Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 2)

This post continues directly on from Part 1 (please read that if you’ve not already done so!). I also note the flurry of interest in the new IPCC WGIII special report on renewable energy prospects through to 2050. I will have more to say on this in an upcoming BNC post, but in short, it fails to address — with any substance — any of the significant problems I describe below, or in the previous post. What a disappointment!

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Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 2)

Renewable energy cannot provide reliable 24-hour, 7-day-a-week  power to meet baseload demand

The minimum amount of power that a city or country demands usually occurs at night (when most people are asleep); this is called the electricity ‘baseload’. Some have claimed that it is a fallacy to argue that all of this demand is needed, because utilities tend to charge cheap (‘off peak’) rates during these low-use periods, to encourage more uptake (by everything from factory machinery to hot water systems). This is because some types of power stations (e.g., coal and nuclear) are quite expensive to build and finance (with long terms to pay off the interest), but fairly cheap to run, so the utility wants to keep them humming away 24 hours a day to maximise returns. Thus, there is some truth to this argument, although if that energy is not used at night, extra must instead be supplied in the day.

Some critical demand, however, never goes away – the power required to run hospitals, police stations, street lights, water and sewerage pumping stations,  refrigerators and cold storage, transport (if we are to use electric vehicles), and so on. If the power is lost to these services, even for a short while, chaos ensues, and the societal backlash after a few such events is huge. On the other side of the energy coin, there are times when huge power demands arise, such as when everyone gets home from work to cook their meals and watch television, or when we collectively turn on our air conditioners during a heatwave. If the energy to meet this peak demand cannot be found, the result can be anything from a lot of grumpy people through to collapse of the grid as rolling blackouts occur.

Two core limitations of wind, solar and most other renewable systems is that: (i) they are inherently variable and are prone to ‘gambler’s ruin‘ (in the sense that you cannot know, over any planning period, when long stretches of calm or cloudy days will come, which could bring even a heavily over-compensated system to its knees), and (ii) they are not ‘dispatchable’. They’ll provide a lot of power some of the time, when you may or may not need it, and little or none at other times, when you’ll certainly need some, and may need a lot. In short, they can’t send power out on demand, yet, for better or worse, this is what society demands of an electricity system. Okay, but can these limitations be overcome?

Large-scale renewables require massive ‘overbuilding’ and so are not cost competitive

The three most commonly proposed ways to overcome the problem of intermittency and unscheduled outages are: (i) to store energy during productive times and draw on these stores during periods when little or nothing is being generated; (ii) to have a diverse mix of renewable energy systems, coordinated by a smart electronic grid management system, so that even if the wind is not blowing in one place, it will be in another, or else the sun will be shining or the waves crashing; and (iii) to have fossil fuel or nuclear power stations on standby, to take up the slack when needed.

The reality is that any of these solutions are grossly uneconomic, and even if we were willing and able to pay for them, the result would be an unacceptably unreliable energy supply system. Truly massive amounts of energy would need to be stored to keep a city or country going through long stretches of cloudy winter days (yes, these even occur in the desert) or calm nights with little wind and no sun, yet energy storage (batteries, chemical conversion to hydrogen or ammonia, pumped hydropower, compressed air), even on a small scale, is currently very expensive. A mix of different contributions (solar, wind, wave, geothermal) would help, but then we’d need to pay for each of these systems, built to a level that they could compensate for the failure of another.

What’s more, in order to deliver all of our regular power demand whilst also charging up the energy stores , we would have to ‘overbuild’ our system many times, adding to the already prohibitive costs. As a result, an overbuilt system of wind and solar would, at times, be delivering 5 to 20 times our power demand (leading to problems of ‘dumping’ the excess energy that can’t be used or stored quickly enough or in sufficient quantity), and at other times, it would deliver virtually none of it.

If you do some modelling to work through the many contingencies, you find that a system which relies on wind and/or solar power, plus large-scale energy storage and a geographically dispersed electricity transmission network to channel power to load centres, would seem to be 10 to 40 times more expensive than an equivalent nuclear-powered system, and still less reliable. The cost to avoid 1 tonne of carbon dioxide would be >$800 with wind power compared with $22 with nuclear power.

The above critiques of renewable energy might strike some readers as narrow minded or deliberately pessimistic. Surely, isn’t it just a matter of prudent engineering and sufficient integration of geographically and technologically diverse systems, to overcome such difficulties? Alas, no! Although I only have limited space for this topic in this short post, let me grimly assure you that the problem of ‘scaling up’ renewable energy to the point where it can reliably meet all (or even most) of our power needs, involves solving a range of compounding, quite possibly insuperable, problems. We cannot wish these problems away — they are ‘the numbers’, ‘the reality’.

Economic and socio-political realities

Supporters of ’100% renewable energy’ maintain that sunlight, wind, waves and plant life, combined with vast improvements in energy efficiency and energy conservation leading to a flattening or reduction in total energy demand, are the answer.  This is a widespread view among environmentalists and would be perfectly acceptable to me if the numbers could be made to work. But I seriously doubt they can.

The high standard of living in the developed world has been based on cheap fossil (and nuclear) energy. While we can clearly cut back on energy wastage, we will still have to replace oil and gas. And that means a surge in demand for electricity, both to replace the energy now drawn from oil and gas and to meet the additional demand for power from that third of the world’s people who currently have no electricity at all.

Critics do not seem to understand – or refuse to acknowledge – the basis of modern economics and the investment culture. Some dream of shifts in the West and the East away from consumerism. There is a quasi-spiritualism which underpins such views. Yet at a time of crisis, societies must be ruthlessly practical in solving their core problems or risk collapse. Most people will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid a decline in their standard of living. We need to work with this, not against it. We are stuck with the deep-seated human propensity to revel in consuming and to hope for an easier life. We should seek ways to deliver in a sustainable way.

A friend of mine, the Californian entrepreneur Steve Kirsch, has put the climate-energy problem succinctly:

The most effective way to deal with climate change is to seriously reduce our carbon emissions. But we’ll never get the enormous emission reductions we need by treaty. Been there, done that – it’s not going to happen. If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal. It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose.

Currently, no non-fossil-fuel energy technology has achieved this. So what is stopping nations replacing coal, oil and gas infrastructure with renewable energy? It is not (yet) because of any strong, society-wide opposition to a switch to renewables. No, it is economic uncertainty, technological immaturity, and good old financial risk management. Despite what ’100% renewables’ advocates would lead you to believe, it is still far from certain in what way the world will pursue a low-carbon future. You have only to look at what’s happening in the real world to verify that.

I’ve already written about fast-growing investment in nuclear energy in Asia. China, for instance, has overcome typical first-of-a-kind engineering cost overruns by building more than 25 reactors at the same time, in a bid to bring costs to, or below, those of coal.

In December 2009, there was a telling announcement from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which wish to sell their valuable natural gas to the export market. Within the next few years, the UAE face a six-gigawatt increase in demand for electricity, which includes additional power required by an upgraded desalination program. Despite being desert-based with a wealth of solar resources, the UAE decided not to build large-scale solar power plants (or any other renewable technology). In terms of economics and reliability, the numbers just didn’t stack up. Instead, they have commissioned a South Korean consortium to build four new generation III+ APR-1400 reactors, at a cost of $3,500 a kilowatt installed – their first ever nuclear power plants.

Conclusion

Nuclear power, not renewable energy or energy efficiency, will probably end up being the primary global solution to the climate and energy crises. This is the emergent result of trying to be honest, logical and pragmatic about what will and will not work, within real-world physical, economic and social constraints.

If I am wrong, and non-hydro and non-combustible renewables can indeed rise to the challenge and ways can be found to overcome the issues I’ve touched on in these two posts, then I will not complain. After all, my principal goal — to replace fossil fuels with sustainable and low-carbon alternative energy sources — would have been met. But let’s not play dice with the biosphere and humanity’s future on this planet, and bet everything on such wishful thinking. It would be a risky gamble indeed.

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184 Comments

  1. In the US, grid electricity accounts for about 10% of overall energy use, the rest being fossil fuels used for transport, and a few other energy-intensive applications. All these applications must eventually be taken over by non-fossil fuel thermal and/or electrical power, and most of them can be run in baseload mode. So, sooner or later, a far greater portion of gris power will need to be feficated to baseload, with only a few percent fluctuation in consumption due to the diurnal cycle of residential and commercial use. That few percent fluctuation should be easily accomodated by nuclear plants.

  2. I just posted this on the part 1 thread but it should be here I see:

    Comparing real German wind output of january 2009 (january is supposed to be a fairly windy month) with nuclear output of a grid area in the US shows the big picture:

    http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010/03/uptime-downtime_07.html

    And standard issue Greenpeace bunk debunked:

    http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/07/greenpeace-on-wind-variability.html

    And this one has a nice graph on geographical spreading for offshore wind farms across thousands of kilometers of coastline showing that its not nearly enough just to spread out the wind farms…

    http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-to-spin-transmission-line.html

  3. In the case of electric cars, we can see strong synergy between nuclear power and efficiency. The electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion and facilitate nuclear plants to dump excess cheap nighttime electricity in commuter car batteries. Also uses the grid at a higher capacity factor. Very efficient, effective, and economical. Unreliable wind can’t be used to charge your car. The wind didn’t blow tonight, oops guess I’ll stay in bed today. See if the boss likes the excuse ;)

    We can also see that nuclear plants have considerable room for efficiency improvements. The reactors can be more efficient (higher conversion rates) and have higher temperature steam/gas cycles. The enrichment plants can also be made more efficient:

    http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/12/french-enrichment-plant-reduces-energy.html

    Take that, efficiency advocates: 3 GIGAWATTS of electricity saved, in one project, as early as 2016! That’s enough to power *all* households in my country!

    Clearly nuclear works well with all sorts of efficiency improvements.

  4. I consider myself an ardent environmentalist– and I envision an energy-rich future for humanity. I dream of the sustainable society we can build with superabundant energy. An all-electric transportation system (with jets flying on liquid hydrogen), fresh water for everyone, recycling materials instead of mining them. And vast areas of natural wilderness and ocean under strict protection.

    Yep, I think we need to increase our energy supply to acheive these things, not reduce it. Most people can recognize a leverage point, but they tend to push in the wrong direction!

  5. barry:

    what relation can you draw between your figure two, where wind and nuclear appear similarly costed per kwh and your key claim that a renewables system is 10 to 40 times more expensive?

    are these two points contradictory? if you are correct, what sense should we make of figure two? what is it leaving out?

    For others, when models like De Carolis and Keith claim that wind can achieve hi penetration, albeit with higher costs, though not seemingly astronomical, apart from problems people have already raised about such studies, what happens when you turn to electrifying nearly all power production (see Finrod above)?

    what happens to all renewables cost curves at this point? hi penetration for a current electrical grid is one thing; hi penetration for one which takes over all other energy production is another.

    I just looked up electricity consumption in U.S. for 2008: 3.9 trillion kwh. But that’s just a fraction of total power consumption. about 1/6.

  6. I will reiterate what I wrote in comments to part 1: Wind, solar, and hydro, scaled to meet current energy demands, have a very large environmental footprint that cannot be ignored.

    Thus even if efficient storage was developed, the impact of these forms of generation would be serious.

    This is a major factor that has slowed the growth of hydro, as there is vast amounts of unexploited potential in many parts of the world.

  7. gregory: The interval chart is for nominal power, so far as I can tell. However, renewables can never reliably stay within +/-10% of nominal. When you factor in energy storage, emergency backup power, 5% redundancy etc the cost rises dramatically. There are also the grid interconnects to be considered.

    A fuel-based facility (whether fossil, bio or nuclear), can operate at nominal power more than 90% of the time. All facilities may produce a number in excess of nominal power on demand, so there are no additional generating stations required for redundancy when a plant is undergoing repairs.

    So, the author’s case is that renewables require much more redundancy measures and a more complex balancing system to assure continuous power. And in an emergency you’ll still need fuel-based facilities to provide additional capacity. And assuming you replace dozens of nuclear sites with hundreds of thousands of wind turbines, all of those turbines will need to be monitored and maintained. The travel and shipping costs for that must also be considered.

  8. There appears to be an argument circulating that cheap night-time power is unnecessary. However, this overnight electricity is being used for something useful, and moving that demand from the night into an unpredictable period during the day would actually increase the variability – and the need for responsive generation – of the demand profile. So this argument fails, unless there is some attempt to show that the use to which night electricity is put is entirely frivolous – which I do not believe for an instant.

  9. Another slice of uncommon sense from Barry.

    Perhaps Ian Lowe would like to write a guest post in refutation.I’m sure he could fit in the tried and tested “If nuclear is the answer then it was a bloody stupid question”.

  10. @Joffan – You are right. Many fabs working with metals run deep heat treatment cycles at night. One place that I know well did so because their daytime power use for other processes would not allow for the running of the ovens during that time. many others did so because of preferential rates offered by the power company.

    Electric smelters too must run continuously as a powerdown necessitates a relining of the pot.

  11. I still think that the nuclear power industry needs to address the problem of– totally eliminating– the need for fossil fuels for the electric power industry by supplying peak-load energy through the nuclear production of carbon neutral methanol.

    Dedicated nuclear power plants could be utilized to produce hydrogen from water and to extract carbon from the atmosphere or from biowaste to produce carbon neutral methanol to meet all of our peak-load electric power needs.

    Methanol, of course, can also be converted into gasoline for automobiles by using the MTG process. So future plug-in-hybrid automobiles could someday be using electricity from nuclear power plants in combination with carbon neutral gasoline from nuclear power plants.

    Utilizing nuclear power in such innovative ways could be one of the keys to capturing the imagination of the public and the politicians.

  12. Barry Brook — Well done.

    But a minor correction. I’m under the impression that the UAE NPPs have been bid a US$3.8/kWh. Also, the UAE is building a small solar project, but I don’t have the details.

  13. Currently, no non-fossil-fuel energy technology has achieved this.

    That is a true statement in the US.

    Steam coal prices in the US are quite depressed because the Powder River Basin in Wyoming(with 100 million tons of inexpensively extractable coal) is effectively landlocked which makes large scale exports impracticable.

    A ton of steam coal in Wyoming is $13/ton.

    Coal prices in Asia and Europe are almost 10 times as expensive.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-10/coal-price-to-rise-as-japan-rebuilds-standard-chartered-says.html

  14. I should note that methanol can also be used in current natural gas power plants after some relatively easy and inexpensive modifications. General Electric did some successful test using methanol in gas power plants during the last energy crisis in the 1970s.

  15. gregory Meyerson, on 12 May 2011 at 4:31 AM — It is the case that using just LCOE that wind can now generate at less cost than NPPs in suitably windy locations. Indeed, it is predicted that solar PV costs will lower to about the same LCOE as wind but in suitably sunny locations. However, wind and solar operators have to have a market for those times they are actually generating. This suggests some form of storage scheme with pumped hydro being probably the most cost effective (if one has suitable terrain and ignores the sacrifice of that terrain to this purpose. However, most of the siutable terrain in Europe and North America is already used for pumped hydro or bespoke for other purposes.

    Estimating a grid largely reliant upon wind and solar with biomass backup always ends up being fabulously expensive once the required storage is accounted for. The more NPPs one throws into the estimate the lower the overall LCOE. This goes on until wind and solar become quite minor players as does pumped hydro.

    Cost drivers favor NPPs, although I’ll admit I don’t have full costing data (externalities and incenttives) for all aspects of any form of generation or storage.

  16. harrywr2, on 12 May 2011 at 9:24 AM — Yes, but Powder River coal is both lower BTU/ton that other sources of steam coal but alos lower sulfur. As you may know there are plans afoot to export more than the current three trainloads/day to Asia.

  17. The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan published by The University of Melbourne shows that wind, solar and biomass resources could make Australia carbon emission free within 10 years with a supportive regulatory framework. It might not be cheaper than nuclear power given the same regulatory support. It is possible that Australian geothermal resources might fill the prospect opportunity for nuclear, as geothermal would gain much greater community acceptance.

    It is misleading and pre-emptive to say that renewables cannot fix the climate crisis. In the end they will have to because even the uranium will run out eventually, after the oil and gas are depleted and the atmosphere is loaded with CO2.

  18. MFW it has been claimed that spilled wind power could also be used to make hydrogenated biocarbon ‘wind fuels’ http://www.dotyenergy.com/
    and the production efficiency could be increased from a current 25% to 60%. Certainly methanol or synthetic methane will safely fuel existing mass produced engines unlike ammonia. Then there is another layer of inefficiency using the fuel in the engine to power a tailshaft or generator.

    However I see little alternative to expensive hydrocarbons in passenger planes or long haul trucks. Perhaps we should conserve the ‘meth” fuel we have now, namely natural gas, and not burn it in power stations.

  19. @ Ross Gawler:

    The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan published by The University of Melbourne shows that wind, solar and biomass resources could make Australia carbon emission free within 10 years with a supportive regulatory framework.

    The ZCA plan has been analysed and critiqued at length here. If you have not heard about this from the plan’s promoters, then that’s hardly suprising, but the plan has pretty much been shown up as fantasy.

    even the uranium will run out eventually

    You should bring yourself up to speed on these issues. Check out technologies such as IFR and LFTR. See the following:

    http://channellingthestrongforce.blogspot.com/2010/03/is-nuclear-power-sustainable.html

  20. If the analysis here of renewables is basically right, it seems to me that the IPCC report could do great damage even though it is not all that rosy, judging by some of the early criticisms (referred to by F. Jablonski).

