Thinking critically about sustainable energy (TCASE) 1: Prologue

This is the first post in what is planned to be an extended series, ‘Thinking critically about sustainable energy‘ (henceforth TCASE #). As explained in my previous blog entry, A necessary interlude, this series will look in detail at the issues confronting renewable and nuclear energy, with an aim to break down the often complex and multifaceted critiques and promotions being made about various energy generation technologies into simpler, single-issue chunks, which can be more readily pinned down and understood.

I will also profile some of the less well-developed low-carbon technologies, such as tidal, wave, microalgae, and geothermal, as well as nuclear fusion, fusion-fission hybrids, travelling wave reactors etc. and speculate on their possible future roles. I hope in this way that I’ll be able to reinforce people’s understanding of why I no longer hold renewable energy to be a primary solution — and yet, by the same yardstick of maintaining intellectual honesty, acknowledging that I’ll also keep an open mind to unconsidered possibilities and caveats that are raised by commenters (be these against nuclear energy, and/or for renewables). Indeed, I’ll also discuss critically the social and technical impediments facing nuclear power adoption and the Generation III/IV synergy.

First up, a little history of the evolution of my thought on this topic, as documented my professional research and in the archives of this blog.

My scientific training and subsequent research career has, in various ways, involved the use of ‘systems models‘. My published works have been largely in the area of ecological complexity, stochastic model evaluation, palaeoecology and statistical inference. So I’ve always had strong interest in how small pieces of a puzzle can fit together to make up the big picture — including trying to: (i) understand and quantify the relative sensitivity, redundancy and irreplaceability of different components; (ii) determine the degree to which they are additive, complementary or substitutable, and (iii) assess whether synergistic interactions can result in amplifying benefits or other emergent non-linear properties. As it turns out, the assessment of such system properties is also rather important for understanding how an integrated energy supply can function effectively.

My interest in energy systems is relatively new, but now constitutes somewhat of an obsession! On BraveNewClimate, my first post on topic was a guest blog by Stewart Taggert: “Australia can be a clean energy superpower“. This was followed by the post “Climate ripe for transformative change” in which I said:

The decision to invest heavily – and rapidly – in renewable energies like geothermal (hot rocks), solar thermal (desert mirrors), wave and wind power, and rooftop photovoltaic systems, is a no brainer. These technologies offer the only way to achieve an ongoing, growing energy supply.

and “Thinking big and fast on renewable energy” where I extolled our great clean energy resources:

But if Australia has vision, plays its cards right, and becomes a leader in the global climate solution, we could be humming with global exports of clean energy as world-leading discoveries make exploitation of unlimited energy resources ever cheaper. Australia is incredibly well placed among developed countries to move completely to renewable energy. We have huge, unexploited solar resources in our continental interior akin to the oil fields of the Middle East in the early 20th Century.

It is particularly instructive to look at a couple of the critiques I published at the bottom of that last piece, and my ‘answer’ to them at the time. Ahhh, it’s fun to reflect on the naivety of one’s youth…

Anyway, my focus at this point was pointedly directed at carbon emissions reduction (clean energy was just a means to an end), and it was obvious to me that the logical path to achieve this was renewable sources such as solar and wind power. I was coming at this issue from a genuine concern for eliminating carbon-based energy, and was overwhelmed by a sense of frustration, because I couldn’t understand why the ‘clean energy revolution’ wasn’t happening. Surely, all we had to do was put a price on carbon, to reflect the damage fossil fuel combustion was causing to the environment, and big things would start to happen! Bottom line is, no one could look back over those early posts and imagine that I came at this issue with anything other than a firm conviction that renewable energy was the answer. Indeed, I hadn’t given much thought to nuclear power at this point, not because I was ever ideologically ‘anti-nuclear’ — I had simply accepted the ‘peak uranium’ argument and not thought much more about it, as this comment I made back in Dec 2008 indicates.

Then, reality bit me, and it hurt. I remember I was sent an early version of Trainer’s thesis, and against all reason (‘what nonsense is this?‘ I recall first thinking), I read the damned thing. Somewhat crestfallen, yet also morbidly fascinated, I followed up, reading ‘The Solar Fraud‘ (the only other book on this topic of renewable limits, according to Trainer’s piece) and then a bookshelf worth of other tomes on this general topic, including ‘Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air‘ and ‘Prescription for the Planet‘ (kicking off my nuclear education in earnest),  followed by various technical analyses, IPCC WG III, blogs, etc. My first post on this blog on nuclear power was on 28 Nov 2008, 3 months after it has been launched. My transformation of thought had begun in earnest, and was reinforced by the work of people such as Peter Lang. The TCASE series is the next, more logically formalised, step in this process.

As a quantitative scientist with a bent towards statistics and models, I was willing to let preconceptions go if the evidence was there that I was wrong. Although it is often misused by those who actually do the complete opposite, the famous quote from Keynes here is apt: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” — although in this instance, it wasn’t the facts that changed as much as my knowledge and understanding of them. So begins a journey with TCASE to look critically at sustainable energy, in all forms. It is written in the hope of providing a resource for others to understand the magnitude of the challenge we face in eliminating our dependence on coal, oil and gas, to signpost the blind alleys to avoid, and to arrive at a rational conclusion as to what the most likely path(s) to success might be.

Addendum: Here is an updated version of the chart profiled in this post.

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94 Comments

  1. Barry, interesting to read of your intellectual journey, which has resulted in you becoming an advocate of nuclear power and a critic of the claims of the renewable advocates. An honest admission, and a worthy manifestation of an inquiring mind with the capacity to grow within an unfolding situation, a rare thing these days, when much of the debate about carbon constraints and AGW is undertaken with a robust ideological bias.

    I still wonder why someone with such an open approach to scientific and engineering propositions is trapped in a mindset where lip service to AGW is still required.

  2. I’ve always been a global warming cynic (still also at times a sceptic) because I couldn’t fathom the enthusiasm with which the greens of this world hang our future on renewable energy. I don’t think I’m unique in finding a lot of the climate policy proposals hairbrained.

    I suspect that Barry 08 would have been somebody that slightly annoyed me. I find the 2009 version much more credible.

    If it was up to me I’d end our prohibition on nuclear. I’d abolish fuel tax and payroll tax and replace them with a modest carbon tax of equivalent revenue applicable to the domestic energy and transport sectors only.

  3. Bravo for having such an open mind and the intellectual curiosity to seek out more information, rather than just holding on to the same ideological view. If only Greenpeace was the same way, they would also support nuclear power. The more research one does, in my view, the more it becomes obvious that nuclear is the answer. Even the originator of the “peak” phenomenon, M. King Hubbert, named the speech where he accurately predicted U.S. peak oil “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels,” and discussed the uranium 238 and thorium 232 breeder in the speech. So clearly, all the “peak uranium” stuff environmentalists insist upon is ideologically driven.

  4. Barry,
    Yes, congrats on an honest summary. I endorse Phil Sawyers remarks too, however, that AGW is still a debateable theory.
    I feel that your discussions on sustainable energy are developing into increasingly sound arguments.

  5. Zachary – Greenpeace is a dud outfit on so many counts. When BP wanted to dump an old oil rig at sea Greenpeace labeled such ocean dumping as a mortal sin. Greenpeace subsequently dumped the Rainbow Warrior at sea and said it would provide habitat for sea life. This is typical of their “make it up as you go along” science. Take a look at the Greenspirit.com website for a litany of criticisms from a founding member of Greenpeace (ecologist Patrick Moore) who ultimately quit Greenpeace in disgust.

  6. Patrick Moore was not a ‘founding member’ of Greenpeace. He was involved on the board of Greenpeace Canada.

    He has longstanding (and prior) connections with fishing and logging interests, and these days is involved in the hawking of ‘green’ certification.

