The Catch-22 of Energy Storage

Pick up a research paper on battery technology, fuel cells, energy storage technologies or any of the advanced materials science used in these fields, and you will likely find somewhere in the introductory paragraphs a throwaway line about its application to the storage of renewable energy.  Energy storage makes sense for enabling a transition away from fossil fuels to more intermittent sources like wind and solar, and the storage problem presents a meaningful challenge for chemists and materials scientists… Or does it?


Guest Post by John Morgan. John is Chief Scientist at a Sydney startup developing smart grid and grid scale energy storage technologies.  He is Adjunct Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT, holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry, and is an experienced industrial R&D leader.  You can follow John on twitter at @JohnDPMorganFirst published in Chemistry in Australia.


Several recent analyses of the inputs to our energy systems indicate that, against expectations, energy storage cannot solve the problem of intermittency of wind or solar power.  Not for reasons of technical performance, cost, or storage capacity, but for something more intractable: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.

The problem is analysed in an important paper by Weißbach et al.1 in terms of energy returned on energy invested, or EROEI – the ratio of the energy produced over the life of a power plant to the energy that was required to build it.  It takes energy to make a power plant – to manufacture its components, mine the fuel, and so on.  The power plant needs to make at least this much energy to break even.  A break-even powerplant has an EROEI of 1.  But such a plant would pointless, as there is no energy surplus to do the useful things we use energy for.

There is a minimum EROEI, greater than 1, that is required for an energy source to be able to run society.  An energy system must produce a surplus large enough to sustain things like food production, hospitals, and universities to train the engineers to build the plant, transport, construction, and all the elements of the civilization in which it is embedded.

For countries like the US and Germany, Weißbach et al. estimate this minimum viable EROEI to be about 7.  An energy source with lower EROEI cannot sustain a society at those levels of complexity, structured along similar lines.  If we are to transform our energy system, in particular to one without climate impacts, we need to pay close attention to the EROEI of the end result.

The EROEI values for various electrical power plants are summarized in the figure.  The fossil fuel power sources we’re most accustomed to have a high EROEI of about 30, well above the minimum requirement.  Wind power at 16, and concentrating solar power (CSP, or solar thermal power) at 19, are lower, but the energy surplus is still sufficient, in principle, to sustain a developed industrial society.  Biomass, and solar photovoltaic (at least in Germany), however, cannot.  With an EROEI of only 3.9 and 3.5 respectively, these power sources cannot support with their energy alone both their own fabrication and the societal services we use energy for in a first world country.

Energy Returned on Invested, from Weißbach et al.,1 with and without energy storage (buffering).  CCGT is closed-cycle gas turbine.  PWR is a Pressurized Water (conventional nuclear) Reactor.  Energy sources must exceed the “economic threshold”, of about 7, to yield the surplus energy required to support an OECD level society.

Energy Returned on Invested, from Weißbach et al.,1 with and without energy storage (buffering).  CCGT is closed-cycle gas turbine.  PWR is a Pressurized Water (conventional nuclear) Reactor.  Energy sources must exceed the “economic threshold”, of about 7, to yield the surplus energy required to support an OECD level society.

These EROEI values are for energy directly delivered (the “unbuffered” values in the figure).  But things change if we need to store energy.  If we were to store energy in, say, batteries, we must invest energy in mining the materials and manufacturing those batteries.  So a larger energy investment is required, and the EROEI consequently drops.

Weißbach et al. calculated the EROEIs assuming pumped hydroelectric energy storage.  This is the least energy intensive storage technology.  The energy input is mostly earthmoving and construction.  It’s a conservative basis for the calculation; chemical storage systems requiring large quantities of refined specialty materials would be much more energy intensive.  Carbajales-Dale et al.2 cite data asserting batteries are about ten times more energy intensive than pumped hydro storage.

Adding storage greatly reduces the EROEI (the “buffered” values in the figure).  Wind “firmed” with storage, with an EROEI of 3.9, joins solar PV and biomass as an unviable energy source.  CSP becomes marginal (EROEI ~9) with pumped storage, so is probably not viable with molten salt thermal storage.  The EROEI of solar PV with pumped hydro storage drops to 1.6, barely above breakeven, and with battery storage is likely in energy deficit.

This is a rather unsettling conclusion if we are looking to renewable energy for a transition to a low carbon energy system: we cannot use energy storage to overcome the variability of solar and wind power.

In particular, we can’t use batteries or chemical energy storage systems, as they would lead to much worse figures than those presented by Weißbach et al.  Hydroelectricity is the only renewable power source that is unambiguously viable.  However, hydroelectric capacity is not readily scaled up as it is restricted by suitable geography, a constraint that also applies to pumped hydro storage.

This particular study does not stand alone.  Closer to home, Springer have just published a monograph, Energy in Australia,3 which contains an extended discussion of energy systems with a particular focus on EROEI analysis, and draws similar conclusions to Weißbach.  Another study by a group at Stanford2 is more optimistic, ruling out storage for most forms of solar, but suggesting it is viable for wind.  However, this viability is judged only on achieving an energy surplus (EROEI>1), not sustaining society (EROEI~7), and excludes the round trip energy losses in storage, finite cycle life, and the energetic cost of replacement of storage.  Were these included, wind would certainly fall below the sustainability threshold.

It’s important to understand the nature of this EROEI limit.  This is not a question of inadequate storage capacity – we can’t just buy or make more storage to make it work.  It’s not a question of energy losses during charge and discharge, or the number of cycles a battery can deliver.  We can’t look to new materials or technological advances, because the limits at the leading edge are those of earthmoving and civil engineering.  The problem can’t be addressed through market support mechanisms, carbon pricing, or cost reductions.  This is a fundamental energetic limit that will likely only shift if we find less materially intensive methods for dam construction.

This is not to say wind and solar have no role to play.  They can expand within a fossil fuel system, reducing overall emissions.  But without storage the amount we can integrate in the grid is greatly limited by the stochastically variable output.  We could, perhaps, build out a generation of solar and wind and storage at high penetration.  But we would be doing so on an endowment of fossil fuel net energy, which is not sustainable.  Without storage, we could smooth out variability by building redundant generator capacity over large distances.  But the additional infrastructure also forces the EROEI down to unviable levels.  The best way to think about wind and solar is that they can reduce the emissions of fossil fuels, but they cannot eliminate them.  They offer mitigation, but not replacement.

Nor is this to say there is no value in energy storage.  Battery systems in electric vehicles clearly offer potential to reduce dependency on, and emissions from, oil (provided the energy is sourced from clean power).  Rooftop solar power combined with four hours of battery storage can usefully timeshift peak electricity demand,3 reducing the need for peaking power plants and grid expansion.  And battery technology advances make possible many of our recently indispensable consumer electronics.  But what storage can’t do is enable significant replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy.

If we want to cut emissions and replace fossil fuels, it can be done, and the solution is to be found in the upper right of the figure.  France and Ontario, two modern, advanced societies, have all but eliminated fossil fuels from their electricity grids, which they have built from the high EROEI sources of hydroelectricity and nuclear power.  Ontario in particular recently burnt its last tonne of coal, and each jurisdiction uses just a few percent of gas fired power.  This is a proven path to a decarbonized electricity grid.

But the idea that advances in energy storage will enable renewable energy is a chimera – the Catch-22 is that in overcoming intermittency by adding storage, the net energy is reduced below the level required to sustain our present civilization.

BNC Postscript

When this article was published in CiA some readers had difficulty with the idea of a minimum societal EROI.  Why can’t we make do with any positive energy surplus, if we just build more plant?  Hall4 breaks it down with the example of oil:

Think of a society dependent upon one resource: its domestic oil. If the EROI for this oil was 1.1:1 then one could pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If it were 1.2:1 you could also refine it and look at it, 1.3:1 also distribute it to where you want to use it but all you could do is look at it. Hall et al. 2008 examined the EROI required to actually run a truck and found that if the energy included was enough to build and maintain the truck and the roads and bridges required to use it, one would need at least a 3:1 EROI at the wellhead.

Now if you wanted to put something in the truck, say some grain, and deliver it, that would require an EROI of, say, 5:1 to grow the grain. If you wanted to include depreciation on the oil field worker, the refinery worker, the truck driver and the farmer you would need an EROI of say 7 or 8:1 to support their families. If the children were to be educated you would need perhaps 9 or 10:1, have health care 12:1, have arts in their life maybe 14:1, and so on. Obviously to have a modern civilization one needs not simply surplus energy but lots of it, and that requires either a high EROI or a massive source of moderate EROI fuels.

The point is illustrated in the EROI pyramid.4 (The blue values are published values: the yellow values are increasingly speculative.)

Finally, if you are interested in pumped hydro storage, a previous Brave New Climate article by Peter Lang covers the topic in detail, and the comment stream is an amazing resource on the operational characteristics and limits of this means of energy storage.

References

  1. Weißbach et al., Energy 52 (2013) 210. Preprint available here.
  2. Carbajales-Dale et al., Energy Environ. Sci. DOI: 10.1039/c3ee42125b
  3. Graham Palmer, Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth; Springer 2014.
  4. Pedro Prieto and Charles Hall, Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution, Springer 2013.
About these ads

385 Comments

  1. I’ve been keenly awaiting this article. It should be entirely accessible for anyone who cares enough to want coal replaced and who realises that arithmetic matters.

    It occurred to me during reading that it may be difficult to demonstrate chemical storage on even a single wind farm scale. Such batteries would be ideally be situated beside the turbines, but since buying wind energy is prioritised anyway, from where would the impetus come to invest in a capacity that would effectively eat into the megawatts being sold during times of generation? It sure doesn’t sound viable financially, as well as energetically uneconomic.

    If there is an actual example in spite of this, I’d love to know about it!

  2. Reblogged this on Colder Air and commented:
    “It’s important to understand the nature of this EROEI limit. This is not a question of inadequate storage capacity – we can’t just buy or make more storage to make it work. It’s not a question of energy losses during charge and discharge, or the number of cycles a battery can deliver. We can’t look to new materials or technological advances, because the limits at the leading edge are those of earthmoving and civil engineering. The problem can’t be addressed through market support mechanisms, carbon pricing, or cost reductions. This is a fundamental energetic limit that will likely only shift if we find less materially intensive methods for dam construction.

    This is not to say wind and solar have no role to play. They can expand within a fossil fuel system, reducing overall emissions.”

  3. Great post. Thanks John. I remember being blown away by Graham Palmer’s coverage of these concepts and thinking that this is one of those things that is incredibly obvious once somebody has pointed it out, but thousands and of people have studied energy for a really long time and just plain missed it! Or perhaps somebody will find it mentioned in some thermodynamics tract from the 19th century … those early thermodynamics thinkers had some real smarts!

  4. ‘Todd’ asks,

    is it even possible to build storage on the scale … solar would require?

    We won’t know until someone tries. They’ll either try the below, or something better that I haven’t been able to see:

    … heat from a source significantly hotter than 2500 K can usefully act on … an ore of iron – very much cheaper and more abundant: magnetite (Ehrensberger et al., 1997; Mohai et al., 2007):

    (1-x)/(1-4x) Fe3O4 → (1/2) O2 + 3/(1-4x) Fe(1-x)O(liq)

    For x=0, NIST data imply this process has enthalpy change 372.3 kJ/mol, plus another 39.2 kJ/mol that the oxygen would give back in being cooled from 2500 to 298.15 K. Being liquid, the ferrous oxide tends to separate from the oxygen, so they can be cooled without recombining. Losing the 39.2 kJ would be reasonable for a solar power station that focussed a large image of the sun down onto a high-altitude outdoor stream of magnetite, for then the half-mole of oxygen could go directly into the upper air. If such a station annually turned 32.6 billion kg of magnetite into 1.9 billion kg of oxygen and 30.7 billion kg of ferrous oxide, its annual average output could be expressed as 1 GW(FeO).

    Where summer is much sunnier than winter, ferrous oxide production rates in winter, spring, summer, and fall might average respectively zero, 1, 2, and 1GW(FeO). By summer’s end, 7.7 billion kg of ferrous oxide, a gigawatt-season’s worth, could accumulate, perhaps as an outdoor conical heap 300 m across the base. If a steady year-round ferrous oxide gigawatt were taken, the iron by winter’s end would be in a slightly larger magnetite pile. Other kinds of gigawatt-season energy reservoir – two billion lead-acid car batteries, a cubic km of water raised 800 m – are larger or more costly or both …

    (from my fireproof fuel paper)

    Note, in the above we store solar energy before partially converting it to motor fuel or electricity. Another scheme like this involves insulated pits full of heated rocks.

    One can find rocks that are unharmed by many temperature swings between, say, 250 Celsius and 750 Celsius in greater quantities than one can find magnetite, but to store the same gigawatt-season, one would have to. Who wants to compute the size of that pit?

  5. “This is not to say wind and solar have no role to play. They can expand within a fossil fuel system, reducing overall emissions.”

    Doesn’t this reduce your EROI of both systems? If you are only using the capital equipment part of the time and it still has a useful lifetime, then by timesharing, aren’t you going to get an even worse result. Or at best, the part time use of “renewables” will drag down the EROI of your fossil system?

    I also do not understand this:

    “Nor is this to say there is no value in energy storage. Battery systems in electric vehicles clearly offer potential to reduce dependency on, and emissions from, oil (provided the energy is sourced from clean power). Rooftop solar power combined with four hours of battery storage can usefully timeshift peak electricity demand,3 reducing the need for peaking power plants and grid expansion.”

    You still have the energy cost to build the low EROI solar collectors. How is this a useful timeshifting? You haven’t time shifted. You’ve moved generation from a high EROI source (presumably whatever energy source was used to make the solar collectors) to a low EROI source (solar collectors). Why not just charge the batteries from nuclear sourced electricity during off-peak times. That would be timeshifting. Charging batteries with solar collectors is another example of low EROI unsustainable energy generation.

    I think these two paragraphs were an attempt to throw a sop to the “renewables” supporters. That may be good rhetorical style. I’m more inclined to believe that what they need is shock therapy and to be told that their beautiful dream is nothing but an unworkable fantasy in no uncertain terms.

  6. Author of that paper used old data (from 2006/2007) and made numerous flawed conclusions at least for solar PV.

    In recent years a lot of progress has been made in solar PV manufacturing. Processes have been optimized, amount of raw material reduced and solar cell efficiency increased. For example: 5 years ago 16g/Wp of silicon was needed, while now industry uses only 5g/Wp (at increased efficiency, which implies less inverters, racks, etc). Using outdated numbers leads to erroneous conclusions.

    German Fraunhofer institute uses more up to date data and it says that energy payback is about 2.5 years for northern Europe and less than 1.5 years for southern Europe. Given that lifetime of panels is at least 30 years this gives EROEI of 10-20.

    http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/de/downloads/pdf-files/aktuelles/photovoltaics-report-in-englischer-sprache.pdf

    Improvements in EROEI are still being made with no end in sight, at least for the foreseeable future. Concentrated PV has energy payback of less than 1 year so it has EROEI of more than 30, which is more than wind.

    Wind is also improving EROEI by going for ever larger and more efficient turbines. The paper calculated wind EROEI based on 1.5MW turbine, but in reality 2-3MW is pretty much standard, with 5-8MW becoming more and more common (at least in northern Europe). More efficient turbines have better EROEI.

    I agree that embodied energy of storage should be included. But just as a reminder of what’s feasible: Norway already has about 84TWh of hydro storage capacity (up to now it was only used for managing multi-seasonal water variations). If Germany wanted to go 100% renewable they need 35TWh. This means that already today they can do it with the help of Norway hydro and there’s enough spare capacity for a bunch of other countries to go along.

    On the other hand electrochemical storage would still make sense (for transportation if not anything else). Batteries can be deployed locally and do not need transmission and there are certain EROEI advantages to that. But precise implications are very unclear.

    The main flaw of the paper and article is that it uses outdated data, does not consider improvements that have been made (not to mention additional ones which are in the pipeline) and wildly extrapolates beyond any reasonable justification.

  7. I’m more inclined to believe that what they need is shock therapy and to be told that their beautiful dream is nothing but an unworkable fantasy in no uncertain terms.

    You can tell them, but they would rather believe their fantasies.  You can show them how the dream is just a delusion with facts and figures, but you’ll find that they are either generally or selectively innumerate (their will to believe is stronger than the influence of facts).

    About the only thing that works on such people is social sanctions.  They are herd animals by and large, and throwing them out of the group if they express such delusions is something they take seriously.

  8. How were externalities accounted for in these studies? PPM and mercury contamination have real monetary and health effects that are probably exempt from the calculation. Wind has bird and land use issues, but the cost of water & related wildlife impacts for combustion and cooling based systems would increase the O&M quite a bit. This is assuming of course, that the analysis above omitted these costs.

    Further, there is a supposition that the storage would be specifically keyed to ephemerals rather than to regional overproduction. Storage allows for integration between baseload and ephemerals if baseload sources feed the storage: particularly in the case of nuclear, where ramp down rates aren’t nearly dynamic enough to deal with energy surges.

  9. I have not looked at the mathematical model, but it seems like the potential impacts of improving energy efficiency, i.e., reducing the amount of energy necessary to do the work of building trucks, building bridges, keeping people alive, etc.- – a/k/a “doing more with less” – – is not accounted for under the framework presented here. It seems like improving efficiency would move the “economic threshold” line downward.

    Thus, leaving out the dynamic effect of improving efficiency seems a weakness of the framework. After all, most people (present company excepted) don’t really care about energy; they care about trucks, food, etc., – – i.e., the things we can do with energy. If we can do more things with the same amount of energy then, the useful value of the extracted energy increases and the “economical threshold” should move downward. Right?

    I think, therefore, that though this is an important analysis, an improved model would account for improving efficiency.

    From what I gather, the institutional environmentalists and their gurus (e.g., Lovins) presume (without good evidence, in my opinion) that really dramatic increases in efficiency can be generally accomplished, and they further presume that when this improvement is combined with improved performance (e.g., increasing capacity factors) for their preferred energy resources, then these factors, together, overcome any potential deficiencies of they type discussed here. I have not seen any analysis showing that, but what I state above seems to reflect the contours of their argument as to why, generally, they say “we can do it all with renewables and efficiency” with a straight face.

    I don’t think that is true, but, giving them their due, efficiency of energy use generally is increasing, and the conversion of diffuse energy to useful energy by their preferred resources are also increasing. (correct me if I am wrong on this)

    Efficiency has increased and GNP (as a marker for useful “stuff”), does not march in lockstep with the amount of energy inputs, though it may have at another time. Further, efficiency of energy use is quite variable across societies (e.g., compare energy/GNP for European countries v. USA, Australia).

    Also, improving energy efficiency across society would seem like it would reduce the energy invested in making the renewable energy facility itself, and thus alter the EROEI. A further complication is that the EROEI is not uniform. A breakthrough (think: the efficiency of energy used for computing) in one area may be very dramatic, while efficiency in another area remains more or less unchanged.

    So it seems like these dynamic elements should be addressed in order for a mathematical model like this one to be more useful.

    This is not to imply that any of this changes the superiority of nuclear, unless nuclear were, somehow, specifically excluded from the benefits of improving efficiency overall.

    Moving the “economical threshold” downward and the energy productivity line of renewables upward may get them over the economic threshold. For those who, foolishly, in my view, want to cling to the notion that nuclear is categorically unacceptable, dynamic factors that might move renewables over the “economic threshold” would be proof that they are “good enough.”

  10. If Solar efficiency is continues to increase and costs continue to decrease, these numbers will change dramatically. (http://cleantechnica.com/2013/05/24/solar-powers-massive-price-drop-graph/). Batteries are going up in storage by 7% a year (doubling in storage in 7 years). In addition the number of recharge cycles is increasing as well. In the long term, battery cost may go down even more as recycled lithium becomes more widely available. At this instant in time, you are right. Are your right 21 years from now?

  11. Having a poke around Weißbach there are some astonishing assumptions in there, and little mention of how geography plays a role.

    They assume 2000 hours a year for wind, for a CF of near 22%. Most of Australia has averaged closer to double that, at around 40%. That doubles the EROI for wind.

    It also assumes 1000 hours for solar, based on German numbers. Well, much of Australia gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day, for almost 2200 a year. So multiply the EROI of solar by 2.2 in Australia.

    The logic of the whole idea is flawed in my opinion anyway. Take an extreme example; every building has enough solar on it to cover its needs. So why then does solar have to provide 7x the EROI? Then the amount of storage required for each source is nonsense as well. No mention of efficient onsite use, which will significantly reduce the need for storage, which I think most sources drastically overestimate.

    I also think the notion that this information is somehow useful or going to be used by anyone is fanciful at best. There is 3GW of solar in Australia, all on rooftops. Is the assertion that these 1.2 million households should not have bought their own powerstation and should have instead held off to fund a nuclear power plant? Seriously, what good is this information?

  12. The essential problem with that 3GW of solar PV on Australian rooftops is the poor energy efficiency of the existing PV cells, not to mention the threshold insolation value before they even start to produce electrical output. The fact that the installers didn’t have to expend energy on constructing the buildings is only one aspect of the total energy input. They still required manufacture, transport and a substructure to mount them on, not to mention ongoing maintenance, all of which is part of the energy investment. Solar hot water systems have 2-3 times the energy efficiency of PV cells, and the latter need a substantial technology breakthrough before they can be truly said to pay their way.

  13. evecricket, I don’t disagree with your points, but the study notes Germany, and that is the capacity factor I understand they get there. Their prices have gone up, they do have 190GW of capacity for a peak of 80+GW, and they did rapidly cut back feed-in tariff based on reduced capacity corridors (in solar’s case despite share of production being only around 5%).
    There is some “good” in the information, even if it provides more a template for analysis than firm universal measures.

  14. Utility scale storage has its uses. New concepts for such are reported. Some are found in

    http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/thread/386/utility-scale-batteries

    with a quite interesting thermal store written about, with a link, toward the end.

    What such units cannot do is store energy for a protracted period. So, for example, if the risk of no wind generation for, say, 7 weeks is sufficiently high some other form of dispatchable reserve generation is required. In some localities this might be standby biomass burners.

  15. Everyone must read this article. And then Weißbach et al. If you are as widely read as I hope there will be a bonfire of pushback. One expected tactic is “But you took away our factor of 3!” As Weißbach wrote:

    In particular the so-called “renewable” energies have often been treated in a confusing manner by weighting their output by a factor of 3 (motivated by the “primary energy”) but comparing it with the unweighted output of other energies like nuclear.

    Have you a rebuttal that is understandable by the average Sierra Club type?

  16. Googling “nuclear eroi” turns up a number of articles which use the EROI from this paper:
    Manfred Lenzen, Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review (pdf)

    It puts the EROI at… 5? Weißbach doesn’t mention this paper directly, but it turns up again and again as a “reliable” figure. Figures of 50+ are often dismissed as “industry” figures.

    Sadly I think debating EROI against renewables is likely to be bogged down by which figures for nuclear you decide to pick. There’ll always be somebody who wants to rely on the lower figures, while quietly neglecting to investigate the age of the source data.

  17. The Weißbach work was also analysed here
    http://m.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/08/1221552/-GETTING-TO-ZERO-Is-renewable-energy-economically-viable This information is crucial for people to access when we have green political leaders like Parnell proclaiming solar, wind and tomorrow’s batteries are all we need for future prosperity, jobs, education, opportunities and presumably important transitions like vehicle electrification, scaled up desalination, emissions-free fertiliser production etc…

    I’d honestly be interested to see a serious critique attempted. Although grid-scale chemical storage is obviously unachievable once one grasps the scales involved, the poor results for diffuse, intermittent renewables are perhaps less intuitive, even shocking for some. There will be denial, when what there should be is serious examination of Weißbach’s methods. Motivated by the desire to identify the swiftest, most realistic and effective path to national decarbonisation, of course.

  18. Geoff Russell:

    this is one of those things that is incredibly obvious once
    somebody has pointed it out, but thousands and of people have
    studied energy for a really long time and just plain missed it!

    Yes. Its amazing we’ve travelled so far down this road without it (storage EROI impact) being identified as a problem. I just read a US DOE report from 2007 entitled “Basic Research Needs For Electrical Energy Storage”. Even in 2007, the EROI problem was not on the radar.

    The Carbajales-Dale paper is the first one I’ve seen that calls for a research focus on embodied energy reduction. That paper is 2014.

    EROI itself is a surprisingly recent idea. Hall first wrote about it in 1981. I assume we’d missed it because we had up till then been dealing with energy sources with very high net energy, and because system level thinking is remarkably uncommon. But this is no longer the case, and the EROI question must be top of mind as we enter a period of energy transitions.

  19. Jeff Walther:

    Doesn’t this reduce your EROI of both systems?

    Yes it does. You can only expand wind and solar, and stored energy therefrom, within a fossil fuel system until EROI reaches a minimum acceptable threshold. Their greenhouse gas abatement potential is therefore strictly limited. The way Graham Palmer put it, wind and solar can mitigate some emissions from fossil fuels, but cannot replace them.

    How is this a useful timeshiftimg?

    I think these two paragraphs were an attempt to throw a sop to the “renewables” supporters.

    Its useful for the reason I gave in the passage you quote: reducing peak loads. The system EROI is reduced, but the reduction is traded off against building more peak capacity into the grid, which we may want to prioritise. This is not a “sop”, its decent data from a case study of solar PV in Melbourne. The EROI – utility tradeoff is one that’s available to make if we choose. I fully agree that it is a poor second choice to solving the problem with nuclear, or even nuclear with storage.

  20. Evcricket:

    “They assume 2000 hours a year for wind, for a CF of near 22%. Most of Australia has averaged closer to double that, at around 40%. That doubles the EROI for wind.”

    The capacity factor for wind in Australia is not ~40% it’s ~30%. According to BP statistics last year it was 30.1% with 9.2 TWh of electricity generated from 3489MW of installed wind capacity.

    That’s certainly higher than what is seen in Germany, but it’s nowhere near double.

    You might think new capacity installations would have a higher CF and the average is dragged down by older installations, but looking at previous years this is very unlikely. In 2007 for instance there was 972MW of wind installed producing 2.9 TWh. That’s a CF of 33%. If new wind farms were around 40% an almost quadrupling of capacity in the last 6 years would have seen average CF increase markedly. It hasn’t, they have stayed between 25% and 33% since 2006 with a fair degree of year on year variability.

    “It also assumes 1000 hours for solar, based on German numbers. Well, much of Australia gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day, for almost 2200 a year. So multiply the EROI of solar by 2.2 in Australia.”

    This is mentioned in the paper:

    “For locations in south Europe, the EROIs are about 1.7 times higher due to the higher solar irradiation, but a higher irradiation also speeds up the aging.”

    So yes there are regions where the solar isolation is higher, but even if that meant the EROI doubled it would still be below 7 when used with storage, and slightly more when unbuffered.

    “The logic of the whole idea is flawed in my opinion anyway. Take an extreme example; every building has enough solar on it to cover its needs. So why then does solar have to provide 7x the EROI? Then the amount of storage required for each source is nonsense as well. No mention of efficient onsite use, which will significantly reduce the need for storage, which I think most sources drastically overestimate.”

    You talk of assumptions in the paper, then say that every building has enough harvestable solar resource on it’s surfaces to cover it’s needs? Can the Eureka tower in Melbourne cover all it’s residents electricity needs, let alone it’s energy needs all year round? Can any skyscraper or apartment block? Or even inner city or suburban homes?

    I stand to be correct with good evidence that this is indeed the case, but that seems to me to be a really huge assumption that seems unrealistic.

    Your are right that efficiency measures are very important, but the energy still needs to be produced from somewhere and use will never be able to be matched up to solar production. A lot of energy is needed in the mornings, that means storage is very likely to difficult to limit if you want each building to be off grid as you seem to be implying.

    More importantly you seem to misunderstand the concept or EROI. It doesn’t mean that a possible off grid system needs to supply 7 times the energy used by that building.

    It means that the energy used to construct those solar panels – and the energy used in the other stages of its life cycle – has to be seven time less than what is provided to the end consumer.

    eg. If the building uses 7MWh per year, the input energy into providing the solar+storage system must be smaller than 1MWh.

    “I also think the notion that this information is somehow useful or going to be used by anyone is fanciful at best. There is 3GW of solar in Australia, all on rooftops. Is the assertion that these 1.2 million households should not have bought their own powerstation and should have instead held off to fund a nuclear power plant? Seriously, what good is this information?”

    The argument isn’t so much that renewables such as solar and wind are all bad and should not be part of the mix of solutions. More that that they will find it extremely difficult if not impossible to provide all our energy needs because the energy used to provide storage on top of what’s needed to generate the energy itself is too much to leave some left for sustaining society.

  21. evcricket:

    They assume 2000 hours a year for wind, for a CF of near 22%.

    As quokka1 pointed out the world fleet CF is about 23%. If memory serves, that’s also about the CF of the Chinese wind fleet. The 22% figure is a much more defensible figure than 40%.

    It also assumes 1000 hours for solar, based on German numbers. Well, much of Australia gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day, for almost 2200 a year. So multiply the EROI of solar by 2.2 in Australia.

    Quoting Weißbach et al.:

    in south Europe, the EROIs are about 1.7 times higher due to the higher solar irradiation, but a higher irradiation also speeds up the ageing.

    Same applies to Australia. Read the paper again, the authors understand and address geographic variation, and make reasonable choices with sensible justifications for them. This is not to say there aren’t other locales with different profiles in all sorts of parameters, with corresponding local differences to the numbers presented. But these differences do not materially affect the conclusion.

    Take an extreme example; every building has enough solar on it to cover its needs. So why then does solar have to provide 7x the EROI?

