Hansen warns not to drink sustainable energy Kool-Aid

Regular readers of BNC would know that I’m hardly the only climate change researcher to recommend serious deployment of nuclear energy to displace fossil fuels. (Although I’m often portrayed as an isolated [and presumably therefore ignorant?] voice on this point). One very prominent example of a colleague in arms is my fellow SCGI member, Dr James Hansen (pictured left). Some call him the ‘grandfather of global warming‘. He’s an incredibly influential and important figure in science and advocacy circles around the issue of human-caused climate change. For instance, the 350.org initiative is based on his recommended number.

This guy ought to be taken seriously by any environmental ‘activist’ who wishes their case to be scientifically based and consistent. Yet, he’s being blithely ignored (or even denigrated) by the ‘100% renewable energy will solve everything’ crowd and their anti-nuclear side-kicks. This is a shame, because he has some really important things to say on energy matters, as well as climate. He’s a polymath, and thinks big. He’s clever. He’s willing to speak out. We need more folks like Jim.

Below I reproduce a slightly abridged version of a recent essay by Jim on the topic of sustainable energy. I do so because: (i) its content matches so well the other material and arguments I’ve published on BNC; (ii) Hansen has featured on many other past posts (see list here); (iii) he’s a personal friend and IFR supporter, and I respect what he says; and (iv) it’s a great topic of conversation for readers. I look forward to your feedback and comments on Hansen’s piece. It should be read widely.

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Introduction

Today’s adults, unless they have a sudden change of heart, are preparing to leave young people a dynamic mess out of their control.

This is an odd situation. It is a wonder to see instinctive, sometimes frantic, reactions of many species as they try to protect their young from dangers. One would think that the intelligent species would have become particularly good at providing protection for their young, and that a democratic system would give that function high priority. But as our paper #3 (“The Case for Young People“) makes clear, governments are failing to protect the rights of young people to inherit a planet that preserves creation and preserves their equal opportunity for good lives.

A facile explanation would focus on the ‘merchants of doubt’ who have managed to confuse the public about the reality of human-made climate change. The merchants play a role, to be sure, a sordid one, but they are not the main obstacle to solution of human-made climate change.

The bigger problem is that people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work. This is important, because as Mother Nature makes climate change more obvious, we need to be moving in directions within a framework that will minimize the impacts and provide young people a fighting chance of stabilizing the situation.

Let me try to provide some insight about the problem via personal experience and simple charts for the United States and the world.

When I received two large awards last year (the Sophie and Blue Planet Prizes), I decided to divide the proceeds (after taxes and paying off a home equity loan) between education funds for my grandchildren and installation of renewable energy systems. Here is a preliminary report on how the renewable energies are working out.

We put solar panels (11.3 KW) on our barn at a cost of $72,312. It was neither the cheapest nor most expensive system, but it received good references when we visited several installations. Pennsylvania provided a $17,500 rebate and the federal government a 30% tax credit. What made it too good to be true was a third subsidy, Alternative Energy Credits – one AEC for each MW-hour of energy generated. AECs are sold to utilities that are required by Pennsylvania to have a certain number. The AEC price when we signed up for our solar system would have given us about $4000 per year, thus paying off the system’s cost within 5-10 years.

It was too good to last. Before I could sell a single AEC, the price collapsed more than 75% and seems likely to go lower. Our electric bills did decrease more than half, but there are still charges even though we generate more power than we use. It took months before the utility was satisfied with the paperwork and installed a two-way meter, allowing us credit for power generated. I need a longer baseline and more information to make an overall assessment. It still may eventually pay for itself, because of the large subsidies and the fact that electric rates are going up fast (10% last year, 6.6%/year projected). Utilities blame the increases in part on renewable energy requirements; if that is true, the majority of people without renewable energies are in effect providing another subsidy. I will do a more quantitative accounting in the future.

The story is not quite as good for the solar panels on my daughter’s house. Their roof is smaller than our barn’s, so more efficient (and expensive) panels were purchased, yielding almost as much power as for our barn. Cost was about $75,000. By the time the project started the PA rebate had decreased to $12,500 (it is being phased down – it is now $7,500). The disappointment to me (and her) was the collapse of the AEC market. If the ~$4000/year that existed at time of purchase had held up it would have provided her a nice monthly income, but by the time electricity began flowing the AEC return was small. Nevertheless, the meter readings will allow Sophie and Connor to learn something by making appropriate graphs and do experiments to test the effectiveness of different actions aimed at reducing their electric usage.

I will do a more quantitative analysis after the record is longer. These specific examples provide one perspective, but the economics varies with location and with many other factors, so we should not over-generalize based on specific examples.

There is a consensus that renewable energies need to be part of the solution to the energy security and climate matters. But we must be realistic about their contribution. So now let’s look at the progress of renewable energies after several years of strong government incentives.

United States and World Electricity Generation

Figure 3 shows United States electricity generation by source in 2009 based on EIA International Energy Statistics. Renewable sources provide 10.7% of the electric energy. But as the pie chart on the right shows, almost two-thirds of this is hydroelectric. Wind has grown to almost 17% of the renewable energy, so it is approaching 1.8% of U.S. electricity. Solar power is only 0.2% of the renewable portion or 0.02% of electricity.

Figure 4 shows the global breakdown in 2008. Renewable energies provide 19% of electricity, but most of the renewable energy is hydroelectric. Wind provides 1% of global electricity and solar energy less than 0.1%.

Renewables may be small, but they are growing rapidly, exponentially, right? Fig. 5a reveals that growth of electricity in the past two decades in the U.S. has been mainly from fossil fuels. Fig. 5b and 5c expand the scale to show the growth of non-hydro renewable energy, which has been mainly wind. Solar energy remains invisible, even with the greatly stretched vertical scale. What about the world as a whole? The global story (Fig. 6) is similar to that for the U.S., except there has been growth in large hydro. Hydropower has contributed more to global growth than all other renewable energies together. Meanwhile, fossil fuel use has continued to increase.

The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy

The insightful cynic will note: “Now I understand all the fossil fuel ads with windmills and solar panels – fossil fuel moguls know that renewables are no threat to the fossil fuel business.” The tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.

Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. – maybe even a tar sands pipeline. Why the inconsistency?

Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels. Reluctance to be honest might seem strange, given that what is needed to solve the problem actually makes sense and is not harmful to most people. I will offer a possible explanation for their actions below.

But first, let’s look at one of the main sources of the Easter Bunny fable. Fig. 7 updates Figure 2 of “Storms of My Grandchildren”(http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/). It compares actual U.S. energy consumption with projections made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and by Amory Lovins in the 1970s.

Note how EIA keeps adjusting energy projections down as reality disproves their assumptions of rapid growth. Lovins, and many others, are right to assert that energy efficiency is the cheapest and most effective way to satisfy energy requirements. Of course, a principal reason for slow growth of energy use is that much of our manufacturing moved overseas.

Note the failure of U.S. energy to follow the ‘soft’ energy path of Lovins. Lovins asserts that we could phase out nuclear power, large hydro, coal, oil and gas. But soft renewables are still nearly invisible after 30 years, providing about one third of the thin renewable slice of total energy.

Yet Amory Lovins is the most popular person that I know and has received uncountable awards. He deserves them. But I believe his popularity is in part because he says everything people want to hear. He even says there is no need to have a tax on carbon. Thus even fossil fuel companies love him. Fossil fuel companies are happy to support energy efficiency, which places the onus on the public and guarantees fossil fuel dominance far into the future (see Yankee Ticket Prices).

When I saw Amory most recently and queried him, he affirmed that no tax was needed. He said that hundred dollar bills are being left on the ground by companies that ignore energy efficiency.

Indeed, there is still great potential in energy efficiency. However, the full potential of energy efficiency to help rapidly phase down fossil fuel CO2 emissions will be achieved only if there is a substantial rising price on carbon emissions. As long as fossil fuel energy is cheap, efficiency encourages more energy use. For example, solid state lighting is much more efficient, but it encourages more extensive lighting. That would be o.k., if the energy source were carbon-free.

The Real World

Many well-meaning people proceed under the illusion that ‘soft’ renewable energies [3] will replace fossil fuels if the government tries harder and provides more subsidies. Meanwhile, governments speak greenwash while allowing pursuit of fossil fuels with increasingly destructive technologies (hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, longwall mining, drilling in the deepest ocean, the Arctic and other pristine environments) and development of unconventional fossil fuels [4].

It will be a tragedy if environmentalists allow the illusion of ‘soft’ energies to postpone demand for real solution of the energy, climate and national security problems. Solar power is just a small part of the solution. Subsidies yielding even its present tiny contribution may be unsustainable.

Victor and Yanosek discuss ineffectual U.S. policies to promote green energies and green jobs in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. They conclude that the policies do not promote technologies that can compete with fossil fuels without subsidies. Victor and Yanosek suggest incentives for innovative technologies, including advanced nuclear power. Bill Gates is so distressed by the irrational pusillanimous U.S. energy policy that he is investing a piece of his personal fortune to help develop a specific 4th generation nuclear technology.

I do not want to distract focus from the real solution to the climate/energy problem with a discussion of nuclear power, which is an emotional matter to some people. Pushker Kharecha and I will write a paper with an objective post-Fukushima assessment of the role of nuclear power, but first we must complete papers 2 and 3 (Energy Imbalance and Case for Young People). However, a few comments on safety [5], technology status [6], nuclear waste [7], fuel supply [8], and cost [9] are warranted to balance the opportunistic barrage of misinformation from dedicated ‘anti-nukes’ and an undiscerning sensation-minded media.

The main conclusion is to keep an open mind. China and India will increase nuclear power use; they must if they are to phase out coal over the next few decades. It behooves us to be objective.

