Nuclear Renewables

The Solar Fraud

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘fraud’ as the wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain, or a person intending or thing intended to deceive. Okay. So how could this word possibly be connected with ‘solar‘, an adjective relating to or determined by the sun or its rays? Howard Hayden, in his controversial book ‘The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won’t Run the World“, claims that this is indeed a suitable epithet for renewable energy. It’s a strong claim. Here, I briefly review his arguments: strong and weak.

Hayden is an Emeritus Professor of Physics the University of Connecticut, and is editor of The Energy Advocate, a monthly newsletter promoting energy and technology, which is openly sceptical about a human role in global warming. Some critical analysis of his position on the anthropogenic contribution to climate change are described here and here. This provides a necessary context for understanding his motivation for writing the book — but is his ‘left field’ view on climate a sufficient basis for rejecting his energy arguments?

No. I think people’s arguments should be judged based on what they say on a particular topic (and why they say it), not on the basis of their views on other matters. Take Ian Plimer. A fine mining geologist and an excellent teacher. Almost completely wrong (in my view, and that of many others) on the drivers of climate change, yet quite right on the drivers of continental drift (plate tectonics) and evolution (natural selection).

Hayden, in other writings, thinks climate change is likely to be unrelated to human activity. Yet in The Solar Fraud, he doesn’t dwell on global warming — he hardly mentions it in fact. When he does, it’s to say that warming this century will be somewhere between 0 and 5C (consensus view is 1.1 to 6.4C, so not that far out). This was in the context of the trivial nature of the Kyoto targets — a fact I think everyone agrees upon, but in the context that these were intended to be a launching pad rather than a landing platform. So let’s focus on his energy supply and generation arguments, and see if they stack up.

The first question you might ask is: “Well what about wind, wave, hydropower, biomass, and so on?”. Well, actually, that’s all ultimately derived from solar power, and Hayden deals with them all. About the only ‘renewable’ energy sources that are not solar powered are geothermal (more like a minable resource, but like energy from uranium and thorium, there’s plenty of it) and tidal energy. He talks a little about these also.

Hayden’s basic thesis is this: solar energy is diffuse (and always will be) and variable (and this is expensive/impossible to compensate for). From the blurb:

Solar energy has its uses many of them but running the world isnt one of them. Solar energy has always and will always provide some fraction of the worlds energy budget. The question is how much? By and large, that fraction has been on a steady decline not just for decades, but for centuries. The Solar Fraud presents the physics behind the hype, explaining why the problem is not technology, but rather the dilute nature of sunlight.

On their own, the diffuse and variable nature of solar energy are not a show stopper. Solar clearly has a role to play. But the subtler question Hayden instead asks is: how does the diffuse and variable (intermittent) nature of solar energy constrain the scale of its application to energy supply in a consumer society? Ted Trainer asked basically the same question, and concluded that these two factors impose severe constraints, but that we must use solar power anyway (and live far more simply, with much lower energy demands that do not grow). Hayden also argues that these factors turn out to be incredibly constraining, but says a solution is possible (read on).

The first part of the book provides an historical survey of two kinds. One is an interesting exploration into the history of energy (mostly in America) — how we were once a 100% solar society, and how that all changed following the industrial revolution. It made me think of another situation in our deeper past. Once the first farmers took the path of a sedentary agricultural system, they were able to support a flourishing civilisation. But they could never again return to a hunter-gatherer situation, however ‘simpler’ (and sometimes easier) that life may have been. So to with modern society — we will only return to a pre-industrial, low energy existence if circumstances force it upon us, and we’ll fight tooth and nail, all the way down.

The other is a history of solar advocacy. Hayden is very harsh here — repeatedly (perhaps unnecessarily) so, but he’s trying to make a fundamental point and is using the tool of ‘words past spoken’ to do it. Grand claims have certainly been made about the huge potential of solar energy for decades, and yet time and again, those predictions have miserably failed to materialise. Even today, ‘technosolar’ (photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind farms, wave generators, etc.) generates quite a bit less than 1% of global energy use. Yet if you believed the heady predictions of the 1970s and 80s, it should now have been a major player — in the 10s of % at least, perhaps up to half of our energy needs. Something went wrong — and is still going wrong. We’re not where we ‘should’ be, and not heading there.

One view is that this failure stems from a lack of R&D support by government and a conspiracy of vested fossil fuel interests to hold it back. Another is that it is reflective of a suite of  fundamental and insuperable technological challenges, which stay the hand of the wise investor. In truth, it’s probably a bit of both.

The fraud, Hayden claims, is in the spin doctoring of what he calls ‘solar sirens, Pollyannas, cheer leaders and puppeteers’. Lying with statistics. For instance, someone has 50 cents in one year and 75 cents the next — you’ve got 50% more cash. But would you rather have $10,000 in one year and $10,100 the next? You’re wealth has only grown by 1% in a year, but you’re a lot richer in capital, and have earned 400 times more in a year compared to in the first case. The first example is solar growth, the other is nuclear. There are numerous other real-world examples cited. You can argue the details with me in the comments, but the facts on this point are clear. Hayden gives 30 odd pages which detail such sleight-of-hand tactics to make things seem quite different to uncomfortable realities.

Most of the rest of the book is quite technical — but the quantitative workings are well worth delving into, if you want to understand the real efficiency and ultimate limitations on wind, waves, solar electric and concentrating solar power. Chapter by chapter, it works through the different solar energy sources — biomass, hydro, wind, direct solar heat, solar mirrors and photocells, and the other solar miscellanea.

It notes that by far the two most used ones (biomass and hydro) have something special in common — they are a form of stored, rather than instantly delivered energy. That’s useful. It shows how, no matter your level of technological sophistication and efficiency of energy conversion, it is impossible to derive more solar energy from a unit of land than that which falls upon it from space — which is a lot globally, but spread incredibly thinly, like hot butter scraped over too much bread (I love that line from Lord of the Rings). There is nothing you can ever do to overcome the problem of diffuse solar energy — vast areas will always be required to harness it in significant volumes.

The other theme is intermittency — variability — with the storage and backup requirements and low ‘quality’ of power supply  that results. This was a particularly telling point — utilities really dislike managing low quality (fluctuating and periodically pulsing) inputs, because it makes it tough to maintain a standard and constant electrical frequency and demands micromangement of  spinning reserve in order to to dispatch the constant load we expect. As noted above, variability also entails a severe storage problem — something Hayden mostly doesn’t bother to dissect, except to note that it’s awfully difficult and inefficient to store energy, which may be why no one is currently doing it. Trainer deals with this in much more detail. I’d note myself that thermal storage in concentrating solar plants is the most promising option here, but cannot be used to provide large amounts of power for extended periods — its obvious and useful role is in providing energy during the night time outage. Photovoltaics and wind have more problems in this regard.

I’m tempted to go on and on, highlighting both the interesting things Hayden says about solar power, and nitpicking at some of the ‘red herrings’ he raises. But I won’t do that. Read the book and find them yourself. If readers have specific questions or demand more explanation about points I’ve mentioned above, then I’ll endeavour to cite some more detailed examples from the book. Ask away — there’s plenty in those pages of interest.

In conclusion, people seem to mostly have one of two polarised reactions to this book. Many are appalled, and view Hayden’s somewhat sardonic tone and often sniping commentary on others as reason enough to dismiss whatever he might have to say. Others are delighted at his technical arguments, and are happy to foist them forward in order to prove that we must continue burning coal, or else switch to an alternative reliable, high capacity energy source such as nuclear. Go look at the comments on the book at the website to see what I mean.

I’m not delighted. But I’m appalled either. For me it’s more a glum acceptance that Hayden is mostly right about the severe limitations of solar power, but also a determination not to be overcome by a resigned attitude that nothing can be done to fix our deeply rooted energy problems. There are solutions!

Fossil fuels were a wonderful aid in constructing our modern world, and all the technological marvels and high standard of living it has brought to those in the developed world who have most benefited from their use. Of course, we are now increasingly coming to understand the high price we’ve paid for this — climate disruption, acid rain, mercury poisoning, sulphate and nitrates choking our air. Coal is not the black devil, it’s the Serpent in the Garden. Solar energy can’t restore The Apple — we’ve already plucked it and taken that fateful bite. Our only recourse is to pick another fruit from another tree, and not look back longingly to the lost Garden.

To quote Hayden (pg VII, Preface to the 2nd Edition):

“Another complaint [about the first edition] is that, after finding solar energy utterly inadequate to run the world, I offer no solutions. By comparison Paul and Anne Ehrlich have also concluded that renewable sources can’t supply enough energy, but offer no salvation, save that they would like the population miraculously to revert to pre-industrial levels without somehow causing the deaths of a few billion people.

I will offer two words of salvation: Know nukes.”

Many others, myself included, have concluded much the same. I’ll be reviewing some other books that talk about this issue in the coming weeks.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

90 replies on “The Solar Fraud”

In the past I have taken exception to Hayden’s arguments on the grounds that he puts too much faith in the insolubility of certain technical problems. My solution to intermittency.

But I have come to suspect that he shares this faith with people who insist those difficulties have already been solved, or are within a very, very brief time of being solved, and in the meantime continue to receive government money that would be significantly less if past predictions of significant fossil fuel replacement by solar energy had come true.

(How fire can be domesticated)


A quick google search of other writings by Howard Hayden on solar energy indicates that he is treating solar energy issues on an emotional level,for example his articles at
use trivial excuses for why solar power will not have widespread use ; inefficient conversion (10%). only 100watts/m^2, without even considering the roof area available on a typical house.
and this real gem;
“However, the voltage produced by a single PV cell can’t even run a household light bulb.”
Who is trying to run a house lighting system on a single PV cell?

I picked up this excerpt from a sympathetic review by Jay Lehr

“When it comes to wind, Hayden shows wind farms can generate electrical power at the rate of about 1.2 watts (W) per square meter (m2) for most sites, and up to 4 W/m2 in rare sites where the wind always comes from one direction. The goal is to generate enough energy to replicate a 1,000 megawatts power plant operating around the clock. To do that in California, for example, would require a wind farm one mile wide stretching all the way from Los Angeles to San Francisco.”

If this is an accurate quote from the book, it is disappointing coming from a University Professor of a Physics Department. He should know that wind energy is v^3, so average wind is not relevant, just like calculating how long the average snow fall over Australia would take to melt, doesn’t say much about how long the snow will take to melt in the Snowy Mountains.
Rather than an example of a 500mile long x 1mile wind farm, he could have given real wind farm examples. It’s like saying that a 1000MW coal-fired plant would need condenser pipes running from Sydney to Melbourne.

Prior to buying the book(doesn’t give much away in teasers), I would be interested if Howard Hayden has any useful insights about wind or solar energy. Does he cite the Archer&Jacobson paper on wind energy resources in US/World? or the DOE study of feasibility of 20% of US electricity from wind by 2030?


Neil, as I noted, Hayden considers both trivial issues and full physics. The physics in the book is not disappointing or naive — not a bit of it. He deals with the ‘roof area of a typical house’ argument, and the inability of PV systems to run houses — the point about voltages and PV is a complex one and well developed in Appendix B of the book.

He has extensive discussion of the concept of wind power, including the full derivation of the P[out] = R^2 x v^3 (for a best case of a 50% efficient turbine). He is only interest in average wind in the sends that this is how site quality is usually rated. He is fully aware of the power curve — there are many such plots in the book. I assume you are aware of the generator sizing decision for turbines, and how that is used to determine capacity factors for wind. The book also has an analysis of the performance of 10 large wind farms.

You seem to be someone who is more interested in the technical detail of these arguments, which is excellent. Given this interest, I do strongly recommend you read the book. There are, in my view, now better/more comprehensive books on this issue available (e.g. Mackay 2009), but Hayden’s was the first one and so is worth calibrating off. Hayden didn’t comment on the Archer & Jacobson paper because it hadn’t been published when his book came out. But if you want a damning critique of Jacobson’s analysis, I strongly suggest you read here: (esp. the two critiques of his recent review)



the inability of PV systems to run houses
Somebody ought to tell my grid-independent friends that their PV systems don’t work.

perhaps, inability to run all houses affordably would be a better way of putting it?

Liked by 1 person

Yes, affordably and without grid backup, or else [like your friend’s case] with a large amount of battery storage coupled with very low energy use compared to the average household. Hayden gives the example of people living off the grid — how they do it, what extra measures it requires, and what most would prefer.

