TCASE 4: Energy system build rates and material inputs

In TCASE 3 – The energy demand equation to 2050, I concluded the following:

The world in 2050 will demand ~700 EJ of thermal energy, or roughly 300 EJ of electrical energy. This will require ~10,000 GWe (10 TWe) of generating capacity, which is a 5-fold increase in electricity generating capacity, or 680 MWe, every day, for the next 40 years (2010 to 2050).

Given the large uncertainties associated with this forecast, the actual value could easily be as high as 15 TWe, which would up the daily built-out rate to a little over 1 GWe per day. But let’s stick with 680 MWe rate for this post.

What would that mean in terms of today’s zero-carbon (when generating) energy sources? Consider three technologies that are potentially (i.e., theoretically) able to be scaled up sufficiently to do this job (wind, solar thermal and nuclear fission), and then look at the limit analysis (what would be needed for any one technology to do the whole job — accepting that in reality, there will always be some diversity of energy technologies that are deployed worldwide). I will, for simplicity, use US capacity factors for these energy sources (solar thermal from Spain), based on the latest (2008) data. We can assume the US situation would be reflective of global conditions if the technologies are properly deployed worldwide (with due expertise and siting considerations).


1. Wind turbines. Wind power collects ~2 W/m2 (or 2 MWe per km2), and this figure is not really dependent on the turbine size. (If you have larger turbines, you need to space them further apart. If you build large turbines with tall towers, the increased hub height does access stronger winds, increasing the yield by ~30%). The 2008 US capacity factor for wind was 23.5%. For our unit, let’s choose a widely deployed turbine, the 2.5 MWe (peak), the GE 2.5xl (rotor diameter = 100 m, hub height = 75 – 100 m, cut-in windspeed of 3.5 m/s, peak at 12.5 m/s, cut-out at 25 m/s).

To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.235  = 2900/2.5 =  1,160 GE 2.5xl turbines per day, worldwide, spread over 340 km2 of land area (a square 18.4 x 18.4 km). Based on the University of Sydney ISA report (p145), which also agrees with Prof Per Peterson’s figures, this will consume ~1,250,000 tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel per day. Every day, from 2010 to 2050. Adding 1 day’s energy storage using NaS batteries (to make it equivalent to the solar thermal example below), increases the mass of steel required to 455,000 tonnes per day (see chart at bottom of the post).


2. Solar thermal. In good desert locations such as the Sahara or central Australia, concentrating solar power would access ~15 W/m2 (or 15 MWe per km2). In Spain, it is closer to 10 W/m2. These figures are derived after taking account of mirror/heliostat spacing required to avoid shading. It agrees with current experience with solar thermal. Case in point (from Mackay 2009):

“Andasol – a “100MW” [is a] solar power station under construction in Spain. Excess thermal energy produced during the day will be stored in liquid salt tanks for up to seven hours, allowing a continuous and stable supply of electric power to the grid. The power station is predicted to produce 350 GWh per year (40 MW [average]). The parabolic troughs occupy 400 hectares, so the power per unit land area will be 10 W/m2.”

The Andasol-1/2 plant will will have a capacity factor of (100 x 8760)/350000 = 40% thanks to its 7 hours of thermal storage (without thermal storage, the CF of solar thermal is 15-22%). Let’s take Andasol as our exemplar.

To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.4 = 1700/100 = 17 Andasol plants per day, worldwide, requiring (in an ideal desert location) 45 km2 of land (a square 6.7 x 6.7 km). Or, to put it another way, this means rolling out 520 m2 area of mirrors field per second, every second, from 1 Jan 2010 to 31 Dec 2050.

The material figures for the parabolic trough Andasol plant come from the detailed NEEDS report (p88). Based on these carefully document figures of an operational solar thermal plant, a 680 MWe build would equate to 2,215,000 tonnes of concrete, 690,000 tonnes of steel per day — shipped out to a remote desert site, each and every day, from 2010 to 2050.


AP1000 footprint3. Nuclear fission. The AP1000 reactor, a Generation III+ design by Westinghouse that is now being heavily deployed in China, has a small concrete/steel footprint compared to other designs (see figure) — about 100,000 m3 of reinforced concrete incorporating 12,000 tonnes of steel rebar. The AP1000 unit’s island buildings would cover about 4 ha (0.04 km2) and generate 1,154 MWe (peak) at a capacity factor of 91.5% (based on US 2008 operations).

To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.915 = 743/1154 = 0.64 (close to 2/3) AP1000 plants per day, worldwide, or roughly 2 x AP1000 reactors every 3 days, from 2010 to 2050. (This would require ~160,000 tonnes of concrete [based on 2.4 tonnes per cubic metre] and 10,000 tonnes of steel per day). Compare this to the figures for wind and solar thermal given above!


In the case of wind turbines, much of the land below could presumably be used for other purposes (e.g. livestock). This is not true of solar thermal — the desert ecosystems under these mirrors would be destroyed. Nuclear sites would be restricted industrial zones, as they are today.

What’s missing from the above? Plenty! For instance, the above calculations take NO account of relative cost of implementing any of the above built-outs, nor does it consider the issue of overbuilding and geographical distribution, unit/facility operational lifetimes, large-scale energy storage and backup requirements, relative contribution to grid reliability, etc., etc. In reality, as I shall explain in the future, the figures I cite above for wind and solar, huge though they are, will turn out to be severe underestimates. The devil in these details will be explored in later posts in the TCASE series. I will also compare historical build rates to see how they stack up against the above projections (for renewable energy and nuclear power).en_pwr_area

The main point of this post, TCASE 4, is to take a one step in quashing the absurd ‘bait-and-switch’ meme that some disingenuous anti-nuclear folk repeat: That because the energy replacement challenge facing nuclear energy is huge (a 25-fold expansion on today’s levels), it couldn’t possibly do it, so renewables are our only sensible option. On the basis of this post alone, any objective reader can see that this is pure, quantitatively unsupportable, nonsense. It’s going to be really tough, no matter what — and believe me, I’ve not even warmed up on the problems with renewables taking the lion’s share of the work.

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  1. Barry You are doing really great work here. I look forward to seeing your assessments of the material requirements for worldwide IFR and LFTRs. The real rub is even more than material requirements, labor requirements. That is why the factory mass production manufacturing requirement is so critical. When push comes to shove, the LFTR is so safe that you can do away with containment structures entirely. You can house it in a steel shed with a cement floor, and truck the rest in in the form factory built modules that can be assembled by machines.

    David LeBlanc has done some work on low cost, low materials input LFTRs, but has not been able to give me figures of materials input. However, it would involve building the reactors with stainless steel and operating them at lower temperatures. The fuel formula could also be changed to cheaper salts. This might actually turn to an advantage, because there are some disadvantages to the current salt formula, including the creation of tritium. As long as we can get a 1 to 1 conversion ratio.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. And then my favorite, a 540 MW CCGT with an attached 1500 hectare salt water algae farm for closed carbon cycling. Incidently, it would produce about 4.7928 million liters of fresh, hot water per year. Requires sunny location, but the CCGT condensers would produce enough otherwise wasted heat to keep the algae ponds at the optimum temperature.