    There’s a lot of damage to go around but this report, insofar as it delays recognition of the real problems with renewables and reinforces ignorance and misinformation about nuclear power, should be thoroughly subject to scrutiny. If BNC energy analysts put all that work into ZCA 2020, this would seem to carry far greater importance.

    Weren’t previous IPCC energy reports much more favorable to nuclear? what is the history behind this report? clearly it precedes Fukushima.

  21. Great article, Barry. I think a good summary article like this was well and truly due for BNC, and you delivered right on time.

    I actually think this (pt. 2) reads really well as a stand alone article too. Passing it ’round!

  22. Selling coal to China is a proven recession busting technique. What irks is that both Australia and the US have made a lot of noise at climate conferences but it seems they had a memory lapse by the time they got home. I suggest Australia should carbon tax coal exports say $50 a tonne on top of $150 or whatever is the latest FOB spot price for export thermal coal. Pay the tax into a green fund in China so our conscience is clear. If instead China gets more coal from the US then put a carbon tariff on Chinese goods. Do something, anything.

    The big question is whether imports can keep Chinese coal consumption at 3.2 Gtpa. There was a link in the sidebar a day or two ago that suggested not. There goes our iron ore exports and other commodities.

  23. It’s articles like this that leave me feeling quite depressed.

    While I think renewables have a role to play, I also think that the necessary (and urgent!) carbon emission reductions wont be achieved without nuclear power, and that, especially post-Fukushima, seems to be completely off the table in many countries.

  24. Barry,
    Over last 20 years nuclear has expanded by 1.3% per year. We know that in the 1970′s and 1980′s nuclear expanded by >10% per year( up to 15GW per year additions to capacity). If China completes the 25 reactors under construction and the 45GW planned to be completed by 2020 it will have added 5-10GW per year. If the rest of the world has the capacity to complete another 15-20GW per year by 2020 we could be looking at 20-30GW per year new nuclear or enough to replace most of present capacity much of which will need to be retired, with about 100GW of additional new capacity. If we are really optimistic we can project that world growth in nuclear will continue in the 2020′s, at 10% so we would have 1050GW capacity (adding 100GW per year) by 2030. This is still only supplying about 18% of the expected 6TW world demand by 2030.

    Lets look at the track record of renewables. Hydro provides a similar amount of energy as nuclear and has been expanding only slightly faster than nuclear, and although only 10% of world capacity has been developed, projects are very expensive and take a long time to complete so it is unlikely that hydro would provide more than 700GWav by 2030. Solar is expanding very rapidly but the total capacity is small similar to wind energy 10years ago. None the less it is reasonable to expect it to grow to 200GW capacity in 10 years ( present wind capacity) and to 500GW capacity(160GW av) by 2030( ie a growth rate similar to nuclear in 2020′s).

    Wind power has grown at 35% over last decade(to 200GW capacity), and as China again has demonstrated capacity can be expanded very rapidly, so it is reasonable to expect a growth rate in next decade of at least 20% per year or 1600GW capacity by 2020(500 GW av) and if growth rate is similar to nuclear in 2020′s would have 4,000GW capacity(1200GW av) by 2030.

    So by 2030, of the 6TW of demand, nuclear could supply 1TW, solar hydro and wind an additional 2TW,with the balance (50%) from FF or efficiency gains.
    You may be correct that by 2060, nuclear is supplying >75% of worlds energy, or it may be only 25%, I think many would agree that its probably too late to wait for big reductions in 2040-60 if we cannot make very significant reductions in 2020′s.

    We really do need to expand nuclear much faster than present rates( or even what is presently planned), but equally we need to reduce unnecessary wast of energy and also continue with the very rapid expansion of renewables. The statement that “efficiency and renewables cannot fix the energy and climate crises” is missing the point, efficiency and renewables can make a very significant contribution but even with nuclear it may not be enough and certainly nuclear alone is not going to be soon enough.

  25. Neil, you’ve got it all backwards and quite confused, but I can’t justify that statement in detail right now. Go re-read the two posts, and stop providing your personal projections as though they bore a resemblance to reality. Your Chinese projections are utterly fantastical; indeed, I’m amazed you’re willing to even post them. But that avoids the most fundamental point:

    The statement that “efficiency and renewables cannot fix the energy and climate crises” is missing the point, efficiency and renewables can make a very significant contribution but even with nuclear it may not be enough and certainly nuclear alone is not going to be soon enough.

    No, it is NOT missing the point, it is precisely THE point. I won’t try too hard to pre-judge what contribution renewable will or won’t make — the more the merrier. What I’m quite clearly saying is that the ’100% renewables’ meme is a dangerous fantasy and nuclear power must be allowed to play its appropriate role. So I strongly suggest you go torch those strawmen and cease to erect them here again in the future.

  26. Steve Kirsch, puts the climate-energy problem succinctly:
    “The most effective way to deal with climate change is to seriously reduce our carbon emissions.”

    Even if this was true, it carries zero weight with the general public.

    So what gets Joe Sixpack’s attention? What matters is service interruptions or as Barry puts it:
    “If the power is lost to these services, even for a short while, chaos ensues, and the societal backlash after a few such events is huge.”

    You can lecture Joe Sixpack about climate change until you are blue in the face and you will be ignored. Cut off his power for a few days or even a few hours and you have created a “Teachable Moment”.

  27. Gregory Meyerson,
    There is plenty of good science in the technical contributions to the IPCC reports, especially in the first two. The trouble is that the writing of the “Executive Summaries” has been hi-jacked by people with a political agenda.

    I am hoping that folks like Barry Brook and Hank Roberts will find the time to read the full IPCC report on renewables. They may be able to tell us whether the “Executive Summary” truly reflects what the 1,000 pages of technical studies show.

    I remember AR2 with its paleo-temperature reconstruction that clearly showed the Medieval Warm Period. Hubert Lamb would have loved it.

  28. Barry Brook – “Critics do not seem to understand – or refuse to acknowledge – the basis of modern economics and the investment culture. Some dream of shifts in the West and the East away from consumerism. There is a quasi-spiritualism which underpins such views. Yet at a time of crisis, societies must be ruthlessly practical in solving their core problems or risk collapse. Most people will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid a decline in their standard of living. We need to work with this, not against it. We are stuck with the deep-seated human propensity to revel in consuming and to hope for an easier life. We should seek ways to deliver in a sustainable way.”

    You have mentioned this in the article so replying is completely on-topic and deserves to be here.

    It is not quasi-spiritualism that underpins my views but peer reviewed research and computer modelling done by professional scientists. The science of population ecology is as least as well grounded climate science and population models at least as good as the climate models that you rely on. Both have major limitations but despite these still give workable results.

    Our way of life is not sustainable. Renewable energy will not make is sustainable nor will nuclear energy. We risk collapse by pursuing the lifestyle we lead.

    BTW your dismissal of Neil Howes was uncalled for. He is one of the few people with real knowledge that are left on this blog. He is quoting fact. The nuclear growth you speak of will just cover retirements and not much more. China is building a lot of nukes however with 10% growth their demand by 2030 will be 16000GW after 2 doublings of their present demand. Currently it is about 400GW so after 2 doublings it will be 1600GW. If as you say they will have 25 more reactors operating then that is clearly a drop in the ocean. Additionally as the French found mass produced reactors have mass produced problems that can take out the whole fleet at the same time.

    By contrast wind HAS been growing at 29% for at least the last five years. You can look up the figures however they are quite true. Solar PV has dropped drastically in price and is approaching grid parity.

    You seem to be getting increasingly shrill and dismissing someone as knowledgeable as Niel the offhand way you did will just confirm that you are becoming myopic on the subject.

    Neil and I were here from the start of this blog and while I only very occasionally visit now I think that Neil especially has earned far more respect than you have shown him.

    Certainly you show far more respect to someone you have banned from the site by insisting on quoting his error filled articles. Errors which both Neil and I tried to point out at the time they were posted.

  29. Barry,

    Having read BNC over the years, I get that France demonstrates that nuclear can provide a modern society with reliable power at affordable cost.

    I get that the waste disposal issues are solvable.

    I get that the non-proliferation argument is largely irrelevant (banning nuclear power plants in Australia won’t stop arms production in Nth Korea).

    I get that the pro-nuclear lobby has taken a hit recently and progress is frustratingly slow.

    What I don’t get is why you would go out of your way to pick a fight with renewables at this time. The fossil fuel lobby seems to be doing a perfectly good job of this without you.

    It seems to me the scoreboard in Australia over the past 20 years looks like this:

    Nuclear: nil

    Renewables: nil

    Fossil: 20

    Given the above, the sight of nuclear and renewables fighting over the crumbs must give the fossil lobby a good deal of amusement.

    I suggest that nuclear needs your sensible and steadfast support now more than ever. The fight with renewables is a distraction that doesn’t help either side and, frankly, the article above is not your best work.

    OK, there may be an argument that in a small market such as ours there is a limit on the number of technologies which can be built in numbers giving economies of scale – however I believe we are still a long way from being at that point in time for either nuclear or renewables.

    Barry, why not keep our eyes on the goal, see where we have common ground and remember who the real opposition is.

    Kind regards,

    Geoff Cameron
    BZE NSW

  30. Geoff, few arguments there, though your criticism that the above is ‘not my best’ work would run a litter better if you’d be specific rather than go all hand wavy on me.

    I’m not trying to pick fights with renewable advocates, just the ’100% renewables with NO NUCLEAR’ zealots. If such folk, which I’m afraid includes most BZE people, can modify their stance to a ‘let the best low-carbon technology(ies) win”, then I’ll stop harping on these points. But they won’t, so I won’t give up on this.

    One big problem is that the immediate ‘enemy’ in Australia, of all alternatives, is natural gas, and yet many renewable energy advocates are the ‘best buddies’ (explicitly or implicitly) of the gas industry. That can only end in tears (or laughs, depending on which side of the renewables/gas side you like to sit on).

  31. I doubt that the recent build rate for wind and solar will continue in the West because of cost concerns. I think the next 20 years will feature gas for everything and finding excuses to keep the coal industry going. Strangely I think much of China’s motivation to build cheap wind turbines and solar panels has been to sell them to subsidised buyers in the West.

    My challenge for renewables enthusiasts is to renounce subsides and quotas and just rely on CO2 constraints for market uptake from now on. That growth could stall then again so could the whole economy. I see no way that NSW for example could afford to bring back PV subsidies when petrol costs $3/L or build new wind farms when Sydney has 45C summers. But that could be just a few years away.

  32. Ender, you are far worse than Neil. I don’t bother to respond to you or your ilk indetail because it’s utterly pointless. I learned that lesson long ago on BNC — 2009 was it? — and have moved on. I’d rather be talking to the great majority of folk with an open mind on this matter rather than banging my head incessantly against a brick wall and refuting spurious or deceptively couched statistics repeatedly, only to have them regurgitated all over again some time later on a new thread. Bleh.

    Oh, and I’m not claiming that nuclear is already well on the way to displacing the global dependence on fossil fuels. It’s another straw man. The hard fact is that nuclear was running up that possibility in countries like the US until the 1970s and then stopped dead due to fossil fuel interests and anti-nuclear action, and only sprinted to the first finish line (not the liquid fuels one) in a few cases like France. Other than that, as Geoff Cameron said, it’s pretty well renewables + nuclear 0, fossil fuels 10. Nuclear has failed. Renewables have failed. Fossil fuels have won, and the grinning, boyish young gas man looks to take over from old grandfather coal.

  33. @Barry 12 May 2.55pm,
    “Your Chinese projections are utterly fantastical”
    I was using the link you provided; projection of 80GW nuclear capacity by 2020, 200GW by 2030.
    Thus 11GW operating in 2011, 25GW under construction and 45GW planned(total 81GW), 70GW/9 years = 8GW/year. If this continues to increase at 10% per year after 2020, China will have 206GW by 2030.

    What is wrong with your article is that you are saying we need to almost completely remove FF emissions, but project this as happening as late as 2060. You must be aware that what is important is the total CO2 emissions between now and 2060.
    Requiring a massive surplus renewable capacity would only be valid if no FF or biofuel was available, and if almost no hydro /pumped hydro storage was available. Neither of these assumptions are likely to be valid for the next 50 years. Hydro and wind costs are similar to nuclear and solar ( with storage) costs are likely to decline with larger manufacturing capacity. You say massive amounts of renewable energy would have to be stored for low wind cloudy periods. We already have massive amounts of hydro storage and building very large pumped hydro storage is only slightly more expensive than small amounts, most of the cost is for operating capacity. Further, very small(compared with present FF use) amounts of NG are required to provide partial back-up for several weeks/year.
    Thus the real issue is how quickly can efficiency gains, renewable and nuclear be expanded not by 2060, but during the next 50 years, so that total CO2 emissions over the next 50 years are kept as low as possible.
    China seems to have got the message, relying mainly on nuclear to replace FF is going to be too slow, in 20 years nuclear will be providing <15% electricity demand in China, but wind is adding 1% per year and growing at 40% per year.By now or within a year wind and solar will be providing more GWh of energy in China than nuclear, and will continue to do so for at least the next 20 years..

    The 100% renewable meme may be incorrect, but this is not the title of your post, what you are saying is that renewables and efficiency gains will only make a small contribution to solving the energy and climate crises, when in fact they are likely to make the major contribution.

  34. @ Neil Howes – Barry is away from the blog until late tonight.I have moved your comment to Pending until Barry has had a chance to read and reply. I have inserted the comment you inadvertently deleted.

  35. I actually think this is a pretty weak post for you Barry; the argument seems to be ‘it will probably be really hard to deliver electricity with renewables; ergo it is impossible.’

    Against this, your nuclear advocacy contains some fairly heroic assumptions about decommissioning costs, fuel availability, safety and waste storage. I remain unconvinced and will continue to advocate for renewables in Australia.

    Ev

  36. @ Geoff Cameron
    BZE NSW

    Having read BNC over the years, I get that France demonstrates that nuclear can provide a modern society with reliable power at affordable cost.
    I get that the waste disposal issues are solvable.
    I get that the non-proliferation argument is largely irrelevant (banning nuclear power plants in Australia won’t stop arms production in Nth Korea).
    I get that the pro-nuclear lobby has taken a hit recently and progress is frustratingly slow.
    What I don’t get is why you would go out of your way to pick a fight with renewables at this time. The fossil fuel lobby seems to be doing a perfectly good job of this without you.

    What I don’t get is: if you get all of the above, why don’t you get that nuclear power is a zero emissions baseload electricity generator which if combined with our current renewables can take us beyond zero emissions faster, cheaper and more certainly than if it were excluded.

    Why exclude nuclear power? I’m perplexed.

  37. @evcricket -And your ‘problems’ with nuclear are nothing more than a laundry list of the old saws against this technology that have been argued and dismissed over and over again in this blog and elsewhere. These have been addressed to everyone’s satisfaction other than the most doctrinaire and ill-informed of the antinuclear zealots.

    Come up with something new or find yourself, and your opinions dismissed as irrelevant.

  38. You are quite within your rights, evcricket, to dislike this post — after all, I know the message is confronting. So be it. You are also welcome to keep advocating for renewables in Australia — best of luck with that, I’ll cheer your successes. Just don’t, at the same time, go out there advocating against nuclear, eh? At least not if you’re serious about decarbonisation.

  39. Neil, I’m not talking about the official numbers for nuclear in China through to 2030 — on the current pathway, they seem quite reasonable — no, I’m talking about your renewables ‘projections’ for the same period. I thought that was pretty obvious.

    You are correct that in the short term emissions could be reduced by a switch from coal to gas, but the question of whether adding large amounts of wind to that mix is still rather… uncertain. The rest of your comment is very difficult to understand. Do you imagine I’m advocating doing nothing until 2059, and then magically switching everything over to the proposed 2060 energy mix in the following year? Of course not, that’s nonsense.

    Did you actually look at the main table in this post? It shows nuclear growing at 6.3% pa when averaged over the next 50 years, and wind/solar growing at an average of 7.7% of that same period. Of course the growth rates will be much greater when the installed capacity is very low — that’s hardly relevant. If you imagine that the 40% increase would continue each year then every square metre of the Earth’s surface would be occupied by a wind turbine by about the year 2038, give or take a few years. So let’s get real, hey?

    The title of my post says renewable energy and energy efficiency won’t solve the climate and energy crises. They may or may not make a major contribution, but you’ve said nothing to change the fact that without nuclear, decarbonisation by 2060 or thereabouts will not happen, nor that wishing for all the problems of large-scale high-penetration technosolar renewables to go away will make it so. As such, the title is entirely accurate, and as I noted previously, you’re the one building and burning straw men on my behalf.

  40. Wow. This is just exactly how I think. It is shocking how many people fail to see what is at stake, even very smart people and even such with kids.
    I live in Europe and I can tell you it is not pretty here. Nuclear would have had a chance before Fukushima but now it’s impossible probably for another decade at least if not for good.
    Even if it sounds cynical but the world can actually be glad China is not a democracy.
    It’s a little sad because whatever my country does, it will have 0 effect on global climate.

  41. Ender said:
    “Our way of life is not sustainable. Renewable energy will not make is sustainable nor will nuclear energy. We risk collapse by pursuing the lifestyle we lead.”

    If he is right we might as well curl up in a ball and give up.

    In the meantime, the majority refuse to plan for failure so we proceed on the assumption that better technology will help sustain our vibrant civilization.

  42. @uvdiv, on 12 May 2011 at 10:44 AM said:

    >>harrywr2 — You probably meant 100 billion tons…

    Yes, my bad.