    I’m not sure what to make of this. Every building doesn’t have enough solar on it to cover its own needs, nor could it. The enterprise of civilisation entails many activities beyond the capability of rooftop solar to support. Does it cover, eg., building the building on which its mounted? Mining of the steel, firing the concrete, smelting the glass, feeding the occupants, paving the road to the building, and many, many other things. “Efficient on-site use” is simply not in the ballpark of the scale needed to change the import of the analysis.

    I spent quite a bit of ink both in the body of the article and in the postscript trying to explain why a large EROI, greater than 1, and approximately 7 (not “7x”), is required as a minimum. To answer your question I’d urge you to reread the paragraph that begins: “There is a minimum EROEI, greater than 1″, and the Postscript.

    I also think the notion that this information is somehow useful or going to be used by anyone is fanciful at best.

    Well lets hope otherwise because this is a serious problem with a number of proposed energy transition pathways. Maybe you could start by explaining it to your cohort.

    There is 3GW of solar in Australia, all on rooftops. Is the assertion that these 1.2 million households should not have bought their own powerstation and should have instead held off to fund a nuclear power plant?

    That power station on their roof was built by coal and oil. A substantial fraction of the energy it then produces in its service life is in effect of fossil origin. When you add the balance, that power station falls well short of the full societal cost of its own production. At the end of its service life, another injection of fossil fuel is required to put another module up on the roof. Yes, looking at the total system, if the intention was to either transition away from fossil fuel dependence, or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, the nuclear plant would have been the better investment. This can’t be achieved by the same economic arrangements as the individual purchase of solar panels, but a recognition of the relative viability of the two pathways should inform energy policy and climate strategy.

    Seriously, what good is this information?

    Really? Heaven forfend we make existentially important choices from an informed stance.

    This information is of no good whatsoever if you want to keep installing solar panels without introspection.

  22. John, great post. I think there are three main lessons here.

    The first is that the your post shows the necessity of taking a systems approach to trying to understanding these things. This is the sort of approach advocated by Ted Trainer, Josh Floyd, and Charles Hall and others.

    Arguing, as evcricket does, that capacity factor matters doesn’t detract from the basic problem that storage essentially kills the EROI. I agree with evcricket that trading off overbuilt capacity versus storage can ameliorate the storage issue, but the basic problem is this – for about 5,000 hours a year, there will be zero PV generation in the NEM. The combination of PV and modest storage can provide network support but does not substitute as a high-EROI primary energy source.

    Secondly, batteries are an enabler of portable devices that consume electricity (laptops, phones, EV’s etc), but are a severe limitation when they are an essential part of a primary energy supply system. Indeed, even within consumer driven, premium product categories, the battery is the main limiting factor – smart phone developers are hamstrung by needing to balance the need for 8-10 hours out of a single charge versus giving consumers greater phone performance.

    And lastly, the redox chemistries of conventional batteries are not amenable to the sort of exponential improvement that we have been accustomed to with solid state electronics – despite a century’s separation, the Tesla Roadster’s lithium battery (120 Wh/kg) possesses a specific energy density only around 6 times that of Edison’s early nickel-iron battery (22-25 Wh/kg) that powered the 1914 Detroit Electric Car – no Moore’s Law here! Nonetheless, near-term lithium batteries will advance this – we could see commercially competitive lithium at 400 Wh/kg in the foreseeable future, but nothing remotely like an exponential Moore’s-type law.

  23. Have you a rebuttal that is understandable by the average Sierra Club type?

    Steve, I have had quite a few discussions about this. This is what I put in Energy in Australia (pg 46) , which provides a brief overview –

    A complicating factor is that conventional PV LCA analyses are expressed in terms of primary energy, but since fuels have differing quality and usefulness (for example, a joule of electricity is more useful than a joule of heat from coal), there is an argument that the EROI should include some provision to account for the varying usefulness (Murphy et al. 2011). The standard use of primary energy provides a consistent framework for LCAs, but may not always deliver the most meaningful results.

    For example, Raugei et al. (2012) argue that the EROI of PV should be include provision for the average electricity thermal generator efficiency (ηgrid) to account for the fact that PV generates electricity directly, rather than via a heat engine as occurs with most generation. Taking a typical grid efficiency of around 0.31 thereby increases the “primary energy equivalent” (EROI,primary energy equivalent) around threefold.

    Indeed, in a context in which PV displaces the use of high-cost diesel in remote grids, discussed later in this chapter, the conversion can make a lot of sense. Other examples include end-uses dependent on electricity such as lighting and electronic devices.

    However, the validity of such conversion is highly context specific and will not apply in most cases. It assumes high fuel substitutability and conversion efficiency from electricity to other fuels (Murphy et al. 2011) and also ignores the stochasticity of PV. Since electricity only accounts for 18 % of global final consumption of energy International Energy Agency (IEA) 2012, it is not obvious that applying a universal threefold conversion factor is appropriate; indeed, the conversion can also work the other way (Prieto and Hall 2013).

    For example, liquid fuels are far more valuable than electricity for transport applications, and the electricity-to-wheels conversion efficiency is usually low; studies typically report an electricity-to-wheels conversion efficiency of no better than 25 % for electricity-to-hydrogen-based transport (see Bossel 2004; Shinnar 2003).

    Transport makes up around a third of global primary energy, and in the case of aircraft, shipping, heavy road, mining, and other heavy equipment, liquid fuels appear to be a necessity for the foreseeable future (Smil 2010).

  24. Here is a study of a 2.5ha diary farm that produces electricity from its own residues (10tonnes/ha dry biomass) with an EROEI of 8:1 .

    http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd21/11/pres21195.htm

    Should notice that
    1. The energy produced is a byproduct of farm’s pig and goat production, so its food producing capacity is not affected.
    2. Since burnable fuel can be stored for months (biomass in this case) there is no need for aditional batteries or other form of storage to backup low production hours or days of wind or solar plants.

    So biomass can provide both capacity for night/low wind times and this capacity is in itself obtained at 8:1 EROEI


    The conclusions of a study will be altered alot from choosing premises e.g. by stating 3.5:1 EROEI quoted for biomass in the article it dismisses its real capacity of being both energy source and energy storage.

  25. With an EROEI of only 3.9 and 3.5 respectively, these power sources cannot support with their energy alone both their own fabrication and the societal services we use energy for in a first world country.

    The order of these EROIs is switched.

  26. Graham, Thank you very much. I have been working through the Weißbach et al spreadsheet and data. The paper is a model of transparency. Moreover, if the reader prefers different assumptions they can recalculate the EROIs and even generate amended bar charts.

    Also notable, Weißbach uses a simple-but-uncommon transparency technique of inserting into the notes columns of the Material Inventories spreadsheet the URL of the data source used (one of which has gone 404, such is life).

    I cannot find anything in the Weißbach methodology to object to. Let’s hope that eyes are opened in the back rooms of the NGOs who persist in promoting the “renewables are all we need” policies. And of course they must purchase your book, which should nail the all-renewables coffin closed.

    One transparency quibble: if the spreadsheet authors had used Excel named variables it would greatly accelerate the work of auditing what they are doing.

  27. Here is a study of a 2.5ha diary farm … with an EROEI of 8:1

    This is an interesting case study with the sort of positive result that’s possible with an integrated farming system. On the one hand, it puts some useful numbers to the inquiry, with the sort of result you would expect intuitively. But it’s also a reminder of how dependant we are on high-EROI sources – it’s all very well for a farm to be self-sufficient, but in Australia, only around 3% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. Every Australian farmer provides food, on average, for about 600 people.

    If each farm can produce energy for its own needs, with perhaps some surplus, we could imagine a rural village community living off its own labour, producing surplus food and perhaps a little surplus energy. But what about droughts, bush fires or sickness? What about advanced society with higher education, advanced healthcare and pharmaceuticals, defence, the public sector, law and administration, the arts and sport, or caring for the aged and disabled? This gets back to John’s EROI pyramid and the necessity of high-EROI if we are to enjoy the richness and diversity of modern life without every other person being employed to produce energy.

  28. What battery technology was used? How was this justified? Can the material inputs to build batteries be reduced? What are the storage requirements when 10% to 50% of the grid is fossil (or nuclear for that matter) or when reliability of the system is reduced? Why do different studies come up with wildly different (unbuffered) EROI estimates? How much can demand side management (i.e. make chemical feedstock when supply exceeds demand) reduce the requirements for storage?

    For example, if the storage requirements of renewables do not become an issue until 75% penetration (world-wide), then it becomes a significant amount of time until this becomes an issue, by which time it’s likely significantly improved technology will exist. It’s a similar story with nuclear. GEN III is not good enough, but we can still implement a massive amount of GEN III before its limitations become a problem. So, how is relying on Gen IV nuclear (and believe me, I have read essentially every single discussion on this website), which like fusion has always been a few decades away, any more valid than relying on future renewable, storage, and smart-grid technology?

    The message of this article therefore should be that further research and development is required in order to have the capability to build a system that is completely 100% carbon free, as the technology does not yet exist. It shouldn’t be about the way we reduce emissions now. Reality does not support that conclusion.

    Also France implemented nuclear with gaseous diffusion enrichment technology, which many studies show has a lower (unbuffered) EROI than wind, oil, and coal. ( Murphy, D.J.; Hall, C.A.S. (2010)). That means they decarbonized their grid with a lower EROI source, not a high EROI source as stated, so it supports the opposite conclusion as that presented.

    In the real world, we have a government that just got rid of the carbon tax. We still have climate deniers affecting policy. So, I don’t see discussions like this as being terribly relevant to the actions we need to make now.

  29. The problem I see with such studies on the EROI is that they describe the final state of a transition towards an all renewables energy system. A final state we may never reach. I can see many critiques that can be deployed along these lines.

    First of all, all wind & solar proponents advocate big energy savings. In essence, this is equivalent to a decrease in the required EROI to sustain our complex civilization.

    Second, there is the argument of technological change following which, in the far off future, innovation will allow an increase of the EROI for your favorite energy source or storage system.

    Third, and maybe most important, we’re quite far from the final state. Right now, we’re pretty much in the “unbuffered case” everywhere wind turbines and solar panels are built. Storage comes in the form of heaps of wood and coal, gas reservoirs, fuel tanks, uranium rods and dammed lakes. It’s not tommorrow that the need for storage of wind/solar power will be felt.

    A more striking proof of the difficulty of implementing a wind/solar + storage system is based on a look at the costs of such a system. Not only are wind and solar expensive, but storage systems are very expensive. You have to invest in a reservoir, the bigger it is the more expensive it gets, and the costs increase probably faster than the size of the reservoir. There is also a facility that will transform the flow of energy into a store of energy. It will be expensive because this facility will never be able to operate 24/7: capacity factors will be low, which is very bad for the costs. Finally, if you must have seasonal storage, the size of the reservoir make it a financial challenge. The value of the energy stored must be financed in some way.

  30. @ evcricket,

    France is very close though they have some gas and hydro. In future more demand side management could be implemented to reduce the amount of gas needed. For Australia the question becomes: what do we do on a hot summer day?

  31. evcricket:

        "Do any of you think an all nuclear system is possible?  Demand roughly halves over night, so either half the plants would  need to turn off or they all need to ramp down by half. That’s an incredibly bad way to run a Rankine cycle plant."
    

    Possible? Yes.

    Desirable? No.

    Best possible option? No.

    If storage was added to nuclear – it’s not only applicable to solar and wind- it could easily deal with the ups and downs of supply without ramping up or down. Charge storage at night, then use it to supply the extra demand during the day. And with it’s high EROI, nuclear could still power society even with the extra energy storage would require.

    But this to me is just as silly as arguing for a 100% renewable system.

    We have plenty of options to choose from. Nuclear, hydro large & small, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, biomass, waste methane, efficiency etc. Even CCS might have a limited role in the medium term. Especially in situations like cement manufacture or maybe even retrofitting coal plants.

    They all should have a place and role if we are to succeed in combating climate change and providing energy to all the people on this planet so they can have a good standard of living.

    What role they should have should be decided on a case by case analysis that is heavily based on context.

    Hydro and nuclear would likely do most of the heavy lifting, but I don’t see why renewables and other forms should not also play a role in some situations and make significant contributions to our energy supply.

    Rooftop solar with 4 hours of storage, while it’s EROI might be small, that could be offset by a reduction in peak load during hot days in areas with good insolation.

    So is it possible to have 100% nuclear? Probably, but I doubt it makes sense. Other technology will suit some situations better than nuclear will, even if it’s tied with storage.

    Arguments that come down to 100% nuclear, 100% CCS, or 100% RE are to me the best bet to make sure we can’t solve the crisis we are facing.

    We need every tool we have at hand to do what it can where its best suited. We have been talking about this problem for 30 years, and we haven’t really gotten anywhere except a small reduction in the growth rate of greenhouse gases.

    We simply don’t have the luxury of picking one type of energy source based on some sort of tribalistic battle between teams stuck to one set of solutions..

    PS. Any response to mine or John’s replies to your first post?

    PPS. As an aside I read a paper by Charles Hall – the ecologist who first came up with the EROI concept – that suggests that to provide a foundation to a modern society, the EROI needs to be around 20-30. So 7 is possibly a minimum to support civilisation, but not the modern one we have gotten used to in advanced economies and the developing nations are striving for.

    It’s quite interesting and well worth a detailed read.

    You can find it here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513006447

    Abstract: Abstract
    The near- and long-term societal effects of declining EROI are uncertain, but probably adverse. A major obstacle to examining social implications of declining EROI is that we do not have adequate empirical understanding of how EROI is linked, directly or indirectly, to an average citizen′s ability to achieve well-being. To evaluate the possible linkages between societal well-being and net energy availability, we compare these preliminary estimates of energy availability: (1) EROI at a societal level, (2) energy use per capita, (3) multiple regression analyses and (4) a new composite energy index (Lambert Energy Index), to select indicators of quality of life (HDI, percent children under weight, health expenditures, Gender Inequality Index, literacy rate and access to improved water). Our results suggest that energy indices are highly correlated with a higher standard of living. We also find a saturation point at which increases in per capita energy availability (greater than 150 GJ) or EROI (above 20:1) are not associated with further improvement to society.

  32. evcricket,

    Offtopic, so, as an aside, no-one’s talking about 100% nuclear. France and Ontario get by with approximately 75%/25% nuclear/hydro. This works economically, and in terms of the power dynamics, and is extremely low emissions.

    I’m no fan of hydro. The Australian environment movement was blooded in a battle against hydro, for good reason. The hydro component could be eliminated by coupling molten salt energy storage with nuclear power. Cal Abel ran the numbers on coupling molten salt storage with an Integral Fast Reactor, based on the Andasol engineering.

    This power system could provide both baseload and peaking capability in a single plant, at near zero emissions, with viable economics, and without the geographical limitations of hydroelectric power. And with closed fuel cycle fast reactor EROI of ~10^4 (as Edward Greisch mentioned above), storage works from a net energy perspective.

    No-one’s developing this, but the technical elements are all there. So yes, an all nuclear system is, in principle if not current practice, possible.

  33. Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) has gotten some press recently.  It’s not terribly efficient (50% in the implementation I read about) but it scales really well because it uses no scarce materials.

    Dumping overnight excesses of nuclear generation into LAES systems would be one way to productively use it and also meet the daily demand peak without consuming fossil fuel.

  34. Kimo: ZERO PEOPLE HAVE DIED FROM FUKUSHIMA RADIATION.

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/08/fear-of-radiation-has-killed-761-and.html

    “Fear of Radiation (unnecessarily hasty evacuation and other measures) has killed 761 and radiation has killed none from Fukushima” as of August 07, 2012

    573 certified deaths were due to evacuation-related stress at Fukushima. Zero due to radiation. As of February 4, 2012
http://www.beyondnuclear.org/home/2012/2/4/japanese-authorities-recognize-573-deaths-related-to-fukushi.html

    ZERO PEOPLE HAVE DIED FROM 3 Mile Island RADIATION.
    Fewer than 100 died from Chernobyl radiation. The Chernobyl reactor was a primitive Generation One machine without a containment building. American reactors have containment buildings that can contain any accident.

    A nuclear power plant can not explode like a nuclear bomb. A reactor is nothing like a bomb. I would have to tell you how to make a bomb and how to make a reactor to explain why. The reactor at Chernobyl did not explode like a nuclear bomb because that is not possible.

    In the 1960s we recycled spent nuclear fuel. See “Plentiful Energy, The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor” by Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, 2011. Also see:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/08/01/nuclear-waste-series-p4/

    We get 99.9% of our radiation from natural sources, called Natural Background Radiation. The total radiation in Fukushima is less than our Natural Background here in Illinois, USA.

  35. Scott: actually read all of
    physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/08/nation-sized-battery/

    We can’t build more than 2% of the required battery. It just isn’t possible. READ the list of references I gave you before spouting more nonsense.

  36. Rob andrews: About 20 doublings. Times 7 years = 140 years.
    1. We will be extinct in 40 years
    2. There is no reason to believe improvement will continue that long.

    Batteries are OUT. Concentrate on current technology.
    GEHitachiPRISM.com currently available. Eats nuclear “waste”

  37. Edward Greisch,

    This isn’t the comment section of Youtube. If you are going to respond to my post, try actually understanding it. What you have done is link an analysis (that I have already read and considered) which has makes many flawed assumptions and only supports the conclusion which its author made. Not yours.

    An actual analysis could use models of renewable energy systems (or weather patterns over a large geographical area), a model of an electrical grid (including demand side management), as well as energy storage facilities. From here the “overbuild” of renewables, the amount of fossil and/or nuclear, and/or energy storage could varied to see how the resultant cost or reliability changes.

    Studies like this have been done, many flawed, none as flawed as what you have presented here. Go run a search for “Renewable Energy Penetration” on IEEE Xplore rather than link to more Blog posts. It’s always amazing how little work by actual electrical engineers comes up in these discussions.

    i.e.

    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6254669

    &

    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org./xpl/articleDetails.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6607408

    So the notion that such a large amount of energy storage is required simply vaporize. In Europe, very high levels of renewable penetration can occur with only transmission line upgrades. Yes, a lot of transmission lines is expensive. Point is, some effort needs to be made into quantifying these costs and comparing with the alternatives.

    Also PRISM hasn’t been built nor is it licensed, therefore it’s not “currently available”. Try a decade, from the point it is decided when it will be built. The economics are largely unknown, and that doesn’t count the pyroprocessing plant.

  38. @Edward Greisch:

    Gasoline: ~10000 Wh/kg
    Lithium batteries: ~200 Wh/kg

    That’s a factor of 50, not a million. And considering inefficiencies of combustion engines and efficiency of electrical engines then batteries need to improve by about a factor of 10-15.

    First lead acid were about 20-30Wh/kg, today’s best lithium are up to 400Wh/kg. So historically it’s been done. Batteries are certainly not ‘out of the question’, at least for transportation.

    But storing primary energy is somewhat different issue. I don’t know how did the authors come to substantially different conclusion than other studies:

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/march/store-electric-grid-030513.html

    This study finds that pumped hydro can store 210 times more energy than it used for construction, lithium batteries 10 times more, and lead acid only 2 times more.

    So if EROEI of solar is 10 then pumped hydro storage would reduce it’s EROEI to

    k = 10/210,
    (10 – k)/(1 + k) = 9.5, instead of 10

    That’s assuming 100% of energy is stored, which is unrealistic but it proves that EROEI doesn’t change much. If lithium batteries are used then the difference is bigger:

    k=10/10,
    (10 – k)/(1 + k) = 4.5, instead of 10

    So lithium batteries reduce EROEI much more, but given that lithium batteries and solar PV are still improving this is unlikely to be a problem. For example one doubling of efficiency of lithium batteries and using concentrated solar PV (which has EROEI above 30) would give a combined EROEI of above 10.

  39. Good article, but there are quite a few issues:
    – There were arts even in very low EROEI societies. Think Greece and Rome or even folk arts 200 years ago. So that pyramid is meaningless.
    – No way nuclear has that good EROEI, current plants cost even more than solar or wind (nuclear is an upfront energy sink).

    BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, THERE WAS PREVIOUS RESEARCH IN THIS FIELD!!!

    Read Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter.
    What is important is across all energy producing systems we are moving to a lower EROEI. The improvements in solar and / wind do not negate this due to high upfront costs and the EROEI is not 50-100 like with conventional gas or oil. Not even in the same ballpark.

    There is no way that the current civilization can survive an overall constantly falling EROEI ratio. You can argue how long the decline will take, or how fast will it decline, but it is inevitable and unstoppable (except a miracle cold fusion tech or similar).

    Fossil fuel advocates often forget that EROEI on fossil fuels is dropping fast. Metal ore grades are dropping fast too. Infrastructure maintenance meanwhile is very high in energy costs.

    There will be a collapse in the current economic and social paradigm. In fact, it is already in progress.

  40. Edward Greisch: you are spreading misinformation. Are you working for the nuclear industry by any chance?

    According to the majority of recent studies nuclear is THE MOST EXPENSIVE energy source. It is not high EROEI at all.

    And surely more people have died due to radiation than you state, because there are no reliable official statistics for this (as nuclear is always state sanctioned, they have an interest in lying about it all the time).

  41. And nuclear as zero emission??? That is a HUGE LIE.

    Mining of uranium uses a lot of fossil fuels. Building the plant uses a lot of fossil fuels. Operating personnel is not using cars running on nuclear either.

    Nuclear is not zero emission, it is just that the emission is taking place somwhere else. Just like the celebration that western industry now uses less energy. Yes, because we import everything from China where they burn a huge amount of coal.

  42. As I understand electricity market planning, EROEI never is considered. For example, add a wind farm which mostly generates at night when wholesale market clearing prices are low. Suppose the wind farm needs a minimum price of US$0.048/kWh to avoid financial loss. Then adding 80% efficient utility scale storage which requires US$0.02/kWh when generating to pay for capital, interest and operations makes financial sense when the daytime market clearing price exceeds 0.048/0.8 + 0.02 = US$0.06/kWh.

    The same applies to a nuclear power plant but I know of none which has an attached storage.

    [For simplicity searate transmission costs are not considered.]

  43. Thanks David – I would expect business decisions to be made just as you outlined: by considering the components of ROI (income, expense, financing, …). If EROEI isn’t reflected in the risked-ROI calculation then it isn’t relevant to the investment decision.

    Question: would the prices you see be roughly a proxy for EROEI if the market was reasonably “pure”? By that I mean, subsidy-free and externalities incorporated. Say CO2 price of USD $50/ton.

  44. ppp251:

    Author of that paper used old data (from 2006/2007) and made numerous flawed conclusions at least for solar PV.

    Using outdated numbers leads to erroneous conclusions.

    The main flaw of the paper and article is that it uses outdated data, does not consider improvements that have been made (not to mention additional ones which are in the pipeline)

    The Carbajales-Dale paper I cited for solar PV is from 2014. To be any more current I’d need a time machine.

    That paper comes out of the Stanford Climate and Energy Group, which is highly motivated to find ways in which renewable energy can be made to work. And they canvas the current and in-pipeline advanced solar PV technologies: single-crystal (sc-), multi-crystalline (mc-), amorphous (a-) and ribbon silicon (Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium (di) selenide (CIGS).

    Their conclusion is unequivocal:

    Since CIGS and sc-Si both run an energy deficit even before the inclusion of storage, they cannot support any level of storage. CdTe, mc-Si and a-Si can afford up to 72 hours of geologic storage [pumped hydro -jm], but fewer hours of either mixed technology or all-battery storage.

    And there is a critical qualification to this conclusion: they assume the storage lasts forever – the energy cost of replacing batteries or whatever at end of life is not included in the calculation. They also exclude any round trip losses in storage. (These omissions are deliberate and explicitly acknowledged.)

    Further, the energy intensity of battery storage is estimated by those authors to be about ten times higher than pumped hydro. So if pumped hydro storage is marginal, battery storage is right out.

    Finally, Carbajales-Dale et al. use a success threshold of, simply, positive net energy, i.e. they’re looking for an EROI >= 1. This is too low – they need to consider a net energy of EROI >=~7 (or perhaps much higher) if solar with storage is to be a source of primary energy in a society sufficiently advanced to make solar panels.

    So their conclusion really should be, solar can work with storage only in some advanced forms, and only with pumped hydro, not with batteries, and not at all if you require it to do more in society than just rebuild itself.

  45. Frank Jablonski,

    Yes, improving overall energy efficiency of the whole society would presumably reduce the societal EROI value. Different societies are structured differently, are more or less advanced, and operate under different cultural norms. We could, in theory, work a number of axes to support society at lower net energy. Indeed, we will have to.

    Beware, however, the grandly-named Khazzoom–Brookes postulate, which posits that:

    energy efficiency improvements that are economically justified at the microlevel, lead to higher levels of energy consumption at the macro level.

    Whenever we make more net energy available, we tend to find things to do with it, which ultimately grows, not shrinks, societal energy use.

  46. Rob Andrews:

    At this instant in time, you are right. Are your right 21 years from now?

    Yes, I expect so. Graham Palmer above observes that Tesla’s Roadster battery has only 6x the capacity of Edison’s battery of 100 years ago. Storage technology is not amenable to the same kinds of drivers as the information technologies.

    These numbers are also unreasonably favourable. The storage impact on EROI is based on pumped hydro. This is the best case. Battery storage is about 10x worse, according to Carbajales-Dale et al. Any storage technology that requires complex engineering and purified materials, such as batteries, or molten salts, and so on, will probably be somewhere between pumped hydro and batteries.

    Pumped hydro is limited to suitable geographic locations, so would be unlikely to play a major role in primary energy supply. If the more scaleable storage technologies were used, even decades down the track actual performance is probably worse than Weißach’s numbers.

  47. Tim Dettrick,

    Sadly I think debating EROI against renewables is likely to be bogged down by which figures for nuclear you decide to pick

    Irrespective of reported values for nuclear EROI, the key point of the article stands: low EROI energy sources cannot be paired with storage for primary energy supply.

  48. @John Morgan: graph of EROEI in the article is from Weißbach. If you follow paper’s references you find that for wind he uses 1.5MW wind turbine from year 1995 and for solar PV data from 2005/2006 (updated 2007). This strikes me as being outdated.

    I’ve looked into Carbajales-Dale paper (it’s open access: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlepdf/2014/ee/c3ee42125b ) and it does use much more recent data. It says that energy payback time (EPBT) is:

    on-shore wind: 0.34 years
    sc-Si solar PV: 2.04 years
    mc-Si solar PV: 1.34 years

    They assume 25% capacity factor for wind and 11.5% for solar. This gives you EROEI of 58 for wind and 15 and 22 for solar PV (assuming 20 and 30 year lifetime respectively). This is similar to what German Fraunhofer institute says, but significantly different from Weißbach.

    Weißbach should be updated with newer data and take into account technology improvements that have taken place.

    It’s true that when Carbajales-Dale discuss storage they’re only interested in threshold of EROEI >= 1 and only during growth phase. But the data they provide can be used to calculate what happens if we want EROEI >= 7 in a sustainable steady state economy.

    Assuming we want 72h of storage then energy payback time for wind increases from 0.34 years to about 1.1 years (see figure 3 and 4). If lifetime is still 20 years then that gives you EROEI of 18, which is well above 7.

    For mc-Si solar PV adding 72h of storage would increase energy payback time from 1.34 years to about 2.4 years (again see figure 3 and 4). If lifetime is 30 years then EROEI is 12.5, which is above 7.

    But these are numbers for steady state economy, not growth economy. Growth economy would reduce EROEI significantly because a lot of energy is invested just to grow energy supply.

    Growth economy is the situation that Carbajales-Dale is discussing. When he says that “CIGS and sc-Si both run an energy deficit” this is because they’re growing too fast. This implies that on global scale solar PV cannot sustain such extreme growth rate (65% for sc-Si) if it wants to become a significant energy source, but it doesn’t mean that more modest growth rate (say 20%, as in ribbon cells) or that a sustainable steady state economy isn’t possible. The numbers Carbajales-Dale provide show that it is possible.

  49. @blackVoid: (and some others) the “E” in EROI is “Energy” not fossil fuels. You could calculate the EROI of uranium mining assuming that your entire mining fleet of trucks is battery powered or nuclear powered or solar powered (somehow!). The article isn’t about emissions of CO2 per mega joule, it’s about the mega joules in for the mega joules out. Please think long and hard about that before posting responses. When you write “U mining uses lots of fossil fuels” you show that you haven’t quite grasped what the article is about. To repeat (again) the issue being discussed isn’t emissions but EROI.

  50. @ John Morgan

    I am aware of the postulate added to the (Jevon’s) paradox.

    All the same, if we take GNP as a proxy for “stuff” and the ratio of energy/GNP changes such that energy goes down relative to GNP, then it seems like the EROI necessary to sustain a society in the fashion-to-which-it has-become-accustomed should be reduced.

    Of course, this metric of measurement is simplified. It ignores, for example, the degree to which the energy that goes into “stuff” that makes its way, partially or wholly, into the GNP of another nation, is produced offshore. That energy should be imputed back into the energy side of the energy/GNP ratio.

  51. @ppp251

    The supplementary material of Carbajales-Dale discusses some of the assumptions –

    a) they have converted the embodied energy of storage to primary energy equivalent by dividing the calculate primary energy by 3. The justification for this is that many energetic inputs to electrochemical storage manufacture and deployment are either currently, or could in future be electrified. See my earlier post This is a problematic area and would require an additional thread to draw out the issues.

    also, in the main paper –

    b) the battery embodied energy only includes the initial battery but not replacements. A typical PV system may require 3 or 4 battery replacements during a 20 to 30 year life. (section 4.2)

    c) the conversion and inverter losses are excluded. No provision is made for inverter replacement or additional losses and costs associated with operation

    In conclusion, a slightly more rigorous treatment of storage could easily increase the energy debt of storage 10-fold.