    To scale this, the Nullarbor palin is at least 20,000,000 hectares, so enough room for at least 10,000 540 MW CCGTs with associated algae farm, all able to run 24/7 92% of the time. That is, if it isn’t used for this:
    The Nullarbor Plain–Australia’s Future Energy Capital?
    and maybe also one runs ruoghshod over some natiional parks…


  3. Barry,

    This is an excellent, simple comparison. I hope it might make the picture clearer for those who do not seem to understand the enormous advantage nuclear has over the renewable technologies.

    I’d suggest adding charts to show, graphically, the comparison of wind, solar and nuclear for tha amount of steel, concrete and land area required per day to meet the world’s projected electricity requirements in 2050.

    I suggest you should add the materials and land area required for energy storage for wind power. Wind cannot be compared with nuclear without energy storage.


  4. A table at the end is definetly a good idea. It is a pain when you have to go back through the analysis of an article to derive the conclusion. A well formatted conclusion summarising the analysis also forms a great executive summary.

    Coal should also be in this analysis simple to indicate the comparison with new construction required under business as usual. I suspect that the construction effort is high irrespective of whether we go coal or nuclear.


  5. David B I somewhat agree with your idea of the Nullarbor as a low carbon energy hub. However each proposal would have to stand on its merits but let’s assume adequate transmission was in place. I commented earlier that future gas reserves will be in the west but the demand for peaking power will be in the east. I think the electricity source for the Olympic Dam expansion should be a NPP at Ceduna as shown inthis diagram.

    Water from an associated desal could free up a pipeline from dwindling river supplies. Mining company BHP Billiton would save costs on the desal proposed for a more sensitive site in the gulf to the east. Moreover a port (Thevenard) near Ceduna will be deepened to load ships with zircon as well as the current gypsum. The area is sparsely populated, has cool summer ocean temps (the Flinders Current) and is hi tech with a university observatory. However conflating the issues a weekend TV program claimed that British A bomb tests at Maralinga caused excess cancers in the indigenous population, something opponents would latch on to.


  6. Barry,

    For Wind power you say:

    will consume ~590,000 tonnes of concrete and 310,000 tonnes of steel per day. Every day, from 2010 to 2050.

    For wind power to be equivalent to nuclear power we would need energy storage. Assuming just one day of energy storage (not enough but let’s work with this) we would need to add 130,000 tonnes of NaS batteries per day, these being about the least cost and currently the most advanced of the on-site storage options. Let’s add that to the steel component taking steel to 440,000 tonnes of steel per day.

    Some may have some concerns about adding 130,000 tonnes of NaS batteries per day for 40 years, not to mention the decomissioning and waste disposal.


  7. Barry,

    These are an excellent series of posts. Along with the other requests, could you add a button to allow us to “print” the page of interest? (That is, printing without the excess links, sidebars, etc.) Thank you.


  8. Barry,
    The capacity factor for wind in 2008 is distorted by the 45% increase in new capacity (>4,000MW installed from Sept08 to Dec 08). Thus these turbines are only contributing power for a small part of the year but included in total capacity installed. The Australian company Infigen gives a capacity factor of 35% for it’s US wind farms. This is the value given by DOE studies, although they project this to increase to 38-40% over the next 10-20 years with improvements in design.
    If you look at the monthly power produced by wind can get a better estimate of capacity factor.

    It seems that the amount of steel and concrete required for nuclear, wind or solar is only a small fraction of present day output so are these energy sources competing with each other(for resources) or are they completementing by replacing FF faster than any one low carbon energy alone could do?.


  9. Neil Howes #10,

    You have been asking on another thread about the build rates that can be achieved for nuclear versus wind and solar. The figures Barry has posted show that the quatities of materials required for wind power and solar power are about 6 times greater than for nuclear. Is this not a reasonable indication that we can the required generating capacity much faster with nuclear than with solar or wind power?

    If true, does this not support the argument that the focus should be on progressing nuclear?

    Furthermore, if the problem is urgent, can we afford the luxury of continuing to spend the majority of our research capacity on renewable energy rather than on nuclear? Shouldn’t we abandon the research into remewables and swap it over to nuclear?

    You ask about whether the renewable energy solutions are competing with nuclear for resources. Clearly they are for research funds, research resources and for labour. Importantly, they are competing for political and public attention, so that the focus cannot be directed into a solution that can make a real difference. This is the reason we can’t even get started and haven’t been able to for 35 years.

    I am concerned that researchers’ dogged attraction to renewables is diverting resources and delaying appropriate actions. Arguing about minor differences such as the average capacity factor for wind power seems like an unnecessary distraction. The picture is clear. Let’s get on with it.


  10. Great post. Not that it changes much, but I’m a little skeptical of the requirement of a 5-fold increase. I’m posting this with a 7 watt fit-pc2 (and a 45 watt screen :)), so power requirements could drop massively for a billion of us rich people and rise dramatically for about 3 billion poor. So I’d reckon that if we were smart and got everybody involved (a HUGE ask) we could manage with a 3-fold increase …

    The figure of 310,000 tonnes of steel for wind needs to be put in perspective.

    This is 113 million tonnes annually. which is about 8% of global production (wikipedia). More importantly, there’s only 20 countries on the planet producing more than 10 million tonnes annually, so plenty of steel would have to be shipped across borders.


  11. Neil #10: The global and US numbers don’t bear this out. Go and look here:

    Table: Annual Wind Power Generation (TWh) and total electricity consumption(TWh) for 10 largest countries.

    The US has amongst the highest CF of all countries. Further, the change in CF for wind, across years in the US or other nations, is pretty stable. It seems that although a CF of 35-45% is often cited for wind for the best sites, when taken across whole nations, the actual figure turns out to be considerably lower.

    In reality, this is quite a complex matter and will deserve a couple of posts on just this point in the TCASE series. For instance, CF can be ‘tuned’ to a site — it ultimately depends on what sized generator you install on your turbine. If you put a GE 2.5xl-sized turbine at a good site and whacked a 200 kW generator on instead of a 2.5 MW generator, you’d likely get the CF up to 70-80% — but this would obviously not be helpful, as it would be grossly uneconomic!

    On balance, I strongly suspect that a worldwide CF of ~25% for 10 TWe would turn out to be a very reasonable figure, as the trade-off between use marginal improvements in turbine efficiency is offset by the increasing use of less-than-optimal sites.

    Note Thanks all for the above suggestions for improvement — I’ll do these changes later tonight when I can free up some time.


  12. Some additions and changes to note to the above post:

    1. I’ve fixed the figure for the area occupied by the AP1000 and associated buildings — it should have been 4 ha (0.04km2), not 40 ha.

