little understood by policy makers and the public at large? I appreciate that many greens and environmentalists are fundamentally opposed to all forms of nuclear energy but this is not what concerns me. Instead, I am asking why those who are open minded on nuclear issues are largely (in my limited experience) unaware of or unconvinced by the claimed advantages of the IFR approach.

  10. Believe it or not, there is massive ignorance of IFR technology in Congress. And when a Congressman wants info, he asks some staffer who doesn’t know science to brief him. That staffer spends 20 minutes on Google and Wikipedia and writes up some lame high-school quality bit and that’s all that gets done. I’ve seen this happen, and it happens over and over again. Then you get people who CLAIM to be experts but actually are anti-nuclear ideologues who get in the politicians’ faces and rant and rave about it, and because they’ve been given a podium by years of ranting sponsored by antie groups they have the patina of expertise, so they get listened to. The end result is an abysmally uninformed Congress crafting energy legislation without the least understanding of the key technology that could get us out of the hole we’re in. This is not idle theorizing. I have, alas, been privy to these very experiences repeatedly during the last year. Very few Congressmen/women are assiduous enough to find out the facts from the real experts, especially if they’re not on energy committees. Heck, they don’t even know how to tell an expert from a charlatan, and there are more of the latter than the former vying for their attention.

    Sometimes a benign dictatorship looks appealing.

  11. According to the most recent (2008) World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency, Denmark’s installed wind capacity is 3.1 GW, during the year these turbines produced 6.1 TWh of electricity. This is about as much electricity as one medium size (~700 MW) coal station generates in a typical year. But with a population of only 5.4 million the national impact seems significant (13% of total electricity). Wind contributed only 4.9% in the much more populous Germany, but that 4.9% equated to over 30 TWh of power (5 times that generated in Denmark).

    And with respect to emissions – Denmark’s performance has been lacklustre. from 2007 shows Denmark at arm’s length from their Kyoto emissions targets, while nuclear countries France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands all look to be in pretty good shape for their respective targets (see the graph near the end of the report).

    Finally looking at the for per-capita emissions shows the same. Denmark produced 9.45 metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide per person each year. Admittedly, this is much better than Canada at 15.8, Australia at 16.5, or the USA at 19.4. But it is not much different from Denmark’s European peers, better than some, still working to achieve the performance of others. Countries with significant nuclear capacity (France and Sweden) both have emissions down around 5.5 metric tonnes per person.

    As an aside, China’s per person emissions are at 2.7 tonnes per person and India’s are less than 1. God help us if those 2 billion [plus] people build fossil plants to achieve our standard of living (at our standard of emissions) – “Do as I say, not as I do”, right?.

    So, I think both Denmark and Germany deserve a rap for their effort, but I see no cost/performance based justification to declare victory and all follow their example.

  12. Let’s try this again (any guesses how much I hate WordPress right now…)

    According to the most recent (2008) World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency, Denmark’s installed wind capacity is 3.1 GW, during the year these turbines produced 6.1 TWh of electricity. This is about as much electricity as one medium size (~700 MW) coal station generates in a typical year. But with a population of only 5.4 million the national impact seems significant (13% of total electricity). Wind contributed only 4.9% in the much more populous Germany, but that 4.9% equated to over 30 TWh of power (5 times that generated in Denmark).

    And with respect to emissions – Denmark’s performance has been lacklustre. This BBC report (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6600585.stm) from 2007 shows Denmark at arm’s length from their Kyoto emissions targets, while nuclear countries France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands all look to be in pretty good shape for their respective targets (see the graph near the end of the report).

    Finally looking at the Nationmaster database for per-capita emissions (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_co2_emi_percap-environment-co2-emissions-per-capita) shows the same. Denmark produced 9.45 metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide per person each year. Admittedly, this is much better than Canada at 15.8, Australia at 16.5, or the USA at 19.4. But it is not much different from Denmark’s European peers, better than some, still working to achieve the performance of others. Countries with significant nuclear capacity (France and Sweden) both have emissions down around 5.5 metric tonnes per person.

    As an aside, China’s per person emissions are at 2.7 tonnes per person and India’s are less than 1. God help us if those 2 billion [plus] people build fossil plants to achieve our standard of living (at our standard of emissions) – “Do as I say, not as I do”, right?.

    So, I think Denmark deserves a rap for their effort, but I see no cost/performance based justification to declare victory and all follow their example.

  13. With you up to that last sentence, but even benign dictatorships have trouble changing direction when reality does. Know of any, in the current world?

    I’d think Chu’s staff could come up with some way to show some useful information.

    Like: tag each claim made with
    citation or lack thereof;
    if citable to a science source,
    quality of journal,
    source of funding, and
    number of citing papers

    That ought to be a fair, balanced, even-handed, bipartisan evaluation system, don’t you think?

    Or there’s a simpler method — take those lobbyist letters, supposed to be public now, and paste them into one of the Plagiarism Detection sites.

  14. Ed,
    On discussions about Denmark and Northern Germany’s wind developments, you need to consider that Denmark(43,000 km^2) and the main region where Germany has developed wind along the Northern coast( 500x100km region) both very close together, for a total of 4,000 km of southern coastline, even Tasmania with 68,000 km^2 would have X5 the wind resources of N Germany and Denmark combined, and much better quality, enabling >40% capacity factor.

    The comments about Denmark having >20% wind energy really are not relevant to the US, Canada, Australia where we are talking about 100 times the land area, with sites separated by >2,000 km.

  15. Barry,
    On this post and the “Solar Fraud” post, you seem to be trying make three points;
    1) renewables(solar, biomass and wind) can never be scaled in time to replace coal and NG( but nuclear can).
    2) renewables need back-up by coal or NG( but nuclear does not)
    3) we have to plan for a 100% increase in electricity demand (by 2050)AND we cannot have any NG or coal use(by 2050).
    I am sorry if I have misrepresented your case or confused your ideas with those of Tom Blees, but this seems to be your main thesis.

    I am not in any way “anti-nuclear” and have an open mind about relative costs versus solar or wind, to make a fair comparison we need to look at countries installing both and compare costs.

    I do think it is worth looking at those 3 assumptions(if they are a reflection of your ideas or others on this site.
    1)Scaling to replace Australia’s 22GW average from coal and 13GW NG capacity( say about 30GW average in total).
    If we want to do that with wind we will need about 90GW wind capacity. Last year we added 0.5GW for a total of 1.3GW(a 60% increase). To get to 90GW from 2020 to 2050 would require 4GWper year. If we assume present growth is only 30%a year 0.5GW, will be about 8GWcapacity /year by 2020, so more than enough.
    To replace that 30GW by nuclear would require one 1GW reactor to be built per year, starting now, also possible( allowing for a 10year build time and siting several reactors at one location).
    2)
    BOTH outcomes will still require about 20GW of peak capacity(nuclear) and 30GW(wind). Today hydro supplies 18GW capacity(6GW average) so a slight increase would be OK for nuclear and a 60% increase would be needed for wind.
    While new reactors may be able to be very flexible it would not make sense to run them at less than 100% capacity if we can use surplus power for pumped storage( 85% efficient)or save hydro for peak( we do this now).
    3)
    We don’t know what electricity demand will be in the future unless we know the price, a low carbon economy may well have better energy use efficiency, or lower growth or both. We may have to stop burning 98% coal but there is no reason why some NG could not continue to be used. Our 13GW NG in place now could still be retained for peak only use(10%capacity) and both NG and existing coal could be used in emergencies as was done in WA when they lost 70% of NG due to a gas explosion.
    Using coal and NG for <5% is very different from using them for 93% of our electricity as we do now; you may want to argue that we can’t even have 5% of our energy derived from FF, I would argue it’s more important to get to only 5% FF first as quickly as possible, and them look at options for replacing the remaining 5%.

  16. Barry Brook – “Look at Germany for a case study in the potential of renewables.”

    Why not look at Spain? Germany has a large baseload thermal coal infrastructure that cannot interact with wind as easily as the newer grids like Spain that has more intermediate and peaking. Also the large feed-in tariff has distorted the market in Germany with wind farms being built in marginal areas.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Spain

    “Steady growth in capacity is expected in 2009, despite the credit crunch, due to long-term investments. Spain’s wind farms are on track to meet a government target of 20,000 MW in capacity by 2010.[1]

    On particular windy days, wind power generation has surpassed all other electricity sources in Spain, including nuclear.[2] On April 18, 2008 the all time peak for wind generation was seen (10,879 MW, 32% of Spain’s power requirement),[3], and on November 24, 2008 the wind energy produced the 43% of the demand[4].”

    We also have our success stories for example Esperance here in WA:

    “The current power system comprises two wind farms (5.6 MW total capacity) which operate in parallel with the 30 MW Esperance gas-fired power station owned and operated by Esperance Power Station Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of WorleyParsons). The majority of the electricity on this system comes from these gas turbines.

    The wind farm includes a control system based on a Master Controller, which talks directly with the gas turbine control system to manage the wind farm output. Due to the distance of the wind farms from the power station, the system incorporates sophisticated high reliability communications equipment using digital radio modems and fibre optic within the wind farms.

    The wind farms generate about 22% of Esperance’s electricity. Maximum instantaneous penetration is just over 65%.”

    It shows what can be done when power plants that can interact automatically are connected with smart controllers.

    “Next time someone tell you how renewables are enough, show them this picture from the IEA.”

    I guess then you will be quite willing to give me one wheat seed on the first square of a chessboard and then 2 on the next and so on ….. :-)

    Nuclear power grew up out of weapons programs. Even without civilian nuclear power we would still have nuclear reactors to support the major and minor powers weapons programs. The same is not true for renewables. They have been important only since climate change has been recognised as a serious problem and have not had the support of defense spending or priorities.

    ” Nuclear fission power draws on the most concentrated form of stored energy that we are currently able to harness. It requires no backup. It needs no new transmission infrastructure. It can be installed in the same places that the coal and gas plants used to occupy (for these must all be ripped out – we cannot afford to let them ‘retire in old age’). “

    Now there are a few assumptions thrown in without any thought. First of all I think that I and others have given sufficient evidence to suggest that nuclear, being baseload, for a balanced grid requires peaking plants in quantity almost as much as widely dispersed wind. You cannot build a grid from baseload alone. Nuclear plant’s capital costs are too high to economically run them at lower capacity factors in load following mode. The only reasonable solution is peaking plant backup exactly what renewables require.

    Second you cannot possibly say a nuclear plant can be built on the site of a coal plant. There are many factors to consider chief of which is there enough cooling water. In a climate change world cooling water is at a premium and already thermal plants have to shut down when the temperatures get too high. If climate change goes the way we think it will then extreme temperature events will increase in frequency leading to more shutdowns. The coal plants you think that you can replace may be in marginal areas now, replacing them with a nuclear plant with greater cooling requirements may just lead to more shutdowns even if there is sufficient cooling water as climate change changes rainfall patterns. You may find that new nuclear plants will have to be be built far from population centers where cooling water can be found leading to the same extra tranmission lines that you say that renewables need.

    Finally as discussed before the tranmission lines need to be built anyway. Most countries electricty grids are creaking ruins from underinvestment. We need to move to a smarter grid connected by HVDC as you spoke about in an earlier post. Current fossil fuel grids with baseload power plants benefit greatly from storage being added as is happening now. Nuclear needs this just as much as renewables.

    I am not sure where you are going with these articles. When I first started reading this blog you were quite happy for renewables to play a major part in the energy mix. Are you polarising your views now to nuclear?

  17. “Second you cannot possibly say a nuclear plant can be built on the site of a coal plant.”

    Sorry that should read:

    Second you cannot possibly say a nuclear plant can always be built on the site of an existing coal plant.

  18. I caught a snippet that an announcement on the MRET was imminent but there is nothing on the official website. If ’20 by 20′ also means 20% bio replacing petro fuels by 2020 I believe that is impossible. The only way I can see it can be met for electrical generation is via pumped hydro. That’s if coal fired energy stored in dams magically becomes renewable and the unused capacity is as great as Neil says. Another possibility of course is that Australia’s average generation actually shrinks in the next 11 years.

    Also much of Australia’s gas fired generation is baseload which won’t help new wind build; for example Adelaide’s 1.2 GWe Torrens Island power station. Thus in all likelihood there will many more gas peaking plants using coal seam gas or LNG shipped from the North West Shelf. This will accommodate a token wind build. I doubt there will be another HVDC cable built comparable to Basslink. In other words there will be no nuclear for Australia in the next decade and minor new wind will be for show purposes.

    PS this is one of the few Australian websites where you can actually mention ‘nuclear’ without being howled down.

  19. “I doubt there will be another HVDC cable built comparable to Basslink.”

    There are other HVDC links in Australia such as Directlink that terminates where I attended High School in Mullumbimby.

    http://www.abb.com/cawp/GAD02181/C1256D71001E0037C1256A14003FAAB1.aspx?

    “Directlink is a high voltage direct current transmission line between Mullumbimby and Bungalora in Australia, used to trade power between New South Wales and Queensland. Directlink, built in 2000, is a 59-km bipolar HVDC cable route, implemented for environmental protection reasons as underground cables.

    The system has three static inverters at each terminal, and three pairs of bipolar transmission cables. Each pair of cables operates at +/- 84 kV and transmits 60 MW, so the total rating of the project is 180 MW minus transmission losses. The history of DirectLink power imports shows that all three poles cannot be guaranteed to operate simulatenously.

    HVDC was chosen for this project for reasons of low environmental impact of the transmission line, and the ability of the IGBT transistor converter stations at each end to accurately control both real and reactive power. Individual water-cooled IGBT modules are rated at 2.5 kV and 500 A, with multiple units connected in series to achieve the required voltage rating.”

    Note that the end inverter stations can control reactive power. This in itself is important for wind as this is one of the weaknesess of constant speed wind turbines.

    “Also much of Australia’s gas fired generation is baseload which won’t help new wind build; for example Adelaide’s 1.2 GWe Torrens Island power station.”

    So how about supplying some sort of breakdown of what is peaking, intermediate and baseload. For instance two of the gas power plants here in Perth at Cockburn (240MW) is combined cycle and is considered intermediate and Pinjar is 576MW of gas turbines and can be considered peaking. WA is well placed with these power plants for a considerable wind penetration.

    http://www.verveenergy.com.au/mainContent/powerStations/Pinjar.html

  20. John,
    “Also much of Australia’s gas fired generation is baseload which won’t help new wind build;”
    this dosn’t seem to be true, yes the Torrens station built in 1960’s using oil fired boilers, converted to NG is base-load, but most others are gas turbine, for example Hallet183MW( peaking power), Quarantine 120MW(peaking). Most listed in VIC and NSW are also gas turbines not combined cycle. I think, that some combined cycle can also be used as peak( ie rapid start).
    Hydro provides 8.5GW of peak now, so that alone can accommodate a lot of nuclear or wind or solar.
    SA has 850MW wind capacity(23%of electrical energy from wind) that’s a bit more than “token wind”.
    How is nuclear tied to the Bass-Link?? and why will not the Bass-Link be increased in capacity? The most urgent grid addition is a WA-Eastern Australia to tie in both major grids, and access all that NG peak power in WA.
    To have electricity 20% from renewable or nuclear by 2020 will need 9GW wind capacity 7.7GW more than present, but at last years addition will get 6GW additional capacity,(0.5GW/yearx12years), so only a slight increase would easily allow that target to be reached. Nuclear may be a stretch to have first power station up and running in 12 years, but still doable.

  21. My theory is there will be a ‘gas explosion’ because Australia can A)do it and B)it is politically easy. When a coal fired plant retires or finds the 5% cap too onerous it can be replaced with perhaps two combined cycle gas plants. Bingo half CO2 though power prices may increase somewhat compared to coal. My prediction is this will happen a lot post CPRS. Tallawarra near Sydney is first off the block.

    A bonus will be that several conspicuous showpiece wind farms can be built and there will be more than enough gas fired to back them up. We can tell ourselves it is major wind but only minor gas keeping the lights on. Some green luminaries such as Lowe think this is the way to go. Everybody is happy..pollies, greenies.. until gas gets expensive as per UK and we want >>50% CO2 cuts.

    Tas Hydro sold Basslink for $1.2 bn. That kind of capital outlay will be harder to find after the stimulus money is spent. I apportion it as $150m apiece for the inverter stations and about $3m for each of the 300 or so kilometres mostly underwater. The Hydro claim they were forced to take $10 a kwh export spot price recently to cover the line rent on the cable. Coincidence or what but the cable enters the water near Bell Bay smelter and emerges in Gippsland near the brown coal. Perhaps they should have a nuke to power the Wonthaggi desal and use Tas hydro for storage of surplus power.

  22. john,
    “We can tell ourselves it is major wind but only minor gas keeping the lights on”
    Would agree with this, the reason being that wind energy will be much cheaper than burning NG, so while the wind is blowing, the NG peak plants will be resting most of the time, saving expensive NG. NG plants will make their money selling very little power at very high peak prices( up to $10/kWh). During the recent power shortages in SA and VIC, all peak providers( TAS Hydro, Snowy Hydro, some NG peak generators ) received the same price maximum set by NEMMCO, $10 a kWh, about X100 normal prices. Some of the wind farms may also have received these prices, because the shortage was not due to lack of wind, it was high temperatures increasing demand.

    This is OK, NG peak plants make money, wind farms make money, we all get electricity with very little CO2 emissions. Only the coal industry misses out.

  23. Dear Barry,

    I followed the discussion on your Solar Fraud piece and was interested when you started this current discussion on Climbing Mount Improbable. I was disappointed with the discussion here as it seemed to be avoiding some of the important issues. I tried to put some intelligent comments together yesterday but they went around in circles. I notice today that the discussion is going back much more to discussing the issues raised in the Solar Fraud discussion so I shall attempt to rephrase my comments in the same way.

    Taking into account your comments in the Solar Fraud discussion I assumed the issue was whether renewables had any role to play in Australia’s Energy Policy – given the criticisms from Hayden about energy density, intermittency and scalability. I understood Hayden to be arguing that they have no meaningful role. Trainer argued they can’t do enough by themselves. These are different conclusions with very different implications for energy policy. A secondary issue was whether nuclear power, following Blees, had a role to play.

    Your, and Tom Blees’ initial contributions to the Climbing Mount Improbable discussion do not seem to advance the Solar Fraud discussion. You provide some historical data and some very negative comments about renewables based on your interpretation of that historical data. Tom Blees does a hatchet job on Germany and renewables. If I take your final sentence ‘…technosolar — it may supplant all other energy sources, given enough time. I doubt it, but anyway, that’s time we simply haven’t got’ and Tom Blees’ comment ‘I’d say “Wake up and smell the roses” but for the fact that the only thing we’ll smell is coal smoke.’ at face value then the discussion is effectively over. Nukes rule, renewables are fairy dust. Is this really your position? I hope not.

