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Nuclear Renewables

Solar realities and transmission costs – addendum

Peter Lang’s ‘solar realities’ paper and its associated discussion thread has generated an enormous amount of interest on BraveNewClimate (435 comments to date). Peter and I have greatly appreciated the feedback (although not always agreed with the critiques!), and this has led Peter to prepare: (a) an updated version of ‘Solar Realites’ (download the updated v2 PDF here) and (b) a response paper (download PDF here). Below I reproduce the response, and also include Peter’s sketched analysis of the scale/cost of the electricity transmission infrastructure (PDF here).

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Comparison of capital cost of nuclear and solar power

By Peter Lang (Peter is a retired geologist and engineer with 40 years experience on a wide range of energy projects throughout the world, including managing energy R&D and providing policy advice for government and opposition. His experience includes: coal, oil, gas, hydro, geothermal, nuclear power plants, nuclear waste disposal, and a wide range of energy end use management projects)

Introduction

This paper compares the capital cost of three electricity generation technologies based on a simple analysis. The comparison is on the basis that the technologies can supply the National Electricity Market (NEM) demand without fossil fuel back up. The NEM demand in winter 2007 was:

20 GW base load power;

33 GW peak power (at 6:30 pm); and

25 GW average power.

600 GWh energy per day (450 GWh between 3 pm and 9 am)

The three technologies compared are:

1. Nuclear power;

2. Solar photo-voltaic with energy storage; and

3. Solar thermal with energy storage

(Solar thermal technologies that can meet this demand do not exist yet. Solar thermal is still in the early stages of development and demonstration. On the technology life cycle Solar Thermal is before “Bleeding edge” – refer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_lifecycle).

This paper is an extension of the paper “Solar Power Realities” . That paper provides information that is essential for understanding this paper. The estimates are ‘ball-park’ and intended to provide a ranking of the technologies rather than exact costs. The estimates should be considered as +/- 50%.

Nuclear Power

25 GW @ $4 billion /GW = $100 billion (The settled-down-cost of nuclear may be 25% to 50% of this figure if we reach consensus that we need to cut emissions from electricity to near zero as quickly as practicable.)

8 GW pumped hydro storage @ $2.5 billion /GW = $20 billion

Total capital cost = $120 billion

Australia already has about 2 GW of pumped-hydro storage so we would need an additional 6 GW to meet this requirement. If sufficient pumped hydro storage sites are not available we can use an additional 8GW of nuclear or chemical storage (e.g. Sodium Sulphur batteries). The additional 8 GW of nuclear would increase the cost by $12 billion to $132 billion (the cost of extra 8 GW nuclear less the cost of 8 GW of pumped hydro storage; i.e. $32 billion – $20 billion).

Solar Photo-Voltaic (PV)

From ‘Solar Power Realities’ :

Capital cost of PV system with 30 days of pumped-hydro storage = $2,800 billion. (In reality, we do not have sites available for even 1 day of pumped hydro storage.)

Capital cost of PV system with 5 days of Sodium Sulphur battery storage = $4,600 billion.

Solar Thermal

The system must be able to supply the power to meet demand at all times, even during long periods of overcast conditions. We must design for the worst conditions.

We’ll consider two worst case scenarios:

1. All power stations are under cloud at the same time for 3 days.

2. At all times between 9 am and 3 pm at least one power station, somewhere, has direct sunlight, but all other power stations are under cloud.

Assumptions:

The average capacity factor for all the power stations when under cloud for 3 days is 1.56 % (to be consistent with the PV analysis in “Solar Power Realities”; refer to Figure 7 and the table on page 10).

The capacity factor in midwinter, when not under cloud, is 15% (refer Figure 7 in “Solar Power Realities”).

Scenario 1 – all power stations under cloud

Energy storage required: 3 days x 450,000 MWh/d = 1,350,000 MWh

Hours of the day when energy is stored (9 am to 3 pm) = 6 hours

Average power to meet direct day-time demand = 25 GW

Average power required to store 450,000 MWh in 6 hours = 75 GW

Total power required for 6 hours (9 am to 3 pm) = 100 GW

Installed capacity required to provide 100 GW power at 1.56% capacity factor (say 6.24% capacity factor from 9 am to 3 pm) = 1,600 GW.

Total peak generating capacity required = 1,600 GW

If the average capacity factor was double, the installed capacity required would be half. So the result is highly sensitive to the average capacity factor.

Scenario 2 – at least one power station has direct sun at all times between 9 am and 3 pm

One power station provides virtually all the power. The other power stations are under cloud and have a capacity factor of just 1.56%.

Energy storage required for 1 day = 450,000 MWh

Hours of the day when energy is stored (9 am to 3 pm) = 6 hours

Average power to meet direct day-time demand = 25 GW

Average power required to store 450,000 MWh in 6 hours = 75 GW

Total power required = 100 GW.

The capacity factor in midwinter, when not under cloud, is 15% (refer Figure 7 in “Solar Power Realities”).

Installed capacity required to provide 100 GW power at 15% capacity factor (60% capacity factor from 9 am to 3 pm) = 167 GW.

But the clouds move, so all the power stations need this generating capacity.

To maximise the probability that at least one power station is in the sun we need many power stations spread over a large geographic area. If we have say 20 power stations spread across south east South Australia, Victoria, NSW and southern Queensland, we would need 3,300 GW – assuming only the power station in the sun is generating.

If we want redundancy for the power station in the sun, we’d need to double the 3,300 GW to 6,600 GW.

Of course the power stations under cloud will also contribute. Let’s say they are generating at 1.56% capacity factor. Without going through the calculations we can see the capacity required will be between the 1,600 GW calculated for Scenario 1 and the 3,300 GW calculated here. However, it is a relatively small reduction (CF 3% / 60% = 5% reduction), so I have ignored it in this simple analysis .

So, Scenario 2 requires 450,000 MWh storage and 3,300 GW generating capacity. It also requires a very much greater transmission capacity, but we’ll ignore that for now.

Costs of Solar Thermal with storage

NEEDS , 2008, “Final report on technical data, costs, and life cycle inventories of solar thermal power plants” Table 2.3, gives costs for the two most prospective solar thermal technologies. They selected the solar trough as the reference technology and did all the calculations for it. The cost for a solar trough system factored up to 18 hours storage and converted to Australian dollars is:

langsat1

This would be the cost if the sun was always shining brightly on all the solar power stations. This is about five times the cost of nuclear. However, that is not all. This system may have an economic life expectancy of perhaps 30 years. So it will need to be replaced at least once during the life of a nuclear plant. So the costs should be doubled to have a fair comparison with a nuclear plant.

In order to estimate the costs for Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 we need costs for power and for energy storage as separate items. The input data and the calculations are shown in the Appendix.

The costs for the two scenarios (see Appendix for the calculations) are:

langsat2

Summary of cost estimates for the options considered

langsat4

The conclusion stated in the “Solar Power Realities” paper is confirmed. The Capital cost of solar power would be 20 times more than nuclear power to provide the NEM demand. Solar PV is the least cost of the solar options. The much greater investment in solar PV than in solar thermal world wide corroborates this conclusion.

Some notes on cloud cover

A quick scan of the Bureau of Meteorology satellite images revealed the following:

This link provides satelite views. A loop through the midday images for each day of June, July and August 2009, shows that much of south east South Australia, Victoria, NSW and southern Queensland were cloud covered on June 1, 2, 21 and 25 to 28. July 3 to 6, 10, 11, 14. 16, 22 to 31 also had widespread cloud cover (26th was the worst), as did August 4, 9, 10, 21, 22.. This was not a a rigorous study.

Also see the BOM Solar Radiation Browse Service for March and April 2002 (the data on this site only goes up to 14 April 2002). Notice the low solar radiation levels for 25 to 30 March and 8 to 12 April 2002 over the area we are looking at. The loop animation can be viewed here.

Some comments on Future Costs?

How much cheaper can solar power be? NEEDS figure 3.7, p31 suggests that the cost of solar thermal may be halved by 2040.

How much cheaper can nuclear be? Hanford B, the first large reactor ever made, was built in 15 months, ran for 24 years, and its power was expanded by a factor of 9 during its life. If we could do that 65 years ago, for a first of a kind technology, what could we do now by building on experience to date if we wanted to put our mind to it. Is it unreasonable to believe that, 65 years later, we could build nuclear power plants, twenty times the power of the first reactor, in 12 months, for 25% of the cost of current generation nuclear power stations?

Appendix – Cost Calculations for Solar Thermal

The unit cost rates used in the analyses below were obtained from: NEEDS, 2008, “Final report on technical data, costs, and life cycle inventories of solar thermal power plants“, p31 and Figure 3.7.

langsat3

Note that, although this table includes calculations for the cost of a system with 3 and 5 days of continuous operation at full power, the technology does not exist, and current evidence is that it is impracticable. The figure is used in this comparison, but is highly optimistic.

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Eraring to Kemps Creek 500kV transmission line. Each of the double circuit 500kV lines from Eraring to Kemps Creek can carry 3250MW.  The 500kV lines are double circuit, 3 phase, quad Orange, i.e.2 circuits times 3 phases times 4 conductors per bundle, i.e. 24 wires per tower.  Orange is ACSR, Aluminium Conductor Steel Reinforced, with 54 strands of 3.25mm dia aluminium surrounding 7 strands of 3.25mm dia steel.  Roughly 1/3 of the cost of a line is in the wires, 1/3 in the steel towers and 1/3 in the easements required to run the line.
Eraring to Kemps Creek 500kV transmission line. Each of the double circuit 500kV lines from Eraring to Kemps Creek can carry 3250MW. The 500kV lines are double circuit, 3 phase, quad Orange, i.e.2 circuits times 3 phases times 4 conductors per bundle, i.e. 24 wires per tower. Orange is ACSR, Aluminium Conductor Steel Reinforced, with 54 strands of 3.25mm dia aluminium surrounding 7 strands of 3.25mm dia steel. Roughly 1/3 of the cost of a line is in the wires, 1/3 in the steel towers and 1/3 in the easements required to run the line.