  52. I like solar energy because it has about an EROEI of about 10, but realize that is like 2.5 years worth of average use (in the sunny areas) JUST to be able to “make itself” much less power all the processes involved as you explain.
    Additionally, what is the energy input for various different types of batteries? Would it be “energy cheaper” to convert the direct electricity to heat an electrode to make liquid fuels such as ammonia, or even by direct electrolysis?
    As for nuclear, I wonder about that too, for better load following. Of course, there should be less storage required with the reliability from some kind of meltdown proof nuclear.

  53. @John

    Wouldn’t the much greater amount of mass required to build pumped storage incur higher overall energy inputs than higher density storage options? Efficiency of overall battery production can include robotic “workers” which don’t have to expend energy for all human needs and transportation. (I admit, don’t know enough chemistry to prove myself wrong). Recycling may reduce “overall” inputs as well.
    Nuclear made synfuels might be the better option, even though far less efficient from tank to wheels.
    From an efficiency point of view, it seems that batteries would be best for direct electricity sources like wind and that the cheapest possible molten salts or other medium for the thermal sources such as high temp nuclear. I can’t believe that thermal storage, being of less mass, would require more energy input than the massive scale structures of pumped storage, especially, if they last as long.

    Thanks.

  54. fireofenergy,

    There are a couple of studies of the energy inputs for batteries and pumped hydro and compressed air energy storage, both by Barnhart, both cited in the Carbajales-Dale paper. They conclude batteries are about 10x more energy intensive than pumped hydro or CAES.

    The reason for this is the diversity of materials used in batteries and the very high purity required. Any process that requires highly purified materials will typically have high energy inputs, and batteries require very pure materials, and very advanced materials.

    Purification takes energy. You’re fighting the Second Law all the way up the concentration curve. There is a relation shown in a so-called Sherwood plot between the price of a commodity and the extent of purification required to produce it. Its fairly universal behaviour, as shown in these two examples. The price is something of a proxy for the amount of energy required to yield the purified commodity. It follows a log-log law.

    Batteries required very pure materials for cathodes, anodes, electrolytes, and the salts and solvent and polymers etc. they’re made from. Some of these aren’t just the product of purification, but may also involve multistep syntheses, each with their own separation and purification steps, and losses along the way. Some of the components are advanced microstructures materials, the product of long material process chains between the final product and the ore.

    Pumped hydro in comparison requires concrete and steel production and earthmoving. Energy intensive materials to be sure, but compared to batteries quite short material transformation chains from the ores. And, depending on the geography, you can put quite a lot of water behind a single dam wall.

    I don’t know of any studies of molten salt energy inputs. I imagine its somewhere between pumped hydro and batteries. You need a large mass of purified salts in a complex engineered system to stored a rather small amount of energy with large round trip losses. Geoff and quokka note some other limitations above.

  55. @fireofenergy

    Pumped storage is a much better option than thermal storage.

    Assume you need to store 1 gigawatt year of energy. That is not a lot in today’s society. Norway has about 10 GWy of stored hydro energy, and we’re just 5 million people.

    http://www.nve.no/Global/Energi/Analyser/Energi%20i%20Norge%20folder/FOLDE2013.pdf

    1 gigawatt year (1 GWy) is about 8.8 TWh, or 3.2*10^16 joule.

    Imagine you were to store this as thermal energy in a huge, insulated block of steel by heating it to just below melting. I’m not saying that steel would be the optimal material, it’s just an example. Assume you can heat it by 1000 degrees C to store the energy. How much steel would you need?

    Steel has absorbs 0.45 J per degree per gram, so 1 metric ton absorbs 450 MJ when heated 1000 deg C. You need about 70 million tons of steel. That’s several percent of the yearly world production.

    But you stored heat, so you will lose about two thirds of the energy if you need to convert it to electricity. You need 200 million tons of steel, and it’s still a drop in the ocean.

    Any attempt to solve the problem with batteries etc will run into the same fundamental issue – there’s simply too much energy that needs storing. If you try to use lead acid batteries you will have exhausted the entire worlds known and estimated lead resources long before you’re done installing a mere week of backup power in the USA.

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8237

    Alternatively, you could build a dam across a valley and pump about 4 cubic kilometers of water one vertical kilometer up there. Round trip efficiency is about 80 %. This alternative is going to be quite a bit less expensive. The problem is that most poulated areas don’t have access to large valleys 1000 meters above sea level, and building 1000 meter tall structures containing four billion tons of water is not realistic.

    Compressed air in underground caverns is another possibility which actually works fairly well, but then you need a huge, airtight cavern. Making it will consume too much energy.

  56. Pingback: Warum Windkraftwerke unwirtschaftlich sind | Das Europäische Energiewende-Disaster - Hintergründe des politischen Wahnsinns und warum die Bevölkerung davon nichts wissen darf

  57. Thanks, everyone for the links!
    There sure is a lot of options with the high EROEI of nuclear. I’m still not sure which option is best: Thermal to clean fuels (and then less efficiency), or direct electricity to (energy intensive) batteries, at rather high efficiency.

  58. Pingback: Piekolie nieuwsupdate: week 35 | Stichting Peakoil Nederland

  59. I remain disappointed with the lack of interest and support for the Integral Fast Reactor. It is a shame that if the reactors in Japan had been IFR’s they would have just shut down with no need for cooling water and they would not have the problem the now have.

  60. Pingback: Solar. So what now? | Damn the Matrix

  61. Paraphrasing Doonesbury,

    “If some abundant but fickle government money wanted you to, could you call a very effective, very high-ERoEI fossil fuel combustion preventer low-ERoEI?”

    “High ERoEI? High ERoEI my foot!”

  62. Too bad no-one wants to rise to my challenge, above, about the insulated rock pit. It’s bone-easy. Just multiply suitable rocks’ volumetric heat capacity, across some reasonable delta ‘T’, by a volume packing fraction, then divide into a gigawatt-season — which could also be accurately called a gigawatt-quarter-year, if you’re not comfortable with using season as a time unit — and you’ve got your pit volume.

  63. Hi all,
    my apologies to the moderator for posting this in the ABC Catalyst thread: I don’t know how that happened.

    However, given this is where we are discussing the ERoEI of renewables I thought I would raise a quite considerable paper that critiques nuclear ERoEI: a paper that did the rounds a few years back, and seems to have gained some traction in high places. It’s by Australian Professor Manfred Lenzen, who is:

    >>Manfred Lenzen is Professor of Sustainability Research at the University of Sydney, and leader of the Integrated Sustainability Analysis research group.

    Physicist by training, Prof Lenzen has a background in energy systems and especially renewable energy sources. After emigrating from Germany to Australia in 1995, he took up a postdoctoral position at the University of Sydney in order to work on the vacuum glazing project. In 2001, he and his colleague Christopher Dey founded ISA, a centre for developing leading-edge research and applications for environmental and broader sustainability issues, bringing together expertise in environmental science, economics, technology, and social science. Since then, ISA has been prominent in the media.

    Prof Lenzen has led numerous projects providing advice to all levels of government and also numerous businesses. For example, he was commissioned by the Australia Federal Government to undertake research on a first-ever Triple Bottom Line assessment of the Australian economy, and on the life-cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear power. Further, he has created a popular online Environmental Atlas.

    Prof Lenzen has (co-)authored more than 100 articles in the international peer-reviewed literature. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the ISI-listed journal Economic Systems Resesarch.”<<>>What an interesting paper! Although it is 6 years old, it succinctly covers a lot of ground and from an Australian perspective, to boot.

    The introduction makes clear that only LWR and HWR reactors were considered, so Type IV was not considered. That answers EN’s first question.

    Off the top of my head, that suggests that the majority of the upstream fuel emissions due to mining and processing will be eliminated by Type IV, but how much?

    Perhaps this subject is worth a review, bringing this paper and those on similar topics together and introducing reliable extension to Type IV and SMR, because EROI will be one battleground where global energy futures are fought, won and lost.<<<
    posted 4 hours ago by singletonengineer

  64. What happened? A whole middle chunk of my post disappeared? Some formatting issue in the way I quote with arrows like these? >>> ?

    I tracked down the PDF from his 2008 paper
    “Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review”

    http://tinyurl.com/qhk2mkv

    It’s discussed at:
    Carbon Brief

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/03/energy-return-on-investment-which-fuels-win/

    The Conversation

    http://theconversation.com/sure-lets-debate-nuclear-power-just-dont-call-it-low-emission-21566

    I’d love to see some really careful work analysing his findings, as if nuke’s ERoEI really is 5, then solar thermal’s buffered 9 is the way to go with a grid topped up by the higher ERoEI of ‘raw’ (unbuffered) wind where possible, falling back on solar thermal’s ‘buffering’.

    Which forces me to ask: did the paper above analyse mixed sources? What if we have higher ERoEI sources kicking in when they can, and then lower buffered sources taking over when they drop off? Won’t that raise the overall ERoEI of the entire system?

  65. @mikestasse
    Here is a comment (at the other site) that has links about nuclear

    http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/471651/catch-22-energy-storage#comment-152436

    The graphic clearly suggests that the molten salt reactor would reduce material inputs (and thus embodied energy) by many factors over conventional (once through) nuclear.
    And here is a link about ESOI, from Standford

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/march/store-electric-grid-030513.html

    The total of stored energy delivered divided by the total of energy inputs is ESOI. To my surprise (and as others have already told me, here, batteries fair VERY low (but still deliver more than they require to make)!

  66. Mike Stasse asserts incredulously:

    There’s NO WAY nulear has an ERoEI of 75. Complete pie in the sky. You’d be lucky to get TEN

    He cites BNC in the post at his link.  Maybe he’d also take Next Big Future’s take on material inputs for new nuclear.

    AP1000 is 42t(steel)/MW(avg)
    Concrete is not given, but 1970’s PWRs were 190 m³/MW(avg).

    Energy required to make steel is 19 million BTU per ton (about 21 GJ/MT).
    Energy required to make concrete is roughly 1.1 MJ/kg, or about 2.64 GJ/m³.

    Major material inputs are (882+502)=1384 GJ per MW of average output.  This energy is recovered in (1,384,000 MJ / 1 MJ/sec) = 1,384,000 sec = 16 days.  That’s assuming that the energy to build is counted against energy output; if it’s against raw thermal energy, it’s repaid in about 5 days.

    If we assume 16 days, the energy of the materials used in construction is repaid about 23 times per year, or 912 times over the initial 40-year licensing period.  It’s pretty obvious that 75:1 is pessimistic, and Stasse’s assertion of 10:1 is delusional.

    Given that the energy overhead of centrifuge enrichment is about 0.1%, the EROI of nuclear power plants must be well in excess of 100.

    The big problem is lawyers; adding lawyers to the process can reduce the EROI of anything to less than 1 in short order.  The solution is to shoot them, which diminishes their billing rate tremendously and practically eliminates actions filed.

  67. The reasoning in the article’s quote from Hall seem unassailable, but quantifying the details does seem surprisingly murky. Lenzen does good work and his estimate of 0.2 Kwh-th for each kwh-e (which implies a thermal EROI of about 15) for nuclear has to be taken seriously. So why is it so different from the Weissback estimate of 75 (the WNA also has a figure in this region http://bit.ly/1h0RawC but the components are very different). Why the huge range? Somewhere there’s some very different assumptions being made but I haven’t spent the time to sort it out. Perhaps it doesn’t need sorting out. Here’s what we know: First, this dependency of advanced societies on high EROI fuels is a correlation … it’s not an F=ma type law. If you look at the Lambert/Hall paper cited above (http://bit.ly/1rH2uUz ) you can see that the trends are clear, but they are just that, clear trends but in a cloud of points with plenty a long way from the trend lines. So perhaps advancements in renewables will push them up a little higher in the EROI stakes and perhaps that will be enough. I thought this article was a slam dunk argument against renewables with storage when I first read it, but I’m not quite so sure any more. Nor am I going to waste much sleep over the Lenzen low figure because we know nuclear can power advanced societies because it does … it’s EROI is high enough, whatever it is. We also know that the EROI of fast reactors will be much, much higher.

  68. ///Nor am I going to waste much sleep over the Lenzen low figure because we know nuclear can power advanced societies because it does///
    If the Lenzen figures are correct, then France cannot be taken as proof that nuclear’s ERoEI is enough because the French don’t use nuclear power to mine uranium. They use oil (diesel, etc). As you know, the high ERoEI of an electrical supply system is especially important if we are considering dumping some serious ERoEI points into replacing liquid transport fuels. EV’s, hydrogen, synfuel, boron – basically whatever the next big thing is – all require a power source so abundant that it can dump quite a few ERoEI points ‘charging’ up the fuel replacement. So, hypothetically, nukes could have an ERoEI of 5 if France is borrowing of oil’s historically high ERoEI.

    PS: Engineer Poet’s calculations above are very comforting regarding the power plant, but the uranium supply system still needs analysis.

  69. but the uranium supply system still needs analysis

    The freely accessible Weissbach et al. paper provides this:

    … The publication by Hoffmeyer et al. [45], used already for coal power plants, turned out to be a good
    basis for a nuclear power EROI evaluation as well. It describes, however, too low energy consumptions for Uranium extraction, and the inventories for working chemicals used for that are missing. Here, the mass flows as described in the essay by Leeuwen [47] has been used but the old inventory data mentioned there had to be replaced with modern ones (see attached spreadsheet [11]) …

    But if you don’t want to download and read a lot of stuff, here are two shortcuts. (1) Unenriched uranium produces about 180 thermal MWh per kilogram in the Darlington plant near me. Let us suppose an embarrassingly large number of thermal MWh of diesel fuel, say 18, had to be used to get that kgU. Diesel fuel’s energy density is 0.010 MWh per litre, so that would be 1800 litres.

    Diesel costs have to be somewhat higher in northern Canada than they are where I am, more than $1 a litre, but let’s go with a dollar a litre. (Does that link work for you, ‘EclipseNow’?)

    That gives that the kilogram uranium should cost way more than $1800, if its energy is 10 percent converted diesel fuel energy, because there are several other significant costs. But in fact it’s selling for — multiply the price given at http://www.uxc.com by 2.60 to convert from pound U3O8 to kilogram U — $81.

    Shortcut 2: can you find photos of uranium mines in oil-and-gas company PR? You can definitely find ones of wind turbines. If uranium mines are good customers, they’ll be there too.

  70. @Eclipse now

    Mining is largely done using electricity.

    France gets much of its uranium from open cut mining in Niger. The only thing that needs the oil is large dumpers, which cannot easily be connected to the grid for obvious reasons.

    Blasting agents are typically made from natural gas and nitrogen from the air.

    The loaders, slurry pipelines, crushers/milling equipment, conveyors and everything else is electric.

    The finished product from mining, yellowcake, is so energy dense that it barely matters energy wise if you transport it by boat or by horse and carriage.

    Then there is enrichment and fuel fabrication. Centrifuges and what little remains of gaseous diffusion is all-electric.

    Sweden gets most of its uranium from open cut too. From http://gryphon.environdec.com/data/files/6/9914/epd21_Vattenfall_Forsmark_Nuclear_Power_Plant_2014-03-27.pdf , total energy use per kWh from Forsmark NPP (from mining, to operation, to decomission and disposal of waste).

    Renewable material resources
    Wood 5,0E-04 g (2.25E-6 kWh thermal)

    Non-renewable energy resources
    Crude oil 4,1E-01 g (5.2E-3 kWh thermal)
    Hard coal 8,6E-01 g (7.2E-3 kWh thermal)
    Lignite (wet) 4,0E-01 g (2.7E-3 kWh thermal)
    Natural gas 3,0E-01 g (4.5E-3 kWh thermal)
    Uranium in ore g 2,1E-02 (470 kWh thermal in fast breeder. This is typically not included in EROEI for the same reason coal is not included in coal EROEI)
    Peat g 5,4E-02 g (1.9E-4 kWh thermal)

    Renewable energy resources
    Bio mass (dry) 5,8E-02 g (5.8E-2 kWh thermal)

    Potential energy through hydro turbines 2,0E-03 kWh
    Solar electricity 8,8E-10 kWh
    Wind electricity 6,2E-08 kWh

    Electricity use in the power plant 2,0E-02 kWh (2% of electricity generated is used in the plant for its operation and is thus not typically included in EROI, it is instead subtracted from electricity generated).

    In parenthesis is my estimate of the energy content. That’s not entirely accurate (e.g. for the crude oil estimate I have used the energy density of diesel fuel).

    Total energy use, mixed units (kWh thermal and kWh elecric just added) per kWh nuclear energy: 0,022 kWh

    Adjusted by a factor 1/3 for thermal sources, except for NG which is adjusted by a factor 1/2. This represents how much electricity you could have made with this fuel if you had burnt it for electricity instead (note, much of it is ACTUALLY burnt to generate electricity, and then used for mining and refining uranium and so on). Per kWh of nuclear energy: per kWh 0.0094kWh.

    So EROEI is about 50 – 100 depending on how you massage the numbers (adjust or don’t for capacity of energy form to do work)

    The gas and oil fill unique functions. The coal and other electrical sources can be substituted easily.

    “electricity returned on oil and gas invested” (kWh electric / kWh thermal) = 103.

  71. Some other fun facts from the Forsmark EPD:

    High level waste volume (reactor core components and spent fuel) per kWh: 6,4 cubic milimetres per kWh, of which 3,3 mg is spent fuel elements of which 2,3 mg is uranium which passed through the reactor unchanged and most of the rest is cladding etc.

    Total emitted CO2 is 4,3 g/kWh (se especially diagram on page 24)

    Change in land use, when grouped in biotopes: critical, rare, general and “technotopes” (e.g. buildings, concrete, asphalt) per kWh of electricity generated is:

    critical: -3,8 mm^2
    rare: -2,7 mm^2
    general: +2,4 mm^2
    technotopes: +5,1 mm^2.

    I’d love to see such numbers for wind (including rare earth mining, access roads, foundations, power lines … ).

  72. Eclipse Now writes:

    the paper I cited concludes ERoEI of 5 because it also counts the energy cost of mining, milling, and enriching the uranium.

    Lenzen cites cites Storm and Smith on the very first page.  Any paper that does that must be considered ispo facto fraudulent at the outset.  It astounds me that all associated with such fraud have not been removed from their academic positions.  They must have powerful protectors… and who’s more powerful than fossil fuel interests?

    Let me perform another very simple sanity check on the 5 number (after grlcowan’s fine pass).  Since we’ve already established that the energy cost of the steel and concrete of the plant itself is minuscule, let’s guess what would have to go into the fuel if that’s where the balance of invested energy is going.  Assume:  thermal energy output 45,000 MW-d/ton heavy metal, enriched to 3.5% U-235 with 0.2% tails, and a price of $31/lb of yellowcake.  If your payback is 5:1 you’ve got 9,000 MW-d of energy invested per ton of enriched U, 1422 MW-d per ton raw uranium (15.8% yield, remainder tails), 711 kW-days per pound.

    A kilowatt is 3414 BTU/hr, so 711 kW-d is 58.3 million BTU.  Typical bituminous coal yields around 25 million BTU per ton, so about 2.3 tons of coal (or the energy equivalent) would be needed to produce one pound of uranium.  The nominal price of bituminous coal in the USA has been over $50/ton for years.  So Lindzen’s number, which you take without question, is roughly equivalent to saying that someone is investing the energy of well over $100 worth of coal to produce a pound of uranium… and then selling it for $31.

    The same energy input from petroleum would cost several times as much (see grlcowan’s envelope-back above).

    Nobody who believes such a thing can be called sane.  Nobody who says such a thing should be called anything but a fraud and a liar.  And for Lenzen to still be on the faculty of the University of Sydney, instead of having been drummed out for academic misconduct, shows just how deeply the academic study of “sustainability” is corrupted.

  73. Thanks all: I’m going to have to re-read your posts a few times for it to really sink in, but it sounds like there’s been some seriously dodgy misinformation spreading virally and that depresses me no end. No wonder society is so misinformed about energy. The Storm and Smith work spreads virally through Lenzen’s paper to some significant places, and then the peaknik doomers use it to shout “We told you so!” Shameful.

  74. Weißbach et al’s equivocation of the portion of GDP spent on energy with an EROI threshold is without basis, the EROI of a process can be squared by running it twice. For example a process with an EROI of 3.5 run twice has an EROI of 12.25 with a 29% increase in non-energy costs, run it 4 times and EROI is about 150 for 40% cost increase. There is clearly no hard limit to EROI.

    For a steady state economy Total cost = One cycle non-energy cost ⨉ EROI ÷ (EROI − 1)

  75. I love that your response to a paper that disagrees with your world view is to discredit it. It was a report for cabinet, prepared by a reputable institute. But the results put nuclear in a bad light so it gets the short treatment.

    Can any of you name a paper you read recently that caused you to doubt your commitment to nuclear power?

  76. EVcricket, that’s psychobabble. I was the one pushing the Lenzen paper here for analysis, OK? This isn’t some Big Lebowski “The Dude abides!” This isn’t about my gut feeling, and just picking which authorities to trust. It’s about what gets through the more objective worldview crunchers of mathematics and engineering and real world science. And lastly, my argument about France’s ‘hypothetically’ low nuclear ERoEI ‘borrowing’ from oil’s higher ERoEI just doesn’t cut the mustard. See above!

    See? I was trying to get people to take Lenzen seriously, and read his paper, and jog their worldviews with careful reanalysis. But it seems that E = MC2 really does lead to some very big numbers after all, doesn’t it!? ;-)

  77. @evcricket: I remember a story about somebody (I think Fred Hoyle) proving that space travel was impossible because a rocket could never carry enough fuel to power it out of the earth’s gravitational pull. Somewhere there was a wrong assumption … and Lenzen’s result is like that … plainly contradicted by reality. So until I get time to examine it in detail, I’ll provisionally accept the kinds of numbers that make sense … also prepared by qualified people.

  78. Yeah, Lenzen must be wrong because he got bad numbers for nuclear. But Weissbach must be right, despite using decades old numbers for wind and solar, despite that it’s physically impossible that buffered and unbuffered EROEI is the same, despite that his numbers are an outlier, he must be right because he got nice numbers for nuclear. That’s all that matters for nuclear religious adherents.

  79. The critical threshold or EROI for society holds only if the society is homogenous. Any process yielding EROI >1 can sustain our society which requires EROI = 7 if we segment the society. Let there be countries A0 who are primary energy producers who run the process with EROI = E0 + E1 where E0 is the energy used to provide living standard in countries A0. The component E1 will be forcefully or traded away to the countries of level A1. From countries A1 perspective the country A0 behaves as energy source. As long as the amount of energy needed to controll the country A0 is reasonably low compared to E1, the country A1 has the energy source of EROI >7 and can prosper.

    This is the way societies have worked in the past — slavery and feudalism — and in the present — capitalism with unbalanced living standards, trade inequalities and human right violations in the developing world. So there is no reason why a present society cannot survive with green energy sources with EROI < 7. Rather the question can we have social equality and green energy sources or we will have green slavery.

  80. David, “least bad” is an excellent way to think about our real-world challenge — we must choose amongst imperfect options, where the ranking is dependent on local conditions. In particular, what would you propose to African leaders as an appropriate portfolio to satisfy rapid growth in demand for affordable, dependable electricity?

    > >

  81. Steve Darden — Depends on the country. South Africa needs abundant power for industry so nuclear power plants should be under consideration. Egypt was laying plans for a 4 reactor site but with the changes in government those plans are probably on hold. I opine Tunesia could use nuclear.

    Kenya has an excellent site for wind turbines; I am under the impression that it is being developed. I understand Malawi also has plenty of wind.

    Here is another site describing fast reactors:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Fast-Neutron-Reactors/

    In general it seems that these are not yet ready for wide deployment.

  82. Stop the press!
    “The resulting EROI is therefore roughly 2000 which is 20-1000 times higher than that of any other
    technique [12]. This is due to the very compact design, lowering the construction energy demand
    down almost to the level of CCGT plants on a per-watt basis, and the fuel-related are tiny compared to
    light water reactors due to the efficient usage. Optimizing the design and extracting the fuel at basic
    crust concentrations (~10 ppm for Thorium) leads to a domination of the fuel-related input, showing
    that the DFR exhausts the potential of nuclear fission to a large extent.”

    http://ahmed.triumf.ca/DFR_CAP/FR13_T1-CN-199-481.pdf

  83. ‘EclipseNow’ writes,

    … IAEA report concludes:

    The Primary and Final Energy EROI values calculated for the representative scenario were ∼ 52 and 24, respectively.

    A critic might argue bias, but that’s a logical error called a Bulverism. We must first prove the argument wrong, before trying to explain why someone became so silly! ;-)

    Also, which way would the bias be? Does a government outfit’s having “Atomic” in its name inevitably mean it favours nuclear energy, or is “Follow the money” still a valid way of predicting bias, validly applicable to the money government outfits net from fossil fuel consumers and producers?

  84. Pingback: Renewables K.O.-ed by EROI? – German Energy Transition

  85. Pingback: Storing Energy

  86. Lenzen’s work is widely critized even outside peer reviewed circles. Lenzen’s estimates heavily weigh Storm and Smith data that is widely discredited and not verifiable. Lenzen overestimates energy intensity of enrichment, overestimates mining energy correlations (storm smith nonsense), does double counting of energy costs (GDP tricks etc), and likely even counts energy thermal vs electrical incorrectly (thus overestimating certain inputs by a factor of 3, due to nuclear plant 33% efficiency).

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2013/08/energy-return-for-nuclear-energy.html

    Like EP has proven, it is easy to rebut this nonsense by looking at energy intensity of mining and comparing it to the value of uranium on the spot market. Mining is mostly electricity and diesel, so much worse than EP showed in the case of coal cost. If you follow the Storm and Smith data, they are suggesting that a single uranium mine in Namibia uses more energy than the whole of Namibia!!

    Also all of this is missing the point about the future. If we are going to build more nuclear plants we will build the most recent and efficient ones, with higher burnup and higher thermal to electrical efficiency. We will build the most recent centrifuge technology not more diffusion plants. Diffusion plants are all being phased out over the next 20 years because their energy costs are prohibitive. This is the problem with meta-studies. They are not good for making policy for the future.

    For policy purposes we should compare the EROEI of AP1000s and ESBWRs (recently fully certified by the US NRC) running on centrifuge enrichment. Because that is what a large expansion of nuclear energy right now would entail.

  87. Its fun to consider what some of these “scientists” like Lenzen and Storm and Smith are saying.

    They are saying that the Rossing Mine in Namibia, which uses poor grade ore, has to guzzle very roughly 0.1 kWh thermal for each kWh electrical nuclear plant output.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%B6ssing_uranium_mine

    This mine makes 3711 tonnes of uranium oxide per year. It takes about 250 tonnes of that stuff to fuel a 1 GWe nuclear plant round the clock for a year. So, with these assumptions, the 3711 tons production is good for some 15 gigawatts of nuclear plant output (enough to power my entire country). Then, the Rossing mine must use at least 1.5 gigawatts, constantly, year round, according to Lenzen and his co-conspirators. That’s giga, as in billion Watts!! How much energy is that, well it is 47,300,000 gigajoules of energy. That’s over a million tonnes of diesel, for example. That’s what Lenzen is claiming this mine is using. This man, Lenzen, supposedly a serious and well renowned scientist, is claiming that this single mine is guzzling energy at the rate of a megacity.

    Fortunately the Rossing mine reports its total energy consumption. It is below 150 MJ/ton uranium oxide, so below 500 GJ for 3711 tonnes uranium oxide.

    http://www.mining-technology.com/projects/rossingsouth-uranium/

    So Lenzing is off by a factor of several THOUSAND.

    Some scientist, if an amateur like me can poke holes in him with 10 minutes of googling and a laptop.

  88. The Rossing data can also be used as a worst case (very low grade ore) energy consumption for mining. A million GJ of mining energy input is 0.03 GW thermal input. To support 15 GW electrical power plants worth of uranium!

    That’s about a 500 to 1 return in energy, or a “mining EROEI” of 500.

  89. And finally, of course, GhG emissions from mining. The Rossing mine reports around 75 tonnes CO2eq per tonne of U3O8. Over 3711 tonnes U3O8 this is 278325 tonnes CO2eq. For 15 GWe-year, this is 18555 tonnes per GWe-year which is 2 grams of CO2 per kWh.

    2 grams CO2 per kWh. This is the “significant amount” of greenhouse gas emissions produced by mining uranium that supposed scientists like Lenzen warn us about, and that supposed peer reviewers, which are also supposed to be scientists, have failed to check.

  90. @ cyril
    quoting your reference
    In 2008, the mine used energy of 14.09mj/t of ore processed higher than the annual target of 117mj/t of ore processed.

    huh? 14 is higher than 117? And this is ore processed, you said it was uranium oxide.

    BNC MODERATOR
    Your last sentence has been deleted. BNC does not engage in Climate Change denialism. Please check the Commenting Rules before posting again.

  91. @Cyril, from you second “corrected reference” about halfway down, the chart it clearly show 2009 levels at 500GJ per ton U3O8 produced.

    Then you state 500GJ for the full 3711 tonnes produced?

    And in 2013 they have jumped up to 700GJ per ton U3O8….see they have became 40% worse in imput energy.
    They also fail to include all the energy inputs, for instance the energy to create and transport all of their explosive devices is not part of their “energy input”
    BNC MODERATOR
    BNC Comments Policy does not allow for personal attacks on contributors. Your breach of this rule has been deleted.

  92. “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear power.

    Page 13 has a chart of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production. Nuclear power produces less greenhouse gas [CO2] than any other source, including coal, natural gas, hydro, solar and wind. Building wind turbines and towers also involve industrial processes such as concrete and steel making.

    Wind turbines produce a total of 58 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Nuclear power plants produce a total of 30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, the lowest.

    Coal plants produce the most, between 966 and
    1306 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Solar power produces between 100 and 280 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Hydro power produces 240 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Natural gas produces between 439 and 688 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

    Remember the total is the sum of direct emissions from burning fuel and indirect emissions from the life cycle, which means the industrial processes required to build it. Again, nuclear comes in the lowest.