    A second problem is that historical data is not a sufficient basis for predicting the future. Neil Howes, #8, makes this point explicitly. The year 2004 was a long time ago given the speed with which technologies, political imperatives and energy prices are changing. That observation also has implications for the extent to which you want to, or can, plan for an inherently uncertain future.

    Using Germany as an example of the failure of renewables policies combined too many issues. Undoubtedly a number of European countries have managed (at a cost) to incorporate significant quantities of renewables into their energy portfolios. A number of the posts to this discussion have made these points, #7, #8? and #13. How far the Europeans can take this process is not clear. But the problems of energy density and intermittency are not insoluble – they are already being partially solved. Whether the solutions offered are cost efficient is a different topic. Scalability is perhaps a different issue.

    It seems to me that there is a continuous tension in the discussion between complete solutions to the problem and incremental changes. The discussion by Ender, #13, about the integration of wind and gas fired in Esperance surely tells us something about scalability and the integration of renewables and conventional power sources. John Newland, #15 and #16, helped my appreciation of some of the details of the system. Neil Howes is obviously a mine of information. Thankyou to you all.

    The discussion has rightly focused on wind – it is the renewable that is making the most of the running at the moment. The European experience tells us that we Australians have a long way to go (up to 15 or 20% of current power production) before running into serious integration problems. Does anyone doubt this – or does the pure Hayden line prohibit even this?

    In Australia of all places solar surely could have a role. There appear to be three strands of technology in the pipeline. Solar thermal is obviously happening, and the problem of diurnal intermittency seems to be in principle solved – either the Ausra way or via molten salts. I attended a lecture at the Shine Dome, presented by Keith Lovegrove of ANU, late last week outlining their work with parabolic dishes. They too have the diurnal problem under control – and they talk about the very high temperatures and pressures they obtain being used in other process to produce liquid fuels, which solve all the intermittency and transport problems (at a cost). I don’t have the technical knowledge or chutzpah to comment on the realism of these proposals. Are they off the planet or should they be having a role (invited if necessary) in your discussions here? Or does the Hayden veto apply to their technology as well?

    Photovoltaics seem to be going in two directions – utility scale does have different needs from rooftop. I follow the blogs on this subject and there is a lot of noise on these topics. First Solar claim to have broken the $1/watt mark with low conversion efficiency thin film – in their Singapore plant they claim 75 cents/w. SunPower claim they are starting production of silicon wafer chips with 23% efficiency, but for more than $1/w. The low cost units might be more attractive in the roof top domain, the high efficiency cells more profitable in the utility domain. Both firms seem to be claiming that they are getting close to grid parity. If the rooftop domain is to take off the retailers have to be there. Costco offer their customers in America 60 watt panels for $300, Amazon have a 400 watt panel for $2,999.99.

    What do these falling prices mean in seven years time when a carbon price of $60/ton puts my metered price up to 18c/kwh? I think it may be a trip to Bunnings and a local working bee to get the panels up. If that is multiplied by a couple of million it will not be a trivial effect. It will be a very substantial effect if some one cracks the battery or fuel cell problem.

    Obviously the United States government is attempting to move things along in this area. Solyndra received a loan guarantee for $500 million from the Department of Energy to build a plant to produce their panels – which have neon tube like collectors. These sit flat on the ground or on a flat roof and come in panels which simply click together. I guess this is all lowering the on-cost of getting from a panel to a system.

    These incremental technological steps have been happening since 2004 and are still happening.

    We all know about the 31% efficiency limit on solar cells. Martin Green from UNSW talks of much higher limits for third generation photovoltaics using thin film technologies. Should we be revising our knowledge as well, and taking account of this in any long term planning we think should be done? Or should we say it is doomed to failure?

    I think there are similar arguments to be made about the technology of both little batteries and big, grid size, batteries, electric motorcars and V2G technologies.

    Nuclear power seems to be leading to fission rather than fusion in these discussions. I have yet to be convinced of the IFR case – I read the free chapter of Tom Blees’ book and wonder whether the paid for chapters (which still have to arrive) will have any impact on my opinions or knowledge. I followed the links to skirsh – but with the same effect.

    In summary I think focusing on the issues of density, intermittency and scalability in your earlier post provided a useful framework for discussion. Density and intermittency seem to me to be technically solved problems. Density may be a problem in a country such as Holland or the United Kingdom – but not Australia or the United States and possibly the world as a whole.

    I would like to thank Tom Blees for the link to Steven Chu at the American Institute of Physics. Secretary Professor Chu’s final comment as recorded in that source was “Ultimately solar will be the answer”. Hear, hear. How does Tom feel about this assessment?

    “The title of the post comes from a book by Richard Dawkins — about how seemingly improbable and highly complex forms of life can arise by evolution, given vast amounts of time. The same may possibly be true of technosolar — it may supplant all other energy sources, given enough time. I doubt it, but anyway, that’s time we simply haven’t got.”
    Charles Darwin talked about natural selection as having taken vast amounts of time to achieve its effects. He also discussed artificial selection – the process of technological evolution we are relying on is clearly a very artificial selection process. Artificial selection created the all the wondrous and divergent breeds of pigeons, dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, petunias, wheat etc that we currently rely on in remarkably short periods of time. I look forward to it doing the same for solar technology.
    I think the glass is at least half full – amongst other things the American government is now going to pay for some of the R and D that we did not get around to, and possibly it will be on line in time for it to have a big impact on us.
    Thank you for having given me the opportunity to comment on these issues and for having stimulated and hosted a public discussion of them.
    Kind regards,
    David Murray

  24. Wonderful discussion. The ideas generated here appear vital to me. While I agree with everyone who says no one can predict the future, I also believe we can likely agree that if the human community keep doing precisely what we are doing now, we will keep getting what we are getting now.

    One indication of faulty reasoning and extreme foolishness, I suppose, would be for us to believe that we can keep overconsuming, overproducing and overpopulating as we are doing now and somehow achieve different results from the ones in existence now.

    If, for example, by doing “more of the same business-as-usual activities” that we are doing now, we could be leading our children down a “primrose path” to a recognizably horrendous fate of some unknowable kind, would reason and common sense not suggest a change in behavior?

    We have self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us who are recommending to the children that all of us can live large and long; that we can conspicuously consume limited resources, pollute the frangible environment, overpopulate the finite planet and ravage the Earth……just the way they are insisting all of us do now. These arrogant and avaricious leaders are living examples of patently unsustainable lives and, yes, they take pride in their gigantic ecological ‘footprints’ and lifestyles based upon excessive consumption and unbridled hoarding. If our children were to keep doing what my not-so-great generation of elders are adamantly advocating and doing now, what is likely to become of them?

    My growing sense of frustration results from a realization that remarkably clear, intellectually honest and morally courageous reports from so many responsible and duty-bound scientists show us that the Masters of the Universe are determined to deny what could somehow be real and not to speak publicly about what they believe to be true regarding the predicament in which the family of humanity finds itself in these early years of Century XXI. Even worse, their minions with leadership responsibilities and duties in environmental organizations have collusively been enjoined from speaking about whatsoever they believe to be true. As a consequence, a conspiracy of silence has been established among all these leaders and the absurdly enriched talking heads in the mass media who eschew intellectual honesty and moral courage in favor of reporting repetitively about whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable and religiously tolerated.

    The silence of so many leaders is deafening, while the duplicitous, disinformational chatter of the talking heads is morally outrageous. What is much worse, sad to say, is that the determination of these leaders and the talking heads to live large and long in such stupendously unsustainable ways — come what may for the children — is not only grossly irresponsible, it is a profound dereliction of their duty to warn, I believe.

    Perhaps change is in the offing.

  25. Some really useful discussion here — not sure what I should answer and what I should leave to others. Someone (Neil I think) mentioned that new reactors would take 10 years to build. It might take 10 years to get the first one built here, because of the requirements to get agreement to proceed, to set up our own NRC or allow foreign certification (like with aircraft), etc. But once construction started, we could put up a Gen III+ reactor such as the AP-1000 or ESBWR in around 3 years, perhaps less (and we could be building more than one at a time) — with a view of course to moving towards full IFR rollout within the decade afterwards as other nations kick this off.

    As I said in another post, reactors become far cheaper if they have the following characteristics: (a) standardised blueprints, (b) simpler design, (c) factory-built modular units, which can be trucked to site, (d) a system within which legalistic impediments are surmounted by sound legislation (one of the big problems in the US). Standardisation and modularity are the game-changers for the nuclear power industry.

    That point is also well made here; I cite:

    Third-generation reactors have:

    — a standardised design for each type to expedite licensing, reduce capital cost and reduce construction time,
    — a simpler and more rugged design, making them easier to operate and less vulnerable to operational upsets,
    — higher availability and longer operating life – typically 60 years,
    — reduced possibility of core melt accidents,
    — resistance to serious damage that would allow radiological release from an aircraft impact,
    — higher burn-up to reduce fuel use and the amount of waste,
    — burnable absorbers (“poisons”) to extend fuel life.

    The greatest departure from second-generation designs is that many incorporate passive or inherent safety features* which require no active controls or operational intervention to avoid accidents in the event of malfunction, and may rely on gravity, natural convection or resistance to high temperatures.

    *[Traditional reactor safety systems are 'active' in the sense that they involve electrical or mechanical operation on command. Some engineered systems operate passively, eg pressure relief valves. They function without operator control and despite any loss of auxiliary power. Both require parallel redundant systems. Inherent or full passive safety depends only on physical phenomena such as convection, gravity or resistance to high temperatures, not on functioning of engineered components].

    Another departure is that some will be designed for load-following. While most French reactors today are operated in that mode to some extent, the EPR design has better capabilities. It will be able to maintain its output at 25% and then ramp up to full output at a rate of 2.5% of rated power per minute up to 60% output and at 5% of rated output per minute up to full rated power. This means that potentially the unit can change its output from 25% to 100% in less than 30 minutes, though this may be at some expense of wear and tear.

    Ender, no assumptions thrown in without thought :) You also asked if I’ve abandoned renewables. Yes and no. I’ve abandoned the notion that they’ll be the core climate change solution — that will be Gen IV nuclear. I think they will have an important niche roll to play in many locations, and in a few places — perhaps Australia is one of them — they will constitute a fair whack of the total energy mix (my bet for Oz: 30% in 2050, for the World: 15% in 2050). Nuclear batteries could well have the biggest influence on the latter figure since they have the potential to ‘steal’ some of the renewable niche market (non-industrial/baseload applications) that currently exists for solar/wind.

    Neil, the Nuclear in 1970 vs 1965 figures is not really the same — the wind windup was over 33 year period, and the first NPP was built in the 1950s. I take the point from everyone though about exponential growth — if extrapolated, the wind growth figures would mean it could supplant all our energy needs within decades. But who really expects those staggering growth rates to continue? Not me. My point was that they’re super high right now, and have been for years, because the accumulated base was so small. A growth rate of >50% for wind is still not comparable to the growth rate of power delivered by nukes or coal over the last 10 years.

    I would hope Oz and other countries does continue to use gas-fired power stations for peaking power and/or spinning reserve, if overbuilding/load following for nuclear proves too expensive (at $1 billion/GW, it might not be). But that gas of course cannot be ‘natural gas’ — it must be syngas from plasma burners or biogas from microalgae etc., if that ever proves scaleable.

    David Murray, thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think the discussion on renewables is over. To close them out as a useful option would be as reckless as the oft-cited position that ‘the debate’ on nuclear power is over (i.e. the case that many in the environmental movement posit, that nuclear should be excluded). No. What we need is a decent (and rising) price on carbon emissions (a tax) to give ALL non-carbon sources a level playing field, plus some other government incentives to fast-track ALL zero-carbon energy sources (including S-PRISM certification) with investments in RD&D commensurate with what they are delivering — plus some ‘hot bets’. Environmentalists certainly need to change their attitude and stop giving nuclear power such grief and the Australian governments need to get over their nonsensical ‘no nuclear power’ party policy — ASAP. We cannot give up on nuclear or renewable energy. We must also recognise that we currently DON’T have the technology commercialised to solve our energy/climate crisis. This ramp up of RD&D, including Gen IV nuclear and new forms of storage for renewables, are both critical priorities.

    When it all comes out in the wash, I think nuclear power will win out big time — perhaps within the next two decades as we push all energy fronts. Some reasons for my ‘informed hunch’ are given in the post above. But it will do so on its own merits — provided the current non-technical impediments are removed.

  26. I’ve seem enough about IFR here to convince me of its merits as at least a potential solution. There are a lot of IFS to IFR, but IF they are addressed (as this blog suggests they can be) then to me, as a long term anti-nuke type greenie, they indeed seem to be the future of bulk energy supply. To some it may seem a pipe dream/fools gold, but no more so than any other solution to replacing the 95 odd percent of the pie chart that has no future in a zero carbon economy.

    BUT

    This blog entry to be honest reads a bit like a “How can CO2 have a significant impact when it only makes up 0.004% of the atmosphere” type blog – the % today are smoke and mirrors when talking about the future.

    Lets say all the issues about upscaling solar were untrue and it could easily fill 100% of the global energy supply – well the pie chart above would still be identical as fossil fuels have been dirt cheap for 100+ years partly because they are simply cheap, and partly because of massive government subsidies making them cheap. No matter how much subsidy techno-solar appears to receive on paper it is still in a marketplace where fossil fuels have only ever been massively subsidised because basically governments like to provide cheap energy.

    The next point is to ask that the pie chart be updated to break the nuclear slice down in a similar fashion to the renewables – I have a feeling that Generation IV nuclear such as IFR will show up as zero percent, and if compared to renewables in a basic bar chart well renewables would look like Mt Everest compared to IFR’s Uluru – and I fear that is being generous to Gen IV nuclear. So if we are talking about Mt Improbable well the pie chart is at least as damning against IFR as anything else.

    And Alexander in #1 – well I’ve been raising IFR on my local greens mailing list, which is nominally run by the partner of my local Greens upper house (state) member in WA – who has posted replies and there has been some predictable but promising discussion – so I think blogs like this can generate attitudinal shifts…

    I personally also feel that coming across as anti-renewable does not help open many doors. yes I know Barry you believe solar is deeply flawed… but at some stage the pie chart can only be fixed by a solution that to many is deeply flawed – whether solar or IFR nuclear.

  27. Hmm Barry I’d missed your comments in post 19 that follow the 3rd gen nuclear block-quote. particularly

    “I don’t think the discussion on renewables is over. To close them out as a useful option would be as reckless as the oft-cited position that ‘the debate’ on nuclear power is over (i.e. the case that many in the environmental movement posit, that nuclear should be excluded). No. What we need is a decent (and rising) price on carbon emissions (a tax) to give ALL non-carbon sources a level playing field, plus some other government incentives to fast-track ALL zero-carbon energy sources (including S-PRISM certification) with investments in RD&D commensurate with what they are delivering — plus some ‘hot bets’. Environmentalists certainly need to change their attitude and stop giving nuclear power such grief and the Australian governments need to get over their nonsensical ‘no nuclear power’ party policy — ASAP. We cannot give up on nuclear or renewable energy. We must also recognise that we currently DON’T have the technology commercialised to solve our energy/climate crisis. This ramp up of RD&D, including Gen IV nuclear and new forms of storage for renewables, are both critical priorities.”

    I could not agree more… but this should be the most obvious statement not hidden away at the bottom of post 19… a lot of folks don’t read that far especially when the subject essentially is an all out assault on their core beliefs:)

  28. Barry,
    You have presented a good well reasoned reply. I would take one issue, about NPP, the first generation were graphite piles going back the the one at X10 in Oak Ridge built in 1943( I visited it once when working at Y12 in the 1970’s). As I am sure you know the PWR design was also built early on by the military. We could also say the same for PV solar. The real issue is:what would stop wind power growing by 30%per year for another 33 years?

    Australia has a track record for building the new Lucas Heights reactor, so we would be talking about the first power reactor being the second recent project, and should also anticipate some delays and technical problems. For nuclear to contribute to Australia’s CO2 emission reductions we really need to start the first reactor now, and start an additional one every year or two, before the first one is operating, that’s the challenge, politically difficult if there is a technical problem at year 6, the temptation will be to cancel or delay the 2nd, 3rd and 4th reactor.

    I think we do have the technology now to solve all our energy problems now, but additional research will make low carbon energy cheaper. We must not use “more research needed” as a delaying tactic.

    Hydro storage and pumped hydro are perfectly good energy storage mechanisms, but since we have the NG peak plants why not continue using them at lower capacity?

    I am not sure why we cannot use NG for 6% of our electrical energy, but 25% of our peak power( and the same as with hydro) to supplement both renewables and nuclear for at least another 50 years?.I think it’s likely we will also keep at least half our coal fired plants on care and maintenance or mothballed, just in case that standardized nuclear design has a 1 year shut down as has happened with other designs or we have a major grid problem or a gas explosion or a long term drought in the Snowy. Back-up coal plants don’t add any CO2 when idle.

  29. Places like Australia and the USA have choices, simply because we both have a lot of sunny empty space, some windy areas. Some parts have useful geothermal and/or hydro.

    But not everybody does, and even there, a fundamental issue remains. I recommend some of the analyses in Vaclav Smil’s “Energy At the Crossroads”, 2003. (main missing item: nuclear) In particular, see:

    Figure 5.2, page 242:
    “Power densities of fossil and renewable energy conversions show up to four orders of magnitude between the two modes of energy supply.

    This is a log-log chart with:
    vertical axis (Y): power density (W/m^2)
    horizontal axies (X): area (m^2)

    Figure 5.3, p.243:
    Power densities of industrial, commerical, and household energy consumption
    Y: power density (W/m^2)
    X: area (m^2)

    These are based on 1991 data (i.e., wind/solar) would have improved, but the general presentation is appropriate: the main issue there with wind&solar is that they are relatively diffuse energy sources, so it is hard to put enough anywhere near major population concentrations, and especially if not sunny [For example, US East Coast].

    He also observes that in US, 30X more land is preempted by pipelines and transmission right-of-way than by the area actually occupied by fossil fuel extraction. I.e., the energy generation is concentrated, the distribution is diffuse.

    “But in order to energize its megacities and industrial areas any solar-based society would have to concentrate diffuse flows in order to bridge two to three orders of magnitude.”