Capital Cost of Transmission for Renewable Energy

Following is a ‘ball park’ calculation of the cost of a trunk transmission system to support wind and solar farms spread across the continent and generating all our electricity.

The idea of distributed renewable energy generators is that at least one region will be able to meet the total average demand (25 GW) at any time. Applying the principle that ‘the wind is always blowing somewhere’ and ‘the sun will always be shining somewhere in the day time’, there will be times when all the power would be supplied by just one region – let’s call it the ‘Somewhere Region’.

The scenario to be costed is as follows:

Wind power stations are located predominantly along the southern strip of Australia from Perth to Melbourne.

Solar thermal power stations, each with their own on-site energy storage, are distributed throughout our deserts, mostly in the east-west band across the middle of the continent.

All power (25GW) must be able to be provided by any region.

We’ll base the costs on building a trunk transmission system from Perth to Sydney, with five north-south transmission lines linking from the solar thermal regions at around latitude 23 degrees. The Perth to Sydney trunk line is 4,000 km and the five north-south lines average 1000 km each. Add 1,000 km to distribute to Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane. Total line length is 10,000km. All lines must carry 25GW.

Each of the double circuit 500kV lines from Eraring Power Station to Kemps Creek can transmit 3,250MW so let’s say we would need 8 parallel lines for 25GW plus one extra as emergency spare.

The cost of the double circuit 500kV lines is about $2M/km.

For nine lines the cost would be $18M/km.

So the total cost of a transmission system to transmit from the ‘Somewhere Region’ to the demand centres is 10,000km x $18M/km = $180 billion

The trunk transmission lines might represent half the cost of the complete transmission system enhancements needed to support the renewable generators.

Just the cost of the trunk transmission lines alone ($180 billion) is more than the cost of the whole nuclear option ($120 billion).

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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.

322 replies on “Solar realities and transmission costs – addendum”

I’m aware of two broad approaches to solar thermal. One involves the focusing of sunlight using mirrors or lenses. The other is the solar chimney which relies on temperature differentials at the top and the bottom of a very large chimney and has little to do with direct sunlight (although obviously the sun drives the atmospherics). I don’t know the exact facts but I am lead to believe that the latter is only modestly effected by cloud cover and in fact it continues to produce substantial amounts of power at night even without any dedicated storage infrastructure or using quite passive storage via water filled containers.

Can you inform me as to which version of solar thermal you are refering to in this article?

Some details:-

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

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Breaking News!

The cost of the nuclear option is down from $120 billion to $105 billion.

The 120 billion was based on 25GW nuclear at $4 billion/GW, i.e. $100 billion, plus 8GW pumped-hydro at $2.5 billion/GW, i.e. $20 billion.

However the Tantangara-Blowering Pumped hydro project can provide 9GW peak power for $5billion. So the pumped hydro component of the nuclear option is down from $20 billion to $5 billion.

I know you want more! If you want, you can have 18GW peak power for just $10 billion from the Tantangara-Blowering Pump storage scheme.

The costs estimates for Tantangara-Blowering Pump Storage Scheme are preliminary. estimates only.

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TerjeP (say tay-a)

You are correct, There are actually about four main categories of solar thermal. They are described in the NEEDS analysis, which is referenced in the “Solar Power Realities – Addendum” paper. The NEEDS analysis looks a the various options and selected the Solar Trough as the reference technology for detailed costings. They explain the reasons for the selection.

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From the following article:-

http://www.solar-chimney.biz/frequently-asked-questions.php?PHPSESSID=160852743538f135a1ef6e9c58c983a4

How well do the solar towers and other meteorological reactors compare with conventional factories for electrical energy production?

• By their description it is evident that Power Stations with Meteorological Reactors (Solar Chimneys and Energy Towers) will be very big electrical production units, which will produce a guaranteed Electric Power profile year round. Thus they are compatible to conventional Power Plants (that use coal, oil, gas or nuclear fuels) and thus can replace them. But as they are located in deserts or semi-desert areas, far away from consumption locations (big cities or industrial plants), they need very good interconnection of electricity grids and this is already being done progressively for all the other renewable energies: wind, sun, OTEC… (Have a look for instance to the Desertec concept on http://www.desertec.org). Solar thermal power plants have been in use commercially at Kramer Junction in California since 1985. New solar thermal power plants with a total capacity of more than 2000 MW are at the planning stage, under construction, or already in operation.

• Other Renewable Power Plants (wind, solar concentrator, solar PVs, et al) only produce when weather and meteorological conditions are optimum (enough wind but not too strong, for PVs: sunshiny days with few clouds but no production during the night) and thus are only electrical energy production units of non-guaranteed power output, and cannot replace the conventional Power Plants. Solar chimneys can!

• Due to thermal storage Solar updraft Chimney Power Stations can operate 24 h/ per day 365days/per year, with their daily energy production following the day’s average solar irradiation. The daily power production profile is very close to the usual demand profile and an aperture (or closure) mechanism allows to produce more (or less) at on-peak (or off-peak) consumption hours.

• Electric power cannot be stored up and saved. During the hours at night and on the weekends when demand for electric power decreases, regular fuel consuming power companies actually lose money because they cannot just slow down or stop the generators during these times. It is not feasible because powering down the turbines and then getting them back up to speed during the peak hours, even if could be done within eight hours, would be more costly than letting them run. On the contrary, heat can be stored up and saved on special water containing reservoirs or tanks under the greenhouse of the solar chimney power plants, and electrical output can be adapted to peak power demand.

• The only other renewable Power Plant, having a similar behaviour to a Meteorological Reactor Power Plant, is the Hydro Electric Power Plant. Their similarity is far deeper as water can be stored upstream and used for on-peak demand. Water can also be stored in a second reservoir downstram, and pumped back upstream when electricity from nuclear plants is much cheaper (off-peak demand). Conversion yield is good.

• The optimum range of Power rating for the Solar Chimney Power Stations, due to the high dimensions, is 50 MW (Ciudad Real project in Spain), 200MW (Buronga, New South Wales project in Australia), and 400 MW (GreenTower South African project in the Namib desert, Namibia). This range of Power (50 – 400 MW) seems to be also optimum for Floating Solar Chimneys and Energy Towers.

• For the appropriate places of installation these Meteorological Reactor Power Stations can annually produce electrical energy respectively from 150GWh to 600GWh.

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TerjeP (say tay-a),

The material in your post #4 appears to be copied from a promotion brochure. I’d suggest you study the NEEDS report as a first step. Then you’ll be in a better position to condider all the options. Of course, you’d also need to get a good understanding of the nuclear option, because that is the least-cost option by a long way.

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An option with no new transmission might be thin film PV with local storage, either a fridge sized lead acid battery at home or sodium sulphur at substations. If dollar-a-watt predictions are true an average house roof could generate in the expected daily range 10 – 50 kwh for $50k and 20 kwh local storage might cost $5k. The household would have to carefully manage their winter needs, perhaps using fuel heating. Assuming we’re headed to 10 million households that’s $550 billion, still more expensive than 25 GW nuclear at $5 a watt. The underlying factor is not the need for storage so much as to greatly overbuild for winter generation.

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I’ve only read the post so far, but I think this isn’t correct:

This system may have an economic life expectancy of perhaps 30 years. So it will need to be replaced at least once during the life of a nuclear plant. So the costs should be doubled to have a fair comparison with a nuclear plant.

It is not linear. To make sense, you have to discount future costs/revenues – in particular here, revenues – to reflect interest. So years 30-60 of a nuclear reactor’s life are worth far less than years 0-30 – it is not double the economic value.

See for instance table 6.D in the MIT ‘update on the cost of nuclear power’ working paper, for a stark illustration of what this financial effect does:

http://web.mit.edu/ceepr/www/publications/workingpapers.html

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Uvdiv,

You would be absolutely correct if the comparison were being done on the basis of Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE). But the comparisons are simple; and are of just the capital costs.

By the way, altohough the paper mentions the need to double the capital cost to take into account the shorter life of the solar power station, this extra cost is not included in the comparison. It would need to be included in an LCOE analysis, as you quite rightly point out.

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you’d also need to get a good understanding of the nuclear option, because that is the least-cost option by a long way.

Not actually attempting to refute that. Just trying to understand the assumptions that sit behind the costing given for solar thermal.

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TerjeP (say tay-a) (#9)

Did you look at the link immediately under the heading: “Costs of Solar Thermal with storage” at teh top of this thread?

The link should answer your question.

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Peter:

Credit Suisse published a pretty big study at the beginning of the year on the comparative costs of some of the likeliest alternatives. They mentioned the big factor for nuke was the level of regulatory compliance that would be imposed.

We estimate the costs of nuclear power to be $61.87 per MWh. Capital costs per kW are
difficult to come by, but recent data from the Keystone Center estimates a capital cost in
the range of $2,950 to $4,000 per kW (2007), and FPL estimates a cost of $8,000 per kW
for its Turkey Point project. Therefore, we assume $6,000/KW in our base case. We note,
however, that if capital costs are on the low-end of our estimates, the LCOE of power is
only $35/MWh, which would be the lowest cost energy available.
Any new nuclear plant would likely be built far from the energy demand, therefore
transmission infrastructure investment would likely be required. The significant benefit of
nuclear power is that there are no carbon emissions and the power is highly reliable,
suitable for base load generation. The WACC of nuclear projects tends to be lower due to
the high debt capital structure and loan collateral – utilities would not proceed with a
nuclear build out without federal loan guarantees. Nuclear power often appears to be the
easy solution to growing energy demands and climate concerns, but the public opposition
is a serious obstacle. As better options are developed for safe storage or reprocessing of
used rods, we believe we will eventually start to see new nuclear power plants.