    He’s not disinterested party.

  7. Phil #1 & SD #4 — thanks — my advice, to be consistent, is to consider the alternative view that AGW might just have compelling evidence. But anyway, whether you are concerned with climate change or not, there are multiple reasons to hasten our move away from fossil fuels (supply security, fuel costs, combustion pollutants, relative safety of extraction and transportation, etc).

    Andrew #5: I agree that getting anything done is tough in the US right now. Republican senator Lamar Alexander, has recently lamented this problem in this superb essay (please folks, take the time to read this). Indeed, I suspect it won’t be the place where the important first steps in the nuclear revolution take place. For this, look to Asia — especially China, India, Sth Korea and Japan.

  8. Terje said:

    I’d abolish fuel tax and payroll tax and replace them with a modest carbon tax of equivalent revenue applicable to the domestic energy and transport sectors only

    I’ve no strong views on payroll tax, though in the end it’s no big deal, but anything that l;owered the cost of fossil fuel would be a bad thing and simply encourage wasteful usage. If in addition it deprives states of important revenue and forces the abandonment of important programs or leads to a less equitable set of community levies, then this would be a bad thing.

    The levies on any fuel should, at a minimum, reflect the actual cost to the commons of producing the fuel, including of course, in the case of middle east crude, the cost of stationing troops in the middle east, ‘war on terror’ etc and the full LCA footprint.

    It is said that Australian governments will be spending some 10 trillion over the next two decades on one kind of national security or another. A large part of that is a direct or indirect consequence of crude oil access.

  9. @ Phil Sawyer, TerjeP, Zachary Moitoza and Spangled Drongo:

    You’ve correctly praised Barry for his reason ed shift of stance concerning the relative viability of ‘renewable’ power and nuclear fission power. Clearly he is not the ideologically driven green drone that Andrew Bolt and Co. delight in labelling him as. Are you now willing to take a hard look at Barry’s work on climate change with that new understanding?

    I recently submitted a comment to a thread on one of Andrew Bolt’s attacks on Barry Brook. Bolt’s article and the comments of his on-thread supporters were thick with the accusation of green ideological loonery concerning Barry’s position on climate change. I pointed out that if the accusations were correct, Barry would surely be towing the green ‘renewables’ line, rather than advocating the introduction of plutonium breeder reactors to Australia and throughout the world at large.

    Peculiarly, my comment did not appear in the discussion thread. Doubtless a technical error…

  10. Barry I am a fan of yours. I have been hoping for some time that some one would come along who could do a better job of analyzing the short comings of renewables than i have been able to do. You and Peter Lang certainly have done that, and my hat is off to you. By the way i call them windmills too.

  11. Fran,

    Patrick Moore is on of a half dozen people listed on the Greenpeace website on the page about founding members. That’s good enough for me.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/about/history/founders

    Also applying a carbon tax applied to domestic transport would not leave transport fuel untaxed. Removing the fuel tax merely amounts to removing duplication. At the moment it operates as a very narrowly based carbon tax and what I’ve outlined is a broadening of the base. A reform that would be good policy even in the absents of AGW.

  12. Finrod,

    I’ve never been shy about looking at the evidence for AGW. I have not looked at Barrys arguments specifically as I suspect they are pretty mainstream arguments. However out of respect I will endeavour to take a closer look. Care to recommmend a link as a starting point.

    Please note that I’ve never denied that the AGW theory in it’s basic form makes considerable sense. That is that our changing of the composition of the atmosphere will change the climate.

  13. Barry, I just want to say thank you for doing this since the educated non-specialist needs a “fair and balanced” review of the issues.

    Here in silicon valley there is a large hype factor to renewable energy sources like solar.

    When I can to look at “green energy”, I understood the problems associated with intermittent power but didn’t realize how costly those approaches would be if you wanted to make them into a 24/7 sufficient continuous supply. The idea of “mixing” renewables *seemed* to offer a way out but again this turns out to be another overly costly proposition. Nuclear fission reactors had “scare factors” associated with them which, after discovering this site and others, turn out to be misinformation, exaggerations and negative propaganda.

    So far nuclear leaves the rest behind in the dust that I still scratch my head and wonder why anyone would bother with things like wind or solar. Aside from upfront building costs and longer term maintenance cost is it because the “raw” material (sunshine & wind) is free and virtually limitless? Over the lifetime of these solar/wind energy generating schemes, does this free source of sunshine and wind make the total cost less expensive than nuclear?

    Anyway, I hope to help disseminate links to your series of articles on some “sustainable energy” on sites I frequent.

    Mark

  14. I still scratch my head and wonder why anyone would bother with things like wind or solar. Aside from upfront building costs and longer term maintenance cost is it because the “raw” material (sunshine & wind) is free and virtually limitless?

    Although it should be plain that I strongly support resort to nuclear power, it’s easy to seer why solar and wind appeal more strongly to most who care about the planet and many others who are 50-50 on the question, at least at first examination.

    Free and limitless sounds very appealing, obviously, but more than that wind and solar are things that everyone understands. The earliest cultures had names for wind and sun gods. The circle of life proceeds from the movement of the sun across the sky and the diurnal movement of the sun marks it out as of primary significance. The sun is the primary necessary condition of all life on the planet, bound up with the cycle of the harvest and thus embedded in civilisation from the earliest of days. So it’s hard to imagine anything with a stronger claim to being “natural” than energy drawn from the the sun and to a lesser extent, the wind. And so for those who are advocates of nature and its virtue, solar and wind energy is as culturally apt as it gets. Being inexhaustible and having no measurable footprint simply sit within the notion of naturalness.

    Most people are not economists, or physicists or engineers and have only the loosest grasp of the concepts underlying these fields of human knowledge so explaining how the cost and technical constraints of harvesting such sources could render them inferior to something as abstruse and unknowable as “radioactive energy” is utterly counter-intuitive. The fact that nuclear energy is not only the province of experts and engineers and large remote corporations having some indefinable relationship with people who make weapons of mass destruction and produce invisible damage “cancers” that even doctors can’t understand and has effects which last for 50,000 years simply underlines why, for many people, nuclear sounds an appalling option. Unnatural, the product of malice, and insidious. I well recall a demo I went to in 1980 against uranium mining in which the feminists held up a slogan you can’t hug children with nuclear arms. In marketing terms, it was brilliant. Renewables are about life and nuclear is about death. The HAZMAT signs reinforce this.

    Note that I’m not endorsing this view, but merely explaining it culturally. It’s this pwerception amongst other things that we have to deal with if we are to move society forward towards rational energy policy.

  15. Ter Je … a starting point might be http://www.realclimate.org. They have an extensive archive and FAQ plus links to lots of other good science sites pitched at a variety of audiences. The site itself is monitored by climate scientists including Gavin Schmidt and Stefan Rahmstorf, who have worked with the IPCC. You don’t even have to register to post a question, though it is better if you read first and ask sensible questions later.

    As to the question of a tax on fuel, although I can think of better ways in a place like Australia than a tax on fuel to achieve the kinds of ends we’d want (avoidance of fossil fuel usage except where rational, increased public transport usage at the expense of personal transport) this is probably the easiest way to ensure that a strong and adequate relationship between fuel usage and its actual social costs is established and maintained.

  16. Fran – can I assume that you now accept as reasonable my basis for calling Patrick Moore a founding member of Greenpeace. Also I find your assertion that he has commercial interests pretty irrelevant. He has always made what I consider to be well reasoned arguments. Including his criticisms of Greenpeace.