    The enrichment process in the US takes a lot of the 30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour because we still use the WW2 gas diffusion plant for enrichment. Centrifuges use less power and future methods will use even less energy to enrich uranium. The latest method I have heard of uses a laser to ionize U235 only and extract by electrostatic action. The 3 extra neutrons are enough to change the spectrum of absorption/emission slightly.

  93. “Nuclear power plants produce a total of 30 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, the lowest.”

    Sounds way too high.

    Like I showed, mining is 2 grams CO2/kWh using the worst grade uranium being mined today.

    Construction is about 1 gram/kWh (for 40 year life).

    Enrichment is less than 1 gram/kWh if it is powered by nuclear, as in France, and which it will in a nuclear powered world. Remember, we are not interested in powering nuclear enrichment facilities with coal fired powerplants. That’s just being silly. We are interested in how far to push nuclear. In a nuclear powered world I expect mining to be about 1 gram CO2/kWh and construction about 0.1 gram/kWh (nuclear powered steel and cement making).

    But I think we can justify 5 grams CO2/kWh while we are making the transition, and 1-2 grams CO2/kWh when we are nuclear powered.

  94. “Solar power produces between 100 and 280 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.”

    Interestingly it turns out there are no solar powered solar cell factories or solar powered solar module assembly plants. The power comes from coal primarily and fossil fuels almost totally. This is the main reason for their high CO2 emissions. They are produced with fossil, transported with fossil, and installed and serviced with more fossil power and liquid fuels.

    This tells us something about how serious solar is as an energy source. Similarly there are no wind powered wind turbine manufacturing facilities. What does this tell us about the application of solar and wind as industrial scale energy solutions?

    Nuclear enrichment facilities (most energy intensive step in the nuclear cycle) are often powered by their own nuclear reactors. This was the case in France until recently when they replaced the gaseous diffusion plant with more efficient gas centrifuges. This freed up 3-4 nuclear reactors (!) to feed to the grid again rather than powering the antiquated diffusion plant.

  95. I think that there are NO diffusion plants left in the world now. Here is a quote from the World Nuclear Association:
    “The Paducah plant had a capacity of 8 million SWU/yr, compared with the 12.7 million SWU/yr required by the 104 then operational US reactors. The Paducah plant closed at the end of May 2013 after more than 60 years operation.”

    Paducah was the last diffusion plant running.

    Any energy calculation using numbers from a diffusion plant are really out of date!

  96. “quoting your reference
    In 2008, the mine used energy of 14.09mj/t of ore processed higher than the annual target of 117mj/t of ore processed.

    huh? 14 is higher than 117? And this is ore processed, you said it was uranium oxide.”

    14 plus 117 is higher than 117. But yes, this is for raw ore processed, the second ref is better as it considers the more pure U3O8.

    “Then you state 500GJ for the full 3711 tonnes produced?”

    That was my error, which I corrected later. Multiply by 3711 tonnes to get the total mine consumption which is around 1 million GJ. This is an order of magnitude lower than what Lenzen is saying the mine is using.

    “And in 2013 they have jumped up to 700GJ per ton U3O8….see they have became 40% worse in imput energy.”

    Nope. The most recent year was lower energy per ton than the year before. They are doing planned expansion, repair etc work in the mine and also the ore grade varies so the energy use varies. Averaging 600 GJ/ton over longer periods it seems. No real increasing energy consumption trend is seen overall.

    “They also fail to include all the energy inputs, for instance the energy to create and transport all of their explosive devices is not part of their “energy input””

    Explosive devices are a small extra energy source in mining. Operating the heavy machinery is far more energy intensive. Though you can add a generous extra energy if you are worried. It hardly matters with mining EROEI of 500. Say they use as much explosive as they use other thermal input fuels. Then the mining EROEI changes to 250. Still huge.

  97. “I think that there are NO diffusion plants left in the world now.”

    Looks like you’r right Martin! This is a very good argument for us to criticise all EROEI/LCA studies using diffusion in the mix (which is most of the previous ones).

  98. Ok lets do a reality check.

    The energy sinks in the nuclear cycle are clearly mining and enrichment; everything else is totally marginal (construction materials, fuel fabrication energy return is enormous, >1000).

    A kg of U3O8 makes about 50000 kWh of electricity in a modern nuclear light water reactor (most of it actually goes to enrichment tailing rather than actually physically ending up in reactor fuel).

    To get that kg, we have expended 600 GJ/ton or 600 MJ/kg at the Rossing mine using poor grade ore. This is 167 kWh/kg U3O8. Lets make that 200 kWh to account for explosives used if the previous commenter was right (this is a LOT of explosives, hundreds of thousands of gigajoules worth, and would actually blow the mine apart but lets use it as a conservative estimate).

    The other big fish is enrichment. Modern centrifuge uses 50 kWh per SWU and about 50 SWU./kWh for modern fuel enrichment levels. This leads us to invest 250 kWh per kg of reactor fuel. Fortunately this is not so much in terms of the more volumous initial U3O8, it should be roughly 20 kWh/kg U3O8.

    So we have added the two dominant energy sinks with conservative margin. But we only have invested 220 kWh of thermal/chemical energy and we got 50000 kWh of electrical energy in return.

    This suggests EROEI must be at least 200 using the worst ore grade fuel today and today’s enrichment mix (no more diffusion) and modern LWRs.

  99. Pingback: The Climate Change Debate Thread - Page 4373

  100. In case you’re wondering; if embodied energy of materials is 10000 times less than the life plant output, then that means the energy input is (50000/10000) = 5 kWh per kg U3O8.

    So, inputs:
    mining: 200 kWh
    enrichment: 20 kWh
    construction 5 kWh is 225 kWh out of 50000 kWh yield.

    Total input: 225 kWh.

    Output: 50000 kWh of electricity.

    EROEI 222.

  101. I checked the Lenzen paper again. He multiplies all electrical input by a factor of 3 to account for effciency; assuming it comes from a nuclear reactor then. But Lenzen considers only electrical output for the EROEI of the nuclear plant, so this is an unfair factor. It is already included in the fact that Lenzen measures electrical output. So Lenzen exaggerates all electrical inputs by a factor of 3. Lenzen exaggerates uranium centrifuge energy need by a factor of 3-4. Lenzen exaggerates mining energy by an order of magnitude but chooses to ignore real data from a real mine and in stead use statistical tricks of made up correlations and extrapolations.

    Lenzen further claims that average of fuel fabrication is about 3000 GJ/tonU. Or 3000 MJ/kg. For comparison the energy needed to VAPORIZE uranium metal is 1.75 MJ/kg.

    http://crescentok.com/staff/jaskew/isr/ptable/92.htm

    So what Lenzen is saying is that fuel fabrication of uranium requires an energy input that is equivalent to vaporizing all of the uranium ONE THOUSAND AND SEVEN HUNDRED TIMES OVER. Uh-hu.

    What a disappointment.
    BNCMODERATOR
    Your comment has been edited to remove a pejorative remark about another as per BNC Comments Policy.

  102. Cyril – It’s enough to point out the fellow’s numbers are wrong. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they just got something wrong, not that they are actively lying. There are some actual liars out there, but most people in this debate are one or more of badly informed, cognitively biased, used poor sources, or simply made mistakes. Has anyone here tried engaging Lenzen about his paper, pointing out (politely) that there is good reason to think that his numbers simply cannot be right?

    Anyway thank you all for another enlightening discussion.

    One thing I wanted to clarify: Engineer-Poet posted embodied energy numbers for steel and concrete. Do those include the ore-mining aspects, or are they just manufacturing energy? I assume the former otherwise it’s not very useful, but the post did not clarify.

    Like pp251 I am not convinced yet that renewables + storage is impossible (whilst maintaining approx current civilisation level), but it is clear that there are significant challenges, and people need to do their sums right.
    BNC MODERATOR
    Your post has been edited to remove a comment on Cyril’s last post. The pejorative has been deleted in line with BNC Comments Policy.

  103. It appears that reading through peer reviewed energy analysis and finding massive and elementary errors in the analysis makes me lose my temper. Perhaps it is just a form of disappointment in seeing the scientific system fail at times. I don’t know Lenzen personally.

    Good point also about the mining energy. I haven’t yet seen a study that includes mine energy though most studies include ore preparation.

    It appears to not matter anything because the energy is so small compared to reducing the oxygen away….

    http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/oee/pdf/publications/industrial/mining/open-pit/Open-Pit-Mines-1939B-Eng.pdf

    Typical value looks to be 35000 kWh/kiloton. This is 0.126 GJ/ton. Definately in the margin of error bars for iron and steel production, which is very senstive to things like the assumption on how much steel is recycled, plant efficiency etc. Worst case with no recycled material and old crappy steel mills you get 40 GJ/ton but that’s not a representative situation. I think E-Ps 20 GJ/ton is a bit low but there are modern plants that operate with that performance. Full recycled steel smelters are much lower than 15 GJ/ton for example.

    I’ve started doing my own rough LCA and here is what I came up with so far:

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=55&t=4449&p=59815#p59815

  104. I have been following the discussion of energy needed to produce energy. The more detailed the discussion becomes for more interesting it becomes. We get to think about recycling steel as a way to save energy and which technology is used to enrich uranium and how carbon intensive the electricity is. If we make something in France instead of China less CO2 is produced because the electricity is almost carbon free.

    Is there a way to think about the amount of CO2 generated to build or run a nuclear plant? The type of cement would make a difference and where things were made would make a difference. Each plant would be different.

    If our goal is to lower CO2 use, then calculating how much we use seems reasonable but really difficult.

  105. Martin, yes it is possible to calculate the amount of CO2 generated to build and operate a nuclear plant. It is called life cycle analysis, LCA. The amount of CO2 generated by the construction of the nuclear plant is around 1 gram CO2 per kWh.

    The LCAs provided in the links in this thread provide detailed data on real plants like the Forsmark plant.

    I will add a CO2 balance in my own rough LCA later on. I already have the major material streams so it is not so hard.

  106. “Cyril, for someone so deeply concerned about scientific rigour, you spend an awful lot of time saying “that is so small it doesn’t matter”. I’m sure it’s just another form of rigour, ignoring things.”

    In LCA, yes that is rigour. Its important to get 90+% of the inputs to get a reasonable estimate. Its important to show that certain things are small, unless it is blatantly obvious that it is. For example the embodied energy of the toothbrushes of the workers of a nuclear plant need not be considered. You could do that on account of rigour, but the LCA would become unreadable.

    In the case of mining iron ore its not so obvious that this is a tiny energy input so it is good to figure it out. According to the source I provided the mining energy is less than 0.2 GJ/ton steel. Consider my working example of the ESBWR:

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=55&t=4449

    0.2 GJ/ton times 50,000 ton steel is 10,000 GJ input. The output is
    2,639,563,200 GJ.

    Thus this input is two hundred and sixty thousand times smaller than the output. This doesn’t change the EROEI at all. Remember, EROEI is not given in ten decimal spaces behind the comma.

    I hope you can see the difference between ignoring a 0.0003% factor vs counting the biggest inputs 300 and 1000% (Lenzen electricity and mining input) or even 10000% (Lenzen fuel fabrication error).

  107. @Cyril

    “Interestingly it turns out there are no solar powered solar cell factories or solar powered solar module assembly plants. The power comes from coal primarily and fossil fuels almost totally. This is the main reason for their high CO2 emissions. They are produced with fossil, transported with fossil, and installed and serviced with more fossil power and liquid fuels.”

    A factory which fabricates all the steel, concrete, fibreglass and electrical parts of windturbines, situated in a windy location and surrounded by a windfarm to power it, and outputting wind turbines ready for delivery and assembly would be impressive to see and a PR triumph. BUT it would very rarely run at full output and mostly run at less-to-considerably-less than full output, and very likely be located somewhere inconvenient for product shipment.

    A facility where all the elements are purified and componentry printed for solar PV panels and DC inverters, which are then assembled and exported – powered by, you guessed it, a wide warehouse roof (or 2, or 3?) of panels would similarly be positive. Obviously day-shift work, plus weekends, with days in lieu due to clouds and a seasonal workforce (less output in winter).

    Both factories would be unfeasible due to largely idle plant.

    What about a factory for fabricating SMRs? 50-100 MWe units, built on airplane-style assembly lines from steel etc. made in an on-site foundry, all powered by a unit of the same design, which also powers the co-sited fuel manufacturing facility. Full shift rotation output, located where ever there’s a port- or rail-side community that listens to knowledge over paranoia and fearmongering. Scheduled outages every 2 years or so for refueling.

    We may never see such an entirely self-contained factory but it is hugely more realistic, and would be brilliant PR.

  108. Yes, a self powered SMR factory is entirely realistic. It would also mean no grid connection is needed. With my case of the ESBWR though it isn’t so easy. 1550 MWe is a bit much power to put away into a factory. As most of the energy demand of construction is actually in the process of making the metals, the near equivalent of a “self powered factory” would be nuclear steelmaking. That’s hard, though. Mining the uranium is even more energy intenstive than all the materials of construction combined, so a SMR in a mine + as much equipment electrified as possible, would be more useful in lifecycle terms than powering the SMR factory itself with a SMR.

    Enrichment plants are often powered by their own nuclear reactors. Well, actually that was the case with the wasteful diffusion plants; today the dedicated enrichment reactors are freed up to power the grid. In the case of Tricastin in France, when they closed the diffusion plant recently they freed up a massive 3000 MWe of nuclear reactor capacity that was used to power the diffusion process! Whoever said that nuclear and negawatts don’t go together?

  109. Also I should stress that the inputs in the nuclear cycle are tiny. So even if all of it is diesel and coal, and we power all the world except the nuclear fuel cycle with LWRs (which is a silly argument of course!) then the CO2 emission and fossil fuel usage would still be tiny and totally acceptable.

  110. “Cyril, maybe you should put all this research into a paper that can be reviewed by your peers?”

    I prefer open science approach. Anyone can comment on this forum and the Energy From Thorium Forum. Once the LCA is complete maybe I’ll make a single PDF or XCEL file.

    My faith in peer review (limited number of people reviewing, no transparency toward the outside world) has taken a beating in recent years. It appears there are too many scientists with double agendas especially in the field of nuclear and solar energy analysis.

  111. Weissbach would certainly qualify for having a double agenda. He deliberately used decades old data for wind and solar to make them look bad. His other papers also make it clear that he’s not interested in research but nuclear propaganda.

  112. “Weissbach would certainly qualify for having a double agenda. He deliberately used decades old data for wind and solar to make them look bad. His other papers also make it clear that he’s not interested in research but nuclear propaganda.”

    Partly agree. Not on the nuclear part – EROEI of 75 is too low based on both my own research (215) and official LCAs (220 ish).

    It isn’t clear what the assumptions are on the lower EROEI, so its hard to dissect all of the Weissbach info.

  113. Pingback: Is alternative energy worth it? « DON AITKIN

  114. One guy claimed thin-film solar PV was now so much more energy efficient to produce that it would have an EROEI of about 75. Which begs the question: when does the renewable ERoEI get high enough to subsidise storage ERoEI?

  115. If you have energy inputs for storage then you can just subtract that amount from solar EROEI.

    Where did you find the claim that thin-film PV has EROEI of 75? Based on Carbajales-Dale paper it’s about 30-40.

  116. EN, nearly all EROI-PV analyses are only looking at the energy return based on the IEA-PVPS guidelines. These high figures are not surprising. Weisbach, Prieto and Hall, and myself have tried to take a broader systems-based approach. If you do this, the more energy efficient manufacture of PV panels obeys the law-of-diminishing-returns where the system and system and storage energy dominates, see my figure here –

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/86557865/EiA_figure_23.pdf

  117. Hi PPP251, it was just a blogger raving over at Cleantechnica. I didn’t find any evidence for the claim, but it set me to wondering.

    What if the thin films are 30 to 40? The ERoEI would be ten times better than the ERoEI 1:1 listed above. We’re talking maybe an overall energy return of 9 to 10, as good as solar thermal + storage, or better if we take the higher ERoEI or 40? It’s not the overall ERoEI of 12 that the modern world requires, but I don’t know how they came up with that figure. What are the assumptions? Does that include a car-heavy society like America, or one that uses half the oil / capita like Europe? What if we wanted to move away from car-based society anyway: for health and community and traffic and city design reasons. Then we wouldn’t have to waste all that energy charging up whatever alternative to oil we adopt. (Whether batteries or hydrogen or boron or other synfuels).

  118. Pingback: Back to the Sustainable Energy Transition: The Physics of Sustainability and Some Tweets About it. | ClimateChangeFork

  119. The article assumes a Solar PV EROEI of 3.9, which is then reduced to 1.6 with storage. What if we’re talking about thin-film solar PV at an ERoEI of 60? Then (from an ERoEI point of view only, not considering economics) Solar PV would be 24.61.
    A civilisation of thin-film solar PV covering every rooftop and massive fields in the desert, with huge pumped seawater hydro “batteries” for backup, then becomes an option, ERoEI-wise at least. It would probably be vastly easier and cheaper to whack in some nukes: but that is not the focus of this article.

    “Vasilis Fthenakis of Brookhaven National Laboratory has a study showing an EROEI of 60 for thin film solar in the USA Southwest based on First Solar’s 11.9% efficient panels in 2009.[8] The solar cell level efficiency as of August 2014 is 21% for First Solar.[9] In addition, he has co-authored another paper demonstrating that if one uses a consistent methodology, solar photovoltaic EROEI matches that of fossil fuels.[10]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested#cite_note-7

  120. EN, you’re not following the maths, and you didn’t look at my figure above ! :)

    The whole point of John’s article is that the storage embodied energy needs to be added to the system energy – it doesn’t matter whether the PV panel EROI is 10:1 or 1,000,000:1, the storage and other system energies dominate the resulting EROI once you assume the storage is going to be an essential part of the system.

    put simply, EROI = Output / (PV + batt)

  121. What? That makes no sense. How can we possibly say that Solar PV of ERoEI 4 + storage = 1.6, but thin film with an ERoEI of 60 is still in trouble? How did it get the ERoEI of 60? Greater output? Longer lifespan for greater output? Vastly more efficient production? Assuming output is the same and the solar PV is just vastly, vastly more efficient to make, we’re dividing the solar PV portion by 15 times less ERoEI.

  122. How did it get the ERoEI of 60?

    Thin film uses much less material and it’s much less energy intensive than silicon. Cell efficiency has also significantly improved in recent years. This is how EROEI has improved. That being said 60 still seems a bit high, but 30-40 is entirely plausible.

    The biggest uncertainty is what are energy requirements for storage. This is further complicated because storage is not integrated in a straightforward way.

    For example Denmark is dumping their excess wind power into district heating system, and when wind calms down they fire up cogeneration. How do you account energy requirements for this kind of system? District heating would be there in any case.

  123. Pingback: The Latest Data Contradicts Myths About Renewable Energy | RocketNews

  124. I believe the low Esoi of storage to dominate according to the inverse of the energy source’s Capacity Factor. If solar with Eroei of 10 has a CF of 20% then (without vast regional distances) 4/5ths of the setup must be for storage (and if without input from other sources). If the storage was ammonia at, say an Esoi of 0.5, then (I think) the overall Eroei is only 1. The math (I think) being the 0.2 amount of solar to charge all the storage at 0.5 is to simply multiply the two and then multiply that by the source’s Eroei… .2x.5×10=1

    If the storage was a LiFePO4 battery at, say 10, Then 0.2 x 10 x 10 for an overall … error of 20, a higher than original Eroei!

    Somebody, please help…

  125. Nevermind… If Eroei is 1000 watts and the ratio is 10, then it takes 100 watts to make source. If that source requires 5x that amount to be stored for 24/7 reliable supply, then 500 watts required. If the Esoi of that storage is 10, then just 50 watts additional needed plus whatever extra to account for inefficiency.
    power in = Eroei x CF + 1/Esoi ???

  126. That’s what I was trying to get at but it does take more energy to make the system to make up for capacity factor.
    (apologies for clogging the board with messed up math). I think the problem is me trying to confuse the actual watts input as compared to an efficiency equation.

  127. OK, just did an exercise and I can finally see how Eroi = Out/(PV+storage) really kills it from ever going baseload with today’s technology. Even if they double efficiency to 40% of sunlight, the whole system will still not have a high enough ERoEI. I was so excited about that 60, but it’s not 15 times more output, just 15 times less costly to make. That’s the difference. OK. If they make it cheap enough, it might be able to reduce ‘gold plating’ of the grid, but it will never go baseload.

  128. fireofenergy, if you’re interested in how ESOI changes EROI then the math is as follows. Let’s assume ESOI of 10 (as in lithium batteries) and EROI of 20 (as in silicon PV).

    Buffered EROI = (unbuffered EROI – X) / (1 + X),

    where X is part of energy return that is needed to produce storage. It’s basically just EROI / ESOI.

    So in my case we get buffered EROI = 6. If thin film PV is used (EROI = 35) then we get 7, so not much difference. Low ESOI dominates. If you use pumped hydro (ESOI = 200) and thin film, then we get about 30, which is much better.

    So in order to have high buffered EROI high ESOI is required. Batteries are not good (though they may have other uses). Pumped hydro, compressed air and electrolysis (chemical storage in general) are suitable for this task.

  129. OK, just did an exercise and I can finally see how Eroi = Out/(PV+storage) really kills it from ever going baseload with today’s technology.

    Today’s storage is a consequence of historical energy sources. New energy sources will lead to new technologies. You may want to check some of these:

    SustainX – compressed air storage (reuses heat)
    Lightsail – another version of compressed air with heat reuse
    Isentropic – pumped heat storage
    Highview – liquid air storage

    All of these have low material requirements and could be deployed anywhere locally. When there’s enough demand some of these technologies will hit the market.

  130. A little reality check…

    If we assume 1 week of storage, this is 7×24 = 168 kWh per kWp solar PV.

    If we assume battery of 0.1 kWh/kg, then 1680 kg of battery are needed for every kWp of PV.

    If we assume battery to have an embodied energy of 50 MJ/kg (?) then to make the battery we need 50×1680 = 84000 MJ of energy.

    That’s a lot.

    A kWp of PV, at a good location makes 1500 kWh per year, 5400 MJ.

    So for the PV to regain the energy needed to make the battery, the PV and the battery must operate for 15.55 years at 100% efficiency.

    Since the battery can’t operate that long and at that efficiency, this suggests that at the scale of powering a nation, the amount of energy storage makes PV powered countries have EROEI below 1.

    It would be interesting to see the comparison for a week of pumped hydro storage.

  131. Cyril, battery embodied energy seems fine (this paper says that PbA requires about 25MJ/kg and Lion about 150MJ/kg), but your assumption about one week of storage per 1 kWp is dubious at best. Why not 10 kWp? Or 100 kWp? If you want to charge 168kWh battery with 1kWp PV you won’t get anywhere. But you will get with 10kWp or 100kWp.

    Also battery lifetime mostly depends on number of cycles, not age. Assume PbA has 1000 cycles at 33% discharge and 75% efficiency. This implies that during it’s lifetime 1kWh of storage could store 500kWh of electricity. This is the main factor determining battery life.

    1kWh PbA battery weighs about 20kg, so you need about 500MJ or 140kWh to produce it (numbers from link above). 1kWp PV would return this energy in less than a year. If you want 100kWh battery and 1kWp PV then energy is returned in 10 years.

    But I doubt that anyone would consider 1kWp PV and 100kWh battery. That’s a factor of 100. Germany has annual 600TWh electricity demand and they calculated that they need 30TWh of storage capacity to get through cloudy windless days. That’s a factor of 0.05. This is what simulations show.

    This aspect is also interesting: PbA can store 500kWh but it needs 140kWh to make it. This gives you ESOI (energy stored on energy invested) of about 3.5. Some published papers say it’s about 2, which is close enough.

    Low ESOI significantly reduces buffered EROI, as I’ve already written above. Lithium has ESOI of about 10 (due to more cycles and better efficiency), but that’s still very low compared to pumped hydro and compressed air (200+).

  132. Just a minor correction: 1kWp PV (1000kWh per annum) and 100kWh battery is the same ratio as 600TWh per annum and 60TWh battery. Fraunhofer simulations have shown that 30TWh of storage capacity is needed for Germany.

  133. “your assumption about one week of storage per 1 kWp is dubious at best. Why not 10 kWp? Or 100 kWp? If you want to charge 168kWh battery with 1kWp PV you won’t get anywhere. But you will get with 10kWp or 100kWp.”

    Because, that is a week of storage, which is the amount you’d need to power a modern civilization with a high reliability from the sun. You also need a huge overbuild of panels on top of that to account for winter, which I haven’t considered yet.

    “Also battery lifetime mostly depends on number of cycles, not age. ”

    Wrong, it depends on both. Batteries have a cycle life and shelf life. If you use them often, the cycle life becomes the limit. If you use them not so often, the shelf life becomes the limit. Batteries will not last 15 years on average for an inservice application, even for a rarely used backup this is optimistic.

    “1kWh PbA battery weighs about 20kg, so you need about 500MJ or 140kWh to produce it (numbers from link above). 1kWp PV would return this energy in less than a year. If you want 100kWh battery and 1kWp PV then energy is returned in 10 years.”

    Thanks for the numbers, basically the same conclusion. So 10 years of output just to cover the battery, which has a shelf life of around 10 years so EROEI near 1, and we only have a couple days worth of battery which isn’t enough. We’re not going to do this:

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/08/nation-sized-battery/

    “But I doubt that anyone would consider 1kWp PV and 100kWh battery. That’s a factor of 100. Germany has annual 600TWh electricity demand and they calculated that they need 30TWh of storage capacity to get through cloudy windless days. That’s a factor of 0.05. This is what simulations show.”

    Wrong again. 1 year and one hour are entirely different time units, newsflash!

    0.05 year = 438 hours of storage. a LOT more than you and I calculated here. Clearly we are underestimating!!

    “This aspect is also interesting: PbA can store 500kWh but it needs 140kWh to make it.”

    Another poor performance figure indicating that PV with battery storage is no good for powering countries.

  134. Because, that is a week of storage, which is the amount you’d need to power a modern civilization with a high reliability from the sun.

    It’s an arbitrarily chosen number. You could just as easily have picked a week of storage per 10kWp PV and energy return would have dropped significantly.

    Another poor performance figure indicating that PV with battery storage is no good for powering countries.

    That’s true at present, but in future it may change. Lithium ion chemistry has already shown in transportation sector that it can outperform combustion engine. The same may happen in grid energy storage.

  135. ppp251, I don’t understand what “x” is. I used “1” because that is the “part” of 10 that is used to make the storage. I came up with 9.5 (instead of 6). We can’t just divide EROI by ESOI (20/10= just 2). I guess that part would always be the “1” out of whatever ESOI and thus leads me to believe I don’t really understand it.

    The third variable, capacity factor, would seem to have a major role and would seem to have to be part of an equation, along with efficiency of storage.

    Thanks, I might get it eventually!

  136. “It’s an arbitrarily chosen number. You could just as easily have picked a week of storage per 10kWp PV and energy return would have dropped significantly.”

    No, EROEI is the same because the per Watt output is the same for the 10 kWp as it is for the 1 kWp.

    A week of storage for 10 kWp is 1680 kWh. A week of storage of 1 kWp is 168 kWh. The “one week of storage” is storage Wh per Wp panel you have.

    The number of one week is arbitrary, but it is also too small as the Fraunhofer data shows, you need 400+ hours of storage, more like 2-3 weeks than 1 week. So you’d need a complicated system with partial battery and partial inefficient hydrogen storage of some sort. You’d then have quadruple systems, overbuild of PV plus overbuild in battery plus overbuild in long term hydrogen storage plus fossil backup. Completely inefficient, costly and unrealistic.

    “That’s true at present, but in future it may change. Lithium ion chemistry has already shown in transportation sector that it can outperform combustion engine. The same may happen in grid energy storage.”

    Your own reference showed Li-ion to require 150 MJ/kg rather than the 25 MJ/kg of PbA, and the energy density improvement doesn’t make up for it. So Li-ion would need a far larger

  137. That’s true at present, but in future it may change

    Lead acid (PbA) has the lowest embodied energy of the major chemistries, lithium is still way behind PbA, and pumped hydro is much, much better than both of these. We can turn this problem around and look at it in different ways, try out different scenarios, imagine a smart grid, but the basic conclusion seems to always point in the same direction – storage kills the EROI of PV no matter how cheap the PV becomes.

    Better distributed storage will enable solar to provide a valuable network support role, and this is where we should be targeting our efforts. However the underlying EROI problem would seem to preclude PV from a primary or baseload role, the sooner this is recognised the better so we can move on.

  138. fireofenergy, you can try to think of it this way: EROI of 20 means that it takes 1 year to pay the energy back, then you have additional 20 years of energy surplus.

    ESOI of 10 similarly means that it takes 1 year of storage to cover for material needs, then you have 10 additional years of storage for other use. That’s the same as 2 years to cover for material needs and 20 years for other use (we want to have the same lifespan as in EROI).

    Actually I realized a small correction needs to be added to my formula, we need to normalize ESOI to total of 21 years (instead of 22). So we get about 1.9 years to cover for material needs and 19.1 years of additional storage. I hope this correction won’t confuse things even more.

    So if you have EROI of 20 and you add ESOI of 10 (normalized to 21 year lifetime) then you need in total 2.9 years for energy payback, but you only have 18.1 years left for other use. So buffered EROI becomes 18.1/2.9 = 6.2.

    Hope this makes sense.

  139. No, EROEI is the same because the per Watt output is the same for the 10 kWp as it is for the 1 kWp.

    EROI of PV without storage is the same, but buffered EROI is not the same. It’s different if you have 1kWp of PV and 168kWh battery, or if you have 10kWp of PV and 168kWh battery.