    Oddly, about the only decent match between energy density and consumption is, of all places, in sunny suburban areas, i.e., where efficient houses can get enough sun to be net-zero. I think 1-2-story office buildings can do OK. Of course, both of these patterns also spread people out, which has its own issues.

    Anyway, this is *not* to argue against wind & solar (since I’m a big fan of doing as much with them as possible), but as an old engineer, practical reality is also relevant in figuring out what can and cannot be done.

    Although I think the US West Coast may be able to survive with {solar, wind, hydro, geothermal}, there are plenty of places where I’m not sure that works so well.

    We had a good lecture last week at the Stanford Energy Seminar, by Tara Billingsley, a staffer in the US Senate who works on energy legislation.

    She had 4 main points, dealing with common misconceptions:

    1. The US has no comprehensive energy policy.
    WRONG: for 25 years, it’s been “lowest cost per BTU”

    2. We should separate energy policy and politics.
    DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH.

    3. Policy is difficult because of partisan party issues.
    WRONG: it’s much more regional than by party.
    Fossil producers and the coasts have different priorities, and that’s unsurprising.

    4. We need an Apollo or Manhattan project to fix it.
    WRONG: if it were that easy, we’d have done it already.

    She of course quoted the usual “Sausage and laws – you may not want to watch them being made.”

  30. John,
    Good to see your insights. Not sure if the “energy density” is really valid.
    As long as you can have 1,000,000,000 Watts traveling down a 0.01m^2 wire does it matter that you are collecting wind or solar energy at 6 Watts/m^2.
    At least for wind power farming or grazing can still be done on 99.9% of the land you are also using to collect wind energy.

    Steven Chu made the point that we have 1.5% of our land area covered by roads, 1% of the US with solar in the south-west could provide all of the US’s electricity. Not sure why long distance power lines are an issue, already power moves >1000 km from Canada into US east-coast, or from WA to CA.

  31. > we have 1.5% of our land area covered by roads

    See? Simple bioengineering solution: a biosculpted plant that grows really fast rooted on asphalt, gives traction comparable to pavement, and yields readily mowable leaves; fleets of lawnmowers all moving at the legal speed limit (grin) keep the stuff trimmed, dropping the clippings off every mile or two at the closest advanced conversion facility, which makes the fuel for the highway system.

    Or something equally surprising, is my bet. Once carbon is taxed or priced to include the cost of not utterly screwing up the atmosphere, the oceans, and the ecology, all the rest of these possibilities will become attractive.

    “… we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

    Even paying taxes.

  32. Barry Brook – “Yes and no. I’ve abandoned the notion that they’ll be the core climate change solution — that will be Gen IV nuclear.”

    Thanks for the reply – sorry about the “no thought” line it just seemed that last paragraph was a bit of an afterthought. I am really glad I did not post my first reply as it was completely different. Just goes to show it is better to write your replies and then read them again a day later instead of posting the first thing that comes into your head.

    As one of the commentors noted how much of today’s present nuclear us GEN IV? I think that it is zero at present. Some of the nukes consists of plants so old and decrepit that if a Western safety officer visited them he/she would run out screaming like a rat out an aqueduct. These reactors are being retired as fast as possible by a concerned EU. Also many reactors in the USA have been granted life extensions that cannot continue indefinitely. The upshot is that some of the ‘growth’ of nukes over the next ten years will be replacing older capacity.

    Your presently favoured solution currently has an installed base of zero and a growth rate of zero.

    Consider one of the elements of the renewable solution. Wind has an installed base of 94GW and is growing at 27% and has been growing at this rate for the last 5 years so this level of growth is not a imaginary target, it is a real and sustained level of growth. 27% growth is a doubling time of 70/27 = 2.5 years. So in 10 years wind will experience at least 3 doublings and be at a level of 750GW in 2019. This growth is in many countries as China is building and installing wind almost as fast as the EU and USA.

    http://www.windfair.net/press/4193.html

    “Of the 2007 totals of 17-19 gigawatts new capacity, about four were installed in the United States, three in China and between eight and 10 in Europe. “It’s far and away the fastest growing part of the energy sector,” he said.”

    “As I said in another post, reactors become far cheaper if they have the following characteristics: (a) standardised blueprints, (b) simpler design, (c) factory-built modular units, which can be trucked to site, (d) a system within which legalistic impediments are surmounted by sound legislation (one of the big problems in the US). Standardisation and modularity are the game-changers for the nuclear power industry.”

    This is very true – just about everything benefits from simpler design and standardised components. However solar and wind are far beyond nuclear in this. Take a look at this new solar design from eSolar:

    http://www.esolar.com/solution.html

    “A small and mass-manufactured heliostat is the building block of the eSolar™ solution. eSolar designed the heliostats for deployment in pre-fabricated “heliostat sticks” that can be installed easily with minimal skilled labor. Low wind profile design allows fields of eSolar™ heliostats to be installed faster than any competitive CSP solutions.”
    The difference in this design is that it uses flat mirrors like Austra however the mirrors are connected to a smart system and requires no leveling or alignment.

    Ausra also uses simple flat mirrors:

    “What distinguishes Ausra’s design is its relative simplicity. In conventional solar-thermal plants such as Solel’s, a long trough of parabolic mirrors focuses sunlight on a tube filled with a heat-transfer fluid, often some sort of oil or brine. The fluid, in turn, produces steam to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Ausra’s solar collectors employ mass-produced and thus cheaper flat mirrors, and they focus light onto tubes filled with water, thus directly producing steam. Ausra’s collectors produce less power, but that power costs less to produce.”

    so the same thing that will help GEN IV nuclear in the future is already in place and working for solar thermal.

    The problem nuclear has with the same level of modularity is inspection and safety. As much as you do not like the legal impediments to nuclear that you claim are holding it back they serve the very important task of ensuring safety.

    The safety requirements of nuclear and renewables and most other industries are completely different. That is because of the nature of the impact of a safety event in a nuclear power plant. I acknowledge the high safety record of the nuclear industry however an accident of sufficient magnitude could sink nuclear for ever and everyone in the nuclear industry recognises this.

    The problem GEN IV has going modular is inspection and safety. If you push production too fast you could compromise safety and risk an accident. Also even if the new modular designs are type certified the built plants HAVE to be inspected. So you have to not only grow the GEN IV production facilities at a huge rate but grow the inspection and certifying industries at the same rate. You cannot possibly afford to compromise safety.

    So for a GEN IV future you not only have to increase the growth rate from its present zero to 10% or 12% to make a difference, but also make sure all the new modular components are 100% safe, as you cannot afford 99%, and increase the inspection bureaucracies sufficient to ensure safety in this rapidly growing nuclear future.

    All the while this is being attempted the already modular and standard component wind industry is growing at a rate sufficient to see it become a major player. The now modular and mass produced solar industry is ramping up growth and is adding storage to overcome the diurnal problem. Neither of these industries have the same inspection and safety concerns as nuclear.

    I cannot see how GEN IV, given these problems, will ever ramp up fast enough to overtake the solar and wind solution that are already being deployed and make a real difference to the climate change problem.

  33. Some obvious differences — you have to build thousands of IFRs — at about the pace China is currently building coal-fired power stations or the proportional rate at which France built its Gen II nuclear fleet in the 1970s/1980s — this was described here:

    At the height of its nuclear build-out phase, France was rolling out 6 plants per year. Six countries have a GDP higher than France and all already possess the technology to build fast reactors: USA, China, Japan, India (building one now), Germany and the UK. At France’s historical rate, these countries could together build 117 IFR plants per year, with no greater urgency than the French brought to bear on their road to energy independence. Indeed, China is rolling out over 50 large coal-fired power stations of equivalent size each year. So at this quite feasible rate, it would take 30 years to build 3,500 plants in 7 countries. For less than the cost of reinforcing our fossil fuel infrastructure.

    Now certainly modularity and standardised design also work well for wind turnbines and solar heliostats. No argument about economies of scale there either. Of course we are talking in this case about millions of large turbines and/or many billions of individual heliostats to do the same job as the thousands of IFRs, plus a huge storage/backup infrastructure.

    I agree that we cannot just start building IFRs at the pace that is required. Which is why we must immediately start ramping up installation of Gen III+ nuclear power stations, such as the ESBWR and AP-1000. We could build 1000 of these worldwide over the next 1-2 decades, as IFRs are commercialised and ramped up in turn. At some cross-over point, we cease building any Gen III+ units and build only IFRs. The great beauty of Gen IV units is that they make it possible to build large numbers of Gen III+ units now, because the spent fuel of the Gen IIIs becomes the fuel loadings for the Gen IV — that is, 1-2 thousand Gen III+ units no longer means millions of tonnes of high level waste that must be managed for tens of thousands of years. Indeed we need more ‘old style’ reactors to produce enough fuel loadings for the oncoming fleet of IFRs, as there is currently not enough ‘waste’ around to kick them off in sufficient numbers.

    Renewables will keep growing fast, yes. But as I’ve pointed out many times before, as has other more sage than I, as you get more renewables onto the grid, the problems of integration and non-fossil backup become exponentially more difficult. At a low base, it’s simply not an issue. So the big challenges for renewables lie ahead, as they get more successful.

  34. Prof Barry, you write some very long and effusive posts, and I note you leave lengthy replies, often time-stamped during the working day. As someone who also does a fair bit of writing for work, I know how long it takes, and I can’t imagine you have time to do anything else. Do you, in fact, just sit in your office all day pounding this stuff out or are you actually trying to solve any real problems? Isn’t this actually symptomatic of the entire Climate Change science sector – lots of talk, lots of back-patting amongst credulous peers, lots of calling on the gubment to “act”, but not much actual achievement? What do you do all day, apart from advising your PhD students to stick “climate change” into the title of everything?

  35. Just clarifying — I mean that simply citing high growth rates from a low base are not meaningful, unless these rates are presumed to persist when the base is higher. This is a strong but unstated assumption of those who use the current high rate of growth in wind/solar PV as evidence that they will some day dominate the energy mix. And it’s likely quite wrong.

  36. Sigh.
    1) Read the book; I couldn’t usefully summarize chapter of fairly density info in a few sentences. Density certainly isn’t the only aspect.

    2) I already said the US had a lot of land, and wind is certainly compatible with mid-West farms.
    Google: mashey jacobson
    to see how I’ve often I’ve referenced the Stanford studies on wind.

    Nevertheless, it *does* matter where energy sources are and where their users are. Diffuse energy sources need a lot of wiring to *collect* the energy. Making good use of solar & wind requires serious grid expansion, and grid expansion takes land & cost too. All this is doable, but one cannot just wave away the cost and the land-usage issues/politics.

    3) Much of Europe has neither the Mojave nor North Dakota handy, and oddly, the already have reasons not to want to be dependent on certain other countries for energy supplies. It is unsurprising that France has so much nuclear, given they have minimal coal&gas.

    4) As much as I like wind … People quote different numbers for the *actual* footprint. I’ve seen as high as 3-5%, but typical guidelines say “less than 2%” or “less than 3%”, and this is plenty good enough. Your .1% footprint is 10X smaller than the most enthusiastic estimate I’ve seen, and 15-25X smaller than most.

  37. A difference between solar thermal and IFR or even cheap thin film PV is that it is getting to be a mature technology. Thus the limitations are already evident. Everybody mentions overnight energy storage but omits the fact winter insolation is typically 25% that of summer and there is also the problems of whole weeks of cloud cover. Gas backup you say but fast forward to year 2100 when there is no gas. The company website seems cautious in tone http://www.ausra.com/
    If it works out we need wind and solar for more than half the energy mix I don’t see metals industries and 24/7 electricity on demand remaining the norm.

  38. Dear John,

    BOM publishes data on average daily exposure – I accessed it at:

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/cgi_bin_scripts/solar-radiation.cgi

    It looks to me as though the a.d.e in July is more like 50 or 60% of the January figure than the 25% you suggest. The ratio seems to be better the further north you go – which I suppose is what you would expect.

    I don’t know how this would translate into energy output differences in summer and winter.

    Regards,

    David Murray

  39. Yeah, that’s the reality of the urgency of the energy-climate crisis for you. Here’s the deal. You’ll get 1,000 Gen III+ upfront and 10,000 Gen IV on downpayment. Or we can wait for an extra 10-15 years and just have Gen IVs, with a bigger hole in our carbon budget (harking back to the car sales analogy, you don’t get to drive for another year if you opt for saving for the Porsche now, and so don’t land the job that needed a car).

  40. John,
    this is what I meant about footprint, in some cases more land is used for roadways.

    this is a photo of a turbine in a farmers field, would expect about 5 of these per km^2, appears to be using 20m^2 of field; 200,000m/20m=0.01% sorry I overestimated footprint by X10 should have said up to 99.99% of land available for farming.

    Looking at the Archer and Jacobson wind maps, lots of wind where N America has lots of hydro, a good match to have both locally and share transmission lines. The Mid-West is the exception not much hydro.

    V Smil is way off on wind potential and power density, because he is using average wind speeds not energy captured at good wind sites in the confined spaces of a turbine. Like quoting oil as average/m^3 of earths crust, rather than oil bearing strata. For example that turbine in the photograph could be capturing 300W/m^2 swept area(7500m^2) or 2.5MW in a 10m/sec wind, equivalent to an oil well pumping 650 gallons/day.

  41. Barry Brook – “Which is why we must immediately start ramping up installation of Gen III+ nuclear power stations, such as the ESBWR and AP-1000.”

    However consider this from the Earth Policy Institute:

    http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/2008/Update78.htm

    “In an illuminating article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider projects an imminent decline in world nuclear generating capacity. He notes there are currently 439 operating reactors worldwide. To date, 119 reactors have been closed, at an average age of 22 years. If we generously assume a much longer average lifespan of 40 years, then 93 reactors will close between 2008 and 2015. Another 192 will close between 2016 and 2025. And the remaining 154 will close after 2025.”

    So assuming a crash program from all the major players until 2025 would just about replace the current fleet of reactors that are due to be decommisioned without adding very much at all. Also the French in the 1980s were not constrained by the cost increases and material shortages that are present today. All this reactor construction would be competing with each other for materials.

    I cannot see how this enormous effort to build nuclear reactors is better than expanding wind and solar which are today growing at the required rates with no such material shortages.

    “But as I’ve pointed out many times before, as has other more sage than I, as you get more renewables onto the grid, the problems of integration and non-fossil backup become exponentially more difficult.”

    OK however as I have pointed out with peer reviewed references widely dispersed wind can displace baseload with equal capacity credit with only 1/5 peaking power backup. The control as far as I know does not become exponentially more difficult as control of peaking power/renewables is already automated and working and the control software exists and works in a similar manner to well known network management software. The CSIRO is working on virtual power station control software as are companies in Germany. So far as I know they have not had any such exponential rises in difficulty. If you add advanced weather prediction software into the mix then wind becomes almost as scheduled as fossil fuels.

    For example the power station I posted before, Pinjar is:

    http://www.verveenergy.com.au/mainContent/powerStations/Pinjar.html

    “There is no full-time on-site staff – the power station is operated remotely from the East Perth Control Centre and has a start up time of 15 minutes”

    (incidently this is just east of where I live in Perth)

    You would really have to post some research to back up your claim that that control problems increase exponentially as renewables increase in the grid – I have certainly not seen any such papers.

    What is a problem is integrating renewables with large amounts of baseload. As the baseload cannot vary fast enough surplus renewable energy must be sold into other markets or dumped. Also older wind farms with constant speed wind turbines do impose reactive loads on the grid that can cause instability however the cure for that is variable speed wind turbines with reactive controls that enter and exit the grid much more gracefully than older turbines and small amounts of storage throughout the grid that benefits fossil fuel generators and renewables alike.

    If you look at it from my point of view the generators that cause the problems are inflexible baseload from the Victorian era trying to work with a smart grid in 2009. This is why the only nuclear I support is the LFTR because it operates at higher temperatures and uses a gas turbine for power output. A gas turbine is far more easily integrated into the smart grid than thermal nuclear.

  42. John Newlands – “Everybody mentions overnight energy storage but omits the fact winter insolation is typically 25% that of summer and there is also the problems of whole weeks of cloud cover.’

    I have the insolation figures for about 64 locations around Australia and almost none of them have 25% winter insolation. In these sites obviously you would not put a solar thermal power plant there just like you would not situated a coal plant 1000km from a coal mine. Whole weeks of cloud cover can be coped with by the same method as weeks of fossil fuel or nuclear plant outages are coped with – another power station takes up the load where it is not cloudy hence the need for HVDC links to connect widely dispersed renewables.

    “Gas backup you say but fast forward to year 2100 when there is no gas. ”

    If there is no gas then the nuclear baseload also comes crashing down. By 2100 we can make sufficient syngas from biomass or hydrogen from electrolysis from solar power stations strung out along the gas pipeline here in WA that passes through some of the sunniest areas on Earth. Cars running on hydrogen will be demanding these facilities anyway hence my new found conversion to supporting FCVs.

  43. Geoff said
    13 April 2009 at 14.02

    “Prof Barry, you write some very long and effusive posts……………Isn’t this actually symptomatic of the entire Climate Change science sector – lots of talk, lots of back-patting amongst………………….”

    Barry Brook said
    13 April 2009 at 16.28

    “It’s Easter Monday.”
    Reply

    That has to be one of the funniest riposte’s to a denialist I’ve ever heard. I could barely breathe I laughed so much.

  44. Wow. Glad to help out.

    By the way, perhaps you could point out what I wrote that classifies me as a denialist, which is surely the most heinous thing a person can be? I never said the world was not in a warming phase, that the climate is not always in flux and that ice extent is not shrinking.

    Maybe I’m just a bit fed up with all the taxpayer money that gets thrown at climate scientists to write reports to people who already agree with them on topics they already know the answer to? Instead of, you know, solving real problems, like salinity, drought, flood, food production and so on. At the moment the only solution being put forward by the climate science sector is that if we reduce our living standards to those of Afghanistan, our great-great-grandchildren might have a cooler summer and some gormless frog who doesn’t have the sense to move when their pond dries up might not be so extinct. That the targets are all set for 2050 is terribly convenient, innit? Kevin Rudd will be 93 and making the nurses in his Old PM’s Home cry because there’s too much F****** milk in the tea.