Ron, wind is growing strongly now from a low base. This is excellent of course, but has no bearing on its limits or ultimate contribution. I absolutely agree that it’s going to be an important part of the mix — I just now strongly doubt it will be the major contributor (perhaps 10-15% eventually, with CSP+PV being another 10-15%, if I’m feeling optimistic).


Whether or not solar takes off will depend on its cost in relation to other sources of low emission energy. If wind power is counted as solar then it has already taken off with about 1.5% of world electricity coming from wind, about double what it was three years ago. At its current rate of growth it seems likely that this type of energy will provide a considerable portion of world electricity use, so “solar” seems certain to be an important part of our energy mix.


Thanks for your detailed comments I will see about investing in a used copy.
The nuclear green blog form Charles Barton re: the Jacobson paper( not the Archer and Jacobson paper calculating world wind resources for wind >6.9m/sec at 80m height) seems to have touched a raw nerve.

I agree with Charles that Jacobson appears to have been a little harsh on nuclear energy.
Charles Barton’s criticisms of the wind energy aspects seem to be creating many straw men to knock over.
The V2G statement by Jacobson ( 3% vehicles) is 7million vehicles(3% cars and light trucks) ie 3/100 x235 million motor vehicles has been miss-interpreted. The reference cited by Jacobson is Kempton et al, quoting from abstract:

“The calcns. suggest that V2G could stabilize large-scale (1/2 of US electricity) wind power with 3% of the fleet dedicated to regulation for wind, plus 8-38% of the fleet providing operating reserves or storage for wind. Jurisdictions more likely to take the lead in adopting V2G are identified.”

My interpretation is that 3% of vehicles( ie 7million Ev’s or PHEV’s) at any one time would each be able to provide 5kWh of power. That’s 35GWh available for high ramping up that can be drawn fairly quickly (15mins). The other 8-38%( 17-70 million vehicles) would be used mainly to store wind generated at off-peak times, when there is no more electricity demand. The other 50% of power would be provided by hydro, NG, nuclear and solar as is the case now.
Charles Barton also seems to forget that a lot of hydro in N America is used as base load but can be used as peak, and peak hydro capacity(160GW) is cheap to increase( more generators). No losses occur, but if pumped hydro is used loss is <19% turnaround(not 25%).

When wind power is high at peak times, less NG and hydro would be used saving this up for 20% of the time when wind production is less than 10% of capacity.

A look at literature shows capacity factor for newer wind turbines is 0.3 to 0.4( av 0.36)so there would be 20% of times when expected wind generation of 240 GW would actually be generating <80GW, but only some of those will be at peak times, while 70million vehicles are going to have 350GWh assuming only 5kWh is available. For comparison, NG in US provides 440GW peak with a capacity factor of 0.2,and hydro 80GW capacity factor 0.4.

It’s unfortunate that some wind power advocates want to treat nuclear technology unfairly or don’t understand the technology and that some nuclear advocates seem to do the same for wind and solar energy!


Neil — you should post that on Charles’ blog and see if you solicit a response from him!

Regarding wind capacity factors, it’s dependent on two things — site characteristics of wind which determine availability/speed-frequency, and the engineering choice of the electricity generator to attach to the turbine. 35% capacity factor is what many turbines are tuned to meet, because this is the sweet spot in the cost-delivery trade-off.

In my view hydro, in the future, should be almost completely dedicated to high demand and peaking power supply — it is superbly suited to this role. Hydro capacity factor 0.4 is meaningless in and of itself — if managed properly, its availability factor is close to 100%, but of course you need to managed flows such that you don’t drain your dams (inputs = outputs, in the long run).

Hayden is unequivocally a strong nuclear advocate. But he understands the technology of wind and solar very well.


A note about 2007 wind production, big increases during that year(43% in US), so production for the year will be less than production at end of year. By the end of 2008, there was 121GW wind capacity at 0.30 capacity( probably higher now) that’s 36.3GWa x8760h= 316TWh probably more like 1.5%( not sure how much other generation has increased).

Still small, but these growth rates >30% really are really moving that % up quickly( just like nuclear in 1960’s).


“In my view hydro, in the future, should be almost completely dedicated to high demand and peaking power supply ”
that would be true of hydro in Australia(0.35 capacity factor), but some hydro in N America(St Laurence) are run-of-river to some extent.
The capacity factor in China is 0.3 because hydro is used as you suggest. If wind was generating more than 25% power, especially if a big part of the rest was nuclear, then you could have hydro with a capacity factor of 0.2( providing rivers can take the higher flows), and using it just for peak like NG peaking plants. This is a lot cheaper and efficient than pumped hydro but not as flexible as you can only use the water once.
Of all the renewable energy options, hydro seems to be overlooked, many incorrect ideas, myths, just as with wind and nuclear energy.


Practical people have been trying to extract energy from solar and wind for probably thousands of years and while the challenge fascinates us, the goal eludes us [unless, as Hayden says, we are happy to accept a lot less].

As someone who uses non grid connected solar, has used non grid connected wind power and designs racing yachts I’d love to think it was possible but it isn’t and, sadly, it would create much more environmental destruction to tread lightly down that path than have current consumption with IFRs.

Congrats Barry, well presented.


Professor Brook, I have been reading BraveNewClimate for some months and find it very informative. This will be the first time I have posted on the site. Having read quite widely, albeit superficially, on matters relating to sustainable energy, I concur with you that solar and wind power have big problems with respect to their diffuse nature and intermittency. Nevertheless, in countries with relatively low population density and suitable sun, they might prove adequate. This is by no means the case in the UK, as amply demonstrated in David McKay’s book, Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air, to which you make reference in this thread. If one discounts clean coal, the UK will have to import a very significant proportion of its renewable energy from (probably) North Africa at great (possibly unaffordable) expense or take the nuclear power option. This, of course, does not preclude obtaining some energy from wind, waves and tide.

Given that existing types of fission plant would not be sustainable for very long if everyone started using the technology, one must either look at fast fission (4th generation) options or hope for an, as yet, immature technology to rescue us. It was for this reason that I found the discussion of the IFR so interesting. I am amazed that so many correspondents in so many blogs seem to harbour a visceral hatred of nuclear power when it may be the only option for a reasonable future. I can see no argument for not building a prototype S-Prism immediately if what the Blees brothers and yourself claim is even near correct. However, a comment by Hank Roberts gave me some pause for thought, particularly when noone responded to it. I am referring to comment 36 on the thread, entitled Total Energy Independence In 12 Years. Hank suggested that even GE, whose baby S-Prism is, appears to have lost its stomach for promoting it. Would it be possible for someone to respond to this somewhat un-nerving assertion?

Also, do you have any views on the practical potential of high altitude wind (80-90% availability factor) or, for that matter, on whether we have any hope of getting affordable fusion power within, say, 15 years?


Douglas: Thanks for the comment. Tom Blees has had a go at answering your IFR question:

“Has private money gotten behind this?
No, the design is sitting on the shelf at GE. It costs about a billion dollars to have a reactor design certified by the NRC, and they make plenty of money with conventional reactors. Their view is what one would expect from a conventional large corporation: Why should we take on a billion dollar project that might well end up in a political fight?”

Steve Kirsch added: “Secondly, the magnitude of the R&D ($1 billion) is too big for any company to handle especially in these economic times. The only institution with enough money to take the risk are governments. It was the US government that spent the first billion on this project. The EBR-II (as it was called) ran for 30 years without incident. Then Congress pulled the plug…. My objective is to save the planet and get planet-saving technologies available as soon as possible. The fastest way to do that is to short circuit the debate and put this in as a line item in this stimulus package. Call me cynical, but I think that if this is allowed to be debated in Congress, it could set the project back for years while Congress mulls over the pros and cons. Look what happened last time. The arguments were aired. The Senate voted one way, the House the other. We could update the arguments and do it all over again. Why take the risk? If this was put in as a line item, is there really going to be opposition to giving $1.5 billion to DOE to build a demonstration IFR reactor? This is basically hedging our environmental risk. The sooner we do that, the better. If you want to kill it after the debate, do it. The amount of money wasted will be small. But if you decide to ratify the earlier decision, then it was smart to get it started now.”

I suggest you read the whole Q&A over at Steve’s website for more details. Basically, it makes good business sense for GEH to build their Gen III+ LWR until the GIF/GNEP helps out with certification of PRISM, so they don’t need to bear to cost/risk. They’re in no hurry — they’ll make plenty off their ESBWR design until the IFR becomes mainstream. It needs some Government intervention to fast track it…

High altitude wind is one of those ‘out there’ but interesting options. There was a good review of it in a recent Scientific American — you can get it for free here. It’s a great overview and also talks about fusion. Fusion is certainly being actively researched via the ITER programme, but a commercial reactor that delivers economic energy is at best 20-40 years off (perhaps 20 with a crash programme, but why bother when we can get IFRs on the fast track and have them deal with all our spent fuel too whilst we wait for fusion to prove up?).


Barry, thanks for your prompt and reassuring reply and its contained links. I have three follow up questions:

1) There appear to be several fourth generation designs. Is it your view that the IFR is the only one to tick all the boxes? It seems to me that potential rivalry between competing designers could lead to conflict and delay.

2) I believe that the bulk of fusion research is funded by a consortium of international powers (to an extent much greater than $1 billion). Should GE be unwilling to raise the finance directly, would it be possible for a consortium of governments to undertake the building of a demonstration plant, presumably involving the payment of licence fees, if necessary, to GE?

3) To the extent that the IFR seems to offer the possibility of meeting most or all of the energy needs of developed countries that might, in part, otherwise be provided by sun and wind, why should one devote any funding to the latter and probably more expensive options?


Wise#16: GE/Hitachi submitted a business plan to US department of energy in 2008, and it doesn’t look like they’ve gone cold to me. However any company would be very wary of the political climate before pushing really hard on a technology that spells trouble for both coal and uranium. I’d say the only way to get IFR up would be to buy all the coal and uranium lobbyists. This would be a heavy investment!


Douglas Wise,

If you are interested in energy solutions for the UK, take a look at the wind map for UK here

then go back and read over the technical section by MacKay “sustainable energy….”. MacKay has made some big but common errors in calculating wind resources in UK.

You can see that many sites in Scotland and off shore islands have average wind speeds above 9m/sec at 25m, which translates to 11-12m/sec at 100m hub height of larger wind turbines.

That’s x8 more energy than the 6m/sec average MacKay is using (note the regions in lime green having those average speeds) and my comments above about Hayden’s book.

You can get more wind energy by going to Scotland with a 100m turbine, than going up to 1000 m height in the south of England using “wind kites or ballons”.


It’s about storage and distribution.

I suppose I’m one of those who continues to hold some hope that storage and distribution are solvable problems and still thinks that storage, being not much needed in the past and barely needed now might have a lot of potential that can yet be realised. I’ve lived off-grid and am aware of the limitations; reliance on lead acid batteries that really aren’t suitable for the task – except that you can’t rely on them and have to have generator backup for high draw appliances and to keep those batteries always charged because they can’t survive being fully discharged – and far more suitable storage such as vanadium redox for domestic off-grid purposes still not mass manufactured or marketed to my knowledge.

Yet the PV part is extremely reliable, with next to zero maintenance, getting ever cheaper to mass produce and able to utilise a lot of space like rooftops, awnings and walls without displacing anything whilst CSP isn’t short of suitable sites.

Sorry, but I’m not convinced we’ve heard the last word on energy storage or energy distribution. Has the intercontinental UHVDC grid connections idea a place in this analysis of the limitations of renewables?


The lead-acid battery is far from dead. I’ve had one in my garden shed for 5 years charged by PV on the shed roof and it is only just deteriorating now. If thin film PV can get near the performance of polycrystalline for under 20% of the cost I think PV could go prime time. I envision the typical suburban house roof with say 2.5kw nameplate of thin film generating say 10kwh a day in summer, 2.5 kwh in winter. Couple that with a 10kwh lead-acid UPS the size of a bar fridge and you have distributed microstorage or H2G. The box could combine inverting with smart timing of appliances. If this system could be done for $5k per house perhaps with assist from carbon taxes and lease-back from power companies it could help enormously. No new transmission or dark satanic mills would be required. Get the batteries refurbished every few years. It all comes back to price.


Barry, I think that wind may end up providing more that 10-15% of world electrical generation. This is because it is currently the most competitive low emission source of power in most grids, it can be expanded rapidly and it has demonstrated reliable returns on investment. Currently nuclear energy has difficulty competing with it. While the cost of nuclear power may drop in the future, at the moment the nuclear industry is either unable to build low cost reactors or for some reason it has decided not to build low cost reactors. If they decided not to build them then that was a bit of a misstep on their part as all they needed for their industry to take off was to produce a low cost reactor. Whatever the reason, the nuclear industry is not terribly appealing to investors at the moment.