    The number of one week is arbitrary, but it is also too small as the Fraunhofer data shows, you need 400+ hours of storage, more like 2-3 weeks than 1 week. So you’d need a complicated system with partial battery and partial inefficient hydrogen storage of some sort.

    Well, Fraunhofer says that 30TWh is needed for whole German electricity demand, which is 600TWh. So it’s 5% of demand. Your example is 1500kWh annual PV and 168kWh of storage, which is a bit over 10%, so twice as much.

    In terms of energy payback it’s the bulk storage that dominates. If partial battery (for peak shaving) and partial hydrogen storage (for weeks of storage) is used, then it’s hydrogen that will dominate energy payback.

    Your own reference showed Li-ion to require 150 MJ/kg rather than the 25 MJ/kg of PbA, and the energy density improvement doesn’t make up for it.

    My other link (this one) shows that higher energy density, better efficiency and more cycles do make up for it. PbA has ESOI of 2, while Li-ion has about 10. So on a lifetime basis Li-ion is much better.

    While that’s still a long way from pumped hydro and compressed air (200+), I don’t rule out that improvements would someday make batteries viable for bulk storage.

  140. So lets use the Fraunhofer data of 30 TWh and 140 kWh/kWh embodied energy.

    This means 4200 TWh to make a nation sized PbA battery. More than twice that for Li-Ion.

    That’s 7 YEARS worth of total German electric production of 600 TWh/year. Maybe 14 years for Li-Ion.

    So, the nation sized battery would consume just about all of Germany’s electricity production. 7 years would be a typical Pb-A lifetime, on average (Li-Ion also might last 14 years?).

    Clearly we are not going to do this.

    What about hydrogen storage? Well hydrogen has low input energy for the storage infrastructure, just compressors and underground caverns. Unfortunately hydrogen has an electrolyser efficiency of only 70%, then 10-15% storage loss, then 55% efficient CCGT or fuel cell. Some hydrogen would be lost also in the caverns. Total should be around 1/3 round trip efficiency. This isn’t going to happen, for different reasons: it is economically and ecologically stupid to take 3 intermittent kWhs to make 1 kWh of reliable power, on a scale of nation wide energy consumption!

    The idea of making hydrogen to inject to the natural gas network is even less efficient due to distribution compressor energy consumption and low use efficiency of the general gas grid (eg using natgas to heat homes with furnaces isn’t as efficient as using electric heat pumps).

    Pumped hydro is probably the only option, but no way that Germany is going to find the suitable topology and geology for 30 TWh of pumped hydro. Currently the Germans have built 0.06 TWh of pumped hydro, with great effort. They would need 500 times more pumped storage than they have today!! That’s the most mature grid energy storage tech there is!

    We’re not even talking about electric vehicles or electric heat pump space heating, not to mention electrification of industry and commercial sectors. This could push the electric demand to over 1000 TWh for Germany and perhaps a 50 TWh energy storage system would be needed, further compounding the problems.

  141. Pumped hydro is probably the only option, but no way that Germany is going to find the suitable topology and geology for 30 TWh of pumped hydro.

    Norway has 84TWh of storage in their hydro lakes, but pumped hydro is not an option on global scale. On global scale only chemical storage (hydrogen/methane) seems to be able to provide bulk storage.

    This isn’t going to happen, for different reasons: it is economically and ecologically stupid to take 3 intermittent kWhs to make 1 kWh of reliable power, on a scale of nation wide energy consumption!

    It’s only 5% of total annual demand, so it is technically doable.

    If you can read German here is more detailed information: Kombikraftwerk 2.

    Or a short english summary.

  142. how much energy is needed for pumped storage facilities?

    Just quickly, from Weisbach’s supplementary spreadsheet (pumped hydro worksheet) –

    http://tinyurl.com/nzdd968

    The cumulative energy demand for Atdorf is 31 PJ with storage capacity of 52 TJ equates to 0.6 MJ/Wh (contrast PbA about 0.8 MJ/Wh and lithium 2 MJ/Wh) BUT essentially no cycle limit and a lifetime of 100+ years.

    (need to double check the figures and also check other data)

  143. So that’s 167 kWh embodied/kWh capacity for pumped hydro.

    And 222 kWh for PbA.

    PPP251 has a lower figure, says 140 kWh for PbA.

    Its hard to see why pumped hydro wouldn’t be much better. Its just mostly a bunch of concrete when you get down to it, which is very low energy intensity. Pumps themselves have high power density.

  144. Just playing devils advocate for a second:
    this sea-water pumped hydro could power the whole of Australia for 10 hours. (Very expensive though. May as well just build 10 nukes for your dough!) It’s 7km in diameter.

    http://energy.unimelb.edu.au/uploads/Australian_Sustainable_Energy-by_the_numbers3.pdf

    Does Germany have enough high seaside to build a number of these things? Still got the ERoEI problem if only using wind and pv, but once we get into solar thermal things get interesting. An ERoEI of 9 might mean a more energy tight civilisation, but if we change town planning rules and use electric transport like trains and trams and trolley buses, then maybe that would compensate for the lost ERoEI points.

  145. Germany has no high sea sides. Nor has it good solar thermal resource. It is very cloudy so you cant concentrate the light.renewable germany means mostly pv powered germany. Which sucks so far up north.

  146. Cyril, this Denholm paper gives 373 GJ(th)/MWh (table 2), which is 0.37 MJ/Wh – contrast with 0.6 MJ/Wh from Weisbach above so this is in the ballpark. This gives electrical/generators as the main energy cost followed by dam construction, then tunneling.

    The raw MJ/Wh for storage is due to the upfront cost, but the long life and low maintenance LCA works out a huge advantage for hydro in the long run, hence the very high EROI of dammed hydro. Intuitively, like you, I would have thought it better for storage but I guess the low energy density of gravity-derived power works against hydro.

  147. “On global scale only chemical storage (hydrogen/methane) seems to be able to provide bulk storage.”

    PPP, that’s not going to happen as I outlined already, it is only 1/3 efficiency so you need to put in 3 kWh of solar or wind to make 1 kWh of reliable power. That’s crazy it will not happen except in the minds of renewables enthusiasts who live on a different planet.

    “It’s only 5% of total annual demand, so it is technically doable.”

    No it isn’t. The annual demand is consumed without storage. You’re switching metrics to make an enormous problem sound small. Germany has 0.05 to 0.06 TWh of pumped hydro. This took many years to develop. They need 5% of 600 TWh or 30 TWh. With electric vehicles and such included this is going to get to 1000 TWh so 50 TWh of pumped hydro, nearly 1000 times today’s installed capacity. This doesn’t fit in Germany which doesn’t have that much correct topology and geology for such massive amounts of water. Tom Murphy has come to the same conclusion:

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/11/pump-up-the-storage/

    “Cyril, this Denholm paper gives 373 GJ(th)/MWh (table 2), which is 0.37 MJ/Wh – contrast with 0.6 MJ/Wh from Weisbach above so this is in the ballpark. This gives electrical/generators as the main energy cost followed by dam construction, then tunneling.”

    Thanks Graham. Surprisingly large then. This is 3100 TWh for the 30 TWh that Germany needs to power itself with solar and wind. That’s more than 5 years of all of Germany’s electrical output of 600 TWh!!! We can be sure Germany isn’t going to make that kind of energy investment even if they wanted to – they have a country to power, so shutting down Germany for the next 5 years is hardly an option! This is clearly not going to happen in any reasonable timeframe….

    Whats more, using unreliable power to make the pumped storage equipment is hardly an option, so this will have to be made with fossil fuels. Still I suppose this would be a decent use of remaining fossil fuels, if only there were enough pumped storage potential in Germany…

    Now lets take a look at EROEI again. IF you have enough pumped storage potential (not Germany) that is of course which most countries won’t have.

    If the pumped storage lasts 100 years and is used 50% of theoretical capacity with a 1/20th total country capacity, that means 10 cycles per year (this sounds low but the capacity is enormous). This is 1000 cycles over 100 years. This is 3000 TWh output. The input was 3100 TWh so the EROEI of storage is around 1.

    But maybe its a little better, since bigger (actualy GINORMOUS) reservoirs, don’t need more turbine capacity. On the other hand the extra electrical power lines to transport all that unreliable power (low capacity factor grid from solar/wind to storage site) plus the energy required to make the solar and wind generators isn’t included yet. Even ignoring those inputs altogether the EROEI looks really poor.

    This sort of confirms the main article of this thread. I’m not a big fan of trying to power countries with wind and solar, it is for dreamers as far as I’m concerned, but I never realized this energy investment issue to be so serious.

  148. No wait, decimal error, that’d be 1000×30 = 30000 TWh output so EROEI of 9.7 not 1. A little better.

    What is the energy required to operate and maintain pumped hydro over 100 years? This could be a lot since generating equipment doesn’t last that long.

  149. PPP, that’s not going to happen as I outlined already, it is only 1/3 efficiency so you need to put in 3 kWh of solar or wind to make 1 kWh of reliable power.

    I don’t know if you are aware that hydrogen is used in some industrial processes (such as fertilizer production) and non-fossil source of hydrogen is needed anyway (today we get it from natural gas). Bulk energy storage is only one of several uses of hydrogen (or methane for that matter).

    Electrolysis is essentially the only way how we can get it sustainably on global scale but unfortunately there’s no way around some amount of losses in electrolysis, so we’ll just have to live with it.

    Germany has 0.05 to 0.06 TWh of pumped hydro. This took many years to develop. They need 5% of 600 TWh or 30 TWh. With electric vehicles and such included this is going to get to 1000 TWh so 50 TWh of pumped hydro, nearly 1000 times today’s installed capacity.

    Pumped hydro is obviously not going to do this job. It can be useful in daily cycling, but bulk storage will be provided by hydrogen or methane.

    Germany has 200TWh of storage capacity in gas grid, which is enough to power whole country for 2 months (a legacy from cold war). So even if electricity demand increases to 1000TWh there’s still enough storage capacity to get through cloudy windless weeks.

  150. All of this hinges, heavily, on how much storage we need. The studies cited above are virtually nonsense, using models to predict how much storage a national grid needs. There are two problems with this
    1. Why not use existing data? There are lots of places with high penetrations of renewables that we can analyse. And lots of renewable output data so we can analyse how long the wind don’t shine and the sun don’t blow.
    2. They assume demand is constant and doesn’t respond to price signals.

    Response to prices is, and will continue, happening right now. Households and businesses are exploring ways to maximise their onsite use of solar. The economics of this are outstanding at the moment and very easy to pursue with some simple control measures.

    This piece from Greentechmedia http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/questioning-the-value-proposition-of-energy-storage is an excellent summary of the demand-side opportunities available and their economic opportunities

  151. “All of this hinges, heavily, on how much storage we need. The studies cited above are virtually nonsense, using models to predict how much storage a national grid needs”

    Its funny you think the Fraunhofer Institute is full of nonsense. Since its a religious heart of renewable-ism.

    5% of yearly demand isn’t odd.

    ” Why not use existing data? There are lots of places with high penetrations of renewables that we can analyse.”

    Nope. There are no countries being powered by wind and solar. Some countries are being powered by hydro because they have relatively small electric demand combined with lavish hydropower potential.

    Existing data points to a very obvious conclusion: you can power a country with hydro if you have an enormous hydro potential and are not a big energy user. Norway is a good example. Norway has, according to some commenter here, 86 TWh of hydro power storage capacity. Many hundreds of hours of storage of full power country equivalents.

    A more alarming conclusion is also reached by looking at the existing data. Countries that don’t have enough hydro power potential, but are anti-nuclear and want to power themselves with wind and sun, end up guzzling fossil fuels, coal, gas, heck even peat. Anything goes.

    “They assume demand is constant and doesn’t respond to price signals.”

    Demand does “respond” to price signals by moving out of country. Its perfectly possible to chase heavy industry away and import the energy intensive goods from abroad. Energy-elsewhere, and emissions-elsewhere policy.

    Germany is cold and dark in the winter. Lots of electricity and other energy demand, it peaks when its cold and dark and people sit in their homes with artificial lighting and heating. There is nil solar output, and I mean nil. The worst days are 0% capacity factor, typical january weeks are 1-2% capacity factor. That’s nil output.

    Can you count the number of hours in december and january? That’s a decent guestimate of the number of full storage hours you’d need in a PV powered Germany.

    Wind is not of much use because there isn’t enough of it. Renewables folks must depend heavily on PV to power entire countries, or even the world. Which means energy storage on the scale of seasons. Even then there’s a potential of a bad year – or even a bad solar DECADE. Imagine that. Entire continents could be swept in a dark age, literally.

  152. “Response to prices is, and will continue, happening right now. Households and businesses are exploring ways to maximise their onsite use of solar. The economics of this are outstanding at the moment and very easy to pursue with some simple control measures.”

    As long as you have a solid fossil fuel powered grid backbone (not backup, backbone) everything works fine. Solar is on the tit of fossil fuels. Its addicted to the lovely reliable grid that wonderfully masks its unreliability and impotency, its inability to stand on its own.

    Renewables people are good marketeers. They can effectively mask real problems of renewables such as the fact that they are utterly unreliable and dependent on fossil fuel backbone grids, and even make it look like the fossil fuels are the reliability and subsidy problem, even though no such conclusion is supported by the numbers. Its the “magic mirror” of the renewables crowd.

    We numbers-based boring people could learn something from such marketing.

  153. Bulk energy storage is only one of several uses of hydrogen (or methane for that matter).

    Bulk storage of methane within existing gas networks is potentially very promising – this applies to Germany particularly but also other locations. The linepack of Victoria’s natural gas system (just the existing high pressure network) has several days storage and has the benefit that the pressure is regulated at end use so the linepack pressure can freely rise and fall (unlike electricity).

    The two major problems with RPM (renewable power methane) are low cycle efficiency (typically 35% with the most efficiency CCGT, but in practice usually lower), and the very high cost of the electrolyzer, methanation, compression, power electronics etc. There are multiple pathways into and out of methane, all of them more expensive than conventional power generation, so we’re taking an already expensive power source, reducing its efficiency and making it more expensive again. Researchers have been pursuing electrolyers for decades, billions have gone into these areas, but these tend to have limited lives and are very expensive. This is a potentially promising area worth research funding but not a cheap or easy solution.

  154. This paper discusses ‘world grid’, which would also effectively eliminate intermittency:

    The Global Grid

    The idea is to put renewables generators where best resources are (in the deserts, and in good wind sites) and connect all of the world’s continents in a ‘supergrid’.

    HVDC cables have about 3% loss per 1000km and another 0.6% at the terminals. For example distance from New York to Oporto (Portugal) is 5334km, so the losses would sum up to about 17%, which is better than pumped hydro (which typically has about 25% losses). So it’s better to connect Europe and North America than to use pumped hydro.

    The technology is proven and has been in use for some time, although on smaller scales (the longest underwater is 580km Netherlands-Norway, and overhead line 2000km Xiangjiaba–Shanghai HVDC system).

    Lifespan is longer than batteries and embodied energy lower, so this would eliminate intermittency and wouldn’t lower EROEI much.

    Although technically (and as the paper argues also economically) possible this may not be politically feasible in the short term. But in the long term, the technology is there..

  155. ” this may not be politically feasible in the short term.”

    LOL that’s putting it mildy. Global electricity grid… while you are dreaming about politically impossible world uniting plans, CO2 emissions are going UP, every year.

  156. while you are dreaming about politically impossible world uniting plans, CO2 emissions are going UP, every year.

    Long term world grid will be built because it makes sense (no intermittency, less reserves everywhere, very economical..), but short term I agree that countries will go for other options.

    As far as emissions are concerned France uses 75% nuclear, 15% hydro and 10% natural gas, which gives you the same emissions as if you used 75% solar and wind, 15% hydro and 10% natural gas.

    So the path to low carbon economy is not really about nuclear or renewables, it’s about price on carbon (for which Australian backwards government should be criticized) and how we manage economy in society and environment.

  157. I hear you Cyril. Also not mentioned: the fact that it is 20,000 km from the brightest side to the darkest side of the earth. How’s a global grid going to deal with losses like that? Just add a super-storm that clouds up half the globe,and you’re halving the solar output for the globe. (Solar PV can work at about 50% efficiency on cloudy days). Also, for the sunny side to meet the dark side’s energy requirements means doubling or tripling the sunny side’s capacity. EG: Are the wind and waves and solar of Australia, Japan and far eastern Russia going to light up North and South America? I don’t think so. This is wishful thinking that even this particular sci-fi addict can pick holes in! In fact, when considering solar, isn’t it only the sunny third of the Earth that really counts? It’s not even the sunny half, but maybe even the sunny third or quarter of the earth that’s getting the most sunlight. So every time we divide the energy input, we’ve got to triple or quadruple the capacity. Which leaves me wondering (again) just how many times renewable advocates want us to double or triple our capacity?

  158. Sadly, here’s Amory Lovins relying on some snazzy graphics from NREL pulsing with solar PV and solar thermal and wind supply bubbles, apparently showing how America could work with 100% renewables and practically no storage.
    Efficiency, some smart hardware (like ice-box air-conditioning that ‘stores’ cool as ice), and some electric vehicle storage will do the job for us. (And there I was thinking NREL also said that we don’t need to double our daytime power grid capacity if we just charged our EV’s overnight, assuming reliable baseload power! Apparently that’s wrong now too. The EV’s are here to smooth the load, not just charge overnight and, um, actually drive using that power.)

  159. The story of methane and hydro goes back some time …

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=5935732

    And the politics is complex. Brazil really doesn’t want to list methane from its dams in its UNFCCC submissions. Nor are they listed in the Edgar methane inventory. The issue was being discussed when I was writing CSIRO Perfidy back in 2008/9, but it’s not resolved. Lots of people share Brazil’s concern, so the issue is just pushed under the carpet.

  160. “As far as emissions are concerned France uses 75% nuclear, 15% hydro and 10% natural gas, which gives you the same emissions as if you used 75% solar and wind, 15% hydro and 10% natural gas.”

    France actually gets 75% electricity from nuclear.

    The actual number of countries that get 75% wind and solar are zero. None. Zulch. Nada. The square root of jack.

    You are positing a false argument; nakedly asserting that to be demonstrated to be fact and the saying “see I told you so”.

    I can assure that if I had a billion dollars I would not have any problem paying my bills. That is evident. The question is how do you get there?

    75% wind and solar requires massive energy storage, massive overbuilding, and massive spillage. With energy sources that already can’t compete with coal, the latter needs no massive overbuild, spillage and energy storage to burden it down.

  161. The actual number of countries that get 75% wind and solar are zero.

    Which doesn’t imply that it can’t be done. Simulations for several countries show otherwise.

    75% wind and solar requires massive energy storage, massive overbuilding, and massive spillage.

    You obviously didn’t bother to check the numbers from German simulation I linked before. The numbers are as follows:

    • from a total of 680TWh of generated electricity about 59TWh is spilled (überschuss)
    • from 621TWh that remains about 75TWh is used for storage (at various efficiencies)
    • 8.6TWh is lost in the grid and 11TWh is assumed to be exported (based on todays flows)
    • the remaining 523TWh is consumption

    Note that this simulation assumes 80% of wind and solar, not 75%. And this is for 100% renewable grid, not 90%. If 10% of natural gas was used (as in France), then most of the concerns with storage (and asociated losses) are avoided.

    We could argue if 75TWh used for storage is massive or not, but spillage certainly isn’t. France’s nuclear CF is 75%, which is well below 90% which is advertised by nuclear industry. So 15% of energy is effectively spilled (since marginal costs of production would be very small). If Germany spills less than 10% then that does in no way qualify as a “massive overbuild” or “massive spillage”.

  162. Eclipse: “As Climate Change is real, there’s a reason to stick with the A.”

    And that reason would be… to make empty, meaningless gestures to appease the Climate Gods, like our ancestors of old?

  163. Take a deep breath Bart and look at it this way.
    Even if this climate thing turns out to be a ‘conspiracy’, at least it’s getting us to prepare for peak fossil fuels which is going to hit sooner than later. You know the real energy crisis hits half way through the reserves, not when we pump the last drop or burn the last ton? You know that, don’t you?

    You also know that 7 million people die a year from fossil fuel particulates.

    You also know that climate change is the best evidence we have so far, but your politics has darkened your worldview so far that only a tinfoil hat helps you see the light. I suggest taking off that tinfoil hat and tuning in to the real world. It’s inconvenient, but it’s true.

  164. Hi PP251,
    1. We want to imitate France’s quick roll out of nuclear power to displace fossil fuels, not their 10% gas.
    2. Do you have evidence about France’s old reactors’ capacity factors?
    3. Do you know what capacity factors AP1000’s and other modern reactors have?
    4. Do you have any evidence that nukes need 10% gas?

  165. @EN, France has low capacity factor because of load following:

    France’s nuclear reactors comprise 90% of EdF’s capacity and hence are used in load-following mode (see section below) and are even sometimes closed over weekends, so their capacity factor is low by world standards, at 77.3%.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/France/

    It doesn’t matter what is advertised capacity factor of AP1000. If nuclear provided 100% of electricity then nameplate capacity would have to match peak load and capacity factors would fall even further. Because nuclear has high capital costs and low marginal costs this would increase overall costs (and lower EROI for that matter). Natural gas has lower capital costs and higher marginal costs, so it’s better suited to cover peak load and that’s why it’s used.

    The point isn’t that nuclear needs natural gas, the point is that since money drives these things natural gas is used for the last 10%.

    In terms of carbon emissions there is no difference if you used 10% of gas and most of the rest nuclear, or 10% of gas and most of the rest wind and solar.

  166. Wind and solar together, with rare exceptions, provide power less than 35% of the time. That leaves at least 65% of the time for natural gas. You have done nothing more than decorate a natural gas power plant with wind turbines and solar farms. We must not burn any more natural gas at all. We went over the limit in the 1980s. The nuclear plants must load follow regardless of the economics.

  167. A little basic math explains why wind and solar can not power the world. Unpredictable sources need to have storage in at least the inverse of their Capacity Factor. I’m not sure If that is the correct term but I mean if the average global RE CF is 25% then we would have to build 4x and store about 3/4ths of that plus add in the 30% or so extra to make up for inefficiency of storage.
    I believe Pumped Hydro Storage is the cheapest (energywise, also) to build and I believe we would need about 100,000 1km x 2km by 30 meter lakes plus lower storage reservoir – to to store the energy for an all wind and solar powered planetary civilization of just over 10 billion at rather high standards. The solar would cover about 1% of ALL the land and the wind component would require whatever underground power lines to connect millions of floating deep sea turbines. Pretty awesome stuff but the PHS simply covers too much ground. We could convert into clean liquid fuels but that would require even more installed capacity – up to double or more depending on overall efficiency.

    The other renewable energy ways to go are OTEC (its 24/7 too) and, of course, the molten salt reactor (which is a proven passively safe fission concept) capable of providing many thousands of electric exajoules, more than enough to fully develop the entire future population. The OTEC concept would literally pump warmer surface waters into the deep, thereby directly mitigating the effects from most of the excess carbon dioxide caused warming. Some of this energy might have to be used to convert excess carbon dioxide into limestone.

  168. PPP251 wrote: “In terms of carbon emissions there is no difference if you used 10% of gas and most of the rest nuclear, or 10% of gas and most of the rest wind and solar.”

    Rubbish. First off, this article from BNC clearly shows an enormous energy and thus carbon investment is needed to build the energy storage for 90% wind and solar. Second, if you think nuclear’s slight reduction in capacity factor upon supplying most of the demand (load following) is bad, consider the spillage of renewable energy, especially if the storage is too small which it will be for the rest of the century clearly. 90% wind and solar means spillage in excess of 50%. So you halve the capacity factor of wind and solar if they must provide 90% of the energy. Without storage, as is practically the case today for Germany, spillage increases to over 75%. That’s 4x lower capacity factor!!

    France does not use 10% natural gas. More like 4%. And 4% coal, which isn’t used for peaking. So france could eliminate the last 4% coal soon (when Flamanville EPR comes online)

  169. An important addition is that, even if storage scales and is cheap enough, it will be many times more useful for nuclear since you need only a little and the nuclear plants can then be ran as baseload plants.

    Yet renewable enthusiasts such as PPP251 and many others, continue to use the magic playing field where storage is assumed in huge amounts for renewables, yet nuclear must operate without any such storage even though it needs less than 1/10th the storage of renewables.

    Readers will notice this magic playing field comparison everywhere, without exception, from renewables advocates.

  170. Edward Greisch, you are mixing capacity factor and availability. Wind has something like 97-98% availability, which means that in theory with overbuilding wind you could meet 97-98% of demand. In practice there are limits to overbuilding, but German simulations show that it’s possible to get 60% of wind with relatively minor spillage (< 10%).

    If 10% of natural gas bothers you then maybe you should tell that to the French. They have done nothing more than decorate gas turbines with nuclear, to use your kind of language.

    Cyril R, you make the same mistake as Edward. You mix availability with capacity factor. In addition to that, solar is available during times of higher demand (daytime), which means that it can meet higher percentage of demand than it's capacity factor would suggest. You should revise your numbers, preferably with results from simulations that have looked into this more in depth.

    France does not use 10% natural gas. More like 4%. And 4% coal, which isn’t used for peaking. So france could eliminate the last 4% coal soon (when Flamanville EPR comes online)

    You can check real time generation mix for France on this page:

    http://clients.rte-france.com/lang/an/visiteurs/vie/prod/realisation_production.jsp

    It is perfectly clear that coal is ramped up to cover higher daytime load. Fuel oil is also used for peaking. This just reinforces my point about low/high capex and low/high marginal cost generators.

  171. Yet renewable enthusiasts such as PPP251 and many others, continue to use the magic playing field where storage is assumed in huge amounts for renewables, yet nuclear must operate without any such storage even though it needs less than 1/10th the storage of renewables.

    Then maybe you should explain why does German simulation of 100% renewable grid store only 75TWh from a total generation of 680TWh, which amounts to about 11%. Is 9.5%, that France used in 2006 according to your link, less than 1/10th of 11% that Germany would use in 100% renewable scenario? What kind of math is that? Since when is 9.5% on tenth of 11%?

  172. Here’s an interesting piece of math: on cold winter evenings France has peak load of 100GW (link). If they wanted to cover this with nuclear they’d need about 110GW of nameplate capacity (you always need some extra margin). Annual consumption is about 550TWh (according to IEA), which means average load of about 61GW.

    This implies that capacity factor of their hypothethical 100% nuclear fleet would be 56%. Significantly lower than their already low 75%! Such low CF means much higher system costs (because most of the cost for nuclear is upfront) and lower EROI (which, of course, people like Weissbach don’t bother to include in their papers).

    If you want to make 100% nuclear grid, then the last 10% will not be cheap, easy or straightforward. Some exceptions (like Sweden) which are blessed with hydropower may do this without fossil fuels, but for most countries seasonal differences in peak load imply that dispatchable low capex/high opex fossil fuels is the only realistic option available. That’s why France is using coal, gas and fuel oil for the last 10%.

    Unfortunately, there is no alternative to gas turbines to do this. The best we can do is to put a price on carbon and use renewable methane instead.

  173. Cyril R.: Reference: “Don’t Even Think About It [Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change]” by George Marshall, 2014.
    Psychologists quoted by Marshall are very pessimistic. Chances are very good that we will go extinct because of Global Warming [GW].

    Reference book: “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart. The fear started thousands or millions of years ago with the fear of witches, wizardry, magic etc. The design of the human brain is very bad. See “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.

    “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart needs “Religion Explained” as background. A lot of modern first world people do magical thinking rather than logical or scientific thinking [not all logical thinking is scientific]. That is, they think of technology and things they don’t understand as magic. That is especially true of anything “nuclear.”

  174. “can you please unpack spillage and capacity factor for laypeople? How do we measure spillage, and how does that relate to capacity? Thanks.”

    I’m not Cyril, but I can explain a simple version of spillage.

    Suppose you have a grid with 100 GW of demand. For now, just assume constant, no need to deal with peaks for this simple example. Over the course of a year, 8760 hours, that grid will need 100GW X 8760 Hrs = 876,000 GW-Hours of energy in electricity from some source.

    A generator that operates 100% of the time, would just need a capacity of 100 GW to supply our hypothetical grid. 100 GW out, 100 GW in, for 8760 hours per year and 876,000 GWHrs. of energy per year.

    Such an imaginary generator has a capacity factor of 100%.

    Unreliables, like wind and solar only produce energy a small percentage of the time. Let’s say that time is 25%.

    So, one needs 400 GW of wind and solar capacity to generate the amount of energy needed in a year. 400 GW X 25% X 8760 = 876,000 GWHrs of energy per year.

    Absent storage, this still doesn’t satisfy our electricity supply for our hypothetical grid. Sometimes unreliables produce 400 GW. Sometimes they produce 0 GW. Sometimes they produce something in between. They don’t sit and reliably produce 25% of capacity all the time. 25% is an average over time of how much they produce, including the time periods when production is 100% and time periods when it is 0% and all the times with production levels in between.

    This average of percent of maximum electricity production over time is the capacity factor. For the mathematically inclined, if you graphed power from an electricity source vs. time, the capacity factor is the integral of the area under the curve (power*dt) divided by (the maximum power the source is capable of, times the same period of time.)

    100 GW is needed 100% of the time.

    When the source of energy is producing more than 100 GW, then not all the power can be consumed, and some of it must be abandoned. This is spillage.

    And note, that even with 4 times the demand in capacity, there are still times when unreliables will not produce any power. Other times when it will produce far more than 100 GW.

    So one might try to fill in the periods when no power is produced, by building still more unreliables. 8X. 12X. 16X demand in unreliable capacity. Well, as you do this, trying just to be sure you have 100GW all the time, the periods when you have more than 100GW, and can’t use it, keep increasing, and your spillage goes up and up, and your effective capacity factor goes down and down.