    Jeremy, have you looked at what Prof Brook has his PhD students doing? They’re writing reports, finding problems to blame on Climate Change. Not a single one of them is developing any solution, or new technology. It’s all just problems for other people to solve. But maybe that’s OUR fault. Maybe, because we only spend billions on climate science, it’s not enough to get any actual solutions. Maybe we need to spend tens of billions. What about it, Professor Brook? How much money would it take for you to do something practical? Everybody who matters already believes in climate change, so why the need to keep writing reports and running models? Now is the time to act, as the line goes, not a moment to waste. When are you and your department going to spring into action and present some marvellous technology that will solve some of Australia’s problems (which have existed for thousands of years, by the way, but don’t tell anyone), and which we can sell to the rest of the world, and thus reduce our reliance on selling minerals to China?

    Maybe you could write an angry op/ed in the ‘Tiser blasting both sides of politics for wanting to build shiny new hospitals or stadiums, when $1b could create some fabulous new climate change mitigation technology? I’m sure Premier Mike Rann would keep funding your Chair even if you speak truth to him. Especially in public.

    Ah, remember when scientists identified problems and then solved them?

  45. Well if we need 1000+ Gen III reactors, which already exist and people don’t want… should you not be focusing on promoting Gen III+ rather than Gen IV.

    The leap from III to IV is a large one – the efficiency of fuel use to me means they are almost unrelated technologies. Gen III+ has all the problems of inefficient fuel use, nuclear waste, weapons proliferation as – well as Gen III+ which is around today and no one really wants.

    So basically Gen IV looks awesome, but the 1000+ Gen III is your real PR problem.

  46. Back in the 70s people did quite a bit of work comparing the relative speeds of computer programmers (no I don’t have references, this is just from memory). And some programmers really are 2 orders of magnitude faster than others. The name Donald Knuth comes to mind (google him). I know which end of the scale Barry is at.

  47. LOL pwned!

    Way to shoot down an argument without even addressing the argument. What skill.

    And extra points for an obscure reference.

    By the way, Professor Brook, was my little joke about FOI snipped? It can’t be that easy to frighten a climate scientist, can it?

    [Ed: Geoff, try adding something useful, or go away. This blog is for mature discussion. One and only warning.]

  48. Yes MattB, that is true and well said.

    Tom Blees has emphasised that the rapid rollout of IFRs is not impeded by a technological barrier. The impediment is the ‘vision thing’. Most governments rolling out NPP are looking to Gen III because they’re here and proven commercially (and Gen III+ is just an evolutionary, not revolutionary advance on these). But they’re even reticent about the newest versions such as the AP-1000 or ESBWR [the Economic & Simplified Boiling Water Reactor], which is why the French and Finnish are building the possibly already outdated EPR [European Pressurised Reactor] and the Japanese/Taiwanese/Yanks are all still looking at the ABWR [Advanced BWR -- certified in 1997]. It’s well summarised here:

    “GEH is selling this [the ESBWR] alongside the ABWR, which it characterises as more expensive to build and operate, but proven. ESBWR is more innovative, with lower building and operating costs and a 60-year life.”.

    It’s all about the perceived trade-off between potential [huge] advantages of Gen IV vs the ‘security’ of proven-up Gen III/III+. We’re not being bold enough.

    So I misspoke. We don’t need 1000+ Gen III reactors — we could do it all with IFRs, starting soon (within 5 years). Reality is though, we’re likely to get 100s of Gen III+ before a significant number of IFRs are getting built, even if the IFR certification and full commercial demonstration is super-fast-tracked by Obama. It doesn’t need to be this way, but that is how it is looking. China, for instance, has around 100 x AP-1000s on the books. At least we know that there is no point blocking these, because their fuel supply limitations are irrelevant (enough U-235 to power them all to retirement) and their long-lived waste gets eaten by IFRs. They’re also quite proliferation resistant (not as much as IFRs) and still extremely safe (not as safe as IFRs, but all new designs have many passive systems).

    My view is that we push Gen IV/IFRs as the ultimate solution that must be pursued vigorously, but don’t let a slower-than-ideal uptake block the ongoing development of nuclear power in the interim. I’d be interested in other’s thoughts on this.

  49. “Also the French in the 1980s were not constrained by the cost increases and material shortages that are present today. All this reactor construction would be competing with each other for materials.”

    But as has been pointed out earlier, for a $1,400/kW build price of the ABWR constructed in Japan in the late 1990s, the cost of materials was $35/kW. So they could quadruple and still only amount to <10% of the total construction cost. As it is, materials cost may have increased in relative terms by no more than 50%, which would increase total costs by 2.5% — trivial. And wind/solar use a lot more concrete and steel than new nuclear.

    If you support LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors — see Blog links on left sidebar or here) then you should support SFRs (sodium-cooled fast reactors — IFRs) too (they operate at high temperatures under near atmospheric pressures) and/or gas-cooled fast reactors (using helium or CO2 coolants). I’ve no problem with LFTRs being pursued hard too — my preference for SFR is that they’re closer to commercialisation.

  50. If there is no gas then the nuclear baseload also comes crashing down.

    Not if syngas is used. Not if overbuilding of NPP with desalination and boron reduction (purification) for side or primary purposes are used. Not if you have load-following NPP. We’ve been through this back and forth on overbuilding, Ender, and I think agreed to disagree — but every time you raise it, I’ll remind you that there is more than one view on what is possible or likely here.

  51. That would be Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs), plasma burners for near-100% recycling, boron-fueled vehicles, smart, UHVDC-connected grids for renewables, etc. The grist of what we’re discussing here.

    The fact that you’ve blithely ignored the discussion of these topics on this blog — or indeed in this discussion thread, gives a me a teeny hint that you’ve pre-prepared your critique without bothering to consult what is on this blog. Which says a lot about just how much people should pay attention to you.

  52. Geof,

    Before we can invent your “fabulous new climate change mitigation technology” (boy, as an engineer I’d be a multi millionaire, if I had a buck for everytime someone has talked to me about a miracle technology ….. that wasn’t) we need those slaves, whoops! I mean post grads to burrow away identifying and classifying the extent of problems so we can create appropriate solutions not half arsed show ponys.

    BTW. IFR sounds very promising as well as exciting but, but, I need to know more about the engineering and logistical complexities of how to go about using spent fuel from Gen II reactors in an IFR cycle.

    BTW again. I’m not sure I agree with you on renewables Barry. Sure they don’t match up against baseload but then why is the baseload paradigm a useful one? I think we need to look more at why and what we are using energy for. So here’s a question, Why does a technically advanced society need more and more energy in particular forms? Excluding devlopment in poor areas, that is. Is this idea we need more and more energy in particular forms just an assumption?

  53. I think we can use Gen III to get people used to the idea of GenIV/IFR. It seems to me that there is a dawning realisation round abouts (its only an incomplete observation and so I could be mistaken) that we are now in survival mode and that’s why you are seeing all sorts of people coming out for nuclear. Now I don’t believe that baseload is the best paradigm with which to solve our energy needs but if we have to switch our outlook to survival mode then I am happy to live with it.

    The immediate problem is how do we get policy makers switched onto IFR etc, not in five years, not in 2010 but by May the 1st 2009 (though that could be a bit late)?

    Its a bit counter intuitive that these ideas (IFR, boron, plasma burners etc) are coming from what might be termed the ‘greenie’ side of the bar. Let me make a prediction and say that once these ideas get more and more into the public sphere then the denialist brigade will start pooh pooing them because to accept them is to accept that we have a real and present problem.

  54. … and renewables in whatever form can’t be the stop gap instead?
    It’s just that I find it quite easy to convince people of the IFR solution, but when it comes to Gen III+ down they, like MattB begin to feel hoodwinked.
    Whats more, with Rudd’s “no nuclear” election promise in mind renewables are all we’ve got to work with at the moment. Given we need to act now shouldn’t we use what we’ve got (that is, what’s accepted)whilst at the same time trying to convince as many people as possible on the IFR part of the solution. The path to wide spread nuclear acceptance seems to me a mout improbable in it’s self, but focusing predominantly on IFR would make that path alot less rocky.

  55. As well as during public holidays, he is also up half the night and on weekends putting up new articles and answering questions. How is that for dedication to informing the public and offering some solutions to the diabolical problem of global warming and resultant climate change!
    He also attends many out of hours meetings of a variety of organisations giving talks on this topic.
    Not to mention his prolific peer reviewed publishing record.
    Geoff -If you can’t do better that ad hominem attacks with no basis in fact – GO AWAY!

  56. Jeremy C.

    I think it is significant that the promotion of nuclear (Gen III+ and/or IFR) technology is coming from the ‘greenie’ side of the bar. No affiliation with nuclear avoids the distractions of being painted as a nuclear shill. As this collection of voices continues to gather volume and momentum, they will be hard to dismiss, marginalise or ignore.

    I have 20+ years of nuclear experience. However, (few will believe this, but I’ll say it anyway) I will gladly endorse any technology or energy related programme that can be deployed to manage / reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so long as tangible ACTION is completed within the ever-constricting timeframe.

    As I look into the options, I come to the same conclusions as Barry. Renewables have a role as do conservation and efficiency improvements, but there is no evidence to suggest they will be adequate to achieve the necessary emission reductions.

    Take for example the European UTCE report (http://www.ucte.org/_library/statsyearbook/Statistical_Yearbook_2007.pdf). See the table on page 134 of 200. This table clearly shows that – after considerable effort by Denmark, Germany and Austria – renewables (other than hydro) do not have the muscle to displace carbon when it comes to electricity production.

    I do not see the relevance of framing conversations of renewables in terms of percentage. If they can not be deployed fast enough to even halt the construction of new fossil stations (let alone justify the closure of operating facilities), clearly some other technology or approach is needed.

    Similarly with respect to conservation and efficiency, a recent report by McKinsey (http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/reports/pdfs/Carbon_Productivity/MGI_carbon_productivity_full_report.pdf) has excellent insights regarding resistance to the obvious financial upsides of investments in improved efficiency or conservation. This resistance is exactly what Jim Hansen’s proposed Carbon Tax (with 100% dividend) is designed to resolve.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2009/20090226_WaysAndMeans.pdf

  57. I guess this might be right if everything else stood still, but it won’t and isn’t.

    Here’s another way to run the numbers. Think of the energy sector growing like the econonomy … say 2% p.a. This gives us a 35 year doubling time. Now lets consider that technosolar is growing 4 times faster … 8% p.a. Which gives it a doubling time of (rounded down!) 8 years.

    If we have G GigaWatts in year 2010, then we’ll have 2G Gigawatts in 2045. If technosolar had 0.005G Gigawatts (1/2 a percent) in 2010, then in 2045 we will have about 4 doublings, so about 0.08G (4%). i.e., growing faster than coal still won’t displace coal for quite a while and we don’t have “quite a while”. If, instead of 0.005, we used the real number, which is rather smaller. Then we won’t even hit 4%.

  58. Perps, I think you’ve made my point rather well. What you’re saying is Professor Brook works likes blazes telling people about Climate Change. Wonderful! Except, apart from talk about Climate Change, is anybody, anywhere, actually doing anything about it? Climate scientists tell politicians they need to act, and politicians hold meetings and set targets for 2050.

    Even the great Dr James Hansen seems to spend his time going around demanding things that will never happen, viz: keeping all the remaining coal in the ground. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. Got any practical ideas, Dr Hansen?

    I think I’ve made a reasonable point, even if posted under the wrong topic, which is that the discussion here is fascinating but largely rhetorical because it doesn’t seem to relate to anything happening on the Adelade University campus with our dollars.

    Still, I’m fascinated by the immediate assumption that anybody who dares question a venerable climate scientist must have brain damage or a Big Oil-funded agenda. Big Oil must send out a lot of cheques, eh, considering that a person can’t hold a belief that is skeptical or clueless about AGW without being paid for it.

    In fact, I’d say the contents of my posts make it impossible to tell whether I am a dissappointed greenie who believes in man-made Climate Change and has been betrayed by the pathetic position taken by the Rudd Government on emissions cuts or a skeptic who would prefer his tax dollars not be flushed down the drain quite so quickly. Is it possible to be an AGW-believer and not incredibly angry at the moment? Or does cognitive dissonance make it all better?

    Anyway, I didn’t and don’t intend to troll here, I will take my cognitive dissonance-addled, tiny monkey-brain elsewhere.

  59. It is almost the case that politically renewables will have to be flogged and flogged, and they will either keep on running (the grid constraints will be overcome) or drop dead at about 20-25% of the grid. Until this happens nuclear will be a tough sell.

    Would it really hurt to keep on flogging while doing all the IFR refinement work over 10 years?

    In Australia at least? It is either that or invest in clean coal for 10 years;)

  60. Barry,
    How small can a GenIV reactor be and still produce useful power, 50MW, 100MW? Maybe the best plan would be to go with the smallest to demonstrate the BIG advantage, NO nuclear waste.

    In Australia we are never going to be mass-producing thousands of GEN IV reactors but be could be one of the first customers if a “Standard” mass produced model starts being produced.

    If we start a GEN III reactor we will still have the nuclear waste issue ( or am I wrong on this)?

  61. Barry Brook – “We’ve been through this back and forth on overbuilding, Ender, and I think agreed to disagree — but every time you raise it, I’ll remind you that there is more than one view on what is possible or likely here.”

    However only one of us is talking about what is practical and economic in the real world of electricity. The current electricity generation system is the way it is because this is what works. If overbuilding baseload worked then that is what we would have now with cheap coal. The FACT is that it doesn’t – we don’t even have many load following coal plants.

    Have you been downstairs and asked the engineers at your university about overbuilding? I hear that engineers don’t eat scientists any more and have taken to walking on two legs recently.:-) Why not ask some electrical engineers that work on the grid whether your ideas are practical or not. I am dead sure that they will respond with pretty much what I said.

    I can see Ender fatigue coming on so I will desist however I would be very interested in hearing what the engineers say if you manage to find time to ask them.

  62. Barry Brook – “But as has been pointed out earlier, for a $1,400/kW build price of the ABWR constructed in Japan in the late 1990s, the cost of materials was $35/kW.”

    And when asked, the person supplying this information failed to supply the cost breakdown ie: whether this cost was for the power island, the total plant or the total plant plus the cost of the money to build it. This figure means nothing without supporting evidence which was not forthcoming. Neither was the evidence supporting the rollout schedule of the IFR.

    I supplied audited figures for recent build proposals from the nuclear industry that were much more than this. Not all the increases in costs are from the regulatory regime of the USA.

    You also failed to supply evidence supporting your statement that problems integrating renewables into the grid increase exponentially. I guess that we can take this that they do not as you would have supplied this information if you could find it.

    “If you support LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors — see Blog links on left sidebar or here) then you should support SFRs (sodium-cooled fast reactors — IFRs) ”

    No because the LFTR uses thorium which is totally proliferation proof. Also LFTR can eat nuclear waste which is what their main purpose will be – to destroy the thousands of tons of nuclear waste and make it relatively safe for the still required 500 years of storage. The sooner uranium nuclear power is banned and phased out the sooner that the hope and dream that the spectre of nuclear weapons will be eliminated forever will be realised. While there is uranium nuclear power there will be nuclear weapons. At least with LFTRs we can eat the waste and generate a bit of power on the side.

  63. LFTR breed fissile Uranium-233 (from which you can make bombs — Operation Teapot used it) from Thorium-232 (via Proactinium), and may also have a U-238 blanket to breed Pu-239 to give some supplemental fission and supply additional neutrons. So Th reactors (even subcritical ones such as ADS — which is maintained by a proton beam hitting a spallation target), are axiomatically U burners — and can also be Pu burners. As for U-Pu-fueled liquid metal cooled fast reactors with U-238 breeding and Pu/Am/Cu/Np burning, such as the IFR, they also ‘eat’ nuclear waste (the transuranics). Your lack of understanding of nuclear power, yet willingness to pass judgment on it, is simply staggering.

    If you want to get cost breakdowns and an rollout schedule for IFRs, I suggest you read the P4TP book. But you don’t seem to want to do that. If you want evidence of the exponential increases in problems when integrating renewables with the grid, I suggest you read Trainer, Hayden, Mackay, etc. But you don’t want to do that either.

    Your responses on overbuilding are not responses at all, because they repeatedly ignore the differences between an oil-dependent society and a future all-electric society (with additional desal needs), as I’ve explained ad infinitum. True to form, you’ve ignored me and others. Perhaps you’ll work all this out for yourself eventually. But I’ve got no more time or inclination for it. Ender out.

  64. Toshiba’s new 4S nuclear batteries are sodium cooled fast reactors producing 10 to 30 MWe. So they can be very small. I plan to do a post on this soon.

    I agree on the customer role, but we also have a potential role to play in demonstration. Gen III reactors have the nuclear waste issue, yes, although high burnup reactors produce about 1/5 of the waste of Gen II. The only reasonable solution to Gen III waste is Gen IV fast neutron reactors.

  65. Barry,
    “If you want evidence of the exponential increases in problems when integrating renewables with the grid, I suggest you read Trainer, Hayden, Mackay, etc”,

    These authors have interpreted sometimes out of date studies. Why not go to DeMeo(2007)”Accommodating winds natural behavior” where detailed studies carried out by utilities in US ( Minnesota, Colorado, California, Ontario ) indicate that very little additional reserve is needed with up to 25%power from wind(ie an increase of 2% in reserve).
    Kennedy(2004)”Integrating wind power” looks at Denmark and NW US, and concludes that Denmark is a bit of a special case(small) as most other local power is coal-fired( base-load).
    Would also point out that the state of Iowa now has about 20% electricity from wind power(2790MW capacity; but is X3 the land area of Denmark) and has more flexible power(NG, hydro).

  66. Re this passage above:

    “Quote from “Solar grew by an annual rate of 28.1% and wind by a whopping
    48.1% per year. Think on that. At a growth rate of 48.1% p.a. over a 33 year
    period, wind power has staggered up to 0.064% of total energy supply. So don’t be
    fooled by people throwing around huge growth rates for technosolar as though this
    means they’ll soon overtake coal, oil and gas (or indeed nuclear) and thus save us
    from dangerous climate change — when growing from a rock bottom base, high growth
    rates are prettying meaningless.”

    This seems not to be a sound argument that solar and/or wind power cannot supply much larger proportions of demand than they currently do.

    Power generating capcity does not grow organically. It does not breed or reproduce by cell division. It is built. How much capacity is built is not dependent on how much already exists, so the size of the “base” is a red herring.

    Previous growth rates are pretty meaningless whether or not they are measured from a “rock bottom base” and that applies to both proponents and detractors of solar or wind power.

    In any case, I don’t think much is achieved by arguing this or that energy source will be the most efficient. The market will sort that out if the ETS (or carbon tax – don’t start!) is implemented well enough.