    >>in fact they’re already building large export terminals on the West Coast

    The west coast export coal capacity in the ‘grand scheme’ is trivial. There is about 30 million tons existing and most of that is consumed exporting ‘metallurgical coal’.

    The Longview terminal will add maybe 5 million tons initially if it ever gets built. To put it in perspective a 1 GW coal fired plant will burn in the neighborhood of 4 million tons per year.

    Delivered prices of coal by US State vary widely..mostly based on the distance from Wyoming.
    EIA coal price per BTU by state. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table4_10_a.html

    Powder River Basin coal has a low BTU content..so shipping costs become prohibitive with distance…which is why steam coal from West Virginia can command $70/ton mine mouth price but steam coal from Wyoming is stuck around $12-$13 ton.

  43. The UAE is a dictatorship, they could be building Gen I reactors and there is little the population could do about it.

    “would seem to be 10 to 40 times more expensive than an equivalent nuclear-powered system, and still less reliable.”

    Oy… why not 100? I can give off grid solutions TODAY and without subsidies at

    http://sunelec.com/index.php?main_page=pv_systems&id=1251&type=OFFG

    $1.79 a watt in storage + $1.18 a watt in storage and inverters= $2.97 a watt in nameplate capacity.

    You multiply the first number by the capacity factor so lets do some normalizations.

    If you are at a Lagrange P1, you would not need storage but lets do it anyhow.

    $1.79 / 1 + $1.18 = $2.91

    Arizona

    $1.79 / .19 + $1.18 = $10.86

    Germany

    $1.79 / .11 + $1.18 = $17.45

    Olkiluoto is 5.6 billion euros or 8 billion dollars / 1.6 MW is $5/watt normalized for a .9 capacity factor and it is $5.55/watt.

    So it is almost exactly 3 times more expensive if it were in Germany, and 2 times in Arizona.

    We all know where I think prices are going with Solar (0.5-0.75 $/watt) and how pumped storage is so much cheaper in the long run than lead acid storage (not to mention you can store in summer and release in winter in the case of Germany). Also storage kwh needs drop if you add wind into the mix.

    Look I understand that fossil fuels are the real enemy, but nuclear also has local pollution, it would be like fighting the old boss just to meet the new boss. Renewables can work and are getting cheaper each day. I felt the same way about solar until I realized just how cheap it was becoming each day. ~100% renewables is possible.

  44. Thanks Barry, I realised over night that mine was probably an abrupt post.

    You have actually convinced me of the merits of nukes in previous posts, hence the disappointment in this one. As mentioned by others, it seems odd to pick a fight with renewables at this time; more information saying ‘renewables can’t do it’ is unlikely to encourage confidence from the public in decarbonising the economy. That is surely the first step? How to do it is the second and if we never get through the first the 300 years worth of brown coal we have will keep coming out of the ground.

    I’ll be the first to admit the task of running Australia, and I am only talking about Australia, on renewables is a difficult one, but I know that it is _possible_.

    You know the ins and outs of the comparison, so there’s no need to re-iterate them here, but I see the future risks of renewables (mostly that it will be expensive and maybe not work) to be less than the future risks of nuclear.
    Future risks of nuclear? That widespread use will drive up, significantly, the cost of the fuel and the already difficult economic analysis gets even worse. Add to this the component of the fuel cost that is predicated on world oil prices. I’ve got a pretty good handle on the drivers that affect resource extraction in Oz and doubling the cost of diesel would be a really, really big problem.

    So apologies for the abruptness; I am a giant fan of your work in general and you have brought sanity to a difficult argument in Australia. You’ve convinced me that if renewables fail Gen 4/thorium nukes would be a pretty good fall back position. However until we’ve invested the same sort of money that nukes have received for the past 70 years, I still think that energy supply that doesn’t rely on a fuel source is a far safer option; economically, environmentally and strategically.

    Ev
    MODERATOR
    BNC commenting rules require that references be supplied to support personal contentions. Further comments which violate that rule will be deleted and you will be asked to re-post supplying same

  45. “In the case of electric cars, we can see strong synergy between nuclear power and efficiency. The electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion and facilitate nuclear plants to dump excess cheap nighttime electricity in commuter car batteries.”

    i am 100% sure, that this will not work. nuclear power and electric cars will not work together well.

    i have seen calculations that show, that at current night time prices it will cost 1/3 to 50% to run your car, in comparison with gas. this price difference has not promoted a move to EVs in the past, and it also will not do so in the future.

    the reason is simple: with an electric car being a lot more expensive still, a rather small price difference on fuel will only make a difference, when you use your car a lot. but this is difficult with electric cars, as they lack range and have long refuelling times.

    the situation is a completely different one with renewables like wind and PV solar. these will cause spikes, that drive prices down to zero or beyond. people will profit from a big price difference in fuel, even if they use their cars not that much. and they can make use of the battery by selling electricity back at a high price difference.

    and then there is the psychological factor of refuelling your car for free..

    ————–

    a big percentage of wind and PV solar will promote the switch to electric cars and will cause massive synergy profits.

    the combination of nuclear and electric cars will be much slower.
    MODERATOR
    Sod – don’t forget you need to supply references to support your contention. What you are 100% sure of doesn’t count otherwise. Future violations of this BNC Commenting Rule will be deleted and you will be asked to re-post supplying same.

  46. @evcricket, You do understand that the cost of nuclear fuel could rise by several orders of magnitude and it would still be competitive with coal and gas on a MWe per Kilo bases. The cost of fuel is a very, very small part of the cost of running a nuclear reactor.

    If you disagree with the above, you should post references to support your contentions, otherwise they will be dismissed as a product of your imagination.
    MODERATOR
    Thanks DV8 – I have appended warnings to several new commenters contributions to remind them.

  47. Uranium mining to be powered by renewable energy? It seems the Olympic Dam expansion is to go ahead
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/d-day-for-olympic-dam-expansion/story-e6frea6u-1226054951428
    The article omits the figures of 690 MW power requirement and 187 megalitres a day of additional fresh water supply. The preferred desal site on a landlocked gulf already has elevated salinity and is a marine reserve.

    However the article says BHP Billiton have promised that 40% of the energy will be renewable, or about 700 X .4 = 280 MW. To do this a mix of wind and solar thermal or PV would have to have a nameplate capacity over 1 GW. Maybe Bob Brown will approve.

    I suspect that if the expansion goes ahead the most likely energy source will be from a new gas pipeline that is ultimately connected to the Qld coal seam gas fields over 500 km away. The whole concept seems slightly bizarre, generating more CO2 in Australia so other countries can have uranium.

  48. DV8 – Umm, post references to the fact that I suspect there is risk in committing heavily to a fuel source? Does oil count as an example?

    You don’t seem to understand how this works; for nuclear to be accepted in Australia, you guys need to convince the Australian public that it is a safe, fast and cost effective solution. If you don’t, all the rhettoric, even if it’s correct, achieves absolutely nothing. You need to convince ME, not the other way around. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. The public education job in front of nuclear is gigantic and telling people who raise concerns that they ‘will be dismissed as a product of your imagination’ probably doesn’t help your cause. I could be a policy maker in the Dept of Energy for all you know, in which case your dismissal means you’ve missed a pretty big trick.

    Ev
    MODERATOR
    Personal opinion presented as fact requires references. An example in your last comment is:
    “That widespread use will drive up, significantly, the cost of the fuel and the already difficult economic analysis gets even worse.”
    There are plenty of references on BNC alone to demonstrate that is not the likely outcome – so what are the sources for your alternative opinion. Please check the BNC Commenting Rules for clarification.

  49. @ evcricket:

    The public education job in front of nuclear is gigantic and telling people who raise concerns that they ‘will be dismissed as a product of your imagination’ probably doesn’t help your cause. I could be a policy maker in the Dept of Energy for all you know, in which case your dismissal means you’ve missed a pretty big trick.

    How many times has this song been sung before? No, we don’t need you. Not even if you are a senior policy advisor. We need to concentrate on signing up the bulk of the population who already passively support nuclear power, not waste time trying to convince people whose main strategy is to try to convince pro-nukes that anti-nuke renewablists somehow represent a key demographic. You do not, and time spent pretending otherwise is time wasted.

  50. Thanks for this post Barry. Succinctly put. I know you’ve been making these arguments for some years now but I think this puts the case effectively while striking the right tone as well.

    As an occasional ‘drive by’ reader/commenter I don’t think this has always been the case… there’s an important distinction to make between ‘going for 100% renewables is a dangerous, innumerate gamble’ (hard to disagree with that) and ‘renewables are a complete waste of time’.

    evcricket,
    A year or two ago many posts and comments on this site implied, if not explicitly stated, the latter argument, that all renewables are a waste of time. I found this quite alienating, particularly having observed renewables being used very effectively in remote/low income settings. But these are niche applications. Barry is being quite nuanced here. Do you really believe renewables can supply 100% of energy demand in developed, urbanised settings? If yes, you need to make the argument with numbers. If not, is nuclear worse than the realistic (fossil fuel) alternatives?

  51. Matt, I actually do think renewables can supply 100% of our energy needs; Australia’s that is.

    The numbers are rubbery and time consuming, so I won’t spell it out, many others have, like the BZE report.

    And no, nuclear is FAR better than fossil fuels, I would never dispute that.

    I’ll see if I can summarise my position in a few lines: We’re talking about the 2050 scenario here, really and a lot could change between now and then. Pursuing a nuclear industry in Australia is a massive commitment; 20 reactors, possibly more, distribution networks and expanded mining. I don’t have inherent problems with that, but it means we’ve spent a lot of money committing to a FUEL source. Then, any impacts to that fuel supply affect the cost and viability of the power supply. There’s plenty of research that supports the notion that resource extraction is getting harder and more energy intensive, this means that despite fuel costs being a low contribution now, there is a genuine risk they could blow out significantly in future. Check out oil prices in the last 20 years for an example of what demand and geopolitics can do.

    Addressing climate change is a matter of inter-generational equity, and I think nuclear fails this test. Committing to nuclear, commits future generations to a series of risks which could be avoided if we use renewables instead. Give us 20 years to see if HDR geothermal and Solar Thermal can do the job. If it can’t, call me and I’ll be straight onto the Gen 4 band wagon advocating with all my strength.

    I think a society not wedded to fuel sources is a lower risk society than one that is. I admit it is a broadly Utopian vision, but I hope that everyone would strive for their Utopia, despite the difficulties.
    MODERATOR
    Please read Comments Policy and abide by those. Unsubstantiated personal opinion is just that and not useful on a science based site.

  52. @ evcricket:

    There’s plenty of research that supports the notion that resource extraction is getting harder and more energy intensive

    Nuclear power requires less mining eddort than renewable power options.

    http://channellingthestrongforce.blogspot.com/2010/05/mining-of-nuclear-fuel.html

    Also, the vast availability of nuclear fuel means that running the world with gen IV reactors will never take more mining than we currently put into coal mining.

    http://channellingthestrongforce.blogspot.com/2010/03/is-nuclear-power-sustainable.html

  53. galloping camel – “If he is right we might as well curl up in a ball and give up.

    In the meantime, the majority refuse to plan for failure so we proceed on the assumption that better technology will help sustain our vibrant civilization.”

    No we need to change not give up. However I guess you can just deny the science and keep going full steam ahead. Again Barry says that he wants to talk with people with an open mind. Yet so far the people here have closed minds and blinkers on, refusing to even consider the possibility that we are on the wrong track and the science behind this might be right.

    As Barry says also we need to do it my way or the highway so its me on the highway again.

  54. On HDR geothermal if I recall a 20 MW pilot plant was going to lead the way in 2009 as a forerunner to massive baseload output. Now in a different location there is a chance that a single 4 Mwe generator may be up and running in 2012. I’d say geothermal, CCS and wavepower have had their chances yet failed to deliver. Wind and solar work as niche contributors but they seem to need permanent subsidies which we can ill afford in the tough times ahead.

  55. @ evcricket

    You say you have been convinced of the merits of nuclear power, but your post indicates that you’ve overlooked perhaps the most fundamental benefit of all. Energy density.

    The world runs primarily on the rather pathetic (from a pro-nuke perspective) chemical energy in fossil fuels. Pound for pound, the potential energy in nuclear fuel is on the order of a million (!) times as dense.

    As a result of the dominance of fossil energy, we’re used to thinking of fuel as an important driver in the overall costing calculation… just filling the tank on your car drives this point home… painfully and acutely. This is not the case with nuclear.

    To understand why this is the case, just turn the scenario around. Assuming todays prices, what if we were able to get the same amount of energy from one millionth the amount of coal? Fuel costs make up a huge fraction of coal fired electricity costs (40 – 50 – 70%? Somebody help me out…) How much could the price of coal have to rise before it would create probems if that fraction was reduced by one millionth? 10X? 100X? 1000X?

    These nice round numbers are drawn from the recesses of a poor memory, but they are close enough to make the point even if I’m off by an order of mag or two either way. (no doubt someone here will kindly correct me if my conclusions are egregiously in error) Most importantly, for the end user, fuel costs are a non-issue for nuclear. For the producer, the least cost options will be exploited first, and as advanced waste management techniques become necessary and/or mandated, the added expense can be absorbed with little to no “pain at the pump”, so to speak.

    I consider your “doubling” of the price of diesel a likely, impending, and quite optimistic scenario… it is the nature of weak, chemical fossil energy to be volatile, finite, and increasingly scarce. These are precisely the problems that nuclear power avoids. Rest assured, such a paltry complication would have essentially no measurable effect on nuclear electricity costs.

  56. evcricket, on 13 May 2011 at 7:15 AM said:
    DV8 – Umm, post references to the fact that I suspect there is risk in committing heavily to a fuel source? Does oil count as an example?

    No I did not ask you to post references for that. I specifically asked you to answer for this statement:

    evcricket, on 13 May 2011 at 6:08 AM said:
    Future risks of nuclear? That widespread use will drive up, significantly, the cost of the fuel and the already difficult economic analysis gets even worse. Add to this the component of the fuel cost that is predicated on world oil prices. I’ve got a pretty good handle on the drivers that affect resource extraction in Oz and doubling the cost of diesel would be a really, really big problem.

    Which implied directly that there was a risk of the cost of nuclear fuel becoming a limiting factor for the deployment of nuclear energy.

    It is this assertion you need to post references for, because it is categorically wrong. I suspect that you realize this, which is why you are prevaricating.

  57. First John, excellent work, thanks for taking the time to post that. Certainly food for thought. Anyone else reading, that was a model response.

    DV8, given John’s comment above, yes, fuel costs are probably not going to be a limiting factor in future and I’m prepared to admit I was wrong.

    One future risk down.

    So, there are still a few more, keeping in mind my Intergenerational Equity requirement;
    - future cost of waste disposal. We don’t have much to go on with that yet and giant public opposition means this could blow out significantly
    - future cost of decommissioning. I’ve got a feeling this is a giant risk, given the experiences of decom work going on now

    And I’ve got vague concerns about the strategic risks; it is this reason the US Dept of Defense is pursuing renewables so vigorously for their bases. No fuel, no chance of cutting off the supply.

    Ev.

  58. @ evcricket

    You seem to be concerned about the use of a fuel in energy production. As has already been pointed out the cost of nuclear power is relatively insensitive to fuel cost so from that point of view, your concerns are relevant but only some decades in the future and only for a once through fuel cycle.

    Should the cost of nuclear fuel rise sufficiently due to the cost of mined uranium, the incentive to deploy closed fuel cycle nuclear power would be substantial. For a closed fuel cycle it can be easily and conclusively shown that there is no possible scenario of energy use where the cost or availability of nuclear fuel is limiting on economic or sustainability grounds for thousands of years at least.

    As always, there many compromises to be made. Renewables are characterized by significant land use. Biofuels are absolutely terrible in that respect but it applies to all renewables. In densely populated countries land use is a major issue. Perhaps in Australia not so much, but even then such things as desert ecosystems have their own intrinsic worth and their destruction over significant areas is yet another insult to an already stretched biosphere.

    So, how do the balance the issue you have with fuel against the land use issue with renewables? Nuclear is and always will be a slam dunk winner when it comes to land use because of it’s very high energy density. And land use will always be an Achilles heel for renewables by their very nature of being a diffuse source of energy.

  59. On the issue of waste storage, nuclear power has the smallest waste stream of any power source, and the radioactive component has both a built-in reason for society to mandate keeping tabs on it and an inherent ease of doing so as a mainly solid remnant, as well as a built-in means of locating it if it goes missing. What’s not to like?

  60. evcricket, on 13 May 2011 at 10:30 AM said:
    So, there are still a few more, keeping in mind my Intergenerational Equity requirement;
    - future cost of waste disposal. We don’t have much to go on with that yet and giant public opposition means this could blow out significantly
    - future cost of decommissioning. I’ve got a feeling this is a giant risk, given the experiences of decom work going on now

    And I’ve got vague concerns about the strategic risks;

    The first thing to keep in mind is that the only true waste from fission is a very small amount of transuranics for which no use is currently known. Stripped from the recyclable components of used fuel these would amount to a golf ball sized mass for a person in a Western economy total lifetime energy use, including transportation.

    In short the ‘waste issue’ is a fabrication largely driven by American politics both domestic and international. As well the issue is confounded there by lumping waste from nuclear weapons programs in with used fuel which distorts the issue.

    In most jurisdictions, nuclear plants must pay for their own decommissioning by contributing to a fund for the life of the plant. There is no other form of energy that must do this despite the fact that it has been proven easier and cheaper to greenfield an ex-nuclear plant than a coal plant of similar output. In fact coal plants are decommissioned to brownfield status because of the cost of further remediation. This doesn’t even begin to address the ash ponds that these plants create, and the costs of stabilizing them.