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jc, as I understand it, the FPL costs for Turkey Point are higher because they are escalated costs, rather than overnight. It is quite right, according to my reading and contacts, that regulatory uncertainty is the big issue right now for nuclear builds. As one respected contact said:

“As for price predictions, it’s not that hard to predict what they should cost, since ABWRs have already been built [in Asia]. That completely disregards how much Americans are being told they’ll cost, due to the lack of assurance that once they’re ordered they’ll be allowed to be built without repeated construction shutdowns, etc. Until utility companies feel confident that they’ll be able to build them and get them online expeditiously, it cannot reasonably be said that the competitive model is fully operational when it comes to nuclear power, anywhere in the States. I’d be glad to let the market decide if the court system didn’t let every zealot with a sign shut down a multi-billion dollar construction project. And believe me, if you build it, they will come. How to get beyond that? I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if it would be legal, but if there was a way to fashion legislation to allow construction to continue even through pending litigation as long as the builder has all the permits in a row, then I believe you’d see a lot of plants start going up.”

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Peter – thanks. I found the following in that document and it basically answers my question.

Due to the uncertain perspectives of this technology, the absence of a reference project, and therefore the lack of cost and material data the solar updraft tower is not considered furthermore in this study.

In short your discussion of solar thermal excludes consideration of the solar updraft tower. In which case I find any conclusion that “solar is very expensive” to be quite unsurprising. Of course the solar updraft tower if ever built on a commercial basis may not change that conclusion but I suspect it might (although I also have little doubt that coal and nuclear would still win on cost).

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TerjeP, I should do it more justice than this (perhaps in the future), but briefly, the solar chimney’s (updraft tower) stuff is nonsense – 200 MWe yield from tower that is taller than the Burj Dubai? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s so utterly fantastic, it’s not even worth crunching the numbers on.

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

According to model calculations, a simple updraft power plant with an output of 200 MW would need a collector 7 kilometres in diameter (total area of about 38 km²) and a 1000-metre-high chimney

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How is it fantasitic? Do you just mean that the proposed tower is impressively big? I’ve seem nothing to date to suggest that big is really a problem.

The same article you quote has some commentary on economic feasibility with references:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower#Financial_feasibility

It links through to the following document which is a good starting point for any financial analysis:-

Click to access The_Solar_Updraft.pdf

I have no doubt that such a power plant has a significant commericalisation risk and so the cost of capital for the first plant will be high. However this really only applies to the first plant and beyond that the construction costs and operational performance become the main factors.

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TerjeP@#15:

“I have no doubt that such a power plant has a significant commericalisation risk and so the cost of capital for the first plant will be high. However this really only applies to the first plant and beyond that the construction costs and operational performance become the main factors.”

Yeah. Operational performance. That’s the whole point, isn’t it.

200MW from a project that size is crap. There’s no point even discussing it.

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JC @ 11 writes: Any new nuclear plant would likely be built far from the energy demand, therefore transmission infrastructure investment would likely be required.

There is no reason other than politics to site nuclear plants far from where the power is used. You can build PRISM reactors in the middle of a city. The reactors themselves are subterranean and the generation infrastructure could be likewise, or could reside in regular-looking industrial buildings. A power plant with several PRISMs and a recycling facility would appear no more conspicuous than a small to mid-size industrial park.

Even with Gen II plants they were often cited close to the areas of demand. See Indian Point just upriver from New York City, Prairie Island just 40 miles from St. Paul/Minneapolis, and there are numerous other examples. This is a non-issue, all the more so with IFRs. It’s another tremendous advantage they have over wind and solar.

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The power in your basement option looks neat if you already have gas fired central heating in your basement and it needs an upgrade. However not many people in Australia have or need central heating. The overall efficiency of the system seems to rely on the fact that a major biproduct of electricity generation is heat. Within it’s niche (which could be quite big in Europe and North America) it seems like a clever bit of kit.

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JC @ 11 writes: Any new nuclear plant would likely be built far from the energy demand, therefore transmission infrastructure investment would likely be required.

Tom Blees@29 said: “There is no reason other than politics to site nuclear plants far from where the power is used.”

I agree with Tom Blees. Pickering, an 8 unit nulcear power plant, is nestled in Toronto, a metrapolis twice the size of Sydney. See these picitures:
http://www.world-nuclear.org/ecsgallery/imageDisplay.aspx?id=10584&Page=19
http://www.world-nuclear.org/ecsgallery/imageDisplay.aspx?id=10430&Page=19

There are many others NPP’s located in cities around the world.

The location debate is important. Because the cost is important. The lower we can make the cost of electricity, the faster will low-emissions generation technologies replace fossil fuels. Also, the lower the cost of electricity, the faster electricity will displace oil for land transport. Oil used in land transport represents about 1/3 of our emissions. Electricty may power land transport directly (ege batteries) or it may produce synthetic fuels (hydrogen or other possibilities). Either way, the lower the cost of electrcity the better for all reasons.

So I do not want to see the nuclear power plants located far from the demand centres. I want them close.

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John D Morgan (22) — Yes gas. Completely replaceable by (or mixed with) biomethane. In any case, vastly better than dirty coal.

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Combined heat and power (CHP) could be added to steam cycle, gas turbine and combined cycle as gas generation options. However since Gorgon LNG sale contracts recently have been $30bn + $50bn + $70bn Australia might be lucky to have any gas left. I guess it helps pay for imported gadgets.

Australia needs a long term policy on gas priorities; for ammonia production, peak electrical generation, CNG as a petrol/diesel replacement and domestic use including CHP should it become popular. LNG exports would be last priority. Given the green chic of Australia’s politicians gas fired generation will probably expand several times over before nuclear is considered.

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Click to access The_Solar_Updraft.pdf

Based on the paper I cited above my quick back of the envelope calculation for Solar updraft towers is as follows.

From figure 10 in the paper the output of the 200MW solar updraft tower at 6:30pm in winter is about 50MW (the output is still pretty steady at that level through the night). As such we would need a lot of towers to meet a peak of 33GW.

Number of Towers = 33000 / 50 = 165

The capital cost of each tower is estimated in Table 3 to be 0.606 billion Euro per tower. So total capital cost would be:-

Total capital cost = 0.606 x 165 = 99.99 billion euro.

Converting to Aussie Dollars we have a figure of about A$170.

Given the size of each tower they would need to be situated in remote areas. So there would be additional costs associated with transmission. If we take Peters figure for Solar thermal transission then we need an extra A$180.

So total capital cost of powering the NEM using only solar updraft towers is by my calculation around $350 billion. Which is about three times the price of nuclear as calculated by Peter but still a heck of a lot cheaper than the other solar options.

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TerjeP, reading over that document, it’s certainly a fascinating technology and worth looking at a bit harder than I’d first thought.

The output of the Spanish prototype was tiny (50 kW peak), so it’s difficult to know how realistic their non-linear scaling estimates for taller towers are. The 50 kW tower yielded 44 MWh over the course of a year, which gives a capacity factor of 10%, which isn’t all that great — that means you’d need ~50 x 1 km tall (7km diameter at base) 200 MW peak towers to equate to a 1 GW nuclear power station. Their simulations (Fig 10) with water-based thermal storage look much better than this figure, so it’s a matter of how much credence you put in the technical data of the demonstration plant vs simulations of potential operational potential of larger plants.

As to cost, my points above are relevant (depends on ultimate real-world performance) but also it’s difficult to cost-out anything like this when structures of this size have never been built. So I’ll reserve judgement, but will follow any developments of this alternative solar tech with interest.

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@27 TrejeP
My calculator thinks (33000MW)/(50MW/tower) = 660 towers not 165, so the cost goes up to A$170*660/165 = A$680 billion, or A$860 billion with transmission costs.

in practice it wouldn’t be quite that bad as that, as pumped storage to cover the peak would be cheaper than extra towers

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Luke – I blame the envelope. Thanks for fixing my maths. Still at $860 billion it is a lot cheaper than the other solar options.

Barry – I pretty much agree with everything in your latest comment. It is a technology that is worth watching but it entails a lot of unknowns. In particular it depends on their simulations being correct. I would have thought though that the basic physics isn’t that complex and there is a lot of experience in the scaling of aircraft aerodynamics and the like. Still there is nothing quite like real world data.

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Peter,
Your figures on tantangara/Blowering pumped storage of about 5billion for 9,000MW is slightly higher than what I had been estimating but I was considering mainly much shorter pipleines( for example Blowering /Talbingo incresed Tumut3 capacity to 6,000MW.
It would seem that expanding the Snowy pumped hydro to 15GW capcity and TAS hydro to 4.4GW( by adding 2GW of return reversible turbines) for a total of 20.15GW including the other 0.75GW already in use, is a realistic storage option for nuclear and renewable energy.

Your study of transmission costs is dissappointing. The theory behind the wind blowing somewhere idea IS NOT to have the entire wind capacity moved from one site of the continent to the other. For example, WA would have 20% of the wind capacity(SA,TAS,VIC, NSW about the same with a small amount in QLD) so on the observation that wind dispesed over the size of a state will at most generate 75% capacity WA would only ever produce 15% of capacity(9GW not 25GW) and some of this would be used locally (3GW) so at most 6GW would be exported east(even less with CAES), but not to Sydney, to Pt Augusta with perhaps another 1-2GW moved to Adelaide. Sydney and Melbourne would get most power from pumped storage( moving much shorter distances). When high winds exist in NSW and VIC energy would be returned to Snowy with 2-3GW to WA ( if no wind in WA, most unlikely considering the 2,000Km of good wind coastline).

You statement that 10,000Km would have to carry 25GW is totally mis-understanding how grids work. Feeder lines will only have the capacity of the solar and wind farms and none of these would be anything like 25GW.

The major transmission links would be Snowy to Sydney, Snowy to Melbourne, Melbourne to Tasmania and Pt Augusta to Perth. We already have a large grid in SE Australia, but it would have to be increased. OCGT/CCGT and nuclear will probably be sited at existing coal fired power stations using existing transmission lines.

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The 50 kW tower yielded 44 MWh over the course of a year, which gives a capacity factor of 10%, which isn’t all that great — that means you’d need ~50 x 1 km tall (7km diameter at base) 200 MW peak towers to equate to a 1 GW nuclear power station.

The two things that always distract people with this technology are the size of the thing and the low solar efficiency. However neither matters that much. What matters in the final analysis is cost and the output profile.