    Proponents of the nuclear option would be better served finding ways to reassure people that their alternative is safe, or at least under which conditions it would be safe.

    Whether nuclear power plants are economically viable or not will be irrelevant if no-one will allow them to be built in their area, and most people these days would be appalled by the thought that one would be built nearby.

  67. Yes, we’re starting from a very low base for renewable. However, take one example – growth in Australian Solar Electricity – see full post here.

    As this graph shows, solar in Australia is growing exponentially. While absolute carbon emission reduction from households adding solar electricity is relatively small – e.g. a projected 92 million tonnes – these figures also point to an attitude shift. That is, an increasing number of people are willing to pay now to save in the future. Home solar installation, even with rebates, costs capital for a longer term payback. This is an future outlook that has not been present, to such an extent, in our community before now on this issue.

    Its an encouraging sign – I don’t however mean to detract from Barry’s arguments above that the scale of change needed is immense.

  68. Belinda Robinson’s recent ‘gas will save us’ speech on behalf of APPEA contained the following line

    Modelling done by South Australia’s Electricity Supply Planning Council notes that every 5,000MW of wind power generation requires around 2,100MW of gas-fired power generation to ensure that a reliable supply of electricity is available to the grid.

    That’s about a tonne of CO2 for every 7 MWh of electricity, not too bad if you have the gas which SA no longer has. Since that is from the insiders I expect gas not nuclear energy to be the cornerstone of the May announcement on the Olympic Dam expansion. I suspect the plan is to send Queensland coal seam methane to SA via the Roma-Moomba pipe network. Gas will save us, for about a decade.

  69. As I said above, I mean that simply citing high growth rates from a low base are not meaningful, unless these rates are presumed to persist when the base is higher. This is a strong but unstated assumption of those who use the current high rate of growth in wind/solar PV as evidence that they will some day dominate the energy mix. And it’s likely quite wrong.

    A market, via an ETS, cannot choose nuclear power if it is legislated against. An open playing field must be created.

    Nuclear safety, I agree, is one of the paramount arguments to be made. Which is why so much dedicated effort has gone into passive (inherent) safety systems of new reactors, exemplified by the metal-fueled IFR. This, along with other great advantages of Gen IV, need wider communication. But from what polls I’ve seen recently, I’d already take issue with a blanket statement like: “most people these days would be appalled by the thought that one would be built nearby”. Is that backed up by anything more than a hunch?

  70. Smart, cross-continental grids really help, to be sure. Better wind prediction helps a lot in scheduling. But we’re not talking about needing 25% (if it proves feasible), we’re talking about 200% (assuming growth in energy demand due to many factors, including the energy cost of climate fixes).

    Limited jurisdictions (including SA) are not great examples in and of themselves as to what is possible, feasible or desirable on regional and global scales because they can cope with 20% wind a lot better than closed systems. Denmark ‘works’ because it’s connected to Europe. Iowa works because it’s connected to Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri etc.

    Anyway, I guess the basic point is that more work needs to be done to understand and manage integration on large scales and higher percentage contributions, because it is not simply a bottom up, small-unit-multiplication game.

  71. Geoff – I will direct you (and others reading this thread) to Barry’s comprehensive blogs about IFR technology etc, which, if implemented, could solve our energy problems, thus allowing us “to leave the coal in the ground” without a decline in our comfortable lifestyles.
    He, and many other scientists, are actively working on plans to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and to mitigate the effects of the extra heat already in the pipeline. The main problem is not finding solutions but getting these implemented around the world, mainly due to the lack of political courage and foresight of our elected representatives.
    I have attended seminars by Barry, which concentrate on promoting the uptake of the technologies outlined on this blog and have read articles by him on such media outlets as ABC Unleashed, Australian, The Age etc which advocate the implementation of IFR technology. I believe this has made him very unpopular with some in the environmental movement, which can’t be easy for him. However, he is obviously pragmatic enough to realise that, to save the earth and humankind from destruction, some old ideologies have to be relinquished, and that includes entrenched opposition to nuclear power, of which I too was guilty until reading this blog. If only people would read the blogs comprehensively they would be convinced of the totally different scenario with IFR.
    I think you owe him an apology a)for implying he runs this blog on University time and ergo cannot have time for any research and b) for suggesting that he is not aware of the desperate need to implement solutions to global warming and is bereft of ideas to do so, and the courage to promote them to the public.

  72. Toshiba’s ‘batteries’ sound interesting. Look forward to the post. Meanwhile I’ll have to think through my reasons for believing ‘baseload’ is not a very useful paradigm with which to frame the energy how we look at our energy needs, i’m a big fan of asking why do we need energy in a particular form to do particular tasks etc, e.g. like Amory Lovin’s examples of ‘coolth’ and ‘warmth’ needs. Sorry, I’m a slow thinker and everyone will most likely have gone home once I start typing, also I’m in a different timezone this month.

  73. It is interesting to look at the McKinsey Institute’s cost curve estimates for reducing Australian greenhouse gas emissions. Activities such as energy efficiency, better buildings, and better land use do more of the work than renewables.

  74. No, Barry, it was just a hunch.

    I’d be willing to be convinced otherwise, but I’ve not heard of the surveys you mention. Could you give me a pointer to them? At the very least, there are enough people worried about safety to make it impossible to propose a nuclear generator without affecting election outcomes.

    Your comment about the open playing field is surely correct, but only if the costs of safety and waste disposal are properly accounted for in the cost of production.

    It has to be perceived that way too. Nuclear not only has to be safe it has to be plausibly presented as a safe.

    And taking potshots at other energy sources is not going to help nuclear – it will just make its proponents seem overbearing. (Similarly the wind/solar people aren’t going to help their cause slagging off CCS.)

    And I’d also repeat that “growth rates” when applied to power generating capacity are irrelevant, either way. The capacity either gets built or it doesn’t. The rate it increased by last year or last decade doesn’t “persist” in the way that, say, population growth or weight gain persists.

  75. Gaz, regarding the poll, I was thinking of this one from The Age in January 2009:

    http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-national/australia-should-go-nuclear-poll-20090127-7qsm.html

    Most Australians generally support the idea of the country having nuclear power, a new poll has found. The study found two-thirds of the population either support nuclear power or don’t have an opinion.

    The full Essential Research poll results are here:

    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollbludger/files/2009/01/essential-report_270109.pdf

    There was also this in the Oz a few weeks ago:

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25238410-36418,00.html

    It’s a shame if you think I’m taking potshots at other energy sources. I’m simply trying to do a hard-nosed evaluation of the situation — with no vested interest other than it has to SCALE and so work fully to achieve zero carbon emissions. I promote nuclear+renewables as energy sources and energy efficiency and conservation as (mostly short term) means of stretching our time frames. I strongly oppose those who block nuclear power on irrational or ideological grounds.

  76. I think the usefulness of working on energy efficiency is that it changes our perception of energy and its use and I see perception as a big part of the problem. In Australia our energy system has traditionally been supply led rather than demand led (you can find this point made in the the exec summary of the IEA’s 2005 report on energy in Australian, iea.org). I would argue our attitudes to dealing with energy needs in Australia is distorted by this supply led perception.

    Another way of framing it is that we say we need more and more and more energy. Why? Is that because we have a growing population? If so why have a growing population? Do we need the extra energy because of more stuff? Why do we have more and more stuff? Is it making us healthier, happier, etc? E.g. I can only have so many TV sets in my house. You know, I could put one in each room but then what? Two in each room? Will that make me happier, better off? Would running them 24 hours a day instead of 12 make me happier.

    Could it be that this perception of needing more and more energy actually obstructs the introduction of needed technology such as IFR. My argument goes like this, we think we need more energy and its such a pressing need we can’t take risks because, “OH MY GOD, WERE GONNA ALL DIE IF WE DON’T HAVE A 2 -3 % YEAR ON YEAR INCREASE IN ENERGY SUPPLY!!!”. OK, I exaggerate. But it means we stick to tried and true solutions i.e. more coal fired generators rather than sitting back and reframing what the risk actually is.

  77. Barry Brook – “LFTR breed fissile Uranium-233 (from which you can make bombs — Operation Teapot used it) from Thorium-232 (via Proactinium), and may also have a U-238 blanket to breed Pu-239 to give some supplemental fission and supply additional neutrons.”

    I realise how thorium reactors work however they have the lowest proliferation risk of any reactor type hence my guarded support for them and only to rid the world of the nuclear waste problem. Evidence for this is obvious as thorium reactors have not been developed as they cannot be used to make nuclear weapons and have suffered from the same lack of development as renewables.

    I haven’t read Blee’s bible yet as it has not arrived not because I do not want to. I have also read Trainer and Mackay if you had noted it. You seem to be trying to go down the path of only misinformed people are opposed to nuclear power. That is not a very valid defense.

    I asked Blees for modelling or peer reviewed work that showed that the IFR rollout schedule was possible. He then got testy and defensive, much like you are doing now, and did not supply any.

    I also asked him for a cost breakdown for the two Japanese reactors that he holds up are the model for his costing as reactor costing is a tricky business and you should be comparing apples to apples. He also has not supplied this.

    Are you sure that you are not letting this nuclear issue cloud your objectivity at bit?

    Lets look at the real mission improbable.

    The nuclear industry faces material personnel shortages. Currently there is one company left that produces the forgings for the pressure vessels for the GEN III reactors and they can produce at the moment about 4 per year:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&refer=home&sid=aaVMzCTMz3ms

    ““I find it just amazing that so many people jumped on the bandwagon of this renaissance without ever looking at the industrial side of it,” Schneider said.

    It would take any competitor more than five years to catch up with Japan Steel’s technology, said the company’s chief executive officer, Masahisa Nagata. :

    This is not anti nuclear propaganda it is a real problem at the engineering side. Nuclear uses a lot of very specialised components that are in short supply so the price goes up.

    To make any difference with nuclear you first have to replace the retiring reactors and then start building ones that can start replacing coal plants. You can’t do it for at least 5 years while new forging plants are constructed so you are well behind the race, all the while older nuclear plants are going out of service and reducing the nuclear power base not increasing it. This is why people say nuclear is too slow to make a difference.

    I have already mentioned the cooling water problem as rainfall patterns change. Present reactors are going to have more extreme weather events shutting them down more often and cooling water will be at a premium.

    And yet you are pinning your hopes on a reactor type that has not even been built yet. We cannot possibly have any sort of accurate rollout schedule for the IFR while it only exists on paper, a point which I have been trying to make however deaf ears are the rule. Five years from paper to production is sheerest fantasy. I cannot imagine how anyone with any production experience could think that a design on paper could be rolling off the production lines in 5 years. I takes that long for a car let alone a nuclear reactor with orders of magnitude more complexity and risk.

    It seems that nuclear is just as much mission improbable as you seem to think renewables are. This is despite one element of the renewable future, wind, is growing at the required rate today and has no forseeable supply problems limiting that growth. Also most major utilities agree that there are actually no significant problems to integrating renewables into the grid.

    I think maybe you need to take a step back from the prescription you seem to be on. Three of the elements of the prescription are one step up from science fiction – the IFR, the world order of nuclear power and the boron car. This is while renewables go from strength to strength with a signficant portion of it using Australian research from when we had a large part in the renewable industry. Now we have let this go.

    Finally you are going to only get a chorus of assent, like Morohasy’s blog, here for your nuclear ideas if you continue to treat people who dissent in a polite and hopefully informed way with contempt.

    The future problems with energy are real and not helped by posts proclaiming that renewables are improbable. Despite your misgivings we will have to also cut back on our energy use by being far more efficient. Not all efficiency gains are lost through higher energy use and here you are really parroting the arguments that the coal industry has used over the years to stifle the renewable industry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

    “Jevons Paradox is sometimes used to argue that energy conservation is futile. For example, that more efficient use of oil will lead to increased demand, and will not slow the arrival or the effects of peak oil. This is usually presented as a reason not to increase fuel efficiency (if cars are more efficient, it will simply lead to more driving).

    Several points can be raised against this argument. First, in the context of a mature market such as for oil, the rebound effect is usually small, and so increased efficiency usually reduces resource use.[4][6][7] (However, fuel use may still increase because of faster economic growth.) Second, even if increased fuel efficiency does not reduce the total amount of fuel used, this ignores other benefits associated with increased fuel efficiency. For example, increased fuel efficiency may mitigate the price increases, shortages and disruptions in the global economy associated with peak oil. Third, fuel use will decline if increased fuel efficiency is met with government intervention (e.g. a green tax, license fees, etc.) that keeps the cost of use the same.[5] By mitigating the economic effects of government intervention designed to promote ecologically sustainable activities, efficiency-improving technological progress may make the government intervention more palatable, and more likely to be implemented.”

    We cannot supply our way out of this problem we need to look at the demand side as well as other commenters have noted.

    Ender really out for a while.

  78. Methinks you protest [far] too much. If my recent comments to you appear contemptuous, then that is a reflection of the sheer frustration that builds when myself, and others, address your critiques time and again, in multiple ways, at multiple levels (including all the ‘old is new again’ ones above), and are ignored or dismissed out of hand. This tends to get rather tiring. The argument’s for pursuing Gen IV nuclear power as a key climate mitigation strategy do not revolve around Blees’ ‘bible’ as you now call it. Tom has provided an excellent summary of its prospects, and done a great service in alerting many people to its existence and potential. From there on, the intellectual adventure to find out more is one everyone can and should pursue. You choose not to, so be it.

    I wish you luck with your trenchant pursuit of an all-renewables dream. There is some possibility that it may just come off, in some places. Meanwhile, at least some people (including the coal lobby), will love you for it. But it’s ultimately a reckless gamble to hold the position that you and a few others like you, such as a previous commenter on this blog from BeyondZeroEmissions, that this is the only and most feasible way. As for me, hey, I’m not willing to (literally) bet the world on it. It hasn’t even got good odds. As I’ve remarked before, I’ve chosen to put my energy cards on the table. I’ve talked to many people about IFR, and 95% consider it a bet worth taking. As to the other 5%, they’ll have to seek their own prescription, and make sure that it constitutes a full solution.

  79. For Australia, electricity use will grow because we must convert from a part-electric, part-oil/gas based economy to an all-electric one. Total energy use will probably also grow because of this due to conversion losses (e.g., electricity to batteries/boron to wheels) If population grows, that will add to the increase in electricity use, but even without it, there will be increased demands for desalination, air conditioning, etc. I agree that we can, with sensible efforts, limit the extent of energy growth places like Australia. I think Australia’s electricity use could well triple by 2050 if we can really get to zero emissions, but our total energy use might only increase by 50% (or less) — this is where energy efficiency and conservation are going to be helpful.

    Worldwide, which of course is the only game that matters for climbing CO2 emissions, forget it. Energy growth will sky rocket as developing nations with huge populations get their first cars and TV sets, and then more. A tripling to quadrupling of total energy use by 2050 is a pretty sure bet, unless climate or financial issues really send us all down the gurgler in various undesirable ways. If a zero emissions plan doesn’t include a scope for growing energy use, I suggest it is fantasy. That why we need a massive ramp up of nuclear AND renewables — all of it, if we are going to eliminate our carbon emissions under this future storyline.

  80. I haven’t been following this blog in detail lately for various reasons, but I wouldn’t be too critical about Tom not supplying peer reviewed IFR roll out details. IFR roll out details are an engineering issue and not really the kind of stuff that the scientific peer review process works well for. Nobody plans such processes with a prose document, but with project management software. Possibly Government bureaucracies and nuke companies in various countries are already crunching some numbers.

  81. Barry writes: “Next time someone tell you how renewables are enough, show them this picture from the IEA.”

    Barry, this is an amazing comment, one I wouldn’t have expected from you. this is the type of misdirection used by those who you have been arguing against.

    Firstly, the energy blue print that you have refered to before http://www.energyblueprint.info/
    doese not depend on a growth of solar etc that is out of proportion with current growth rates in progressive countries.

    Secondly, your analysis is void of the vital contributionn of poltics and power. We have an intense concentration of power (vested interest) that have disproportionate control the polticial process, yet your arguements assume that current energy systems are determined on merit.

    As a scienfitic analogy, using the current growth rate and scale of renewables to infer its potention is like analysing the growth rate of plants in winter. There are more variables that must be acconted for.

  82. Firstly, one should point out that the renewable energy blueprint proposed uses growth rates that are in proportion to current growth rates. http://www.energyblueprint.info/

    However, arguing the potential for renewable energy based on
    the current scale and growth of renewables is analogous to trying to infer the growth rate of a tree by measuring it in winter; or determining the potential size of a tree by measuring a dormant seed. There are other powerful variables that must be considered.

    We are in a system of intense concentration of power (vested interest) where the political system has been strongly influenced by the concentration of wealth (entrenched interest) and corporate alliances. The measures of value that dominate are in part influence by this power structure. These variables among others, such as continuous compounding growth imperative (trap), are part of the winter that leaves the current BNC analysis incomplete (and slanted in favour of established powers).

  83. Dear Barry,

    In your reply to Ender you wrote:

    “I wish you luck with your trenchant pursuit of an all-renewables dream. There is some possibility that it may just come off, in some places. Meanwhile, at least some people (including the coal lobby), will love you for it. But it’s ultimately a reckless gamble to hold the position that you and a few others like you, such as a previous commenter on this blog from BeyondZeroEmissions, that this is the only and most feasible way. As for me, hey, I’m not willing to (literally) bet the world on it. It hasn’t even got good odds. As I’ve remarked before, I’ve chosen to put my energy cards on the table. I’ve talked to many people about IFR, and 95% consider it a bet worth taking. As to the other 5%, they’ll have to seek their own prescription, and make sure that it constitutes a full solution.”

    Two of the fundamental principles of betting are to know the upsides and the downsides and to spread your risks. It is important to know the extreme outcomes, particularly downside ones.

    There are some extreme upsides and downsides of nuclear and some extreme upsides of renewables that I think need repeating in this probability context.

    The extreme upside of nuclear is that it might provide very significant quantities of power. There don’t seem to be many extreme downsides of renewables – mainly because there are at least three useful technologies to hand. There is a diversity of researchers and technology developers and fairly free private (potentially profitable) entry into the markets associated with power production.

    If the issue at hand is the role of breeder reactors in the international (not national) solution of the climate change and energy problems then there are four items that have significant downside risk and the potential to disrupt any nuclear program. The first is the technical issue of whether breeder reactors can provide power for a prolonged period of time into the future. The second is whether they can be made risk free and be seen in this light by the public. The third, related, issue is the set of international rules and regulations you need to make its international adoption possible and risk free. The fourth is whether you really can move to this technology in a useful and predicable time frame.