    The strategic risks of nuclear energy, even for the U.S. with poor uranium resources, are overblown. The expense of extracting uranium from marginal deposits would still not push the costs above unmanageable levels, and thorium fuel cycles are not yet competitive because uranium is so cheap and this element is widely available.

  61. “On the issue of waste storage, nuclear power has the smallest waste stream of any power source, and the radioactive component has both a built-in reason for society to mandate keeping tabs on it and an inherent ease of doing so as a mainly solid remnant, as well as a built-in means of locating it if it goes missing. What’s not to like?”

    … Because we have to pay for it? That said my main criticism is that nuclear waste will outlive any government, maybe civilization itself. Even if you believe breeders could work (and I remind you they have been as commercially successful as tokamaks). They still produce useless fission products that must be guarded, protected, and let to decay for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Australia has a solar capacity of .148 in Sidney and .168 in Darwin.

    http://mapserve3.nrel.gov/PVWatts_Viewer/index.html

    Suffice to say it is vastly better than Germany. Not to mention less seasonal variability.

    “So, how do the balance the issue you have with fuel against the land use issue with renewables? Nuclear is and always will be a slam dunk winner when it comes to land use because of it’s very high energy density. And land use will always be an Achilles heel for renewables by their very nature of being a diffuse source of energy.”

    Partly yes it uses less land, but that land cannot be reclaimed and that means it is not environmentally friendly. Not to mention it is the energy density of fossil and nuclear that led to the rolling blackouts after the Japan earthquake, The distributed nature of solar, wind, and storage would have resisted the shock/tsunami a LOT better.

    I would like to ask Barry a question, if you do not like renewables for X reason, would you be willing to support fusion instead of fission? The Sierra Club also rejects D-T fusion because tritium has a half life of ~13 years. However since this is the only isotope worth worrying about and it is fuel instead of waste, then aside from accidents (which are not self sustaining like with fission) and tokamak decommissioning there is minimal radioactive release into the environment. I am equally split in between support and opposition. D-He3 is the panacea however, no radioactivity period.

  62. I’ve got a couple of comments & questions.

    Regarding the cost of nuclear fuel – I understand that it’s a very small part of the cost of electricity produced, but for clarity – how much does it cost to extract Uranium from seawater? I know it’s been demonstrated to be possible, but seeing the cost compared to digging ore out of the ground would be interesting.

    RE nuclear waste – certainly the transuranics can be ‘recycled’ to generate more energy, but we’re still left with non-useable fission products, some of which are quite active (if only for relatively short periods of decades to centuries). Can they be locked up in synrock or stabilised by similar chemical means, before being safely stored?

    A secondary concern is the ‘low level’ waste, being items that become contaminated and must be disposed of – as I understand it, this is several times the volume of high level waste. Obviously, stabilisation of the contaminant particles is going to be much more difficult, but I assume it can be done in some fashion (embed in concrete blocks?).

    Is there a good article someone can point me to that sets out how nuclear waste is dealt with safely? If not, it’d be a great topic for a post here on BNC, because that’s one of the biggest objections to nuclear power that I see.

  63. @Bern, – Pertinent questions

    Our good friend Charles Barton has written on the costs of seawater extraction here:

    http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2008/03/cost-of-recovering-uranium-from.html

    The (currently) unusable fission products could be locked up in synrock, or in pressed zeolite ceramics, or given the small volumes, transmuted away by a special particle accelerator. My feeling is that they should be stockpiled, as one never knows.

    Low level waste is not a big issue. Commonly, LLW is designated as such as a precautionary measure if it originated from any region of an ‘Active Area’, which frequently includes offices with only a remote possibility of being contaminated with radioactive materials. Such LLW typically exhibits no higher radioactivity than one would expect from the same material disposed of in a non-active area, such as a normal office block.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste

  64. @ Ender

    Yet so far the people here have closed minds and blinkers on, refusing to even consider the possibility that we are on the wrong track and the science behind this might be right.

    Why do you keep repeating this? I suspect most people who regularly post on this blog acknowledge we have some massive problems ahead of us. Personally, I see declines in ecosystems services due to overpopulation, poor land use, over exploitation, invasive species and climate change as hugely threatening to civilisation. And I’m not that optimistic about future outcomes it either.

    What I don’t buy is the argument that energy use in itself is a major part of the problem. If something can be made out of plastic, steel, ceramics, whatever else, but requires (say) five times more energy than if wood were used instead, I’d rather that than deforestation. I’d rather energy-intensive vertical-farming than clearing biodiverse land to make way for more mono-crops. I’d rather efficient fission energy than inefficiently burning important vegetation (“biofuels”) or burning fossil fuels. There are many ways in which we can shift our reliance away from the biosphere which ultimately require a lot of energy.

    And for goodness sake get the terminology right – the study of human populations and population growth is demography. This is different to population ecology which is a sub-field of ecology dealing with the dynamics of species populations and their interactions with their environment. Modeling human populations is substantially different to other species, for a whole host of reasons.

  65. evcricket,
    It seems to me that Barry is not at war with renewables. He seems to like them (as I do) but he has says that renewables cannot be dominant players in the electricity business.

    Taking that to the extreme (100% RE), is nonsense and you should not fault Barry for pointing that out.

  66. @Bern,

    The MIT Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle report is a very good resource for both understanding uranium reserves and supply and options for management of spent fuel.

    http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/nuclear-fuel-cycle.shtml

    It touches on cost of recovery of uranium from sea water and calls for further research. It certainly does not dismiss it.

    Even if one does not agree with all of the recommendations this is still a very valuable document to read.

    On the subject of waste management, IMHO the US government should shoulder a fair bit of blame for it’s dithering which has probably contributed to some public perception that “nobody knows what to do with spent fuel”. US NPP plant operators pay $0.001 per kWh into a waste management fund which now sits at something like $24 billion. It’s time to be far more proactive and demonstrate a credible waste management strategy which is a little better than just storing it on site until we come up with a better idea.

  67. Some new commenters apparently have not read the BNC Commenting Rules – I will post append them here.Please read and abide by these rules if you do not wish your comment to be edited.

    COMMENTS POLICY — I welcome comments, posts, suggestions and informed debate, from a wide range of perspectives. However, personal attacks, insulting/vulgar posts, or repetitious/false tirades will not be tolerated and can result in moderation or banning. Trolls will be warned, and then banned.
    CIVILITY – Clear-minded criticism is welcomed, but play the ball and not the person. Rudeness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humour and staying on topic are superior debating tools.
    RELEVANCE – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.
    CITING LITERATURE AND OTHER SOURCES — appropriate and interesting citations and links within comments are welcomed, but please DO NOT cite material that you have not yourself read, digested and understood. As a general rule, please introduce any and every link or reference with a short description of the material, your judgement on its quality, and the specific reason you are including it (i.e. how it is relevant to the discussion).

  68. Ender,
    You say that we need to change. Am I right when I assume you want us to cut our per capita energy consumption?

    There are plenty of prominent people who advocate this. For example Prince Charles and Al Gore.

    Prince Charles’ main residence is Clarence House in London with a heated area of 40,000 square feet. He also has three other residences in the UK and one (how appropriate) in the Silly(sic) Isles.

    Al Gore has only four residences but he compensates for this frugality by using executive jets for personal transportation.

    I really hope you are not one of those elitists who tell us little people to turn down our thermostats in winter and get rid of our SUVs.

    If cutting down our individual carbon footprints is so wonderful, our leaders could show us a good example by emulating Mahatma Ghandi. Now there was a real leader.

  69. I don’t know how the following fits with Environmentalist’s solar costs. My friend from Jamaica recently spent 14,000 dollars all told on a system that is supposed to give her 235 kwh/month, but her maximum has been 150 kwh/month.

    If we take the max as the average, that’s 14,000 for .2 kw average power. She is happy with this arrangement, but cheap it ain’t. 1 KW of average power would cost 70,000 dollars.

    This is the real world I’m familiar with.

  70. quokka,
    You are a long term denizen of this site so you should know that there is very little nuclear waste in the world and over 95% of it can be consumed by Generation IV reactors.

    In Yorkshire they say “Where there’s muck there’s money”. What we call today call “Nuclear Waste” or “Bomb Grade Material” is fuel for tomorrow’s reactors.

    Moderator,
    Before you jump on me I can back these statements up using nothing but links from this site.
    MODERATOR
    Statements which are already supported by information on this site are taken as having supplied references.

  71. Gregory Meyerson,
    Some kinds of local solar power make perfect sense. For example, solar is often cost effective for heating swimming pools and domestic hot water.

    I know this because my electric water heater burned out in late August but I did not notice for over a month.

  72. @ DV82XL:

    The (currently) unusable fission products could be locked up in synrock, or in pressed zeolite ceramics, or given the small volumes, transmuted away by a special particle accelerator. My feeling is that they should be stockpiled, as one never knows.

    A minor point here. Current synrock technology has been optimised for present nuclear waste, including the U-238 component. This waste is much less radioactive than the kind of concentrated fission products we would get out of a Gen IV reactor. I’m not certain, but if synrock is to be used for storing such waste, it may need to be modified, or the waste itself may need to be diluted. I suspect personally that since it will be largely gone in a few centuries, vitrification might not be the best storage tech anyway.

  73. @gc

    You are a long term denizen of this site so you should know that there is very little nuclear waste in the world and over 95% of it can be consumed by Generation IV reactors.

    Can be, but isn’t. The point is that nuclear waste management is a bit like justice. Not only must it be done, it must be seen to be done. And the US government deserves criticism for not being more proactive. I’m hardly the first person to make this point.

    The theme of “Gen III+ reactors are too expensive because they are too safe” that was being pushed for a while here is analogous. The Fukushima accident is not a catastrophe, but it is something of a disaster for the accelerated roll out of nuclear power. The “too safe” meme looks a little ridiculous in retrospect. I always thought that it was politically suicidal.

    All issues of energy are acutely political and recognizing that and adjusting one’s narrative to respond to popular concerns is imperative. As part of that, I see no problem with criticizing current practices if such is deserved. It is part of being seen to be both competent and honest.

  74. @Finrod – From what I understand different types of Synroc waste forms (ratios of component minerals, specific HIP pressures and temperatures etc.) can be developed for the immobilisation of different types of waste. What limitations there might be have not been discussed in the material I have seen. Good description here:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/default.aspx?id=476&terms=synroc

    However I agree that this is not the optimal path to take because I hold out some hope that new and important applications may be found for these isotopes.

  75. I consider the “Intergenerational Equity” angle to be the most persuasive argument for nuclear power.

    evcricket overarching concerns (and the general public as well) involve questions of “risk”. It is well established that the most dire risk of all to humans is poverty. (See “Chapter 8 – Understanding Risk” of Bernard Cohens excellent book “The Nuclear Option” for a great breakdown on this topic http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/BOOK.html) The most dire risk to the non-human biosphere is the contamination/destruction of habitat.

    The drivers behind human habitat destruction is poor resource management and overpopulation.

    Historically, there are only four mechanisms that effectively bring down human populations: war, pestilence, starvation… and prosperity.

    The fertility rate in the developed (ie; relatively prosperous) world has effectively stabilized, and in some cases gone negative. Population growth in these areas is primarily a function of immigration from less advantaged areas, often at great “risk”… evidence in itself that folks in the third world are not satisfied with their circumstance.

    There are a billion people on this planet without access to any electricity. There are billions more who have some access, but are still desperately energy deprived. The fertility rates in these areas is high.

    Modern economic prosperity is a function of access to energy. Even the most robust economies can be brought to their knees with breathtaking speed if energy deprived.

    Every generation has its problems to solve… often dealing with the unintended consequences of the gifts of their predecessors. Even the toxic soup of widespread combustion products in the atmosphere is a gift in the sense that it has provided us the platform and the technological tools to move on to a better solution… because we are energy rich.

    The worst thing we could pass on to our descendents is an energy poor, impoverished situation.

    The “renewable only” route is a recipe to bankrupt entire economies for an anemic result at best, and a complete failure at worst. Whether it be touted by doomsayers or utopians, and whether they are conscious of it or not, it’s consequences betray a callous disregard for “Intergenerational Equity”.

    Sometimes this conversation needs to be brought back to fundamentals… common sense. Speaking of which, here’s a quote from the man who wrote the book on “Common Sense”… Thomas Paine.

    “When a man in a long cause attempts to steer his course by anything else than some polar truth or principle, he is sure to be lost.”

    Our polar truth/principle should be to make the improvement of the human condition our cause. By leaving our posterity an energy rich, prosperous circumstance, we mitigate population growth while giving them the liberty to make their own choices. By opting for the safest, densest, least polluting, least habitat/resource consumptive choice now is an ethical imperative and a priceless gift.

    BTW.. Doomsayers be damned! I have children, and I will neither give up, nor consign them to live under a rock.

  76. Finrod,
    Most of the reactors in use today consume only 0.6% of the Uranium. The other 99.4% ends up as “Nuclear Waste”. I realise that you know this but some of the other readers may not.

    U238 is usually the dominant component of “Nuclear Waste” so we need reactors that can convert it into fissile isotopes. There are plenty of options; Barry Brook likes fast reactors (e.g. IFRs), Bill Gates likes TWRs while I like LFTRs. It remains to be seen which approach will work best.

    While I expect that over 90% of our nuclear waste will be consumed to generate electric power it is possible that this will be seen as uneconomic at least in the short term so we may need ways to store such materials until mined Uranium becomes scarce.

    We are not talking “Geologic” time here. Just a few hundred years, so don’t waste any more money on Yucca Mountain.

  77. evcricket,

    Pursuing a nuclear industry in Australia … means we’ve spent a lot of money committing to a FUEL source.

    and

    Add to this the component of the fuel cost that is predicated on world oil prices. I’ve got a pretty good handle on the drivers that affect resource extraction in Oz and doubling the cost of diesel would be a really, really big problem.

    Others have pointed out that the uranium consumable is a very small component of the cost and materials of nuclear power. I’d like to look at the renewable side of the equation.

    The reason fuel is raised is because its a consumable, and the idea seems to be that renewables are good because they don’t require a consumable to produce power.

    But they do require vast quantities of consumables. Whats the consumable? The infrastructure – the concrete and steel to construct the devices to harvest the energy from wind and sun. And these devices wear out.

    Compare, say, the steel inputs for wind and nuclear – about 500 tonne/MW for wind (GE2 2.5XL)and 15 tonne/MW for nuclear (AP1000). Then consider the typical wind plant lifetime of say 20 years, and the expected nuclear plant lifetime of say 60 years, and calculate the material consumption rate*:

    A 1 GW wind plant would consume 25000 tonne steel per year.
    A 1 GW nuclear plant would consume 250 tonne steel per year – 1% of the wind consumption of steel.

    The concrete consumption works out at 92000 tonne/GW/year for wind, and 4000 tonne/GW/year for nuclear.

    I invite you to do these calculations for solar. These numbers are generously weighted in favour of renewables as they ignore the required redundancy, storage, and transmission inputs.

    I think of the steel consumption and concrete consumption of renewables as their “fuel”. If you are concerned about the economics of fuel (consumables) extraction in a time of oil depletion – and you should be – renewables are a terrible investment We would indeed be spending a lot of money committing to a “fuel” source.

    * The reference here is TCASE4, where Barry estimates concrete and steel consumption per MW for wind, solar and nuclear, and I’ve converted to annual rates.

  78. Barry
    Did you actually look at the main table in this post? It shows nuclear growing at 6.3% pa when averaged over the next 50 years
    A growth rate of 6.3% per year gives a doubling every 11.4 years, so would expect 350GW of todays capacity to be 1100GW in 2030( what I estimated).. Here is the problem,. that would only be providing 18% of energy consumption, and by 2040 only 30%. I think we can agree that hydro can only provide 6-8%, so that means without very substantial wind,solar and geothermal, CO2 emissions are going to remain close to present levels for the next 30 years, and would not really dramatically decline until about 2050.
    I didnt make any predictions of wind capacity in China by 2020, but based on world capacity increasing by >30% per year in last decade, 20% increase seems reasonable. China was planning 100GW capacity by 2020, but if they continue to build at last years 18GW they will reach this target in 2014, and be producing more GWhs than the 35GW of nuclear. We should expect some growth in wind manufacturing capacity in China, whether that translates into greater build rates locally or internationally doesnt really matter.

    Returning to one of your major issues about renewable
    The three most commonly proposed ways to overcome the problem of intermittency………….The reality is that any of these solutions are grossly uneconomic, and even if we were willing and able to pay for them, the result would be an unacceptably unreliable energy supply system.
    (1) storage; N America, Europe, China all have very large existing storage in hydro and Africa and S America have great potential to develop similar storage. The cost of pumped hydro using existing dams or lakes is mainly the cost of pipelines or tunnels and turbines( pumping capacity) not storage capacity(costs $1000-2000/kW).Uprating existing dams is the lowest cost($70/kW). Sorry I dont have the web links on this lap-top, they have been recently provided on BNC.
    (2) a diverse mix of energy sources doesnt eliminate need for storage but does reduce total storage required. Oz-energy-analysis.org has a good simulation of wind plus solar showing this(3rd story).
    (3) If we are going to be using substantial amounts of FF well into 2050′s( ie nuclear growing at 6.3%), there is going to be lots of natural gas fired peaking plants( in fact we have lots already). Even with 100% OCGT back-up of all low carbon sources, but used at <0.1 capacity factor is still going to generate a lot less CO2 than the 75%nuclear 18% renewabe scenario well into the 2050's and in no way would prevent nuclear eventually providing 75% energy. But with hydro, pumped hydro and a mix of wind, solar and geothermal(and nuclear) we will never need to have 100% FF back-up, not even 50% back-up(possibly 25% back-up used at 0.05 capacity).