I also think solar could end up providing more than 10-15% of our electricity in the future. Currently the cost of electricity from PV needs to drop by about half to make point of use solar competitive with daytime electricity rates. But with the expected drop in PV prices over the next year or two, the introduction of the carbon trading scheme and government subsidies for solar power, it seems likely that point of use solar will expand dramatically in this country. This expansion of retail solar is likely to result in cost decreases in wholesale solar and overall solar power could end up supplying a large portion of our daytime electricity needs, provided it continues to decline in cost. Currently the cheapest PV panels are about $3.66 a watt uninstalled, which is getting close to being cost competitive with daytime electricity rates in the sunnier parts of Australia.


Ron, you are overlooking something very important, which is kind of the point of this post.

Wind and solar thermal are quite cost competitive when done on a relatively small scale (but large enough to enjoy economies of scale, so we’re talking above a few percent of grid supply). Why? Because storage or backup is a non-issue — the grid can supply its deficits when needed via its peak load capacity. Nuclear energy is expensive when done on a small scale (I mean here single reactors, not nuclear batteries etc.) because of certification costs, one-off designs, etc.

This reverses, however, at larger scales. As wind and other solar sources constitute an increasingly large fraction of the grid supply, energy storage or backup for extended down times, and sufficient spinning reserve to compensate immediately for short-term delivery fluctuations, become paramount and increasingly expensive. For nuclear, this is irrelevant — the more plants, the merrier. Indeed, with standardisation of design, modular construction and simplified passive safety designs, it will get cheaper, not more expensive.

At 15% wind and 15% solar, one really starts pushing the bounds of credibility of a reliable electricity supply — without major breakthroughs in energy storage, and more expensive backup generation facilities if this storage involves chemical (e.g. hydrogen, vanadium, ammonia) or non-heat storage (e.g. compressed air, flywheels). Molten salts don’t suffer from the backup generator costs, but are limited to CSP and require increasingly huge infrastructure and embedded costs if more than the proposed nighttime backup is envisaged.

PV could drop incredibly in price (which would be great, provided embodied energy requirements are sensible), but it would still need complete backup at night and during lower production times (winter, cloudy periods or days) and a way of managing its dramatic impact on electricity demand (a huge surge in available power as the sun rise, a huge drop as it sets). If the cost of backup equals the cost of the PV itself, and that backup is not carbon emitting (e.g. nuclear), you have to wonder why you’d bother with the PV in the first place, beyond niche (off-grid) applications. I know this is a simplification, but it’s a broadly valid point.


Douglas, regarding your 3 points:

1) Four of the Gen IV designs tick all the boxes (SFR, LFR, MSR, GFR), but the SFR is the closest to commercial roll-out and should be the first build priority.

2) A consortium funding is possible, but it is also possible that one of the other nuclear nations like Japan, Russia or China could build an IFR first. NRC certification is for the US — other countries have different procedures.

3) In the short term at least, solar sources such as wind and CSP are easiest to expand, in any place, and so should be pursued to the extent that they are able to match. But we’ve got to be aware of their likely limits. Energy storage is a large stumbling block and needs (deserves) plenty of R&D. A diversified grid is good for many reasons, and we also need multiple options before we can be sure that one tech (e.g. IFR) is the no-brainer cheapest and most obvious. IFR might well be, but we’d best not hedge our bets — we don’t need to. What I’m mostly fighting right now is environists who want nuclear to be EXCLUDED on emotional grounds. It’s utter madness, and extremely dangerous. If we’re serious about fixing climate change and providing non-fossil-fuel energy, we’ve got to be rational and forward thinking. The problem is tough enough without other unnecessarily impediments.


This technology in combination with an HVDC transmission grid seems like it would go a long way toward making large scale solar and wind practical.

It’ll be interesting to see what the landscape of available technologies looks like in a few years. Let’s not forget that for the very first time we have someone with a real scintific clue in charge of energy in the U.S.


If the costs of PV dropped low enough then Australia could use it for than 15% of its electricity. It wouldn’t need to be backed up. The first reason why is that we use about twice as much electricity during the day as we do during the night. The second reason is that we currently have enough generating capacity to meet all our needs except during heatwaves. If we started to use solar power this capacity wouldn’t go away. But we would be able to idle it for increasing periods of time, which would increase its operating lifespan.

Solar power fits in very well with our 7:00 am to 10:00 pm peak electricity use. It also fits in well with our greater use of electricity in summer and our decreased use of electricity in when it is cloudy in summer. It works well in conjunction with wind power, which usually generates more electricity when it is cloudy and at night. Solar also produces its peak output during the middle of the day when there is often a lull in the wind. Our current grid allows for a moderate amount of geographic dispersal and, as I mentioned, we already have sufficient generating capacity to supply all almost our entire current demand if there is a shortfall in solar power production.

I don’t know how fast or how far the price of PV will fall, but just for the sake of this hypothetical, I’ll assume it drops dramatically to about $2 per installed watt. In this situation a solar power system in Adelaide would pay itself off in under six years. Many companies and homeowners would find it worthwhile to install them and presumably they would continue to install them until there was enough PV capacity to start to push down the price of daytime electricity.

This expansion of solar power would solve Adelaide’s summer peak electricity problems, as the greatest electricity use is during hot, sunny summer afternoons. It would also greatly reduce the need for coal and gas power. However, we would still have that generating capacity for when it is required, for example, to meet the evening peak load after the sun has gone down. The increased solar power capacity would also allow for more wind power to be integrated into the grid as it would eliminate rolling blackouts that can result from hot, windless summer days, freeing up gas turbine capacity to cope with lulls in the wind.

In reality, I think point-of-use solar in grid connected areas is likely to first take off in places such as Moree, which has an extremely high level of insolation and high electricity prices.


Barry, many thanks for your further response. I have now read all the links given by you and Geoff Russell (to whom my thanks are also due). I am now somewhat better educated on the subject. However, if I may, I would like a bit more information on the costs of getting a demonstration IFR up and running. I gather that US regulators would demand $1 billion to examine the design and either approve or reject it. Does this process require that a demonstration plant be actually assembled and examined in stages or is it merely a paper exercise with additional costs then needed for the building of it if approved? Equally, does the $1 billion cover both the reactor side and reprocessing side of the integrated design? Given problems associated with radioactive waste and the large sums set aside to deal with them, it would seem that the US government should waive that part of the regulator’s fee that deals with the reprocessing side at the very least although I suppose it would be more logical to waive fees on both aspects as one would need a reactor to use the reprocessed material. However, the reactor, as you have pointed out, doesn’t necessarily have to be an SFR but could be another type of 4th generation plant being promoted by other groups.

From what you wrote, I gather that it would be in order for GE to get its design licensed by any nation that wanted it. Do you know anything about comparative regulatory costs between nuclear club countries and whether there is any reciprocity of recognition between nations? It would seem that Tom Blees advocates an arrangement that would take the IFR out of the control of private enterprise and place it under the auspices of an international public body. I would assume that the S-Prism design is the property of GE even if the basic work and development was originally undertaken by the US government and paid for by its taxpayers. I can’t help thinking that these complications may create delays when extreme urgency is called for. Hopefully, the momentum for the go-ahead of a demonstration unit may be building so fast that my concerns will prove unfounded.


re#19- Neil Howes.

Thanks for your response. I should state that I am pro onshore wind from a UK perspective. However, I have reservations about offshore wind, tide and wave energy. My reasons relate to costs /kWh rather than to potential amount of available power and intermittency. I accept that Scotland has good onshore wind resources. It remains the case, however, that developers are still keen to create windfarms on English sites with wind profiles less favourable than those in many potential Scottish sites. This suggests that a goodish English site would produce cheaper power for an English user than an excellent Scottish site because of grid connection costs.

I think you were being somewhat unfair to David Mackay. He was clearly painting his picture with a broad brush and it is therefore easy to nitpick. It is clear from his technical chapter on wind that he is au fait with the fact that energy production increases by the power 3 rather than linearly with wind speed. I fully accept that, in his non technical chapter, he appears to make a misleading statement. I quote: “Let’s be realisic. What fraction of the country can we really imagine covering with windmills? Maybe 10%? Then we conclude: If we covered the windiest 10% of the country with windmills (delivering 2W/m2)we would be able to generate 20kWh/d per person.” I accept that the windiest 10% might deliver more than 2W/m2. However, in the interests of equity, I would refer you to his Figure 18.6 which seems to indicate that his assessment of power potential from wind overestimates its potential as judged by other authorities.

In any event, onshore wind is well worth having to provide up to 10-15% of our total power needs. We are so far short of that and have growing needs due to a rapidly expanding immigrant-fuelled population that there is no need to shackle onshore wind development and thus no need to fall out on the subject. The same argument would apply to solar thermal or solar pv if the UK were in the sunbelt. It may even be that the TR10 liquid battery that Steve Bloom links to or some other new storage device will make wind and solar even more expandable and affordable since grid connection won’t be so necessary. None of this negates the urgent need to get a generation 4 nuclear reactor up and running asap, as I think you’d agree.


I cannot for the life of me see why wind power or PV cells continue to get such optimistic press. Even the Danes can’t get wind power to work effectively for them without massive gas backup and import export schemes with Norwegian hydro and French nuclear.

I’m inclined to wonder at what point the promoters of PV solar will acknowledge that the long awaited cost reductions and energy storage tech simply aren’t arriving in a useful timeframe. Doesn’t anyone go back and check how long they’ve been claiming that the technology to make it practical will be here in just a few years?


re#28 Douglas,
I agree with you that off-shore wind seems to be more expensive, but if you look at the BWEA web site you can see that in last few years, 50% of the onshore applications are have been rejected while all off shore applications have been accepted.Perhaps its a project financing issue, more certainty with off-shore.

The issue with Scotland seems to be the very poor grid connection to southern UK, but would seem to be solvable by putting in a HVDC to carry 4 times the power or a marine HVDC if access is the issue.

I don’t think I am being hard on David MacKay, he has compiled an excellent summary of sustainable energy but he seems to have either be guided by earlier studies( 2000, 2002) or he just has glossed over some rather important details. The technology has advanced a lot in 8 years.
If you look at his map of UK showing exclusions of 2km around villages etc, its clear that the good wind sites in Scotland, Wales etc are NOT excluded, but then he says BECAUSE they are not inhabited wind turbines should not be built!!! Heads I win, tails you loose.

This figure quoted of about 2kWh/person/day as the “practical” resource just doesn’t add up to calculations, of energy in average wind speeds of 12 m/sec at 100m height( at least 3% of UK). gives 1200W/m^2,energy and assuming a wind farm only recovers 1.5%of this is 18MW/km^2 for 7,000km^2(3%of UK)=126GW or 2kW average(48kWh/person/day). I think that’s about twice the present UK per person electricity consumption, so perhaps only 1.5% of UK would be OK. That’s still going to leave a lot of wilderness, as well as very low impact on the actual environment on regions having turbines( 4-6 turbines /km^2).

The variability of wind is still an issue for a small country like the UK, but would be better with turbines also on near off-shore islands, and Shetlands, to get the maximum separation. For countries like US, Canada Australia can separate sites over a larger area than size of weather systems, reducing risks of low wind across the grid.


I have a classic quote from a book by Arthur C Clarke called profiles of the future. The passage refers to a physics professor that categorically proved by impeccable physics that space travel was completely impossible by physical laws and would never happen because to do it would violate the known laws of physics. The problem with this professor’s analysis was of course the assumptions and the orbits chosen because the physics professor, though qualified in physics, was not a space travel expert like Tsichovosky.

I guess we will never be able to see until it is done that a large scale rollout of renewable energy with appropriate peaking power can do.

Books like this actually do nothing because you can tweak the physics any way you want and if you are not a renewable expert then you will not know that your assumptions are invalid.

A classic case is estimating the output of a wind turbine from the average wind speed. Unless you are really knowledgeable this seems perfectly valid however you will get completely the wrong answer that is about a third to a half less than if you used a simple wind frequency graph that correctly reflects the wind of the site. It is completely wrong to use the average wind speed and its chief use is to denigrate wind power if you have a nuclear agenda. It is a bit like using the last ten years of global average temperatures to say that the world has been cooling. It is just wrong.