    The discussion in McKay is the most coherent discussion of the first issue that you have provided. His round numbers are that if all uranium in the ground (4.7 million tons) was used in Fast Breeder Reactors we could produce 33 kWh/person/day for the next thousand years. He gives energy usage in North America as 250 kWh/p/d, and Europe as 80 kWh/p/d. You can play the numbers from there.

    Enough Energy? If we only use nuclear and are all allowed to consume at North American levels the time horizon shrinks to about 125 years. (1000 years/(250/33) If we allow consumption levels to double then the time horizon shrinks to 70 years, and doubling population takes it back to 35 years. This is perhaps enough to get to another technology but no longer ‘sustainable’. To expand the time horizon you need to start talking up the uranium reserves, perhaps include the ocean (is ocean uranium, 3 mg/cubic metre, the ultimate diffuse resource?) and perhaps include other materials. Even with the IFR technology you cannot escape some cut back in our (profligate?) use of energy. The downside risk is that if we fail to control consumption growth levels we could be back in a much bigger coal hole in thirty or forty years time than we are now.

    Risk Free? With respect I am not convinced that the sources you use cover this issue adequately. McKay (page 163) avoids the issue openly and intentionally. Tom Blees does discuss the issue. With thousands of reactors in countries from Azerbaijan to Zambia it is not possible that there is a zero probability of an accident. If there is a major technical failure in a reactor anywhere in the next ten years then the whole program could fall in a heap and we could be back in the black hole.

    International institutions? If you grapple with the third issue the problem is even larger. Tom Blees outlines what he sees as a solution (Chapter 10) but there is a long way to go. How do you allocate rights to the technology and how do you enforce them to the satisfaction of all parties? We don’t even have a fool proof system of inspection now. Agreement at the international level on the much simpler and much less emotive issue of carbon targets (I mean that) has not even been possible in how many years. I love your phrase -‘problems expand exponentially’. Add Israel, add Syria; add China, add Taiwan; add Japan, add North Korea. How about Yemen, Tajikistan and Georgia? Zimbabwe?

    Time Frame? We don’t expect the IFRs before 2030 – at the earliest. Until then all the usual cost over-runs, snafus and time delays associated with current nuclear efforts are possible. The toxic waste will be piling up waiting to be used in the IFRs which may be delayed, or may not even be needed if some of the low probability/high payoff events happen in the renewable field. The costs in carbon pumped into the atmosphere could be very high if there are major holdups.

    I think the public is entitled to some idea of the probabilities and costs associated with these extreme negative events. Even with very low probabilities a very large cost can have an impact on our decision taking.

    There are some low probability very high payoffs from renewables. There are non zero probabilities that by 2030 we might have some or all of (i) thin film solar cells with 40% efficiency installed for $1/watt, (ii) ‘batteries’ with at least five times the capacity of lead acid and one fifth of the weight, (iii) boring old solar thermal plants with no drama plugging away, (iv) there may be some one using solar cells in space sending power to earth as radio frequency energy. There is a reasonable probability that by 2020 will have at least the rudiments of a trade in energy from the deserts of the world to neighbouring industrial countries – using either conventional power transmission or some other form of energy carrier. Aren’t any of these game changers – even though they may have low, but non-zero, probabilities?

    The question is not what proportion of people would bet on renewables and what proportion would bet on IFRs. The question is what proportion of their betting budget they should put on each one.

    What should our portfolio look like?

    Regards,

    David Murray

  84. Dear Gaz and Barry,

    Gaz said: “In any case, I don’t think much is achieved by arguing this or that energy source will be the most efficient. The market will sort that out if the ETS (or carbon tax – don’t start!) is implemented well enough.”

    Barry wrote: “A market, via an ETS cannot choose nuclear power if it is legislated against. An open playing field must be created.”

    Gaz wrote: “Your comment about the open playing field is surely correct, but only if the costs of safety and waste disposal are properly accounted for in the cost of production.”

    It is interesting to see some of these issues brought to the fore. Obviously we can talk about what we think best, but Gaz is correct to point out that the market will decide what happens. Saying that a level playing field must be created implies that we are happy to let the market work. If we do believe that either nuclear or renewables or CCS are the best technology to follow then we should devise policies (subsidies or whatever) to favour the most preferred and disadvantage the least preferred.

    Broadly speaking renewables operate in a relatively unhindered market – resources are bought and sold, labour employed, plant purchased and profits made at market prices subject to some minor regulation. I don’t think that will happen with nuclear. It will be subject to a much more intrusive regime – ownership in particular is unlikely to be determined by market forces. Would we be happy with Babcock and Brown or their successors owning or operating nuclear reactors in Australia? There will be (I think) a very different regulatory system for a nuclear industry.

    This does have reasonably serious implications for you, Barry, if you want to encourage the industry. Gaz’s comments re the producer bearing the costs of waste disposal and safety (in particular catastrophe insurance) are important and very big issues that could make or break the industry.

    Renewables by contrast operate in competition with coal and gas, subject to all the subsidies in the system. The point in looking at efficiencies, Gaz, is that they give us some idea of the competitive potential of the different technologies, and how much we have to subsidize them if we want them to operate.

    This is all the motherhood stuff.

    The really exciting thing is that one day renewables are going to be competitive in their own right with coal and gas, sooner rather than later if we get a meaningful carbon price included in the system and enforced. That day is probably reasonably close for wind, not so close for solar thermal and a bit further off for photo voltaics. When those days come it will be a one way street for the fossil fuels and growth of the relevant renewable could really explode – that is the real reason why historical growth rates and performance are fairy dust.

    It is also the reason, Barry, why I think the glass is at least half full.

    Regards,

    David

  85. David, you write

    “There are some extreme upsides and downsides of nuclear and some extreme upsides of renewables that I think need repeating in this probability context”,

    and go on to say that renewables don’t seem to have extreme downsides.

    Here’s the extreme downside of renewables: irreversible global climate catastrophe.

    I think thats really what this post of Barry’s is about. The thesis is that renewables may not (probably won’t) be able to decarbonize our energy system. Joining the dots to the conclusion, pursuing renewables while excluding nuclear may (probably will) end our civilization, and most of the features of our environment that we value and enjoy.

    So lets look at the risk matrix for IFRs or similar reactors (without regard to probabilities):

    Upside | Downside
    |
    IFR Abundant carbon free energy | Reactor accident
    Elimination of nuclear waste | Diversion of fissile material
    ————————————————-
    No IFR Decarbonized energy | Global climate catastrophe
    (renewables) | End of civilization
    |

    I hope the formatting worked. This obviously includes just the biggest, simplest considerations.

    It gets interesting when the outcomes are weighted by probabilities, as you rightly say we must consider.

    On the IFR route, based on my reading of George Stanford, Tom Blees and various other sources, the technology looks very close to commercial demonstration, with good prospects for succesful commercialization. I also find the safety and proliferation resistance arguments credible. So I rank the upside and downside probabilities high and low respectively.

    On the renewables only route, even before finding this blog, I had become very pessimistic about the ability of renewables to fully decarbonize the energy supply. Trainer’s paper and others, along with the discussions here, serve to reinforce that stance. I rank the No IFR upside and downside probabilities as low and high respectively.

    I don’t claim these assessments to be beyond debate. There has been vigorous contention in the discussions in this forum on these points. This is my impression of the credibility of the arguments advanced on these points.

    So if you look at the most probable outcomes for the two different routes, if you go with IFRs you’ve probably got abundant carbon free energy, and if you don’t, you’ve probably got an existential crisis.

    People don’t seem to realize you can’t say “no nukes” as if its not a zero sum game. No nukes = coal. Renewables only = coal. Its a death sentence.

    Renewables give us the opportunity to begin to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, which is critical to our continued survival, so they must be vigorously pursued. But I don’t expect them to get us over the line.

  86. And, Ender, while I haven’t been swayed by your arguments, I have valued the robust and respectful discussion your comments have generated, even if it has left Barry and Tom frazzled. I’ve learnt a great deal in the process and find the pro nuclear case all the more compelling for having been comprehensively thrashed out.

  87. John Morgan and MLB have said it extremely well. Failure on the all-renewable dream has the ultimate downside — societal collapse and planetary turmoil.

    I’m not pushing nuclear power on the back of any agenda. I have no vested interest in any particular energy technology [except for the few $$ I occasionally get selling back power from my 1 kW rooftop PV system to the grid, which may eventually pay it off]. If I thought renewable energy could power all our needs, that would be delightful. I’m a realist, it can’t (it will contribute though), and failure is simply not an option. As John said, “no nukes” = coal, whereas, I might add, “know nukes” = a fighting chance.

    David, you are trying to make a point about Uranium supply, but your 30-40 years figure is out by at least two orders of magnitude — before we’d even need to go to U in sea water [I doubt we'll ever need to use that resource]. The 4.7 Mt cited by Mackay is 2006 reserves at $130 a tonne (in the last year exploration has added another 1 Mt to that estimate). If you doubled that price, electricity from nuclear power would rise by less than 0.1 cents per kWh, and you’d then have a verified supply in phosphates of an additional 26 Mt. Double the price again and electricity goes up by another 0.1 to 0.5c/kWh and you get an order of magnitude more U again. Then add Thorium with ADS or the LFTR (both breeders) and you’ve got about 3-10 times that amount again. In short, there is enough economically mineable U and Th to power the entire world at the USA’s total energy consumption level for at least a few millennia, before we even need to go to sea water. I hesitate to predict energy technology in 5,000 years time, but I suspect we may have good prospects by then.

    In regards to my prediction for an energy plan in Plan E (pg 211) is closest to what I suspect will materialise, though I’d tweak a few things.

    You are dismissive of Blees’ GREAT proposal and yet confident of global coordination on energy conservation and a lack of overall growth. How do you imagine this might be agreed or achieved? GREAT seems a darned side more likely than any consensus to massive ‘energy retreat’ that your alternative implies.

    You might not expect IFRs before 2030, but I beg to differ. If enough people believe your time frames, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t need to be that way.

  88. Barry,
    The Greenpeace report for Australia(2050), calls for half today’s oil use, no coal and the same amount of NG as we use today, the difference(50%saving on projected use) mainly conservation, yes a lot, but possible in 40 years(1.25% improvement in efficiency per year). This would give only 20% CO2 emissions.
    Relying on half of today’s oil consumption may be more of an issue than NG supply.

  89. I looked more carefully at replacing fossil coal, rather rapidly, by one or another biofuel. The most immediate choice is dry biomass such as wood, forestry wastes. Southern Compnay is refurbishing two coal reactors, at US$ 100 million each, to fire wood. (Otherwise they would have to spend US$ 165 million each to upgrade the coal reactors to be less polluting.) This is fine, but there isn’t enough wood, and likely never will be.

    So I looked into growing algae again and it seems I was off by a factor of about 10; converting algae into biochar results in about 100 t/ha/yr of biochar in sunny locations. The cost is compertative with recent US coal spot prices and it is in all respects a superior fuel to fossil coal.

    The 25% from coal I’ll take as about 5 GtC/yr. That means using around 50+ million hectares to grow the algae in deserts and other sunny but unused lands; this would require about one one-hundreth of the world’s deserts.

    Everything about this is fairly low tech. I see no reason people could not start on it right away.

  90. Dear MLB,

    Your sentiments coincide very closely with mine. If we rely solely on renewables then perhaps there is a possible outcome such as you describe with a positive probability.

    I am not sure however how big a number ‘countless’ would be nor how awful ‘a hell hole’ is.

    I can imagine outcomes to our current energy/climate problems in which more than ‘countless’ (but less than six billion) people will die in less pleasant ways than implied by your ‘hell hole’.

    Like you (I am sure) I am appalled by these possibilities. I think that we have to avoid them if we possibly can. The only way of doing this is to adopt policies which reduce the probabilities of these outcomes to a vanishingly small number. I know that is a motherhood statement, but I will try and reply more coherently to your concerns in my replies to John Morgan and Barry Brook.

    Kind regards,

    David.

  91. Dear Geoff,

    The very quick answer to your comments is that I do not think I am guilty of the Sin of not reading the various IFR posts. My understanding of what has been written here and in David JC MacKay’s informative and educative text is that IFRs could provide ‘very large’ quantities of power for ‘very long’ periods of time. I omitted to mention existing mined sources of uranium – they exist, they change the numbers in the calculations, but I suspect they only change the numbers in the answers marginally.

    David MacKay and Barry in his post below both try to do the quantification. I think you and Barry are arguing that the ‘large’ calculated by MacKay is not large enough. Irrespective of how large the large is the ‘long’ depends on the rate at which it is used. My argument is that if you don’t constrain the energy usage on a per capita basis, and you let the population grow in an uncontrolled manner then the period of time before we reach the Club of Rome scenario becomes uncomfortably small.

    The blunt argument is that nuclear is not a renewable. When does it run out?

    I will try and reply more coherently to this comment when replying to Barry Brook.

    Kind regards,

    David

  92. David and MLB,
    Both renewables and nuclear( which is virtually renewable at least for several million years) have the risk that they are not built quickly enough to replace coal fast enough.
    Does anyone doubt that we don’t have enough thorium, solar or wind resources to generate X10 the amount of energy produced by coal/oil?
    I would hope that the downside risks you are talking about are either won’t be built, or won’t integrate above(say 25%).
    SA here(Australia), Iowa(US) and Denmark (EU) are about 20% wind, so presently we cannot be sure how much more will integrate.The NEMMCO grid covers a wide area includes 8.5GW hydro and about 8GW NG peak,so we should expect todays 1.3GW wind capacity could grow to at least 8-10GW.Several additional GW of wind capacity are being planned or have been approved.
    The US has 10% of its capacity(19%average power) from nuclear, but 440GW of NG peak and 70GW hydro peak capacity( and some from Canada)that’s X4 larger than nuclear. France has much higher nuclear but shares an EU wide grid, so we cannot be certain how much nuclear can be accommodated by a grid, but my guess is 50% capacity,but 70%average power.
    CSP solar with minimal storage(2hours) can probably be 60% capacity because it matches peak power demand. Solar could work well with nuclear or wind.

    World wide, China and India don’t have very good wind resources, Europe doesn’t have very good solar, but is close to the Sahara, so nuclear is probably going to be important, and these regions are building lots of new nuclear.
    Australia and N America has lots of wind and solar and good hydro, and are not at present building very much new nuclear, but they are building more hydro and wind and starting on solar. Australia’s biggest risk with nuclear is that it never starts, but it is building wind at a good rate( probably should be faster) and more NG peak power that will help either wind or nuclear.
    It never has been either nuclear or renewables, unless you feel the case for nuclear is so weak you have to say other low carbon sources can never replace coal. I think the case for nuclear is good, but need to keep building other low carbon energy as well, because coal cannot be replaced too quickly.

  93. Dear John,

    Thank you for using your valuable time to comment on the extreme upsides and downsides of various energy policies.

    ‘The extreme downside of renewables: irreversible global climatic catastrophe.’

    If we relied solely on renewables and we found that they by themselves could not supply enough power to meet our ‘needs’ and we fell back onto (or were never weaned off) the fossil fuel economy then we would have irreversible global climate change. Whether this climate change would lead to a catastrophe is another question. ‘Catastrophe’ is a strong word. Some remnants of civilization will survive. I think (please don’t ask me to defend this statement) that the Scandinavians and the New Zealanders have a higher than average probability of surviving this climate change reasonably. It will be a pruning of civilization, but not its end.

    If renewables did not work and we did not go back to coal it would be a very different world, no global catastrophe but a much less energy intensive existence. We have had these low technology civilizations in apparently increasingly sophisticated forms for millennia – at least since the Natufians.

    The downside risks for failed nuclear policies should not be any different from those given above with one wrinkle. If the failed energy policy is the nuclear one there are nuclear reactors and nuclear waste scattered over the globe where even the GREAT will not be able to venture. (I could not resist that smart arse comment). Who gets to control these resources? I don’t know. What will they do with them? I don’t know. The outcomes are different –and different dependent on whether we do or do not fall back on coal.

    The extreme upside for the IFR route is apparently unlimited power for effectively unlimited periods for unlimited populations. I need to take issue with Barry on this.

    The important point (which you recognize) is that there are different outcomes with different probabilities. The second important point, which you almost miss, is that the choice is not nuclear or renewables or CCS or whatever. The choice is how much of each do you want. And you hit the jackpot with your final sentence which I quote:

    ‘Renewables give us the opportunity to begin to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, which is critical to our continued survival, so they must be actively pursued. But I don’t expect them to get us over the line’.

    You can have some of all of the possible policies. And we can fully expect that the role of the different technologies will change over time. Right now you think there is a low probability that renewables will get us over the line, but you could change your mind on that in a year’s time if they crashed, or if they started to hit the jackpot. Same with nuclear.

    I think you and I have to pursue this approach with Barry – but I should also comment on some of the other material he has raised.

    Thank you for helping me to tease out some of the issues which have to be discussed.

    With kind regards,

    David

  94. David, thanks for your reply. I’m glad we agree on the last point I made. Where we seem to differ is on the urgency of pursuing the breeder reactor option and the scale. The reason for this might be found in your statement:

    “Whether this climate change would lead to a catastrophe is another question. ‘Catastrophe’ is a strong word. Some remnants of civilization will survive.”

    Some remnants of civilization remaining is a wholly unacceptable outcome to me! (And I don’t mean I want to see it all destroyed!)

    If a world in which Scandinavia and New Zealand have a fair chance of making it through isn’t a global catastrophe to you, just what is? Is a “pruning” of civilization an acceptable outcome to risk for the sake of avoiding a nuclear roll out? You realize this pruning is likely to be carried out on individuals, with machetes, right? People will fight before they starve.

    And what of the natural environment? We can probably say at this point we’ve lost the great barrier reef. Would you have accepted nuclear reactors down the east coast of Australia to save it? I would. What about the Daintree? The Amazon? The arctic ecosystems? Abundant, cheap and diverse fresh food? Seafood? Baboons? Tigers? How about the non-greenhouse consequence of CO2, ocean acidification? Would the devastation of marine ecosystems this is producing constitute a catastrophe to you? No? What about if all of the above happened, all at once?

    If catastrophe seems too strong a word, can I suggest you listen to this lecture of Barry’s describing the likely outcomes of increasing temperature ramps:

    http://www.adelaide.edu.au/climatechange_media/ccqa_seminar4_2of3.mp3

    I remarked before that people don’t seem to grasp that avoiding nuclear means we’ll go with coal. Equally, I don’t think many people grasp just what that means. The consequence is indeed global catastrophe. The risk of this is basically 100%, unless we completely decarbonize, and commence carbon drawdown. Its a bird in the hand.