  79. It’s pointless, Neil. Every dollar spent on renewables would be better spent on nuclear. I have to disagree with Barry seeing any potential of an important role for renewable power in the main energy mix. It will be a niche player at best, a side story to the epic tale of energy development in the 21st century.

  80. @Finrod, 13 May 4.51pm,
    I have to disagree with Barry seeing any potential of an important role for renewable power in the main energy mix. It will be a niche player at best, a side story to the epic tale of energy development in the 21st century..
    So far in the 21st century, renewable energy has provided more GWh than nuclear(hydro 3,000TWh in 2006, 343GWav; wind 220TWh), in last 5 years a small amount of hydro has been added( an additional100TWh), wind more than doubled(500TWh) but nuclear has declined.as aging plants have been shut down faster than new plants are opened. Unfortunately it appears that in the next 10 years new nuclear openings will only slightly exceed old plant closings, while hydro will increase by 10%, wind increase by >200% and solar perhaps by >1000%. These numbers may be conservative if Japan becomes a major new developer of wind and solar.
    Its very hard to predict what role nuclear will play in 2060, it should be significant but I think its going to be a very long wait before nuclear contributes more energy than renewables. Did you meant to say renewables will be niche players at best in the 22nd century?

  81. @Neil Howes – Hydro, and hydro alone of all renewable modes will continue to make a significant contribution to the energy supply for the foreseeable future. It is the only really viable renewable energy because it can be built to very large scale, and it is dispatchable. Wind, solar and others like wind and wave power will always be a sideshow.

    The thing is that no utility has ever built a thermal plant where they could have economically built hydro. It is these plants that need to be replaced by nuclear energy. Plants that cannot, for reasons discussed at length in this forum, be replaced with variable sources like wind and solar.

    The only other option, other than burning more coal and gas, is the development of more hydro, and long transmission. This is possible, but at such great expense that it will still make nuclear a better choice.

  82. Neil, marginal talk won’t deceive anyone on this site. 1000% increase over insignificant levels is still insignificant.

    500 TWh is less than 3% of world electricity use.

    Its not about that 20% solution, its about the other 80%.

    If you want to convince people of renewables usefulness you must come up with a realistic plan to get to 80% renewable electricity, world-wide.

    Keep in mind:

    1. energy growth and CO2 growth trajectories we’re on right now.
    2. large scale realistic (not arbitrary) intermittency analysis based on real system output and real grid demand.

    Lets see how you will supply 5-10 TWe of reliable clean energy flow and cut greenhouse gas emissions to only a few billion tonnes CO2 equivalents.

    I have actually done these things and concluded only nuclear and hydro are non-marginal (useful!) electricity supply technologies. Its not that wind and solar can’t supply the kWhs, it just can’t supply them when they are needed. With wind and solar, every kWh you add means adding multple kWhs of fossil fuels to back it up, violating our 80% criterion. In fact it would be quite rediculous to call it fossil back-up, because its mostly fossil burning and a little solar and wind for greenwashing.

  83. Here are the production numbers behind renewable energy:

    http://www.energies-renouvelables.org/observ-er/html/inventaire/Eng/conclusion.asp

    Solar is ~0.1 percent of global electricity use. Ten times that by 2020 makes it 1%. Ooooh!

    Here’s the IEA pro-solar projection: 11% PV electric by 2050. Oops! Thats not much at all!

    http://desertec-mediterranee.over-blog.com/article-a-solar-revolution-at-the-iea-51810347.html

    So the no nukes solar (ad hom deleted) are fine with fossil fuels killing tens of millions of people and emitting a trillion tonnes of CO2 over many decades to come. Great.

  84. quokka,
    I can’t argue with your last post, as there is not much going on right now to get us to a dry, on-site reprocessing or closed cycle future.

    As you imply the problems are more political than technical. Freeman Dyson has a clearer vision than almost anyone I can think of and he is very good at communicating too:
    “The fundamental problem of the nuclear power industry is not reactor safety, not waste disposal, not the dangers of nuclear proliferation, real though all these problems are. The fundamental problem of the industry is that nobody any longer has any fun building reactors. It is inconceivable under present conditions that a group of enthusiast could assemble in a schoolhouse and design, build, test, license and sell a reactor within three years. Sometime between 1960 and 1970, the fun went out of the business.”

    Freeman Dyson, “Disturbing the Universe”

  85. “Neil, marginal talk won’t deceive anyone on this site. 1000% increase over insignificant levels is still insignificant. ”

    please learn something about exponential growth.

    here are the numbers for germany:

    Jahr 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010[20]

    Erzeugung in GWh
    64 116 188 313 557 1282 2220 3075 4000 6200 12000

    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaik

    produced electricity increased from 64 GWh in 2000 to 12000 GWh in 2010.

    and neither is Germany the best place for photovoltaics, nor is photovoltaioc the best form of alternative energy, when you want to approach 100% alternatives.

    PV is a good technology to supply increased daytime use. without serous storage, we will not have above 10-20% PV..
    PV also does a good job, in delivering electricity when there is little wind.

    and it is a fantastic technological solution for many small problems (like electricity without grid access) and for those who seek “independence”.

  86. @Neil Howes, on 13 May 2011 at 8:41 PM said:

    So far in the 21st century, renewable energy has provided more GWh than nuclear(hydro 3,000TWh in 2006, 343GWav; wind 220TWh)

    Hydro is a very location specific resource and seasonal.

    On the US Northwest Grid we have 33 GW of hydro. More then enough for our needs. Unfortunately the ‘average production’ is only 15 GW. To make matters worse, peak production occurs in the spring when demand is lowest.

    So we also have 15 GW of coal,gas and nuclear to supplement the hydro.

    US Northwest Generating Statistics.
    http://www.nwcouncil.org/energy/powersupply/Default.asp

    Then to top if all off, the last serious drought year we had we ended up pulling the plug on our aluminum smelters.

  87. gc: I’m fine with solar power. I just don’t know what to make of the “price is coming down all the time” rhetoric when what my experience is shows solar installations to be very expensive. My Jamaican friend had the money for a very modest system and is very conservative in her energy use.

    Still, her system averages out to 70 grand per kw. You read some solar enthusiasts who disconnect the watt price from the whole system to make it sound cheaper, and then act like the future is already here– well, it seems misleading to me.

    My nephew has installed a solar heating system, with pipes running thru the floor. very cool. It cost 20,000 bucks but he will have to pay only 8 grand due to federal and state subsidies.

    Very cool, but not the basis for a rational energy solution. My nephew is knee jerk anti nuclear and talks about how expensive it is: this before Fukushima.

  88. How can anybody in their right mind dismiss 1000% growth…

    I don’t care if you give me a single hydrogen atom, if it grows geometrically at 1000% within 60 units of time (say a year is an unit of time) I will give you our very own sun.

    “and neither is Germany the best place for photovoltaics, nor is photovoltaioc the best form of alternative energy, when you want to approach 100% alternatives.

    PV is a good technology to supply increased daytime use. without serous storage, we will not have above 10-20% PV..
    PV also does a good job, in delivering electricity when there is little wind. ”

    I think 100% solar + storage is inevitable, perhaps not in the near term (20 years) but if prices keep dropping at the current rate it will simply make it to cheap to not use. Sadly wind has kind of hit a floor on $/watt, the question is if solar/watt+ storage is cheaper than solar/watt + wind/watt +smaller storage after 20+ years. Since wind, solar, and storage are all basically just capital intensive with very little in operational costs the LCOE should be a fair comparison. Let me see if its true and if I can quantify it.

    This is the graph from the recent IPCC report.
    http://i.imgur.com/v37RF.png

    “gc: I’m fine with solar power. I just don’t know what to make of the “price is coming down all the time” rhetoric when what my experience is shows solar installations to be very expensive. My Jamaican friend had the money for a very modest system and is very conservative in her energy use.”

    Look at the graph on this post, your perception is anecdotal, and even if by a few years, outdated, my graph is scientific since it comes from the IPCC itself.

  89. A solar project here just initiated involves 33 rooftop installations, 150 kilowatts-peak, at a cost of 360000 euros. It is designed to give almost 130000 kilowatthours of electricity per year which makes it an average of 14,8 kilowatts of electricity flow installation.

    So that’s 24.4 euros per Watt electrical average capacity.

    Compare this to the most expensive nuclear project in Europe, Olkiluoto, hated for its cost overruns, going for 5 billion for a 1.6 GW electrical reactor, with 92% design capacity factor.

    So that’s 3.4 euros per watt electrical average capacity. Now add in the fact that the design lifetime for Olkiluoto (60 years) is 2x longer than the design lifetime of the solar installation (30 years).

    If you think ‘but the sun is free and uranium costs money’ well the inverter and battery replacement alone (battery costs were not even included for the solar installation so I’m being very very kind to solar) are at least 5 cents per kWh which is twice the total cost of uranium ore+fuel fabrication+enrichment+dry storage.

    These are not complicated calculations, anyone that has had basic math classes can do them. So why don’t most people do these simple calculations?

  90. @ Sod. Please learn something about fundamental limits to exponential growth. Please learn something about the implications of non-dispatchable solar systems that are not there 90% of the time. All that grid connected PV is going to do in Germany is lock you guys in fossil fuels indefinately.

    You Germans need to start doing the math.

    Or keep rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. Never mind that iceberg, Sod. Just handwave it away.

  91. Harry:

    fabulous graph you cite.

    wind has five times the generating capacity of nuclear for the region. but when you get down to actual electricity produced, they’re a wash.

    and as you note, natural gas, coal and nuclear fill in the gap between wind’s generating capacity and what it delivers.

  92. Gregory, energy expert Bill Hannahan has a paper which has tons of useful numbers:

    http://www.coal2nuclear.com/energy_facts.htm

    He comes to 6.5 billion dollars battery replacement for a 0.9 GWe flow 10 years. So 6.5 billion for 9 gigwatt-years, which is about 8 cents per kWh.

    Replacing the inverter adds a cent at this cost. Then we have the battery charger and the cost of cleaning the panels. 10 cents per kWh total for replacement and operations/maintenance would be reasonable for this system. I’m being kind in assuming much cheaper batteries and inverters, so am using half this cost. Its very unlikely though that deep cycle batteries can be made for under $ 70/kWh of capacity.

    For my area, even the 0.15 capacity factor that Bill Hannahan uses is optimistic. So far 0.09 is more appropriate. With improvements in installation and greater use of diffuse energy harvesting cells, we could get 0.11 eventually for a fleet average.

  93. “A solar project here just initiated involves 33 rooftop installations, 150 kilowatts-peak, at a cost of 360000 euros. It is designed to give almost 130000 ”

    Cyril those prices may be because it was financed just a few years ago, I made a good post here.

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/05/12/renewables-are-not-sufficient-p2/#comment-127227

    I think the math is solid, and depending on where you live, today’s prices puts 24/7 Solar at 2 or 3 times more expensive than pure baseload Olkiluoto, Of course this works much better in Arizona and Australia than in Germany simply because of seasonal variation mainly. This pits the most expensive baseload nuclear vs the most expensive solar (24/7 and p-Si instead of CdTe from First Solar).

    As for Olkiluoto its technically 5.6/8 billion euro/dollars which means its 5$/watt.

    http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Areva_reports_profit_surge_from_sale_of_asset_999.html

  94. Environmentalist, your math is NOT solid because 1 day is WAY not enough storage. If I went off-grid with a 1 day storage system it would be much less reliable than my on grid utility connection today, for two reasons; first seasonal variability makes even a full week of storage insufficient, second a two or even three week cloudy period happens *ALL* the time here. We have a notoriously unreliable climate. Making our electric grid reliant upon a notoriously unreliable weather system is madness to most people, but to an anti-nuke such as yourself, apparently perfectly reasonable. We need most energy in winter, when the sun is out with the flowers. Talking about ‘flower power’.

    Last year my grid reliability was 100%. No blackouts/brownouts. As it should be.

    The solar project above costs 24.4 euros per Watt average electric which is 34 USD/Watt average electric flow. It is not financed old, it is a new project just ordering the panels from China as we speak. For a cheaper solar cost in a sunnier climate, you get Bill Hannahan’s estimate, comes down to 32 USD/Watt average electric flow, without battery replacement cost. You get around 40 USD cents per kWh including battery replacement. The cost of battery replacement alone (8 USD cents/kWh) is higher than Olkiluoto’s total levelised cost (around 7 USD cents/kWh). The batteries give a considerable waste disposal and recycling issue, ironically:

    http://www.coal2nuclear.com/energy_facts.htm

  95. “How can anybody in their right mind dismiss 1000% growth”

    How can anybody in their right minds think a power source that is uncontrollable and not there 90% of the time (solar in Germany) can continue growing exponentially? Don’t you just think there *might* be limits here?

    Germany has daytime summer peak of around 60 GW electrical. Say you install 60 GW peak solar panels. Oops this only gets you roughly 10% of Germany’s annual electric demand! And building more means either dumping peak summer output, increasing cost per kWh, or installing expensive energy storage, increasing cost per kWh (by capital cost and storage losses).

    The Germans are going to hit a wall soon, when they’ve installed too much useles solar capacity. Of course natural gas from Putin comes to the rescue. Have no fear, Putin is here.

    Well, let them. Let the Germans feel what the consequences are of living in fantasy island.

    Disillusionment is possibly the only tool powerful enough to make the Germans stop having a fantasy energy policy.

  96. sod, may I ask you two questions? First, are you living on solar only, off the grid, and if so what is your system?

    Second, have you developed a business plan for a moderately energy intensive business – say an artist’s pottery, including a kiln – run entirely on solar energy and presented it to a bank for financing? I suggest an artist’s pottery since it can run much smaller kilns than a commercial pottery and has that nice ‘artist’ cachet to it.

    I find that developing business plans makes me think very hard about choices and costs, and presenting it to a banker is a hard-nosed reality check. You have to demonstrate that you understand all the numbers and how to put them together.

  97. “Second, have you developed a business plan for a moderately energy intensive business – say an artist’s pottery, including a kiln – run entirely on solar energy and presented it to a bank for financing? I suggest an artist’s pottery since it can run much smaller kilns than a commercial pottery and has that nice ‘artist’ cachet to it. ”

    ———-

    there are actually plenty solar based businesses alive and kicking. for example a lot of displays for road signs and things like parking machines have moved to solar.

    http://www.nomatark.ch/wp-content/gallery/solarbetriebenweb/SolarParkscheinAutomat.png

    —————-

    “sod, may I ask you two questions? First, are you living on solar only, off the grid, and if so what is your system?”

    ———-

    no. i think you did not understand my point. (and just in case you are really interested, i live in a former mill, next to a stream. if i wanted to leave the grid, i would mix solar and water power and i am pretty sure that i could do so)

    i keep repeating this over and over: if you want electricity at night, PV solar is NOT the way to go!

    when i spoke of “independence” above, i did obviously NOT mean real energy independence from the grid. this is about a psychological effect and not about producing every single watt you use all by yourself.

    you will find an enormous amount of PV solar panels on roofs in southern Germany. and this is not easy to explain. because there are much better investments. (a lot of funds will provide better returns) there are even better green investments (basically most bigger projects will be better than your rooftop) and of course much more useful projects if you want to move into solar. (investing in spain or italy, if you don t want to go to north africa)

    if you ask them, you will find that the majority of people owning PV panels will NOT be a customer of green energy themselves. (even though this is not more expensive in Germany)

    if you want to understand why they put those panels on their roofs, you will have to look at details and at psychology. they want to invest in something they can see and really “own”. not into papers or a project far away. they also want an investment that feels like doing the right thing (sort of greenish)

    they are happy about the money they receive from the state (this is worth double the same amount of money when you earn it) and many are not unhappy that everybody can see the panels on their house.

    and they feel good about producing some part of their own energy, many love to show you how their counters move backwards.

    some of this points are not very rational, others are. (you get cheated a lot, while investing into stuff far away..)

    the minor independence has one big advantage, for example: i have often been lectured about the difference between costs and prices. distributed ownership of alternative energy has a big advantage in this aspect: at the end, now not only big companies can profit from ever increasing prices while costs should be sinking.

    ———————————————

    ps: i do not think that storage should be factored into the cost of PV solar at all. it simply doesn t make any sense. storage of solar energy becomes interesting when we increase it above 5-10% of total electricity before that, PV will mostly supply daytime peak demand and does not need any storage at all.

    Germany increased its solar power by a factor of about 1.5 every single year over the last decade. it will be much eassier for other countries to do the same in the next decade, as prices has declined a lot and many countries have better sun conditions. Germany will achieve above 5% PV solar in the next decade and many other countries will do so as well.

  98. The above debate about Solar PV largely misses one single point.The technology is OK for small stand alone applications.It can’t be scaled up,in any practical sense,to providing base load power.

    Nuclear is ideal for non- polluting base load power.
    Horses for courses.

    In addition,domestic solar feed in is not of much use in terms of useful power produced,it destabilizes the grid if there are sufficient solar generators and the cost is paid by users who don’t have solar systems through higher electricity prices..That is not equitable and I predict that the solar feed in tariff schemes in Australia will be tinkered with by the various state governments until thay are practically non- existent.