The only reason that solar efficiency is so important in PV is that associated casing and mounting costs are such a big proportion of the final cost. A smaller cell for the same power output has less add on costs. But of course PV has a lousy output profile. Moonlight just aint that bright.

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TerjeP, I’m not talking about efficiency, I’m talking about capacity factor relative to peak performance. This is useful for working out redundancy and # required to build for a given average delivery. As Peter Lang has so clearly pointed out, minimal capacity is also useful to know.

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@21 David Benson
Micro CHP systems like this sound appealing, but the CO2 savings are quite small, according to work by the UK Carbon Trust
http://eeru.open.ac.uk/natta/renewonline/rol61/4.htm

There’s an Australian company with a better version of this idea
http://www.cfcl.com.au/BlueGen/

Using fuel cells instead of an engine nearly doubles the fuel to electricity efficiency, and more than doubles the ratio of electricity output to heat. The heat output from the fuel cell system is a reasonable match to domestic hot water (not heating) needs, so it makes sense in most paces, not just Northern Europe in winter.

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Barry – comment #36 was more about this bit:-

“1 km tall (7km diameter at base)”

Which while factually correct is irrelevant to your main point and seemed to stand out as a veiled criticism. Perhaps I was still feeling a bit prickly due to some earlier comments made here. I did understand your main point and I do agree. Capacity factor is in fact the thing that makes me think the solar updraft tower would probably be superior to the alternative solar options.

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p.s. When I said “output profile” I think this is essentially the same issue that you cover with the term “capacity factor”.

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TerjeP, my broader point was that 50 of these structures, equating to 1 gigawatt average capacity, would have a footprint on a landscape of ~2,000 km2. In addition, 50 x 1 km high spires would also pose a potential aviation hazard. The point is not that these shouldn’t or can’t be built, but it does illustrate the size of the engineering challenge (even if it is, fundamentally, just glass and steel).

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The land cost issue does not seem to be overly significant. And the glass canopy would be several metres off the ground so you could grow food on the land also. Obviously it is going to be a windy place to farm but low profile plants are not going to care and the wind speed would be tolerable. Essentially it is a big warm, wet and windy glass house that you can drive around in on a tractor.

I can’t see the towers being a problem for aviation. Their location will be well mapped. And they can be lit at night. And they would be fat things that are hard not to see. I doubt the aviation issue is a challenge.

Whether people like the look of them is an asthetic issue that is hard to answer. However nuclear has asthetic issues also relating to how people feel about nuclear. Personally I like big man made structures. I’ve always quite liked the look of high voltage transmission lines. I suspect that people would like them as much or as little as they like wind farms. However solar updraft towers wouldn’t hog prime coastal locations in the way wind farms do.

I’d say lets build one just to satisfy my asthetic tastes and then go nuclear for the rest of our electricity needs.

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I don’t really have a problem with the land or air footprint of solar updraft towers when these exist on low value land. I don’t imagine too many aircraft will be flying low over the desert, and if they are an installation that size will stick out like the proverbial [fill in your metaphor]. Build them 2k high for all I care, assuming it is cost-benefit and technically feasible to do so.

The real problem is the cost both of construction and of connection to the grid. If current nuclear is about $3000 per installed Kw then a $300bn worth of non-nuclear needs to get you about 100Gw of output of similar quality as the nuclear to break even. OK you can throw in some allowance for higher running costs (labour, site management, uranium/thorium, public liability) but even so, if it only gets you 5% of that it’s not really in the game.

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Re nuclear aesthetics I like the low angle aerial shots of the peleton in the Tour de France passing by a reactor. The overall impression is of health and harmony. On the other hand coal stations have tar, heavy metals, uncontained radioactivity, smoke and smells. They are the Dark Satanic Mills of the modern era.

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John – do you have a link to pictures.

Personally I think coal fired plants look fascinating in the same way that steam trains are fascinating.

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That’s probably tur but then context is important.

If for example you have a small group of agricultural villages not connected to a grid but which could benefit from solar panels, an anaerobic digester, perhaps a small scale 200Kw wind turbine with a you beaut DIY pumped hydro for not very much built in not very long. Maybe the whole thing could cost $200k or less

A nuclear plant isn’t going to scale down to that setting very well and it’s not as if you could build one in three months either, leave aside connect it to a reliable grid, most of the time.

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An excellent analysis of why solar can’t possibly power civilization. If only we had the water and geologic formations to make pumped-storage hydro dams and wash the solar panels every 10-20 days. It’s really wind that has proven to be more efficient and cost effective, but even wind isn’t where it needs to be. If you’re looking for a compact, timely read that completely summarizes and explains the energy issues the world faces, you may be interested in my new book “the nuclear economy,” which just became available. All of the alternative energies are discussed, as well as peak oil, climate change, energy transitions, and 4th generation nuclear power.

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Your limit position analysis is arbitrary and unrealistic.

Look up the “Potential for Building Integrated Photovoltaics” report. The IEA estimated that half of Australia’s electricity needs could be provided by 10% efficient building mounted PV. i.e. You could provide a significant fraction of Australia’s electricity with zero land use impact.

If PV doesn’t come down to a competitive price the 50% penetration argument is moot let alone the limit position argument.

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This whole energy debate defies commonsense. Nowhere are apples compared with apples to give a fair comparison.

Starting with coal, terje’s pic shows all that is wrong with coal, huge emissions – specifically in the pic, heat – being allowed without consequence. We all know about the toxic emissions and the ash. Why are these incredibly indolent corporations allowed to waste so much heat, and why is it easier to pass the costs on to the customer than use CHP and/or Rankine cycle energy recovery? How is it that these corporations can threaten to close down or go offshore rather than spend money on plant which will save them money and reduce emissions?

The huge PV array announced for China is quoted at $3b/Gw. The latest figures for nuclear installed are from $4b- $8b. http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/09/geh-esbwr-20090909.html#more Scroll down to “lets interject some nuclear reality and facts into this”.

PV costs are taken usually over 15 years which is nonsense because the cells are guaranteed for 25yrs alone. The ongoing costs for solar are minimal whereas nuclear requires all sorts of ongoing costs for mining, inrichment, reprocessing, waste storage, decomissioning and insurance. Nowhere have I seen a reliable assessment. How can you plan without one?

I am definitely in favour of solar and definitely in favour of nuclear over coal but most of the cost analysis I have seen so far on nuclear are people pushing their barrow with rubbery figures being bent to the max.

What you need to be doing is pinning the government down to an energy plan. Obviously they haven’t got one and they need to be seriously embarrassed by this, Australia’s energy security etc. If you can force them into one, then you can make submissions, influence policy etc.

My opinion is that both the major party’s are drunk on coal and fully intend to obfuscate it’s problems with crap like CCS and huge handouts and weak targets. They rightly reason that solar power and storage technologies will evolve enormously over the next 20yrs. If they can suck the public into going with coal for a bit longer while building a lot of renewables to deal with the extra load of electrification of transport, some other mug government can deal with nuclear power. They don’t care about nuclear. There’s more money in coal.

Rather than a campaign for nuclear, we need a campaign against coal. Instead of always defending nuclear against ignorance, we should be attacking coal for greed, indolence, energy wastage, environmental vandalism, acid rain, mercury in our food, government handouts without accountability, fugitive methane emissions, medical problems. Expose the true cost of doing business with coal and get them to pay for it.

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Barry

Thank you for a fascinating and sobering series of articles. You, Peter, and Ted, have persuaded me that renewables can’t supply the current (never mind BAU projected increases in) energy requirements of the developed world on their own without vast and unrealistic expenditure in money, time and effort. The numbers seem pretty clear.

I’m sure that when recognition of the CO2 and energy supply problems reaches a critical mass, and the political will and money starts to flow on the required scale, economic forces will do the rest and the nuclear option will indeed be widely deployed. Our current society functions on the basis of large amounts of instantly available energy, and without a major and disruptive reshaping of the way we live- which, incidentally, is what most greens seem to want, and may go some way to explain their attitude to nuclear power- sources of power with high energy densities are going to be necessary.

But I’m a little uncomfortable with the impression I often get from reading this site- that nuclear power is the only viable FF alternative and that it should be pursued vigorously and as soon as possible, to the exclusion of all other options (and wind/solar in particular). Many articles and discussions seem to circle around this idea. As a layman, it’s difficult to know what to make of it- that viewpoint may well be true, but for me there are too many unknown unknowns. How about a broadening of the discussion to consider other pertinent issues? Otherwise, this blog risks becoming a nuclear advocacy site with an occasional bit of climate science commentary thrown in.

These are the sorts of questions I have in mind (apologies if they’ve been discussed previously on the site, but not much showing up with a basic search) :
What about the other potentially non (or low) CO2-emitting high energy density option on the table, with a few hundred years left in it- coal with CCS?
What role can gas play in reducing CO2 emissions, at least in the short term while we transition to nukes?
What about Ted Trainer’s idea of ‘depowering society’ to the extent that renewables can meet energy demand? (I can see many problems with this, but would love to see a critique on the site. More generally, articles exploring the demand side of the problem seem to be thin on the ground)
Accepting that renewables can’t supply the developed world’s energy needs in their entirety, do they have a role at all? (in smaller isolated communities, in the developing world etc)
How do smart grids work- how much can be done to with transmission systems/distributed storage/demand management etc to increase the number of viable options on the table?

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Salient:

Campaigning against coal is basically campaigning against ourselves every time we turn a light or use an appliance. There really isn’t much point in agitating against coal. We need to stop pointing fingers at people suggesting they’re somehow evil and and fast track a move to nuke energy. It would give us immense energy supply we’ll need going forward in a clean, cheap reliable way. Renewable could be part of the suite as that should ultimately depend on the market. However one thing is for certain going forward. We need immense supplies of energy and nuke power is able to fulfill our needs.

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Jc, I don’t agree with your reasoning. We are all pretty much stuck with our shonky supermarket duopoly but campaigning against their poor pricing behaviour helps to keep them less shonky and inspires people to look for alternatives. On that subject, why is it easier for them to pass on to consumers the extra costs of their refrigeration than it is to put doors on like they do with the freezers?