    So lets offset against this virtual certainty the risks of nuclear power, specifically the IFR. Suppose I grant your list of IFR risks above. I’ll still take the nuclear option because the risk of climate disaster is basically realized right now, whereas the risk of a nuclear incident is less than certain.

    But I don’t grant your risk register. As I said, I find the arguments against proliferation credible, the passive safety argument is convincing for this design, and though its hard to see how it could happen, a reactor vessel breach would be confined to the containment structure. These are more than acceptable risks to stack against the alternative.

    The last factor in the choice of energy mix is renewables. Are they likely to be sufficient to avoid catastrophe? Maybe. But I’m not prepared to accept that grave risk. I’d trade it for the risks associated with IFRs in a heartbeat.

    “I think you and I have to pursue this approach with Barry – but I should also comment on some of the other material he has raised.”

    I think you’d be preaching to the converted – you can get a good idea of his priorities in energy technology deployment in his post here:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/01/29/a-sketch-plan-for-a-zero-carbon-australia/

    Anyway, I’ll look forward to reading your comments to him,

    best regards,
    john

  95. David,

    The nesting won’t let me reply in-line, and I’ve lent my copy of P4TP to a friend. My dismal memory is that IFR running on already mined depleted uranium + waste will power the planet for at least a thousand years (assuming substantial growth by developing countries). Sure, that’s not strictly renewable, but it gives us enough time to find a better energy source. Part of why I’ve reversed my lifelong anti-nuke position is precisely because it can solve the waste problem and allow the closing of uranium mines, plus give us a fighting chance of taming the climate.

    I reckon Rudd’s credibility has crashed to rock bottom with the announcement of $43 billion for movies on demand and $100 million for what he believes is the solution to the coal problem (CCS).

  96. Dear Barry,

    Thank you for your comments. Geoff, MLB and John discuss some of the substantive issues that I thought needed raising. I have replied to them and those comments are relevant here as well.

    The main points I wanted to make are first that a reasonable solution to the problem which faces us must include both renewables and nuclear in the first instance at least. This is true unless you are absolutely certain that one particular policy will solve the problem. I don’t have that certainty about nuclear – for the reasons given in comment on paragraph 5 below. I think you do have that certainty. I am not absolutely certain about renewables doing the job either – maybe we will have to have some other policies, i.e. a portfolio (energy efficiency moves, geothermal, consumption reductions, nuclear) to get to an acceptable solution – meaning one without fossil fuels.

    The second point was that you should take decisions now which give you the freedom to change your mind later if you want to.

    Paragraph 2. I know you don’t have any hidden agendas. I also know that you are committed to sorting out this problem. Same applies here and I know that you are not grandstanding either.

    Paragraph 3. My little exercise using MacKay’s data was to suggest that on those figures I had reason for concern.

    Paragraph 5. (I will come back to 4 later.) I must have expressed myself awkwardly. I think there is a low probability of an encompassing solution to the global carbon and energy problems emerging from the forthcoming talks in Copenhagen. I think negotiating a comprehensive international nuclear energy control regime, particularly one with the intrusive features of the GREAT program is a problem of at least the same level of difficulty. May I quote Tom Blees (page 339) at you:

    ‘But is there any other way to take advantage of the unlimited potential of safe newclear (ouch – but good one Tom) power – or indeed to make it as safe as we should insist it be – without taking it out of the hands of profit driven corporation? With about 30 countries capable of extracting plutonium from thermal reactor spent fuel today, and undoubtedly more tomorrow, prudence would dictate one of two choices: ban nuclear power worldwide, or put the system under international control. Clearly a Hobson’s choice, for the genie is out of the bottle’

    The genie is out of the bottle. The recommendation is that without the International Agreement the only prudent policy is to ban the international trade in uranium.

    I am not absolutely certain a water tight and meaningful International Agreement will be negotiated by 2015. I want my security blanket please.

    Paragraph 6. The probability distribution on the arrival date of IFRs is important – not the expected date. The costs of delays are much higher than the benefits of an early arrival. Is there a zero probability of arrival after 2030, 2035 or (for you) God forbid 2040?

    Paragraph 4. Your comment was a reply (I think) to an unintentionally curly question.
    I asked about your portfolio, not a plan. They are different. Ignore the question.

    For the record David MacKay’s plan E (for Economist) refers to the United Kingdom. He also tries to sculpt the skeleton of plans for North America and the World. May I quote his conclusions:

    ‘North America’s non-solar renewables aren’t enough for North America to live on. But when we include a massive expansion of solar power, there’s enough. So North America needs solar in its own deserts, OR nuclear power OR both.’ (page 235, my emphasis on the ORs),

    ‘Our target was a post European consumption of 80 kWh/d per person. We have a clear conclusion: the non-solar renewables may be “huge” but they are not huge enough. To complete a plan that adds up we must rely on one or more forms of solar power. OR use nuclear power. OR both.’ (page 238/9, my emphasis on the ORs again.

    I think I am entitled to argue that a pure renewables future is possible and does not necessarily result in Catastrophe or Armageddon, Gen III or IV, lite or supercharged.

    Or has David Mackay screwed up and led me down the paths of unrighteousness again?

    Kind regards,

    David Murray.

    PS I understand, from another source, that you are a bit short of time right now. I won’t be offended if you don’t provide an immediate response to the above. I need a bit of time out too – I have to take my dog for a walk On The Beach regularly. She needs the exercise, I need the time to ponder on some of these issues.

    PPS I won’t take it personally if you ask me to go away. I am steering the discussion in a direction you did not want to go initially.

    Keep well, and don’t give up the good fight.

  97. Dear Neil,

    I am replying to your post of 18 April 2009 to David and MLB.

    ‘Both renewables and nuclear ….. have the risk that they are not built quickly enough.’

    I agree, with reservations about ‘fast enough’. Every little drop helps and you don’t have to have either one exclusively. There are other gap filling options or wedges such as gas, energy efficiency. By themselves none of these is ‘fast enough’, they can’t supply our needs but we need them all.

    ‘Does anyone doubt…?’ No, I don’t .

    ‘I would hope that the downside risks you are talking about are either won’t be built, or won’t integrate above (say 25%).’

    I don’t have any useful comment on the integration problem and am very happy to accept your judgements. One downside I see for nuclear is that it won’t be built fast enough. At the risk of repetition there are significant perceived external effects in the Uranium/Nuclear area. We usually resolve these externality issues in our society through the political process. By contrast once we have weaned renewables off the government purse and gotten the infants to self sustaining growth phase decisions about them will be taken in the market. I was tempted to use the hand analogies, dead and stultifying in the one instance, invisible and electrifying on the other.

    ‘It has never been either nuclear or renewables ….. I think the case for nuclear is good because coal cannot be replaced too quickly.’

    Yes, but the pedant insists on ‘cases for renewables and nuclear are’ at the appropriate point.

    Thank you.

    Kind regards

    David Murray

  98. Dear Geoff,

    ‘Part of why I’ve reversed my lifelong anti-nuke position is precisely because it can solve the waste problem and allow the closing of uranium mines, plus give us a fighting chance of taming the climate.’

    Yes, I can understand this. My caveat is (by now) obviously that it should not be a nuclear only solution for the taming the climate bit.

    The benefit of getting rid of nuclear waste as well would be a bonus. I want to ask a paranoid question so if you deign to comment please be gentle. If we can solve the waste problem why haven’t we done so in the last ten or whatever years? Does the conspiracy include Steven Chu, Barack Obama, George W, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton and John Kerry? Or is there some technical problem? Are there proliferation fears? I read (The Independent five or ten days ago)
    (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/a-1631bn-nuclear-white-elephant-1664427.html)
    that Sellafield was being touted in the UK
    as a waste eater but seems to have ended up as a money eater. It is a MOX reactor I think. I don’t know how to interpret all of this stuff. There is a bit of smoke and mirrors going on here which unsettles a simple man and influences his probabilities.

    KR certainly did not cover himself in glory. He has a highly distorted portfolio of energy choices – ccs, renewables, nuclear – 95%, less than 5%, less than 1%. That is what comes from basing investment on past performance. Round here we call him Speedy – he has transitioned from 07, through 08 into 0No in double quick time. I am not a chemist – is 0No the same as N0o the same as N02? Is that laughing gas?

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    David

  99. Dear John,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I could not reply on your comment of 18 April in #36 in the usual way so have to post a new box.

    Paragraphs 1 to 4 are common ground with some minor disagreements. Some clarification is perhaps needed.

    The ultimate catastrophe is when all life (including viruses and amoeba) on the planet is cooked. The penultimate catastrophe is when Homo Sapiens is cooked. Lesser catastrophes include New Zealand and Scandinavia as the sole remnants of our once glorious civilization. Minor catastrophes include the current events in Darfur and Somalia – both I think climate related. Ruanda too was only a minor catastrophe – despite the pangas and the one on one nature of the events. I don’t find any of these acceptable. I have difficulty accepting the processes that put a steak on (my? your?) some one else’s table. I find it acceptable to swat a fly. Reality can be unacceptable, but sometimes unalterable. I don’t have infinite power and resources so I can’t eliminate all the unacceptables around the place. I have to live with, tolerate, perhaps accept some unacceptables. So, I hate to say, do you. We can do things which reduce the probabilities of the unacceptables becoming inevitablities – like having a portfolio which keeps our options for renewables, nuclear, energy efficiency and geothermal open.

    ‘… people don’t seem to accept that avoiding nuclear means going with coal.’ I don’t. You can have lots of carbon free energy without nuclear or coal. David MacKay (see my reply to Barry) says we the world could get by (80 kWh/day/person) with solar OR nuclear OR coal OR both. He might be wrong if (i) we all live North American (=Australian) style AND (not OR) (ii) none of my low probability high payoff renewable technologies eventuate. I don’t think your comment is an open and shut case – at worst it pushes us into a policy with a high risk of a low order catastrophe.

    There is no sin in preaching to the converted – it goes on all over the place on Sundays, Fridays too. It stiffens the converted’s resolve and possibly makes the preacher feel righteous. I didn’t feel righteous at the end of my homily – but if I stiffened Barry’s resolve ever so little the world is a better place.

    Keep up the good fight. We will try to keep our minds open so we don’t have to open the parachute.

    Kind regards,

    David Murray

  100. Yes, this threaded comments layout drives me nuts. Barry, any chance you could be persuaded to revert to the old style?

    “‘… people don’t seem to accept that avoiding nuclear means going with coal.’ I don’t. ”

    Fair enough. Its a matter of active contention here. But the fact that its under contention by intelligent and well meaning people should indicate there’s a sufficiently high chance that its correct that it should be accepted as a planning input, because the consequences of being wrong are disastrous,

    cheers,
    john

  101. Politicians, with few exceptions, have no scientific knowledge or training. How does a politician judge whether Professor Ian Plimer or Professor Barry Brook is right?

    They make decisions on the basis of advice from people they trust. Lobbyists know their business, part of which is to find who has a politician’s ear and get their ear. Guy Pearse’s “Quarterly Essay”, Quarry Vision, does a pretty good job of explaining why so many politicians are climate change deniers. They may publically back the judgement of the premier scientific body (IPCC), but privately? Who knows. I can’t believe, based on current performance, that KR really believes that we are causing global warming if he also understands the full implications of such a change and the urgency with which action is required.

    How does one explain why good technologies fail and bad ones succeed? Sometimes all you need to win is to be first to market. P4TP has quite a bit on how and why Clinton canned the Argonne work in 1994 … plenty of
    good old fashioned lying seemed to work well. People who are honest can’t understand how easily lying comes to some people.

  102. Growing algae in ‘bioreactors’ has potentially impressive numbers but the costs and risks are actually quite high; even if growing large quantities of algae and converting it to large quantities of useable fuel is ultimately successful, forestry and wind machines already have an edge in costs and may retain it for many years to come. There are numerous businesses already working on the problem (just as with more ‘techno’ renewable energy approaches) but none of them seem to be announcing major milestones as the photovoltaic companies are doing.

    In the end it’s a matter of cost and scale. I’m glad there are so many possibilities (including nuclear, though I’d never advocate for a massive expansion of today’s fission technology).

  103. David Murry,
    I find it odd that David MacKay assumes we have to replace the energy content of oil(40kWh/person/day) with electric transport, even though he gives examples of electric cars using 15kWh/100km?
    Even stranger is his dismissal of wind energy in US, citing a 1991 paper estimating the average energy of only 1.2W/m^2, when wind maps show >400W/m^2 over large regions. His overall conclusion that non-solar renewable energy can never replace FF appears to have been very persuasive, because he has used a lot of scientific detail explaining energy, but not a very critical analysis of renewable energy potential.

  104. Dear Neil,

    Thank you for your comment re David MacKay and electric cars. I had severe problems with his treatment as well.

    He estimates the energy content of motor car usage in the UK as 40 kWh/d/p with daily travel of 50 km and the energy usage of a petrol driven motor car as 80 kWh/100 km. His figure for the Tesla Roadster (Google it, it makes a Porsche look like a Trabant. I understand one will be available for viewing in Brisbane later this year.) is 15 kWh/100 km. As you point out these are startling differences.

    His total energy consumption (including petrol for motorcars) in the UK is given (p 103) as 195 kWh/d/p. The physical potential for renewables is given as about 180 kWh/d/p. This rightly excludes energy from oil and from nuclear. So he is allowing for motor cars to be powered from domestic renewables – presumably electric. If this is the case then the energy use is not 40, but 7.5 kWh/d/p for cars. That would mean total energy consumption of 162.5 kWh/d/p.

    The strict logic must be that the physical potential of renewables (about 180 kWh/p/d) is enough to meet the total energy demand (about 162 kWh/d/p) – and it eliminates all oil imports!

    The point is somewhat academic as the real number changer in his analysis is applied between pages 103 to 109. Nimbyism and nay saying take MacKay’s physical maximum of 180 kWh/d/p back to 18 kWh/d/p. This is now a socially and politically determined maximum.

    I have to plead a large (very nearly total) ignorance on technicalities of wind power. I will try and remedy it. Maybe some one else can help us with this problem? I checked the MacKay reference and it led me to the standard 1991 USA wind map. Is there nothing firmer from their official sources? The AWEA talks confidently of supplying 20% of US energy production in 2030 – I think we need some more independent opinion.

    Kind regards,

    David Murray

  105. David,
    this site gives good US wind maps, showing energy.

    http://www.bergey.com/Maps/USA.Wind.Lg.htm

    You can view different seasons, these maps are at 50 meters, still less than 80-100 m typical of new turbines.If you go back , you can see maps for each state.For example Utah is very complex.
    The import thing is that very local higher winds make a huge difference, because energy is velocity ^3(cubed).

    MacKays statements about NIMBY don’t seem to be holding up as 8 GW of new wind farms have been approved, 1.6 Gw under construction. The best regions in UK are the lowest density such as Lewis, Orkney’s, N Coast of Scotland. The best 1% of sites produces X 8 more energy than the average wind speed sites

  106. David, thanks for pointing out MacKay’s analysis which I was previously unaware of – this is a beautiful analysis, both mathematically and visually. I’ve bought his book.

    On cars, the Tesla is a lightweight two seater sports car with a great drag coefficient due to its low profile and small cross section. You can’t compare the power draw of this vehicle with the national fleet average. I don’t doubt the difference would be startling. Add to that the conversion efficiency from non-electrical source to electricity, electricity to chemical energy in the battery, then back to electrical to drive the motors, MacKay’s 40 kWh/100km doesn’t sound out of the ballpark.

  107. “You can have lots of carbon free energy without nuclear or coal.”

    True. But the issues of relevance here are: (a) whether you can have enough of it to avoid building more coal (current situation in Germany says ‘no’); (b) whether you can have enough of it to displace current coal; (c) whether you can have, store, and distribute, enough of it to meet future energy growth (especially in the developing world) and the conversion to an all-electric society; (d) whether you can run a modern society without baseload generation [answer: perhaps, perhaps not, but if yes, it requires a complete reconfiguration of the way we manage electricity].

    There are other questions, but there are enough uncertainties on (a-d) to convince me that any risk averse portfolio would have to include nuclear power — the only zero carbon energy source that has all the advantages of coal with few of the disadvantages. The relative mix will be determined on the basis of cost, feasibility, convenience, safety etc. They are issues to be tested as the new zero carbon energy world rolls out over the next few decades. My view is that nuclear power has sufficient net advantages that it will dominate the mix. Some others, even after crunching the numbers, feel the opposite. No problem! Let’s pursue them all for now. I simply have no time for people who wish to exclude and block nuclear.

  108. MOX is completely different to metal fuels with pyroprocessing. The former mixes high grade plutonium (e.g. from weapons) with uranium oxides and then puts it through Light Water Reactors — so helps reduce the amount of ‘free’ and ‘pure’ Pu. The latter burns the Pu and the ‘waste’ (minor actinides) from the spent fuel of Light Water Reactors (it can also burn weapons-grade Pu). So it really does get rid of what people think of as nuclear waste.

  109. David, there is a lot here, but it boils down to your conclusion: “I think I am entitled to argue that a pure renewables future is possible and does not necessarily result in Catastrophe or Armageddon, Gen III or IV, lite or supercharged.”

    Sure you are. As Mackay is fond of saying, if your figures add up, then you’ve got a viable plan. Go ahead and promote it. Those who dispute your calculations must make their own case. In the end, a mix of practicality and rationality will, I hope, decide one way or another on the relative contributions of renewables, energy efficiency and conservation, and nuclear.

    You mention On the Beach. That would be from nuclear weapons, not nuclear power. Or global climate disruption.

  110. John,
    MacKay is saying 40kWh/person/day is what is being used today with ICE engines(15%efficiency) traveling average 30miles/day/person.
    He the says would need 40KWh of electricity to replace this. A Chevy Volt would only use 6kWh a day to travel 30miles(versus 40kWh).Larger vehicles would use more but not X6 as much.
    Most of MacKay’s book is great but this appears to be a significant error.