    Meanwhile nothing is being done to replace fossil fuel generated electricity.Carbon trading and carbon taxes are just a politicians way of kicking the can down the road.

  99. “The above debate about Solar PV largely misses one single point.The technology is OK for small stand alone applications.It can’t be scaled up,in any practical sense,to providing base load power.”

    ———-

    pump storage can not provide base load either. is it also a technology that is “OK” at best?

    not all energy supply has to be base load. PV solar supplies energy at a time of high demand. this is good.

    the destabilization of the grid is mostly a myth. a lot of solar is used very close to were it was produced. so it doesn t use a lot of grid at all!

    here is the power output of German solar today. can you explain to me how it has destabilized the grid?

    http://www.sma.de/de/news-infos/pv-leistung-in-deutschland.html

    notice that we got over 9 GW at all times between 10 am and 4 pm today.

    what would you consider to be “scaling up”?

  100. “Environmentalist, your math is NOT solid because 1 day is WAY not enough storage. If I went off-grid with a 1 day storage system it would be much less reliable than my on grid utility connection today, for two reasons; first seasonal variability makes even a full week of storage insufficient, second a two or even three week cloudy period happens *ALL* the time here. We have a notoriously unreliable climate. Making our electric grid reliant upon a notoriously unreliable weather system is madness to most people, but to an anti-nuke such as yourself, apparently perfectly reasonable. We need most energy in winter, when the sun is out with the flowers. Talking about ‘flower power’.”

    Its a very good point and one that did make me tepid in my original post in recommending this system to say Germany as of today, but lets look at this for a second, the main point of that post was not the specifics but rather the main point that inverters, charge controllers, cables, storage these are all share a static “capacity factor” of near 1, they only need to be rated towards peak power and with their inefficiencies included and not much else but they work the same everywhere. $/watt of panels that has always been the detriment of Solar energy. If it keeps falling it will reach a point where storage costs dominates the discussion.

    http://i.imgur.com/A0A9u.png
    This is the solar variation in Darwin Australia.

    If you are worried about not enough batteries to last you more than a day you can triple the capacity and only pay only a dollar more per watt. Of course for countries with strong seasonal variations the only solution is to just use hydroelectric dams or large storage pumped hydro.

    “without battery replacement cost. You get around 40 USD cents per kWh including battery replacement. The cost of battery replacement alone (8 USD cents/kWh) is higher than Olkiluoto’s total levelised cost (around 7 USD cents/kWh). The batteries give a considerable waste disposal and recycling issue, ironically:”

    These are operating costs while we are talking capital costs, maintenence+inspection+ worker in solar should always be less than maintenance+inspection+ workforce+ fuel in nuclear,also is that 7 cents/kWh updated to reflect cost overruns?

    “How can anybody in their right minds think a power source that is uncontrollable and not there 90% of the time (solar in Germany) can continue growing exponentially? Don’t you just think there *might* be limits here?”

    Of course there are limits, my comment was more tongue in cheek at the dismissal of 1000%, the correct argument is that such rate of growth is unsustainable, not that 1000% from small is nothing. At such exponential growth the starting point is irrelevant.

    That said I do see 100% growth a year in the foreseeable future for Germany, its absolute limit is only total solar irradiation * efficiency, say 15%. For Ganimede its 45%! Of course they will stop way way before that, they will slow down in growth until they need to address storage, Then they will have a choice to make:

    Its all predicated on this crude simplistic formula

    Solar cost/watt /.11 + Wind costs/watt /.25 + daily storage * redundancy factor.
    Or
    Solar cost/watt/.11 +seasonal storage

    If it were Arizona it would be a no brainier with almost no seasonal variation.

    Solar cost/watt /.19 + daily storage*redundancy factor.

    Also this is not about is the endorsement of lead acid batteries, even though they can be recycled, pumped storage is a much better solution because of durability, deep cycling, and minimal losses in seasonal storage.

  101. @Cyril, May 13, 10.22pm
    Here’s the IEA pro-solar projection: 11% PV electric by 2050. Oops! Thats not much at all!
    Here is a more complete quote from the link you provided:
    According to these two roadmaps, solar PV and CSP could each account for between 4,000 and 4,500 Terrawatthours (TWh) or 11% of projected global electricity demand in 2050. In other words, 40 years from now, solar power could deliver between 20% and 25% of global electricity. That’s a huge upgrade from earlier projections the IEA made in its famous annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) reports.
    I would call 25%significant(about twice what nuclear is supplying at present), lets hope nuclear and wind can also contribute similar amounts, and that hydro and geothermal can pick up most of the balance.

  102. Finrod,Cyril, Harry2r, DV82XL,
    If you are agreeing that renewable energy is providing more electricity than nuclear, than you should agree that renewable energy contribution is more than trivial.
    Sure nuclear and hydro are both growing at a slow rate, but solar and wind are expanding rapidly.
    You seem to be saying either that wind and solar cannot continue to expand at >30% per year for the next 10-20 years AND/OR having wind plus solar supplying >50% of the energy supply is not practical because of localized variability.
    While we have 5-10% of our power provided by FF, having a high capacity of FF back-up is not an issue IF it is used at a low CF, and after hydro will be the cheapest option to provide peak demand whatever provides >80% of energy..
    My fear is that nuclear power won’t be expanded fast enough to provide even 25% of demand, leaving FF to continue supply more than 5-10% well past 2050.. Whatever nuclears’ contribution it will be significant and deserves support for that reason alone(as do solar and wind).
    Saying that money spent on renewables would be better spent on nuclear ignores the source of those funds and assumes they are transferable.

  103. @Andrem I think you have effectively checkmated sod, or given him a reality check with your artist’s kiln and bankmanager’s scenario. And dear sod, why would UAE be building nuke plants, even though they have even better solar resources than Australia? Here in Oz the electricity consumers are waking up to the fact that they are effectively subsidizing PV panels for urban greens, and they are pissed off about it. However the German taxpayer seems to have an infinite capacity for self flagellation as they keep on voting in the Greens. As I have remarked before , you guys can always buy cheap clean electricity from France

  104. @Neil Howes – Please don’t try to put words in my mouth – I did not agree ‘renewables’ were providing a significant amount of power, I wrote that hydro did. Trying to hitch a free ride on hydro’s performance is on of the more egregious lies attempted by wind and solar supporters. It is the equivalent of asserting that because nuclear is thermal conversion it must be as bad a coal. People here are not simpletons.

    The growth of wind and solar are artifacts of a very distorted market, that is running on pure politics and the support of those that are simply too ignorant to understand why these modes cannot do what they think they can, and too stupid to follow the reasoning why.

    The simple truth is that 20% penetration of intermittent and variable sources is the maximum theoretical amount that the grid can manage, without a complete redesign of its fundamental architecture, even with a heavy investment in sophisticated switching. This is just not going to happen, and FF will continue to form the backbone of any wind/solar initiative because of it.

    Believing otherwise only demonstrates how little you understand the whole system of electric power, and how deeply you have been taken in.

  105. Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error, because it has been pointed out to them on innumerable occasions. Shouldn’t this particular falsehood be categorised under false/repetative tirades?

  106. DV: I need to understand the following point as deeply as possible:

    The simple truth is that 20% penetration of intermittent and variable sources is the maximum theoretical amount that the grid can manage, without a complete redesign of its fundamental architecture, even with a heavy investment in sophisticated switching. This is just not going to happen, and FF will continue to form the backbone of any wind/solar initiative because of it.

    what sources would you recommend to help understand this point? I understand it intuitively, but would like a david mackay level version.

    Don’t think De Carolis and Keith address it; they seem to sweep it under the rug.

    any ideas?

  107. Most of us who follow this blog are either techies or people who want to be. That is all very well but once in a while we need to look at energy policy from a completely different viewpoint. For example, what can financiers, economists or historians tell us about RE.

    Here is a link to an article published in the Forbes magazine last month:
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

    Taylor and van Doren make five points starting with the “diffuse” nature of renewable energy. That happens to be the issue that struck me most forcibly when I visited the world’s second largest solar installation last month.

  108. Neil Howes, on 14 May 2011 at 8:16 AM said:

    If you are agreeing that renewable energy is providing more electricity than nuclear, than you should agree that renewable energy contribution is more than trivial.

    The Biggest single source of hydropower in the Pacific Northwest, the Grand Coulee Dam was authorized in 1935 and completed in 1942.

    Let’s not conflate ‘renewable’s’ that have been ‘on the books for 70 years with ‘modern renewable’.

    Our grandfathers were pretty smart, they exploited those renewable resources that were exploitable.
    The idea that yet another generation can come along and somehow exploit substantially more then our grandfathers could over states the rate of change of technology.

  109. Environmentalist,
    At the top of this thread, Barry has promised to provide a critique of that “Groundbreaking” report on RE published by the IPCC. I expect to be enlightened.

    The graph that you cited is from page 12 of the “Summary for Policy Makers”.

    The trouble with the IPCC is that there may be a great deal of excellent science in the WGIII document but in recent years the executive summaries have become increasingly political.

    For example that graph you linked is misleading because it shows $/W of nameplate capacity but fails to mention that the capacity factors range from 0.10 to 0.33. When reviewing the investments required for an electrical generating technology you should compare $/W of AVERAGE power.

  110. @Gregory Meyerson – About a year ago, I realized that much of what I was reading in relatively credible literature on wind and solar (ad hom deleted) wasn’t adding up. There seemed to be very large unsaid assumptions being made in the area of how integration into the grid was going to be accomplished. In many cases this was covered by the buzz phrase, ‘smart grid,’ but in almost all cases this value of 20% kept cropping up. While there seemed to be broad agreement on this number, there was almost nothing on why that particular level of penetration was seemingly universal. The implication was, therefore , that it was some limiting factor of the grid that was responsible.

    At this point I realized that I knew very little detail on how both the grid, and operations in the electric power market worked. Bringing myself up to speed, I realized that both were much more complex than I had realized, and that indeed there were limits that were set by set by several factors. Generally the grid grew in a sort of semi-random way, and protocols kind of accreted , and its architecture was not all that homogeneous. This in itself limits the amount of intermittent energy that can be traded at any distance. As well, the market itself is complex, with trades being made both in real time and forward, not only for generation, but transmission and number of ancillary services. Regulation services, frequency discipline, reactive support and voltage control service, being the major ones and several minor ones like Rapid Generator Unit Loading/Unloading Protection, and standby Black Start service. All this has to be contracted for, scheduled in advance, and paid for, used or not.

    Forgetting for the moment that payments would probably have to be made to a dispatchable generator that was contracted to assume load, even if much of that load was being offset by a wind or solar facility, consider what other potential upsets would this cause to the system and you find that the 20% figure more or less fits in with the amount of slack that they try to maintain in the system to allow for unforeseen problems, like sudden load variations, failing generators, downed lines and such. This is the margin that variables claim they can fit in to.

    The argument made by some renewable advocates is that this margin could be reduced without compromising the network, but their arguments are based solely on statistics, and it would seem (at least to me) that they are willing to sacrifice a t least some reliability to allow more variable sources on-line. This is the core of the ‘grid stability’ debate that often crops up in places where this subject is debated.

    To compensate for this, several switching schemes have been proposed, and some implemented to accommodate variable generation, but even there legacy features of the grid limit their ability to allow much improvement, and they are expensive.

    Thus the argument has boiled down to one where the issues are: How much reliability, and expense are going to be sacrificed to accommodate these non-dispatchable generators; and how are those that will supply what the renewable crowd euphemistically call backup, be compensated for power they make available, but is not used, and cannot be resold.

    As I wrote above this is an analysis that came from a broad study of the system, thus there is no single reference I can post, but this article mentions a report not available to the public, (that I know of) that discusses the expense of accommodating that 20% on the U.S. grid. The numbers are staggering.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123414242155761829.html

  111. @DV82XL
    …..the expense of accommodating that 20% on the U.S. grid. The numbers are staggering.
    The article mentions $100Billion to provide major grid upgrades to handle 20% of electricity (from wind?) ie 100GW . This is 15% of overall cost of 870billion to provide as much power as present nuclear, very similar to present costs of new nuclear in US. As the article points out, an improved grid would be also used to move power from other sources presumably including from all the new nuclear that is also going to be built in next 13 years.
    In many cases this was covered by the buzz phrase, ‘smart grid,’ but in almost all cases this value of 20% kept cropping up. While there seemed to be broad agreement on this number, there was almost nothing on why that particular level of penetration was seemingly universal. The implication was, therefor , that it was some limiting factor of the grid that was responsible.
    The reason 20% keeps cropping up is because this was the contribution of wind to Denmark’s grid. The fact that Denmark is now planning to upgrade the grid to handle 50% wind power shows this is not a limiting factor, even when the wind power is collected from a very small region (0.5% area of US). When the US built 100GW of nuclear it also added 20GW of short term pumped hydro to help balance the grid, that didnt seem to be a “staggering cost” at the time.

  112. Harrywr2.
    The US only exploited what hydro power was needed 70 years ago. Modern wind turbines have used advances in aviation that were not available 70 years ago even if there had been a demand for more electric power.
    The fact that some renewable energy has been on books for 70 years or that some nuclear has been on books for 35 years is testament to the value of these energy resources.
    The issue is what can be built in next few decades, and even though US has only developed 10% of hydro potential( according to DOE ), dams take a long time to be built. Wind and solar however can be expanded rapidly, much faster than hydro or nuclear, even though they require some back-up power. Fortunately the US has 400GW of fairly new flexible NG fired power that can be economically used at a very low CF.

    The idea that yet another generation can come along and somehow exploit substantially more then our grandfathers could over states the rate of change of technology.
    By your reasoning we should never have been able to build any nuclear power either, because our grandfathers couldn’t do it. Wind and solar costs have declined 10 fold in last 20 years, all due to technology!

  113. @Neil Howes – You simply do not know what you are talking about, and like most religious types trying to explain why their particular beliefs are valid, employ a very particular form of exegesis on what is written.

    Nuclear simply doesn’t need long transmission, and would not benefit from this sort of upgrade. Nor is any power produced by this scheme, it is simply an added cost to accommodate wind and solar. Trying to confound the cost of transmission with that of generation, is ether outright mendacity, or deeply ignorant.

    Consider that the phrase: “upgrade the grid to handle 50% wind power” is logically equivalent to asserting that the current grid in Denmark cannot handle more than 20%, which is the thrust of what I wrote above. It it could handle more, why are they needing to upgrade it?

    Nor have you mentioned what the cost of this short term pumped hydro was, making your implied comparison worthless.

    Please make meaningful comments, nonsense like the above will not get a free pass.

  114. DV82XL,
    The grid wasn’t built to accommodate wind power, or any one power source but to allow power to be used more efficiently. Are you suggesting nuclear does not benefit from being connected to a large grid, or cities close to a nuclear power having access to other forms of energy when specific nuclear plants are off-line or during exceptionally high periods of demand?
    Any large additional power generation is going to require upgrading of an existing grid, but these costs are not especially large in relation to the existing grid or to the cost of addition generation.
    I have already pointed out that nuclear did require 20GW of pumped hydro “back-up” not a staggering cost nor would a similar additional pumped hydro back-up for wind be ” a staggering cost”.
    As far as objecting to including hydro, (based on very variable and intermittent rainfall) as part of renewable together with wind and solar, as far as I can see these renewable energy resources all need a form of energy storage, its just that most hydro needs a lot more (in some cases years) except where run of river is very reliable. The major variations in wind are generally days to weeks, and solar generally 24h( with a seasonal variation at high latitudes). The storage requirements of wind and solar are much less demanding than most hydro, but the best news is that together they can share the same storage because they operate at different variable time periods.

    I suppose if geothermal power was as significant as hydro you would not want that to be included as part of “renewable energy” either, or reject it on the basis that it is not available everywhere or requires long transmission lines.

  115. Finrod said

    Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error, because it has been pointed out to them on innumerable occasions. Shouldn’t this particular falsehood be categorised under false/repetative tirades?

    I have been leaning towards that assessment for a while now. False/repetitive tirades are against the BNC Commenting Rules, however, it is not easy to moderate something like this. So – a warning to Neil Howes and others who are guilty of it – I will be unapproving/placing in Pending any further instances for Barry’s final decision.

  116. Neil, the problem with wind and solar is that they have common-mode failure; when its calm, all wind turbines fail, when its dark at night, all solar panels fail. Not technically, because they are technically reliable, but the resource fails. And its common for solar panels to fail during entire SEASONS in most of the world. Nuclear plants don’t have this problem; they don’t fail all at the same time when the weather changes. One or two can fail at the same time for technical/maintenance reasons, but the other are statistically disconnected so the chances of more than a handful of plants failing at the same time becomes vanishingly small.

    A few hours of pumped storage for nuclear is often cost-effective; riding through weeks of weather changes that happen everywhere around the world, will require weeks of pumped storage, which *IS* prohibitively costly. Dealing with seasonal variation this way is even more absurd.

    That’s what DV82XL has been saying all along; nuclear needs orders of magnitudes less storage capacity for the same reliability level. If you read the DeCarolis and Keith paper you will see that some 500 hours of storage will be required for wind in high penetrations. For nuclear at 90% it would be more like 5 hours. If storage gets cheaper/more scaleable, nuclear will use it. Its absurd to think that we will store energy from sources that are not there 80-90% of the time. Energy that’s not there cannot be stored. Wind is typically 10x less productive than nuclear over its lifetime. For solar its even worse, typically at least 15x less productive.