    2. I’ve added a figure showing a side-by-side comparison of concrete/steel/land area for wind, solar thermal and nuclear. My thanks to the suggestions for this (quite right) and to Peter Lang for preparing the figure and sending it to me.

    3. I’ve added an addition in the wind section to include the steel required to build 1 day of energy storage using NaS batteries — this is included in the summary figure. Thanks to Peter Lang for the calculations. There will be more on this storage option in later TCASE posts.


    Some people have asked for the equivalent figures for solar PV or coal, gas etc. Solar PV would be a similar footprint to CSP, but would be much more expensive, and requires more consideration of storage via pumped hydro. Coal/gas material requirements would be similar to nuclear (a little less, perhaps). The grand synthesis will have to wait!

    Doc #9 — this is a WordPress feature (or lack thereof) and is out of my hands — sorry. Copy/paste of the post into Word, and then printing from there, works, I’ve found.

    Geoff #12 — yes, these materials are certainly well within the realm of global production figures, for any of these options. More on this (and many other relevant points) in later TCASE posts.

    Bear in mind everyone, in the TCASE series I’m trying to approach the problem in lots of small chunks, so any individual post is sure to miss out on a lot. I do appreciate the comments pointing out what’s missing — even if I don’t change the current post to reflect these suggestions, they’re super useful for guiding future TCASE entries. Thanks.


  13. Re # 11. Peter Lang

    Peter, I wonder if you could take the time to categorise those safety requirements for nuclear power stations which you consider to be “over the top” relative to the safety requirements imposed on other industrial complexes (eg chemical plants) which you deem to be potentially as or more dangerous. I am not attempting to take issue with you, merely to try to get a handle on the extent to which redundant safety engineering impacts on build costs (both with respect to build time and physical resources). How, for example, would you rate containment in reactors that operate either at high or low atmospheric pressures? Should one need to protect against accidental or deliberate aircraft strikes? As I understasnd it, chemical plants are generally not so protected.


  14. One non-technical safety requirement that exists in the USA is that government inspectors be at nuclear plants all day every working day.

    If this were also required of gas-fired power plants, gas pipelines, coal mines, coal trains, and coal-fired power stations, the relative difficulty of getting inspectors to accept the latter postings would encourage governments not to impede nuclear plant construction as they tend now-a-days to do.

    (How fire can be domesticated)


  15. Good post in a great series Barry. – Doug Wise, a very pertinent question. I have often used the discrepancies between nuclear safety requirements and those of other industries that traffic in large volumes of hazardous materials, in my arguments with those who contend that nuclear energy is just too dangerous for wide deployment.


  16. Doug @ 16: The PRISM reactor vessel (the commercial IFR design) is designed to be underground, about 50 feet below grade. If they’re built with the attendant structures (steam generator and turbine) off to the side rather than directly above, then one can use the 50 feet of earth as protection against aircraft strikes. The engineering for this is straightforward. One need only transfer hot (~550C) sodium from the reactor vessel (at near atmospheric pressure) to the steam generator via the secondary (non-radioactive) sodium loop. Want more protection? Pile on more dirt. It’s dirt cheap.


  17. Great series. Thanks for the thinking and research and analysis.

    As for relative risks (Doug Wise’s inquiry), there are many components of the industrial infrastructure on which civilization relies that pose the potential for catastrophe. I don’t even want to start listing them here, but if you are familiar, for example, with energy infrastructure, just think about it for a minute, or (likely) less.

    Such potentials are routinely ignored by the same organizations and spokespeople who seem willing to stretch every out-of-context fact and fantasy to generate fear of nuclear energy technology. A smart person with a cranky attitude who posts at has coined the term “nuclear exceptionalism” for this practice. I think this is a fair characterization.

    A comparison of some relative risks were addressed by Bernard Cohen at

    A quote from Professor Cohen:

    “To face the accident risk squarely, one must recognise that it is absolutely essential for probability to be considered because there is no such thing as the worst possible accident – any hypothetical accident can be made worse by extenuating circumstances, albeit with reduced probability.

    For example, one of the innumerable gasoline tank trucks that roam our streets can have a collision spilling the fuel, leading to a fire that could destroy a whole city, killing millions of people. It might require a lot of improbable circumstances combining together, like water lines being frozen to prevent effective fire fighting, a traffic jam aggravated by road construction or other accidents limiting access to fire fighters, substandard gas pipes which the heat of the fire cause to leak, a high wind frequently shifting to spread the fire in all directions, a strong atmospheric temperature inversion after the whole city becomes engulfed in flame to keep the smoke close to the ground, bridges and tunnels closed for various reasons to eliminate escape routes, errors in advising the public, and so forth. Each of these situations, is improbable, so a combination of many of them occurring in sequence is highly improbable, but not impossible. If any anyone thinks that is the worst possible accident, consider the possibility of the fire being spread by glowing embers to other cities which were left without protection because their fire fighters were off assisting the first city, etc.

    As an example for nuclear’s chief competitor, coal burning, consider the possibility of the abundant mutagenic chemicals it produces leading to development of a virus that could wipe out mankind; a virus as deadly as HIV that could be as easily spread as the influenza virus could come close to that! There is no such thing as the worst possible accident, and probability must be considered.”

    * * *

    Opponents of nuclear energy routinely emphasize remote potentials and demand that nuclear power along must account for and insure for all of them. Other routine practices, e.g., the construction of tall buildings that might be vulnerable to terrorists flying planes into them, the construction of vulnerable natural gas facilities, chemical facilities, etc., are subjected to a small fraction of such concern. Indeed, as concerns natural gas facilities in particular, many “clean energy” advocates can’t get enough of them because they support readily dispatched power plants that can help balance the only low-carbon energy resources they deem acceptable. (I am for renewables, by the way, and also for an “all (low carbon) hands on deck” approach to energy).

    The refusal to deploy and further develop nuclear energy technology gains us nothing. To the degree that there are undesired consequences from nuclear energy’s further use, deployment and development, we (or our descendants) will have to deal with them anyway because, in a multi-polar world where we do not control the technology, refusal to engage the technology only cedes technological leadership in this field to others. This genie is not going back in the bottle, even if thats what some might like. Our best option is to train it really well. Luckily, there are better and better ways to do so.

    Think. Change. Act.


  18. There are buses hurtling around city streets with 250C liquid sodium adjoining the negative plates on their Zebra batteries. In the event of a collision and rupture that would catch fire, perhaps incinerating some people. Yet few seem concerned. It’s like transplutonium elements in smoke alarms; these things are only bad if they are in a reactor.


  19. Barry#13

    The eia/doe/report on US wind generation monthly data gives from Jan-June2009 34,406GWh(4380 hours) =8,010MW average from 25,300 MW installed by Dec 2008 plus allowing for an average of another 1,700MWoperating since Jan09 would give a capacity factor of 8,000/27,000MW or 29%. Since this includes some older turbines that operate at considerably lower capacity factors(some not operating) 35% would be a good value for new wind farms.