  17. I think we have to question everything to sort out facts from opinions. I just watched a replay of the ABC Landline program. They argued that deliberate burning of NT savannah increased soil carbon capture relative to wildfires. One of the scientists interviewed said there wasn’t much in it but that didn’t stop Ross Garnaut announcing it was a wonderful new source of carbon credits. The practical effect being we won’t have to cut back so much on coal.

    I fear that self serving thinking has permeated the highest echelons of politics and the bureaucracy. Mother Nature knows whether atmospheric carbon is increasing or not and will act accordingly. Word is the 2010 ETS is going to be watered down even more. The web community is now necessary to keep the political system honest.

  18. Patrick Moore, from Wiki …

    In 1971, in Vancouver, he was an early member of Greenpeace, participating in their first direct action. He is sometimes referred to as co-founder though this is disputed by the current Greenpeace organization and those it acknowledges as founders

    And further from GreenPeace itself …

    There’s an old joke that in any bar in Vancouver Canada you can sit down next to someone who claims to have founded Greenpeace. In fact, there was no single founder, and the name, idea, spirit, tactics, and internationalism of the organisation all can be said to have separate lineages. Here’s a few facts.

    In 1970, the Don’t Make A Wave Committee was established; its sole objective was to stop a second nuclear weapons test at Amchitka Island in the Aleutians.

    The committee’s founders were Dorothy and Irving Stowe, Marie and Jim Bohlen, Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe, and Bob Hunter. It’s first directors were Stowe, Bohlen, and a student named Paul Cote.

    Canadian ecologist Bill Darnell came up with the dynamic combination of words to bind together the group’s concern for the planet and opposition to nuclear arms. In the words of Bob Hunter, “Somebody flashed two fingers as we were leaving the church basement and said “Peace!” Bill said “Let’s make it a Green Peace. And we all went Ommmmmmmm.” Jim Bohlen’s son Paul, having trouble making the two words fit on a button, linked them together into the committee’s new name: Greenpeace.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/about/history/founders

    No “Patrick Moore” in that list though the same article notes he travelled aboard the Phyllis Cormack to witness the second nuclear test.

    It continues …

    At a point when separatist Greenpeace national and regional entities were taking legal action against one another, the successful businessman and athlete (David McTaggart) stepped in and settled the arguments by founding Greenpeace International.

    So no, I reject your claim that Patrick Moore was a founding member of Greenpeace, based on the fact that they do and have supplied a rationale.

    Also I find your assertion that he has commercial interests pretty irrelevant. He has always made what I consider to be well reasoned arguments. Including his criticisms of Greenpeace.

    Gosh … only prettyirrelevant? So partly relevant? Which part?

    Dr. Patrick Moore … is presently paid by the timber industry to deliberately mislead the public and politicians about the acceptability of aggressive logging practices. Dr Leonie Jacobs University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, 1996

    http://www.fanweb.org/patrick-moore/quotes.html

    I heard him recently on ABC Radio and he was spruiking the mainstream denier disinformation. He has an interest in providing greenwash. This character does not belong in any discussion of energy or environmental policy so my observations were entirely germane.

  19. Barry,

    I, too, appreciate your honesty and willingness to admit that new information can change one’s opinion regarding something on which you’ve made clear statements earlier. That is a rare trait among professionals, particularly those in the public eye.

    Regarding the “renewable” criteria, have you seen this post from John Wheeler at “This Week in Nuclear” blog? Titled: Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?

    http://thisweekinnuclear.com/?p=671

    He makes some very defensible definitional arguments.

  20. Fran – why does Greanpeace mention him on the page describing the founders of Greanpeace if his inclusion isn’t relevant? You have not provided anything that leads me to desist from calling him a founding member of Greenpeace. Although clearly you want to split hairs on the technicalities of issue.

    You cite the fact that he has strong critics. Granted but so what? Having strong critics does not mean you are wrong. Personally I find his pro-timber arguments very compelling.

  21. Guys – what if he was or wasn’t. Who cares? Clearly Greenpeace don’t or he would be listed in “The committee’s founders were Dorothy and Irving Stowe, Marie and Jim Bohlen, Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe, and Bob Hunter. It’s first directors were Stowe, Bohlen, and a student named Paul Cote.” not just as someone who was on their 1st boat trip… but really who cares?

  22. It’s probably a minor point, Barry, but it is so often repeated by people who should know better in an attempt (by him and the denierati) to give the fellow standing to which he is not entitled and to leverage his attacks on environmental policy in general and Greenpeace in particular that I do get rather annoyed when I see it.

    Terje tried to claim my silence as affirmation of this dissembling as well, so I really had to answer.

  23. Changing an organisation, be it Greenpeace or the ALP, is much tougher
    than changing one’s mind. The fact that Greenpeace, or anybody else, is
    braindead on some issues is irrelevant to whether they should be
    supported when they are right.

  24. Great piece Barry! I look forward to future installments.

    I had a similar conversion story…I was once a hard-core wind and solar guy, spending lots of time thinking about how to cover deserts in solar concentrators and build windmills. I couldn’t figure out why everyone didn’t want this, but a couple of summers living in the Mojave and seeing the remnants of past solar projects and the half-broken windmills of the Tehachapi Pass began to dampen my enthusiasm.

    Nuclear didn’t seem particularly compelling to me. I had a lot of mistaken ideas, but there was still a lot of stuff about LWRs that I had right and left me underwhelmed. My conversion began when I started reading a book called “Fluid Fueled Reactors” and around the same time read an article written by Rod Adams on the subject of thorium…

  25. A shift in politics may have come just in time to save nuclear power in Germany.

    The rise of the pro-liberty Free Democratic Party (FDP) shifts the balance of politics away from green socialism. It means that the Christian Democrats (CDU) can and will end their coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and align instead with FDP. This is good news for those of us who believe in free markets. It is also good news for nuclear power in Germany.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP_Election_brings_hope_for_German_nuclear_2809091.html

    From the article:-

    The first step to recognising nuclear power’s role in Germany – where it provides 31% of power – will have to come soon: current shutdown schedules would see Neckarwestheim 1, Biblis A and Biblis B close next year. After that, 14 other reactors would close by 2022. Their role was meant to have been taken by mass deployment of renewables but in practice generators were expected to build coal-fired plants instead, hurting Germany’s environmental performance.

  26. TerjeP, the “Free” Democrats hardly believe in “liberty”. Germans by and large will revolt *en masse* should they dare touch public education, public health and introduce any form of neo-liberalism.

    Secondly, since when did the “free market” have anything to do with nuclear energy? Ever? It’s totally a bogus method to associate any CDU/FD coalition with “free markets”, if they did that, then no nuclear…or renewables…would *ever* be built.

    Hopefully the German gov’t will pour *public* money into new nuclear…like every pro-nuclear gov’t does everywhere there is a serious nuclear program.

    We’ve seen how people in Latin America react when neo-Liberals get a hold the economy: they revolt and put in left leaning or socialist gov’ts.

    David

  27. In the USA, Gen II power plants have, after decades of slow improvements, reached 90+% availablity, about the same as CCGT power plants. For all sources of electric power, lack of availability comes in two forms, planned and unplanned.

    To avoid a sudden de-energizing of the grid, rolling reserves have to be going, ready to be energized if any single power source suddenly trips off-line. Around here, the rolling reserves have to be capable of providing as much power as an single generator on-line. For example, if the largest was a 540 MW CCGT, then there would need to 540 MW worth of OCGTs spinning ready to take up the lost load.

    For scheduled outages there needs to be replacement generators, not spinning, to be brought up while the more efficient plant is being serviced. One might have CCGTs or even old coal plants (ugh!) for this purpose, with service times often on the order of several weeks.