    Society moves on to increasingly greater energy density. We moved away from biomass to fossil fuels because of their greater availability, reliability, and energy density. The next step in human evolution is logically nuclear power, because it is even more available (nuclear fuel is log normal distributed in the earths crust even without breeders) and more reliable (fuel delivery only once every year or two, highest capacity factor of any powerplant) and much more energy dense. Check out my not-very-artistic, but illustrating way of explaining it:

    http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2757

  117. “@Andrem I think you have effectively checkmated sod, or given him a reality check with your artist’s kiln and bankmanager’s scenario. And dear sod, why would UAE be building nuke plants, even though they have even better solar resources than Australia?”

    ————

    i am seriously confused by this sort of argument. so when i cannot provide a business plan for pottery (???) run on pure solar, this somehow proves that the technology can not supply useful energy?

    can you folks provide me a business plan for your pottery business run with your own nuclear power plant?

    ——————-

    Most of us who follow this blog are either techies or people who want to be. That is all very well but once in a while we need to look at energy policy from a completely different viewpoint. For example, what can financiers, economists or historians tell us about RE.

    Here is a link to an article published in the Forbes magazine last month:
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

    ———

    (ad hom deleted)

    and notice this gem: obviously fossil fuels are too scarce to provide backup for altzernative energy:

    “Third, it is unreliable. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine when the energy is needed. We account for that today by having a lot of coal and natural gas generation on “standby” to fire up when renewables can’t produce. But in a world where fossil fuels are a thing of the past, we would be forced–like the peasants of the Dark Ages–to rely upon the vagaries of the weather.”

    ————

    but are plentiful when used on their own: (page two of the SAME article!!!

    ———

    “Fossil fuels are everything that green energy is not. They are comparatively cheap. They are reliable; they will burn and produce energy whenever you want it. They are plentiful (we use only a tiny bit of oil in the electricity sector). And you can store fossil fuels until you need them.”

  118. Here’s a typical industrialised country daily electric demand graph (Germany):

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Tagesgang_engl.png

    You can see that this matches very well to baseload. In fact the Germans could replace all dirty lignite with nuclear, with very few grid changes and very little effect on capacity factor for the nuclear plants (slightly lower than 90%, probably 80%, due to providing less power in weekends).

    That would be a massive improvement for Germany.

  119. “Finrod, on 14 May 2011 at 9:53 AM said:

    Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error, because it has been pointed out to them on innumerable occasions. Shouldn’t this particular falsehood be categorised under false/repetative tirades?”

    could you please provide a link to any actual example where we do this?

    small amounts of PV solar will not require storage, as they will be used to supply peak demand.

    if storage is needed, pumped hydro is the cheapest solution at the moment.

  120. “Here’s a typical industrialised country daily electric demand graph (Germany):

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Tagesgang_engl.png

    You can see that this matches very well to baseload.”

    why can this false claim be repeated over and over?

    the graph does look flat, because of how pump power flatening it. and so does demand, that was moved to the night by cheaper prices.

    on the other hand, solar power can provide the peak demand that this graph shows between 10am and 3 pm.

    http://www.sma.de/en/news-information/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html

  121. Finrod
    Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error,
    Its definitely not an error.
    What do wind, solar and hydro have in common?
    (1) great variation in energy availability of wind speed, sunlight and rainfall.
    (2) the variability is reduced by collecting these renewable energy resources over very large geographic areas, for wind and solar larger than weather systems, for hydro over different or very large catchments.
    (3) large amounts of storage are required to enable these renewable resources to provide energy on demand, the amount required depending upon wind conditions( for wind), cloud cover(for solar, but all locations would require 12h storage ) and reliability of rainfall( for hydro).
    (4) all have to spill excess energy because it is not economic to store the energy available at peak output, solar is more predictable than high wind or flood events.
    These different renewable resources complement each other to some extent(at least in sharing storage) because the variability frequencies are different, hydro can have 1-10 years storage reflecting seasonal or long term rainfall variations, but we don’t have a year without wind or sunlight and a major cause of widespread low winds are blocking high pressure weather systems associated with low cloud cover(high solar output).
    In two respects wind and solar are much better than hydro, they can scale to provide much more energy than hydro, and can be built faster.
    What do these renewables have in common with nuclear? Renewables in total displace about the same amount of FF as nuclear, and this to me is the most important feature.
    MODERATOR
    The quote was from Finrod not from the moderator.

  122. Sod, even without the small amount of pump power its still very much flat. Much closer to baseload than to wind or solar. That’s the point.

    And again, *sigh*, again, daily peak in Germany and most other countries occurs AFTER noon which is when solar is going down. Bad. Peaks are highest when people get home from work and turn on their TVs and lights, and boil their electric kettles to make some tea. Just when solar is well on its way to oblivion.

    With nighttime PHEV and EV charging, all demand is essentially baseload, so close to 100% nuclear. Most renewables enthusiasts are suggesting wind and solar work well with PHEV and EV charging at night, but its plain for all to see that constant output would match this scenario much better and reliably than unreliable wind/solar sources.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/uploadedImages/org/info/summer_winter_Charging.png

    Moderator, why is Sod allowed to make these debunked claims constantly? Is there only moderation on form, not on content? It is especially ironic that Sod can’t see the real facts but accuses people that bring up important real facts of putting out false claims.
    MODERATOR
    See my earlier remark at 5:48pm in response to Finrod’s re false repetitive tirades. I will leave Barry with those decisions

  123. @ Neil, the difference is that hydro – at least the large type with resevoirs – already has its multi week (sometimes even longer) storage built-in. This makes large hydro non-marginal. Hydro works best with lots of constant output nuclear, but does not work optimal with unproductive unreliable intermittent wind and solar.

    And we must leverage hydro as much as we can, because its hard to see a large factor of growth for hydro. 2x, maybe, but not 10x growth. Since nuclear leverages it the best, countries that have substantial hydro can combine this with nuclear with the greatest fossil fuel savings on the system level.

  124. Similar to hydro, pumped hydro is very limited in potential and again nuclear leverages it the best. In practice, many pumped hydro systems were built in conjunction with nuclear plants because they work so well together. With just a few hours of pumped hydro capacity, you can meet much/most of the peak demand with nuclear, as well as the baseload, tackling 90% or so of the electric needs.

    Its plain to see that with nighttime commuter cars electric charging, nuclear plants would be further synergised, running day and night, while tackling the big commuter car CO2 emissions problems.

    With wind and solar, much more pumped storage capacity would be required, because there would be many nights without wind and all nights are without solar (duh!), and such deep energy storage with pumped hydro is neither available and nor would it be cost-effective if it was available. 500 hour storage schemes would be required to meet the reliability level of a nuclear system with just 5 hours of pumped hydro. There are no 500 hour storage systems in the world, it is complete fantasy. Even with a 500 hour storage system there would be freak weather events like multi month calm or cloudy periods or even both, that can shut your entire country down, forcing a fossil fuel strategic reserve to be used (which is emitting CO2 and costs money to maintain).

  125. @Cyril
    And we must leverage hydro as much as we can, because its hard to see a large factor of growth for hydro. 2x, maybe, but not 10x growth. Since nuclear leverages it the best, countries that have substantial hydro can combine this with nuclear with the greatest fossil fuel savings on the system level.

    this statement makes a lot of sense. I would point out that to complement nuclear we don’t need to expand hydro average output, just capacity (up-rating) to cover daily demand spikes and some pumped storage to recover some of the hydro used during the daytime. CST with 6h thermal storage also works well at reducing average daily demand on hydro, even if on some cloudy days, no hydro would be saved, because on high solar output days more hydro could be saved . In this respect wind is inferior to CST, and like nuclear really needs some pumped hydro capacity but is lower cost and can complement season variations in CST. Where we use FF to generate >70% electric power and can expand hydro turbine capacity, any additions of nuclear and renewables are beneficial.

  126. What do these renewables have in common with nuclear? Renewables in total displace about the same amount of FF as nuclear, and this to me is the most important feature.

    Yes, good point Neil. Just in the same vein, in total Bill Gates and I are the richest men on the planet.

    Oh… wait.

  127. sod,
    Do you disagree with the five main points in the Forbes article? If so let’s hear your arguments.
    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

    Apparently when faced with pertinent observations that fit the facts as we know them you resort to attacking the messenger. Enough of the ad hominem already!
    MODERATOR
    I picked up and deleted one ad hom from sod but may have missed some. Could you please indicate the comment/s from sod that you feel violate there rules so I can amend them.

  128. @Cyril,
    The title of Barry’s post is “renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises”
    I take that to mean increasing available energy (to >8000GWav)and dramatically reducing FF use within the next 50years. By Barrys criteria providing 75% of the energy from renewables(and efficiency gains) and the balance from nuclear and FF(with CCS) would be considered a renewable fix, while 75% from nuclear would be considered a nuclear fix.

    We dont need 500h pumped storage to cover the entire energy demand for 10days. Pumped storage would be used for absorbing off-peak excess wind and nuclear. Excess wind usually lasts 1-2 days( and the rest can be spilled ) and only excess during off-peak periods would be spilled( ie 20-30h/ 2 days). If wind provided 40% av power this would be equivalent to 8-12h of excess wind or 4-6h of system demand assuming high wind is twice average(not 500h of system demand). If solar provides 35% we dont need any pumping for CST.
    During low wind and low CST periods of perhaps weeks output is not zero, but the the normal 70% of power provided by these may be only 35% over the size of US or Australia, or 500h x35% of system demand= 170h system demand. This would have to be provided by hydro storage and FF/biofuel back-up( and a little from pumped hydro). If this was operating today with present US system demand of 500GW, it could be met by 85GW hydro and 85GW OCGT operating for 500h perhaps once a year(ie providing 0.5% of yearly energy). Since the 75% nuclear scenario will have only 40% energy from nuclear as late as 2050(and 35% from FF), 0.5% from OCGT back-up doesnt seem excessive or climate threatening. Even having all of the back-up from OCGT would only represent 1% of system demand.

  129. @Neil Howes – Nuclear does not need the sort of grid upgrades referred to in the link I posted. The current state of affairs is more than adequate for any dispatchable generator like nuclear, and trades in power from these stations need not be effected across transcontinental distances without wheeling, as is the case with wind and solar.

    Again you are trying to use sophistry and prevarication to avoid the fact that you are dead wrong, nor have you posted numbers on the cost of the stored hydro you claim was built to accommodate nuclear, so that the cost can be compared.

    You are also restating my argument, that the grid was not designed to accommodate variable power, as if somehow this proves some point you are making.

    Your arguments are transparently idiotic, without logical content, and an insult to others posting here. This sort of verbiage may serve you in other places, it will not fly here.

  130. Neil, take a look at this graph:

    http://i27.tinypic.com/2mp06ft.jpg

    If you spill everything beyond 2 days high periods then that increases the cost of wind a lot because it turns out to happen a lot! 3-10 days low wind speed periods are also common so you get into trouble there, forcing you to burn natural gas. While the spillage of wind means your levelised cost increases; if you can’t sell half of your output, your levelised cost doubles.

    The problem is that V^3 vector, it makes wind turbine output behave like a rodeo cowboy. That’s why you see this pattern all the time:

    http://i47.tinypic.com/8xjuw6.jpg

    The result is typical exponential cost curves for wind at higher and higher penetrations. At some point you just stop building wind turbines and burn gas. If you don’t want to burn gas you need that 500 hour storage, according to Decarolis and Keith.

    The nice thing with nuclear is that almost all mismatch is within 1 day, so you can use pumped storage with effectiveness and achieve high economic turnover. Moreover with plugin hybrid nighttime charging, nuclear becomes that 90% solution, removing almost all storage requirements (existing pumped hydro comes in handy though) whilst tackling the biggest automotive transport CO2, noise and pollutant emissions group: commuter cars. These can be charged with simple frequency sensors that ‘listen’ to the grid, if the frequency goes up they charge harder, if the frequency goes down they stop charging a while. No elaborate smart grid required to get this started, we can get started right now with just a cheap grid frequency sensor on the charger.

  131. I’m not aware of any suppliers using this. Rapid response frequency sensors are simple things though and can just be embedded as integrated circuit on the EV charger at your home. The utilities would be happy because they get less problems with maintaining frequency, reducing ancillary services costs and allowing baseload plants to operate more through the night. I’ve emailed on of the Dutch energy companies about it, they were interested about the concept because of problems with full scale smart grids (privacy/legal issues, politically sensitive subject here…). I don’t know if anything will come to it. But its the way I would skin the cat, because its simple, demand side, very little supply side investments or infrastructure required. EVs are just getting into the market here, so how to deal practically with nighttime charging is getting less of a theoretical issue every month.

  132. thanks DV. great stuff.

    Neil says denmark is planning on restructuring their grid to accommodate 50 % wind?

    is this so? I thought they were backing away from wind? since they sell at low price half of their produced wind now, what gives them the idea that the other countries will cooperate in buying all the added wind?

    additionally, for cyril or anyone, does “dumping” and “spilling” refer literally to waste or does it also refer to selling at very low price to get rid of it?

    all renewables schemes seem like rube goldberg contraptions, both materially, in the actual energy system they envision, and rhetorically, in the argument structure they require–filled with double talk, compensatory mechanisms, and other complex forms of incoherence that make the incoherence hard to recognize.

    perhaps funhouse is the better metaphor than rube goldberg device, though the funhouse in horror movies. what looks like fun turns out to have dead ends and false leads and freddy kruger.

    freddy kruger in the role of climate change.

  133. Cyril R,
    I am used to schemes that offer “off peak” discounts at certain times of day and schemes that give the power company the ability to turn my HVAC system off during heavy load periods.

    What you are suggesting seems to offer great flexibility coupled with the ability to react in seconds rather than hours.

    If a significant number of people buy vehicles for charging overnight at home, frequency sensing could be an almost perfect approach to load leveling assuming that some enlightened supplier will offer the appropriate incentives.

    I am probably drifting “Off Topic” here but maybe some future thread will look into the potential of this idea.

  134. Gregory, dumping may refer to foiling the wind turbine blades to not generate electricity in the first place, or dumping electricity in resistance heating emergency systems, or selling way below cost. Any of the above increases cost per kWh sold.

    Rube Goldberg does appear popular among wind enthusiasts, especially the kite generator people appear to be Ruber Goldberg fans.

  135. @Gregory Meyerson – I take any undocumented ‘fact’ asserted by Neil Howes with a grain of salt. I don’t have the time or inclination chase each of them down, so I ignore them.

    @Cyril R & gallopingcamel, – Frequency control by dynamic demand has been around for years. Invented by an American, there is now a U.K. firm pushing it there.

    http://www.dynamicdemand.co.uk/about.htm

  136. Thanks DV, good to see people are picking up simple yet effective ideas, such as demand based frequency control. Your source claims the frequency control would cost ony 5 pounds, even cheaper than I imagined…

  137. “Neil says denmark is planning on restructuring their grid to accommodate 50 % wind?

    is this so? I thought they were backing away from wind? since they sell at low price half of their produced wind now, what gives them the idea that the other countries will cooperate in buying all the added wind?”

    ———–

    it is easy to find these facts on the web. a huge off-shore windpark will come online in a few years. it will provide 4% of danish power.

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

    the important thing to now about Denmark and their “change” on wind power is often lost: Denmark changed Government to a centre right party (to add confusion the name of the party translates into “left”) they stopped most support for alternative energies.

    http://www.folkecenter.dk/da/presse/disaster_for_danish_RE.htm

    this was of course a false decision. Denmark lost market shares in selling win power plants and it also turned out, that wind power is actually driving DOWN the price! (from the wiki article linked above)

    “Wind power output reduces spot market prices in general via the merit order effect, which led to a net reduction of pre-tax electricity prices (balancing the increase from the feed-in law) for the first time in 2008.[16]”

    Denmark also demonstrates that pure alternative energy can work, with the Samso project.

    “The island of Samsø erected 11 one-megawatt, land-based wind turbines in 2000, followed by ten offshore 2.3 MW wind turbines completed in 2003. Together with other renewable energy measures, this community of 4,200 achieved fame[31] as the largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet.[32]”

    —————–

    “sod,
    Do you disagree with the five main points in the Forbes article? If so let’s hear your arguments.

    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

    yes, i think all 5 points are plain out wrong. i did already point out that the 3rd point is contradicted by themselves in the same article.

    and the second point they make (wind being 80% more expensive than gas plants ) is absurd at best. just look at the graph provided by Barry at the head of this post, for numbers in 2030. (wind 6.0-7.5, gas 5.5 to 14.5)

    i do not think that discussing this article improves the discussion, as i actually think that commenters here make better points than the Cato institute.

  138. “And again, *sigh*, again, daily peak in Germany and most other countries occurs AFTER noon which is when solar is going down. Bad. Peaks are highest when people get home from work and turn on their TVs and lights, and boil their electric kettles to make some tea. Just when solar is well on its way to oblivion.”

    i am sorry Cyril, but your own graph shows the day peak at about noon. (and PV peak typically is after noon.)

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Tagesgang_engl.png

    (the graph does a very good job in illustrating how different plants are used at different times. but i don t think it does really describe real days demand very good. i guess that it is an average of work and non-work days, which are very different)

    in general, night time cost rates of electricity seems to be at about 2/3 of daytime rates in several countries. i would say that this translates into real demand figures very well. (and it is even close to what your graph says, if we remove pumps)

    —————-

    “http://i27.tinypic.com/2mp06ft.jpg

    If you spill everything beyond 2 days high periods then that increases the cost of wind a lot because it turns out to happen a lot! 3-10 days low wind speed periods are also common so you get into trouble there, forcing you to burn natural gas. While the spillage of wind means your levelised cost increases; if you can’t sell half of your output, your levelised cost doubles.”