    I would not that Europe is considerably lower than this( infigen Europe is 24%) but the 35% figure is typical for what is being achieved at Australian wind farms.Infigen data of 35% capacity is from audited annual reports.

    The data you site is the total GWh generated in the year and the total capacity at the end of the year. When you have 40-60% additions in one year as is the case in US and Australia, you need to know the average capacity operating. New farms seem to take a few months to get up to full operation, just as new reactors usually have a lower capacity factor for the first few years.


  20. John Newlands (7) — Thank you. But what is an NPP?

    I’ll now be more realistic about generating from the Nullarbor plain, using 540 MW, 92% availabiltiy, CCGTs, each cited with a 1500 hectare sea water algae farm and another 500 hectares for the associated small village, cooling water ponds, etc.; 2000 hectares in all.

    I assume a maximum gris demand of 33 GW to be entirely met from enough of these units out on the plain. Assuming around 10% transmission losses, need the generate 36.3 GW. That is 73+ units plus one in spinning reserve, say 75 total units. The land requirement is 150,000 hectares, not much.

    In addition, it might be that limestone caverns could be used for the required biomethane and exhaust gas storage, lowering costs.


  21. Neil, you are concerned over a capacity factor difference of 10% when the material demands for wind are 10 times (1000%) higher. But I still maintain that there will be a trade off between increased efficiency of turbines and decreases in availability of optimal wind sites.

    The South Australian capacity factors for the last few years are as follows (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 [to June], ESIPC Annual Planning Report):

    Canunda = 0.34, 0.38, 0.34, 0.26
    Starfish Hill = 0.31, 0.29, 0.29, 0.26
    Lake Bonney S1 = 0.23, 0.28, 0.28, 0.21
    Lake Bonney S2 = -, -, 0.25, 0.21
    Snowtown = -, -, 0.27, 0.39
    Cathedral Rocks = -, 0.33, 0.35, 0.26
    Wattle Point = 0.30, 0.35, 0.35, 0.32
    Mt Millar = -, 0.15, 0.19, 0.24
    Hallett = -, -, 0.32, 0.35

    The rough (unweighted) average of those numbers is 29% (I excluded years when the farms were under construction). So for SA at least, we meet half-way. Anyway, as I said, much more on wind and solar capacity factors in later TCASE posts.


  22. Peter Lang#11,
    “The figures Barry has posted show that the quantities of materials required for wind power and solar power are about 6 times greater than for nuclear. Is this not a reasonable indication that we can the required generating capacity much faster with nuclear than with solar or wind power?”

    This is only relevant if steel and concrete are limiting. China is producing 600Million tonnes of steel and many EU and US steel mills are operating at well below capacity.
    Similarly the fact that wind or solar uses X1000 larger land area than a nuclear site is not relevant when we have very large desert regions available or 10,000km of coastline. For Denmark or Germany this is an issue but not for China, US or Australia or much of the developing world.

    “Furthermore, if the problem is urgent, can we afford the luxury of continuing to spend the majority of our research capacity on renewable energy rather than on nuclear? Shouldn’t we abandon the research into remewables and swap it over to nuclear?”

    Peter, be serious, only a tiny fraction of Australia’s research $$ are going into either renewable or nuclear. A lot more is going into CCS(this is where the funding is going).
    We don’t need a lot of new research for wind( I don’t think Australia spends very much in this area), we need to start building nuclear power reactors and continue building wind power. We do need to expand training of nuclear scientists and technicians
    Solar does need more research but most is occurring in China, US and Europe.

    How is building wind farms competing for labour for building nuclear reactors. Construction companies such as Worley Parsons are building nuclear reactors ( in other countries) but they are also building LNG plants competing for similar resources. Wind turbine manufacturing and instillation does not compete for the same components or labour. Steel and cement capacity are in surplus. A nuclear industry in Australia will be competing with other countries trying to expand nuclear, that will be the limitation.

    “I am concerned that researchers’ dogged attraction to renewables is diverting resources and delaying appropriate actions. Arguing about minor differences such as the average capacity factor for wind power seems like an unnecessary distraction. The picture is clear. Let’s get on with it.

    Coal-fired power is only going to be replaced by companies building alternative power. As it stands most investment presently is going into NG and wind power. If a future government is prepared to encourage nuclear power and give massive loan guarantees ( and insurance coverage) then these companies will probably also invest in nuclear. Researchers or research funding isn’t driving this nor is the “low cost” of nuclear power sufficient for investors. I would like to see nuclear eligible for REC, as well as renewables, but do you think that alone would be adequate to encourage IAG or Origin energy to start building a nuclear power plant?

    Correcting a mistake about average capacity factor or any other assumption is always worthwhile.


  23. [based on 1.4 tonnes per cubic metre]

    Barry, try 2.4 tonnes per cubic meter rather.

    So, for an AP1000 (~1050 MWe average taking into account a pessimistic 91.5% capacity factor), that’s 228.6 tonnes of concrete and 11.5 tonnes of steel per MWe average. Or, to compare to the other cases, 155,000 tonnes of concrete and 7,800 tonnes of steel per day to meet 680 MWe of new capacity per day.

    Even so and even accepting the grossly low-balled estimate for solar, nuclear still comes way ahead on concrete, flattens all the competition on steel and, of course, for land use, the true killer, it’s not even a race.

    For actual land use for nuclear power, greenies will always point to the huge land footprints of US nuclear power plants like Turkey Point (and forget their role as undisturbed natural reserves). In that case, to shut them up, always point to the Gravelines nuclear station in France, 100 ha for 5,706 MW. In fact, the same land could houses 6 EPRs or similar. So a range of 0.01 to 0.02 ha/MWe is a proper, actual, demonstrated estimate of all-included land use, compared to 50 ha/MWe for wind.

    Just a 1/2,500 to 1/5,000 factor compared to wind…

    We might as well put whale oil and a warp drive side by side to get anymore ridiculous.


  24. David B I’d need convincing that your seawater algae would work out cheaper than an equivalent smaller acreage of PV with batteries. It was interesting to follow your link to Desertrec as I see the company principal may be deported from Australia. Somebody needs to keep pushing the desert coast as an energy hub. Perhaps it could combine some kind of biogas, solar desalination, nuclear, nuclear desalination and wind. Somebody mentioned geothermal in the basin which straddles the SA/WA border. However an east-west HVDC cable could cost say $3bn plus say $100m+ for each inverter-rectifier station. Apart from local renewable input it could also transmit WA gas fired and SA nuclear (?) electricity.

    BTW low pressure gas storage must be relatively cheap. During dull moments in the cricket telecast there is regular commentary on the height of the adjoining gasometer at Edgbaston UK.