    But this 90% availabilty (daytime only) ought to apply to solar. It would if there were 3.6525 cloudy days per year. So solar needs backup, i.e., the grid’s rolling reserve. No big deal. But more, weather prediction is probably no good enough that cloudy days probably do not require rolling reserve, but rather some OCGTs (which quickly come up to speed) to handle the load lost due to clouds. Same ideas apply to wind so I’ll not go through that.

    What, you say, you are going to burn natgas, a fossil fuel, in your gas turbines? Well, if I have to dip into the stored natgas, I will. But this seems an ideal place to position some biomethane. These backups are not run that often, I think, so the amount of biomethane could be rather modest, grown all year long, stored and used on occasion.

    All these same ideas apply to nuclear power generation; some backup must be there. Biomethane fired GTs provide a carbon neutral way to do this.

    He who does not learn to store
    shall suffer blackouts evermore.

  28. Secondly, since when did the “free market” have anything to do with nuclear energy?

    I’m a fan of free markets and most of what gets called neo-liberalism however the comment about free markets was an aside so don’t get too hung up on it. If you want to discuss economics in depth then I don’t think this is really the blog on which to do it. For the moment lets just assume that you and I disagree.

  29. Barry

    You have a fantastic site here which I have just recently discovered.

    I too was a wind/solar advocate. Although far from a scientist or engineer, I could see no use for nuclear in its current form and deemed it totally unnecessary with its host of long term problems.

    That was until a little over a year ago when I somehow stumbled upon Charles Bartons’s Nuclear green along with Kirk Sorenson’s Energy from Thorium and the LFTR concept, and then along came Tom Blees and his book Prescription for the Planet.

    After doing research on all of this, I too have concluded that nuclear is our only option. Nuclear will eventually win the day. More people are becoming aware of this, albeit slowly, as the shotcomings of renewable energy are apparent to anyone who performs any due diligence on the subject.

  30. @David @37:

    In this US we call this “spinning reserve”. The difference between the 540MW CCGT you noted as an example and the same amount of Solar is that not all 540MW CCGTs or even a large % of base load power producers need as much back up…usually in the 10% or less range. Solar, all solar, needs to have a much back up as there IS solar. So…12,000 MWs of solar needs at least 12,000 MWs of back up. 12,000 MWs of nuclear only needs about 1100 MWs of backup. And so it goes…

    David

  31. David Walters (41) — Ok, spinning reserve.

    The bigger the grid, the smaller the percentage of reserve required, since it depends upon the size of the largest single plant switch might switch off.

    I don’t agree about solar for it depnds upon locality and the degree to which cloudiness in one locality is correlated with cloudiness in another locality.

    Suppose a single locality generates 540 MW (nameplate). Then if a small cloud momentarily hides the sun, the spinning reserve comes on-line briefly. If the prediction is that that locality will be cloudy all day, then fire up the off-line reserve power, treating this event as similar to any other scheduled outage.

    The scheduling and reliability problems arise when there is too much solar in any one locality or cloudiness at different localities is correlated. The if there is not enough off-line reserve power more will have to be built or else the excess solar power is used solely for interruptable purposes such as pumping fluids, etc.

  32. Barry
    I first heard you speak on Father’s Day this year 2009, only a few days after hearing mention of Thorium Reactors on the ABC Q&A.
    The information you shared with the audience was a “light bulb moment” for me. I have worked for 30 years in IT and have repeatedly witnessed disruptive technologies “Killer Apps” that emerge out of the blue and take over the mainstream very quickly. It is great that you can be as intellectually honest to share your point of epiphany with those who are interested.

    The real challenge you face is to broaden the audience so that your logical and intellectually honest views and options can grain traction.

    I see you as part of the “New Shade of Green” which has appeared in the debate; it is a Green composed of “Blue Sky” thinking with more than a dash of uranium “Yellow Cake”. Although this may be a slightly luminous green it adds a lot value and honesty to our understanding of the value of options available.

    Unfortunately I am a lay person (like 99% of the population) and much of this debate is like listening to a great Verdi (Italian for Green) opera; I love the music and emotion but don’t understand all the words. Its time this part of the debate got more mainstream media attention. The fourth generation of benign Nuclear reactors appear to offer “cost effective” real hope for a reduction in CO2 which is after all the real outcome the World requires.

    Barry the options and arguments you put are compelling honest and logical. Your web site is a great source of information keep up the passion.

  33. Non fossil methane would seem to provide quick backup power if indeed it can be produced cheaply, say less than 20c per cubic metre (room conditions), 50c a kg or $500 a tonne. TV cricket fans of course marvelled at one large scale form of low pressure storage at Edgbaston UK
    http://www.cricket.org/…/CMS/107400/107415.icon.jpg
    That price works out about 5c per kwh combined production and storage, much cheaper than battery energy storage at about 10c per kwh on top of generation cost.

    However low pressure biomethane still needs potentially expensive CO2 scrubbing and ideally all the pumps and harvesting and waste dispersal machinery should run on it. That applies whether it is algae, sewage sludge or grass fed.

  34. Yes, the bigger the grid, the more *elastic* it is. Bigger is better in this case. Multiple generators are also a good thing.

    I don’t agree the biggest problem is too much solar (or other intermittent generation). It’s been demonstrated here on this blog already that one has to account not for small episodic cloudiness, but rather regional cloud cover, being “socked in” as we say, for days or even weeks at a time. The same is true with windless *not days* but *weeks*. There problem therefore is having to over build IF one were going to go into the mid-double digits % of renewables…redundancy for multi-day “outages” needs to be built in. Pump storage is likely not to make it.

    I’ve postulated in more realistic scenerios that a grid/ISO jurisdictions (where I live in California, this is about 21GWs of baseload) a baseload of 100% LWR nuclear with EPR capable load changing. I mean “baseload” is the most narrowest of terms: 24/7 minimum load which is the 21GWs the CAISO is in charge of. Then you can have all manner of everything else for all load above base load up to state wide/ISO peak load of 44GW (take or add about 6 GWs). But the base load belongs to nuclear. It would be interesting to see this develop.

    David

  35. Fran, just what is your problem with Patrick Moore? So he does some consulting work for Timber companies, better him, than some Rape and Pillage type, and there’s lots of those around.

    I would be more concerned about the big fat donations Greenpeace gets from Ted Turner ( NG), Joyce Foundation (Coal) and Rockefellers (Oil & NG), to name a few. No wonder their stubborn intransigence on Nuclear, in spite of the support of Nuclear from the World’s #1 Environmentalist, namely James Lovelock.

    Why not actually read what Patrick Moore says, rather than what Greenpeace fabricates:

    http://www.greenspirit.com/21st_century.cfm?msid=29&page=1

    If you read what he says, he is actually much more sympathetic to the Green Agenda, then most who post on this website, including myself. For instance, he does support the new renewable energy (Solar, Wind, Geothermal) as part of the optimal energy mix, whereas we believe it is a foolish misdirection of precious capital investment. He’s also big on planting trees, as part of his solutions.

  36. On Patrick Moore. I never quote him. Unlike others who were “Greens”, Moore went into the consultant industry not just for nuclear but for polluters as well. I do *use* the fact that he was an original person in Greenpeace, but there are far better examples to use of formally anti-nuclear Greens who are not pro-nuclear Greens that ought to be emphasized.

    IMHO, Moore is not that effective because he is a paid lobbyist. It’s a continual problem repeated in this thread that Moore’s credentials keep coming up for attack or at least questioning.

    James Lovelock, George Mondbiot and many others are far more effective and whose credibility is simply unquestionable. Let Moore do what he does, which is basically to lobby big-wigs and the rich and famous.

    David

  37. Fran, just what is your problem with Patrick Moore?

    asked Warren heath

    He’s the filth merchant’s favourite lobbyist. His last visit to Australia showed why as he trotted out one denier meme after another to obstruct policies aimed at CO2 mitigation.