Recently I received a mailing on the climate crisis from a large environmental organization. Their request, letters and e-mails to Congress and the President, mentioned only renewable energies (specifically wind and solar power). Such a request offends nobody, and it is worthless.

Indeed, it is much less than worthless. If you drink the kool-aid represented in the right part of Fig. 7, you are a big part of the problem. Sure, I could ignore this and wait for time to make the situation clear to you, but I could say the same thing 10 years ago. Look at part (a) of Figures 5 and 6; do not be fooled by parts (c), which have a vastly different (smaller) scale.

The problem is that, by drinking the kool-aid, you are also pouring it down the throats of my dear grandchildren and yours. The tragedy in doing so is much greater than that of Jim Jones’ gullible followers, who forced their children to drink his kool-aid. All life will bear the consequences.

The Real Solution

As long as fossil fuels are cheap, they will be burned. But fossil fuels are cheap only because they do not pay their costs to society. Costs include direct and indirect subsidies, human health costs from air and water pollution, and climate change impacts on current and future generations.

The public can appreciate that a rising price must be placed on fossil fuel emissions, if we are to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels. A carbon fee must be placed across-the-board on all fossil fuels in proportion to carbon emissions. The fee should be collected from fossil fuel companies at the first domestic sale (at domestic mine or port of entry).

No international exchange of funds is required. The fee would be collected in the nation burning the fuel, and the money would be distributed within the country.

The carbon fee must rise to substantial levels to provide the incentives needed to encourage life style changes, investments in clean energies and energy efficiency, and technology innovations. The public and businesses must realize that the fee will rise over time.

The fee, to be effective, perforce must have a notable effect on the price-at-the-pump, utility bills, and almost all aspects of economic life. The public will not allow the fee to rise to levels that are needed to phase out fossil fuels if the disposition of the money is determined by the government, banks, and economists, the people responsible for the current economic mess.

Disposition of the money collected from fossil fuel companies is thus the most critical matter. You can be certain that politicians and economists will come up with all sorts of suggestions about how they will cleverly use the money (investments in renewable energies, reduction of other taxes, etc.). Do not let them get away with it. The fee will only reach required levels if the money is going to the public. Let the motto be “100 percent or fight!”

The money collected from fossil fuel companies should be distributed electronically each month to bank accounts or debit cards of all legal residents. My suggestion is that each legal adult resident get an equal share, with families getting an added half share per child up to a maximum of two such half shares per family.

For example, the carbon fee proposed by Congressman John Larson ($15/ton of CO2 the first year, growing $10 each year) would be $115/ton after 10 years. Such a rate would add about $1 per gallon to the price of gasoline. However, it would also yield an annual dividend of $2000-$3000 per legal adult resident, $6000-9000 per family with two or more children. Economic models show that this fee would yield a 30% reduction of carbon emissions at the end of the 10 years, and we would be well on our way to phasing out our fossil fuel addiction by mid-century.

Such a growing fee on carbon emissions is the only way that fossil fuels can be phased out. It can be called a carbon tax, but there is no net tax if the money is distributed to the public. Such distribution is necessary, so that the public has the wherewithal to make changes needed to deal with rising fossil fuel prices. Sixty percent of the public would receive more in their dividend than they pay in increased fuel prices. The public would be encouraged to make changes in their energy choices and energy use, in order to stay on the positive side of the ledger.

Such a simple, honest, transparent system is essential for public acceptance. The public will never accept the gimmicky cap-and-trade system, which inherently brings big banks into the matter and encourages bribes to the fossil fuel industry. Nor can cap-and-trade ever become global – China and India will never accept caps on their economies, but they have many reasons to put a price on carbon emissions to avoid fossil fuel addiction, solve local pollution problems, and to be in a leadership position in a global move toward clean energies.

Meanwhile, Back on the Farm

We should do what is practical to maximize use of renewable energies and energy efficiency. Wind is not very good on our 7½ acres, but geothermal is a possibility. The idea is to use the nearly constant temperature of the ground at depth to drive a heat pump that provides heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

The economics, including subsidies, is not as good as for solar power. The only subsidy here for geothermal is the 30% renewable energy federal tax credit. According to some people in this area who installed geothermal, it did not reduce their heating/cooling bills much because they chose to keep more comfortable temperatures than they dared with their prior oil heat system.

The effectiveness of geothermal in reducing costs depends on the required temperature for the fluid in your system. In our family room and kitchen we have a tile floor with below floor heating, which allows geothermal to provide most of the energy free – but in the rest of the house we would need a whole new system. It can be very cost-effective to install geothermal when a house is built, but ours, a small stone farmhouse, was built in 1744.

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Footnotes

2 Source: EIA International Energy Statistics => Electricity => Generation http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=2&pid=2&aid=12

3 Renewable energy such as windmills and commercial scale solar power are not entirely “soft”, in the view of many people, i.e., they have an environmental footprint. Also, because of their intermittency, they require dispatchable back-up power, which is commonly provided by gas, thus degrading the ability to reduce carbon emissions.

4 Tar sands (renamed oil sands by greenwashing governments) are a current target of the fossil fuel industry and an appropriate place for the public to take a stand. Known tar sands resources contain about 300 GtC, equivalent to about 150 ppm CO2 at time of injection into the atmosphere. Additional resources are expected to be found, if tar sands are heavily developed as a fuel source. Only a fraction of the resources (15-20% today) are economically recoverable with current technologies, but this fraction will grow if the world’s addiction to fossil fuels continues.

The airborne fraction of injected CO2 will decline by about a factor of five in 1000 years as carbon redistributes itself among surface reservoirs (atmosphere, ocean, soil, biosphere). However, the injected CO2 is the relevant amount, because future generations (today’s young people) will be left with the task of extracting the entire injected amount of unconventional fossil fuels. Fossil fuel injection of CO2 remains in the surface reservoirs for millennia. An extraction of CO2 redistributes itself among surface reservoirs in the same way as an injection. Thus, because CO2 has already reached the dangerous level, unconventional fossil fuel injections must be entirely removed.

Other unconventional fossil fuels include tar shale (estimated resource 400 GtC), heavy oil (150 GtC), the combination of shale gas, tight sands gas and coalbed methane (>200 GtC) and methane hydrates (>1000 GtC). If even 200 GtC (100 ppm CO2) is injected into the atmosphere, the estimated cost of extraction (at ~$200/tC; see “The Case for Young People and Nature”) is ~$40 trillion. This cost would be passed on to our children and grandchildren, along with the human health, environmental, and climate change costs caused by exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels. Clearly, development of these most carbon-intensive fuels makes no sense. The proposed development of tar sands, as the first big push into unconventional fossil fuels, is an appropriate place for young people and their supporters to take a stand.

5 Safety: The lobbying organization Union of Concerned Scientists on 25 July broadcast a request to all citizens to write their governors and congress-people to demand improved nuclear power safety. Huh? The number of people who have died from nuclear power in the U.S. is zero. How to improve on that? The safety record of the nuclear industry is the best of all major industries in the U.S. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the Pennsylvania population exposed to radiation by the Three Mile Island accident may experience one or two resulting cancer deaths; that population will experience about 40,000 cancer deaths due to other causes. However, the estimate of 1-2 deaths is from the “linear no threshold” (LNT) approximation, i.e., an assumption that known radiation effects for large doses continue proportionally for small doses. That assumption is uncertain – there is at least as much anecdotal evidence suggesting that small radiation doses are beneficial to health (some mentioned here: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=42347) as the contrary. However, no adequate scientific study with proper controls has been made.

Curiously, people seem to ignore the far greater dangers of fossil fuels. Mountain-top removal for coal alone (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/breaking-new-study-links-_b_910739.html) has been linked to 60,000 cancer cases. The United Nations has estimated global deaths due to fossil fuel air and water pollution to be of the order of one million annually.

6 Technology: Fukushima nuclear power plants are a 50-year-old technology. They withstood a powerful earthquake, but were washed over by a 10-meter tsunami that wiped out the power sources used to cool the reactors. Modern 3rd generation light-water reactors can use passive cooling systems that require no power source. No people died at Fukushima because of the nuclear technology. Four people died from other causes (one fell from a crane, one died of a heart attack, and two were drowned by the tsunami). When a plane crashes and kills 100 people do we choose to terminate the airline industry? No, we take steps to make planes safer. Already nuclear power has the best safety record of any energy technology, and the newest nuclear plants have great improvements.

7 Nuclear “waste”: it is not waste, it is fuel for 4th generation reactors! Current (‘slow’) nuclear reactors are lightwater reactors that ‘burn’ less than 1% of the energy in the original uranium ore, leaving a waste pile that is radioactive for more than 10,000 years. The 4th generation reactors can ‘burn’ this waste, as well as excess nuclear weapons material, leaving a much smaller waste pile with radioactive half-life measured in decades rather than millennia, thus minimizing the nuclear waste problem. The economic value of current nuclear waste, if used as a fuel for 4th generation reactors, is trillions of dollars.

Nuclear reactors deployed in the next 1-2 decades would be primarily improved light-water reactors, with passive cooling capability and other safety improvements, because these are ready for commercial use. However, it is important to also deploy the first 4th generation reactors to demonstrate that the nuclear waste problem can be solved and to optimize the 4th generation technology.

8 Fuel supply: anti-nuke environmentalists argue that it takes energy to mine and process uranium, and that the uranium supply is limited. In fact, 4th generation nuclear technology, by using more than 99% of the energy in the fuel, expands the fuel supply by a factor of the order of 100. China has just announced its first 4th generation nuclear reactor (http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-07-chinanuclear-power-breakthrough.html), thus increasing the expected lifespan of their proven uranium reserves from 50 years to more than 3000 years.