The average coal power station is only 35% efficient, Combined Heat and Power is up to 90%. CHP would more than halve emissions or more than double coal’s power output but nothing’s going to make them use it. As I said, the government is comfortable with coal, and the general population is more comfortable with coal than with nuclear but they don’t know how bloody evil coal is!

My position is that first and foremost we need to power down and depopulate. Without this aim, vast amounts of cheap power will only enable us to go further into overshoot, robbing from future generations and ensuring a catastrophic cull of species in the natural world first, then humans. That’s my kids and grandkids we’re handing a miserable existence to.

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Further to my previous comment #55:

I am one of the most extreme and radical advocates of the natural environment you’re ever likely to meeet.

I advocate the return of most of the land and sea currently devoted to agriculture and aquaculture/fishing to managed wilderness.

I advocate a sharp sequestration of the majority of the natural ecosystem of this planet from casual human influence.

I advocate devoting a considerable portion of economic output to the task of ensuring a flourishing biosphere under the management of humanity.

Recognising that these noble goals can only be met by a civilisation with a vastly expanded resource base, I advocate a crash program of research into and implimentation of nuclear power technology, genetically modified foodstuffs, artificail food, complete enclosed self-sustaining artificial environments, large-scale geoengineering, and space colonisation.

Population reduction and powerdown, even if such counter-instinctual goals could be achieved (at whatever cost of despair), would leave us helpless to prevent the drift of the climate system and biosphere into whichever state it will evolve given the damage already done. Turning our backs on the situation and committing racial suicide will not help.

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finrod #55, that was a pretty stupid comment. Try again in the morning when you’re sober. You got the number wrong for a start, then “sooner stick with burning coal” than what?, and “evil bastard”, besides being completely untrue, what does that sort of offensiveness achieve except to diminish yourself?

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Finrod #56 “Racial Suicide”? what are you on man? “Despair” what despair? Without the baby bonus and immigration Australia would be depopulating, as would most of the developed world.

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SG, I’m sure it must come as an awful shock to you that after you’ve posted the carefully crafted thoughts you’ve been inspired to by pseudo-environmentalist literature, every word of it ringing with the guilt-laden mindset of our less secular ancestors, that anyone would have the temerity to challenge your conclusion that we wicked humans had better depart the stage of natural history or else… or at least draw ourselves closer to the passive environmental role of other animals. This is what your path amounts to, and it will indeed lead to racial suicide if followed. Suicide, and ecocide by neglect, as we will have cast away any ability to actively influence the course of climatic events.

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Matt #53: “But I’m a little uncomfortable with the impression I often get from reading this site- that nuclear power is the only viable FF alternative and that it should be pursued vigorously and as soon as possible, to the exclusion of all other options (and wind/solar in particular).”

It is my conclusion, from all of this, that nuclear power IS the only viable FF alternative. I am vitally interested in supporting real solutions that permit a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, especially coal (oil will, at least in part, take care of itself). I the conclusion is that wind/solar cannot meaningfully facilitate this transition, why bother to promote them? Now, I should make one thing quite clear. I am not AGAINST renewable energy. If folks want to build them, go for it! If they can find investors, great! Indeed, I’m no NIMBY, and would be happy to have a conga line of huge turbines gracing the hills behind my home, just as I’d be happy to have a brand spanking new nuclear power station in my suburb. But why should I promote something I have come to consider — on a scientific and economic basis — to be a non-solution to the energy and climate crisis? That doesn’t make sense to me.

To your questions:
1. Coal with CCS — doomed to failure. Why? Because the only thing that is going to be embraced with sufficient vigour, on a global scale, is an energy technology that has the favourable characteristics of coal, but is cheaper than coal. CCS, by virtue of the fact that it is coal + extra costs (capture, compressions, sequestration) axiomatically fails this litmus test. It is therefore of no interest and those who promote it can only do so on the basis of simultaneously promoting such a large carbon price that (a) the developing world is highly unlikely to ever impose it, and (b) if they do, CCS won’t be competitive with nuclear. CCS is a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

2. Natural gas has no role in baseload generation. It is a high-carbon fossil fuel that releases 500 to 700 kg of CO2 per MWh. If it is used in peaking power only (say at 10% capacity factor), then it is only a tiny piece in the puzzle, because we must displace the coal. It it is used to displace the coal baseload, then it is a counterproductive ‘solution’ because it is still high carbon (despite what the Romms of this world will have you believe) and is in shorter supply than coal anyway. Gas is a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

3. The developing world lives in Trainer’s power-down society already, and they are going to do everything possible to get the hell out of it. The developed world will fight tooth an nail, and will burn the planet to a soot-laden crisp, rather than embrace Trainer’s simpler way. Power down is a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

4. It is nice to imagine that renewables will have a niche role in the future. But actually, will they? They don’t have any meaningful role now, when pitted in competition with fossil fuels, so why will that be different when pitted fairly against a nuclear-powered world? I don’t know the answer, and I don’t frankly care, because even if renewable energy can manage to maintain various niche energy supply roles in the future, it won’t meet most of the current or future power demand. So niche applications or not, renewables are peripheral to the big picture because they are a non-solution to the climate and energy crises.

5. Smart grids will provide better energy supply and demand management. Fine, great, that will help irrespective of what source the energy comes from (nuclear, gas, coal, renewables, whatever). Smarter grids are inevitable and welcome. But they are not some white knight that will miraculously allow renewable energy to achieve any significant penetration into meeting world energy demand in the future. Smart grids are sensible, but they are not a solution to the climate and energy crises.

To some, the above may sound rather dogmatic. To me, it’s the emergent property of trying my damnedest to be ruthlessly pragmatic about the energy problem. I have no barrow to push, I don’t get anything out of it — other than I want this problem fixed. I don’t earn a red cent if nuclear turns out be the primary solution. I don’t win by renewables failing. The bottom line is this — if this website is looking more and more like a nuclear advocacy site, then you ought to consider why. It might just be because I’ve come to the conclusion that nuclear power is the only realistic solution to this problem, and that’s why I’m ever more stridently advocating it. This is a ‘game’ we cannot afford to lose, and the longer we dither about with ultimately worthless solutions, the closer we come to endgame, with no pawn left to move to the back row and Queen.

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Jc, I don’t agree with your reasoning. We are all pretty much stuck with our shonky supermarket duopoly but campaigning against their poor pricing behaviour helps to keep them less shonky and inspires people to look for alternatives.

Salient: Not do digress but they aren’t making super-profits, as you assert. Coles sold itself because it wasn’t profitable, while Woolies is, however not spectacularly so. The competition watchdog looked into pricing, competition etc and found nothing alarming in the last inquiry. Negative aspects, according to the inquiry are more about “nimbyism” and town planning laws stifling competition. In other words things aren’t always as they appear.

On that subject, why is it easier for them to pass on to consumers the extra costs of their refrigeration than it is to put doors on like they do with the freezers?

Dunno. Perhaps it’s to do with attempting to provide a good customer experience as they see it. Windows and doors etc are really quite visually obstructive I think.

The average coal power station is only 35% efficient, Combined Heat and Power is up to 90%. CHP would more than halve emissions or more than double coal’s power output but nothing’s going to make them use it.

I’m not sure that would be as appears. If you’re telling me that they could improve their efficiency with a straight to the bottom line positive hit of 35% and haven’t moved on it, then they are really dumb. I don’t believe Origin, AGL or other operators are dumb so there must be more to it. Don’t forget that you may get 35% more efficiency however you also need to figure out if the renovation strategy is cost effective and accreted to the bottom line. In other words you don’t want to be spending (magnified example) $1 billion for a $3.5 million gain as the return wouldn’t make it economic. You need to figure the cost of capital and the expected return. Potential “engineering efficiency” doesn’t always mean it would be profitable. In other words don’t confuse “ engineering efficiency” with “economic efficiency” as they are two different things, or rather many not arrive at the same conclusion.

As I said, the government is comfortable with coal, and the general population is more comfortable with coal than with nuclear but they don’t know how bloody evil coal is!

Polls don’t show that. Polls show people’s heightened concerns with AGW. You shouldn’t think of coal as “evil”. It’s given us a great of economic utility and provided us with an industrial civilization. What we realize now is that it comes with a cost and the cost is that it’s increasingly likely to be screwing up the atmosphere especially with giga countries moving towards joining the rich world. This means we need to get loads of energy from elsewhere and nuke power is increasingly likely the best alternative. Perhaps it isn’t, however it should be in the suite of alternatives so the markets can determine the optimum choice or choices.

My position is that first and foremost we need to power down and depopulate.

That will come, possibly mid century. China’s population for instance is a demographic time bomb or rather a good thing in your eyes. Chinese demographics show that by mid century China’s population will fall off a cliff- literally fall of a cliff and become a nation of old geezers- and by 2100 it could be half what it is now. We also find the rich world’s population will be heading in the same direction.

Without this aim, vast amounts of cheap power will only enable us to go further into overshoot, robbing from future generations and ensuring a catastrophic cull of species in the natural world first, then humans. That’s my kids and grandkids we’re handing a miserable existence to.

Why take such a stasist view of things though? The technology curve is actually curling itself up exponentially. The world will be an entirely different place in 50 years time. In 100 years, technology could make it unrecognizable and if the tech curve continues, which it seems to be, the world in 2100 will look like 1800 to us. There’s no reason to be so pessimistic.

Have you seen recent films of car shows around the world? Large numbers of electric cars or hybrids are making their way in the market very soon. GM recently introduced a demo hybridization that can do 230 miles a gallon.

Take stock of things, as there’s no reason to be so pessimistic. We’ll get there in the end. Humans tend to bumble around but we generally end up make okish decisions most times.

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Barry #61: Great summary. I haven’t been contributing much as this blog has become
deeper and more of an engineering rather than a science blog (not that there is a
real distinction between the two), but what it increasingly obvious is the HUGE gap
between the level of detail on this blog and the level of detail in mainstream
media. Politicians, media and green groups are still stuck trading cliches. Hopefully,
there are channels of communication that will enable the detail of this blog to
get through to the people who advise politicians … which hopefully includes you.
Politicians need to actually lead and not make poll driven policy, because, particularly
in Australia, poll driven policy on energy sources will be simply wrong.