    His support for nuclear (and indeed anything) is like a kiss of death — about as useful as having Robert Mugabe endose your commitment to human rights. When he opens his mouth, I immediately wonder who is paying for the noise.

    Greenpeace is mistaken on nuclear power, and a little ineffectual on confronting the whalers, but there’s no doubt that they do a good job in many areas and are composed of worthy people.

  38. Fran – other than taking your word for it where is the evidence that Greenpeace is staffed by “worthy” people. Your position seems to be based more on tribal solidarity than anything else. All you have really said above is that Patrick Moore says stuff you disagree with and he also supports nuclear power. Well from my vantage point that makes him pretty much the same as you. You say stuff I disagree with and you also support nuclear power. It wouldn’t be useful to compare you to Robert Mugabe but if I wanted to I could.

  39. Terje

    It’s not merely what Moore says but why he says it and who he says it for …

    Nor does his lip service to nuclear power amount to anything more than that. It’s a tactic designed to wedge proponents of CO2 mitigation.

    I have spent quote a bit of time over the years working alongside Greenpeace people. They are sincerely motivated to protect the biosphere. Patrick Moore’s sincerest motivation is to protect Patrick Moore and his client base. At the moment, that entails serving the big polluters and environmental vandals.

  40. Secondly, since when did the “free market” have anything to do with nuclear energy? Ever? It’s totally a bogus method to associate any CDU/FD coalition with “free markets”, if they did that, then no nuclear…or renewables…would *ever* be built.

    David – I know I said we ought not debate economics on this blog. However I was a little bemused by your above comment and I did some checking on Wikipedia. As far as I can fathom most if not all the nuclear power stations in Germany are run by private companies. On the face of it the electricity market in Germany seems to be a much more free market than the electricity market in Australia. Obviously in terms of nuclear power Australia is definitely not a free market as nuclear power is a prohibited product here. And unsurprisingly the more free market (ie the German electricity market) is the one with the nuclear power.

    Seeking to remove the prohibition of a product is a pro-market reform. I don’t know how anybody can promote nuclear power in Australia without being slightly guilty of advocating an increase in market freedom. Prohibition is the opposite of freedom. Even government provision is more permissive than prohibition.

  41. I’m not sure the Australian Federal government has legislation banning nuclear power which WNA News seems to imply; it’s more of an unwritten agenda among senior politicians. After all the Lucas Heights reactor is run by a Federal agency. I think Federal politicians can be divided into the rabidly anti-nuclear like Albanese and the young Garrett as opposed to set piece reciters like Ferguson, Wong and Swan.

    In the States former premiers Beattie and Carpenter went out of their way to denounce the nuclear industry. Strangely Carpenter wanted a natural gas conservation protocol which seems never have occurred to Federal minister Ferguson. In WA Barrett likes all big projects and I suspect SA’s Rann would like nuclear if somebody (eg BHP) paid for it. Rann is between a rock and a hard place with the Olympic Dam expansion and the need to replace the older coal station at Pt Augusta. In the NT Henderson is pro uranium mining. Tasmania’s Bartlett surmises most haven’t noticed 25% coal power in 2009 up from 0% in 2006 when they switched on the Basslink HVDC cable.

    However should you discover uranium in the Australian Capital Territory and proceed to mine it the Federal cops could slam in you in the clink with terrorists.

  42. Barry,

    Thanks for the stuff you have done on IFR, its given me reasons to think that nuclear will help on mitigation whereas while I used to like nuclear from an engineering standpoint I didn’t think it measured up on a number of parameters.

    However, I still have some uncertainities on IFR from an engineering standpoint, such as the practicalities of processing and handling spent fuel from Gen II to fit in an IFR, multiplied across the world.

    I don’t rule out a combination of renewables, energy efficiency, decentralised energy and behaviour change but this stuff on IFR allows the possibility of decarbonising existing thinking and attitudes amongst those wedded by technological lock-in, etc to coal and its variants. That’s most probably easier than trying to get people to accept a completely new way of relating to energy in their lives.

    Its existing thinking that we have to deal with.

    If IFR gets up then that may make it easier to add in renewables etc but I agree with you when you say the urgency is too great to ‘experiment’

  43. TerjeP , what you say about nuclear power today is ‘true’. Factually. But they were not built in either free market conditions nor are they run as merchant plants as some are in the U.S.

    Germany’s nukes were built by previous Socialist gov’t’s before the Green influence on the SPD. Germany had a state run electricity system for the most part, and it was privatized over a series of *retreats* over decades. The same is true in France but the attack on the state sector of EdF is not as profound yet.

    When France built it’s vast nuclear system it did it as a socialist electric grid. Every aspect of EdF was stateowned, including construction.

    In my meeting with FO-CGT union leaders last year, they note that *every* problem with the delays in Flamesville are associated with the private-sub contractors who were, by laws implemented by the rightwing gov’ts there since the end of the socialist Mitterrand regime, subject to “low bidding”. This ‘free enterprise’ approach has lowered standards *across the board* with regard to power plant construction and it is showing up in the lower quality of work.

    Previously EdF did not sub-contract the work but employed a regulary staffed, highly trained set of construction engineers and skilled, union, tradesmen. Not any more. So, naturally, things are going to be more expensive and lower quality.

    In Germany, no private company is going to build a nuclear power plant based purely on laizzefaire attitude toward the market. Even in England where it’s supposed to be 100% private..in fact only the profits will be “private” but there will be huge government intervention.

    David

  44. David – thanks for giving a sensible answer. A few observations.

    1. It is not unusual for unions to be critical of out sourcing so I’m always sceptical about putting too much weight on their concerns. Obviously they should not be ignored but they are biased. It is after all their job to maximise pay and conditions (including job security) for their members. That often conflicts with the broader interests of consumers and workers in general but so long as unions don’t dominate the system their bias is reasonable (just as it is reasonable in a system such as criminal justice that lawyers are biased towards their clients).

    2. I don’t understand the term “low bidding”. If it means that management is obligated to accept the lowest bid without consideration of reputation, track record, capability etc then it represents a ludicrious management practice. If it was imposed by politicians then I would agree it was stupid. It may even be right wing (the right does plenty of dumb things). However it has nothing to do with market liberalism. Many things should be out sourced but out sourcing requires good management and isn’t always the best approach. For government owned entities the best approach is typically corporatisation and / or privatisation (or even mutualisation) rather than the political imposition of prescriptive management practices. Corporatisation has worked wonders for Australia Post which these days does a lot of out sourcing and provides a very satisfactory service.

    3. Learning to out source well generally entails some corporate learning. It is rarely done well from the outset if it is completely alien to the corporate culture.

    A sensible pro-market reform in Australia would be to clearly permit rather than obstruct private construction and operation of nuclear power plants. That includes clear legislation to protect the property rights (ie investment) of nuclear operators. If that is insufficient to enable their construction then one has look at issues of red tape. Beyond that one has to question the economic merit. If nuclear can’t compete with fossil fuels due to price and if CO2 emissions are a real concern then a narrow carbon tax applied to energy producers has vastly more merit than government funding of nuclear. If after all that nuclear can’t compete with renewables (or carbon capture) then obviously we should not have nuclear.

    Finally I should say that I’m not much interested in pure free market absolutism. However an awful lot of failure in our economic and social spheres relates to ill conceived or out dated prohibitions, regulatory burdens and prescriptions, price controls, development constraints, license created monopolies, taxation distortions, government subsidies, imposed barriers to entry (try starting a bank) and anti competitive government policy. I have little time for prescriptions that entail further government intervention when so much positive reform can be achieved simply by selectively winding back on existing interventions and distortions.