The United States was the first country to develop 4th generation nuclear technology. But, when General Electric and Argonne National Laboratory disclosed that they were ready to build a commercial scale reactor in 1994, antinuke people persuaded the Clinton administration to terminate the program. The U.S. still has top brainpower in this technology, but, unless there is a change of policy, China will soon leave the United States behind.

9 Cost: the ‘real solution’ to the climate/energy problem allows the market to determine winning technologies. Westinghouse AP-1000 advanced 3rd-generation nuclear power plants are being built in China Although anti-nukes may do everything they can to make nuclear power as expensive as possible in the United States, they are not likely to affect nuclear power development in China.

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91 Comments

  1. Wow, this is probably the best popular article on climate change and energy I have ever read.

    That’s certainly not to take away from the amazing job Professor Brook and many others have done in this area – it’s just the fact that this is written by someone so influentual that makes it so powerful.

    Thanks heaps for posting this, circulating it now. I think anyone who has a climate change or energy blog/website should post this ASAP.

  2. This a very practical approach to improving economies and reducing the output of both carbon dioxide and other less welcome “items”(comment deleted – BNC no longer posts or discusses sceptical opinion on the science of AGW) I do strongly support mBarry’s contension that the ban on nuclear power is ridiculous and ignores the provision of claen power which is demonstrably safer than any other form of genbneration, except perhaps hydro which is not going to expand in Australia and is also banned by greens. So Barry, we do agree on some important issues(Comment deleted – see above).
    John Nicol jonicol18@bigpond.com
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  3. Pingback: Listen to this man, his name is James Hansen | Decarbonise SA

  4. This is an extremely important document James Hansen has produced because he has exposed the renewables industry for what it is, laughably ineffective at solving our non CO2 energy supply problem.

  5. While I agree with his views on nuclear power, which are explained in a concise and interesting way in this article, I don’t see any merit in opposing renewable. Every bit of carbon free energy helps.

    Nuclear certainly is the non carbon energy source with the best record and potential, but it would be a mistake to reject everything else.

    On the other hand, he has solar panels at his home. I don’t, at least not yet. So while he seems to be rather pessimistic about the potential, he does help increasing it somewhat.

    It was also interesting to hear about the economics of this decision in the United States. With a feed-in tariff people would have more certainty for their decisions.

  6. Mr. Hansen’s article is very powerful argument against ineffective renewable energy sources.

    However, there is one point in the article I strongly disagree with.
    Collecting carbon taxes from fossil fuel users and then redistributing the money to general population will not phase out the fossil fuel use. Why would anyone vote against fossil fuel use if he/she has an income from it? All of us would become a part of fossil fuel special interest group.
    Also, since the fossil barons would see the public got the money from them it would be easy to get the money back by increasing prices for their fossil fuel products.

    I am sorry, but I will not support any carbon tax unless the proceeds are exclusively used for nuclear energy build up because any other use of carbon tax money will be squandered on ineffective solutions or no solutions at all.

  7. The carbon tax would be ineffective if it did not result in CCS being implemented. If we did not have a tax, we could just require that CCS be implemented on old and new plants and then see what the industry does with that. I predict they would shut down all coal plants and the lights would go out. But thats where we are eventually headed anyway even if there were no legislation requiring CCS. Requiring CCS sooner simply moves up the time scale that we have to deal with the problem, which is how it should be considering the rapid buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  8. I think it is a huge mistake not to split out “nuclear” into 4 parts:
    Boiling water reactors, Light water reactors, MSRs and IFRs.

    Right now BWRs and LWRs account for 20% of total electrical production. Couldn’t we double that percentage if we were bringing on factory built IFRs on line? Then Sorensen’s LFTRs? In these desperate times, should we still be holding up the IFRs?

  9. Saying that a carbon tax is not a true tax because its proceeds are redistributed to the citizens is fallacy, I’m afraid. All taxes are at some point redistributed to the people: the government spends generally more than it receives in tax!
    A carbon tax is certainly one of the most powerful tools is we want to reduce emissions, but at the same time one has to frank about its consequences. As proposed, the carbon tax means more redistribution. I’m not sure it will be well accepted in the US for example. The other problem is that many states in the west are running big deficits so these very receipts will be a very tempting and useful source of financing.
    It would be better to explain why we need to use less fossil fuels, and this is not just climate change, it’s also the dependancy on the resource-rich countries who are not always the most examplary countries in the world (to name a few: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela)

  10. Why is it that renewables are required to solve global warming? By definition renewables are not required to be CO2 free. But, CO2 free is required to fight global warming.

    It is solely to exclude the nuclear option for subsidies, portfolios and carbon credits. Because if nuclear were included then it would work. Utilities would build nuclear and close coal and gas. But, nuclear working is bad for renewables, so it must be stopped at all costs.

    As long as those costs are paid by you the taxpayer or ratepayer.

  11. I disagree with Jim about the “merchants of doubt”. I’d say the people who accept the reality of climate change who don’t propose solutions that would work are not “the bigger problem” he’s saying they are.

    We’re supposed to believe Joe Romm, to mention one pro renewable anti nuke who is very prominent in the US, is a bigger problem, more responsible for the fact that the general population and the elites who are in power are so divided about whether climate is a problem and on what to do about it, than people such as Fred Singer and the people who finance the propagation of his ideas are?

    You can count on Jim Hansen to tell you what his opinion is, which I admire, and for an authoritative analysis of the state of present knowledge in climate science. I’ve been studying one of his recent papers for weeks trying to understand exactly why he says what he says.

    But I wonder how many people who accept the reality of climate change agreed with Jim during the runup to Copenhagen when he stepped into the biggest media spotlight there has ever been on this issue and proclaimed he hoped the negotiations would fail? See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/02/copenhagen-climate-change-james-hansen

    Are we really further ahead with no binding international agreement and none in sight? There is room for disagreement on that one, as there is with Jim’s insistence that a carbon tax is the only way to go, period, my way or the highway.

    It seems Jim is realizing that the requirements imposed on utilities that they get a certain percentage of their electric power from “renewables” amount to a subsidy from all customers to the providers of the “renewable” power. (quoting him: “Utilities blame the increases in part on renewable energy requirements; if that is true, the majority of people without renewable energies are in effect providing another subsidy. I will do a more quantitative accounting in the future.”)

    More voices should be heard either to insist subsidies like that be dropped, or if they are to be kept, that the criteria be changed from “renewable” to “low carbon”. The movement to do something about climate change has been hijacked by those pushing their “renewables” agenda, and to the extent that many deniers of climate science and many opponents of doing anything about climate change who happen to support nuclear power see the inconsistency of knee jerk climate activist opposition to nuclear, it detracts from efforts to get the case that action on climate is necessary across. I.e., how serious can people who want action on climate be, if they allow this confusion to continue to exist, that “renewables” are the only possible low carbon solution? (I’d add something about carbon capture, but….)

  12. I think some people don’t really grasp the co2 tax idea he proposes.

    The tax will be fairly high, so besides getting your ‘cut’ you cost of living will rise a lot too….to make the most of your ‘cut’ you will try to cut down you emmisions to loose less money on the tax (“cut” – tax = profit). As everyone will be doing this the amount of tax collected will decline, thus urging people to keep reducing untill they reach what’s technologically and financially feasable.

    yes you might get the side effect of the odd hippie living off-grid collection some easy money….but besides that the idea seems simple and effective to me….and let’s be honest, pretty much everything is better than the current cap/trade bs.

    also: barry, if you have the time you should do a write up on belgium…we had over 80% power from nukes a while back. Due to green pressure this has been reduced to 65%, most of which was made up by import (partially nuclear) and 2% or so sun/wind and biomass. The goverment started fund PV installations, causing issues as people placing them make a profit, while in general the energy price is rising like mad: first half of 2011 they went up 25%!!!! on average. Just before that they already went up 10% in 1 go just to make the CO2 certificate payments (you essentialy got your installation funded, and would get paid for generated electricity through the certificates)

  13. Karl, it is simple. Solar PV in Germany is not there 90% of the time. It cannot be turned on and is only there 10% of the time.

    The next thinking step is difficult for virtually everyone. But its also simple: you can never do just one thing. If you put in a 1000 Watts of capacity in solar panels, you will only get an average flow of 100 Watts in Germany. But sometimes it will be 900 Watts and often it will be zero Watts. This is a big problem as you have this typical demand pattern, eg higher demand in winter when there is very little sun. This demand needs to be met. If your PV is not there when needed, and it is most of the time since we need electricity most of the time, you will burn fossil fuels to back it up. In fact talking about backup is quite rediculous, as we’re talking about a vast majority fossil fuel portion. A more correct term is a fossil grid with solar panels to cover up the fossil body. Greenwashing if you will. Is this a strategic pathway – one which we should heavily subsidize like Germany is doing? A fossil fuel lock in that costs a lot of money and distracts people from the bigger problems such as coal burning. Is energy policy about feeling good rather than doing the basic math?

    We live in a world of limited resources. Money in PV is money not spent in nuclear = several times less abatement and no strategic goal of replacing coal. Nuclear is a full replacement of coal and you get a lot more carbon free energy for your money. Strategic because there is no fossil lock in as explained above.

    The German solar PV subsidies cost so much and give so little. For the money they put in it they could have gotten enough nuclear to replace all coal even with the highest (Olkiluoto EPR) prices.

  14. Cyril R is correct in his assessment – see above this posting. I was talking to a pro solar person today and they said solar would be economic soon at 50 cents per watt. I reminded them that solar would not cover all our base load needs at 50 cent watt because we do not have an economical way to store the energy. In fact if solar were 0 cents per watt it would still not be and economical replacement for base load generation because we do not have an economical way to store the energy. An approximate cost for storage is $1 per watt plus about 40 cents per watt hour if you want to check the costs for energy storage versus base load coal and nuclear or even base load gas for that matter.