As for diffuse power sources as I flew into Melbourne on Thursday I passed over thousands of hectares of solar collectors. We don’t seem to have any problem powering ourselves and all the biomass on the planet from diffuse sources. If there is one country in the world that could be completely renewable it is Australia. Even the Europeans, obviously who have not read this book, are proposing building HVDC links to North Africa to power their technological society.

I think that books like this do more harm than good. I guess the same could be written about nuclear that was supposed to be too cheap to meter in the 1950s however has always failed to deliver its promise without massive subsides and illegal nuclear weapons programs that endanger our very existence. So if there are books to be written about frauds nuclear should be right up there.

More correct answers are out there. Mark Diesendorf has been for years doing peer reviewed work on wind and critiqued Trainors work. David Mills founded a company to construct large scale solar with cost effective storage. I guess, in the end, you will believe who you want to believe.


Ender: No one sensible plugs in average wind speed directly to estimate wind turbine output — that’s a straw man. Hayden certainly doesn’t, Mackay doesn’t, Trainer doesn’t. However, average wind speed is also indicative of the relative frequency of higher or lower speeds, due to approximately the same shaped probability distribution (Raleigh) at most sites. So it’s a useful proxy for average output, which is why folks talk about it (both Neil and Douglass in this thread’s comments).

Did you ever lookup the full quote of the ‘too cheap to meter’ and its context? It’s an old urban legend that he said it specifically about nuclear power. Everyone just assumed it, because Strauss worked for the Atomic Energy Commission.

And how, pray, has nuclear power failed to deliver its promise? Compared to coal? Maybe. Compared to technosolar? Don’t make me laugh.

Mark Diesendorf does good work on the generalities of renewable energy, but has never explicitly tacked the problems of scaling up, and never published a critique of Trainer (at least, I’ve not been able to find it if he has — and I see you never did do it, despite promising me you would have a go). David Mills has got an appealing business proposition on his hands that he says is cost effective, and I say: good luck to him and go for it. The proof will be in the pudding; if everyone starts adopting his tech, then great. If not, we’d better darned well make sure we’ve not left ourselves with nothing else to turn to.


re#30 Neil

I think you are taking Mackay’s map (which excludes land around villages and areas of wilderness/outstanding natural beauty) altogether too seriously. It was my assumption that it was an amusing sideswipe at nimbyism, an attempt to highlight the fact that the general public doesn’t begin to grasp the energy emergency we are about to experience or the scale of the response that will be needed. Your opening remark relating to planning refusals on half or more of potential onshore sites but almost total approval for offshore ones (which will produce electricity at double the cost) tends to back up what I took to be Mackay’s point and further highlights political weakness and public ignorance.

Mackay does calculate that, were we to use 10% of our windiest land area, we might be able to produce 20 kWh/person/day, noting that it would require more turbines than those currently extant on the entire planet. For good measure, he throws in 16 more (kWh, not turbines!) for shallow onshore and 32 for deep offshore wind as theoretical possibilities.

You suggest that we could obtain 48 kWh/person/day from 3% of our land area and , given that your expertise on this subject is undoubtedly superior to my own, I won’t disagree and am, in fact, very heartened to hear it. You do acknowledge, however, that intermittency and grid linkage will represent very real and growing obstacles as wind takes an increasing proportion of our energy portfolio. Let’s all hope for an economical storage solution to emerge.

I think you were somewhat misleading (probably unintentionally) in suggesting that 48 kWh/person/day was all the power we needed. You were referring to current electrically generated power. If we lose fossil fuels, a high proportion of our total energy requirements will have to be met directly or indirectly with electrical power. Our total energy needs are four to five times greater than 48 kWh/person/day and our population is expanding rapidly. In essence, therefore, Mackay seems to me to be correct in concluding that the UK cannot sustain itself on renewable energy without imports thereof.

My point is that we have no choice but to energise ourselves in the most affordable ways while eliminating CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. In the UK, onshore wind is presently our best bet in this regard but it only a partial answer. It is possible that CCS coal might come into play but this seems some way off. Our best but, as yet unproved, hope for affordable energy that is close to being sustainable in the long term seems to be 4th generation fission power. We know that it is technically possible but need to be more certain of the energy price at which it will deliver. It seems imperative, therefore, that someone somewhere gets a demonstration unit up and running as soon as humanly possible.


A classic case is estimating the output of a wind turbine from the average wind speed. Unless you are really knowledgeable this seems perfectly valid however you will get completely the wrong answer that is about a third to a half less than if you used a simple wind frequency graph that correctly reflects the wind of the site.

Of course, the variability of wind speed is a great problem for utilities who are unfortunate enough to be mandated to use it. The whole V^3 thing means that output can jump or drop dramatically on a very short timescale and produce great headaches for the engineers whose business it is to ensure a steady, reliable flow of juice. If you have good hydro resources connected to the local grid, you can get away with this to some extent. Even methane plants have trouble keeping up with the variability sometimes, hence the need to keep them running at high capacity even when they’re not needed for direct power generation if they’re backing up wind.


“He who does not learn to store
shall have no power after four.”

“Those who master nuclear might
shall have full power all the night.”

I have to admit it’s not quite as snappy as David’s pithy phrase.


Barry – “So it’s a useful proxy for average output, which is why folks talk about it (both Neil and Douglass in this thread’s comments).”

McKay actually does – I wrote to him about it citing the wind energy manual and he replied much as you do. Average wind speed is not a reliable indicator of wind turbine output. It has only one function – to guess sites where wind energy might be OK to site. Ideally you would want over 6 m/s to even start looking at a site. McKay uses it to calculate how many wind turbines would be required to power England and comes up with far far too many.

It is also not a straw man. I cited it as a case where industry unqualified people will use incorrect assumptions to get the wrong answer using impeccable physics.

“And how, pray, has nuclear power failed to deliver its promise? Compared to coal? Maybe. Compared to technosolar? Don’t make me laugh.”

My point here was to highlight the title of the book as being disingenious. Solar is no more a fraud than nuclear. Nuclear does not power the entire world either despite heady promises when it was first proposed.

Renewables needed a level of technology of nuts and bolts things like cheap high power, high voltage IGBTs that make power converters a 10th the cost of what they were in 1980s and computer controls that are now just being rolled out. Also battery development has started in leaps and bounds. Utilities are already installing them to help smooth the already loaded grid and stabilise it even before renewables get a move on. Modern wind turbines are almost all variable speed that use much more of the available wind energy than the older constant speed ones. Renewables complement each other so it is also not correct to isolate one and say it is a fraud. Wind and solar work together when dispersed making a system that is much more reliable than an isolated wind farm or solar power station. Books like this rarely mention this.

How about we stop talking about silver bullets are start working toward a future where grids are smart and transport is electric. Renewables are just as capable of supplying this as nuclear or anything else in the right conditions with the correct infrastructure. Practical nuclear needs almost the same backup as wind or solar. Installing peaking plants that run on renewable hydrogen or biomass will be as important for any large scale nuclear rollout as it is with renewables. Mark has done modelling where large scale dispersed wind needs about the same peaking power backup as large scale nuclear if you care to read his papers. I cannot find the exact paper I am looking for however with my limited time at the moment it may take some time. You will not how long it took me to read this post. It is the reason I have not done the Trainor critique. (if you are wondering how I have time now I am sitting waiting for the sparkys to finish so I can shut down the server room while they connect the UPS – I am commissioning the IT in a factory in Melbourne this weekend)

Sensationalising solar as a fraud is just wrong no matter who writes it.


Ender: “I cited it as a case where industry unqualified people will use incorrect assumptions to get the wrong answer using impeccable physics.”

Same deal the other way regarding solar’s potential — as the dozens of quotes in Hayden’s book illustrates.

“My point here was to highlight the title of the book as being disingenious. Solar is no more a fraud than nuclear. Nuclear does not power the entire world either despite heady promises when it was first proposed.”

The fraud does not refer to whether it’s powering the world. It refers to the manipulation of statistics for solar and against other power sources. Judge for yourself whether you think ‘fraud’ is too strong a word (I think it is too strong). But at least read the book to make that judgement (have you even read Blees’ book yet?).

“Modern wind turbines are almost all variable speed that use much more of the available wind energy than the older constant speed ones.”

Sure, but they still switch off at high wind speeds and deliver almost zero power at low wind speeds. Further, their capacity factor is ultimately governed by an economic decision as to the size of the electrical generator to attach — so a variable wind speed capability simply allows a slightly larger generator to be installed.

Wind and solar work together when dispersed making a system that is much more reliable than an isolated wind farm or solar power station. Books like this rarely mention this.

Not only haven’t you read this book, but you didn’t even read my post above properly before commenting on it, which is rather disappointing. By ‘solar’, Hayden is referring to wind, PV, solar thermal, wave, biomass and hydropower. Indeed the only ‘renewable’ energy that is not solar is tidal (though it gets a mention) and geothermal (which is nuclear) — also discussed.

“Practical nuclear needs almost the same backup as wind or solar.”

What nonsense. Nuclear needs overbuilding or hydro/storage for peaking. Solar needs it for every circumstance. Large scale dispersed wind helps reduce variability — absolutely. But at the penalty of needing more high-volume transmission cables going to and from each location, and much more nameplate capacity at each location. Let’s say we dispersed wind across a continent and by doing this, we could get a reliable supply from at least one part at any time (doubtful). Taking a simple caricatature, let’s say we divided a continent into four quadrants and could get total demand from any one quadrant. We’d need x4 actual power needs installed, which, when considering capacity factor, would mean we’d be delivering x14-16 our power needs when wind was blowing strongly everywhere, and x0 to x1 our power needs when it was blowing in only 1 or 2 quandrants or weakly in most places. Dispersed wind as a ‘solution’ is another of those illusions.


“Practical nuclear needs almost the same backup as wind or solar. Installing peaking plants that run on renewable hydrogen or biomass will be as important for any large scale nuclear rollout as it is with renewables.

If so, the hydrogen could be generated by nuclear plants at night during the low demand period, or if we go down the Green Freedom route (I just know GRL Cowan is going to upbraid me for referring to GF) we could use excess liquid fuel for peaking purposes. Or use whatever the local hydro resources are if they’re up to it. As Prof. Brook points out, solar/wind needs backup for everything, and if the power levels needed for solar/wind systems are difficult to imagine replicating themselves (so as to be truly sustainable) at the level needed just to maintain reasonable baseload production, imagine the obstacles to a positive EROEI for solar/wind if it has to do everything, peaking, process heat, mass and private transport, the lot… for a global population of 10G+.


Barry, as I mentioned above, Australia can get a large portion of its electricity from solar energy without requiring any back up to be built. This is because we use more electricity during the day than at night and because enough fossil fuel generating capacity to almost meet demand already exists.


Ronald: This is because we use more electricity during the day than at night and because enough fossil fuel generating capacity to almost meet demand already exists.

Sure, but we have to get rid of ALL of that coal- and gas-fired backup as soon as possible. We’re talking about a complete substitute for this capacity.


A wrinkle that needs a bit more attention:

Talk of the Nation, August 22, 2008 · Developers have created flexible sheets of ‘nanoantennas’ that could aid in getting energy from solar energy or from other heat sources. The sheets could harvest up to 80 percent of the infrared light that falls upon them and the researchers say the material could cost just pennies a yard. …

The nanoantennas’ ability to absorb infrared radiation makes them promising cooling devices. Since objects give off heat as infrared rays, the nanoantennas could collect those rays and re-emit the energy at harmless wavelengths.*

Nano Heating
Talk of the Nation, August 22, 2008

Hat tip to Timothy Chase at

* My footnote — if this works, emitters could be tuned for the infrared wavelengths in which the atmosphere is transparent.

That might be a feasible way of actually getting rid of heat rather than just dissipating it within the planet’s atmosphere. I’m not sure how the infrared astronomers would feel about this, it’d be one more band pollution to the extent it’s scattered.


Ender, and Barry#39,

The point I was trying to make about MacKays treatment of wind is that although he understands the basic physics, in his calculations of what would be possible and what is practical he doesn’t do this; he takes a 6m/sec average wind speed(at 10m/sec), 10% of land area then at the end dismisses this as not being enough to replace FF, and for good measure dismisses the 10% on NIMBY grounds.

I think Ender is saying( and I certainly am saying); If you only need to select 16-25 m/sec, the other half 7-15m/sec. Some power is still being wasted above the capacity of the turbines and of course should point out that actually only harvest 1.5% of the total energy passing over the site.
In all 3 underestimations multiply to give a very large underestimation.