    I support nuclear power in Australia. I’d be very much opposed to government funding and or ownership of nuclear power plants. What we need from government is enabling legislation that removes government as a barrier.

    Some here think we need broad public concensus for this to happen. I’d argue that very little of the meaningful and worthwhile reform in the last 30 years has had broad public concensus prior to implementation. What we need is some degree of elite concensus amoungst policy wonks (that’s where Barry can help) coupled with politicians that have backbone and leadership qualities. The public is very conservative and the status quo generally wins any poll when pitched against a specific alternative.

    Just to hammer the point. I think it is fine if the likes of Barry can win popular support for nuclear. However I think it is a poor strategy to focus time and energy on this activity. We should aim to win the minds of elite policy makers, not the hearts of the general public. Our system is one of representative democracy not direct democracy. The merit of representative democracy is that representatives have the time to consider complex issues in depth which the general public has no rational interest in investing personal time in. If you wait until the general public has invested itself in these complex issues you will be doing the general public a disservice. In political terms nuclear advocates ought to get real.

  45. David Walters (47) — In general I agree. The rock-bottom base load belongs to nuclear, although around here almost all of it is hydro. But getting up to the maximum requirement still requires backup for wind, if that is supposed to be part of it. In fact, in these parts, wind is used whenever available, day or night, with hydro backup. In effect, the wind means the resevoirs tend to stay a bit fuller. That’s a good thing; after last Spring’s runoff, the resevoirs were only 60% full despite it being an average water year.

    Backing solar unavailaibity for days or even weeks depends upon the predictability of overcast weather at the site. As a simple example, suppose it is never cloudy in the summer and fall and sometimes in the winter and spring. Then schedule all planned outages during the summer and fall and use the reserve generators to back solar during the winter and spring. That would provide a small amount of already built gnerators; adding new ones just to back solar does not sound cost effective to me.

  46. David Walters (#58) and TerjeP (#59),

    I believe what both of you say is largely correct. But we need to focus at a higher level.

    If we want to reduce GHG emissions as quickly and effectively as possible, we need low-cost, low-emissions electricity. The focus needs to be on lowering the cost of low emissions electricity, not on artificially raising the cost of fossil fuels. Attempting to artificially raise the cost of FF generated electricity will delay uptake for a long time; it will require many iterations of international trade agreements.

    China, India, Indonesia, and African nations for example are going to electrify. It is rediculous to believe otherwise. If fossil fuel is the cheapest way, that is what they are going to use.

    So, what we, in the west, need to do is to focus on lowering the cost of low-emissions electricity generation.

    I believe we could have nuclear energy at below the cost of new coal fired generation, and we could achieve our first plant in about a decade if we wanted to. What is needed?:

    1. By-partisan support from Labor and Liberal across Federal and state governments for low emissions electricity generation at least cost and with no options discouraged. Rudd could achieve that before the next election if he wanted to.

    2. Enabling legislation to start putting in place the education and research infrastructure. Swing the bulk of the funds towards the technologies with the highest probability of achieving the goals most quickly. The focus must be on low-cost solutions.

    3. Establish the regulatory regime without bias. It should be no more dificult to site a nuclear power station than any other industrial plant that has the same level of hazards and risks.

    4. The safety requirements for nuclear power stations will be the same as for all other industrial plants.

    Why do I beleive nuclear can be lower cost than coal?

    1. Hanford B was built in 15 months in 1944. It ran until it was retired in 1968. During its life the original plant was progressively uprated from 250 MWth to 2250 MWth. If the first ever large nuclear power station could be built so quickly and be capable of a 9 times increase in its power output, and run for 24 years, and that was achieved 65 years ago, why cant we do far better now?

    The answer is: of course we can do much better now. What is stopping us is politics and bureaucracy.

    What we need is leadership. the sort of leadership that built the Snowy Mountains Scheme. That scheme was built when everyone knew that a single high court challenge would stop it completely. It was totally unconstitutional. Yet strong leadership and effective politics enabled it to be built.

    Why can’t we repeat that feat to build low-cost low-emissions electrcity generation system now?

  47. Peter,

    I’m not sure breaching the constitution is either necessary or desirable. I would however be interested in more historical detail on this point.

    In political terms the strategy you are outlining is called picking winners. Of course it is better to pick winners that to pick losers but governments have a very questionable track record in this regard (witness the chunk of money the Howard government gave to the big photovoltaic plant and to the Darwin rail link). Having said that (and even though my current personal income is predominately derived directly from the coal sector) I think government investment in CCS would instead be better spent on nuclear power research on the assumption that the government first made clear in legislation that it would permit nuclear power. Of course a good counter argument for CCS investment is that if successful it protects a major existing income stream for Australia (and royalty stream for governments). I’m just not sold on the idea that things will pan out this way and I think CCS investment is mostly dead money.

  48. TerjeP (#62)

    I didn’t mean to advocate picking winners. That is exactly what I think we are doing when we subsidise and mandate renewable energy, fossil fuels and CCS but ban nuclear. That is what I call picking winners.

    What I intended to advocate is a level playing field for all technologies. No special treatment or special rules for nuclear. Nuclear power station to be treated with the same rules as all other industrial plants. R&D fundingshould be distributed according to the expected ROI, just as CSIRO is now required to do in selecting which projects to fund.

    I hope you will re-read my post #61, because I was not intending to advocate pick winners. I want to stop that. If renewable energy can produce low-cost, low-emissions electricity sooner then nuclear, then that will be the tecnology that will win out.

  49. Peter – thanks for clarifying.

    On a separate note I am reading PFTP by Tom Blees at the moment. I’m at page 63 and I have learnt some interesting things. For instance:-

    1. Pro market libertarians should shut up.

    2. George Bush is evil for supporting policies that are also supported by Democrat rivals (the rivals don’t get much mention so presumably they are not evil).

    3. You can watch the smoke coming out of a coal fired power station and it will make you feel less eco about electric cars even though personally I find it hard to see CO2.

    4. Capitalism is unprincipled.

    There are of course other points being made but none of them are new to me. At this point in the book it reads like a political polemic package to piss off a sizable part of it’s potential audience (including me). However I’ll keep on reading because it may improve.

  50. And Peter Lang, that level playing field approach is one I’d very much endorse.

    We should list the public goods objectives, including of course issues such as LCA emissions, not merely of Co2 but of other pollutants, the costs, benefits and the timelines over which these can reasonably be anticipated and so forth and then allow the best suite of technologies to be chosen.

    No exclusions. Let it all be done on traditional feasibility considerations: technical, cost-benefit, schedule, organisational, environmental etc ..

  51. I’d favour a hybrid system. As you know, I favour a cross-jurisdictional cost on CO2 emissions where the right to emit would be traded. This would have to be backed by robust independent auditing (much as one verifies the integrity of any security).

    For something that is likely to have a more geographically circumscribed human impact (e.g. PM5, PM10, Hg, Pb, PCBs, ag residue etc) I favour something like harm-based assessment costs. For some agents of course, it would simply be a requirement that that these not be emitted at all above a certain standard,and for any surplus, we’d work out a pro-rata fee based on the total cost of the harms that were not preventable, the cost of likely resitituion or the cost or environmental remediation plus monitoring and epidemiological research into population and ecological effects.

    Consider this. Vehicle emissions are contributing to the destruction of buildings through inter alia sulfation, and so plainly, there should be a charge for this, assuming the money were hypothecated in such a way that those seeking to remedy demonstrable damage or be compensated could do so. Ozone is associated with asthma attacks and so funds from motor vehicles or other sources of lower tropospheric ozone could support restitution for those suffering from asthma or suitable research. We could impose charges for example on smelters reflecting a quality life years assessment model, and damage to local amenity.