    If you had 100 GW of demand and a storage facility that could “charge” at a 300 GW rate, then you could kind of get away with just 4X capacity in unreliables. Except, that storage costs you a substantial percentage of the energy in inefficiencies. And you must be able to output from the storage 100% of the grid demand, and you must be able to input to the storage (((grid_demand/capacity factor) X 1/efficiency) – grid_demand) power at all times in order for this to work. Where efficiency is the efficiency of your storage system.

    Again, if you have efficient, affordable storage, why bother with unreliables? With unreliables, you need enough storage capacity to last your grid a week or three. This is very expensive. With nuclear, enough storage capacity to provide half of the peak demand for a quarter of a day is probably more than sufficient.

  175. I looked at the link to Franc’s electrical supply, thanks. That’s a pretty picture! Wish the rest of the world could do that. Looks like efficiency is starting to kick in too. The fossil fuel component is even less than other’s clean energy components. Again, thanks for the visual for nuclear!

  176. ppp251: To disambiguate: Solar gives you 15% of nameplate power. Wind gives you 20% of the old nameplate power or 23% of the newly lowered nameplate power. Together, that adds up to less than 35%, or 30% of the old nameplate power.
    Solar gives you power near noon. Noon misses the peak demand time by a few hours.
    Wind gives you full power whenever the wind is blowing at optimal speed. Too fast and you shut it down or loose the turbine. Too slow gives you less power, varying as wind speed to some power, 3 or 4.
    Coal does not ramp well. In fact, coal must be kept burning all the time, as in spinning reserve, to ramp up. You may as well just use coal and forget the renewables. You burn almost the same amount of coal either way.
    ppp251: You are dreaming. You are decorating a coal fired power plant with wind turbine “giant flowers.” You are not noticeably lowering your CO2 output. The only way to stop making CO2 is to convert the coal burner to nuclear.

  177. ppp251: cold winter evenings France: Germany makes up the difference by buying power from France and Sweden. Power is traded all around the EU.
    Nuclear costing too much for the last 10%: Nonsense. The cost of not-nuclear is death and extinction by Global Warming. 10% more nuclear is a bargain at twice the price. Extinction is an infinite cost.

  178. ppp251: To re- state in hopefully better terms: Multiple wind turbines in one wind area, where all of the wind turbines get wind at the same time, would not help. You still get calm everywhere at once. To get wind all the time, you need to cover enormous distances, like 12 time zones. For solar, you need to ring the planet with solar collectors.
    I don’t believe that France is using coal to fill in the time gaps in renewable power. It takes too long to build up a head of steam. Gas turbines can ramp up quickly, but not instantly. Gas turbines are better at filling in gaps, but not as quick as batteries or a generator that is already spinning. It is better to “dispatch” power from somewhere else.
    Reference: “Don’t Even Think About It [Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change]” by George Marshall, 2014.
    Few people are natural engineers, and nobody is a good engineer without years of training and experience. Power systems is a specialized field and not my field. I listen to the experts.

  179. In fact, coal must be kept burning all the time, as in spinning reserve, to ramp up. You may as well just use coal and forget the renewables. You burn almost the same amount of coal either way.

    This is a myth. The amount of coal burned is substantially lower. Denmark was nearly 100% coal powered in the 80ies with emissions at 900g/kWh, now it’s 33% wind and 15% biomass with emissions reduced to 450g/kWh.

    They consumed 12 million tonnes of coal annually in the 80ies and this fell to 6 million tonnes in recent years. The substantial reduction is obvious.

    Denmark Coal Consumption by Year

    Multiple wind turbines in one wind area, where all of the wind turbines get wind at the same time, would not help. You still get calm everywhere at once.

    Yes, that is true. That is why you need gas turbines for backup (at the same nameplate capacity as peak load).

    They are only used for 10% of the time or so, but nonetheless they must be there.

    I don’t believe that France is using coal to fill in the time gaps in renewable power.

    You mean nuclear power? France is using coal, fuel oil and gas to fill in the gaps (mostly winter gap, because that’s when demand peaks in EU), because they do not have enough hydro to cover interseasonal variations.

  180. ppp251: 450 grams/kWh is too much CO2. And we can’t tolerate using gas turbines 10% of the time. Everybody has to quit burning coal immediately. Immediately = 5 years. We can convert to 100% nuclear in 5 years. WW2 took only 4 years.

    http://oceans.mit.edu/featured-stories/5-questions-mits-ron-prinn-400-ppm-threshold

    400 ppm CO2? Add Other GHGs, and It’s Equivalent to 478 ppm
    The safe limit is 350 ppm CO2 + equivalents. We are way too close to the doubling point of 560 ppm.
    Nuclear’s 30 grams/kWh used the gas diffusion process to enrich uranium as was used in the US, assuming the energy for gas diffusion came from a coal fired power plant. Centrifuges are more energy efficient, and the new laser process is more efficient yet. Even with gas diffusion, nuclear produces less CO2 /kWh than any other source of electricity.
    Climate sensitivity is 3 degrees C/doubling short term and 6 degrees C/doubling long term. 6 degrees C of warming is the human extinction point. We are almost guaranteed to go past the 2 degree C limit in the short term already.

  181. Capacity factor of solar PV in Germany is 10%. Wind in Germany is around 16%.

    Electricity demand in Germany peaks in winter, when the capacity factor of solar ranges from 0% to 3%.

    These energy sources aren’t there most of the time, and certainly not when they’re needed most which is in the evening and winter.

  182. You can keep repeating that solar doesn’t produce anything in winter evening as many times as you like, but that won’t change the fact that overbuilding nuclear to meet peak demand massively increases costs.

    Pumped hydro will not do, because we’re talking seasonal variations and bulk storage. You either have to overbuild nuclear or use fossil fuels. And we all know which one France chose.

  183. http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/10/28/human-population-size-speeding-cars-cant-stop-quickly/

    http://conservationbytes.com/2014/10/28/human-population-size-speeding-cars-cant-stop-quickly/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/09/19/population-no-cc-fix-p1/

    “Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse”

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/limits-to-growth-was-right-new-research-shows-w

    “As more and more capital goes towards resource extraction, industrial output per capita starts to fall – in the book, from about 2015.”
    “Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s.”
    “Wars could break out; so could genuine global environmental leadership. Either could dramatically affect the trajectory.”

    The original paper:  

    http://www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/files/mssi/MSSI-ResearchPaper-4_Turner_2014.pdf

    “Is Global Collapse imminent?”

  184. Whichever way people may want to spin it, but as a consumer of French electricity I just look at my bill, which is 10 eurocent per kW/h including all taxes, levies, ecoBS what have you. If i look at Germany where they now pay minimal triple that rate i wish everyone all the best with their perpetuum mobile of ‘renawable’ energy.

  185. Interestingly enough, by comparing Weissbach and Worldnuclear.org to other papers, I’ve just realized where the discrepancy in EROI estimates comes from. One reason is centrifuge enrichment, but another is that Weissbach and WorldNuclear.org apparently count whole thermal output, not just electricity.

    This strikes me as a dubious assumption. Nearly all nuclear power plants dump 2/3 of their output as a waste heat. That’s reality. Wind and solar PV don’t do that (and also hydro for that matter), so a fair comparison should take that in consideration. One should count only output electricity, since this is the part that actually does useful work.

  186. sure i can cite my french electricity bill. It states i pay 10 eurocents per kw/h including all taxes, special tarifs and ecoTAX to pay for the renewable energy subsidies. I can then cite my dutch electritybill where i pay 32 eurocents total. That is what counts in the end, not your cooked up fantasy lists.

  187. Meanwhile, German households picked up the growing bill for the wholesale subsidies for renewables that German industry enjoys, which account for 18 percent of the average price that consumers paid for electricity last year — twice as high a proportion as in 2010. Germany’s energy-intensive industries receive generous exemptions from the renewable energy subsidies.

    http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-09-22/germany-s-green-energy-is-an-expensive-success

  188. a no not that BS argument again…. every company no matter who has the same rights to the same tax benefits. Still i count consumer endprice… if you want to suggest in france energy is 1/3 of that of the nearest countries because of subsidies…. Sorry doesn’t fly

  189. I continue to be amazed by some of the claims made by renewables enthusiasts here.

    For instance, regarding peak power need by season for various countries:

    We can see that Germany is a highly industrialized country and therefore has enormous need for baseload power. To power Germany with nuclear is ideal, the output is nearly the same over the year. One needs only about 20% more nuclear capacity to cover the winter peak; that’s nearly a 100% nuclear powered economy at perhaps a 20% increase in cost. Not much.

    Now compare with the solar output: German electric demand is highest in winter, and for the other countries this is even more pronounced. Solar is anti-correlated to the season as well as the evening peak, meaning it is actively harmful for capacity of the grid. It is “bad” capacity, in an active sense. Not only does it fail completely on a continent sized aggregation level if its cloudy in most of Europe (happens a lot), it is also enormously anti-correlated with the actual demand.

  190. “Do you claim there are not and never have been subsidies for French nuclear power?”

    I can’t believe the unquantified nonsense from renewables supporters that gets approved here by the moderator.

    What is the subsidy per kWh for nuclear? What is it for solar in Germany? I know the answers but lets see what the renewables supporters can come up with, in a quantified manner.

  191. “Citation required Petrossa. At least a factor of 3 cheaper? What a load of crap.

    LCOEs here:

    NO. LCOE is largely irrelevant; the challenge we face is not to generate a kWh, the challenge we face is how to reliably power entire countries without using fossil fuels. Even 10% fossil is too much in a future world of 10-12 billion people even if they settle on 1/3 the per capita energy consumption of Germany.

    What matters is systemic costs. Fossil fuels are spoiling us all. They are available, they are reliable, they do not require nation sized batteries or pumped hydro storage. We are all like spoilt children that don’t realize what they have got and yet want something else.

    What is the cost of powering Germany with renewables while keeping fossil to under 10% contribution? What is the cost of the grid upgrades (which will operate at the terrible capacity factor of renewables in Germany)? What is the cost of the energy storage systems needed? What is the cost of the backup plants? What is the grand total of these triplicated costs?

    These are the questions that matter. Not what a kWh costs in isolation. LCOE is dishonest.

  192. “Interestingly enough, by comparing Weissbach and Worldnuclear.org to other papers, I’ve just realized where the discrepancy in EROI estimates comes from. One reason is centrifuge enrichment, but another is that Weissbach and WorldNuclear.org apparently count whole thermal output, not just electricity.`

    Wrong again. The World Nuclear info actually does the opposite, it counts only electrical output but triples all thermal inputs. Despite this it gets to EROEI of 81.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Energy-and-Environment/Energy-Analysis-of-Power-Systems/

    The world nuclear website is even wrongly counting the plant self consumption as increased input when in fact plant self consumption is reduced output, hence has nil effect on EROEI because output is so large.

  193. You can keep repeating that solar doesn’t produce anything in winter evening as many times as you like, but that won’t change the fact that overbuilding nuclear to meet peak demand massively increases costs.

    Wow, what a load of nonsense. I´ve just shown you a perhaps 20% increase in cost would be enough with nuclear.

    With solar, for example, you´d need about 1000% the capacity to power the country in winter, and that´s assuming you have a week of energy storage already. That´s 900% extra capacity versus nuclear 20% increased capacity to power Germany in winter. Amazing. Yet we keep hearing claims of massive costs for nuclear powering countries, despite France already doing this and having cheap and reliable power.

  194. I should add that solar doesn´t just produce little power in a winter evening, it produces little power on a winter day. A 1% capacity factor is seen on many january days.

    In fact, there´s a fun website from a solar equipment manufacturer

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

    That shows that right now it is noon in Germany yet only 6.6 GWe is being produced out of a 36.76 GWe peak. That´s feeble, the best time of the day can´t even make 25% of the fleet nameplate. And that´s PEAK capacity, the average capacity factor will be a small fraction of this, perhaps 4 to 6% today. Any other generator that performs this badly would be decommissioned.

  195. as i tried to point out by simply using the price per unit for consumer. France scores amongst lowest of the world and only reason they are going into ‘renewable’ because it gets them EU subsidies. Silly system, you get massive subsidy for putting up a new turbine but none for maintaining them. So huge incentive to build windfarms but none to make them actually function or maintain.

  196. We can see that Germany is a highly industrialized country and therefore has enormous need for baseload power. To power Germany with nuclear is ideal, the output is nearly the same over the year. One needs only about 20% more nuclear capacity to cover the winter peak; that’s nearly a 100% nuclear powered economy at perhaps a 20% increase in cost. Not much.

    Yeah, switching from France load curve to Germany to make nuclear fit better. The problem does not go away, capacity factor drops in either case (in France to 56%, in Germany to 76% – you can work it out). This increases costs and decreases EROI, a fact that is ignored by Weissbach and other nuclear proponents.

    What is the subsidy per kWh for nuclear? What is it for solar in Germany? I know the answers but lets see what the renewables supporters can come up with, in a quantified manner.

    What is the subsidy per kWh for fusion? It’s infinite, because fusion has produced exactly zero kWh. Subsidies should be compared in absolute terms, because it’s the initial capital investment that helps to develop an energy source, not per kWh subsidy. You get kWh later, when you also remove subsidy (and reduce “per kWh subsidy”).

    Externalities, however, are different. Externalities do not go away and should be included in price per kWh.

    So my answer to question of subsidies would take these remarks into consideration and look at the data. For EU, a recent study titled Subsidies and costs of EU energy was done on the request of EU commission. It aims to quantify subsidies, externalities and LCOE. The results are as follows:

    Cumulative historic subsidies 1970-2007 (page vii, figure s-5):
    solar ~10€ bn
    wind ~20€ bn
    nuclear ~200€ bn
    coal ~ 100-200€ bn plus 370€ bn of other support

    Ongoing externalities (page ix, figure s-6):
    solar ~20€/MWh
    wind ~5€/MWh
    nuclear ~20€/MWh
    coal ~ 75-150€/MWh

    LCOE (page 52, figure 4-3):
    solar ~ 100€/MWh
    wind ~75€/MWh
    nuclear ~100€/MWh
    coal ~ 75€/MWh

    Since direct subsidies for solar are locked in by feed-in-tariffs for some years to come, cumulative solar subsidies will grow. But since this was about 15€ bn in 2012 (page iv, figure s-2) it is unlikely that it will ever catch €200bn nuclear (which also gets 5€ bn per year, same page). The same holds for wind.

    From historical data, ongoing externalities and LCOE it’s clear that wind is the cheapest, solar and nuclear are somewhat a tie, and coal is the most expensive.

    What matters is systemic costs.

    Sure, like $58bn nuclear mess in Fukushima. Or 5-7% of Ukraine government spending that is still used to deal with consequences of Chernobyl (down from 22% in 1991). Not to mention huge security costs that are hidden in the military to prevent proliferation.

    Wrong again. The World Nuclear info actually does the opposite, it counts only electrical output but triples all thermal inputs. Despite this it gets to EROEI of 81.

    I have checked the calculations again and you’re wrong. World Nuclear assumes 7.5TWh of output per year, which is 27PJ. But they’ve written 81PJ, which is thermal output, not electrical. Then they’ve used thermal output to calculate EROI, 40*81/40 = 81. If they used electrical output they’d get 27. But that wouldn’t fit into their agenda, because it’s comparable to wind and solar.

    I’ve also checked Weissbach again and he does use only electrical output. However, the details show why his study is such an outlier. He lowballs all of the input energy and highballs lifetime (60 years average?!) and capacity factor (91%, while global maximum was 86% in 2002). This just shows how sensitive EROI is to tweaking details.

  197. ppp251: More important: Global Warming [GW] will cause civilization to collapse within 40 years because GW will cause the rain to move and the rain move will force agriculture to collapse. It has happened to dozens of previous civilizations because of very minor changes in climate.

    Civilization collapse is likely to result in our extinction this time. Extinction of humans is an infinite cost.

    Wind and solar do not work because we can’t build the energy storage.

    That leaves only one option: nuclear. Cost be damned. There is only one option. Extinction [failure] is not an option.

  198. It is not at all funny. “Drought Under Global Warming: a Review” by Aiguo Dai

    http://www.atmos.albany.edu/facstaff/adai/

    “Preliminary Analysis of a Global Drought Time Series”  by Barton Paul Levenson, not yet published. Agriculture collapses due to the rain moving. The date is uncertain but soon. The original date was 2050 to 2055, but the date was withdrawn.

    Reference “Overshoot” by William Catton, 1980 and “Bottleneck: Humanity’s Impending Impasse” by William Catton, 2009. Catton says that we humans are about to experience a population crash. The population biologist, Catton, I think says that we are due for a population crash without GW and without aquifers running dry. Immediately.

    “A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction” Collapse within 15 years;
    revised to:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615

    Ogallala aquifer runs dry. No more wheat from the High Plains in the US. Aquifers run dry worldwide. Not included in the above.

  199. I figured an equation concerning total system percent of input power to output assuming constant power requirements.

    Variable generation from a lot of solar will displace the need for baseload, thus that baseload will have to be shut down and replaced with variable generation from NG. That will cause MORE emissions than if we build nuclear baseload and machinery needed to convert the otherwise not needed power (during the day when solar spikes) into liquid fuels (air, water and electricty or heat).

    Without nuclear, we need to do exactly what (true) environmentalists warn us not to do… kill the biosphere. I have the numbers to back it up in the form of an equation.

    (1/CF)+1/Esoi(1/CF-1)

    __________________ (100) =

           Eroei
    

    Equals Imbodied energy of total system as a percentage of output based on constant power requirements. CF is capacity factor, Esoi is energy stored on investment and Eroei is energy returned on energy invested. They say PV requires has an Eroei of about ten (output over entire life divided by energy required to make it). The CP is about 20% (or .2 in the equation) and whatever storage has an Esoi of between 0.2 (? for methanol made from electricity, water and air?), about 5 for batteries, to a lot more for pumped hydro.

    IF the RE advocates plug in all the numbers for their favorite intermittent source, they will see that in order NOT to fry the biosphere, by use of using fossil fuels to back the inverse of CF (1/CF), the higher the Esoi of the storage, and the higher the Eroei of the source, the more feasible their scheme becomes.

    For example, solar at 10 and clean liquid fuels at, say 0.5 Esoi, consumes 100% of the energy out, thus overall system output gain is zero (however, that means “1 to 1″). Wind and PHS seems to be the best until you do the math on how much land has to be covered by lakes.

  200. Aside from the silliness of trying to get much from solar at German or Canadian latitudes, or trying to get all our energy from wind & solar:

    What about trying to get an optimum mix of solar & something steady like nuclear or geothermal at low latitudes? Are there regions where the power demand above baseload matches daily variation in solar power well enough that nuclear plus solar would minimize storage needs?

  201. Hi Jim,
    I love your thinking. Solar PV might be good for reducing ‘gold plating’ of the grid in a largely nuclear grid, but what the final mix is I don’t know. 50/50? 60 nuclear, 40 renewable? We’ll see. A decent amount of nuclear could support a thriving renewable grid. Why oh why can’t they be friends? :-)

  202. “Why oh why can’t they be friends?” (nuclear and unreliables)

    It’s been explained here repeatedly. The intermittency of unreliable, “renewables” causes their output to vary erratically from 0 to 100% of their rated capacity. Which means that capital must be expended on enough other generating capacity to make the unreliable capacity completely irrelevant and less than useless on a rationally designed grid.

    I know. You’ll ignore this as well. But ignore it all you like. It doesn’t change the math and physics. Unreliables are useless wastes of time and money that simply distract from much needed action that actually can reduce CO2 emissions.

  203. Except I’ve read that unreliables, especially solar PV, also produce their most when Australian airconditioners are burning the most electricity: on the hottest days. Solar PV might then be reducing ‘gold-plating’ of the grid: the excessive investment in grid infrastructure where we spend say $7000 on grid infrastructure to support a $3000 air conditioner, just to cope with the top 4 hottest hours of the year. (Or whatever: this is illustration purposes only). If that $7000 goes on solar PV, then maybe it can cover the hottest 4 hours of the year AND produce some electricity into the grid the rest of the year.

  204. Everywhere I’ve heard about, the peak solar output is several hours before the peak AC demand. I doubt that Australia is any different.

    But even if it wasn’t, the point remains that at times that solar output is zero when you need it. Clouds, dust, eclipse, whatever. So you must have sufficient capacity in reliable generators bought any way. If your reliable capacity is non-polluting nuclear, then you may as well just run the nuclear all the time. You had to pay for it any way because you can’t count on solar.

  205. “I wouldn’t try to outguess what people will do unless they try to use renewables for a week while off the grid. That should be enough to bring them to their senses. Make it a month in the winter.”
    And not winter here in Australia. Make it somewhere interesting, like Germany. Or even North America. I hear the weather up there is just fine and dandy today! ;-) Just right for all that solar and wind! ;-)

  206. Or just try using solar panels on a comet-landing satellite. I heard this morning that they’re straining to get as much data as they can, because the satellite uses solar panels for power and it landed in a shaded area. So after hundreds of millions of dollars and ten years out of how many careers, they get two hours of data and no more, because they used solar panels instead of an RTG.

  207. @heavyweather, I’m not sure what are you up to?

    It’s been explained here repeatedly. The intermittency of unreliable, “renewables” causes their output to vary erratically from 0 to 100% of their rated capacity. Which means that capital must be expended on enough other generating capacity

    Yes, but why is this such a problem? Seasonal demand variation inevitably leads to low capacity factor for significant fraction of generators. Peaking gas turbines are sacrificed for this because of low capital cost. Grids already operate this way.

    Renewables do require more backup capacity, but numbers should decide whether this translates into higher system costs.

  208. A RELIABLE source of power is so much better than an UNRELIABLE source. It might cost more upfront. It might not be as cheap on a strictly per kwh basis as solar PV on your roof. That’s because Solar PV lies. It is only cheaper that third of the day. What do you do the rest of the time? Coal. That’s not good. OK, pardon me for asking what you’re going to do the rest of the time, I know it’s not a ‘nice’ question to ask renewables fans, but it is the honest question to ask.
    Unreliable power that only works a third of the time is trouble and that trouble ends up being expensive.
    1. it requires more than 5 to 10 times as much concrete and steel.
    2. needs you to build 4 or 5 times as much power to try and offset the down time
    3. needs you to overbuild capacity so there’s some spare electricity to pump into storage
    4. requires ridiculously large super-grids to get power from where the sun and wind are to where the consumers are
    5. requires a ‘smart grid’ and smart appliances so everyone’s fridges are ‘load following smart appliances’. More cost to the end consumer.
    6. NOW NREL tells us that we don’t need baseload power, when before they were saying we could charge 85% of our cars at night.
    7. Now that we’ve got to charge our cars during the day, we’re (roughly speaking) going to have to DOUBLE the day time capacity to charge our cars.

    Or we could just build nukes and avoid super grids, avoid smart grids, avoid massive over-capacity builds, and avoid doubling the day time capacity to charge electric cars by charging at night on pretty much the same grid we have today.
    So which is cheaper? A few expensive nukes, or 600 cheap but quickly rising solar PV panels and wind turbines to offset one nuke AND a super-grid AND a smart-grid AND a doubled daytime capacity to charge EV’s instead of at night AND a bunch of smart-grid friendly appliances for everyone? Um, d’uh. Nukes are far cheaper. The super-smart super-grid is probably going to cost so much just on its own that the nukes would be cheaper.

  209. “who in there right mind would built uneconomic power plants?”

    Pretty much every Western-style democracy – because politicians were quick to understand that their re-election is much more likely if they deliver policies that make their voters “feel good”. Policies that actually mitigate carbon emissions are a bit hard to explain in 75-word sound-bites.

  210. Eclipse.
    I guess there is no use to tell you that the grid is not a part of the trading price. 4c power will always outbid 8c power.
    When you can’t sell your 8cent power for 12h you will have to sell for…
    Guess what your nukes just got outbid again by natgas, wind, hydro and some batteries!

    I like the idea of your PV/wind filter…installed already?
    Leaves coal for you.

  211. Eclipse Now, a lot of today’s technology is much more complex than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean that it’s more expensive. On the contrary, by many measures it’s cheaper. Take computers for example, they’re much more complex but much more powerful and cheaper (per bits of information processed) than they used to be.

    Just because you don’t like renewables or you’re too lazy to comprehend what would a renewable energy system look like, it doesn’t mean that it would be inefficient and expensive. You haven’t provided any real numbers. You just listed your personal feelings, many of which are wrong to begin with.

    On your list:
    1. yes it does, but it doesn’t mean much
    2. not really, see for example Kombikraftwerk 2 (or english summary) for details
    3. not much, see 2.
    4. not much, see 2.
    5. smart grid doesn’t necessarily imply more cost
    6. irrelevant
    7. it’s easy to double PV capacity

    @Edward Greisch, according to Eurostat French households paid about 16cents/kWh and German’s 29cents/kWh (see Table 1). Disaggregated prices are as follows (see Table 4):

    Energy and supply:
    Denmark 0.048€/kWh
    Germany 0.087€/kWh
    France 0.058€/kWh

    Network costs:
    Denmark 0.077€/kWh
    Germany 0.062€/kWh
    France 0.052€/kWh

    Taxes and levies:
    Denmark 0.169€/kWh
    Germany 0.143€/kWh
    France 0.049€/kWh

    It is clear that the majority of price difference is due to taxes and levies. This holds for both Germany and Denmark. The difference between energy+network between France and Denmark (or Germany) is minor. It mostly reflects that paid off nuclear has low O&M costs, and even so it doesn’t make much of a difference.

    There is no real evidence that “nuclear is far cheaper” or that “renewables force higher system costs”.

    I didn’t even mention $58 bn Fukushima cleanup, which Japanese taxpayers have to pay. Care to include these costs into your nuclear system costs, the same way you want renewables to include network costs?

  212. Every source of energy got its own economical threshold.
    Even a source with an eroei just above 1 can be economic.
    What really counts is the price.
    Also the built and payback time are important. Everything reflected in cost.

    I take the cheap energy even when the source got an eroei below 2.
    BNC MODERATOR
    On BNC you are required to back up your comments with scientific, peer reviewed links as per the Comments Policy. You consistently fail to do so. I will approve this and your next two comments, already in the moderation queue, but thereafter, moderation will be applied to those of your comments not abiding by the BNC Comments Policy.

  213. Just because an economic eroei of 12 was perceived as important for a finite resource like oil does not mean that a higher eroei yields lower price in any other system.
    12 also looks like a minimum exceptable number because of dimishing marginal return as you move up the eroei number.

    Is electricity an abundand form if energy?

    Why should storage reduce the eroei of any source of energy.
    Building storage is demand. As long as I can meet demand and the price is low I am good.

  214. Whatever law made wind cheap…

    The French still take cheap German energy over expensive nuclear any time.
    So does Austria (why should they buy expensive energy from France?) which actually imports almost 50% of its power (exporting 30% again) yet their pumped hydro is only utilised to 10%.
    Storage is not built because it is not needed.

  215. you are funny with your ‘taxes and levies’ scam. Look taxes and levies are hidden energy costs…. For a large part they consist of subsidies to pay for the huge cost of ‘renewables’ (or perpetuum mobile as i like to call them) So no matter how you try to skew the numbers, the price for energy is lowest in France due to nuclear, and highest in Denmark due to perpetuum mobile energy.
    Furthermore your numbers for france don’t correspond with my energy bill which i think is a better more reliable indication. By your stated numbers my kw/h price would be 19.9 cents whilst my bill states its 8.4 cents total including ALL taxes and levies… Calculate yrself.. 9513 kw/h for 1131 euro including ALL taxes, levies, gridcost, VAT gives 8.4 cents per kw/h. In other words your information is wrong. Link to kopie of relevant bill https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1828618/edffactuur.jpg

  216. Petrossa, Eurostat is a statistical office of EU and provides objective statistics with common methodology for all EU members. The numbers I referred to are an average numbers for household consumers and are comparable as much as average numbers can be compared.

    You may have a lower tariff than average, but I doubt that Eurostat is making things up. You can google for other sources, pretty much all of them confirm Eurostat.

    I used Eurostat numbers because network costs can be compared. It is evident that network costs in Germany and Denmark are not the main driver of price difference. Taxes and levies are the main driver of price difference.

    As far as the statement that “the endcost for consumer is all that matters” is concerned, this is a recipe for disaster. Fossil fuels don’t pay air pollution and climate change costs and if we ignored these externalities we’d choke ourselves and destroy the planet. Nuclear has limited liability in the case of accident and that is an effective subsidy. In Japan Tepco was nationalized and Japanese taxpayers have to pay for Fukushima cleanup. These are real costs, being ignorant does not make them go away.

  217. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/The-Nuclear-Debate/

    “All nuclear reactors, at least in the West, are insured. Not only so, they are a sought-after risk because of their high engineering and operational standards. Beyond the cover for individual plants there are national and international pooling arrangements for comprehensive third-party cover.”

    ppp251: Are you selling wind turbines? What is your real issue? It is quite clear that there is something else going on with several anti-nuclear commenters.

  218. ppp251, You said it’s “easy to double” renewable energy. That is conceivable, however, it is NOT easy to build up the inverse of the capacity factor AND store ~3/4ths of that AND do so to such an intent as to completely replace fossil fuels for 10 billion people living at HIGH standards.

    Here is the equation (I finally figured it out!)

    (1/CF)+1/Esoi(1/CF-1)
    __________________ (100) =
    Eroei

    Equals Embodied energy of total system as a percentage of output. Now, this is assuming power requirements are exactly the same throughout the night. However, it also assumes that there will be NO long lulls, since it is based on CF. Therefore, to be safe, in a modern world powered ONLY by renewables (minus nuclear), we would have to build even MORE capacity, MORE powerlines and MORE storage. Why? Because I KNOW we both agree that we can no longer afford to burn things.