  15. Hansen proposes the worst form of a carbon tax (the tax and spend variety). The optimal use of proceeds from any carbon tax is to reduce taxation. That way you reduce dead weight costs on the economy. A persistent willingness to ignore dead weight costs pervades the green movement and they really ought to gather some economic literacy and understanding of such concepts before they proclaim their policy remedies superior.

  16. TerjeP, on 6 August 2011 at 6:38 AM said:
    ‘Hansen proposes the worst form of a carbon tax (the tax and spend variety). ‘

    It’s tax and return to the general populace.

    ‘The optimal use of proceeds from any carbon tax is to reduce taxation. That way you reduce dead weight costs on the economy.’

    The US has the lowest taxation rate in over 60 years (< 15%). Judging by current performance I would guess that lifting all that dead weight hasn't worked out real well.

  17. I have a great deal of time for Jim Hansen and agree with at least 90%of what he says in this excellent essay.

    However,I think he is barking up the wrong tree with his advocacy of a carbon tax fully refundable to the citizens.
    This would be an expensive nightmare to administer and there is no guarantee that the extra money in the hands of an ignorant and hedonistic population will be spent on goods or activities which don’t increase pollution.
    It is a vain hope to expect this sort of market manipulation to have a meaningful result (if any) in the time frame required.Jim Hansen has been at pains to point out for many years that we don’t have any time to lose in cutting carbon pollution drastically.

    Part of the problem with the US approach is that they have managed to convince themselves that small government and The Great God Market is the universal prescription for progress.The current economic mess in the USA is a good example of where this ideology falls flat on its face.Here in Australia we have an oligarchy which has been taking the same road and is determined to inflict more of the same on us.

    What is needed,and very quickly at that,is a government program,both state and federal,to embark on a massive build of nuclear electricity generators to replace existing coal plants,most likely on the same sites.This program would employ private contractors but be supervised and regulated by a government authority.

    As for paying for this,we are a sovereign nation with our own fiat currency.In other words,the federal government can buy anything it likes provided it is denominated in its own currency and also provided that those goods and services are available for purchase.
    If foreign currency is needed then we have a huge export income from minerals and fossil fuels.Let’s whack some taxes on these so that the foreign buyers can help pay for our conversion to clean nuclear.

    There is no need for debt.There is no need for for this continual debate about renewables,feed in tarrifs,energy storage etc etc ad
    nauseum.

    How many angels can fit on the head of a pin? Let’s just get on and do the job.

  18. Part of the problem with the US approach is that they have managed to convince themselves that small government and The Great God Market is the universal prescription for progress.

    Strange you should say that given the bloating of government and the raft of anti market initiatives over recent decades. (Snide remark deleted)

  19. Podargus: “Part of the problem with the US approach is that they have managed to convince themselves that small government and The Great God Market is the universal prescription for progress.”

    Podargus, I know it looks that insane from afar but at least half of us in the USA are as disgusted as you are with the antics of the small-government unrestrained-capitalism true believers. In a similar vein I’m sure there are many many citizens in Germany who are aghast at the energy policies their government is pursuing. Alas, the vicissitudes of “democracy”.

  20. @Cyril R The problem you point out is real, and there is some effort directed at it.

    However, in Germany it is renewable energy or no carbon free energy at all. It is rather unrealistic to dream of new nuclear power stations there right after Parliament decided just about unanimously to get out of the nuclear business.

    Therefore, whatever problem there is with renewable, it is certainly not that this is taking funds away that would be allocated to nuclear instead.

    Worldwide, I think all alternatives need to be deployed at full speed. The climate crisis is too serious to worry about a 0.2% increase in cancer risk that might or might not happen, or a 5 dollar increase in monthly average electricity bills.

  21. Podargus, on 6 August 2011 at 7:05 AM said:

    Part of the problem with the US approach is that they have managed to convince themselves that small government and The Great God Market is the universal prescription for progress.

    Not if you read the Energy Act of 2005 closely. Of course it was passed with the blessing of “He Who Shall Not Be Named” and voted on with broad ‘party that shall not be named’ support which is why no one talks about it.

    We revamped our nuclear licensing procedures so that once a design is licensed, the ‘building permit’ becomes a lot easier. We also have CAFE standards(Fuel Economy) that will rise substantially in the next few years(We blame them on the EPA but the energy act of 2005 requires them).

    In fact the US EPA was created by a president from the ‘party that shall not be named’ that ended up resigning in disgrace.

    US Politics is strange…the same Senator from the ‘party that shall not be named’ who may be a complete denier of AGW could also be a big supporter of ‘loan guarantees’ for nuclear power plants so we can ‘get off of foreign oil’. Of course nuclear power plants don’t replace oil fired plants in the US, Nuclear power plants replace coal fired plants.

    It’s very difficult in the US to who are ‘real enemies’ and who are merely ‘perceived enemies’.

    Of course, in order to simplify things..many less then astute observers will label the ‘party that can not be named’ as evil.

  22. Podargus, on 6 August 2011 at 7:05 AM – great comment, and I’m also with Hansen about 90%. Probably not the same as your 90%.

    You said

    What is needed,and very quickly at that,is a government program,both state and federal,to embark on a massive build of nuclear electricity generators to replace existing coal plants,most likely on the same sites.

    Jim Holm at coal2nuclear has a great take on this: don’t build whole new power plants, just replace the coal or natural gas boilers with nuclear heat sources feeding new heat exchangers. The generation, switchgear, and transmission systems remain exactly the same. This is the ‘reuse’ phase of the 4 Rs (Reduce-Recycle-Reclaim-Reuse) of waste management that I ran into in the oil company I worked for some years ago.

    Holm’s page What must a nuclear reactor be to replace coal? is a good starting point. He does promote a particular technology – LFTR – which might put off a few here, but his method can use any reactor that can produce temperatures comparable to a coal-fired boiler. The section In more detail: The modern advances beyond your father’s reactor. lists some engineering specs and discusses using the Rosatom BN-800 to drive a 550 MWe GE Turbine. He says

    The author thinks engineers who have spent their careers around boilers and turbines like these will agree that, while this is not a perfect fit, it is certainly “Good Enough.”

    Current IFR, LFTR designs, and sodium cooled reactors aren’t an exact, drop-in match for replacing the boilers, but I’d suggest that the reactor engineers should look at the opportunity, talk to the power plant engineers, and tweak the designs. According to Holm, the opportunity is major – millions of fossil fired boilers of various sizes to be replaced. In particular, he identifies, and has a spreadsheet that lists, 1,200 supersized boilers that together generate 30% of the CO2 produced from burning coal. Replace these fires to make a major dent in anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and improve health worldwide.

    I have noticed that people seem to always think of building new facilities when they talk about nuclear energy. Surely it makes more sense to replace a minimum of stuff, rather than do a whole new build. Sites and transmission lines are valuable assets, as are the operating permits that are already in place.

  23. @ David Lewis

    I disagree with Jim about the “merchants of doubt”. I’d say the people who accept the reality of climate change who don’t propose solutions that would work are not “the bigger problem” he’s saying they are.

    I disagree – that is, I agree with Hansen on this. Sure, Joe Romm may be doing more for the situation than Fred Singer, but the aggregate push for solutions that don’t (and won’t) work easily outweighs climate change scepticism in preventing progress on this issue.

    Most of society accepts the reality of climate change. It’s not the merchants that are stopping progress from happening, it’s the lack of viable options being assessed.

  24. @ Tom Keen

    I hope you and Jim are right. If so, all we’d have to do is somehow convince people who are sane enough already that they’ve realized there is a climate problem to consider that their renewables dream is a bit more difficult to achieve than they think. How hard could that be?

    But it seems different to me.

    I don’t understand how the merchants of doubt ever found any buyers for what they were selling.

    From the movers and shakers in the media who decided there was some sort of big debate that was not going on, to the opinion makers in all political parties, all business, and any walk of life you care to name, down to the general population, who all bought into the big lie, we can put off dealing with this for now, its been going on for the more than twenty years I’ve been following things, since when I first became involved, around the time when Hansen first made the front page with his Congressional testimony in 1988.

    Its like the Leonard Cohen song “Everybody knows”

    Everybody knows the boat is leaking
    Everybody knows the captain lied
    Everybody’s got this broken feeling
    Like their father or their dog just died

    Everybody’s talkin’ to their pockets
    Everybody wants a box of chocolates
    And a long stemmed rose
    And everybody knows

    and near the end:

    Everybody knows its coming apart
    Take one last look at this sacred heart
    Before it blows
    And everybody knows

  25. Coal-to-nuclear might make economic sense but it could turn into a legal nightmare. For starters baseline health studies would be needed that cover lung function and immune system. Hunter Valley medico Dr Tuan Au has privately studied respiratory problems near coal mines and power stations

    http://lockthegate.org.au/health-forum/dr-tuan-au.cfm

    Chemical and particulate monitoring of flue emissions is discussed about 9 minutes into the clip.

    Apart from problems like asthma no doubt there is elevated incidence of non-respiratory problems including psychological. Our friends Greenpeace will be sure to have the locals whipped up into a frenzy near C2N sites. While genuine respiratory problems should decline public anxiety could worsen predisposed conditions. This will be attributed to radiation as ‘proof’ the conversion was a mistake.

    Thus I think Australia’s first commercial nuke should be at a clean looking greenfields site. Bring in C2N when the fear mongering has subsided.

  26. all we’d have to do is somehow convince people who are sane enough already that they’ve realized there is a climate problem to consider that their renewables dream is a bit more difficult to achieve than they think. How hard could that be?

    Judging by many of the responses to articles on this site (and others), and the traditionally-held resistance to nuclear power by many, I’d say very hard. But we must persist. An all renewables society is more than a “bit more difficult” to achieve too.