    With motor vehicle usage I actually quite like the idea of abolishing all existing state based charges on registration, third party, fuel and excise and instead coming up with a composite motor vehicle usage charge based on emissions composition at the tailpipe (Co2 charges could be imposed here with people having to buy certificates from the RTA or elsewhere for this via a stored value on their licences — they’d be warned when their value based on typical usage would expire within 30 days), vehicle tare, driver profile, road usage (more for roads with heavy usage at the time and for routes in parallel with major public transport) etc. Every vehicle would have a GPS-style tracker to facilitate the charging system and at any time of day someone could watch the meter ticking over. If they sped or ran red lights or crossed the unbroken lines, they’d be fined instantly, though the fines could be lower since they would catch you 100% of the time.

    This way we could avoid much of the argy bargy on transport emissions.

  52. And for the record, I don’t like the McKitrick proposal featured at the link.

    To begin with, $US4.70 per tonne is not nearly enough to send a price signal on emissions or underpin near zero emissions technology. All of the best studies on carbon emissions approacc 25 times that figure.

    The formula ignores the feed back and lead time. The rises in temperature we are getting now are principally the result of the last 100 years of emissions. Yet if someone in 1976 were paying, they’d have got off scott free as the warming had been masked by aerosols. What we are emitting today will continue to have a perturbation for at least 50,000 years, albeit that the bulk of this perturbation will occur over the next 100 years. If the CO2 loading over the hundred years to 2030 leads to deomposition of the permafrost, then carbon emitters in 2050 will be paying a lot, but it will be way too late and it won’t really reflect what they are incrementally doing. It will of course be too late to start recovering money from people who ran the 1976 Le Mans event or who bought power from Hazelwood power station in 1966.

    I thought it was a nice touch that Heartland cited an anonymous “prominent global warming expert” to the effect that:

    But I continue to believe that any carbon penalty is putting the policy cart before the technology horse. The world is still too energy poor to go on an energy diet.

    Doubtless the chap was from Exxon, so naming him would have undermined his cred. And of course by the end they are talking about adpatation (translation: let the chips fall long after we’re all dead and buried but ideally on poor people) and non-specific and uncosted and politically even less plausible than a carbon cost agreement geoengineering.

    In short, the whole article is simply an extended exercise in misdirection. Read this distractor that would do nothing, and then argue that even this is too hard so let’s do bugger all.

    Typical …

  53. Fran – the point of the McKitrick tax is not what you pay now but what you might pay if temperature rises. If you are looking to build a new power plant today and the best advice is that in 20 years time the tax will be at $200 per tonne (due to warming) then you probably wouldn’t build. Even if you wanted to your financiers may not go for it. It passes turns the warming risk into a financial risk applicable to energy investors.

  54. To be $200 per ton on the McKitrick model the rolling average temperature would have to have risen by 10 degrees and let me tell you, if it does that, the fact that the tax will be $200 per ton will be the least of the problems a financier has to worry about.

    To make the rolling average on a 40-year plant cycle the temperature would have to rise to that by 2020. Civilisation would be in a state of collapse well before 2050 on those numbers. And then how would $4.70 look?

    I’ve got a new mastercard-style slogan:

    Cost of distracting the citizenry? $4.70. Cost of Civilisation? Everything

  55. Fran (#70),

    You said

    To begin with, $US4.70 per tonne is not nearly enough to send a price signal on emissions or underpin near zero emissions technology. All of the best studies on carbon emissions approacc 25 times that figure.

    I question the concept of trying to make fossil fuels more expensive, other than by capturing all externalities and internalising them. The reason I question this approach is that if we attempt to increase the cost, it will take a very long time to reach international agreement, and countries and businesses will always be trying to cheat. I believe it will ‘take forever’ to make significant progress.

    I also question trying to impose a level of cost increases that are arguably higher than the damage costs. If this is disputed, as it is, it will ‘take forever’ to make significant progress. Bjorn Lomborg often says that economists’ estimate of the damage cost is between 2 and 18t CO2-eq.

    Fran, I presume you are familiar with the ExternE study. http://www.externe.info/ . It describes the external costs of electricity generation by the main technologies. It provides the basis of the estimates. It is a thorough and authoritative study.

    For a summary of the results see:

    http://www.externe.info/externpr.pdf

  56. Peter #73, I’ve come to the view that you are absolutely correct on the fact that the only realistic way of increasing the pricing of fossil fuels is to internalise all its current external costs that go unpaid. That should be the primary basis on which people argue for a carbon price. As the externe report and others show, this is actually really high even BEFORE you add the climate change damage, and would already make coal (for instance) totally uncompetitive with nuclear. I disagree with Lomborg’s assessment of a $2-18/t CO2-e (I suspect that is what you meant), suspecting that it is closer to $50 to 200, but time will tell.

  57. I question the concept of trying to make fossil fuels more expensive, other than by capturing all externalities and internalising them.

    So do I. I do think though that if all of these costs were adequately internalised we would indeed have a figure that would make fossil fuels uneconomic in most settings, compared with other arrangements. Certainly, if there is uncertainty attaching to the precise impacts of AGW, then must should err, if an error is to be made on the high side rather than the low side. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. If we really don’t know what the economic benefit of rainforests or coral reefs or randomly moving ports or preventing IDPs is, then we should guess high.

  58. Fran #75 and TerjeP #76,

    I suspect you are thinking too locally in your comments. To make genuine progress on cutting GHG it will have to be an international agreement, probably as part of an international trade agreement. Anything less will be about as useless as Kyoto.

    Fran, you frequently talk about the political realities of convincing the Australian public to support nuclear energy. Step up a level and consider what it is going to take to get the public and governments of developing countries to accept higher priced energy NOW, for what to them is a possible benefit in a century from now. It simply will not fly in the real world.

    An alternative to raising the price of FF (other than capturing the externalities costs, including the climate change damage costs) is to implement low-cost, low-emissions electricity generation. As I pointed out in post #61, I believe we could achieve that with nuclear in the time it takes to dispatch all the impediments against nuclear. Here are four examples that persuade me of this:

    1. Refer to post #61 where I pointed out what had been achieved with nuclear 65 years ago.

    2. We have the evidence of the NPPs built in the past 25 years posted on another thread by Nuclear Australia. This showed average build times around 4 years and less for GenIII.

    3. China is building NPPs now at what they expect will be about $1400/kW. That is less than tghe cost of new coal fired generation in Australia. (It’s also just over half the cost per kW of the recent Australian wind farms and provides three times the energy output per kW, and provides it on demand, not just when the wind blows).

    4. We have Russia building floating nuclear power stations to power aluminium smelters to sell aluminium on the international market. Those floating NPP’s are obviously expected to produce electricity at a cost competitive with the price the Australian aluminium smelters pay Australia’s cheapest coal fired power plants. These prices are the most deeply discounted long term contract prices available to anyone. The electricity price from the Russian floating NPPs is also competitive with the cheapest hydro power from Canada.

    My conclusion is we can have low cost low emissions electricity. To achieve it we must educate the public to get ovder their irrational concerns about nuclear power. That to me is the answer. Then remove all the impediments to nuclear. Regulzate it on the same basis as all other industrial processes.

  59. @all, the idea that gov’t will not play an important financial role in developing nuclear power is Australia is simply a-historical. The “market” free of loan guarantees, tax incentives, R&D, outright nationalization, etc has never, ever, built such a large scale civil engineering project that I’m aware of. To argue from such a-historical reasons as an ideological commitment to the “Market” is still simply a religious approach to science development. Please note I’m not even arguing that it will be government owned or operated (although I favor this as a Left-Socialist) I’m saying that private industry is generally incapable of such projects although there are exceptions such as in the chemical and petroleum industry. But even here you find very generous tax incentives that amount to subsidies.