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The business lobby is going in to bat for nuclear power eg
http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,27574,26060433-2682,00.html
and their logic seems sound. However they muddy the waters by seeing nuclear as an agent of economic growth associated with increased population and consumption. Few high profile groups seem to be saying ‘let’s have nuclear power and a steady state economy’. I think the reality in the next few years is that it will be difficult to hold the line on the economy let alone grow it. The temptation will be to make do with existing coal plant and sneak in a few more mid sized gas plants. A gaggle of wind and solar installations will be put up basically for show. Many in the public will content themselves with thinking we can adapt to AGW or that renewables, carbonsinks or conservation will get us out of trouble. Until they lose their job that is. Some kind of widely perceived crisis will be needed to instigate the first nuclear plant.

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terje

That would depend very much on where the power was. If the power in question was near a grid point, and the costs of the harvesting technology were low (wind is fairly cheap) then it would make wind or similar very competititve.

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#61 thanks Barry, a clear summary.

I think it’s helpful to be explicit about where you, and your blog, are coming from. Unfortunately, for those of us yet to fully work through the issues themselves, an advocacy blog is less useful than a science commentary or ‘open discussion’ blog.

But the numbers are what’s important and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up agreeing with most of your conclusions (though I would take issue with some of your assumptions about the developing world).

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Jc #62 I haven’t time now to check this but I’m pretty sure that CapEx for efficiency improvements under current corporate culture must show a payback in under 10 years. A very short-term view IMHO. This would have to change now if the govt’s committed to coal for another 30yrs or more.

I agree with you on the historical benefits of coal and I’m sure the world could live with a few highly efficient CHP stations, but I have no trouble demonising coal as it is currently being used.

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Fran Barlow #66

You said “That would depend very much on where the power was. If the power in question was near a grid point, and the costs of the harvesting technology were low (wind is fairly cheap) then it would make wind or similar very competititve.”

This statement is totally wrong. Wind is nowhere near competitive even if transmission was free. Wind provides low value electricity at very high cost. It is low value because it is highly variable and not controllable.

Consider this question. What price do you think a utility would be prepared to pay for wind power if he had the option to buy coal fired power for $35/MWh instead. Would he be prepared to pay $10/MWh for wind power?

The answer to tthe question ‘what would a buyer be prepared to pay for Wind power in an open market’ depends on many factors. One important one is the cost of the system enhancements needed to manage the intermittency of wind power on the network. This is a substantial cost.

You said “wind is fairly cheap”. Wind power is not cheap. It has to be mandated to force the distributors to buy it. If they do not buy enough they pay a fine which is more than the cost of the power they were required by regulation to buy. Wind power is subsidised by more than twice its cost.

Given that wind power saves very little GHG emissions (refer to the “Wind emissions and costs thread”), I suspect Wind power is actually very near to zero value. It may be negative if all the externalities were properly internalised.

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SG @ 55: My position is that first and foremost we need to power down and depopulate. Without this aim, vast amounts of cheap power will only enable us to go further into overshoot, robbing from future generations and ensuring a catastrophic cull of species in the natural world first, then humans. That’s my kids and grandkids we’re handing a miserable existence to.

And who, pray tell, is supposed to quit having kids to achieve the depopulation you promote? Don’t you see the blind irony in talking about your kids and grandkids in the same paragraph?

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Luke — Tahnks for the BlueGen link. As for saving gas, maybe not so much; biomethane is probably cost competative with natural gas in many markets; use that instead.

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Here is a CSIRO study:
GREENHOUSE GAS SEQUESTRATION BY ALGAE – ENERGY AND GREENHOUSE GAS LIFE CYCLE STUDIES

Click to access poit.pdf


suggesting that productive of biodiesel (and by inference, biomethane) might be competative with the fossil equivalents.

Elsewhere I’ve seen suggestions that raising energy crops to make biomethane ought to be cost competative. The problem is, as I see it, providing enough fresh water. The reverse osmosis necessary to produce fresh water from sea water, also the pumping, needs only interruptable power; wind might do. Certainly worthy of further consideration.

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Peter – Fran was not discussing zero cost transmission. She was responding to my comment regarding the impact of zero cost electricity storage. As such I would not dismiss her comment too quickly.

Obviously we will never have zero cost electricity storage. However emerging technologies such as those that Eestor is rumoured to be working on are worth watching. Although probably more as a mobile energy store more so than as a stationary one.

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David – growing fuel diverts productive land away from growing food. A bad idea in my book. It’s true that the solar updraft tower I promoted earlier also takes a lot of land but it does not stop the land also being used for agriculture and neither does it have to sit on productive land.

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John – I can see arguments for zero or negative growth in our ecological footprint. However why you would set lower economic growth as an objective is beyond me. We should aim to both reduce our ecological footprint and increase economic growth.

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Jc #62 I haven’t time now to check this but I’m pretty sure that CapEx for efficiency improvements under current corporate culture must show a payback in under 10 years.

Which is a 10% return. It would be interesting to see if this is a gross return before taking away expenses etc. Look, Salient I’m very sceptical of stories like this that simply sound too good to be true, as they usually are.

Put ourselves in a rational position. If you were the CEO of AGL or Origin and someone came to you and said they had an engineering method that could save 30% to the bottom line, why wouldn’t it be introduced, as a 30% accretion to the bottom would be the equivalent of a manor from heaven.

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TerjeP (say tay-a) (74) — An algae farm just needs a place sit sit; it does not have to be otherwise productive land. Energy crops can be grown on lands not so suitable for more intensive agriculture.

In any case, people need both food and various forms of energy; these need to be balanced, not viewed as head-on competition.

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Tom Blees #70 C’mon Tom, get with the thread, I’ve already said back at #59 that without baby bonus and immigration, we would be depopulating. No one HAS to “quit having kids”. People CHOOSE not to and we need to empower women in the developing world and bring them out of poverty so that they can CHOOSE to quit having kids also.

As for your show of ignorance of my personal situation, it doesn’t do you any credit. I have one biological child and the other three come form my current wife’s previous marriage, something I had no say in but am happy to call them my kids. No blind irony there.

Your post was typical Growth Lobby rhetoric.

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Terje I think to get ‘growth’ with reduced emissions we need a less materialistic measure of wellbeing than GDP. Essentially more stuff means more energy input. I don’t have the data handy but China’s boom circa 2002-2007 was accompanied by world record coal use. Could they have done it without coal?

In the near term we need to quickly replace coal and petroleum dependence with low carbon alternatives. This is necessary even without climate change since oil output peaked in 2008 and coal will peak around 2030. Transport needs to be electrified such as light rail and plug-in cars. All but two State capital cities will have desalination plants with a substantial power requirement. The ageing population will need extra thermal comfort to cope with severe cold snaps and heatwaves; see my link on another thread to ETSA’s prognosis. There will be regional food crises due to water problems and input costs.

Thus we will need more energy to provide the goods and services we already take for granted. To do this I believe that personal mobility, electricity on demand and even our exotic diets will be compromised. In short for most people things will get worse not better.

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Jc #76, the problem I think is in the failure to account for future price rises due to a diminishing resource, something which they have contributed to greatly in wasting a lot of energy. I am not an economist but there is probably a name for this. It’s the same wherever there is energy wasted that could be harvested. That wasted energy is contributing to an ever rising price on a finite resource. I am sure it could never be an exact science, but corporations need to start thinking further ahead, by certain government incentives, and factor in reduced resource prices as part of the payback.

There are millions of results for ‘CHP generating efficiency’, it’s not rocket science so it’s just flawed accounting that has hindered uptake.

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Salient:

I don’t want to labor the point
Look if there was any efficiency gains of 30% with straight bottom-line gains of the same or even less any CEO would dive for it faster than the speed of light. Bottom line earnings changes would immediately work through to the stock price and if these guys have stock options it would motivate them from a personal perspective. (And everyone has an IQ of 180 when it comes to money) :-)

Here:

Company X has a market capitalization of $5 billion, normalized on-going earnings of $500 million, trades on a price earnings multiple (PE) of 14 (average for the ASX 200 at present) and it’s stock price is $5.00.

A direct potential 30% bottom line improvement would have the following consequences (you could assume the PE stays the same as the 30% efficiency gains are recurring).

Earnings rise to $650 million. A PE of 14 translates into a market cap rising to $7.8 billion and the stock price would rise to $6.50. This isn’t something even he stupidest CEO in the world would pass up.

John:

Terje I think to get ‘growth’ with reduced emissions we need a less materialistic measure of wellbeing than GDP.

Why, John, as nuke power suggests we can have our yellow cake :-) and eat it.

Essentially more stuff means more energy input. I don’t have the data handy but China’s boom circa 2002-2007 was accompanied by world record coal use. Could they have done it without coal?

They could have but possibly not as cheaply. The price of coal has moved from about US$10-15 bucks a ton in the early part of the decade to about US$80-100 bucks now. At one stage coal presented them with a compelling choice, however it doesn’t so much any more, which is why they are beginning to build reactors.

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John – you can have higher GDP without having more “stuff”. And if we recycle a greater proportion of what currently goes to landfill we can even have more stuff whilst reducing our ecological footprint. Especially so if energy is cheap and plentiful. GDP may not be the right measure for well being but wanting to see GDP fall isn’t the right objective either.

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I’m afraid these comments aren’t particularly timely as I’ve not been keeping up to date.

TerjeP: You started the thread by bringing up the subject of solar chimneys. If one is going to consider the principle underlying this approach to energy generation, do you not think that you may get more bangs for your buck with atmospheric vortex engines than with vast chimneys? Neither approach can be considered in any way mature but the vortex engine, if it really worked on large scale, would surely be cheaper to build. I also accept that neither technology is likely to be superior to the nuclear option.