MacKay’s defense is that some other studies arrive at similar values, and some wind farms in operation only get 2-3W/m^2, even though many of the existing locations were sited because of power grid location, easy access, not because they were the best sites, and density of turbines has not been an issue, lots of unused space. Payments to farmers are probably on a number of turbines basis not the farmers land area.

The intermittent issue is covered well by MacKay, and he shows that in UK pumped storage could provide 200-400GWh. He assumes a very large requirement for replacing FF transport, 40kWh/day/person, although the average vehicle only travels 30km miles that’s 1.2kWh/mile( OK if we are talking about replacing petrol energy) but if we are replacing WORK to wheels, electric cars use 50% wind power would be a season of low average wind, a good reason to have solar, nuclear as well as wind.


Barry continued:
We need to remember, that US and N America are in a MUCH better position because they have a grid covering X10 to 100 times the land area of UK, with wind resources very dispersed( Australia; 4,000 Km W&S coastline, and Tasmania, in N America; Alaska to Baja CA, Texas to Labrador, and Hudson’s Bay, all except Alaska connected in one grid.)
Both of these continents also have lots of hydro capacity(18% of total capacity in both cases). This could be easily and cheaply expanded by adding extra turbines and having some reversible.

The final issue is Barry’s quadrant:I do not understand your reasoning for X16capacity??

What is likely to happen is that very occasionally one quadrant will drop out due to a blocking high, for argument say all of the wind power expected. Remember these quadrants would be up to 5million km^2, x25 larger than the UK,equivalent to no wind in western Europe, possible because blocking highs can be big, but not covering 10million km^2.

If two of the other quadrants only are supplying enough for their regions the fourth quadrant would have to make up the difference. But wait, hydro in the zero wind quadrant will take up some of the extra slack(40% for a few hours, assuming a 100% expansion of hydro capacity, not storage, or nuclear or solar), as well as hydro in the other two quadrants that are getting 100% energy from wind, (20%) each.Tthe last high quadrant can provide some of the balance(say 20%), to the low quadrant and 10% to each of the others( if needed).
After the peak load has passed and if wind power is still zero, the other 3 quadrants can still provide wind energy to recharge the local quadrants pumped storage and save all hydro to recover for the next demand peak.
Thus the six major links( would have more than this),between 4 quadrants each only have to provide 20% of the expected power(ie 7% of the capacity).These are still large regions so some wind power would be expected,5% of capacity,allowing hydro to keep going longer, to get past peak period, or less than 20% transfer across quadrants.

Once every 10-20 years two quadrants may totally drop out AT PEAK demand; rolling blackouts would result( just as we have now) and we would survive( just as we did in the last two); PHEV cars may only have 50% re-charge or no re-charge ONE-TWO DAYS IN 10-20years.You are not going to have 3 quadrants will no wind, they just cover too much geography, the jet steam may be deflected by 1000km, but it cannot go backwards more than a few 100Km or be deflected to the southern hemisphere.

If wind was a maximum of 50% energy, today’s hydro capacity could cover 40% of the loss(20%) and power flows would be only 10% across each quadrant( ie4% of capacity).
More of a concern with using >50% wind power would be a season of low average wind, a good reason to have solar, nuclear as well as wind.


Neil: The final issue is Barry’s quadrant:I do not understand your reasoning for X16capacity??

Say demand is X GW. We want a distributed grid to always supply X GW. So we install 4X GW in each quadrant, assuming a capacity factor of 0.25. Thus, if wind is dead in 3 quadrants, we still get X GW if it is blowing in the fourth.

Yes, 16X is overkill, because it would require no effective wind in 3 quadrants and only average wind in the 4th (in the cartoon example) + also considers the conversion losses involved in pumped storage (about 50%). 8X is probably sufficient to cover most cases. But it does underscore two points (i) you need to overbuild dispersed wind capacity and transmission lines in order to simulate baseload, and this changes the economics of wind considerably, and (ii) that even then, you ultimately cannot overbuild your way out of the intermittency problem — it becomes a game of diminishing returns as you try to get more and more ‘assured’ supply out of a distributed wind grid. That was my point in the above.

25% is a low capacity factor for sites we’d build on in the next 10 years, but is likely to be relevant if you are installing 16X GW — you’ve long run out of excellent and good sites.

What is likely to happen is that very occasionally one quadrant will drop out due to a blocking high

The Australian meteorological data say otherwise, showing that there are many strings of 3-5 days when it is calm [down to <6m/s] EVERYWHERE across the continent, not just in one area. Ted Trainer cites a couple of Australian studies which have look at this issue. I don’t know where you get the once every 10-20 year figure but I’ve never seen any real-world data to support such a supposition. What work were you citing here?

Pumped storage will work in some places, but not many in Australia. To expand it seriously, you’d mostly have to use dams perched above coastal sites (cliffs with suitable elevated depressions, hills backing wind sites) and get over the environmental angst against pumping sea water onshore.


More of a concern with using >50% wind power would be a season of low average wind, a good reason to have solar, nuclear as well as wind.

I agree, but it then raises the obvious question: why the build wind or solar (on a large scale) if nuclear is sufficent and more cost effective? [perhaps straight out, but certainly when backup is factored into wind/solar cost]


I think there may be some potential in wind pumped hydro for SE Australia. For example Low Rocky Pt on the Tassie west coast is windy (today about 20 kph average), accessible by barge yet only 45km from the underperforming Gordon Dam. True there are a couple of swamps and gullies in between. The dam has three turbines producing 442 MW but unused mounting slots in the powerhouse for another two, call it 300MW. Whatever the budget allowed could build cheap turbines on the coast sending variable DC via lightweight transmission (installed by helicopter) to the hydro outfall. There water would be pumped uphill again using positive displacement pumps that work at any speed. This kind of approach could be expanded in increments.

That unregulated wind would then counterbalance regulated wind which plugs directly into the grid to be replaced by hydro during wind lulls. Assuming no inefficiencies that would be a 2X overbuild. Good for a gigawatt or two perhaps.



Hank, I believe you have speculated in the past on RealClimate that you would like to wish into existence a means of changing wavelengths of emitted infrared from those absorbed by CO2 and water vapour to those that would “go through the window” and dodge the greenhouse blanket. I was wondering whether you were hoping that double sided flexible sheets of nanoantennae were going to make your wish come true. It seems that the developers are a long way from making electricity from these sheets and that a more immediate target for the product might be a “geoengineering” one which could keep us going while we get rid of fossil fuels.

No doubt you have considered this and I was wondering whether you have done so from a practical point of view (scaling, cost etc – might need a lot of gold!). If so, it would be very interesting to read your thoughts on the subject.


Do you have those references cited by Trainer for blocking highs?
This study looked at NSW, VIC,SA, at actual sites over 4 years from 1999-2003. This included a blocking high event in May 2002 that went from WA to VIC, but obviously some regions were windy at the East coast edge. It would be interesting if had data on WA and TAS

Click to access windstudy.pdf

You can see that on page 17, duration of 4 years duration.

The North of Australia is not under blocking highs over the bight, being influenced by the Eastern Equatorial flows in summer.

As for pumped hydro the Snowy has 3 of the 6 Tummut 250 MW turbines equipped to reverse flow. The Snowy authority uses the same water many times to generate peak power. Other sites available in Snowy, and also in TAS which has 2,200MW capacity but uses 1,200MWa because of shortage of water. Their is a 85MW pumped hydro outside Sydney and one outside Brisbane. The lower dam for pumped storage only has to hold a few hours of turbine flow, so a low weir will do.


Neil: Trainer did cite the Davey & Coppin wind study you link to, and a couple of other ones from Europe:

Oswald Consulting, (2006), 25GW of distributed wind on the UK electricity system, An engineering assessment carried out for the Renewable Energy Foundation, London.

Click to access ref.wind.smoothing.08.12.06.pdf

E.On Netz, (2005), Wind Report 2005, or

Davy, R. and P. Coppin, (2003), South East Australian Wind Power Study, Wind Energy Research Unit, CSIRO, Australia.

Click to access windstudy.pdf

He says:

“Davey and Coppin (2003) carried out a valuable study of what the situation would be if an integrated wind system aggregated output from mills across 1,500 km of south east Australia. Its findings align with those of Oswald. Coppin points out that this region has better wind resource than Europe in general. Linking mills in all parts of the region would reduce variability of electricity supply considerably, but it would remain large. Calms would affect the whole area for days at a time. Their Figure 3 indicates that the aggregated system would be generating at under 26% of capacity about 30% of the time, and for 20% of the time it would be under 20% of capacity. Clearly a very large wind system would have to be backed up by some other large and highly reliable supply system, and that system would be called on to do a lot of generating.”

[Also look at Figure 16: Black Line — there were three times in that one month period when total capacity across SA/Vic/NSW was <10% of nameplate and one <5%]


“One aspect of the variability problem is the seasonal difference in wind strength. Czisch (2004, Fig. 5.) shows that in February Europe gets almost 5 times as much wind energy (not mean speed; energy is proportion to speed cubed) as in May, so if we built a system big enough to meet demand in February it would only do 20% of the job in May. The difference is evident in the above winter and summer capacity figures for Denmark and Germany.

There are schemes for connecting vast intercontinental regions into the one wind energy system, e.g., from Morocco to the Sahara and Kazakhstan. (Czisch and Ernst, 2003.) This would considerably reduce the variation problem because when the winds were low in Western Europe they would probably be high in some of the other regions. The important point however is that even though wind speed correlations across such distances could be zero and some wind would usually be blowing somewhere, there would still be many times when the average wind across the whole system was low, and that means the wind system as a whole would not be producing much. The studies by Davey and Coppin, Oswald and Coelingh referred to above show this. “Synoptic” weather patterns often apply to large regions. As Hayden (2004, p. 150) says, “There are times when the wind is calm everywhere.”

If we assume that the wind is always good in Morocco, or Kazakhstan or Siberia or Western Europe, then if we are to have a system that always reliably meets demand from one or other of these regions, we would have to build four entire systems each big enough to meet demand. We would also have to build several costly 4,000-5,000 km transmission lines to Europe (losing perhaps 15% of energy generated.) Note that most of these regions are well to the East of Europe so it will be night time there when European demand is highest, during the day. Winds tend to be low at night.”

There is a lot more detail in Trainer’s book, obviously.


Barry, it would certainly be good to get rid of all greenhouse gas emissions from electrical generation as soon as possible, and solar power could be helpful in achieving this goal. Assuming that the cost of PV drops below that of other low emission options, but not so low that it becomes economical to overbuild, then we could get considerably more than 15% of our electricity from it in Australia. Without overbuilding we could install enough PV capacity to provide almost all of our electricity on cloudless days of low demand. This should be enough to provide 30% or more of our total electricity use.

Then we could eliminate the remaining emissions from fossil fuel generating capacity. Obviously the cheapest way to do this would be the best. We don’t know which methods will be the most economical, but there are a number of possibilities. One solution could be to run some of the gas and coal plants off biogas and char. This should be economical as the capital costs of the plants have already been paid for, although if the climate situation rapidly worsens it may increase the cost of biomass.

Improved demand management and the construction of a smart grid would help by switching demand away from times when fossil fuel capacity was in use and towards times when electricity was being supplied by low emission sources. It would also aid the integration of intermittent energy sources. Hopefully we can avoid the kind of draconian demand management enforced by the Western Australian government when they banned the use of air conditioners and escalators in stores.

We know that electricity can be generated from hot rock geothermal, but its cost is known yet. Building more wind turbines would be an option as it complements solar power very well. However, the more wind turbines that are built the more likely that there will be sunny, windy days when more electricity is produced than needed, but energy storage is an option. Pumped storage could be used, although it may be pumped seawater. Although pumped seawater damns would be expensive to build, they could be worthwhile if the geography is suitable, they can be conveniently located and intermittent energy sources result in electricity prices dropping towards zero with reasonably regularity. Flow batteries are another energy storage method that may become economical. In addition, concentrating solar thermal plants could use thermal storage to operate as peak plants.

If the goal is to eliminate fossil fuel generating capacity in Australia as soon as possible, then I don’t think Australia should pursue nuclear power. There are several reasons. Firstly, new nuclear plants under construction are quite expensive. Efficiency measures and other low emission generating capacity can cut CO2 emissions by a greater amount per dollar. Secondly, even if a consortium offered to build a reactor in Australia tomorrow, it would be years before it reduced CO2 emissions, and starting construction of a reactor now would bid up the price of skilled nuclear workers and components and make the construction of nuclear reactors in other countries less likely. And most other countries lack the renewable energy potential of Australia. Thirdly, our goal should be not just to reduce Australia’s CO2 emissions, but global emissions, and Australia is more likely to do this by developing renewable energy than nuclear. This is because there are many poorer nations in this world that would find it very problematic to build nuclear reactors due to the expense, an underdeveloped transmission infrastructure, a lack of technical expertise and because certain powerful international actors would not want them to develop a nuclear industry. However, they could make use of renewable energy capacity that Australia is in a good position to develop and export.