    Nuclear’s high CF and high Eroei makes possible the production of clean liquid fuels, especially WHEN solar is built up to capacity because nuclear will be wasted in the noon hours, otherwise!

  219. yes and the IPCC is also very reliable, as is the WHO… Sorry but i’ll stick to my energybill if you don’t mind. Being dutch who migrated to France i can compare the two easily, and for the price of 3 months worth in the Netherlands i can do a year in France. But hey you read your papers, i’ll live in reality land.

    Taxes and levies are needed to pay for something, such as the huge cost of wind and solarfarms plus the losses incurred by their enormous underperformance plus the need for baseload making it necessary to install double the capacity of which part just is idle. Yeah… great idea that.

    Before Germany went all wacko green their energy price was comparable to France, since they went ‘green’ it suddenly doubled…But hey, that’s totally unrelated..

  220. fireofenergy: my plan was actually to use fusion/fission energy to convert ample seamethane into liquid fuel such as diesel or petrol. Advantages are you can leave the entire transport infrastructure intact and have ample time to invent some miraculous micropowerplant to drive electric cars whilst at the same time taking away dependence on gruesome regimes

  221. “World Nuclear assumes 7.5TWh of output per year, which is 27PJ. But they’ve written 81PJ, which is thermal output, not electrical. `

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. As usual PPP is wrong. 7.5 TWh of electrical output is 81 PJ of ELECTRICITY. Not thermal. Interestingly the World Nuclear table name is also wrong, in calling this thermal output. I´ll send them an email on this.

  222. Sorry, my bad, 27 PJ electrical is correct. So EROEI indeed becomes EROEI around 25 to 30, though keep in mind once again this is counting thermal inputs as triple which is not correct since it is reduced output from plant parasitic loads like pumps, not increased input.

    PPP is not correct though to argue that reducing capacity factor reduces EROEI much. This is because most of the input is variable, basically mining and enrichment and such, these are insensitive to the actual powerplant capacity factor.

  223. `Keep at it champions, I am sure you are just one pithy remark away from making every major economy in the world realise that renewables don’t work and that nuclear actually is the answer.”

    Sadly we are not getting there. Entire countries are still addicted to the poison of renewable energy solves all the problems religion. Its amazing that a society that can land a probe on a comet can get another technology field, the field of energy transitions, so wrong.

  224. “This just shows how sensitive EROI is to tweaking details.”

    True. That’s why we have lifecycle analysis such as from the Forsmark nuclear plant where exact inputs and outputs are measured and known to 99% accuracy. These clearly state EROEI in the range of 70 to 80.

  225. “Yeah, switching from France load curve to Germany to make nuclear fit better. The problem does not go away, capacity factor drops in either case (in France to 56%, in Germany to 76% – you can work it out). This increases costs and decreases EROI, a fact that is ignored by Weissbach and other nuclear proponents.`

    Increases cost, yes a little. France gets 80% nuclear and has the among the lowest rates in Europe. The cost increase from going to 56% from the 70 to 80% capacity factor that France gets would be on the order of 20%.

    EROEI is not affected much because variable energy inputs dominate. The energy cost of the actual construction of the nuclear plant is tiny relative to output so does not change the EROEI much.

    Interestingly PPP once again does not compare this ´problem` of his (which entire countries such as France have largely solved already) to the problem that wind and solar have at high energy penetration. We´ve seen that enormous energy investment is needed in energy storage systems which nuclear doesn´t need if you overbuild 20 to 30%. Solar and wind also need much more overbuild even with energy storage, than nuclear,.

  226. Sure, like $58bn nuclear mess in Fukushima

    A small fraction of the amount of money thrown brainlessly at solar in cloudy countries to no avail. Nuclear has a big share in the global electricity supply, solar has nil to show for its costs.

    Yet nobody talks about the 100 billion dollar solar mess in Germany, people talk about a nuclear mess that hasn´t killed a single person and consists mostly of fabricated costs.

    If solar wastes were as vigorously treated as nuclear wastes, and they need to be since some of them are toxic forever, how many billions would have to be spent…

    And what is the cost of a global electrical blackout if we have a bad solar period. What is the cost, how many billions, in energy storage on the level required to service the large majority of the world electrical supply.

  227. Ongoing externalities (page ix, figure s-6):
    solar ~20€/MWh
    wind ~5€/MWh
    nuclear ~20€/MWh
    coal ~ 75-150€/MWh

    So here we have a solar enthusiast that cites a reference claiming solar and nuclear to have identical external costs.

    Huh…

  228. `

    Except I’ve read that unreliables, especially solar PV, also produce their most when Australian airconditioners are burning the most electricity: on the hottest days. Solar PV might then be reducing ‘gold-plating’ of the grid:
    `

    Well, you heard wrong. Aircon demand peaks in the afternoon and early evening. Typically there is then another peak due to lighting and appliances and such. This is typical.

    No coinciding peak. Just when demand is the highest the solar output is well on its way down. Anti correlated when it matters most. To deal with this you need ice storage and such which increases the cost of the aircon system greatly.

    In most countries, at least where most of the energy is consumed, there is actually a winter peak. Completely anti correlated with PV output. Germany being a good case in point, but most of Europe and North America and also much of China is like that.

  229. “If they used electrical output they’d get 27. But that wouldn’t fit into their agenda, because it’s comparable to wind and solar.”

    You haven’t read the web page haven’t you?

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Energy-and-Environment/Energy-Analysis-of-Power-Systems/

    It says 81 on a thermal basis, and 25-27 or so on net power basis. This is working on the wrong assumption that plant electrical consumption is increased input when in practise it is reduced output (the power to operate motors in the plant is taken from main plant output, it would be silly for utilities to do otherwise).

    You’re accusing the World Nuclear Association of having an agenda with points that aren’t justified. The information on the World Nuclear Website is excellent and there are many different sources and references given. It is much more scientific than the cheering dribble we get from global solar energy associations and the like.

  230. Pingback: Green Energy Storage: We Can’t Get There with Batteries (Why Systems Analysis is Essential for Making Good Decisions) | Engineering Thinking

  231. ppp251 Slightly off-topic but nonetheless noteworthy: interesting tidbit about Eurostat you rely on. “MEPs accuse commission of blocking EU statistics ‘whistleblower’ Talks aimed at increasing transparency on EU statistical output have collapsed after the European Commission refused to apply the rules it demands of national statistical offices to its own statistical agency.”

    http://euobserver.com/news/123293

    Eurostat is a politicized agency just about nothing coming out of there hasn’t been polished up to fit the narrative.

  232. fireofenergy, I’ve seen this formula in some comment on theenergycollective, but I’m not sure if it’s correct. It doesn’t take into account different lifespan for EROI and ESOI. If EROI=20 and ESOI=10, then you need to build 2x storage in the same lifespan (actually 2x is not entirely accurate, but it’s close). Lifespan should be reflected in the formula, but I don’t see it. If I insert some numbers for PV=20 and storage=10 (and 100 and 1000), then I get that it’s very sensitive to EROI and very insensitive to ESOI, but it should be (roughly) the other way around.

    Increases cost, yes a little. France gets 80% nuclear and has the among the lowest rates in Europe. The cost increase from going to 56% from the 70 to 80% capacity factor that France gets would be on the order of 20%.

    Cost would increase much more than 20%. They have about 63GW of capacity today. If they wanted to cover peak demand they’d need 100GW. Capital costs would go through the roof.

    Interestingly PPP once again does not compare this ´problem` of his (which entire countries such as France have largely solved already) to the problem that wind and solar have at high energy penetration.

    What kind of comparison do you have in mind? I think that for high latitude countries like Germany it’s clear that bulk storage will be needed, but that batteries, pumped hydro or compressed air are not feasible for this task. However, chemical storage in the form of renewable methane is feasible. This may come from power-to-gas or possibly other means. Economics are unknown at this point, but dismissing it is irrational.

    Besides power-to-gas, artificial photosynthesis (hydrogen) and algae biomass are also an option. As an interesting example: a building (in Germany) with algae biomass integrated into facade. These can be integrated into buildings the same way PV can be.

  233. OK guys, help me out here: online contacts keep asking me why we won’t just build more wind and solar.

    Wind gives us an ERoEI of 3.9 with buffering (storage), then that’s the night time and winter time capacity done.

    If society only needs an ERoEI of 7

    So (and I know this ignores wind’s supposedly ‘cheap’ cost argument by doubling it!) build the wind twice. The second lot will have the full wind ERoEI of 16, because the first lot charges the buffering.

  234. PS: By ‘charges’ I mean builds, maintains, and replaces the hydro dams etc.
    PPS: I know the equation is output / (renewable + storage input), but I’m looking for someone to argue why in English. Is it because we are looking at the proportions of storage energy to output? If so, then the second lot won’t sneak through at 16, because the hydro still costs what it costs to build. But the overall ERoEI would be nearly 8. (If we did the insane thing and build the wind grid twice!)

  235. What TIMESCALE are you talking about in this article?
    Are you addressing energy needs for the next
    50 years?
    500 years?

    Only then can we discuss:
    – Reliance finite resources which WILL run out (oil coal, uranium)
    – The pollution of the ecosystem which WE RELY ON for food and oxygen.

    You should state what problems are you prepared to externalise to future generations in solving this generations energy needs?

    Ultimately there are only 2 choices for the LONG TERM energy solution:
    option A – Sustainability
    option B – Death

    If you know any other option, please let me know.

  236. “Cost would increase much more than 20%. They have about 63GW of capacity today. If they wanted to cover peak demand they’d need 100GW. Capital costs would go through the roof.”
    I’ve seen documentaries claiming that LFTR’s could be mass produced at $2bn / gig. Extra power in off-seasons could be put to mass producing various fuels and fertilisers and desal. Combined purpose, as demanded by the local market.

  237. ///Only then can we discuss:
    – Reliance finite resources which WILL run out (oil coal, uranium)///
    As an old peak oiler, I have some sympathy about where you’re coming from. But uranium and thorium are just as ‘renewable’ as the sunlight leaving the sun! Are we ever going to see that sunlight again? No. Entropy. Are we ever going to see the uranium and thorium we fission away again? No. And that’s entirely irrelevant. Breeder reactors can turn today’s nuclear ‘waste’ into 500 years of fuel. By then, who knows what we’ll have? Baseload solar power from space? Fusion? Who knows? But in case we don’t have these things, check this wiki. Uranium particles silt down our rivers and into our oceans, constantly topping up our oceans with more uranium than we can use. With continental drift, this will continue as long as there is life on earth. At $400 to $600 for a kg of fuel, which is a whole lifetime of fuel, cradle to grave, uranium from seawater costs are quite negligible. Nuclear’s main price is in the capital. And that can crash down with serious mass production.

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

  238. We are headed for a human population crash from 7 Billion to 70 thousand or zero people within 40 years. Some say within 15 years. We don’t have time for research or fooling around with renewables.
    1. Global Warming [GW] will cause civilization to collapse within 40 years because GW will cause the rain to move and the rain move will force agriculture to collapse.
    2. Population biologist William Catton says that we in the US are overcrowded; immigration must reverse. Collapse any time now. The Earth has 4 Billion too many people.
    3. Aquifers running dry
    4. Resource depletion
    4A oil
    4B minerals
    etcetera.

    War will kill a lot of people. Famine will kill 8 billion out of 7 billion.

    So put the time scale at 5 years to 30 years. We can replace coal with factory built nuclear in 5 years. That would cut CO2 production 40%. But we have no time for nonsense like renewables.

    5 years to 30 years.

  239. There is a lot in this report http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/WNISR2014.html but nothing that suggests nuclear is superior. It is written by the World Nuclear Industry.

    It includes this passage:
    “• Increasing System Incompatibilities. The traditional concept of baseload electricity generation might become obsolete with increasing renewable energy penetration in national grid systems. Several countries now experience periods of very low or even negative electricity prices on the spot market. Electricity generators literally pay to produce because shutdown and restart would cost them even more. As illustrated with empirical examples from Germany, nuclear plants turn out the least flexible to react to unfavorable economic conditions and keep operating for hundreds of hours at spot prices below their average marginal operating costs.”

    Drop this idea that nuclear can work with renewables or that it can load follow or any of these crazy load shedding ideas that have never been attempted, let alone demonstrated commercially. The World Nuclear Org says nuclear is too inflexible to work in a dynamic market.

  240. HI EVCricket,
    the problem is the ‘dynamic market’ as you called it cannot guarantee supply on its own. The ERoEI alone proves that, let alone the enormous economic expense of trying to ‘backup’ an unreliable source of energy. Indeed, the evidence may be seen another way. It’s time to get rid of the wind and go back to reliable baseload supply as a more economical alternative. Then we’d at least have a reliable overnight supply to charge all our EV’s, rather than having to DOUBLE daytime capacity to try and do it during the day as well as running industry and stuff.

  241. That isn’t what the article said. What it said: If you insist on renewables, you are going to freeze in the dark.

    Evcricket: What is your financial interest in renewables? What is your fear? Why should I bother to answer you when you aren’t being serious?

    Yes, we know that renewables are nothing else but disruptive. I did read the article. Intentional misinterpretation is not OK.

  242. The foundation on this article is the industry EROI claim for Nuclear at the top end EROI 75. But other experts estimate EROI less than 1.
    according to this study by scientificamarican:


    Nuclear:
    As with hydroelectricity, the EROI estimates for nuclear power span a very large range. Some claim that the EROI is actually less than 1—which would mean that the whole process is not a source of energy, but rather a sink—whereas others (such as the World Nuclear Association, an industry group) estimate that the EROI is much higher than perhaps any other source of energy, around 40 to 60 when using centrifuge enrichment. I drew on a paper that reviewed many studies, and estimated the EROI to be 5. Lenzen, “Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review,” Energy Conversion and Management (2008) (link).

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/eroi-behind-numbers-energy-return-investment/

    So where does that leave us?

  243. Evan –
    “It is written by the World Nuclear Industry.”
    “The World Nuclear Org says nuclear is too inflexible to work in a dynamic market.”

    Do you even know who worldnuclearreport.org is?
    Mycle Schneider: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycle_Schneider http://atomicinsights.com/sotu_2013/#comment-84596
    Antony Froggatt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Froggatt

    Both clearly anti-nuclear, and as representative of “the nuclear industry” as the Australian Vaccination Network is of the Australian Society of Immunologists.

    And notice that neither puts “anti” in their letterhead, which I think is intended to deceive, and clearly has.

  244. ppp251,
    Yes, I did not include the lifetime of the source’s. Neither di I consider the life of the storage because that is already in the Esoi. For, example, Li-ion is better not because they require less energy than lead acid (I believe they require more), but because they last longer. Clean liquid fuels HAS to be substantially less than “1”. Therefore, only the sources that already have a high capacity factor and Eroei could “afford” it. Perhaps wind (and a LOT more clean fuels production)? Nuclear is still far better in this respect which matters.

  245. “Drop this idea that nuclear can work with renewables or that it can load follow or any of these crazy load shedding ideas that have never been attempted, let alone demonstrated commercially.”

    WOW! Just… WOW!!!

    Does anyone, even a single person, actually fall for this nonsense?

    Have you even paid attention to anything whatsoever on Bravenewclimate, the very website you’re commenting on now EVCricket?

    Have you considered the excess solar and wind capacity required to make a renewables grid work, and how much excess capacity needs to be shedded at sunny windy times and the amount of storage needed for not sunny not windy times?

    This is orders of magnitude worse than the nuclear “inflexibility” argument of yours. If you can make renewables work on a scale large enough, and high enough grid penetration, to solve GhG and sustainability problems, you’ve got such enormous emounts of load shedding and storage capability, that accomodating nuclear output is a walk in the park. Yet if you do this then why bother with renewables? Why tune down the nuclear plants to make room for solar and wind output? Why not skip the costly wind and solar and just run the nuclear plant at full bore, and dump excess nighttime capacity in charging electric vehicles?

    Drop the dreaming EVCricket and other renewables enthusiasts like PPP251. France is powering itself from nuclear. It does not need wind and solar and putting it on is pointless from any environmental or emissions perspective. Meanwhile Germany hates nuclear so uses fossil powered grid, garnished with pretty wind and solar pictures to absolve the guilty conscience of the woeful energy policy Germany has.

  246. “Li-ion is better not because they require less energy than lead acid (I believe they require more)”

    Actually they require enormously more energy per watt-hour than lead acid, per the ref PPP251 gave. So its pretty much a washout on ESOI, increased lifetime is cancelled by the increased energy to make them.

    Only pumped hydro has this advantage of long lifetime really improving the ESOI.

  247. Clean liquid fuels HAS to be substantially less than “1″.

    Well, what exactly do you mean by clean fuels? Just power-to-fuel, or do you also include algae biofuels and artificial photosynthesis?

    Power-to-fuel does have EROI 1. They bypass ‘power’ and they utillize solar energy directly.

    Here’s an interesting building: power-autonomous building EnFa.

    For 80% of energy it uses solar PV+batteries and for 20% biogas. It’s not connected to the grid. Even if we take very low EROI for biogas, combined EROI doesn’t change much. The amount of batteries is also sufficiently small that it doesn’t change EROI much: about 3.6kWh for 1kWp of PV, as opposed to Weissbach who wants storage for 10 days of full load, which is something like 30-35kWh for 1kWp of PV. An order of magnitude difference.

    While biogas cannot be scaled to global levels, algae and artificial photosynthesis can be scaled. So you can like nuclear energy if you want, but this type of system is also viable and there are some benefits in it.

  248. “Power-to-fuel does have EROI 1.”

    Something mixed up, apparently wordpress doesn’t like inequality sign. This should be:

    Power-to-fuel does have EROI less than 1, but algae biofuels and artificial photosynthesis have EROI greater than 1.

  249. Cyril R: ” Meanwhile Germany hates
    nuclear so uses fossil powered grid, garnished with pretty wind and solar picturesto absolve the guilty conscience of the woeful energy policy Germany has.”

    Don’t forget the part where they’re feeding their forests (and imported pelleted forests) into their electricity generators.

    The bulk of Germany’s so-called renewable generation is bio-fuels or wood burning. It’s larger than wind and more than twice as large as solar.

    The only reason why Germany has a “renewable” generation figure above 15% is because of wood burning and the 3% legacy hydro.

  250. Except that you don’t have a working algae or synthetic photosynthesis yet. They are pipe dreams. It is nuclear or extinction.

    We are headed for a human population crash from 7 Billion to 70 thousand or zero people within 40 years. Some say within 15 years. We don’t have time for research or fooling around with renewables.
    1. Global Warming [GW] will cause civilization to collapse within 40 years because GW will cause the rain to move and the rain move will force agriculture to collapse.
    2. Population biologist William Catton says that we in the US are overcrowded; immigration must reverse. Collapse any time now. The Earth has 4 Billion too many people.
    3. Aquifers running dry
    4. Resource depletion
    4A oil
    4B minerals
    etcetera.

    War will kill a lot of people. Famine will kill 8 billion out of 7 billion.

    So put the time scale at 5 years to 30 years. We can replace coal with factory built nuclear in 5 years. That would cut CO2 production 40%. But we have no time for nonsense like renewables.

    5 years to 30 years.

  251. I don’t understand the motivation of some Anything-But-Nuclear commentators who decry the time and expense of nuclear capacity build (and granted there are some bad examples) while defending the potential of storage and alternative generation technologies in the context of developed nation decarbonisation.

    I bet we could get more than a few reactors built in the time it takes to fully demonstrate the viability and scalability of most of these. Which of course would provide cleaner energy with which to develop and build them (less C-intensive EROI) down the track.

    They are not competing options while they are nascent, prototypical or lab-scale, and especially when they fly in the face of physics. Citing them as supporting the expansion of existing renewables actually weakens the case.

    The case for supporting existing, proven renewable technologies is more confidently made these days by Everything-On-The-Table commentators http://decarbonisesa.com/2014/10/27/nuclear-and-renewables-in-the-name-of-national-interest/

  252. actinideage: I can tell you this much:
    1. Reference book: “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart. The fear started thousands or millions of years ago with the fear of witches, wizardry, magic etc. The design of the human brain is very bad. See “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.

    “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart needs “Religion Explained” as background. A lot of modern first world people do magical thinking rather than logical or scientific thinking [not all logical thinking is scientific]. That is, they think of technology and things they don’t understand as magic. That is especially true of anything “nuclear.” This applies to many Americans.

    Some key phrases from “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” by Spencer Weart:
    violate the natural order
    forbidden sight
    forbidden knowledge
    secret knowledge
    special knowledge
    shamanic knowledge
    monster
    death ray
    growth ray
    failed rebirth
    mad scientist
    witch, wizard, shaman, devil, etc.

    Wind and solar energy make sense in simple ways. Nuclear requires more science. That puts nuclear into the realm of religion, since science and religion are “opposites.”

    1. They are afraid that “Those stone age people over there” will do nothing but turn reactors into bombs. They don’t realize that those people over there are no longer living in the stone age. Nor do they realize that bombs and reactors are not related.

    There are many Americans who cannot believe that there are people who believe neither in god nor in the devil. If you tell them that you believe in neither, they may get upset. The US is not a well educated country.

    A clue to action: “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian. Boghossian’s idea is to get people to look at experimental evidence by what he calls “street epistemology.” Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines how we know. The same methods should apply to any counterfactual belief. The problem is how to apply it to billions of people at once. Of course there will be resistance from clerics and the establishments.

  253. I was part of a team that briefed the NSW Upper House Cross-Benchers on peak oil and energy security back in 2005. The Christian Democratic party leader Fred Nile was there. After our presentation, he immediately burst out “We’ll THAT’S why we’ve got to build nuclear! I’ve been saying that for years!” But the guy’s own website also condemns him as a global warming denialist, seeing pinko commo conspiracies in climate papers. It’s weird how he’s so passionate for the solution, but can’t let himself accept the problem. But don’t go blaming his Christianity for that. Interesting new statistics have come out that demonstrate that an individual’s politics are more deterministic on views about climate change than their metaphysical worldview.

    So, as I’m a Christian and know plenty of Christian thinking people that take climate change seriously AND also some that support nuclear power, I’d prefer you drop this bunkum assertion that fear of nuclear or radiation is a result of some latent technophobia coming from a Theistic worldview. Christians aren’t technophobes: they LOVE their microwaves and iphones and computers and the internet, and hardly any of them understand the ‘forbidden knowledge’ that makes it all work. ;-) And yes, many Christians have worked in the sciences, in fact established many of the sciences at the beginning of science, and there is a strong argument that western science accelerated because of a Christian worldview. See Cosmic Chemistry: Do Science and God mix? ABC’s Big Ideas: Dr John Lennox.

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/10/01/4098188.htm

    You want to know why people fear nuclear, and nearly wet themselves at the word ‘radiation’? Look at Helen Caldicott screeching away like a parody of herself. Look at the Cold War. Look at 1980’s cold war movies like “Threads” or “The Day After”. Look at the article here recently about German romanticism and how that’s fuelling anti-nuclear sentiment. Look at media reporting. Look at Greenpeace, for crying out loud! “Radioactive fluid is seeping out of Fukushima, and could be heading to American shores!” Many of those leaks were just tritium water. Wow. Talk about life threatening. (Sarcasm). You don’t need to get into some Bulveristic psychiatric claptrap about brain-wiring or ancient fears of the unknown to understand this.

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

    Our modern ignorance and fears are quite up to the job, thanks! And we’ll have enough trouble unwiring all those bad modern memes. I know. I was one of them until I started reading BNC a few years ago. There was nothing incompatible with my Christian worldview and nuclear energy, but everything incompatible from bad wiring in the modern memes I’d caught like a bad case of the flu. Typical stuff like nuclear waste lasting a gazillion years and the risk of accidents and proliferation and terrorists getting the bomb; then we’ll have an ‘incident’ and our babies will end up with 3 eyes! And worst of all, people like Homer Simpson are at the helm! ;-)

    Thankfully some here were calm and considered and talked me through these silly memes. When I hear them now I wince. So uninformed!

    Your books are just plain wrong. Metaphysical worldviews are about philosophical and historical and scientific data: and how they all relate. They’re simply too big to discuss on a blog that’s already emotional enough debunking entirely MODERN fears about nuclear power being pushed by Greenpeace and Caldicott. I suggest you stop using this back-door approach to push your own worldview, and agree to keep this blog about the science? Then the blog will reach the widest possible audience and alienate less readers. Thanks.

  254. Eclipse Now: I said nothing about any particular religion. I don’t care which religion.

    I don’t agree that Helen Caldicott and the like are all there is to blame. Helen Caldicott would get ignored if a lot of people didn’t have a predisposition to believe Helen Caldicott.

    I agree that there has been a lot of propaganda. Spencer Weart talked about the propaganda a lot in his book. Propaganda falls on deaf ears if the people whose ears it falls on understand the subject and are able to think for themselves.

    A huge number of people did not study the science for themselves or go to school or otherwise learn the science. Why? You tell me.

    1. “if the people whose ears it falls on understand the subject”
      There’s the problem: science is actually hard work, and even learning to understand what scientists are saying in layman’s terms can be hard work. Many people would rather watch the footy or some stupid reality TV show than even bother with a science show like Catalyst! Much of the population are scientifically illiterate. Like me, with a humanities and welfare background. But I’m curious, and an exception to the rule in my part of the world, because I actually watch Catalyst, listen to science podcasts, and come here to interact with more technical folk than myself when I have questions.

    2. “A huge number of people did not study the science for themselves or go to school or otherwise learn the science. Why? You tell me.”
      Ooh ooh! I know, it must be ancient superstitious pattern recognition hard wired into the brain that became too highly tuned and started perceiving patterns where there is only random noise, thereby deducing the existence of spirits, malevolent forces, and gods, thereby creating a million-year-old bias against nuclear power!
      — OR — 
      Science is actually hard work, and even learning to understand what scientists are saying in layman’s terms can be hard work. Many people would rather watch the footy or some stupid reality TV show than even bother with a science show like Catalyst!

  255. Except that you don’t have a working algae or synthetic photosynthesis yet. They are pipe dreams.

    Except that we have working algae and working artificial photosynthesis, it’s more a matter of cost than anything else. While artificial photosynthesis is relatively far from being commercial, algae biofuels are semi-commercial already (and likely to become fully competitive with scaling and technology improvements). Put a price on carbon and things will take off.

    I don’t understand the motivation of some Anything-But-Nuclear commentators

    The problems with scaling nuclear to global levels are allocation of capital, fuel constraints (which is a real problem for burners) and shortages of trained professionals (Chinese are pushing as hard as they can, but they still managed to build more low-tech wind).

    Nuclear has historically shown negative learning curve. The more you build, the more you realize you need better safety standards, additional supporting infrastructure, waste management procedures, etc. If nuclear is scaled to global levels negative learning curve is likely to continue. Waste management, additional infrastructure and proliferation problems would increase on a whole new level.

    And for me it’s not really about ‘anything-but-nuclear’, it’s about what is the most viable way to phase out fossil fuels (which is what this blog says it’s about in description, but I have my doubts). It’s easy to get lost in technical appeal of nuclear and forget (or flat out ignore) that private investment, cost reductions, scalability and societal aspects are much more in favor of solar and wind. In addition to that, it’s much more likely that we’ll get algae commercialized than a global nuclear rollout.

  256. Eclipse Now: Science is not hard work. I learned enough to be interested in nuclear power rather than afraid when I was in elementary school. In high school, I knew how to make a simple gun type uranium bomb. There was no hard science course in high school. “Hard” didn’t happen until I got to Carnegie-Mellon university.

    Watching football and reality shows is boring. Most TV shows are nothing else but boring. I have never seen your TV show “Catalyst,” but my guess is that it is easy.

    Probability and statistics is in the “Kitty” Literature for children. I read a book to my children about mice doing statistics and my 8 year old daughter got 10 pennies and tossed them 100 times and made a histogram. Parents have to be involved, and teachers have to do something besides lockstep. It is easy to teach children science and math if you are not afraid to do so. Science is fun. If it is fun, learning is easy.

    All Religions have 2 bad features: They require belief in something that is nonsense and they teach people to use bad epistemology. “Belief” is a problem word. “Belief” prevents questioning and analysis. The change to science isn’t hard to learn. It is just quitting belief and testing concepts by doing experiments. Experiments WORK! Once you begin experimenting, you quit believing things. Then you are doing science. You still have a lot to learn, but you are free from the domination of clerics.

  257. Eclipse Now: “he immediately burst out “We’ll THAT’S why we’ve got to build nuclear! I’ve been saying that for years!” But the guy’s own website also condemns him as a global warming denialist, seeing pinko commo conspiracies in climate papers. It’s weird how he’s so passionate for the solution, but can’t let himself accept the problem. ”

    Logically, it matters not at all if folks are denialists, as long as the societally accepted solution for CO2 emissions is totally ineffective; i.e. building wind, solar and biofuel installations.

    I’d rather a person be pro-nuclear and anti-climate-change-acceptance, than pro-climate-change-acceptance and anti-nuclear.

    The former person’s goals will result in a net reduction in CO2 emissions. The latter person’s goals will prevent any progress ever being made on CO2 emissions and will also waste valuable resources and time on schemes that have been proven again and again not to work. Ultimately, the latter person’s goals will exhaust the public on the topic of climate change as they recognize that they’ve been forced to pay huge amounts of money for no progress in the originally stated problem. The wind and solar crowd will ultimately kill public motivation to do anything about CO2 emissions.

    Additionally, I believe, but cannot prove, that many so-called denialists take that position because in the public fora wind and solar are inextricably linked with climate change as the only solution. The consequences of embracing climate change, and then implementing wind and solar as the “solution” are disastrous, and many climate denialists recognize this.