  27. In spirit with the coal-2-nuclear meme that has emerged, here (again) is my two pence worth.

    I speak as one who knows Dr Tuan Au (a medical practitioner, not holding a PhD) and his work in the Hunter. I have been a coal fired power station engineer for 3 decades.

    In an nutshell:
    1. The site. Brownfield sites are an excellent idea. The land zoning, operating workforce, construction workforce, transmission system and many backup systems such as hydrogen generating plant, fire pumps, emergency diesels, cooling water dams and/or cooling towers, office buildings, stores, workshops, roads, sewage treatment plant, water treatment plant (for boiler feed water) as well as some pretty darned good one-owner chimney stacks are all available. Most of these assets could be re-used. Within the power station’s grounds is a gas turbine power station, able to provide black start capacity and additional backup to other power supplies.
    2. The need. If coal is to be backed off, the existing workforce needs another job. This is more than just the power station operators and maintainers. Coal miners, transport, etc… the list is a long one. These people should recognise the long term jobs that are needed and welcome this alternative.
    3. The community. Any decrease in atmospheric dust loads is a plus for nuclear, not a negative. Tuan’s concerns re asthma are well known. What is less well known is that the least desirable particles are the smallest, below 2.5 microns. These are also difficult to measure and to categorise as to their place of origin. Did these come from farms, coal mines, diesel engines or coal fired power stations? Dr Howard Bridgeman (not a medical doctor), of Newcastle University, has been looking into this for more than a decade and his tentative position, subject to better focussed research, is that the power stations appear to be the main culprits. My point is that there are many community benefits to be gained froom the transition. There is little need for community opposition.

    Regarding re-use of turbines, there are several major issues:
    1. The existing turbines and generators are quite probably well worn and at the end of their metallurgical lives. They are due for replacement in any case and/or may be useful spares for similar units till they are also progressively withdrawn from service.
    2. The existing coal fired units are mostly very close together, similarly to those at Fukishima. Risk minimisation may demand that future nuclear units be more widely separated. Typical unit-to-unit spacing at Bayswater is just over 100 metres; at Liddell just less than 90 metres. Strait unit-for-unit replacement makes little sense.

    Suggestion:
    Liddell is a 4 x 500MW station. Consider conversion to 2 x 1100MW nuclear.

    Bayswater is a 4 x 660MW station. Consider conversion to either 2 x 1100 or 4 x 800MW. The latter, by using some of the land at the ends of the turbine house, between the turbine house and the cooling towers – at least 50 metres east and west.

    Similar configurations for other power stations will ensure that capital is not wasted on large NPP’s which would be forced to run at part load because of turbine and generator limitations and for these turbines to run at low efficiencies because they are not being fed with steam anywhere as hot as emerges from the superheaters of the coal fired boiler.

    Coal to nuclear conversions must be properly done if they are to achieve all of their objectives. Let’s build them right and get 50 or 60 years out of them, rather than re-using inefficient plant which is already over 40 years old.

  28. > Specific policies cannot be
    imposed by courts, but courts can require governments to present realistic plans to protect the
    rights of the young

    How can courts in the US or the UK require governments to present (less enact!) realistic plans, which I’m assuming here mean evidence-based?

    This is a genuine question — I’m dreaming of a “realism” amendment, but I’d be happy to hear of the current state!

  29. Karl, households are not the problem here. They only use a fraction of the electricity. In my country, the Netherlands, it is about 21%. So 79% is used by industry, commercial businesses/services, and agriculture. It is understandable that most people have a household perspective as they can relate to their own consumption, but it is important to point out that most of the problem is not in the households. It is in the services and goods we buy or use – they have huge yet for most people invisible energy content. While households often have a big energy saving potential, it is far less good for industry.

    We’re not talking about a 5 dollar a month increase in electricity bills. 4 out of every 5 dollars in electricity go to things not used in your house!!!

    For example the per capita electric consumption here is around 8 MWh per year. The weighted cost for this is something like 1000 dollars per year. The weighted cost for PV with storage with good reliability would be at least 4x this. So you add 3000 dollars per person per year for my country. That is a lot of money.

    Here’s a more macro-economic way to look at it, by Robert Hargraves for the US economy:

    http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/04/19/renewing-the-great-recession/

    As you can see cheap electricity is vital. The cost of batteries is higher than the cost of fossil fuels so even with zero PV cost you end up burning fossil. As long as we don’t challenge decisions to phase out nuclear or to not commence with new builds, and challenge the innumeracy behind renewable energy enthusiasts, we are doomed by the rules of the game. This is a game we can neither afford to play nor pretend to win without changing the rules.

    What worries me is how slowly the wheels are turning. Most people are still opposed to nuclear based on the same old lies and non-analysis by Greenpeace and silly journalists with axes to grind.

    Meanwhile the problem is getting bigger by the week – eg China building 2 medium sized coal plants a week. Its going all in the wrong direction.

  30. @Cyril R

    Even when talking about industry, actually the rather high renewable subsidies make up only 5.2% of electricity costs, compared to 8.8 percent electricity tax (a scheme like the one Hansen advocates) and 16 percent value added tax.

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

    Anyway, I agree that renewable is more expensive (if that was not true, there would be no need for a feed-in tariff). But I don’t agree that in the absence of renewable everyone would invest the money now flowing to wind and solar in new nuclear plants.

    In other words, nuclear and renewable are in the same team in the fight to get off fossil fuels quick. Opposing renewable does not help fight the climate crisis, just as the opposition from Greenpeace to nuclear is not helping either.

  31. Karl, I’m certainly not claiming that money not spent in solar or wind would go into nuclear automatically!! IN fact it is more likely that it will be spent on cafe lattes. But I’m optimistically assuming we ‘want’ to solve the CO2 problem and am realistically assuming that we only have so much money (and time) we can spend on this task.

    If you look at the macro-economic impact of expensive electricity (say three or four times increase) then you will see a massive economic crisis with economic costs that make the Great Recession look like paradise.

    http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/04/19/renewing-the-great-recession/

    I’m fine with enthusiastic people that want to get started solving problems. My issues are with those that don’t do basic numbers and looking at basic facts before committing to massive subsidies. If everyone on this planet does what Germany is doing (ie per capita emissions of CO2 similar to Germany) then at 9 tonnes CO2 per capita times 10 billion people future world population, yearly CO2 emissions will increase to 90 BILLION tonnes.

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

    Even if the Germans further half this and all the world manages to keep up, there is left 45 billion tonnes of CO2. We need a plan to get under 5 billion tonnes CO2 for our planet, ASAP.

  32. John Bennett: ‘not being fed with steam anywhere as hot as emerges from the superheaters of the coal fired boiler.’

    Can LFTRs or IFRs run hot enough to make (efficient) use of the existing turbines at coal plants (assuming they are not worn out)?
    MODERATOR
    Technical discussion on IFR etc is off topic here and should be moved to an Open Thread or an IFR thread. I have advised JB of the same.

  33. Pingback: Comment on Hansen warns not to drink sustainable energy Kool-Aid by Andrew Jaremko « SeekerBlog

  34. Tom Blees,on 6 August 2011 at 9:20 AM.

    Tom,I do follow American events and commentary but not on the mainstream media so I am aware that many Americans are highly dissatisfied with the past and current state of affairs as well as the likely future projection.

    Unfortunately,like Australia,you have a two party arrangement where the electoral system is weighted against the emergence of viable third or even fourth parties.This effectively disenfranchises a large part of the population.

    It will be interesting to see what happens within the Democratic Party in 2012 if Obama decides to run for a second term.

    The sentence in my comment which you singled out refers to a cultural problem and it is not unique to the USA.It is common to all the Anglo nations (USA,UK,Canada,Australia and New Zealand) but not confined to them.We are all blinkered somewhat by our inherited culture,even such advanced scientists and thinkers like James Hansen.

    It is no small achievement to break out of the “safe” harbour of conventional thinking and set sail on the open ocean.

  35. Observing points made in the essay by Dr Hansen and in the comments:

    * Continued and growing use of fossil fuels to power our present and growing civilization (commonly referred to as «BAU») will devastate our environment, resulting in global catastrophe.

    * Energy resources available via «soft paths», «renewables», and the like, are inadequate to meet present or future energy requirements, with present or future technology

    * Nuclear fission energy, using some presently available technology but needing future but achievable technology, can be capable of meeting future energy requirements.

    Terrestrial fusion energy is not addressed. Nor are other limiting factors, other constraints that would invoke Liebig’s Law of the Minimum to the Human Condition. (Among the considerations not discussed is that fossil fuels available can barely sustain present energy requirements and are unlikely to be able to meet future requirements, using present or future technology and ignoring all considerations of climate disruption.)

    What expertise I possess regarding terrestrial fusion energy comes from social conversations with a fusion physicist who is a longtime friend of my son; he sees little hope for any future contribution it might make to our energy basket.

    I once ventured that a future involving far lower energy consumption than today’s is not a life unworthy of living; I was severely chastised, to the effect that such thinking does not merit the attention of anybody of any intellect whatever.

    Once again I venture the above opinion. I will also venture that nuclear fission energy needs rapid development and deployment, with due care. (Sometimes I fear its proponents are altogether too dismissive of the dangers it poses… which appear to me to still be orders of magnitude less than the dangers posed by trying to live in a «BAUhaus».)

    The essence of what I suggest is that a high-joule fission-powered, low-joule/capita future needs consideration, even planning. And it need not involve our great-grandkids doing stoop labor all day long in squishy fields.

  36. David F Collins,an excellent comment.I regard fusion and CCS as being pipe dreams and red herrings.

    It is true that a lower energy future is necessary as are many other changes in our attitude to planet Earth and our fellow passengers on our voyage through space.

    These changes will come,either by force of circumstances (as described in part by the good reverend Malthus) or by conscious decisions to change our ways.The present energy crisis relating to sustainability but especially to climate changing pollution has at least a significant partial and readily attainable solution in the form of nuclear generation of electricity.