Answering Douglas Wise — no, I’ve no competence to assess the idea; just wondered (yes, at RC earlier) whether there’s any way to emit heat from the ground selectively in one of the atmospheric window ranges. Hardly original to me, science fiction stories have featured “cooling lasers” I know. Big panels oriented north emitting fairly precisely in the window might successfully get rid of some heat, but it’s pure speculation. Now if you could use the approach to tune paint for roofs and material for road surfaces to somehow emit right in that band, maybe. It’d take a huge surface area, I imagine. But otherwise, the heat has to make its way slowly through the atmosphere. Bummer.

I once asked someone competent (Eli) if there could be any way to pump greenhouse gas molecules at top of atmosphere up slightly — encouraging any that were almost wound up enough to emit infrared but needed a slight nudge — but that was wishful thinking.

Hmmm, unless we designed a molecule specifically that would collect energy from collisions and random photons and could orient to emit only outward …. nah, more wishful thinking.


Thanks for the citations, I had read before but forgot where.
I thought 20% capacity was good, considering average is 33%. That’s still only a small of Australia’s southern windy coast and leaves out TAS. Will have to await a study that’s continent wide.
The US/Canada grid is 4,000 k from Labrador to San Diego,and only 1,000 of that is HVDC, Europeans need to start thinking like real “continentals”.

The graph of wind in SA is to illustrate it’s not how low wind may be for a short time but what it’s at during a record peak( when no additional capacity is available). SA peaks are usually on record temperature days( often blocking highs).
We could probably live with one in 10 “load shedding events” due to low wind , but not 9 out of ten. Usually its a transmission fault.
Of course the first time low wind actually trips up the SA grid, this will be the “Brazil nut protein” of GMO’s or the ‘Chernobyl” of nuclear. Stories of people dying from heat stress, great for the “I told you so; you can’t rely on wind” types. Just kidding!


Of course the elephant in the room with South Australia is that it may hold 20-40% of the world’s easily mined uranium. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm for Gen 4 reactors I suggest SA puts up a 1000 MWe Gen 3 reactor. A good spot would be next to the desal plant at Whyalla intended to service the Olympic Dam expansion. Key objectives would combined economies and a quick build say under 5 years.


I agree John. There are a lot of new mines and their associated infrastructure [housing for personnel, plant equipment, etc.] being opened, expanded (e.g. Olympic Dam) or placed firmly on the drawing board, and they’re all going to need water and energy. Whyalla, or some place outside of the town, strikes me as the perfect place for Australia’s first Gen III+ reactor (an ESBWR would be a great way to kick things off).


“I agree John. There are a lot of new mines and their associated infrastructure [housing for personnel, plant equipment, etc.] being opened, expanded (e.g. Olympic Dam) or placed firmly on the drawing board, and they’re all going to need water and energy. Whyalla, or some place outside of the town, strikes me as the perfect place for Australia’s first Gen III+ reactor (an ESBWR would be a great way to kick things off).”

This sems like a good idea, but have you considered the propaganda value of having the first Australian reactor phase out a few coal plants?

Unfortunately, neither choice is available until the political class decides it is. Perhaps some strategies could be formulated to move things along?


What is the upbraiding by me that you’re so certain of, Finrod?

I was almost certain that you would take the opportunity thus presented to once again put forth your case for carbon sequestration via alkiline earth silicates such as olovine and serpentine, as opposed to extracting CO2 from the atmosphere for liquid fuel synthesis, as the Green Freedom scenario proposes.


Barry – “Sure, but they still switch off at high wind speeds and deliver almost zero power at low wind speeds.”

Yes but wind speeds of over 25 m/s are very very rare for most good wind sites. It may be one day per year or less. Also a wind site is selected so that low wind speeds, lower than the cut-in wind speed, are also rare.

The difference between a modern variable speed turbine and the older constant speed is that a variable speed turbine is just a magnet (or piece of iron) spinning in a coil of wire. No attempt is made to regulate either the frequency or amplitude of the AC from the alternator. The AC is then DCed and then fed to power converters that make the utility grade 50Hz AC required. Constant speed wind turbines use 2 speed gearboxes to spin the alternator at 50Hz and therefore can only generate power in a fairly narrow wind range. However before IGBTs became cheap this was the only way you could do wind as you can connect a CS turbine direct to the grid.

The upshot is that a variable speed turbine can generate power over a much wider speed range than a CS one and it also uses gusts better. The power converters also can have more reactive correction allowing a more graceful connect and disconnect of the farm.

“What nonsense. Nuclear needs overbuilding or hydro/storage for peaking. Solar needs it for every circumstance. Large scale dispersed wind helps reduce variability — absolutely. But at the penalty of needing more high-volume transmission cables going to and from each location, and much more nameplate capacity at each location. Let’s say we dispersed wind across a continent and by doing this, we could get a reliable supply from at least one part at any time (doubtful).”

We have talked about overbuilding baseload before and concluded that this is impractical. Australia has limited potential for pumped hydro and with climate change, water will be at a premium.

From the Base Load Fallacy written by Mark Diesendorf based on peer reviewed research:

Click to access BaseloadFallacy.pdf

“Computer simulations and modelling show that the integration of wind power into an electricity grid changes the optimal mix of conventional base-load and peak-load power stations. Wind power replaces base-load with the same annual average power output. However, to maintain the reliability of the generating system at the same level as before the substitution, some additional peak-load plant may be needed. This back-up does not have to have the same capacity as the group of wind farms. For widely dispersed wind farms, the back-up capacity only has to be onefifth to one-third of the wind capacity. In the special case when all the wind power is concentrated at a single site, the required back-up is about half the wind capacity. (Martin &
Diesendorf 1982; Grubb 1988a & b; ILEX 2002; Carbon Trust & DTI 2004; Dale et al. 2004;UKERC 2006).”

Computer simulations show that wind can replace baseload power with the same annual average output. In Australia with it’s outstanding wind potential there is no need to place turbines in anything less than optimum sites. The wind farm north of me at Geraldton has a capacity factor of 47%. Your quadrant argument is nonsense as these quadrants would very rarely all be still as other commenters have pointed out.

Also what are the normal weather conditions for a blocking high? I think that a blocking high is characterised by hot and sunny conditions with very few clouds. In this case the solar thermal plants would be generating at full capacity and also storing heat for the nighttime off-peak.

Finally we are not at the mercy of the weather anymore or at least as much as we where before. A blocking high can be predicted days ahead allowing large loads to be disconnected as they are now when demand exceeds supply. We can now schedule wind with pretty good accuracy and plan accordingly.


Also while researching the above post I came across this:

“Dr Mark Diesendorf

For decades the big greenhouse gas emitting industries have disseminated myths, fallacies, ‘spin’ and outright lies about the science of global warming from the human-induced greenhouse effect. They have deliberately sown doubt and confusion in the minds of politicians, journalists and members of the public at large. In 2006, greenhouse science, supported by observations of widespread and growing climatic impacts and popularised by Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, triumphed at last in the minds of the vast majority of Australians, who now accept that global warming is a real, major and urgent issue.

Now the vested interests, with the assistance of some politicians and some uncritical journalists, are disseminating misinformation and confusion about potential solutions to global warming.

This paper provides brief refutations of 12 fallacies about greenhouse solutions, and cites references where more detailed discussions have been published. Each fallacy is first stated in italics, then this author’s response is given in ordinary text.”

Also this is Mark’s response to Trainer:

“Ted Trainer’s critique is based on objections that are factually incorrect and on misunderstandings of our study. He attempts to make technical objections, but confuses energy demand with energy supply, energy targets with energy scenarios, business-as-usual scenarios with our ‘weak efficiency’ baseline scenario, and capacities of wind turbines with capacity factors. More specifically:”

It starts on Page 11.


Ender, thanks for the link to a critique of Trainer by Diesendorf — I’d not seen that. I’ll look over it and reply here later (and to some of your other points).

But quickly, in regard to Diesendorf’s ‘myth-fallacy-spin’ page — you’ve sent me there already — did you forget you’d come across it before?:

I must admit, this leading statement of his smacks of utter hypocrisy:
For decades the big greenhouse gas emitting industries have disseminated myths, fallacies, ‘spin’ and outright lies about the science of global warming from the human-induced greenhouse effect. They have deliberately sown doubt and confusion in the minds of politicians, journalists and members of the public at large…

Diesendorf does to nuclear power exactly what he accuses the fossil fuel industry of doing to climate science! I see one of the folks who provided advice on his piece is none other than Jim Green of Friends of the Earth. I’ve read his 2007 book ‘Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy’ and I can tell you, the nuclear chapter is grossly ill-informed (this is being kind) and nowhere does he deal with the ‘scale-up’ problems raised by Trainer or Hayden.

Anyway, here is what I said in response to it last time around this merry-go-round (see link I gave above):
why do those differ from people like Mark Diesendorf and Peter Mills who have both done extensive modeling from actual experience and they conclude that renewables can.

The Diesendorf “BP21 Myths” piece you link to is an interesting document but grossly out of date regarding nuclear and not relevant to IFR. I’ll look at a few of the claims he makes that are relevant to this discussion:

-Fallacy 4: Peak uranium and mining/milling CO2 – not relevant to IFR, and his hand-waving are not supported by the detailed life-cycle analysis done by Manfred Lenzen USyd. Mark’s 15 year argument implicitly assumes that renewables can fill this ramp up gap.

-Fallacy 5: IFR fuel cannot be used to create weapons without a specialised PUREX facility. This, and another bunch of reasons detailed in the links I provided earlier on IFR show how damned proliferation resistant it is.

-Fallacy 6: Again, he implicitly assumes by this statement that renewables CAN make a useful contribution by 2020 and that after 2020, nuclear cannot quickly reduce (eliminate) emissions by 2050 (worldwide).

-Fallacy 8: I never said renewables can’t be scaled and engineered to provide baseload. I maintain that there are far better zero-carbon ways to do this, however, that use far fewer resources and are far cheaper. Such as IFR.

-Fallacy 9: No argument there about no-brainers such as solar hot water systems. But baseload is required for cities.

-Fallacy 10: Diesendorf says 510 km2 of solar thermal at 20% efficiency could supply all of Australia’s current electricity demand. Interesting. 2005 electricity generation was 226,000 GWh. Based on the solar thermal calculations of your favoured Ausra plant with thermal storage, you need 3.9 km2 to generate an average 177MW, which over 1 year is 0.177 x 0.4 x 8,766 hrs = 620 GWh. Then 226,000/640 = 353 x 3.9 = 1,377 km2 – so I’m unsure as to how Mark arrived at the 510 km2 figure – no calculations are given in the linked document [his numbers roughly work if you ignore average capacity as just base it on rated maximum output at noon in summer – but that is a purely theoretical number with no relevance to actual power generation].

The residential PV estimate requires optimal conditions and leaves the gap after nightfall, or in winter with strings of cloudy days, to be met from other sources. There is a reason why solar hot water systems have electric or gas boosters, for instance. Geoff notes that with good batteries, this may not be such an issue – agreed, but you then need to cover even more room area (not all obviously in the optimal position) to meet the extra requirement of battery charging.

-Fallacy 11: Cost (I haven’t even bothered to go there). There is an interesting analysis of Carrizo and some other plants here.

It suggests (among other interesting things) that: “Ausra’s estimated capacity factor, in the only slightly less hot and sunny southern San Joaquin Valley is between 18% and 22%. – so the 40% capacity calculation I used above seems highly optimistic, but could theoretically work if we built all of Australia’s capacity in the optimal location (though we’d have to figure in at least 10% transmission loss then if we got HDVC out there).

Okay, so the cost of the yet-to-be-built 177MW Ausra Carrizo plant is estimated by Ausra to be $US 550 million. Using an average delivery over the year of 0.177 x 0.4 = 0.0708, or 71 MW. So that’s $7.7 billion per gigawatt. That would be reasonably competitive, but it strikes me as optimistic. For instance, Ausra says in its San Joaquin Valley location it will deliver up to 22%. That would make it a less attractive $14.1 B/GW. By comparison, Nevada Solar One cost $260M, and when averaged over the year produces 0.064 x 0.23 = 14.7 MW, or $17.7 B/GW. Doesn’t look all that cost competitive to me.