  25. Would it be beneficial to match the nuclear sceptic’s argument of efficiency and increased capacity factor for the renewable sectors?

    Eg. World electricity consumption remains the same as now (2 TWe) or ~136 MWe per day for the next 40 years (assuming we’re replacing virtually all electricity generators that currently operate). We’ll assume 4 MWe wind turbines, with capacity factor 35%. A mostly ridiculous scenario, but that’s the point of this.

    136/0.35 = 388/4 = 97 turbines per day, covering 28.3 km2 (a square 5.3km*5.3km), consuming 49,000 tonnes of concrete and 25,833 tonnes of steel per day.

    To compare, this isn’t that different to nuclear’s 90,000 tonnes of concrete and 7,700 tonnes of steel per day under the 5 times increase (10 TWe) scenario.

    I did this very quickly so I’m sure my calculations are pretty rough, but I think it still indicates that even under the renewable advocate’s most wild scenario, the renewable sector’s capacity for replacing coal just doesn’t cut it.


  26. John Newlands (29) — Assuming the land is dirt cheap, I’m quite sure CCGTs supporting by seawater algae farms comes in as less and lasts 10 years longer than PV. But only quite sure since I don’t know the $$ for an installed GE H frame, which is the unit I’ve used to estimate costs. One estimate suggests it provides busbar US$0.09+/kWh power using natgas provided at prices which appear to (almost) support the algae farms. So up that a bit. Busbar US$0.10/kWh to be compared to PV, for which I don’t have cost estimates. However, solar thermal (no storage) is estimated as provided busbar power at US$12.653/kWh. Which means I could be too low by as much as US$0.02/kWh and still come out ahead, not even including the lack of storage.

    The only hightech component is the GE H frame, which can be ordered now for delivery in 2–4 years. The only uncertainties have to do with properly harvesting the algae; a CSIRO study sized pilot plant, right now, would resolve the remaining (minor) economic uncertainties.

    Yes, ample storage facilities for both the biomethane and the exhaust gas (to be returned to the algae ponds during the day) are certainly required!

    Interestingly enough, much of the pumping could be done via wind or solar, especially the latter. If so, the arbitrary 10% of what I called transmission loses (which should have been transmission+pumping loses) goes down.

    The cost of the transmission line from producers to consumers has to be factored in. Those lines have a substantially long lifetime, so add only a little to the cost of dlivered power, but I don’t know what that figure is.


  27. TeeKay#30,
    If your figures are correct for wind demand this represents 0.1% of the 6million tonnes of cement( 15% of concrete) and 8% of the 3million tonnes of steel manufactured each day at present production. Surplus world capacity would be be two or three times this. In other words steel and cement are not limitations for either wind or nuclear power. Building capacity and the rate of increase in building capacity is the limitation for both.
    You may as well compare the volume of ocean cooling water used by nuclear and wind power, so nuclear uses X1000 times more than wind, but so what, lots of ocean cooling water available.

    The big issue for wind is variable output,and the need for short term storage, focusing on land area, steel or cement demand, is missing the main issue.

    The big issues for nuclear are the time to build, the capacity to produce some components, and the financial risks for private capital.


  28. “The Andasol-3 plant will come on-line in 2011, and will have a capacity factor of (100 x 8760)/350000 = 40% thanks to its 7 hours of thermal storage (without thermal storage, the CF of solar thermal is 15-22%). Let’s take Andasol-3 as our exemplar.

    To get 680 MWe average power, 680/0.4 = 1700/100 = 17 Andasol-3 plants per day, worldwide, requiring (in an ideal desert location) 45 km2 of land (a square 6.7 x 6.7 km). Or, to put it another way, this means rolling out 520 m2 of mirrors/heliostats per second, every second, from 1 Jan 2010 to 31 Dec 2050.”

    Nitpick: Andasol-3 has a nameplate capacity of 50 MW, not 100. That figure was for the total of Andasol-1 and -2. Each of the three sections has about 500,000 m^2 of collector and should produce 180 GW·h/yr (20 MW_average) of electricity. If they didn’t have storage, their capacity factor would be lower but their peak power would be correspondingly greater.,lang2,109,155.html


  29. David LeBlanc has designed a very simple, low material LFTR that could easily mass produced. David tells me:
    My work on the tube within tube will take very little material but I don`t have a number off the top of my head. Cost figures would be pretty much guesswork at this point but seems obvious that a simple tube should not cost very much. As for output levels, we could have a 1000 MWe tube within tube but I typically look around 200 MWe as a good size and this is about 1 meter wide (inner tube) and 6 meters long. This is surrounded by 60 to 100 cm of blanket salt and then an outer Hastelloy vessel. The tube material might be Hastelloy or Molybdenum (or many other things).

    David adds, “The heat exchangers will be a bigger user of metals like Hastelloy and that will be the same for just about any design.” in addition the LFTR would meed a couple of closed cycle gas turbin generators. David has discussed lowering reactor costs by building them with stainless steel. Using CO2 instead of helium we could get about 175 MWe from each. You could easily mass produce 4 per day, 400 if you wanted too. LFTRs are very safe, and all you need is a steel shed with prefabricated concreet radiation containment barriers and a cement floor to house the things.

    Perhaps this gives you a clue why the lFTR crowd is not impressed with the IFR.


  30. Since this thread is about build rates, I’ve copied a relevant post by Nuclear Australia at #43 on the “Recent nuclear power cost estimates” thread.

    43.Nuclear Australia said
    29 August 2009 at 4.55
    I have only seen Asia mentioned a few times. It deserves greater emphasis.

    As many have pointed out, looking too far back in time reduces the credibility of any results when applied to projects in progress today – not to mention those of the future. Considering projects initiated within the past 25 years(i.e. first safety related concrete pour during 1984 or later) the following took place in France, India, China, Korea and Japan:

    5 reactor projects completed
    Minimum construction time: 7.5 yr
    Maximum construction time: 12.7 yr
    Average: 9.9 yr
    Standard Deviation: 1.9 yr

    9 reactor projects completed
    Min time: 5.2 yr
    Max: 11.1 yr
    Average: 8.4 yr
    Standard Deviation: 2.2 yr

    11 reactor projects completed
    Min time: 4.2 yr
    Max: 6.9 yr
    Average: 5.8 yr
    Standard Deviation: 0.9 yr

    11 reactor projects completed
    Min time: 4.0 yr
    Max: 5.2 yr
    Average: 4.6 yr
    Standard Deviation: 0.4 yr

    21 reactor projects completed
    Min time: 3.2 yr
    Max: 5.2 yr
    Average: 3.9 yr
    Standard Deviation: 0.5 yr

    Source: PRIS database

    One could assume Toshiba is transferring their experience to the AP1000 project in China.

    Click to access outline%20of%20china%20AP1000NPP%20construction.pdf

    Economic studies must consider Asian experience. One wonders why – if the economics do not work – nuclear power expansion continues there.