    We live in interesting times.I just hope that wiser heads prevail than at present and the situation doesn’t get much more interesting.

  37. @ SteveK9, on 7 August 2011 at 1:32 AM:

    “Can LFTRs or IFRs run hot enough to make (efficient) use of the existing turbines at coal plants (assuming they are not worn out)?”

    To answer this, first one needs to know what the critical point of water is and why it is important.

    See http://www.earthsci.unimelb.edu.au/mars/Water.html for a short descritpion of the critical points of water and CO2.

    Most boilers constructed before 1990 were subcritical, because the hydrodynamic properties of steam/water above the critical point are very different to those at subcritical temperatures. These are also the older and less efficient coal fired generators in service, so they will be the first to undergo coal2nuclear transformation.

    The turbines were thus designed to operate with steam below 218 bars and 374 degrees centigrade, which is near enough to the temperature at which the high end of the turbines works.

    The lowest temperature steam is found in the low pressure turbines. These extract the energy from the steam until it collapses into a condenser at atmospheric pressure and just under 100 degrees C.

    If these same turbines were fed steam at 200 or 250 degrees C, the pressure is also greatly reduced, so the energy contained in a kilogram of steam is much less. To do the same work, turbines fed low pressure steam have to be very much larger than those working nearer the critical point.

    I’ll let the nuclear power buffs on this site provide data on typical steam condition for the various types of NPP. My primary point is that steam condition (T,P) is a fundamental parameter for turbines. Turbines designed for different duty are substantially different from each other and are certainly not interchangeable.

    This said, I have heard that an unused turbine designed for use in a Russian NPP has been proposed to be installed in a solar thermal plant in Queensland, Australia. That might be an instance where new plant has been custom designed to have similar steam condition and flow rate as would have been the case in the NPP for which the turbine was initially designed, so it’s not always impossible, just very difficult, to get reliability and efficiency at a reasonable cost from an orphaned turbine.

    The secondary point is that re-using clapped out turbines is extremely bad engineering, because any turbine that has been in service for over 25 years is probably past its use-by date and living on borrowed time.
    MODERATOR
    John – I realise this is in reply to SteveK9 who posted on this thread (by mistake?) but technical details of IFR etc are somewhat off topic on this thread. Please move to an IFR discussion thread or an Open Thread. I have advised SteveK9 of the same.

  38. Do Gen 3 manufacturers want to sell just parts of their systems? A related question is thermal desalination. I gather the desal to be used in the UAE is all-electrical reverse osmosis. Perhaps the makers of the AP 1400 didn’t want the design changed to incorporate flash distillation in the cooling system, yet this is done on diesel engined ships.

  39. Dr. Hansen is one of the climate researchers I respect most. But I differ with him on a point or two. In the sub-heading “The Real Solution”, paragraph 6, he states:

    “Disposition of the money collected from fossil fuel companies is thus the most critical matter.”

    Quite so. But a better disposition of the funds would be to return about half to the public as Dr. Hansen recommends, and use the other half to lower the corporate income tax. The public in the US should regard this arrangement as fair because, in total, companies use more energy than the public does.

    In fact, why not refund and cut a little more than is being taken in? This would transform a carbon tax into a “carbon-reducing tax cut”, which should have appeal across the political spectrum.

  40. Pingback: John Bennetts on Coal-to-Nuclear issues « SeekerBlog

  41. John Newlands:
    Perhaps, by not choosing flash distillation, the UAE have avoided any suspicion that their desalinated water is contaminated by radiation and/or isotopes.
    Besides which, RO is possibly more energy efficient than flash distillation. On ships, the space required and complexity of RO may count against it, although both are reasonably straight forward these days. Time for a little reading… you have awakened my curiosity.

  42. Huon we’re already doing something like that. It is expected about 500 corporate emitters will have to pay carbon tax and pass the price increases on to customers

    http://www.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au/500-companies/

    This will raise about $8bn in the first year I believe. However the Federal govt is to hand an extra billion or so back in the form of reduced weekly paycheque tax deductions and welfare increases averaging around $10 per week.

    The steel industry will get a large cash handout as a kind of bribe not to relocate to Asia as will some other industries like aluminium smelting and LNG plant operators.

    Clearly if the carbon tax was not close to revenue neutral it would not be accepted. Some resent it while for others it eases guilt feelings about climate inaction. As Barry says it’s just a necessary first step.

  43. JB I think the steam loop outside the inner heat exchanger is used to heat the brine. Perhaps Westinghouse think this could be a weak point in the system. I guess the waste heat is not that ‘free’ because the heat escape is contained and auxiliary power is lost on the vacuum pumps.

    If Hansen is right about 2012-2014 returning to El Nino we will be thinking about desal again soon.

  44. Any desalination process that avoids the phase change will be more efficient than distillation. It takes 5.4 times as much energy to turn water at 100 C into steam at 100 C as it does to heat the water from 0 C to 100 C. Even under low pressure, vaporization takes a lot of energy.

    Ars Technica has just highlighted a paper published in Science that calculates that current RO desalination plants are not that far off the thermodynamic limit for efficiency. There are some quite clever microfluidic concepts for improving desalination, but in the end its all constrained by the thermodynamics of separation of mixtures, no matter how you do it. The authors concluded the best ways to improve desalination energy budget was outside the desalt unit process itself, and in things like the use of waste heat from other industrial processes, and the energetics of getting water to and from the desalt plant.

  45. The “Better Place” electric vehicle battery change-over network is getting closer to rolling out in Melbourne:

    http://www.seek.com.au/Job/ev-battery-switch-station-engineering-manager-global-organisation/in/melbourne-cbd-inner-suburbs/20310380

    Will be interesting to see what the consumer take-up will be like. Looks like only Nissan and Renault are participating at this stage. The range is supposed to be 160, so maybe do a change-over at 100-120km? The only option if stranded is a tow truck. I fill up my diesel after 700-800 city km with usually 100km in reserve

  46. Natural gas can be decarbonized, and the hydrogen used as fuel. Jesse Ausubel proposed doing this with nuclear power. The nuclear plants would send electricity to people during the day and decarbonize natural gas at night.
    He also writes about how destructive large-scale renewable energy is. See http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12346-renewable-energy-could-rape-nature.html. The full text of his article is available through that link.
    I’ve heard hydrogen as fuel talked of as a pipe dream. I don’t know if that’s true.

  47. I don’t think it’s true that there are no safety concerns with US reactors. A lot of them are very old, and I’ve read that they really need to be replaced with newer and safer designs. But anti-nuclear attitudes get in the way.

  48. I think Ausubel has it back to front on hydrogen and natural gas. When NG peaks perhaps around 2040 globally we can make synthetic methane using hydrogen from nuclear power and organic carbon. Water and CO2 from combustion will be recycled within the biosphere. While a potent greenhouse gas methane stores better than hydrogen under modest compression at room temperature. It can fuel millions of existing vehicles and stationary applications. Hydrogen suits low temperature fuel cells but we can also use methane to make electricity in high temperature types e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom_Energy_Server

    Natgas, syngas and biogas all being mainly methane can be blended and sent through the existing gas grid. Therefore we should conserve natgas the cheapest form of methane and not burn so much in baseload power stations so the resource will last longer.

  49. John Newlands (7 August 2011 at 2:56 PM),

    Great talking with you again. Yes, Australia is doing much that is right with the carbon tax, while making some less-than-perfect political compromises. From an economic point of view, TerjeP (6 August 2011 at 6:38 AM) is correct about how the carbon tax revenue should ideally be used.

    Dr. Hansen might also reconsider the size of his proposed tax. According to a recent paper by Prof. Brook, “nuclear is the cheapest option at all carbon prices”. So a more modest tax, such as Australia’s, would appear to be adequate:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/11/28/nuclear-is-the-least-cost-low-carbon-baseload-power-source/

    In Dr. Hansen’s example, the tax starts at $15 per ton of CO2 and rises $10 per year; the floor price of Australia’s ETS begins at $15 in 2015 and rises 4% a year, or $0.60 to start with. The latter schedule seems more reasonable.

  50. As in the Fukshima case, where people are claiming it was a disatrous melt down, the fact that it was actually very robust in the facxe of the tremendous force of the Tsunami, speaks well for the safety of Nuclear power stations. How many was it who died at Fukushima?

  51. Huon I recall that the nuclear advantage was not clear cut under a $23 carbon tax which took both conventional black coal and combined cycle gas to around $110 per Mwh. New nuclear in Australia was thought to be over $140 if I recall, However carbon tax may disable reverse gear in the sense no new coal stations will be built. Southern Australia only has 10-20 years of gas left so that may kill new gas plant. Thus even moderate carbon tax has a leverage effect.

    A lot could go wrong such as subsidies for uneconomic gas plant, coal stations being deemed ‘carbon capture ready’, credibility stretching offsets and so on. Even if the carbon price drops back to the ETS floor price in 2015 other factors will be in play, not least the emissions story in Germany and Japan.

  52. The point of “natural gas with carbon capture” that Ausubel was talking about is of course to sequester the carbon before it gets into the atmosphere. Natural gas causes less global warming than coal, at least if not much methane leaks to the atmosphere, but it still does somewhat.

  53. Dear John (Newlands,

    I note your comment that “Australia is doing it right on the carbon [sic](dioxide) tax” but you haven’t said why you believe that to be the case. If
    1. going it alone in a world which has no intention of following your lead,
    2. you wish to see a possible reduction of a maximum of 0.001 C in the global temperature (IPCC figures of worst case “scenario”),
    3. you can thumb your nose at the signs of a Global Depression coming from Europe and the US
    4. revel in record debt of >$100 Billion and
    5. at the same time find you are able to destroy the standard of living for all Australians and seriously reduce their capapcity to help poorer countries such as Africa in their famines and disease,

    then certainly Australia has found the ideal way of going about it.