You also worried about Nuclear and water for cooling. To keep PV or solar reflectors running efficiently, you need to pressure wash them every 10 to 20 days, based on the Californian experience. Where will all the water in the desert come from to pressure-wash over 1000 km2 of solar reflectors a couple of times a month?

Regarding the energyscience link, I suggest you read P4TP (I keep needing to suggest this). It is all covered there and explained why these critiques of old nuclear are either not relevant to IFR or can be dealt with via a GREAT scheme.

Why is David’s analysis wrong here? “…Solar power with storage can take up as much of the grid generation load or vehicle energy load as is desired…”

David Mill’s statement is absolutely true. But how is it relevant if in order to achieve this you need to overbuild installed capacity between 3 to 12 times (for a justification of the latter figure, see the Trainer piece I referred you to earlier that you kindly said you’d have a go at critiquing). The number of mirrors thus required becomes staggeringly huge and even then, we need new kinds of storage. Enough solar energy falls on the Earth every 40 minutes to supply human needs at today’s levels for a year. But the fact is it’s incredibly diffuse and so spectacularly difficult to capture in sufficient quantity. That’s basic physics.


Barry Brook – “Diesendorf does to nuclear power exactly what he accuses the fossil fuel industry of doing to climate science! ”

And Howard Hayden does to renewable power exactly what you are accusing Diesendorf and Jim Green of doing to nuclear power and so it goes on …..

The ‘facts’ depend on your point of view. You are not accepting ‘facts’ from the renewable industry because it conflicts with your views on nuclear power. I on the other hand, do not accept the ‘facts’ on nuclear power from the nuclear industry because of my views on renewable power.

What the truth is is anyone’s guess.

One thing is plain however. Of all the countries in the world, the one that stands the greatest chance of being powered largely by renewables is Australia. With our small population and enormous land area we can be the showcase of the world on how to do renewable power on a large scale. I believe that is a more worthy target than any nuclear future.


Finrod: Exactly right. Even if, by some miracle, Australia was to be able to power itself by renewables alone, who else could do it? Almost no other nation. So how on Earth (literally) is that a showcase? Perhaps a showcase to say: “errr, I wouldn’t bother unless you have all the energy advantages of Oz”.

Ender: You say: “Howard Hayden does to renewable power exactly what you are accusing Diesendorf and Jim Green of doing to nuclear power and so it goes on…

Except, I’ve actually bothered to read what Diesendorf and Green have written. Have you read Hayden (or Blees)? Your comments seem to indicate that you haven’t. If you have, do tell, pray, what facts he has manipulated or distorted, or what key argument he has left out? Facts are facts — lies are something quite different, as are deliberate distortions of facts (which is perhaps what you are referring to). I do not see how I have deliberately distorted the facts on renewables — the discussion here has been open and frank.

I’m curious also as to what you think my motivation is for promoting nuclear power. Is it because I work for the nuclear industry? No. Do I get any remuneration from them? No. Same goes for renewables — I don’t (directly) benefit should they succeed or fail.

I’m only ‘anti-renewable’ in the context of the bottom line — I absolutely want a viable, national and global, solution to our energy problem (of which the climate problem is one critical symptom). I see quite clearly that the ‘renewables will do it all’ (except for all that spinning reserve of peaking power gas) mantra is delusional. Yet we must have a carbon-free source of energy that can sustain a modern society. Only nuclear power can deliver that. Renewables most certainly have A ROLE to play. But they aren’t the only actor on stage — and I seriously doubt they are even the lead performer. I’m looking for real, full solutions. You and your anti-nuclear ilk clearly have other agenda to work to, and that doesn’t include complete, credible, real-world solutions.

Sorry if this is harsh, but I’ve frankly had it with the dishonest bull&^*! over what renewables can deliver. I see the spin doctoring that anties put forward on nuclear power as very much akin to the intellectually bereft rubbish put about by the fossil fools forever and ardent climate change denialist mobs. Both views are dangerously deceptive, and I mean that in the literal sense. You and others might choose to leave my blog on the basis that this is clearly a fundamental and irrevocable philosophical divide. So be it. We certainly agree on the magnitude of the climate and pollution problems caused by fossil fuels, but there are greater dimensions to this crisis than recognising that a problem exists and it must be fixed — the scale and scope of the challenge must also be properly acknowledged and duly acted upon. Anties miss this most fundamental step, which ultimately will determine whether we, as a society, succeed or fail.


One thing is plain however. Of all the countries in the world, the one that stands the greatest chance of being powered largely by renewables is Australia. With our small population and enormous land area we can be the showcase of the world on how to do renewable power on a large scale. I believe that is a more worthy target than any nuclear future.

This is a prime example of the kind of spurious reasoning employed by the pro-renewables/anti-nuclear lobby. I agree that if any country in the world has a ghost of a chance of powering itself with ‘renewable’ power sources, it’s Australia. With our low population density, high technology, vast sunny desert spaces, hot-rock geothermal resources and huge coastline, we surely stand a better chance than almost any other nation to make ‘renewable’ power work, if it can be made to work at all on a sustainable basis.

By ‘sustainable’, I mean that the power thus produced is sufficient to run the industrial processes necessary to replicate the power system as it wears out, as well as providing power to mcommercial and public consumers.

I’m not going to recapitulae the debate over the viability of such an energy path here. I have grave doubts that even Australia could run itself from such sources for any length of time, if at all. Lets suppose that, given some severe economies mandated from a pro-‘renewable’ regime, we manage to somehow keep the juice flowing for some basic purposes, such as lighting, telephones, and (perhaps) refrigeration for the wealthier classes. Would this then produce a model for the rest of the world to emulate?

Would the United States be convinced of the merits of ‘renewable’ power if Australia was able to keep the juice flowing at the sort of level I’ve indicated? Would China look at us and think “Hey, why don’t we do that?”? Is India likely to think “What a great idea, let’s do that!”?

The only purpose served by such an example would be the purpose of anti-development propaganda (and only for a short time before the regime which forced this nightmare on us was voted out or overthrown). If we want to provide a decent upstanding example to the world regarding energy policy, we should immediatly reverse our idiotic non-nuclear stance and light the way forward for those who currently have little or no modern power, and who have consistently voted with their feet (and often their lives) to get the hell out of whatever non-industrial nightmare they’ve had the midfortune to be born into.


Barry, you seem unaware that there are already countries that get most of their energy from renewables. Iceland gets 78% of its total energy from renewable sources and plans to increase that figure to 100%. Norway gets 98% of its electricity from renewables and intends to become carbon neutral by 2030. Brazil gets 88% of its electricity from renewables and about 16.7% of energy used by its vehicles is renewable. Almost 100% of Costa Rica’s electricity is from renewables. Colombia gets about 74% of its electricity from renewables. Paraguay not only gets almost 100% of its electricity from renewables, but exports 10 times more renewable electricity than it uses.

You also may be unaware that many countries have renewable energy resources that are sufficient to supply their electricity needs and that are economical to develop at today’s prices. These include conventional geothermal power, hydro and wind. Examples are Indonesia’s massive conventional geothermal capacity and untapped hydroelectric potential in Africa. Also, many countries with large current hydroelectric capacity also have good wind resources and as wind works well in conjunction with hydroelectricity they have large amounts of economically exploitable wind energy.

As fossil fuels are replaced, whether renewables or nuclear are used depends on the bottom line in each region. Some countries may use mostly renewable energy, some may use mostly nuclear. Some may become like Sweden, which currently gets 43% of its total energy from renewable sources, but which also has a large nuclear sector.

Currently in Australia wind is cheaper than nuclear. At the moment no new reactor, either contracted for or under construction, can compete with it on price. Barry, as you have said you are interested in bottom line, do you think that if in Australia, wind will cut more CO2 emissions than nuclear per dollar spent, then we should build wind power capacity first and then build nuclear capacity when nuclear becomes cheaper than wind or other alternatives?


Ronald, you fail to mention a rather critical point. Or perhaps you are unaware of this, as you accuse me of being: All those countries you cite, which currently have high percentages of renewable contribution to energy supply (I’m not sure of those percentages, I’d need to see your data source) use either volcanic geothermal (Iceland) or a combination of hydro-power and biomass (both forms of stored sunlight). None use more than a tiny fraction of ‘technosolar’ (wind turbines, solar PV, concentrating solar thermal, wave power, tidal) [Norway might have 5-10% wind, not sure], which is what we’re talking about in the context of this blog post. 300 years ago, the US, UK, Germany, Russia, Japan, and so on, were all 100% solar powered. But that doesn’t help us with the current situation.

Hot dry rock and volcanic geothermal are fine prospects for some countries, I agree absolutely. That’s not technosolar though, and in terms of RD&D, it’s further off than Gen IV nuclear (and with Gen III+ delivering now). So let’s invest there, but not all our eggs. Some countries will do well out of expansion of hydro — a mature and sensible technology, given sufficient water, suitable catchments, and an environmental trade-off (as with anything). Some will divert croplands or clear more habitat to provide for increased biomass supply — I don’t see many advantages here. Ultimately, there will be a mixture of relative contributions of these across nations, I agree.

Wind is not cheaper than nuclear at large scales unless you piggyback it onto a coal or gas or nuclear backup. Right now in Australia, it’s coal and gas that serves as wind’s battery. Further, we’ve talked ad infinitum about costs of nuclear on other threads. I’m not going to repeat myself, or what others (e.g. Tom Blees) have said here about that. I think we should certainly continue to install wind farms in Australia, start installing CSP, and expand rooftop PV (if people wish to pay for that), put in standards to fast-track energy efficiency and conservation, etc. We just shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that this is going to be enough — not by a long shot.


Barry, sorry I took your remark out of context when you said almost no other country could power itself by renewables alone.


Barry Brook – “Have you read Hayden (or Blees)? Your comments seem to indicate that you haven’t. If you have, do tell, pray, what facts he has manipulated or distorted, or what key argument he has left out?”

I am getting there. The copy of Prescription for the Planet is on order and I have requested a copy of the Solar Fraud from my local library. It is not because I have not bothered as you a bit unfairly say. I am also halfway through the Trainer critique – I realised that the link I sent you was not a critique of the original paper.

“I see quite clearly that the ‘renewables will do it all’ (except for all that spinning reserve of peaking power gas) mantra is delusional. Yet we must have a carbon-free source of energy that can sustain a modern society. Only nuclear power can deliver that.”

But this is only your opinion. I think that you have not got a real handle on how electricity is distributed. Your statement here in your response “except for all that spinning reserve of peaking power gas” indicates a lack of understanding. Spinning reserve is not peaking power. How can you possibly decide that nuclear is the answer if you make a fundamental mistake like this and not realise it?

I guess I am being a bit harsh as well however nuclear has had the same dishonest bull&^*! being touted that it is clean and cheap when it is neither. I am not anti-nuclear completely. As I have said I would be quite happy for countries with low renewable potential to use the LFTR ( as it is completely proliferation proof and eats nuclear waste. However there is nothing in the peer reviewed literature that backs up your opinion that renewables cannot contribute a major fraction of the world’s energy supply. In fact the main part or consensus of the literature says that it can.

“You and others might choose to leave my blog on the basis that this is clearly a fundamental and irrevocable philosophical divide.”

Sorry you do not get rid of me that easily. I totally agree with you on the magnitude of climate change and the problems that we face however I can agree to disagree on the solution and still be a responsible member of this community. I would only leave if this blog descended into the insults, and dishonest crap that Morohasy has on her blog.


I think I have a reasonably good understanding of how electricity is distributed, at least for someone, just like you, who does not work for a transmission/electricity utility. None of us can be ‘specialists’ in anything more than one or two narrow fields. But you seem to make a habit of passing judgment on what you imagine people do or do not know or understand, apparently as a way to convince people of your standpoint. I find that to be a strange and rather derisory form of debating, which I’ve not often encountered — certainly it is inappropriately condescending.

“Spinning reserve is not peaking power. How can you possibly decide that nuclear is the answer if you make a fundamental mistake like this and not realise it?”

Because it was a typo — I had meant “except for all that spinning reserve AND peaking power gas”. Spinning reserve is part of the operating reserve that is ready to be called on ‘at will’ when there are spikes in demand or drops in supply (e.g. wind stops here and there). Hayden talks about it in depth in The Solar Fraud, as you’ll see when you read it. Monbiot also has a good discussion on Britain’s spinning and peaking reserve in Heat.

“How can you possibly decide that nuclear is the answer if you make a fundamental mistake like this and not realise it?