    —-

    this is not true for low penetration of wind. because at low penetration, you will sell everything.

    if you look at the graph, you will see that the majority of the surface of your graph is below the 50% line at 8000 GW.

    http://i47.tinypic.com/8xjuw6.jpg

    so if you write off the top 50% of production capacity (that is results between 8000 and 16000 GW) you keep much more than 50% of your income.

    a fair graph would show a line along the capacity factor that you expect from wind. and you would see that you get pretty solid (though of course not permanent!) supply below lets say a 20% line. (somewhat below 4000GW on Cyril s graph above)

  139. Some comments on Barry Brook’s essay:

    He is keen to grab the title of Promethean, as if it would give him legitimacy. He goes on to say that Prometheans are realists – as though he is a realist and, by implications others are not.

    Again “history has shown [nuclear power] to be reliable”. “History” doesn’t show anything. These days, the past is not a good guide to the future.

    Another example of his emotive style: “James Watt’s steam engine – heralded the dawn of the Industrial Age”. Watt did not do an environmental impact statement. The “Industrial Age” is based on a fragile foundation. We of the industrial age are treating the atmosphere as if it were a rubbish tip. His “almost total reliance [on fossil fuels] has some severe drawbacks” is an understatement that glosses over the error, the hubris and the fragility of our industrial civilisation.

    I like his “Clearly, we must unhitch ourselves from the fossil-fuel-based energy bandwagon – and fast.”

    Regarding using energy more efficiently, his “There is clearly room for improvement” is an understatement. Revolution in energy use would be more accurate.

    In his “In the bigger, global picture, however, there is no realistic prospect that we can use less energy in the future.” The words “bigger” and “global” tend to give emotive force to his argument and, for me, detract from reason. His “There are … obvious reasons for this” is emotive. Let the reader judge the reasoning.

    India and China may aspire to live like kings as we do, but that does not mean that they will achieve that. Meanwhile, we have to scale down our energy consumption drastically if a significant percentage of animal life on earth is to survive. It will be easier for the poor countries to adjust to a simpler lifestyle than it will be for us in the rich countries.

    “As the oil runs out, we need to replace it if we are to keep our vehicles going.” Are we? Do we all really need private vehicles? When I grew up in the 1940s, many people did not have cars. I agree that we will need a lot of electrical energy if we are to continue to live like kings.

    His “With a growing human population (which we hope will stabilise by mid-century at less than 10 billion)” seems to take growing human population as a given. It is not. What reason do we have to believe that, with business as usual – that is perpetual economic growth, the population will stabilise at 10 billion?

    He says “citizens in Western democracies are simply not going to vote for governments dedicated to lower growth”. With education, perhaps democracy will not fail to address global warming/climate change as much as it has in the past. It doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that growth cannot continue on a finite planet.

    His “reality is demanding” suggests that he has a grip on reality. Not credible. Anyone who believes in continual growth is not being realistic.

    His “One [of the challenges with economically harnessing renewable energy] is that all of the sources [of renewable energy] are incredibly diffuse – they require huge geographical areas to be exploited in order to capture large amounts of energy” is OK except that “economically” depends on the situation. If we rule out fossil fuels, then the renewables and nuclear become economic.

    Good that he mentions Australia as a candidate for renewables – an idea that is an important factor in the Zero Carbon Australia project of Beyond Zero Emissions. Regarding his “[requirement of] huge geographical areas [as] a severe constraint for nations with high population density, like Japan or most European nations.” Japan could use the sea to capture wind energy, and import solar sourced energy from China. Europe is currently taking wind energy from the North Sea and could take a lot of solar energy from the Sahara desert. His “[renewable energies are] variable and intermittent” doesn’t convince me. Again I have the Zero Carbon Australia concept of a nation-wide grid – it is generally windy somewhere – and the molten salt storage of power tower solar looks “realistic”, if I may borrow his term.

    Regarding “Large-scale renewables … are not cost competitive”. Without fossil fuels, large-scale renewables are very competitive. We cannot afford to use fossil fuels.

    Regarding “The reality is that any of these solutions are grossly uneconomic”. This is language that assumes that the author has a grip on reality. Hubristic.

    It is not necessarily true that renewables are unreliable.

    I agree that there may be a temporary place for nuclear power until we get our renewable act together, but we cannot leave the burden of husbanding perpetually increasing amounts of long-lived radioactive wastes to our descendents.

    Regarding his “Some dream of shifts in the West and the East away from consumerism. There is a quasi-spiritualism which underpins such views.” This is emotive, standard criticism of the advocates of renewables by the true believers in perpetual economic growth. It is the growthists who mistakenly believe that they alone are “realistic”. Wishful thinking.

    His “deep-seated human propensity to revel in consuming” is nonsense. Of course humans like to be comfortable, but gross consumerism is not necessary.

    His “friend” says “If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal”. Friends of mine say “If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make coal more expensive than the alternatives for electric power generation”.

    He says “It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose”. That’s begging the question (arguing from the conclusion or petitio principii).

    I agree “it is still far from certain in what way the world will pursue a low-carbon future”. We either pursue a low-carbon future or we say goodbye to any semblance of civilisation. By “we” I’m referring to our children and grandchildren. They are part of the “real world”.

    In economics the “numbers [don’t] stack up” if we omit reference to our children and grandchildren. They do if we include them.

    His “[predominantly nuclear power option] is the emergent result of trying to be honest, logical and pragmatic about what will and will not work, within real-world physical, economic and social constraints” suggests that anyone who disagrees is dishonest and illogical. That is emotive language again. Economic growthists are neither logical nor realistic if one takes the burden of future generations into account.
    MODERATOR
    Your comment here is tending towards your own philosophical opinions which you do not support with references as, required by BNC Comments Policy, and as such should be posted on the Philosophical Open Thread. I have let it stand here as it is a response to Prof Brook’s post and as this appears to be your first comment and you may be unaware of the aforementioned comments policy. Please acquaint yourself with these(on the About page) before posting again.Similar comments should be submitted to the Open Thread which is more loosely moderated.

  140. @Gregory Meyerson,
    Neil says denmark is planning on restructuring their grid to accommodate 50 % wind?is this so?

    Peter Jorgensen, vic president of Energinet.dk gave a talk in Adelaide , August 2010.
    Title: Integration of wind power in the Danish .
    I have the slide presentation but not the web link you may be able to find it at
    (dead link deleted)
    If you cannot find I can email to you.

    Cyril R,
    The graph of wind power output you posted comes from Ireland an area <1% geographical area of the US eastern connector grid.
    If we didnt have significant hydro or a history of hydro providing most electrical power to some countries
    you would be saying hydro is far too variable based on stream flow from a small catchment area.
    For a serious preliminary look at integrating wind and solar on a continental scale have a look at the oz.energy web site that Barry has provided a link to on BNC front page; go to stories.

  141. DV8,
    Many thanks for that link. Those “Dynamic Demand” folks see advantages on the supply side while I was looking at it from the point of view of a consumer with an electric car to charge overnight.

    Something that benefits suppliers and consumers may be an idea whose time has come.

  142. @gallopingcamel – The idea is rather old, and it has been around for a few years now in the U.K. The problem is that even if these devices are legislated on to new high VAR appliances like cooling compressors, it will take a whole product cycle (+20yrs) for enough of them to be in place to make a real difference. Attempting to force everyone to put an external module on existing units seems to be something the politicians have no stomach for.

    £5 might not seem like much but it would add up across a nation.

  143. DV8,
    I hate government mandates (e.g. my gas guzzler MUST use fuel that contains ethanol).

    I like incentives such as “off peak” rates for charging my Toyota Leaf. It may be a while before there are enough electric cars to contribute much loading to Florida Power & Light!

  144. @John Morgan – I saw that too, but it hardly qualifies as a firm plan to upgrade the Danish grid as was stated.

    There are, in Europe several broad statements of intent to upgrade the power network to accommodate a higher wind penetration, but a closer look will show that like the Bornholm project, it will depend a great deal on the availably of hydro from the Nordic power market TSO.

    In my opinion this is more an attempt to offset the fact that Denmark has almost no hydro, and is in a position to trade wind for water, (as it were) which is fine for them. But in the end the economics of this is highly dependent on this particular situation.

    In the end, wind in Denmark, is like geothermal in Iceland, or hydro in Quebec – the viability of these are more an accident of geography, rather than a demonstration of what can be done elsewhere.

    We cannot take our eyes off the goal of reducing/eliminating the use of fossil-fuel thermal generation, and in the overwhelming bulk of cases, this can be accomplished with nuclear fission, not solar; not wind, or any other marginal source, faster, and with less expense.

    The salient point here is that the economic arguments for wind and solar installations must also include the cost of grid upgrades needed to support it, something nuclear energy does not require.

  145. @gallopingcamel, I’m no fan of mandating something like this ether – nor are the majority of folks, I’ll warrant. This is why this idea of frequency controlled demand management will likely sit on the shelf for another thirty years, as it already has.

  146. @George Carrard – I do not see anything your polemic against Prof. Brook that is not unsupported opinion or open personal attack. Please disabuse yourself of the conceit that outbursts like this have any impact on the readership here except to mark you as a nonentity
    MODERATOR
    Thanks DV8 – I agreed with you and I have already warned him that he should be posting his personal, unsubstantiated philosophical opinions on the OT and that anything similar will be deleted.

  147. A consistent trend I’m noticing from many who disagree with the statement that “Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises” is a conflation of the idea of increasing energy supply with the idea of growth without limit. It’s almost as if to say, the type of person who advocates the use of more electrical energy is the type of person who believes in unlimited growth. To them, believing in one and not the other is somehow contradictory. Not only is this demonstrably false, but I think it demonstrates a clear lack of critical reasoning when assessing the key points of an article like this.

    Without wanting to get too off topic here, perhaps BNC could do with an article to help dispell this myth.

  148. sod, thank you for your replies. I’m trying to keep my comments to this thread on-topic. You replied 14 May 2011 at 6:53 AM

    there are actually plenty solar based businesses alive and kicking. for example a lot of displays for road signs and things like parking machines have moved to solar.

    My comment is that in those examples solar is used to power the devices but not to manufacture them or any of the materials that make them up. I was wondering if you could show even a hypothetical example of a small business that ran entirely on solar. And, sorry, I should have said ‘renewable’ rather than just solar. I do know the sun doesn’t shine at night.
    You also said

    when i spoke of “independence” above, i did obviously NOT mean real energy independence from the grid. this is about a psychological effect and not about producing every single watt you use all by yourself.

    The psychological effects may make me feel good but as dv82xl reminds us, nature always bats last. Psychological effects won’t create the kilowatt hours and megajoules I need to live.

    You also said

    ps: i do not think that storage should be factored into the cost of PV solar at all. it simply doesn t make any sense.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand this statement at all – where should the cost be allocated?

    ps Your home location sounds quite pleasant.

    And then 14 May 2011 at 5:08 PM you said

    can you folks provide me a business plan for your pottery business run with your own nuclear power plant?

    Not with my very own plant; but with one that I share with many neighbors. It would supply me with reliable energy so I could go about my life in as well ordered and predictable a way as is possible for any of us.

    Please let me also say thank you to the comment moderators, both for your visible work in deleting ad hominems and your invisible work in tidying up the comments. BNC is one of my favorite spots on the Web, and Barry has started up a great community.

  149. When you look at Barry’s analysis in Fukushima Daiichi Open and Update Thread #6 of what it would mean for Japan if it walked away from nuclear power you can start to see why we in Australia are in so much trouble trying to reduce our GHG emissions.

    The UK is shooting for a cut in its emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2025. The only possible way the UK can do this is by not only not moving away from nuclear power, but by building 10 new plants, the first of which is scheduled for 2018. A mere 7 years away.

    Australia would not be able to build solar thermal with storage or geothermal plants by 2025 to come close to reducing our emissions by 50%. To do this we would need to close all Victoria’s brown coal plants and half of all NSW and QLD black coal plants. About 16 GW of baseload generation. Almost certainly an impossible task with technology that has yet to be scaled at that level.

    To get the 50% reduction from coal to gas shift we would need to replace all the VIC, NSW and QLD plants, about 28 GW. An equally unlikely, although not necessarily impossible task if we could acquire 28 GW of CCGT plants over the next 14 years.

    Even building 16 nuclear reactors in 14 years in Australia would be a stretch, given the first 5 years would be spent fighting the politics and regulators in a country so dead set against nuclear power.

    I think we will come to deeply regret not building nuclear plants back in the 60’s. Even though they would have been old plants like Fukushima and the placards would have been waived in March as they were in Germany. At least we wouldn’t have to waste those 5 years before we could start to build new nuclear plants to replace those brown coal plants.

  150. Martin Nicholson
    The UK is shooting for a cut in its emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2025. The only possible way the UK can do this is by not only not moving away from nuclear power, but by building 10 new plants, the first of which is scheduled for 2018. A mere 7 years away.
    A plan to build 10 new nuclear plants by 2018 has been in the works since 2009. These appear to be replacements for existing aging nuclear plants that are scheduled to be shut down. None the less it is a positive step that these plans have been re-affirmed.
    The 50% reduction in CO2 emissions is not just adding 10 new nuclear plants it also included considerable renwwable energy as far as I can tell without seeing text.
    To project this expansion by a much larger economy, that has been building and operating nuclear power plants for 50 years to what could be done in Australia would involve more than just a 5 year delay. I too regret that Australia didnt build nuclear in 1960′s but the reality is we didnt. Like all non-nuclear weapons states Australia will take at least 20 years to have a significant nuclear power program. All is not lost however, we can in the meantime work on adding significant renewable energy to displace some of the coal fired power that is responsible for our very high CO2 emissions.

  151. @ Neil Howes:

    Like all non-nuclear weapons states Australia will take at least 20 years to have a significant nuclear power program.

    I guess the United Arab Emirates didn’t get the circular.

  152. Neil Howes, why did you add that ‘non-nuclear weapons states’ bit? Was there really that much difference in the nuclear power rollout schedule between the US, the UK and France on one hand, and Japan, Germany and South Korea on the other?

  153. 20 years is okay timeframe. Germany has been heavily subsidizing solar PV, very consistently, with a guaranteed high price program, for 20 years, and got only 3% solar electric, with no clear path to 80% solar electric (or solar/wind total) they’ve effectively lock-jammed themselves into natural gas and coal supplemental firing for most of their electric needs.

    France got 80% nuclear in 20 years. Sweden got about 40% nuclear in about 15 years. Switzerland similar.

    So yes nuclear scales excellently compared to solar (which, to be honest, in stark contrast to popular media, has been a pathetic failure).

  154. This might be worth a closer look by someone who can assess the amount of difference it could make:

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL047265.shtml

    CO2-based geothermal ….
    We show numerically that, compared to conventional water-based and engineered geothermal systems, the proposed approach provides up to factors of 2.9 and 5.0, respectively, higher geothermal heat energy extraction rates. Consequently, more regions worldwide could be economically used for geothermal electricity production. Furthermore, as the injected CO2 is eventually geologically sequestered, such power plants would have negative carbon footprints.

  155. And here’s today’s article in the WSJ on renewables:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703421204576327410322365714.html

    “The hydrocarbons … (This includes methane clathrates—gas on the ocean floor in solid, ice-like form—which may or may not be accessible as fuel someday.) … there may be a millennium’s worth of hydrocarbons left at current rates.

    Contrast that with blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons, all of which plainly renew themselves by breeding ….”

    Yeah, the blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons will be much better off if we continue burning fossil fuel at current rates for another thousand years.

    No problem, right?

  156. You may be interested in two recent peer-reviewed papers with a different perspective:

    The first one concludes that “barriers to a 100% conversion to WWS [wind, water, and the sun] power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic”. According to the EC, this paper suggests that “renewable power sources could meet all global energy needs by 2050″.

    Delucchi, M. A., & Jacobson, M. Z. (2011) Providing all global energy with wind, water and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies. Energy Policy. Doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.045 [Part 1]

    The second one claims that global human well-being is possible at low levels of energy and carbon:

    Steinberger, J.K., Timmons Roberts, J. (2010) From constraint to sufficiency: The decoupling of energy and carbon from human needs, 1975–2005. Ecological Economics. 70: 425–433.

  157. Hank, supercritical CO2 is awesome, unfortunately when injected in the ground that has trace water in the rocks (free adsorbed or hydride bonded) it becomes a super-acid which isn’t very nice on your equipment, plus it dissolves stuff like crazy (although pure CO2 should be less bad than pure water).

    Jesus, the Jacobson paper is well discredited on this site and on others, see e.g.:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/03/wws-2030-critique/

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2791

    (ad hom deleted)

    As for global well being possible at low energy consumption; this is just plain wrong, and history allows no other conclusion:

    http://sites.google.com/site/rethinkingnuclearpower/aimhigh

  158. Soluble yes when you just have to pump it down once; if you need to recirculate it constantly that gives extra trouble. Engineers are optimists because they think in terms of ‘solutions’ yes – but what is this going to cost? Sure we can make the entire CO2 and geothermal plant out of special heat treated advanced Incolloy 690 alloy and devise constant cleanup systems to remove soluble material – but what does this cost?

  159. Pingback: What price of Indian independence? Greenpeace under the spotlight « BraveNewClimate

  160. Pingback: Further critique of ’100% renewable electricity in Australia’ – winter demand and other problems « BraveNewClimate

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