    Secondly, on baseload. I only through this out there as one possible way to go with the technological limitation of existing Gen III and Gen III+ commercially available reactors. Obvisously a LFTR given it’s loading and scaling flexibility could literally handle 100% of any regions energy needs, is not on the table for the moment.

    The issue is really replacing those base load coal plants. My plan for *anywhere* would *politically* target the coal burners. As a “thorium economy” advocate, I would be more than happy to see any national plan, in Australia or anywhere say “Ok, we have these 13,000 MWs of coal, we will start building Gen III reactors one at a time and when each plant goes COD, we pull the plug on the coal burner and bring out the bulldozers…”. That’s ALL I care about and why I got into being pro-nuclear. Even as “rock bottom” baseload, inclusive of coal, this would be a huge, *socially* significant advance over the non-policy that exists today in most countries.

    David

  60. On EdF/EPR contracting policies.

    No, ‘experience’ is not considered, because few people have experience that are not working for EDF. Every one of the problems at Flamesville stems from non-EDF contractors who, by law, get the job based on being *licensed* and *low bidder*. Period. The group making some of the concrete forms were…wine barrel makers, I kid you not.

    The last of the EdF engineers are getting ready to retire. They will not quit and go to work for these guys because of their pensions and other issues. Subcontracting is what essentially killed the Shorem plant in Long Island as costs spiraled out of control.

    In fact, it’s not a bad comparison to use: US nuclear builds in the 1970s and the French ones. The US had no regulations on the *types* or reactors or who could build them outside of the N stamp for components. The French had a *highly efficient* socialized construction and design team that built their plants according to a *plan*, standardized the designs and used no subs at all. Wanna guess who did better?

    The point about this is that the unions are, correctly and, understandably, fighting *further* privatization of EdF and part of their argument is around the issue of safety.

    CAN private (but gov’t subsidized) private contractors build good nukes? Of course. But it takes clear gov’t imposed regulations on how it is done so costs don’t spiral out of control and there is a *steady* and full time work force with some sort of N stamp-like certification at *every* level of construction.

    The two biggest unions are the CGT (France’s largest union and the one close to the French Communist Party) and the FO-CGT, which is closer to the Socialist Party politically, in case anyone wanted to know.

    David

  61. CAN private (but gov’t subsidized) private contractors build good nukes? Of course. But it takes clear gov’t imposed regulations on how it is done so costs don’t spiral out of control and there is a *steady* and full time work force with some sort of N stamp-like certification at *every* level of construction.

    Why regulations? Surely the key thing is well written contracts and good management oversight.

  62. Fran#75: Consider two approaches to reducing death and injury on our roads:
    A) internalising the externalities of accidents … we could do this by disallowing the use of
    medical insurance to pay for accident injury medicine … when you have an accident you pay
    the full costs. We disallow death and disability insurance payouts to road accident victims. etc
    etc.

    B) We ban speeding, drink driving and any other dangerous behaviours we can think of
    and fine, jail, and otherwise sanction those who are caught.

    I’m a great fan of B. Similarly, we could just draw up a globally binding timetable for
    phasing out coal with sanctions for anybody caught in breach. This would serve to focus
    the minds of energy companies in a way that nothing else could quite match.

  63. I’d be against internalisation model A on the basis that in practice, few people can model with anything like the accuracy required the actual prospective liability they take on when they drive, still less be relied upon to act rationally on this all the time. In practice, without insurance to monetise this risk the damage would fall randomly on individuals and the public and society would as a whole be much the worse. Without informed consent, the model is not defencible.

    Internalisation Model B is pretty much what we do now. Yet except in extrem cases I don’t think this is optimal. Jailing people seems a big threat, but as per the above, few people are deterred by the prospect because they irrationally believe that “it won’t happen to me”. A person who disregards the serious possibility that driving at a blood alcohol level of .15 in medium traffic will make it likely he will suffer a serious collision with potentailly permanently debilitating consequences isn’t gouing to worry about three years in jail for killing someone on the footpath. So the kind of reasoning involved does not obtain, and all that can result is damage to innocents at one end and costs to the public at the other.

    Deterrence depends for its effectiveness on perceived certainty of detection and perceived certainty of meaningful sanction in real time. Sanction delayed is less deterring. Thus, a system which meant drivers could be sure of being infringed every time they did it, even if the sanctions were comparatively low, is much more effective than one in which apparently improbable sanctions were severe. If we prevent people in real time from drink driving — e.g. requiring them to supply data to an onboard secure system with ID matching before starting the car, then they don’t get to act irrationally at all. There are already systems in cars that can cause them to slow to 25 kmh and these could be made to kick in when someone was more than say, 30 km/h over the relevant limit and fine them. Even the minute by minute meter on the costs of driving is a deterrent to driving and encourages car pooling.

    So applying this principle to polluters, I’d do the same thing. We stop them doing the egregious stuff and charge them at pertinent rates for the sub-egregious stuff.

  64. David Walters (79) — Yes, eliminate the coal burners. A few can be converted to burning wood. Most just retired.

    For rapidly doing so, maybe use CCGTs as replacement for their 20–30 year lifetimes. That’ll at least remove 60%, more as biomethane replaces natgas.

  65. Peter Lang#77,
    I am looking forward to your costing of different renewable energy and nuclear options.
    I do hope you are not going to use the cost of wind turbines or AP1000 reactors based on China prices.
    I don’t think it is realistic or desirable that we start building nuclear power plants with less regulation that applied in Europe or the US. We should expect the first reactor will take longer to build that what China, Korea or Japan are doing after many years experience and that it will cost more than the second or later reactors.
    What we cannot afford is a Three-Mile or Browns Ferry type of mistake that will set back a nuclear program decades.

    I have been looking at the NEM 18 wind farm data and the weather maps, for Aug and Sept appears to be an improvement on the 11 wind farm data.

  66. sometimes less regulation is better regulation

    Yes indeed, Terje, but sometimes less regulation isn’t. How much is the right amount and quality? That amount which most closely approaches the end sought by those on whose behalves the regulator acts, when the demanding group has standing to insist upon the ends in question.

  67. Fran – sure. But there is rarely a single end that we are concerned with. For instance in requiring tax operators to pay $400k plus per license for a single taxi we may increase the revenue of the government but we also increase the cost of taxis and / or decrease the wages of drivers and ensure that taxis are scarce. This is one very “fat” bit of regulation.

  68. Interesting that you should raise the taxi issue. I spent 15 years driving taxis at night, so I am familiar with this.

    The real problkem here was that the government saw the taxi industry as a cash cow and simultaneously expanded the number of licences and auctioned them off.

    Suddenly there was a lot more competition on the roads and of course incomes fell to the point where many regular and competent drivers sold up cutting their losses. That left only people willing to work at effectively minimum wage piece rates. Sunk costs forced many to simply keep trading.

    That didn’t bother the state of course who would posture about “maintaining standards” while continuing to impose swingeing charges on everything and periodically allowing tariffs to increase as a sop — which merely accelerated the decline in patronage.

    Oddly, when I started taxi driving and was inexperienced, in 1978 I was earning $5 per hour on an average night and when I left in 1993, the same. In 1987 an average night was $12 per hour.

  69. I noticed whilst reading “Prescription for the Planet” by Tom Blees that the book paints Patrick Moore as one of the good guys (page 97-98). I thought this might be topical. Maybe Tom Blees has also crossed over to the dark side.

  70. Pingback: Do climate sceptics and anti-nukes matter? or: How I learned to stop worrying and love energy economics « BraveNewClimate

  71. Pingback: Purpose and target audience of BraveNewClimate.com « BraveNewClimate

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