Excuse me, but what a stupendously ridiculous non-sequitur [even if it was true]. Really, if that is the best argument you can mount against nuclear power or my views on it, then, well…

The LFTR is a Gen IV molten salt fast spectrum reactor that breeds fissile U-233 from fertile Th-232. It can also burn transuranics. The SFR (part of an IFR, though a LFTR could also be part of an IFR) is a Gen IV liquid-metal-cooled fast reactor that breeds fissile Pu-239 from fertile U-238. It can also burn transuranics. Both are heavily proliferation resistant. I don’t see how you can be “quite happy” to support the LFTR and not the SFR. They are both superb prospects, but the SFR is further along the RD&D pathway and this is why it is being advocated as the first one to move on.

There is virtually no peer-reviewed literature on the scale-up potential of renewables. IPCC AR4 WGIII review could cite nothing. There is Jacobson’s recent piece, but it hardly gets to the nuts and bolts of the problem. Trainer has written a peer-reviewed book, published by academic publisher Springer, that backs up ‘my opinion’. Pielke, Wigley & Green published another in Nature last year. But it’s currently a tiny literature for both arguments.


(Ronald#68 et al) Hydo is renewable but definitely not clean. It generates methane in huge quantities.

There are 2 ways this happens, the first is the sudden exposure of methane rich water to air at the intake to the turbine (like opening a soft drink bottle) and this may be a solvable problem. The second is from the ebb and flow of dam margins and rotting vegetation … much tougher so deal with.


Barry, I’m not sure what you mean when you say wind is not cheaper than nuclear at large scales unless you piggyback it onto a coal or gas or nuclear backup. Is this a problem? Since we want to reduce CO2 emissions it makes sense to build wind capacity where there is currently coal and gas capacity. Because of the much greater fuel costs of gas and coal, every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by wind is a kilowatt-hour less of electricity produced by fossil fuels. And because wind is backed up by existing fossil fuel capacity doesn’t mean that fossil fuel use can’t be replaced as soon as possible. For example, existing fossil capacity could switch to using biomass, which is something we could start doing immediately and using solid biomass has the advantage of being slightly carbon negative.

As for wind using nuclear as back up, that wouldn’t be very practical. If wind power capacity was built to compete with existing nuclear power it would be a wasted effort from an environmental point of view as they are both low emission sources of energy. It also wouldn’t be profitable. Because fuel is only about 7% the cost of nuclear power the wind capacity would have to bid a very low price for its electricity before it became economically worthwhile for the nuclear plant to reduce output. Interestingly, France plans to build 25 gigawatts of wind capacity by 2020, but I think this will be largely backed up by Swiss hydropower.


Ronald: “As for wind using nuclear as back up, that wouldn’t be very practical. If wind power capacity was built to compete with existing nuclear power it would be a wasted effort from an environmental point of view as they are both low emission sources of energy.”

Absolutely spot on. So wind needs other backup. But it can’t be coal, oil or natural gas — all big GHG producers. We can’t afford to be burning ANY of these, and a renewable energy supply that depends on them is a failure. So what else? You say biomass and hydro — perhaps, depending on where it is sourced and the local circumstances. Another option might be gas turbines with the syngas derived from plasma burners. Biomass is only ‘carbon negative’ if we capture and sequester the combustion emissions. But my point above is that to put an accurate cost on the wind power, you need to include the price of the wind turbines AND the backup (infrastructure + fuel).

Building wind which uses up already installed coal and gas capacity is very dangerous, as it leaves us more exposed to blackouts in high demand periods (e.g. heatwaves), if the wind isn’t blowing at that time.

Fuel is not 7% of the cost of nuclear LWR, and it would be < 1% of the cost of an IFR (the only fuel cost is the pyroprocessing). But as Tom and I have said ad infinitum, you could overbuild your nuclear power IF you were an all electric society (because of the need for boron reprocessing and other uses, like desal). Or you use nuclear as your baseload if you wish and keep hydro, biomass, wind, solar etc. for your high load and peaking power, and syngas for your spinning reserve.


Geoff, greenhouse gas emissions from dams are certainly a concern. However, my understanding was that greenhouse gas emissions from Brazil’s hydroelectric dams were less than a tenth of what would be produced if the same amount of electricity were produced from coal. If you could point me towards some information on this I’d appreciate it. The idea of dealing with methane emissions at the turbine is interesting. Where the water is going to be used for drinking it could be chlorinated first, causing the methane to break down. However, that would form methyl chloride, which would be bad. But I don’t know if enough would remain in the water to pose a health risk.


(Ronald#75) You can find your way into the literature with: Climatic Change 66: 1­8, 2004. Google for “methane dams hydro” and you’ll find stuff. The basic
measurement problem is that nobody is required to report on the methane (or co2)
from dams under UNFCC so data is patchy … my point isn’t that hydro is
always bad, just that a proper accounting of its impacts may rule out some
particular projects … perhaps those with gently sloping fertile banks. Hydro
just shouldn’t be lumped in with other renewables, that’s all.


Barry, you said, “Building wind which uses up already installed coal and gas capacity is very dangerous, as it leaves us more exposed to blackouts in high demand periods (e.g. heatwaves), if the wind isn’t blowing at that time.”

How does building wind capacity use up already installed coal and gas capacity? If I build a wind farm it has no effect on the existing amount of fossil fuel infrastructure. None of it will be used up by my turbines. The same amount of capacity will still be there. What will happen is that the coal and gas capacity will be used less when the wind blows because I don’t have to pay fuel costs and they do. If the existing capacity was sufficient to meet peak demand it will continue to be sufficient. If it wasn’t sufficient to meet peak demand then my wind farm won’t make it sufficent, because sometimes the wind doesn’t blow. But it won’t make things more dangerous. It will make things slightly less dangerous, because although heat waves are usually periods when there is little wind, their may be enough wind for my turbines to generate electricity.


Ronald, you’d be right, if energy demand wasn’t growing, year by year. But it is — fast, in most places. Hayden gives a good example of peaking power being ‘used up’ in California. They had twice as much 20 years ago as today [not just because of renewables, I might add], now they have regular blackouts. Adding a power source that has a 30% capacity factor instead of 90% (and for which downtimes can mostly be scheduled), it makes a big difference.

If energy demand isn’t growing, adding wind helps shore up energy supply. Unless you start to retire and dismantle your coal/gas without replacing it. Which is what we need to do to mitigate climate change.

Interesting graph of Swedish wind power to illustrate the point:


Barry – “I find that to be a strange and rather derisory form of debating, which I’ve not often encountered — certainly it is inappropriately condescending.”

If I caused offence I apologise. I am not trying to be derisory or anything like it. I am trying to point at that people who have spent years in the renewable industry and have tried to get their ideas across get drowned out by the baseload fallacy or intermittant fallacy when the answers are there if you care to accept them.

Again I really should not say anymore as I am obviously getting into Ender fatigue territory again. I will retire and work on my Trainer critique.


No problem Ender. The baseload fallacy is only a fallacy if we are able to deconstruct the entire energy supply system and reconstruct it, and drastically change behaviour. The intermittent fallacy has much the same issue to overcome. Both are also critically dependent on securing a decline in energy demand over time, not growth. If this is decline us not achieved, we have a huge problem. Unless we also have high-capacity-factor, baseload zero-carbon power sources too. That’d be nuclear.


Barry, you said, “Ronald, you’d be right, if energy demand wasn’t growing, year by year.” But I am right. Adding wind capacity to a grid does not reduce or use up existing generating capacity. You appear to be confusing wind’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in areas with coal and gas capacity with the issue of meeting growing peak demand. They are two separate issues. Wind is definitely not good for meeting peak demand because it is intermittent, but it is good for reducing carbon emissions in places with existing fossil fuel capacity.

The graph you provided of Swedish wind power generation is an example of how variable wind can be. But this variability does not mean it was not worthwhile for the Swedes to build those wind turbines. When the wind blows Sweden’s hydroelectric capacity reduces its output, which conserves energy for use when the wind is not blowing or demand is high, making the wind capacity quite useful.


Ronald, adding wind to the grid without also adding coal/gas/nuclear means that retired high-capacity-factor assets are gradually replaced with low-capacity-factor assets. Even if 3-6 times the nameplate in wind is added to replace the coal that is retired (to make up the capacity factor difference and potentially to allow for storage and conversion losses), then you have extended periods like the Swedes just got where the wind is giving you nothing. So you need that high-capacity-factor asset during those periods anyway. Hydro is a great backup ‘battery’ in Sweden, sure. It won’t be so useful in many other places.

And with a growth in peak demand comes a growth in baseload and high demand. They are entangled.

I agree that this variability does not mean it is not worthwhile for the Swedes to build those turbines. They should definitely be building them. But the scale-up challenge, which is at the heart of all this recent discussion on BNC, increases non-linearly as wind or other solar sources become a larger and larger part of the energy mix. So what is Sweden’s ultimate wind capacity? With its hydro, probably 20 to 30%. That’s great, but not enough. They need their nuclear power stations too, and almost certainly a lot more of them in the future. That’s my point.


Solar thermal energy is already operating efficiently in California and is on the drawing board for the TREC Trans Mediterranean Renewable Energy Corporation (Sahara-Europe hydrothermal solar system) (for details see below).

The key for a book like “The Solar Fraud” is to be found not in the myriad of the technical details pro-and-con the various alterantive energy sources, but in the quasi-religious belief in

(1) the continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for carbon gases;
(2) open eneded population growth and consumerism, and
(3) disregard of nature.

Once such basic premises are made, the rest is a mixture of half-truths and pure nonsense.
Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation “TREC”
A Powerful Partnership for Development, Climate Stabilisation.
Formed by initiative of the German Ass. Club of Rome, and of the Hamburg Climate Protection Foundation HKF aimed at Sustainability and renewable energies


Thanks Andrew. “The Solar Fraud” does not deal with (1) or (3). It is concerned with scale-up issues of different energy sources. In regards to (2), it does discuss the implications of energy growth in the developing world — something I’m sure you would not want to attempt to prohibit.

Solar thermal is indeed operating in California. That is not the issue. The issue is the scale-up potential and its competitiveness with other zero carbon energy sources as the scale of operations increases.


Barry: Thanks for the review and all the post afterwards. Well, I normally don’t spend much time in this end of the business. My strengths regarding solar are in different areas.

Example: When the books author speaks of the poor showing of solar over the past three decades…I’ll have to now get a copy and find out…does he mention the hinderance from Governmental changes of policies, the power brokers and monopolistic utility companies and their continued involvement and now expansion into the industry. Utility involvement in solar today..speaks volumes to me, a simple minded, conservation and solar marketer and finance man, it is at least real enough to them that they are forced to hedge their bets against the more conventional sources and power structures they’ve built over the years. Proof enough to me anyway. Does he assume the utilities involvement in the solar industry has been a positive one? it has not, yet even today, many across the country collect, budget and disperse solar rebate money, even more today than before. Wolfs guarding the hens and “helping the fledglings” Right.

Next does the book even go into the conservation aspect..any good ole pioneer in the field, would insist on a full audit of the home or business.
Yet many in the industry talk solar pv only when a combination, after conservation measures are explored, is much more cost-effective than solar alone.

Finally the real unknown factor…The hunger for change, in the heart and minds of the American people. Thirty years of working and watching this industry…before it was a green one even, I must say, I see some real promise. I am no slide rule fool, but I’ve paid a few over the years.

Just my thoughts._Green Earl


This thread has some interesting points, but I see no serious consideration given to the highly probable drop in costs of solarPV generating units, and the effect this will have in phasing out coal (and eliminating the need for nuclear).

The main arguments given here against solar PV are (i) vast areas and (ii )intermittency. The area argument is weak for latitudes +/- 40, a few square km to service major populations will readily be found if the result is cheap clean limitless power, and I have faith that markets will readily find a storage solution for overnight/cloudiness , be that pumping water uphill, chemical (batteries etc) or thermal, or even back-up gas-fired power. I understand that intra-day variability is also a problem , but if the power is cheap (and the flow is “free”), overbuilding and storage can surely be a way around it?

Regarding nuclear, let’s say the cost of nuclear electricity at the plant gate is 1.00 currency unit /kWh. Are there industry wide figures on how much of that is for the insurance premium ? (ie to cover all potential mishaps) And how much is put into the sinking fund to decommission the plant at end of it’s working life, and to store the waste it has produced in that time? And a related question. How much (in present day $ terms) is the likely cost of Fukushima clean-up compared to its life-time profit from power sold?


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