    On the other hand if you want to provide an alternative to coal for a slightly more costly but effective powere generation system, promote Nuclear Power over the groans of the Greens.
    John Nicol jonicol18@bigpond.com

  54. John Nicol the reason the world economy is currently depressed may partly have its origins in the decline of one fossil fuel, namely crude oil. Refer to The Oil Drum or Energy Bulletin for several analyses. That suggests that even if climate change weren’t true it may be to our advantage to decarbonise early since oil, coal and gas will all be in short supply by 2050 or so. The time to start this transition was yesterday.

    Australia with 0.3% of world population but nearly 2% of emissions can hardly ask other countries to cut back if we don’t lead by example, If other countries don’t we could ration their carbon for them. We are the swing coal exporter with the biggest facilities and we may overtake Qatar as the biggest LNG exporter. We also have the most uranium and should be able to make deals based on carbon restraint.

    The reason to price carbon rather than mandate any given technology is explained in the Productivity Commission report. They give examples of costly CO2 avoidance through mandates. A transparent carbon price should firstly encourage efficiency then it should make clear what the cheapest options are. That should shut up the critics who will equally insist their preferred technology is best if it were mandated.

    Thus I think carbon pricing is a politically necessary first step. Far from harming our prospects I think it makes us smarter than other countries without naming them. An ideal situation would be like the UK with both carbon pricing and all technologies allowed.

  55. A Laura, on 8 August 2011 at 9:44 AM:

    Laura mentioned two aspects of natgas with carbon capture.

    I will be disappointed if natgas is widely adopted for base load, for a number of reasons, not the least being that it should be conserved for future industrial feedstock and transportation.

    Laura listed CCS and the base CO2 advantage that gas has over coal. That is a relative advantage between the two carbon alternatives, but is not sufficient to justify rushing into CCGT+CCS.
    I have previously written here that unless CCS delivers very close to 100% capture and storage, then it acts as a figleaf to the carbon emitters, rather than as a brake on their activities. Let’s stop focussing on “avoided emissions” when the problem is actual emissions.

    Further, production of natural gas results in very significant fugitive emissions at the wellhead, during processing and transport. These must be accounted for when calculating carbon emission budgets for the various technologies, yet they rarely are in the literature; and they never are accounted for by proponents for new carbon-emitting generation.

    GT’s, especially CCGT’s with CCS, if ever they are constructed, will be around for decades – perhaps 50 years, each year emitting more CO2 than if they had never been constructed in the first place. If we are going to eventually transition to a carbon-free society, why lock in new emitters for that timescale, when better (ie safer and cheaper and with zero operational CO2) alternatives for stationary power are available?

    Suggested reading on this site includes:
    1. TCASE 12, http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/07/12/tcase12/
    2. http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/09/emission-cuts-realities/, a great analysis by Peter Lang which recommends a mix of nuclear and CCGT on the basis of CO2 emissions, practicality and price. No mention of CCGT plus CCS: given that CCS is not commercially available and the low capacity factor for the GT’s, perhaps CCS is not worth consideration until after coal fired generation has been outlawed, replaced and demolished, ie at least 30 years away.

  56. John Newlands speaks of making synthetic methane using hydrogen from nuclear power and organic carbon.

    By all means sketch out a pathway that would satisfy a chemical engineer, but I believe making methane is not that easy. Instead, one might consider making methanol (CH3OH) from nuclear-generated hydrogen and organic carbon, biomass or even CO2.

    As a room temperature liquid, methanol requires no pressure or refrigeration. It is easily piped and stored. It can be used immediately as fuel, and is already a sought-after feedstock in hydrocarbon refineries.

  57. RC I’m thinking of the Sabatier reaction supposedly simple enough for Martian astronauts to make rocket fuel (and oxygen) for the trip home. I buy methanol to make biodiesel and it gives me the creeps, for example the spiral effect from Photoshop happens if you inhale the fumes. They don’t yet seem to have a low temperature methanol fuel cell that could produce say 50 kW to power a vehicle.

    Species extinction note for Barry; I just went out to investigate a yelping sound and got within 2m of a pair of Sarcophilus harrisii, far from dead.

  58. RC I’m thinking of the Sabatier reaction supposedly simple enough for Martian astronauts to make rocket fuel (and oxygen) for the trip home.

    In that case, methane can do the job, and methanol cannot. For propelling cars, it’s close to being the other way around, because in this application, compactness matters more than weight.

    Methanol-to-gasoline is an established industrial process.

  59. I know this is OT, but Jones and followers DID NOT drink Kool Aid, they drank Flavor Aid.Common vernacular is incorrect when “don’t drink the Kool aid” is used, though it sounds a whole lot better than “don’t drink the Flavor aid.”

  60. John Bennetts:

    production of natural gas results in very significant fugitive emissions at the wellhead, during processing and transport. These must be accounted for when calculating carbon emission budgets for the various technologies

    Agreed. But natural gas still seems to be better than coal even when fugitive emissions are considered. And there’s a great deal that can be done to limit fugitive emissions of methane. The EPA here in the US is looking into regulating gas drilling to limit fugitive emissions.
    I think natural gas is important at least for the US, for energy security – because it’s energy that doesn’t have to be imported, so it doesn’t raise international tensions.
    The world population is going way up, many resources are running low and there are likely to be resource wars in this century. With all the countries with nuclear weapons, there might be nuclear resource wars. I think doing anything we can to make the world more peaceful is crucial! Using natural gas available locally, building nuclear reactors.
    We are starting to get more of our energy locally. And it’s a bit like the carbon tax mentioned above, because the industrial activity needed to generate our energy is going to be right around us, rather than displaced where we aren’t personally affected, in offshore drilling or importing oil.
    Natural gas is available right now, not a decade or two or 50 years from now. Although nuclear energy also seems very important for our energy future, a massive buildup would take time.

  61. It would be helpful if Dr. Hansen [and everybody else] recognized that what he mentioned at the end of his peiece is a ‘ground heat pump’, although the retailers like the catchy phrase ‘geothermal’. Now actual geothermal is what the Icelanders do superbly, tap actual deep geological formations which are hot — hot rock.

  62. I’ve just reread parts of Dr. Hansen’s post, and I am struck again by the brilliance, clarity, and humanity of the piece. He is indeed a big thinker. So, inspired by his example, I’ll pose two big questions, one for Australia and one for the US.

    Now that you in Australia are moving to adopt a carbon tax, how can you best proceed to include nuclear in the mix?

    In the US, we already get 20% of our electricity from nuclear. But how can we best get a carbon tax (and more nuclear)?

    I hope to present a tentative answer to each question on the respective threads “Why pro-nuclear environmentalism has failed…” and “Carbon tax…”.

  63. The biggest problem in the US is having a way to finance large high capital cost projects. In areas with open competition markets gas is killing all other projects. We need a way customers can gain an appreciation for and ownership in these long range projects. But the rules do not offer this as an opportunity. Therefore our main problem here in the US is an insitutional one in the way the utility rules are set up on a short term market basis. Our energy investors cannot see into the future beyond their noses under the current set of rules. So we will go down in failure simply because the open market is not really flexible at all. I blame the public for being completely uninformed about things dealing with energy. The internet just seems to add a lot of confusion to the energy issues. I spend most of my time trying to explain why solar cannot fill all our energy needs but my audience usually just doesn’t listen to what I am saying. How can we show the truth about the way things work? I thought Jim did an excellent job and I’m disappoointed by the criticism he is receiving.

  64. Hi, Laura, and thanks for taking the time to respond.

    I guess that we will just have to disagree about gas fired power stations, with or without CCS.

    My preference is that those nations which have the money and engineering capacity to do so, adopt carbon free technologies immediately. Any emissions are worse than zero emissions and any delay following “reduced carbon emission” paths is time spent locking in continued (perhaps relatively reduced wrt coal, but in absolute terms, still increasing and continuing) carbon emissions and thus adding to the risks due to climate change, not addressing them.

    Regarding the notion that nuclear builds are 10 or 20 years into the future, take a look at the French experience. They switched the bulk of their nation’s electricity generation well inside this timeframe and have reaped the benefits of this for four decades since. It is a terrible pity that France now appears to have caught the anti-nuclear disease, so their nuclear power capacity is threatened – they will have to rebuild at a significant rate just to stand still, yet this is not popular.

    There is no valid excuse for rushing carbon intense plant with a projected life of 40 years into service, when a better option exists. The four most common arguments in favour of CCGT as a delaying tactic to nuclear are:
    1. It’s cheaper. Capital cost is less, but operating cost, especially fuel costs, make nonsense of this point.
    2. It’s quicker to construct. It can be even quicker to manage demand, ie reduce wasted usage of electricity, but this isn’t being done very much in either USA or Australia. It is thus more logical for private citizens who are CCGT proponents to put more of their effort into implementing demand management options than into pushing a fossil fuel option which still emits carbon dioxide and is thus making the situation worse and will continue to do so for 40 years.
    3. The market demands it (ie there is a profit to be made). There may well be no profit to be made if the cost of gas spirals out of control, as well it may.
    4. Gas-fired power provides energy independence/security, free from foreign power influence. So do nuclear power and demand management, cheaper and more reliably. The problem is that these two options are not as favoured by the general public, but this is no surprise, given that there is no commercial incentive for engineering and power companies to spend time, effort and $$$ pushing a concept which will lead to reduced energy sales. Demand management needs wide scale, intelligent, well informed, agents who can build a business model on the basis of sharing the savings with the retail customer – ie taking an ongoing cut of the savings, say for 5 years. Once DM proponents are able to make significant dollars from their advice, they will prosper and DM will become popular. Until then, it will remain as at present – the marginal cost of electricity at retail level is too small to notice, so customers deal with more pressing issues, such as cooking the evening meal for the kids, rather than resheduling their cooking to avoid paying evening peak rates by doing the bulk of the cooking at off-peak times…. etc.