Finrod and Salient Green appear to be taking opposite extremes on the subject of population overshoot. Finrod is offering my grandchildren the prospect of confinement in controlled environment cities or space colonies while Salient Green would seem to prefer them to live in Third World conditions with a probably less than 50% chance of reaching puberty. Neither prospect strikes me as particularly desirable. My own position, FWIW, is that we must strive towards a policy of zero population growth and, after that, a slow decline to half or less of our current levels. However, the age profile of the world’s population is such that we cannot reach this goal quickly without a monumental increase in death rate (which it would be quite immoral to plan for but which might nevertheless happen if we don’t get our energy policy right). Without catastrophe, there is no way to stop population reaching 9 billion plus. This will require plentiful energy with high ERoEI. Given this, and more efficient use of such energy, it might even be possible for economic growth to continue and for the third world to catch up with the richer nations without the living standards of the populations of the latter having to diminish too far or at all. However, BAU is not an option.

My huge concern is that many government spokesmen and economic commentators seem primarily focussed on economic growth while ignoring energy and climate constraints. Furthermore, some economists are encouraging higher birth rates or higher levels of immigration to counter the problems of ageing populations. It seems to me essential that rich societies find a way through the demographic transition without recourse to the production or import of more people. In the UK, we have a growing underclass of unemployable young who survive on welfare and rely on immigrants to do the work. In no way can this be deemed sustainable. I would be interested in the reactions of some of the self-professed left wing commentators on this site to my remarks. I feel that left wing goverments are just as responsible for getting us into our current mess as are the multinational corporations that they love to hate. It is true that the former may have the more selfless motives. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Are we compelled to act in the way we do because we are basically ruled by our animal drives, as are all other species, namely to perpetuate our genes in a selfish manner? Alternatively, does the fact that we are unique in the animal kingdom in having consciousness allow us the possibility of an escape route from self destruction? I guess we’ll soon find out.

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Salient green:

“Starting with coal, terje’s pic shows all that is wrong with coal, huge emissions – specifically in the pic, heat – being allowed without consequence. We all know about the toxic emissions and the ash. Why are these incredibly indolent corporations allowed to waste so much heat, and why is it easier to pass the costs on to the customer than use CHP and/or Rankine cycle energy recovery? How is it that these corporations can threaten to close down or go offshore rather than spend money on plant which will save them money and reduce emissions?”

The second law of thermodynamics is not a mere suggestion, but cold harsh reality. The maximum efficiency at which a heat engine can operate is (Thot-Tcold)/Thot, where temperatures are absolute (e.g. Kelvin scale); if it was any other way you could build a perpetual motion machine that needed no fuel to produce infinite amounts of electricity once you get it started.

Modern coal plants operate at ~40% efficiency using supercritical steam at ~820 kelvin under enormous pressure. If the rejected heat is at room temperature this particular coal plant could at most be ~63% efficient. Given that no one has invented a carnot cycle heat engine that is practical in the real world, this coal plant is pretty damn good at 40%.

The steam you see billowing out of the cooling tower is not particularly hot. Water is sprayed into the cooling tower to evaporate and chill the cold side of the heat engine. In order extract what little usable energy is left you would need a cold reservoir at or very close to room temperature capable of accepting ~2 GW of low-grade heat. This would be an enormous expensive for very little gain.

A CHP coal plant is problematic for all kinds of reasons. Firstly there’s the need to have a sufficient number of potential customers, which means the coal plant must be sited near a city, otherwise you end up throwing away nearly all the heat anyway. Secondly you will have to lower the efficiency of the coal plant because the cold reservoir of the CHP system is steam under significant pressure; since this is far hotter than the cooling tower you need to burn more coal to generate as much electricity. Thirdly, in most places demand is very irregular and most heat would still be rejected; quite a bit is needed in winter for space heating and only a little for water heating in summer.

“The huge PV array announced for China is quoted at $3b/Gw.”

That’s outrageously expensive.

The capacity factor for solar PV is ~20% for the very best places on the planet, compared to a typical capacity factor of 70% for coal and 90% for nuclear. 1 GW of solar produces as much power on average as ~280 MW coal or ~220 MW nuclear.

Building 2 GW of solar in inner Mongolia also implies very long transmission lines, which you have carefully omitted from the $3b/GW cost estimate. The transmission problem is compounded by the fact that you’re only using these transmission lines very infrequently due to the intermittent nature of solar.

If the suckage stopped here, it would be bad enough; but the project will not even be finished until 2019 (what was that about nuclear plants being too slow to construct to make a difference?) and if solar power is to ever replace baseload power you need to overbuild the system to deal with winter and weather as well as provide a significant storage system.

“The latest figures for nuclear installed are from $4b- $8b. http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/09/geh-esbwr-20090909.html#more Scroll down to “lets interject some nuclear reality and facts into this”

That’s lovely dear, but it has no relevance whatsoever. China is building AP-1000 reactors at an expected cost of $1400/kW (and they expect it to drop) with chinese labour and under a chinese regulatory environment (which is unlike western countries is not designed to deliberately add cost and risk to nuclear power).

“My position is that first and foremost we need to power down and depopulate. Without this aim, vast amounts of cheap power will only enable us to go further into overshoot, robbing from future generations and ensuring a catastrophic cull of species in the natural world first, then humans.”

This kind of casual evil is the worst kind. I bet you don’t even realize what kind of monster you are.

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Does anyone have reliable studies on hand to give good solid reasons why our current population is too high and much lower is optimum? I’m not referring to the commonly known ones such as we’re using up the world’s resources etc. Why is lower optimum?

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In lots of ways I think consumption is comparable to an instinct. One of the most effective ways to get around instincts is to cheat them.

I’ll use an analogy to explain.

People don’t have a baby drive per se, they have a sex drive. If you can give them an acceptable way to have lots of sex without having lots of babies, they’ll take it. If you just tell them to stop having sex, the sex drive will win out and all you’ll end up with is more babies.

In a similar way people don’t have a CO2 emissions drive, they have a consumption drive. If you give them an acceptable way to consume lots of energy without emitting CO2 , they’ll take it. If you just tell them to stop consuming energy, the consumption drive will win out and all you’ll end up with is more CO2 emissions. ;)

Marion

PS. Sorry about comparing babies to CO2 emissions…

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‘My position is that first and foremost we need to power down and depopulate.’

A lot of research has been done through the last 100 years on the latter problem. Many different technologies have been employed, at many different scales, under many different regulatory regimes and governance models.

I can report that they were all completely succesful.

We know what depopulation looks like, and its not fun. I agree with Salient Green though, we do need to depopulate, but under a powered-up condition, not powered down, so that it can happen by choice and long range planning, rather than being forced upon us through deeply unpleasant exigency.

Nice analogy Marion.

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Soylent # 84 it really is getting tiresome responding to dickheads who don’t read the thread properly. Re-read #78 for a response to your incredibly offensive, let alone brainless and totally unexplained response thus “This kind of casual evil is the worst kind. I bet you don’t even realize what kind of monster you are”

This is typical of the hysterical, racist, growth fetishist nonsense which always spews forth from those whose fortunes or religious beliefs hang from the obscene principle of ‘growth is good’. Clearly, I have stepped on some toes on this blog which is supposed to be about climate and energy but is being used by a few Cornucopians to further their delusional and destructive plans for continual ‘Growth’.

As for the rest of your post, and I have already posted this, Google ‘CHP Energy Efficiency’ and you will see what can be achieved. Yes, siting is important, but the Europeans have always been ahead of us, and a lot smarter, and they are embracing CHP for future energy needs.

My post on solar and nuclear costs was purely to demonstrate the incredible disparity in pricing. You completely missed the point that I am reservedly in favour of nuclear power but the costings are simply, unbelievable. Your reporting of $1500/Gw was completely unsubstantiated and only adds to the uncertainty of the costs of nuclear power.

You are completely correct saying solar power in Mongolia will require significant infrastructure. Who said it wouldn’t? Nuclear power will also require considerable infrastructure. More. Much more. What I was saying is, let’s compare apples with apples, over the long term. Can you put a price on Peace of Mind or Set and Forget which seems to be a big part of the enormous expansion of Solar PV around the world?

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Jc asks for reliable studies on optimum population size and why lower is optimum.

I would have thought that there is no definitive answer to optimum size. It will depend, to an extent, on individual perspectives. However, there must be an upper bound. Exponential growth is, by definition, unsustainable.

My personal view as to why lower is better is based upon the very high proportion of net primary productivity that our species has co-opted to the detriment of other species. I find it depressing, for example, that the declining global population of wild dogs is only 5000. As a vet and gundog trainer, I can empathise with wild dogs. However, others may take a more anthropocentric point of view and not worry about other species unless their survival has importance for that of mankind. Finrod, on the other hand, appears to believe that we can both increase biodiversity and biomass of other species while maintaining or increasing our own numbers. I suppose, in theory and given unlimited cheap energy, this might be possible for a time. However, it is my personal view that our lives would then become so artificial as not to be worth living. In other words, there exists a range of views, none of which is necessarily wrong per se. Surely, however, most humans will wish to reproduce and it is imperative for our species survival that we live sustainably. It seems to me that it would be easier to achieve these goals with a stable population of less than 6, and certainly less than 9 billion. It’s the transition period that will provide the real challenge. This may or may not prove surmountable.

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Douglas Wise #83 said “Salient Green would seem to prefer them to live in Third World conditions with a probably less than 50% chance of reaching puberty”

Are you sure you’re not Douglas Dumb? How on earth did you arrive at that ridiculous conclusion? Our houses, transportation, businesses, industry and power generation waste huge amounts of energy. We can still have a modern society with far less energy wastage.

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The link below shows very clearly why economic growth is good, electricity is good, and therfore the cheaper electricity is the better for humanity.

You can see, as an example, that the more electricity we use the lower is the infant mortality. Conclusion, if we want to reduce population growth (and save the planet) the more electricity we use the better, so the cheaper electricity is the better!!:

Go to: http://www.gapminder.org/

Click on the “Explore the World” chart

Select ‘Electricity generation per person” on the X axis and ‘Infant Mortality Rate’ on the Y axis. Select log scale for both axes.