    France – 1 project in progress (1st concrete pour)
    Japan – 2 projects in progress ”
    Korea – 5 projects in progress ”
    India – 6 projects in progress ”
    China – 16 projects in progress “


  31. Friakel #27: Thanks for that possible correction. My hyperlinked reference shows the weight of different components of concrete, and they are all around the 1.2 to 1.7 t/m3. I wonder how the 2.4 value was derived? It can’t be the water, as this weighs 1 t/m3.

    Bill #34: I appreciate that extra information on Andasol 1 to 3. I should have said 17 Andasol 1-2 plants or 34 Andasol 3. I’ll fix that.

    Peter #42: Thanks for reposting this, those figures are very revealing. I’ll be writing more about this general issue of deployment rates of nuclear and renewables in future TCASE posts.


  32. Northwest states project efficiency measures could meet 85% of new electricity demand through 2030

    Reading between the lines, it appears that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council is setting the stage towards shutting the Pacific Northwest’s 3 or 4 coal burners.


  33. Barry silicic rocks (eg quartz sand) weigh about 2.5 t/m3 compacted and they are mixed in variable portions with cement to create concrete. Some CO2 from the cement calcining process is reabsorbed to form the carbonate binding matrix around the silicic filler particles.

    More on why I like the SA west coast for both NPPs and renewables
    1) strong fluxes and gradients
    Blazing sunshine, cool sea currents, steady winds, maybe hot but insulated rocks.
    2) a long way from NIMBYs
    One person doesn’t like the thorium in the monazite sands to be shipped out but that is not thousands of people.
    3) supply/demand crossroads
    Apart from the desalinated water and electricity for the OD expansion eventually WA gas power will have to head east, either as a pipeline or HV transmission.


  34. @John #46: “One person doesn’t like the thorium in the monazite sands to be shipped out but that is not thousands of people.”

    Who in the world doesn’t like thorium!

    If I were running a mining company, I’d be mining lots of Th and just stockpiling it in a warehouse somewhere, since it’s largely free of the political baggage associated with any mention of mining uranium. In any case, monazite sands are often mixtures of Th and other interesting metals such as lanthanides/rare earths, and there’s certainly growing demand for those.


  35. Luke it’s a greenie on the local council. The Ambrosia heavy sands deposit will supply 25% of the world’s zircon they reckon, with the usual companion minerals imparting slight radioactivity. The gypsum loading port of Thevenard will be deepened to take the sand starting 2010 I think to Geraldton WA for separation. I presume the monazite is sent overseas for the acid-base process to extract thorium and rare earths.

    That region is actinide central if you factor in Maralinga (see ABC this Sunday 1.30pm) and Olympic Dam. If anywhere in any country should have a large NPP that stretch of coastline is it. However it needs both political will and beefed up transmission.


  36. Friakel, thanks see my comment above – I definitely wasn’t ignoring what you said, but would like a bit more clarification.

    What makes it heavier than the constituent cement (1.4 t), lime (0.7 t), sand (1.7 t), gravel (1.6 t) and water (1 t) per m3? (see here: – this is where I derived my figure). I want to understand why this is incorrect before I change the figures in the above post.

    John Newlands above says quartz sand is 2.4 t/m3 rather than 1.7 t, so it seems to depend very much on the type of sand used, rather than the other constituents. Do you know what type of cement is used for reactor construction?


  37. David LeBlanc disagrees with my assessment of the potential of low cost LFTR technology. I eat crow and go back to the drawing boards. Yesterday David wrote me: “There are a few options for cheap salts without tritium and still below Melting point 525. One is RbF-NaF-27%(Th,U)F4 (I think its 27, might be 22%) but that salt isn`t an option for a fuel salt of a Two Fluid (too much Th+U). The other is old fashioned NaF-ZrF4 which you can break even (with a bigger fissile load) and you can`t really get the melting point down much to use stainless steel.

    I wouldn`t want to think of not using a containment building. All we need is something that is air tight and safe against aircraft crashes. It needs to be air tight for any gaseous leaks like Xenon. It doesn`t need to hold pressure or be a big volume so that makes it far cheaper than for LWRs.”


  38. Barry,
    Concerning 1.4 vs 2.4 tonne/m3:
    Cement, lime and gravel are particulate substances with gaps between particles.
    Would that explain it?
    (At least, this should explain the discrepancy between 2.4 for quartz and 1.7 for quartz sand.)
    (Plus, the volume of a mix doesn’t have to be exactly equal to the sum of the volumes of ingredients, even when those aren’t powders. Not sure if this also plays a role.)

    I have other gripes.
    (1) The area between wind turbines remains available for certain other uses; therefore, should the comparison be in this case by the total area of the wind farm or by the area taken up by turbine’s foundations and access roads?

    (2) Uranium mining, and the whole nuclear fuel cycle, also take up some land. This should be included, to give some appearance of impartiality.

    (3) Even with (1) and (2) corrected, I don’t think your post is good PR. It works for those converted, the discussion goes on… but for the unconverted, it can easily be a turnoff. Imagine, someone comes to BraveNewClimate for the first time. They see a comparison obviously designed for nuclear to win… a comparison that, even if true, proves nothing, because obviously you are choosing which things to compare, to your advantage.
    Far from being converted to your side, an initially skeptical visitor might become even more skeptical.


  39. The area between wind turbines remains available for certain other uses. One of those uses is not retaining the underlying value of an undisturbed ecology. If the prime Australian wind sites are coastal, and we’re rolling out our share of 340 km2/day, with wind turbines spaced on average on a grid of 540 m spacing, pouring the concrete footings, building the access roads, planting the transmission lines running to each and every turbine, running trucks throughout transporting all sorts of weeds and pests throughout, means thats a whole lot of sensitive coastal hinterland that is being given over to light industrialization.

    What sort of uses are compatible? Farming? Are we going to site the wind farms for optimal generation, and then hope the land happens to be suitable for some crop, and invest in the ‘improvement’? Or look for decent farmland, and the harvest whatever the wind resource happens to be? A similar argument would apply to other dual use options.

    It seems quite reasonable to me to account the full land area to the wind use. I don’t think the material costs Barry used include all the access roads, or the transmission lines, etc. , and Peter Lang has mentioned the energy storage infrastructure requirement as well. Given the scale of the rollout, and the density of the production nodes (turbines), the ‘last mile’ infrastructure must add up to quite a bit.

    I think people really underestimate the ecological footprint of the wind or solar solutions, and its mainly associated with the area they have to cover. If there were no other way, then maybe you’d accept the impact, but given that there is an alternative, I’m happy to be a NIMBY.


  40. Alexi and Barry,

    The density of concrete is around 24 kg/m3. Barry, I think you have used the density of the particles. For example, silica sand particles have a density of about 2650 kg/M3. But dry sand has a density of 1400 to 1600 kg/m3 depending on whether the sand is loose packed or dense packed. Concrete does not have voids like sand or gravel. The voids are filled. It is composed of rock particles (25 to 29 kg/m3), and other materials ranging up to 30 kg/m3. So the density of concrete is around 24 kg/m3.