    So, Laura, I expect that GT’s will be constructed at a rapid rate while no start will be made on serious roll-out of NPP’s during the next decade. The owners of all of this new GT plant will tout claims that they are “CCS Ready” if that helps them to gain construction approval, but CCS is still a dream and there is no guarantee that even a single one of them will ever be retrofitted for CCS at only 50% or 70% effectiveness, let alone the impossible 100% target.

    What arguments will you use in 2020 to convince owners of GT’s only a couple of years old to shut them down because of their carbon footprint and to adopt a carbon free baseload business model, ie nuclear? What will adoption of CCGT + Promise of CCS achieve apart from more delay and more damage to our atmosphere? I suggest that the answer to this rhetorical question is: “Zero.”

  65. On second thought, I’ll go ahead and suggest an answer to my first question here.

    The best thing BNC can do to advance the cause of nuclear power is to keep doing what it’s already doing so well: providing a steady, rational evaluation of zero-carbon technologies. But it might help to go on offense, too, by highlighting one of coal’s main problems (after CO2). This approach comes from the book ‘Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future’, which, incidentally, I first heard about on BNC:

    “…[policymakers] should aggressively pursue taxes or caps on the emissions of neurotoxins, particularly those that come from burning coal. The rational here is simple: Many scientists and policymakers can, and will, argue about the relative dangers of carbon dioxide emissions, but no one in their right mind is willing to stand up and say ‘We need more mercury and lead in our ecosystems.'”

    If a neurotoxin price on coal of just 1 cent per kWh were added to the 2+ cents from a carbon tax, nuclear would have a fighting chance.

    Perhaps if BNC were to publish a little scholarly research on the costs to Australian society of neurotoxins from coal, a traditional green group or two might take up the fight, complete with a panoply of scare tactics, and do the heavy lifting for you.

  66. If GTs have a design life of 20 years most new installations in SA, Vic and Tas won’t make it til retirement. See the 2009 reserves and production in Table 8.1 of this ACCC document. The relevant gas basins are Cooper, Otway, Bass and Gippsland. Next question; how will this affect peaking and wind balancing?

    Like world crude oil peaking in 2006 (per IEA) this is all happening fast yet perhaps the signals are not understood. The public is mesmerized by those who tells us wind and solar will come to the rescue. If southern gas is gone in 15 years who will rescue wind and solar?

  67. @ JN:
    Good reference. I expect 15 years to be very optimistic as an estimate of the remaining gas reserves in SE Australian fields – say, ten at tops, by which time the market price will have soared to reflect resource scarcity.

    Two GT’s I helped to relocate and recommission in 1986 each now have about 35 years in service and counting. I imagine that owners of other GT’s would envisage 30+ years life for them also. It must hugely affect the maths if they are only guaranteed fuel for one third of that lifespan.

    Who’d want to live in Melbourne, circa 2025, with power shortages, high (gas) fuel costs, gas shortages and in the middle of a cold sunless winter? Talk about bleak city! It is time to get serious.

    On the subject of reliability of electrical supply, Vic and SA are progressively losing their energy options, with antique brown coal base load generators and no sign of new reliable non-gas capacity any time soon. They will probably feel the need to reconsider nuclear sooner than NSW/QLD, who still have decades of residual life in most of their plant and massive black coal reserves. I’ve said it before – a couple of NPP’s in each of Vic (on brown coal sites) and SA (on greenfield sites) appear to be the best way to start.

  68. JB I agree the 1st nuke should be in SA or Vic

    SA – to replace Playford and power OD mine and coastal desal
    Vic – to replace the older brown coal stations like Loy Yang A

    Something has to happen soon or all this low carbon talk is pointless.

  69. @JB

    The hourly peak demand for gas in Victoria is 82 TJ/hour, which equates to 23 GW continuous over one hour – Melbourne makes up typically 70% of this demand. Compare Victoria’s peak electrical demand of about 10 GW in winter and 12 GW in summer.

    http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/0400-0003.pdf

    http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/0400-0012.pdf

    If gas becomes scarce and expensive, it’s not going to be possible or practical to easily shift this to electric (even allowing for relatively more efficient electric heating), particularly industrial processes. I might need to move from Melbourne for the winters or buy more jumpers.

  70. SA Premier Mike Rann says he will have a ‘decision’ on the Olympic Dam expansion by October 20. Current thinking is that the mine will quadruple in size to produce 19,000 tonnes a year of U3O8, more than the entire output of Kazakhstan, the current no. 1 producer. The required 700 MW for the expansion must come from somewhere. I see an ammonium nitrate plant is to be built on the coast. More power needed.

    A sticking point is that BHP want the Chinese to extract the uranium whereas one of Rann’s ministers has suggested SA not only extracts but enriches uranium. Even more power needed. It won’t go over well if they build a large rail terminal to put the concentrate on the railway to Port Darwin, thereby handing the value adding to the Chinese.

    Thus I doubt there will be any firm decision by October. I think there are years of dithering ahead.until they get a power source.

  71. Graham Palmer, on 10 August 2011 at 7:24 AM
    The hourly peak demand for gas in Victoria is 82 TJ/hour, which equates to 23 GW continuous over one hour
    If the gas was replaced by electric hot water heat pumps and reverse cycle A/C for heating would expect one third of this or 8GW, in winter or about 6GW above todays peak summer demand. Thats still 50% higher peak demand at a time when local PV would also be giving very low output.

  72. @ Neil

    A few additional comments to your points about the challenges of winter peak demand with large scale substitution of gas with electric. During the 1970’s, there was a massive shift from oil heating to natural gas over a short few years with the development of Bass Strait gas from 1969, so the prospect of a large scale conversion of heating has a precedent – although the conversion was driven by the significant price differential that developed between trucked heating oil and piped natural gas.

    1. Reverse cycle is more efficient than gas, but on a 2 degree Melbourne morning in July, most of them are going to be running defrost cycles to de-ice at substantially lower efficiency.
    2. Most Melbourne households now have some form of summer cooling, but people are often happy with a single room wall or split, or whole house evap. unit. But for winter heating, households (over a million or so in Melbourne) demand whole house heating, and 15 to 25 kW (thermal) is typical for an average sized home.
    3. Larger homes would need a conversion to 3 phase power to meet the load.
    4. Even well-insulated homes need the heater operating on a 2 degree morning or a cold evening.
    5. Unlike summer cooling, winter heating is not considered discretionary, and I wouldn’t like to be a politician during winter black-outs due to excess heating peak demand.
    6. The majority of the demand is commercial and industrial, a large part of which would be difficult (not impossible) to substitute for heat pumps, particularly high temperature applications, boilers etc.
    7. All this peak electrical demand is going to require lots of gas turbines, particularly with increasing wind penetration.
    8. At least large scale heat pump hot water could be run outside of peak demand to keep the coal boilers up to pressure – just like the old days
    9. My guess is that maintaining the Victorian gas network, even if it requires LNG tankers, is going to remain a priority for a long time to come.

  73. Whereas wind energy in the above Hansen article is one of the big renewables, its CO2 reduction is very little according to a recent study by Dr. Fred Udo of the Irish Electric System.

    The Udo analysis shows the following:

    During April 2011, 12% wind energy on the Irish grid reduces its CO2/kWh by 4%,
    During April 1st and 2nd, 28% reduces it by 1%,
    During April 3rd and 4th, 34% reduces it by 6%, 
    During April 4th, 5th and 6th, 30% reduces it by 3%.

    Below is the URL of the Dr. Fred Udo report.
     

    http://www.clepair.net/IerlandUdo.html 

     
    Note: Paste this URL in the left field of your browser window to access the site.

    A more complete discussion is in this article.

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/64492/wind-energy-reduces-co2-emissions-few-percent

  74. @ Willem Post

    I don’t think Professor Hansen refers very favourably to wind at all in this article. He certainly doesn’t frame it as a “big renewable” – his exact point is that it remains almost invisible as a primary energy source.

  75. Tom Keen, on 18 September 2011 at 1:59 PM — My analysis of wind power demonstrates, to my satisfaction, that wind power is a net deficit, environmentally and economically. Some aspects of this analysis are found on the current open thread here @ Brave New Climate.

  76. Some guy from the American Wind Energy Association suggested that the Irish emissions reduction is disadvantaged by cold spells requiring their CHP systems to operate on mostly heat rather than generate more electricity. Yet CHP in Ireland is less than 10% of electricity, and the 34% wind causing 6% CO2 reduction can only partly be explained by this.

    Despite all the wind on the grid in Ireland and despite having some of the best wind resources in the world, the Irish grid uses just as much coal and needs a lot more natural gas (this is kWhs electricity, so the efficiency penalty isn’t even included here)

    http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/IEELEC.pdf

    http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/IEELEC.pdf

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  78. Coming up with a solution to the problem of climate change is enormously complex requiring inputs from science, economics, technology and politics. But what comes out at the end of the deliberation is quite simple, as presented by Hansen: 1) an openness to nuclear and 2) a carbon tax (but not an ETS or “cap and trade”). And of the two items, the carbon tax is central.

    ” Such a simple, honest, transparent system is essential for public acceptance. The public will never accept the gimmicky cap-and-trade system, which inherently brings big banks into the matter and encourages bribes to the fossil fuel industry. Nor can cap-and-trade ever become global–China and India will never accept caps on their economies, but they have many reasons to put a price on carbon emissions to avoid fossil fuel addiction, solve local pollution problems, and to be in a leadership position in a global move toward clean energies.” (Main post above, “The Real Solution” section, last paragraph)

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