    I think that if we can change the conversation from, “CO2 emissions are bad and wind and solar are the answer” to “CO2 emissions are bad, but even if they aren’t, it still makes sense to convert as much of our energy economy to nuclear as we can” then many of the denialists will either change thier position or will no longer oppose acceptance of climate change so vociferiously. The solution will no longer threaten civiilization, and then they will be able to accept the problem statement.

  258. Jeff Walther: I agree. The problem is the strange unfathomable fear of anything “nuclear” on the part of people who will protest. It is like the fear of electric fans in Korea.

    Note on Sam Harris’ book: “While this book is intended for people of all faiths, it has been written in the form of a letter to a Christian.”
    “Since the publication of my first book, The End of Faith, thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.”

    Religions are all about the same. Reference: “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. “We are now in the midst of conversion/growth from a static society to a dynamic society.”
    Religious memes disable scientific thinking and creativity. That may be why Eclipse Now thinks that science is hard. Eclipse Now would find science to be easy if Eclipse Now would abandon the religious memes that are preventing him from thinking.

    We have very few years in which to prevent our own extinction by a number of problems. GW is one of them. Eclipse Now, I am trying to rescue you.

  259. Hi Edward G,
    Dismissing my argument that Australians generally find science ‘hard’ compared to the arts or just doing a trade or watching sport because you found science interesting is about as anecdotal as you can get. What you want are generational statistics. The last few decades have witnessed Australian enrolment in science drop off a cliff!

    “Twenty years ago, 94 per cent of year 11 and 12 students were enrolled in science subjects, but last year the figure dropped to 51 per cent.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-21/australian-students-shun-science/3741316

    But that would only account for the youth of today’s anti-nuclear stance. The rest? Well, my working class mates are too busy discussing the footy or Walking Dead or latest Marvel movie or computer games, and my middle class mates are busy as dads, on the P&C or helping out at Scouts or arranging their next overseas holiday or food tour or winery escape. Life gets in the way!

    Your argument about epistemology is superficial philosophically. EG: Please arrange a scientific experiment that proves scientific experiments are the only category of knowledge. In other words, what do you make of other disciplines like philosophy and history? Do they not contribute ‘knowledge’ about the world? Does not psychology show that everyone, even scientists, approach knowledge of the world through their own presuppositional framework? EG: Atheists might explain Christians as believing what they believe because they’re afraid of the dark, but Christians can turn that around and explain atheists as being afraid of the light. Drawing up a position on the other side that tries to explain why they believe what they believe does not actually disprove what they believe.

    When there are so many modern anti-nuclear memes doing the rounds, it is interesting that your first choice is to promote a rather fanciful evolutionary biological Bulverism. It’s a cheap logical error. Rather than proving that any particular religion is wrong, try to demonstrate why they all became so silly. It fails to explain the deep thought and compatibility between science and Christianity as demonstrated by the John Lennox talk, and the history of science beginning in largely Christian circles.

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

    Now we get to this classic Bulverism!
    “Religious memes disable scientific thinking and creativity. That may be why Eclipse Now thinks that science is hard. Eclipse Now would find science to be easy if Eclipse Now would abandon the religious memes that are preventing him from thinking.”
    It is “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” of you to assume that I, in particular, find science hard because I happen to be a Christian! You’re being very unscientific, and using correlation, not causation. I generally enjoyed High School but had some issues with my Maths teacher, and then the scientific side of things went down hill from there. But Tut tut! Yet more Bulverism. You obviously missed the history of science lesson that explained the origins of science in Western culture. Naughty. It’s time for you to do some more reading and thinking!

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/10/01/4098188.htm

    The fact that we are still having this discussion, and that you are resorting to yet more cheap character attacks (Bulverism) in an attempt to inflame it, shows what your real motives are for being here.
    ///We have very few years in which to prevent our own extinction by a number of problems. GW is one of them. Eclipse Now, I am trying to rescue you.///
    1. I think your particular extreme view of climate science is a bit too ‘out there’, and not shared by the peer-reviewed journals. Extinction of the human race this century? Wow. You’ve got some pretty serious belief issues yourself here mate. Want to prove that scientifically?
    2. I don’t, and this blog doesn’t, and this society doesn’t need you to ‘rescue me’ from my acceptance of certain historical and philosophical and metaphysical positions. That’s just your hobby horse, and it’s diverting this blog from its purpose. This blog is about how to minimise CO2 emissions by quickly deploying the best clean energy systems. This blog is about promoting nuclear energy to people of whatever faith or political persuasion or nationality. Don’t try and force it to adopt a particular metaphysical system as well. You’ll just end up alienating half the population in the process!

    Also, you may end up getting in the way of something new if it comes along. What if something better than nuclear power comes along? Something like KiteGen (or something equally left of field) turns up that is better than nuclear power. Baseload, cheaper, and faster to deploy? Would you adopt that as passionately, or are you too committed to your Bulverism books to let yourself even get excited by such a possibility?

    Can we get back to the part where this is a blog about nuclear power and not your cheap insults at people who also take history and philosophy and metaphysics seriously? Thanks.

  260. ppp251: once people stop using 1950s science to frighten people about radiation, there’s no reason we can’t make much cheaper nukes. Linus Pauling made a bunch of assumptions that we know now are just plain wrong when he predicted atmospheric fallout would cause cancers and birth defects. One of the little factoids I put in GreenJacked is that backyard pools in a low population country like Australia kill more children every year than Chernobyl thyroid cancer has killed in the past 28. As for birth defects, consider swine flu. Anything that makes pregnant women run a fever is far more potent than anything even remotely likely from the
    worst reactor failure. But cancer isn’t something people understand and once that link between radiation and cancer has been made it’s incredibly hard to get it into perspective.

    Half a century after Pauling, we now know the big causes of cancer and it wouldn’t matter how many Chernobyls we had, reactor accidents simply wouldn’t make the cut. Sunshine is far more potent as are sausages. Lots of people now have a vested interest in nuclear fear mongering … more than a few within the nuclear industry itself. Once you understand more about cancer, then you can put reactor accidents into their proper spot. They are just nasty industrial accidents and far less nasty than many other categories of industrial accidents.

  261. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-China-plans-for-nuclear-growth-2011144.html

    China currently has 19.1 GWe of installed nuclear generating capacity. According to the plan, this will reach 58 GWe of capacity by 2020, giving China the third largest nuclear generating capacity after the USA and France. In addition, by 2020, China should also have a further 30 GWe or more of new nuclear generating capacity under construction.

    Bolivia, France sign accords on nuclear energy, lithium

    At the moment, only two countries in the world are building their first nuclear power plants: Belarus and the United Arab Emirates.

    Staffordshire Newsletter
    UFO Buzzes Nuclear Plant In Mexico,

    India, EU to sign civil nuclear pact by next year

    S. Africa to hold second nuclear vendor parade

    Saudi Arabia soon announced its intention to build 16 nuclear power plants

    The member of the Energy Commission of Iranian Parliament (Majlis) … Salehi said on October 20 that the country needs 20 new nuclear power plants …

  262. “And for me it’s not really about ‘anything-but-nuclear’, it’s about what is the most viable way to phase out fossil fuels (which is what this blog says it’s about in description, but I have my doubts).”

    Just so you know, however unintentional, it really comes across as exactly “Anything-But-Nuclear”. Especially with the whole reliance on as-yet unscaled, unproven, and of course undeveloped technologies. Putting these forward in spite of repeated reminders about France, Sweden, Switzerland and Ontario, that are now all extremely low emissions regions is exactly Anything-But-Nuclear.

    Keep reading this blog and it’ll hopefully become clearer that this is what “it’s about.”

  263. Putting these forward in spite of repeated reminders about France, Sweden, Switzerland and Ontario, that are now all extremely low emissions regions is exactly Anything-But-Nuclear.

    In fact it’s the other way around. Ignoring repeated reminders that scaling nuclear under government plan in one country is something different than scaling it on global levels, and that wind and solar have much more favorable global trends is nothing short of nothing-but-nuclear.

    Only through the lens of nothing-but-nuclear can be putting forward solar and wind seen as anything-but-nuclear.

  264. @ppp251: Nuclear has already demonstrated real world scalability and speed far superior from anything yet achieved by renewables http://bit.ly/1rbnaid and it’s obvious why … Ivanpah took about 4 years to build and generates 1 Twh per year … when the sun is shining. You need to build 10-11 of these to match the output of a single 1.4 GW South Korean nuke which also take about 4 years to build. How many Ivanpah’s can you build in parallel? First you need to find the sites and then you need to spend a few years doing environmental assessments … and do this 10 times compared to doing it all once for a nuke. And the environmental impact study is easier because the site is far smaller and you aren’t going to cover anything like as big an area with concrete, steel and silicon. And you don’t need as big an overbuild because the nukes run 24×7.

    I can see a few niche markets for solar and wind until SMRs are fully commercialised, but otherwise there’s no contest, renewables have a much higher environmental and resource cost and have demonstrated over the past 15 years that they are simply too slow to build. We wouldn’t have a need for quite so much urgency if we’d all been using nuclear for the past 25 years, but we screwed up and can thank the anti-nuclear movement for the current urgency in dealing with climate change. We can thank them for trashing the Hunter Valley in Australia for coal and for trashing South West Queensland and adding to the woes of the Great Barrier Reef. We didn’t have to have 3 decades of coal in Australia but they were delivered to us by the anti-nuclear movement … which included me until the end of 2008.

  265. Hi PPP251, google engineers have just agreed with us.
    We need power that is mostly on, not mostly off; mostly reliable, not mostly unreliable; abundant and concentrated, not limited and widely dispersed; works with today’s grid ASAP, not some hypothetical super-smart super-sized super-grid in the distance future, can shut down today’s coal plants in today’s society, and do not depend on tomorrow’s energy efficient eco-city nirvana in some distant hypothetical future. (I say this even though I love New Urbanism and Ecocity ideas and promote them on my blog!) Only nukes can be deployed fast enough to have a hope of preventing absolutely catastrophic climate change. We simply cannot assume that our choice of energy also means a choice of ecocity lifestyle that the vast majority of Australians are not ready for yet. France closed 73% of their oil burning power plants in 11 years. We could do the same.

    More about that Google study:


    //Koningstein and Fork aren’t alone. Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t feasible. Merely generating the relatively small proportion of our energy that we consume today in the form of electricity is already an insuperably difficult task for renewables: generating huge amounts more on top to carry out the tasks we do today using fossil-fuelled heat isn’t even vaguely plausible.

    Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

    In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably). This in turn means that everyone would become miserably poor and economic growth would cease (the more honest hardline greens admit this openly). That, however, means that such expensive luxuries as welfare states and pensioners, proper healthcare (watch out for that pandemic), reasonable public services, affordable manufactured goods and transport, decent personal hygiene, space programmes (watch out for the meteor!) etc etc would all have to go – none of those things are sustainable without economic growth.

    So nobody’s up for that. And yet, stalwart environmentalists like Koningstein and Fork – and many others – remain convinced that the dangers of carbon-driven warming are real and massive. Indeed the pair reference the famous NASA boffin Dr James Hansen, who is more or less the daddy of modern global warming fears, and say like him that we must move rapidly not just to lessened but to zero carbon emissions (and on top of that, suck a whole lot of CO2 out of the air by such means as planting forests).

    So, how is this to be done?//

    http://tinyurl.com/ky4gad6

  266. Eclipse Now, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is one of the world’s top climatologists (he was advisor for Merkel on climate issue, and he also worked with Hansen in some papers) and he seems to differ on this issue. German engineers would also disagree. And remind me again, what is Angela Merkel by training?

    There are different opinions. If google people have any detailed numbers to show I’ll be glad to see them.

    Meanwhile, you can also try to answer why did wind in China surpass nuclear? If nuclear is so quick, what’s taking it so long in China?

    And how do you expect nuclear to roll out on global scale? Example of France doesn’t translate on global scale. We don’t have a global government.

  267. @ppp251: My guess is that China doesn’t quite know yet what it wants … still training, still building a little of everything. Remember, back when the west was designing nuclear plants, China was hanging science teachers in public squares. She’s come a huge distance in a short time. Historically we know how fast a nuclear roll out can be … but obviously, not everybody will choose that path … e.g., Australia chose coal ahead of nuclear and that’s still the position of our Greens and those in Germany and the current position of Greens in France. I also don’t know enough about internal Chinese politics. There is a growing environmental movement and it may, like its western counterpart, have a greater fear of radiation than climate change. But how much power does it have? I’ve no idea.

  268. Hi Geoff,
    what do you make of the Chinese LFTR committee?

  269. New nuclear designs are a bit like new cameras, you can spend all your life deciding the best model without ever taking anything other than test shots. By all means evaluate carefully, but don’t waste too long flitting between the endless stream of bright new ideas. Lots of choices will get the job done. Any reasonably designed reactors are better than coal or biofuels or vast fields of concrete, steel and silicon.

  270. Angel Merkel has a political problem. She has to foerm a coalition with the so-called “Green party” that is not at all green. The German Greens may as well be the coal industry.

    What the coal companies know that most people don’t:
    
As long as you keep messing around with wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, the coal industry is safe. There is no way wind, solar, geothermal and wave power can replace coal, and they know it. 
If you quit being afraid of nuclear, the coal industry is doomed. Every time you argue in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, or against nuclear, King Coal is happy. ONLY nuclear power can put coal out of business. Nuclear power HAS put coal out of business in France. France uses 30 year old American technology. 
So here is the deal: Keep being afraid of all things nuclear and die when [not if] civilization collapses or when Homo “Sapiens” goes extinct. OR: Get over your paranoia and kick the coal habit and live. Which do you choose? Nuclear is the safe path and we have factory built nuclear power plants now. A nuclear power plant can be installed in weeks. See:
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf08.html
    Fossil fuel money is spent to scare you away from nuclear.


  271. The only problem now with nukes is the price has artificially augmented by the greens using FUD forcing engineers to design in extreme precautions one fits for all like flood protection for nukes which have zero change to flood ever, or earthquake protection for the 1 in a zillion change there might be one. The latest reactor being build in France now has greatly surpassed budget because of this nonsense .

  272. Pingback: » Is zonnestroom opslaan (bijna) zinloos? » LocalSens

  273. This blog post has been picked up in a quite a few places. One of them is the blog of physics professor Micha Tomckiewicz, Climate Change Fork. Micha posted my article, then wrote another three posts detailing what he saw as problems with it.

    My article has proven quite difficult for a lot of people to grasp or accept, in places, and has resulted in a lot of intellectual gymnastics in trying to find ways out of the Catch-22. Micha’s three articles include a number of the common misunderstandings. I wrote this comment to address them. For some reason the comment is not showing up on his blog, so I will post it here, as the misconceptions I address are not just confined to the Climate Change Fork blog.


    Micha has responded to my EROI article in three posts; I’ll consolidate a response here.

    The core thesis of my article is that: energy storage cannot back up wind and solar for primary energy supply, because storage degrades EROI below a viable level.

    In his three posts, Micha discusses a range of issues, but does not challenge that core thesis about storage, which I believe stands. There are now over 500 comments on this piece at The Energy Collective and Brave New Climate that directly interrogate that conclusion at a range of technical levels, and while many qualifications can be elaborated the conclusion appears robust.

    The storage data presented is for pumped hydro. According to the Stanford solar paper I cite, batteries require an energy input about 10x higher than pumped storage. So if pumped hydro is not viable storage, we can certainly be sure that batteries are not viable, even if there were quite generous errors in favour of the EROI of solar or wind.

    Micha focusses on the Weißbach paper and carefully points out the authors work in a nuclear physics department (why?). In fact I cite four sources, and the other three are from solar and renewables and biophysical economics researchers, including a respected Stanford renewables team. The Weißbach paper happens to present its conclusions most clearly, and is the easiest to discuss in limited space (this article originally appeared in print, with a limited word count). The Stanford paper is particularly obscure in its presentation. But they all arrive at much the same place in respect of storage EROI, and are themselves part of a larger literature.

    Micha is dismissive of the EROI threshold because it is determined economically, but this does not somehow invalidate either its reality or its importance. The EROI itself is not economic, its a purely physical energy balance. The absolute threshold requiring EROI > 1 is also purely physical. That there exists some threshold above 1 that is a minimum requirement for a given mode of organization of society is also physical. The exact value of this threshold is very difficult to establish, but one exists. For a modern technological society Weißbach et al. estimate a value of 7. This is in fact a lowball estimate; the more recent work I cite in my Postscript pushes it up around 12-14. Modern batteries, wind turbines and solar components are at the pinnacle of human technological achievement. Societies capable of producing these components operate at a high EROI threshold, almost certainly well beyond that yielded by stored energy from low EROI sources.

    He’s equally dismissive of lifecycle analyses (LCA) for estimation of EROIs. Certainly, these are difficult measurements to make, and there is variability among the different attempts. This doesn’t mean we ignore this work. It means we intelligently discriminate between different studies, with better or worse methodologies. Micha for instance points to wide variability in nuclear EROI, from less than 1 to greater than 100. But the <1 values are clearly absurd. The other low range values come from calculations that include some fraction of very energy intensive diffusion-enriched uranium. But my understanding is there are no longer any diffusion enrichment plants left operating anywhere in the world. That leaves centrifuge enrichment, which gives a nuclear EROI of ~40-60. This is near enough to Weißbach's value of 75 to accept that its in a reasonable ballpark. Adopting more recent values for plant life, for instance, would likely rationalise the differences.

    In fact the Mason Inman EROI review Micha cites has very similar numbers to the Weißbach paper – 6 compared to 4 for solar, 16 compared to 20 for wind, 49 compared to a range of 40 – 250 for hydro, nuclear 40-60 compared to 75. These are all very close for such a difficult-to-measure quantity. There's lots of work to do here, but you can't sustain the idea that the Weißbach values are outliers or otherwise unreliable. They're consistent with the literature and can be taken as representative of the current state of the art. In preparing his review Inman interviewed the authors of three of the other papers I use – these are authoritative voices in the field.

    In his third post on biomass Micha observes the difference between the USDA's and Farrell's value for the EROI of corn ethanol of 1.2, and Weißbach's value of 3.5 for corn biomass. But they should be different. Weißbach is referring not to corn ethanol but to corn biogas – natural gas produced from corn, and burnt in gas turbines. They are different fuels produced in different processes, so there is no expectation they should have similar EROIs.

    So, putting it together, we have: credible values for EROI for a variety of energy sources which are consistent with the current literature, a lowballed estimate of the minimum societal EROI for a technologically advanced civilisation, and a calculation of storage impact on EROI that is also lowballed because it uses the storage technology that consumes the least energy (pumped hydro). This is a very conservative calculation. If the result is that stored wind and solar PV power have EROIs too low to power society, it is very likely to be true, because any correction to the calculation makes it worse for these power sources. Stored solar thermal is marginal on these numbers, and fails if the minimum societal EROI is slightly higher (for instance).

    The implication is that energy storage does not help wind and solar variability. They can contribute in the long run only in their direct, unbuffered form. This limits their penetration in the energy mix to a modest share. Other energy sources must fill the gap which are both high EROI, and dispatchable. Of those available with these characteristics all have high greenhouse emissions, except for nuclear.

    This may be unpalatable, but no compelling challenge to this thesis has emerged, here or elsewhere.

  274. John Morgan, I don’t think it’s such a clear cut as you’re trying to present it.

    Cherry picking data to fit desired conclusions is very obvious in Weissbach’s paper. He uses old data for wind and PV and he assumes very large amounts of storage (10 days of full load) which are not really justified.

    Getting to 80% renewables doesn’t require 10 days of full load storage. In this case storage requirements are significantly less and unlikely to pose a problem from EROI point of view.

    However, getting from 80% to 100% renewables does require significant amounts of storage. This probably cannot be done on global scale with todays technologies, but it conceiveably could be done with larger grids (world grid) and improvements in storage (power-to-gas, artificial photosynthesis, and so forth).

    From emissions point of view it doesn’t make much of a difference. Both 80% and 100% are good enough. And we’re decades away from either of them, so the debate about EROI is pretty much pointless.

  275. ///From emissions point of view it doesn’t make much of a difference. Both 80% and 100% are good enough.///
    No, that’s terrible! Our electricity sector can EASILY wean off coal and oil and gas, as France shows. We CANNOT afford to get lazy or self-indulgent about electricity emissions when the harder emissions to cut are from agriculture, forest use, and replacing oil.

    ///And we’re decades away from either of them, so the debate about EROI is pretty much pointless.///
    The ONLY reason we’re decades away from hitting 100% clean electricity is because of FUD, Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about nuclear power.

    Tell me, do you care about climate change? If you do, what on earth has you so frightened of nuclear power that you wouldn’t prefer a 100% nuclear grid in say 15 years over climate chaos?

  276. No, that’s terrible! Our electricity sector can EASILY wean off coal and oil and gas, as France shows.

    If you argue that 80% low carbon is terrible, then you have no real arguments. And just as a reminder: France still uses coal, oil and gas for 10% of their electricity.

    We CANNOT afford to get lazy or self-indulgent about electricity emissions when the harder emissions to cut are from agriculture, forest use, and replacing oil.

    Why exactly would emissions from agriculture and deforestation be harder? A large chunk of it is driven by meat consumption and this means that behavioral change would significantly reduce emissions.

    Replacing oil does seem harder, but second generation biofuels is quite promising. At the moment they’re still more expensive than oil, but a price on carbon would fix that. In the long term, everything will be electrified.

    In my opinion the biggest problem is lack of price on carbon. A price on carbon would be the biggest boost low carbon energy sources could get.

    Tell me, do you care about climate change? If you do, what on earth has you so frightened of nuclear power that you wouldn’t prefer a 100% nuclear grid in say 15 years over climate chaos?

    First of all there is no 100% nuclear grid let alone 100% nuclear in 15 years, and secondly, yes I do care about climate change and sustainability in general. But I am also realistic about our options. You can go and invest in nuclear if you like, but I don’t see any plausible way how nuclear could be a global solution.

  277. I think everybody here agrees that excess CO2 is the major challenge. Its not going to be JUST your pet peeve. I say this with the exception of nuclear. It can solve ALL the problems (it can also deal with high RE variability if it must, as there IS a way). It might be too expensive (because of wacko laws) but the physics state that a denser, more reliable and more steady source is the best way to solve the excess CO2 problem. As for the wastes, keep ‘em stored at site and reuse them (or keep ‘em contained in triso spheres)! Fission products are no big deal if vitrified after the cooling period, onsite (it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to locate a “mini glass factory” adjacent or integrated with any nuke plant). The site must, of course, be situated away from water.

    My energy math concerning the inputs for various sources, is flawed because of faulty premise. No matter how many multiples of RE capacity we would need (in the absence of fossil fuels), I can not say that subtracts from its Eroei. However, the inverse of the capacity must still be stored (to do it right)! There will be overlap with wind and solar for example, but there will also be LONG lulls. That equation would best be called “upfront energy costs”, not “total EROEI of set”

    Nuclear advocates should be trying to promote whichever best load leveling design that is also best for making that necessity: clean liquid fuels.

  278. A 100% nuclear grid is possible within 5 years. That makes the electric grid the low hanging fruit. New Nuclear can load-follow.

    Remember, the alternative is the collapse of agriculture, civilization and the population within 40 years. We don’t have any time available to wait for more research. We don’t have the option of waiting for people to change.We would still be under 350 ppm CO2 if we had gone 100% nuclear in the 1960sand 1970s.

  279. The Post Carbon institute and the Senior Fellow Richard Heinburg have been banging on about this for over a decade….when the penny drops it is a startling and confronting reality… the next generation will not live like us, I hope we don’t kill everything in the process of collapse….

  280. OK, don’t kill me, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. I’ve been pushing the Weissbach paper pretty hard lately and coming across some resistance. What if the Storage were part of another industry we were going to build anyway? In other words, what if we were not building it as an extra energy demand on society, but it was replacing car engines? What about the potential for electric cars to back up the grid, and if that came from maximum daytime output from wind and solar at their highest ERoEI’s. (Wind at 30 or whatever, some say it might be higher). As “Climate Crock of the week” Peter Sinclair argues:


    • Most cars are parked, and could be available 23 out of the 24 hours.
    • A fleet of electric cars would be equal to 10 to 12 times US electric grid capacity.

    • And the service car owners provide to utilities is so valuable, you may have your electric bill credited 2 to 4 thousand dollars per year, just to have it plugged in when you’re not using it.

    http://climatecrocks.com/2010/02/08/plug-in-hybrids-renewable-energy-solution-of-the-month/

  281. imho there is no way on earth you get a reliable grid to take up that kind of extreme power distribution. As it stands now grids worldwide are already failing now to cope with the relative little variable electricity input from ‘alternative’ powerplants. Brownouts, rolling blackouts are common and reports state that gridregulators express their fear of things to come.

    If you add to that the vast flow of intermittent variable 2 directional transport energy you get a recipe of disaster.

    Investments needed to (re)build a grid that could actually cope reliably for now and future growth were already too high for Germany alone who so very intelligently build their ‘alternative’ powerplants in the north whilst having their biggest energy consumers in the south leaving them without the means to get the energy were needed so they just dumped it on the european grid.

    With the hilarious result of nations splicing themselves of the grid during German spikes not to risk their own grid causing negative electricity price throwing a huge hole in the eroi calculations.

    All in all even here some form of occams razor counts, the more complicated the solution of the energy problem the less likely is it’ll work

  282. I find it rediculous that you only look at storage required for renewable energy and assume that nuclear energy and coal do not have to be backed up by storage technologies, which, especially in the case of nuclear they do. This is because of intermittencies in demand. Coal and Nuclear simply cannot respond to the peak load problem and so a lot of energy today it wasted. Your EROI may in fact be much lower for these technologies. Japan has had pumped hydro storage for years to cope with their nuclear power plants inability to respond to changes in demand.

    Additionally, solar energy output naturally peaks during high demand – ie – during the day – and so is itself an alternative to energy storage. Do you really think you can find a day where it isn’t sunny anywhere on your continent? Good luck with that. You’ll need boatloads of it.

    Also, you ignore the fact that the EROI for fossil fuels increases with time. Alberta tar sands bitumen has an EROI of 2 to 3.5, according to the latest numbers I’ve heard. So if you genuinely believe we need an EROI of 7, then we must absolutely begin the transition away from oil and gas now before their EROI drops to that level.

  283. Julius: Nuclear and coal power plants can load follow. It is economics that makes the electric companies turn secondary power plants on and off. Since nuclear power plants get 1/3 of fuel rods replaced every 18 months to 2 years on schedule regardless, running them at 100% constantly doesn’t cost any more than running them at 50%. Backup is generally an older coal plant that is inefficient, or a natural gas plant that is cheap to build but more expensive to run.

    Pumped hydro storage has a place where it is cheap and easy to build, but storage is not necessary. We could use load following nuclear only.

    Solar works 15% of the time, nuclear works 100% of the time except for scheduled refueling. Wind works 20 to 23% of the time. Solar works best at noon but peak power is several hours later. So Julius is completely wrong.

  284. “Additionally, solar energy output naturally peaks during high demand – ie – during the day – and so is itself an alternative to energy storage. Do you really think you can find a day where it isn’t sunny anywhere on your continent? Good luck with that. You’ll need boatloads of it.”
    We want to have reliable power all of the time, and you appear to be proposing that we rebuild the ENTIRE grid’s capacity in Victoria, and in NSW, AND in Queensland, AND in Western Australia, AND in the Northern Territory just in case the entire eastern half of Australia is overcast in a cyclone. Really? Have you actually thought about what you’re saying, or are you just parroting renewables dogma?

  285. Julius: Are you arguing for using solar instead of nuclear or for some sort of optimum mix of solar and nuclear.

    If the former than as others have pointed out you can load follow with nuclear, it is more expensive, but not so expensive as to make it impractical to run an electric grid on nuclear only.

    If the latter, then you may have a point. The same point I suggested farther up the thread.

    For anyone else: Has an analysis been done for some very sunny region of whether if you optimize the direction of solar panels to west of equatorward to get maximum solar power when demand is highest, solar will actually reduce the amount of storage or peaking generators needed to get reliable power on the grid? Is there any place consistently sunny enough to make solar electricity a worthwhile supplement or is it only useful for low power off grid applications?

    Re: the low EROI of difficult fossil fuels like oil sands.
    Essentially, that is using some higher EROI energy source like natural gas or maybe in the future nuclear to make liquid fuels for machinery like cars & airplanes that can’t run directly on the high EROI energy source. The worth of doing that is another matter.

  286. mm, what everyone here seems to forget with their dreams of solar is that it’s still a very variable energysource which has proven to wreak havoc with (in)ternational grids. Germany selling energy for negative prices because of it since it dumps an excrementload of electricity when nobody wants it and forces conventional powerplants to go into standby making both EROI’s diminish. A sillier system isn’t possible. Furthermore solar in the northern hemisphere comes to about 20% of rated capacity overall so as an investment pretty idiotic

  287. You do need to note that the solar calculation is for Germany, which is quite far north. The same calculation run for a southern desert country would show solar to be quite a bit higher – not great, but not a total loser.

  288. I have glanced and read at the comments written here and I think some people are missing the point. On the figures given Nuclear Power using PWR technology has an EROI of somewhere between four to twenty times the returns of Wind and Solar. But the PWR technology that is used to release this Nuclear Energy has remained basically unchanged since Alvin Weinberg developed the model for Rickover over sixty years ago. If we spent the same amount of money on Nuclear R&D as we did on Solar, Wind, Battery storage etc what kind of EROI would we obtain for a Molten Salt Thorium Reactor. Someone claimed that the EROI of Nuclear goes to 10000 if the fuel is recycled. Even if it is only 1000 it is obvious that the returns by investing in Nuclear far out weigh that of renewables. Remember that there was time when the world shipping fleet was powered by wind and it was quickly abandoned with the development of coal fired steam

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s