    Alexi, regarding you points 1 to 3

    (1) You are correct about the area between the wind turbines. However, the area of land that is not available for other uses for wind is about twice that for nuclear. The area of the foundations, assembly areas and access roads for the 132 MW Capital Wind farm is 22 ha.

    (2) Yes the uranium mining and the whole fuel cycle does use land. Wind and solar require more material than nuclear, and therefore more mining as Barry’s charts show. And remember Barry’s comment that he did not include the overbuild needed for Solar and Wind. That is, the solar and wind figures are massive underestimates. You may be interested in the Environmental Product Declaration as it shows what is included in the full life cycle:

    (3) It is difficult to know how to present the comparisons in a way that will be accepted by those who have only heard of how much more sustainable is renewable energy than nuclear. The Renewable energy advocates quote figures to demonstrate that RE is more sustainable than nuclear. They quote land area and CO2 emissions, volume of mining. In every case the comparison favours nuclear. Can you suggest a better way to present the figures. What do you think of the two charts of risk comparisons at: ?


  41. Okay, that’s satisfying — I’ll update the nuclear figures to revise the concrete density. Thanks to Friakel, John N, Peter and Alexi (I won’t be able to update the figure until later, as I don’t have the spreadsheet on this computer).

    Regarding Alexei’s concerns, John M and Peter have provided good answers. Here are a few other points from me:

    1. Wind footprint – re-read the post, I explicitly said this:
    “In the case of wind turbines, much of the land below could presumably be used for other purposes (e.g. livestock). This is not true of solar thermal — the desert ecosystems under these mirrors would be destroyed. Nuclear sites would be restricted industrial zones, as they are today.” As I noted in closing, the wind and solar footprints would, in reality, be much larger if due attention was given to the overbuild requirements require for any semblance of grid reliability.

    2. Mining area is relevant for the AP1000, but mitigated by the fact that many large mines, including the huge Olympic Dam, are polymetallic and would be dug even if they didn’t have uranium. For the IFR, of course, the mining footprint is not a concern for many centuries, as we have so much fuel already to hand.

    3. The post is not intended to be PR, good or bad. That is not the intention of the TCASE series. The comparison is not designed to make any technology ‘win’, it is merely pointing out the numbers involved. To quote David Mackay, the TCASE series is not about being pro-nuclear, it’s about being pro-arithmetic.

    In closing, a question:
    “a comparison that, even if true, proves nothing, because obviously you are choosing which things to compare, to your advantage.”

    What else would you have me compare? Is anyone else putting up a case that other existing energy technologies would be able to scale sufficiently to do the job, or at least make a large contribution? HDR geothermal and waves are possible but not plausible — these will be dealt with in later posts.


  42. Barry,

    NPPs are built with high strength concrete. Typically, it means low water content and extensive use of superplasticizers for workability and silica fume or pozzolans as cement additives for higher long term strength. Beyond strength, curing heat is an issue for massive/thick concrete structures like a NPP containment so further adjustments can be required to the cement for lower initial heat.

    For example of density in high strength concrete, take the table on page 3 :

    If you add the components, you’ll get the total density at respectively 2375 kg/m^3, 2441 kg/m^3, 2436 kg/m^3 and 2311 kg/m^3 for mixtures 1 through 4.

    What makes it heavier than the constituent cement (1.4 t), lime (0.7 t), sand (1.7 t), gravel (1.6 t) and water (1 t) per m3? (see here: – this is where I derived my figure). I want to understand why this is incorrect before I change the figures in the above post.

    This one is simple. Gravel is lighter than the original rock from which it was crushed because it’s in chunks that don’t fill the full volume when piled up. Think marbles in a jar.

    One of the points of concrete – an aggregate – is that it fills the spaces between the chunkier pieces with progressively smaller pieces. Sand fills the spaces between the chunks of gravel and cement fills the spaces between the grains of sand.

    That’s why concrete can have higher density than any of its components.


  43. Just to give the land use point some sort of benchmark, Yuraygir National Park is a long, thin national park that occupies the coastline between Coffs Harbour and Yamba in northern NSW with an area of 313 km^2. So think of one Yuraygir/day. (Or 2 Royal National Parks/day, though that park does not hug the coastline). Globally. For Australia’s share, maybe 1 or 2 a year.


  44. USA NRC needs more info from Westinghouse about the containment structure of the AP1000. They now require it to withstand earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. Since it is designed to shrug off an airliner crashing into it, this seems to me to be a documentation issue, not a redesign.

    Apologies for not remembering the reference.


  45. Barry Brook (59) — Thank you.

    Yes, the USA NRC certainly engages in NIMBYism. But at least there is one. I fear you will need to convince quite a few more voters before Australia will have one.

    That’s why I have suggest algae farm+CCGT as an interim solution.


  46. David B. Benson:

    I’ll now be more realistic about generating from the Nullarbor plain, using 540 MW, 92% availabiltiy, CCGTs, each cited with a 1500 hectare sea water algae farm and another 500 hectares for the associated small village, cooling water ponds, etc.; 2000 hectares in all.

    David, I’ve just did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and it looks pretty ugly. So details, lots of them, are needed.

    You propose 1,500 ha of pools per 540 MW CCGT @ 92% capacity factor (~500 MW average)

    Simple question : how do you build your algae farm, so the pools are durable and can stand repeated passes by algae collection equipments ?

    Here is my assumption. You need to use lightly reinforced concrete, slabs about 10 cm thick (4 inches). Going much thinner is fairly impractical.

    Light reinforcement means about 9 kg/m^3 for a 12 mm rebar on a 0.2×0.2 mesh. I don’t think it passes code anywhere but I want to be nice. And I haven’t started with chloride problems as it is meant to use sea water.

    Anyway, 1,500 ha x 10,000 m^2/ha x 0.1 m (thickness) = 1,500,000 m^3 of concrete

    1,500,000 m^3 of concrete = 3,600,000 tonnes of concrete (2.4 t/m^3) + 13,500 tonnes of steel

    To scale that to the 680 MW used as a reference by Barry, you need 4,896,000 tonnes of concrete + 18,360 tonnes of steel per pop. It’s about 8 times worse than wind for concrete.

    So, I’ll grant you that there may better civil engineering solutions than concrete pools but simple lined ponds won’t work because of the machines to harvest the algae. It would not support wheeled machines and erosion from barge-mounted machines would also destroy the ponds’ lining in a snap.


  47. David.

    Oh God ! Naive me ! I thought it was something novel like a macrophyte farm in deep unmixed ponds or God knows what. But, alas, no.