Run ‘Play’ and watch the chart change through 1965 to 2006.

Next: change the X axis to ‘Nuclear consumption per person’. Select log scale

Conclusion: the more nuclear power the better for the planet.

So we need to keep electricity prices as low as possible for the good of the planet and for the benefit of future generations.

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Salient Green,

I’m fairly thick skinned and you didn’t unduly upset me. Nevertheless, thank you for your retraction in #92. I may have misrepresented your viewpoint when suggesting that you seemed to be advocating that my grandchildren live in Third World conditions with less than 50% chance of reaching puberty.

However, you appear to believe that power down and renewables will provide a sufficient solution. It might well be possible for rich nations to become much more efficient in their use of energy and allow their populations to sustain reasonable life styles if the balance of power remains as is. However, our energy is currently being gained at higher price (falling ERoEI) and ERoEIs will fall further with peaking oil and coal and, certainly, with the introduction of renewables. Simultaneously, we are facing a growing population and competition from developing nations striving to bring their living standards closer to our own. I am writing as a UK citizen living on an overpopulated island with few and diminishing natural resources and governed by those who seem intent on exacerbating matters.

I am sure you intentions are not to cause my grandchildren unnecessary anguish. It is merely that I think your presription will inadvertantly bring it about. I could not argue my point of view better than John Morgan did in #88, namely depopulation in a powered-up condition. I agree with you that powering-up and making no other changes will obviously be unsustainable. We have already seen the effects of the Green Revolution – more food leading to more people leading to more starving people.

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SG…no one want’s your world of energy starvation. Clearly this is not the trend. People like air conditioning, some sort of television, having a refrigerator, lights, that sort of thing. People understand they live longer and suffer less this way. So…nations…*every nation*…every people, broadly speaking, need more energy because there is actually *not enough of it*, and certainly those that have it, use it inefficiently (like burning fossil fuel for AUTOmobiles) and often waste it.

But the overall trend, as it has been throughout every single advance in human history, is for more, denser, energy, not diffuse, less, energy. So the argument then is how accomplish this with less greenhouse gas emissions, less carbon micro-particulate, better distribution and at far more abundant rates we do now? I see nuclear as simply the *only* way to go.

Secondly, your point about $1500/kw nuclear. You don’t ‘want’ to believe it or you factually know this isn’t the case? We have discussed on this blog many times before how the Chinese are doing *just that* with the AP1000 from Westinghouse. Twice that prices is CHEAP. And no carbon.

David

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D Wise @#83:
“Finrod is offering my grandchildren the prospect of confinement in controlled environment cities or space colonies…”

It probably wont be necessary to have completely closed and sealed habitats for humans on this planet (although if it ever does become necessary it would be really good to be confident we know how to do it). It may be prudent to do water recycling and have artificial food tecchnology.

I don’t see my proposal as advocating ‘confinement’ any more than current policy, which restricts allowable human activities in national parks. If we can return the farmlands to managed wilderness, there’ll be scope for allotting large tracts of land to human recreational purposes (including leading a quite rustic life if one desires it) while still expanding the land set aside for biological diversity far beyond anything practical today.

Not many people in Australia regard the rules against cutting down trees in national parks for firewood as being an insufferable imposition on their rights. I’m just advocating that this principle be somewhat extended.

There are a lot of people in eastern Africa who do regard laws against gathering firewood from national parks as such an imposition though, for the very good reason that they have no other source of fuel. The single most effective strategy to prevent deforestation in such areas would be a program of electrification so people have an alternative. That’s what I’m talking about… providing people with as many alternatives as possible, so our survival and that of the natural world doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.

Genocide advocates such as Salient Green might occasionally point to demographic trends and claim that they dont need to impliment mass-starvation or some more direct form of extermination to accomplish their program, but the fact is that the kind of demographic transition SG is talking about doesn’t ever happen until after a society has gone through modernisation and transition to high energy useage. SG would presumably oppose such a process.

The idea that we can get through this through ‘energy eficciency and conservation’ is delusional in the extreme. What’s goin g to happen if we need to launch a major geoengineering effort requiring great amounts of power to reverse a tipping-point crisis? We need a robust enery source to deal with these contingencies.

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Well, the biggest problem of species destruction in the developing world is: renewables. Mostly in the guise of charcoal production by burning down forests where ever they exist. Human pressure on existing rain forest brought on by both economic collapse and…oddly…agricultural ‘renewable’ bio fuels like palm oils and sugar cane have lead to a huge destruction of habitat.

A nuclear economy would be able to eliminate most wars for fossil and most if not all of these detrimental renewable industries. Food is for people, not cars!

At any rate, while all sorts of renewable projects gets financing and play from every developed and developing country the fight for fossil fuels rages on totally uninhibited by renewables. Political alliances between renewable and fossil interests are the bottom line of the day. A night doesn’t go by now on US network and cable TV from BP, Mobil, the Gas and Oil Assn about the great virtues of “Solar, wind and natural gas; our vast resources in ‘clean coal’,” etc.

They know their fiscal enemy and it’s fission.

Davicd

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Unfortunately the economic measure of GDP makes no sense; if one inefficiently wastes energy that makes the GDP go up. But energy efficiency is one of the strongest, esaiest ways to help control even further AGW.

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The whole idea of baseload demand is spurious. If it weren’t for off-peak pricing, demand from 9pm-6am would be an even smaller fraction of daytime and early evening demand. The current pricing scheme, and the demand it generates, reflects the rigidity of a coal-based generation system that (in the terms used here) requires a lot of redundancy at night to be able to meet peak demands during the day.

The analysis starts from the presumption that we should try to meet the same demand pattern with the same price structure as we have at present. Not surprisingly, it comes to the conclusion that we should adopt the generation technology most similar in its output pattern to coal, namely nuclear. A shift to solar and wind will require new pricing structures which (just as the present system does for coal) makes renewable electricity cheap when it is plentiful and expensive when it is scarce. Once this is taken into account, the analysis above is entirely invalid.

There are other problems with the assumptions, which need a reality check. If this analysis were applicable in the real world, the pattern of new generation investment in the US (big growth in wind, a fair bit of solar, almost no interest in nuclear even with substantial subsidies) would be radically different.

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@JQ#99:

Can you give us an example of how the new renewables pricing structure will produce the cost mechanism ensuring that all industrial activities needed to sustain the power system are provided with what they need? Can we run the smelters with renewable power coming down the grid? Can we provide enough power (electric, or synthesised chemical fuel) to run the mines? Can we achieve replacement rate?

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JQ – I think your point is valid but only up to a point. You can institutionalise certain shifts in power consumption from daytime to night (or the other way) however dealing with downturns in supply such as what happens when solar PV is subject to cloud is less easy to tackle. And in any case Peter Lang based his peaking requirement on 6:30pm not 9pm – 6am.

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finrod#96, I think you are probably just a liar, but I am prepared to give you a chance to be genuinely mistaken if you can read the definition of Genocide, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide and and explain to me how freely choosing not to have kids, which is what I am advocating, can have you accusing me of genocide.

Your previous hysterical accusations of ‘racial suicide’ peg you as a racist. If you were in any way sensible about the subject, you would see that the races most in peril are so because of overpopulation, such as in parts of Africa, and jungle tribes in South America and Indonesia.

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As an example, the pricing structure would have high prices for electricity on winter evenings and lower daytime prices, more or less the opposite of what we have now. That means that the activities that currently use off-peak power because it is cheap (both domestic hot water system and industries that operate night shifts) would have a strong incentive not to do so. Home heating would shift to systems based on stored heat rather than instant heat.

Of course this would involve change. But consumption patterns change all the time in response to changing prices. And, it’s important to note that the discussion here is based on an all-renewable system which is decades away. In the transition, which will involve continuation of the long-standing movement from coal to gas, most of the peak-demand problems raised here are relatively trivial, since gas (low capital costs, high operating cost, easily turned on and off) is ideally suited to dealing with peaks in net demand.

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Conceivably with a constant output grid every home and business could have a large battery. They could use their fixed inflow in real time, save some for later, buy some more or sell. I’d do it if batteries were cheap enough. I guess aluminium smelters would also except that electricity via batteries costs an extra 10c per kwh. However aluminium smelters feel they are entitled to pay just 2c per kwh which is one reason we need cheap baseload. Energy price increases need to be gradual enough to give us time to adapt and invest.

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@SG#102:

finrod#96, I think you are probably just a liar, but I am prepared to give you a chance to be genuinely mistaken if you can read the definition of Genocide, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide and and explain to me how freely choosing not to have kids, which is what I am advocating, can have you accusing me of genocide.”

SG, it’s not your advocacy of birth control which inspired me to peg you as a genocide advocate, it’s your ‘powerdown’ policy. This lunacy will inevitably cause billions of deaths, direct and indirect, if implemented.

You may, however, have a point concerning terminology. The definition of genocide given in the Wikipedia article you linked to is as follows:

“Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.”

This definition seems implicitly limited to the mass-murder and diminuition of particular subsets of the human race, rather than the human race as a whole. What you are advocating has a broader, more cosmopolitan murderous application, so we arguably need a new term to cover it. Cosmocide? I’m up fore suggestions.

More from Salient:

“Your previous hysterical accusations of ‘racial suicide’ peg you as a racist. If you were in any way sensible about the subject, you would see that the races most in peril are so because of overpopulation, such as in parts of Africa, and jungle tribes in South America and Indonesia.”

The race referred to in my ‘racial suicide’ remark is the human race… but if you want to bring up racism, the homicidal impact of the policies you advocate would indeed fall most heavily upon the non-European peoples of the earth. I see you rather in the mould of a British Empire aristocratic elitist, casually disposing of the fates of brown-skinned poeples, secure in the knowledge that you can count on the carefully cultivated racism of the lower orders to shield you from too much criticism from those who figure out what you’re up to.

I have late news for you. The world has moved on, and the divisions between first and third world people which you are counting on to dehumanise the great masses which would be the inevitable victims of your policy are dissolving.

You are an anachronism.

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