  111. Barry,
    Points(a) we should not use the example of Northern Germany(50,000km^2) as an example of world wind resources. Germany has done a great job of exploiting what they have but both wind and solar resources are poor. Fortunately they are close to Norway(good wind) and will be able to tap into the Sahara when solar is expanded. Meanwhile, nuclear would be a better alternative than coal.
    If you want to use Germany as an example you could say they have chosen renewables and coal. Other countries will hopefully choose nuclear rather than coal.

    point(b)Clearly there are enough wind and solar resources world wide to replace coal and oil by at least a factor of X10(wind) to X1000(for solar). The problem is it is often located away from transmission lines, just as hydro electricity often was until developed. Now Canada sends hydro power 2,000 km to the US and in Australia we get hydro from Tasmania and the Snowy Mountains.

    point(c)is a question of whether we can build capacity to both exploit and distribute these renewable resources. Wind alone probably not, solar alone possible but expensive, but wind, solar and hydro together is very realistic in most places or within 2,000 km the distance we move electricity today. Can we build this fast enough? as I said before nuclear can make a major contribution especially in the next 20 years before wind and solar become major energy sources.
    point(d) is an open question but we have years to adapt and as long as we don’t stop building new nuclear the final mix can be adjusted.
    Coals only advantage is that the fuel is a cheap and abundant(like nuclear,solar and wind). Coal power has high capital costs(like nuclear,solar and wind), it is not as flexible as hydro or NG, but can be turned off just as can nuclear, solar and wind. It has a waste disposal problem( like present nuclear).
    Nuclear has one other advantage over other energy resources, it can be sited almost anywhere there is demand, without having to move large amounts of fuel( as with coal or NG)

  112. Neil, on Germany, in this context my point was coal vs nuclear. Germany has invested particularly heavily in renewable energy (to their great credit), and have decided to forego any further expansion of nuclear power (current policy at least). The result? Around a dozen new coal-fired power stations in the planning works. This supports the view that (at present, at least), no nuclear = more coal.

  113. Dear Barry,

    ‘Sure you are…’. Yes, it is up to me to promote my ideas – and I appreciate your providing the forum to do so. Thankyou.

    On The Beach seriously stressed a lot of people for a long time. We still hear of people using ‘energy’ reactors to piggyback into ‘weapons’ reactors. The opaque situation around Iran is the obvious example. Israel prompted Iran, and Iran will prompt Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe there was a Chinese wall between India’s civilian and military programs. Pakistan’s decisions were prompted by India’s behaviour. They were probably facilitated by North Korea whose behaviour was influenced by Japan and South Korea.

    I suspect Tom Blees is of the generation that experienced this message – and why he too would have liked some international control. If, when, we get to IFRs perhaps this problem disappears.

    Kind regards

  114. Dear Barry,

    Yes, I was reasonably sure it was a different technology. The problem is that it was the result of the same industry and regulatory structure that we are relying on to implement the rapid expansion of Gen III reactors and Gen IV technology and reactors.

    Kind regards,

    David Murray

  115. Dear John,

    You made a minor error – you could have down loaded MacKay’s book for free rather than paying money. Not even Tom Blees was as kind as David Mackay – he only let you have one chapter for free.

    MacKay’s book is a great little book – but be careful about the analysis between pages 109 and 112.

    I think Neil dealt with your concerns about the Tesla. I find the difference between the energy usages of petrol and electric vehicles that MacKay gives truly amazing – and want to double check the sums with him.

    Kind regards,

    David.

  116. Dear Neil,

    I was 99%, but not 100% sure what you thought Mackay’s serious error was.

    Is he wrong in saying (in order of magnitude terms) that a conventional ICE motor car would use 80 kWh/ 100 kilometres and an electric car would use 15 kWh/100 kilometres?

    Or is he wrong in using the 40 kWh/d/p figure for cars in his red box on page 103 for example?

    Kind regards,

    David

  117. Dear Barry,

    I was responsible for the motherhood statement that ‘You can have lots of carbon free energy without nuclear or coal’. Your comments are very relevant and Neil has replied to your points (a) to (d) in much the same way as I would have.

    I would want to write two versions of your second paragraph.

    ‘1. There are enough uncertainties to convince me that any risk averse portfolio would have to include nuclear and renewables. The relative mix in the portfolio should depend on cost, feasibility, convenience, safety etc.. Our ideas on these will change as the new zero carbon economy rolls out over the next few decades, and we may alter the mix in our portfolio in the light of this extra evidence. My (I mean your) view is that nuclear power has sufficient advantages that it should dominate the mix.’

    ‘2. There are enough uncertainties to convince me that energy production activities (in say 2020) will include nuclear and renewables. The relative mix in this outcome will depend on cost, feasibility, convenience, safety, market forces, political forces and the regulatory environment. These will change as the new zero carbon economy rolls out over the next few decades. My (I mean your) view is that it is likely that nuclear power will dominate the end result, and furthermore in the meanwhile I (you) will move heaven and earth to change the political forces and the regulatory environment that will determine the mix of energy production activities in line with my (your) preferred result in paragraph 1.

    My (I mean my) view would reverse the role of renewables and nuclear.

    Thank you for taking time to communicate in this way. I noted that you submitted a large number of posts around midnight last night.

    Kind regards,

    David

  118. Dear Neil,
    Thank you for your comment and guiding me to the wind maps. The new ones are much more detailed and this has implications for predicting the possible energy output. As you correctly say very high local winds make a huge difference, because energy is velocity cubed. David MacKay rightly reminds us the average of the cube is bigger than the cube of the average. I took the liberty of going back to your comments on The Solar Fraud post. I think the crunch comment was a paragraph in #23.

    “This figure quoted of about 2kWh/person/day as the “practical” resource just doesn’t add up to calculations, of energy in average wind speeds of 12 m/sec at 100m height( at least 3% of UK). gives 1200W/m^2,energy and assuming a wind farm only recovers 1.5%of this is 18MW/km^2 for 7,000km^2(3%of UK)=126GW or 2kW average(48kWh/person/day). I think that’s about twice the present UK per person electricity consumption, so perhaps only 1.5% of UK would be OK. That’s still going to leave a lot of wilderness, as well as very low impact on the actual environment on regions having turbines( 4-6 turbines /km^2)”.
    MacKay relies very heavily on the 2 kWh/person/day figure. He derives it from his conclusion that for all practical purposes wind farms won’t get much above 2.2 W/sq m. (B.10). I redid his calculation using your 12 meter/sec, and his standard windmill (54 meter diameter blade) and windmill spacing (a five diameter 270 m square). With those figures my windmill generates 17 W/sq m. That coincides very neatly with your statement that the best 1 % of sites produces X 8 more energy than the average wind speed sites.
    His 2.2 W/sq meter and 10% of the UK surface area give him 20 kWh/d/p (Figure 10.3) of onshore wind power, decimated by Nimbyism and nay saying into 3 kWh/p/d in Figure 18.7
    Your 17 W/sq meter and 3% of the UK surface area give you 46 kWh/d/p. You would rightly argue that this 3% is much less open to the NIMBY and nay saying arguments.
    MacKay uses the critical assumption of 3 W/sq m for shallow and deep offshore wind farms. This is fifty per cent better than the (B.10) assumption he uses for on shore wind, but nowhere the ball park for your top 3% of 12 meter/second wind farms of 17 W/sq meter. If he is out by the same order of magnitude on these technologies the figures (and conclusions) change beyond all recognition.
    I think David MacKay’s method is invaluable – but the assumptions in his numerical calculations seem to have led us astray. Barry had the same reaction to his treatment of nuclear, particularly with respect to uranium resources.
    I apologize for the length of this reply – but the topic does not lend itself to too many shortcuts.
    Kind regards,
    David Murray

    PS I read recently that wind produced 40% of Spain’s energy needs in early March during a particularly breezy weekend. Fantastic. Did they have to load shed a lot of this monstrous surge or how did the matadors manage to keep it corralled in a safe place?

  119. Dear Neil and John,

    Thank you for your comments on the Tesla and for the confirmation of David MacKay’s apparent accounting error in dealing with the energy usage of private transport.

    I was simply not aware of the enormous wastage of high grade energy by the internal combustion engine. The Boron car would go one step further and remove motor vehicles right off the high grade energy energy budget.

    Kind regards,

    David

  120. I agree with these arguments on the relative efficiency of BEVs vs combustion or fuel cell engines. I’m interested in the likely efficiency of boron combustion if electricity is used to drive off the oxygen — perhaps GRLC can enlighten us?

    Overall, Mackay’s book is a really excellent contribution, but naturally imperfect given the breadth of fields he is trying to cut across — each area has its many nuances, as we are discovering in these many useful comments.

  121. Sorry I haven’t been able to contribute much to the comments on some other threads recently — I’ve been travelling and have not had much chance to get on the internet. Should be settled again by tomorrow. But briefly, here are some recent comments that Ted Trainer sent me — this is as good a thread as any to post them. Neil Howes, some specific replies for you:

    “Here are some thoughts on some of the useful comments you forwarded; if convenient can you feed these back to their senders.

    Neil’s figures on hydro are important to take into account; yes peak hydro output can be bigger than average annual contribution. But the contribution from hydro as a storage system isn’t settled by this; it depends on physical plant required to be ale to store pumped water, and get hold of it to pump and store. In other words I think the big limit is the availability of low dams. You must have access to a lot of water that’s down, close to the high dam, to pump up when surplus wind and sun are available. One would imagine that the number of locations enabling that and the associated generating capacity is a lot less than the normal hydro generation capacity, or what it can put out at peak load.

    My figures indicate that world hydro capacity could possibly be doubled; not multiplied by 10.

    Tasmanian capacity to supply to the mainland is very interesting. I think the magnitude issue is important here; if Australia was to run on renewables, then by 2050 with maybe double present demand, there will be times when sun and wind are down and we’d need to get maybe 60 GW from storage — taking into account conversion losses — and this is just to meet electricity demand, not including electric transport. Where can we store and get hold of anything like this quantity. (You might recall my thoughts on the task this would set for nsolar thermal; ,to cover 4 days plant would need perhaps 25 times normal 12 hr storage.)

    Neil says I haven’t dealt with use of car batteries; I have had a look at this and see it as problematic, because of the need to have the battery full again when the user wants the car. Lithium is not abundant if we are thinking about providing for 9 billion.

    I lam not interested in “efficiency gains” defined as energy use per dollar of GDP. What matters are trends in energy use. Nor do I think there is any value in attending to measures of annual achievement in the past, e.g., 1% p.a. gains in efficiency. We are in a critical era where all bets are off, the conditions to come will be very different to those in the past, and so extrapolating familiar trends will be unwise. For instance the cost of energy will surely rise a lot and this will feed back into everything, for example cutting lots of minerals out of what was thought to be the recoverable category.

    Mackay is good on ocean currents, which I haven’t gone into much, but these are limited; good for some countries such as UK, but not likely to make much global difference I think. He concludes that the UK can’t run on renewables, unless it draws on Africa for a big proportion. I don’t think he deals adequately with the fact that almost all the renewables supply only electricity, which is only 50+ of demand even if you electrify all transport.

    He is interesting on solar thermal for Europe from Africa, but doesn’t go into it very deeply. Not sufficient to draw those little squares representing small proportion of the Sahara that could meet demand. What about net supply. What about winter. What about runs of cloudy weather.

    I see Gregor Czisch is making another fuss about how Europe could run totally on renewables. I haven’t been able to find his recent writings, but have his c 2004 papers. His discussions are quite valuable I think but I don’t think he clinches it; for instance he talks about averages, when what matters is the variability and how often the renewables will leave big gaps.”

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  123. Barry,
    Thanks for passing on Tim Trainers comments( I only noticed them today).
    The comment about using hydro as pumped storage, it is correct that you need a low and a high storage reservoir, but the lower dam can be small as it only has to store one days peak supply. There are some locations where much more (6 months ) could be stored but 6 hours storage would be adequate,most of the time because low wind events are usually short duration. If once or twice a year a 2-3 day low wind event happens then 2-3 days of water will be lost, this happens anyway, that’s why the upper dam has to hold 6 months supply.

    The issue of storing several days supply of electricity is only relevant to local renewable energy. The study by Robert Davy and Peter Coppin CSIRO( 2003) illustrates for wind in just SA,VIC and NSW,only has a few hours of low wind at any one time, but we would have wind from WA to QLD and TAS and as well solar. In winter solar is very reliable in the north(winter dry season) and very reliable in summer in southern WA and SA. So its really only storage for wind demand at night with normal hydro peak capacity. Possibly 30GW for 4hours. Increasing hydro capacity by 400%(not new major dams) would be adequate, and increasing Bass-Link from 600MW to 6GW.
    “My figures indicate that world hydro capacity could possibly be doubled; not multiplied by 10.”
    If Tim is referring to Australia that may be correct, I was referring to the world, where according to DOE_ Idaho Lab, the US alone has 400Gw average undeveloped potential( about the same as the worlds developed). Canada has another 180GW and China possibly 300GW( 80GW capacity is under construction post 3 Georges).

    MacKay’s scenario G(no FF or nuclear) only uses a small amount(15%) of solar from N Africa, remember in UK wind is strongest in winter, solar would be used in summer. He does have another scenario using a lot of solar but not much wind energy.

    The issue of efficiency gain is important, for example Tim’s scenario of Australia needing twice as much electricity in 2050 is only valid if efficiency gains are less than GDP growth. California is a good example of high GDP growth, very slow growth in energy use. If energy becomes expensive( as we all expect) then efficiency gains will be similar to GDP growth.

    The only long term transport issue I see is for air travel. If we cannot replace the 900Million vehicles with battery power in 30 years we may need fuel rationing, the extra cost electric batteries will seem like a bargain. There is certainly enough Li for 1000 million vehicles, possibly not every one will be able to afford Li and have to use Ni or Pb or sodium/Sulfur.

  124. Dear Barry,

    I have addressed these comments on Ted Trainer’s comments to you. I think the electrified transport and battery issues are central to the carbon free economy.

    Ted writes:

    (a) “Neil says I have not dealt with the use of car batteries. I have had a look at this and see it as problematic because of the need to have the battery full again when the user wants to use the car. Lithium is not abundant if we are thinking about 9 billion.” and
    (b) “I don’t think that he [David Mackay] deals adequately with the fact that almost all renewables only electrify, which is only 50+ (sic, ? %) even if you electrify all transport.”

    Electric motor cars and transport (or some other alternative to fossil fuels) in one form or another is a critical part of our future. The need to have a car fully charged and available all the time is often mentioned as a drawback to the V2G and G2V solution. In principle smart metering (or even low tech time switches) can solve the problem. If you have to have a full battery always you leave the G2V switch on and the V2G switch off. Time controlled switches with say V2G on until 3 am and then off, and G2V on from 3 am until drive time would seem to be a low tech solution which would solve the problem and earn some dollars.

    The lithium supply problem has received some attention. It doesn’t seem to be a problem in the short term. In the longer term there are competing technologies such as NiMH, hybridized lead acid and sodium/sulphur as Neil points out. Nickel and lead are in abundant supply. NiMH has patent problems (with Chevron!). Lead’s discharge problems are being solved by adding a capacitator to the anode (or cathode). Zinc air (not zinc slurry) is another active technology based on an abundant material.

    David MacKay’s treatment of energy to drive motor vehicles has been scrutinized extensively. If we calculate the energy in the petrol used by a petrol engined motor car we include the energy for traction and the energy for heat. If we calculate the energy in the electricity used by the electric engined motor car we calculate the energy required for traction only – we don’t need the energy used for the unnecessary by-product heat. The energy used for traction appears to be less than 20% of that required for traction and heat. This is a remarkable untapped energy inefficiency.

    Electrifying interstate motor transport appears difficult to visualise. Electrification of interstate rail is plausible but without big volume increases is probably very expensive. Commercial intra-city transport is ideally suited to electrification. Short distances, lots of stopping and starting and return to a depot at night. If the vehicles can earn dollars at night from V2G then commercial operators will have few qualms about setting the appropriate time switches.

    Kind regards,

    David Murray

  125. Dear Neil,

    The storage of (intermittent) renewables is obviously a very important issue in the debate going on around us and you reiterate your solutions to the problem in reply to Ted Trainer’s comments. The thoughts below are how I clarified the issue for myself. You will doubtless have to reiterate your ideas again and again in the future and may want slightly different ways of explaining the same problem. I doubt whether there is any new knowledge for you below.

    You distinguish between within day variability, within season variability and short term variability due to e.g. large scale weather systems. Of these the latter is the least predictable but its effects are mitigated if the area from which the renewable is being sourced is large. Additionally there is also for us in Australia El Nino type variability.

    CSP smoothed through steam storage seems well suited to short period (within day) predictable variations. The predictable between seasons variability is simply a problem in the appropriate mix of winter and summer efficient sources.

    The relatively unpredictable short term (weather system) variability is probably best solved as you say with pumped hydro storage. If that is so then you need storage for a week or fortnight. This has implications for how small your lower storage dam could be before you lose significant water from the upper dam. I guess that if you have sequential large dams on the same water course as in the Snowy and Tasmanian systems you have this form of variability covered.

    I don’t know how you handle El Nino variability. I guess the problems it causes for hydro is offset by the extra sunshine. The ultimate lower storage dam is the ocean – but I do not know whether there are appropriate storage sites in Australia which could be used in this way. I guess that turning a favourite recreational site from a freshwater to a saline environment might not go down too well.

    Your article and the associated discussion at the Oil Drum were a tonic. Just the sheer quantity and quality of thought that the American conversation can stimulate is impressive.

    Kind regards,

    David Murray

  126. David,
    I have added the link to Davy and Coppin’s study.

    http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/renewable/publications/pubs/windstudy.pdf

    It is worth noting that in Australia peak demand is on summer afternoons, when wind is more reliable. Many of the low wind events are in evening and early mornings. You can see from Figure 5, between 8am and 8pm, 80% of the time >27% capacity and 90% of time >18% capacity(ie 47% of expected power). Although they don’t give a breakout(figure 10) of low wind events in daytime, low wind events(<5% capacity) average 2hours and <20% capacity only 5hours.
    Based on this( ignoring reduced variability with TAS and WA included,) we would not need to store more than 6hours power to make up the difference between 20% and 38% capacity( ie less than half) or to store 90% of power for 2-3 hours.

    Because solar delivers at peak demand, and less low wind events are in the day we are really talking about storing a small amount of power for unexpected low wind off-peak periods(no solar) and a defined 4-6 hour peak period.
    Most hydro dams in Australia run at 40% capacity, for months without rain, delivering 8.5GW peak power for 6 hours/day. If the existing dam capacity was increased 6fold, they would be able to provide for all of those 2-6hour low wind events even without any solar energy. Adding just 3 hours storage to below dam rivers would enable half of that to be recovered and pumped back over the next few days. Some locations can recover all of the water because they have a lower dam.
    Solar energy storage is only needed to use turbines and transmission lines more efficiently, but would allow solar to exactly match daily peak demand by shifting the solar peak by 3hours.

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