    –> Microalgae
    –> In open ponds
    –> In paddle-mixed raceways
    –> With CO2 injection
    –> Using an algae never tested at even pilot scale (Dunaliella tertiolecta)
    –> Multi-product

    Already 6 reasons what that proposal will go nowhere.

    What it is funny is that they quote abundantly [4]. Among, things

    Construction of the 0.7-1 metre deep growth ponds (containing water to a depth of about 30 cm) including site clearing, grading, levelling, and the construction of channel dividers (berms). Ponds are designed in modules, with the basic design element being two trenches running in parallel, separated by a berm (a mound of earth with a level top that acts as a divider) except for the ends which are connected in a semi-circle to allow water to flow continuously. This is known as a ‘raceway’ design. The ponds are unlined, as plastic liners can double the infrastructure cost. However, the pond bottom is compacted, and in areas
    with very sandy soil a thin layer of clay is applied; [4] suggests that this should be all that is required for most of the pond area due to self-sealing. Erosion is restricted primarily to pond walls and bases near the paddle wheels (see below), and the berms which are accessible to the elements, so geotextiles (‘Polyfelt’ or similar material) are placed along and over the pond perimeter and exposed areas (including the berms) near the ponds, in addition to the
    pond bottom near the paddle wheels.

    One paddle wheel per raceway is used to ensure a flow rate of 10-25 cm s-1; this ensures a suitable amount of mixing of nutrients and carbon dioxide in the water, as well as avoiding silt suspension and sedimentation of organic solids, according to [4].

    [4] Benemann, J.R. and Oswald, W.J. Systems and economic analysis of microalgae ponds for conversion of CO2 to biomass, Final Report to the Department of Energy, Department of Civil Engineering, University of California Berkeley, 1996

    That paper is here :

    And no, the study doesn’t ‘suggest’ anything about erosion control, permeation and silt suspension and sedimentation. It just points that those are potential tracks for inquiry (pages 125 to 130) ’cause, otherwise, if such a low tech solution doesn’t work, there is no way in hell any algae project can make it economically. But it’s never been tried. Only lined ponds are used in tests or in high added value commercial applications.

    And Benemann’s study assumes fresh water. The proposal only mitigates permeation. It’s not water tight at all. With sea water and just a small layer of clay against leaks, whatever land is used for that farm is fucked for ever after. Salted to death. Done.

    And that’s just looking at one small aspect of the proposal.

    By the way, looking for the Benemann paper, I stumbled upon that slide show from last year by the author himself.

    Click to access benemann.pdf

    On page 43, he quotes his own paper and three earlier ones with this warning :

    NOTE: these reports do not conclude that we can produce algae oil,they define long-term research needed to develop such processes.

    There is also a ‘nice’ note about yield estimates by the late and unlamented GreenFuel Technologies on page 46 for those who like a cheap laugh.

    John Benemann is an old-timer in micro-algae. He knows the music. He’s been there for over and he’s not optimistic. Actually, it’s pretty interesting. Here’s what he says about renewables:

    “The advantage of biofuels and other renewable energy sources is that they will be so scarce and expensive that we will need to use them very frugally instead of wasting them wantonly as we do now with fossil fuels, and would with nuclear energy”.

    For him, renewables mean scarcity and he clearly sees nuclear energy as the ‘enemy’ and the alternative to this scarcity . To him, this scarcity is a moral advantage. No one this blog agree with him. But at least, he’s honest about it.


  48. Study: Shifting the world to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030 – here are the numbers
    “Wind, water and solar energy resources are sufficiently available to provide all the world’s energy. Converting to electricity and hydrogen powered by these sources would reduce world power demand by 30 percent, thereby avoiding 13,000 coal power plants. Materials and costs are not limitations to these conversions, but politics may be, say Stanford and UC researchers who have mapped out a blueprint for powering the world.”

    Anyone cares to take a look?


  49. Lucas, just because the energy is there, doesn’t mean we can effectively harvest and make economic proper use of it. But a large part of the long road ahead that is the TCASE series will be about showing why, unfortunately, much of what Jacobson and co. claim is very, very misleading. It’s a long haul, but I’m going to put in the hard yards to do it — I also hope, in the medium term, to translate this work into the peer-reviewed technical literature. But for now, let me say that at least their projected demand figure of 11.5 TW is close to what I’ve decided up here (10 TWe). So we can agree on some things.


  50. Barry Brook:
    What else would you have me compare? [other than steel, cement, and area]

    Eventually I’d like to see a comprehensive assessment which is also scrupulously fair to renewables at every step.
    If you’re building such an assessment, and this post is one little step along the way, obviously I cannot blame it for only containing what it contains. Going wider (aluminium? copper? zirconium?) or deeper (is it the same grade of concrete, in NPPs and wind turbines?) can happen later.

    But a casual visitor to BraveNewClimate might judge this post in isolation. What he sees is a comparison by steel and cement. Possibly a cherrypick – how can he know? (I don’t.) Where is the justification? (Or alternatively an admission that other material inputs have not been looked at, even though they should’ve been.)

    That this post was “not intended as PR” doesn’t make the issue disappear: the post is here on your front page for the world to see.

    So, looking again at your question: what else would I have you compare? – I’d say, maybe concrete and steel are OK, for the start. But what I’m missing, and I may not be alone in this, I’m missing a conspicuous effort on your part to be fair to renewables.

    (The effort may be there! – I am not saying it isn’t! – and I agree more or less with what other folks here have pointed out for me – but it is not conspicous.)

    At times, worse, it is conspicuous by its absense. As when you conclude your post with:
    “… because the energy replacement challenge facing nuclear energy is huge (a 25-fold expansion on today’s levels), it couldn’t possibly do it, so renewables are our only sensible option.” — On the basis of this post alone, any objective reader can see that this is pure, quantitatively unsupportable, nonsense.

    While the facts cited in your post do not support their opinion, they do not prove it to be “nonsense” either. You have only looked at steel, cement, and area.

    Concerning the land use by wind: you do admit, in the text, that area between wind turbines remains available for some other things – but ideally this should’ve also been shown in the diagram.


  51. John D Morgan,
    Thank you for the reply.
    I agree overall; but maybe you went too far with
    It seems quite reasonable to me to account the full land area to the wind use.
    neither Barry Brook nor Peter Lang appear to share this extreme view.

    Peter Lang:
    It is difficult to know how to present the comparisons […] Can you suggest a better way to present the figures[?]

    The best way is, to bend over backwards making every assumption in favour of renewables, as long as nuclear wins anyway.
    Among other things, I’d have liked a justification for the focus on concrete and steel and area, so that we can know that the inclusion of other inputs shouldn’t change the result.

    I’d like an admission that initially – maybe over 10, but at least 5, years – wind could perhaps be rolled out faster.

    Nuclear fuel cycle included. (“Wind and solar require more material than nuclear, and therefore more mining as Barry’s charts show.” – yes, but Nuclear fuel cycle isn’t included in the material requirements, is it? It should be, for a fair comparison.)

    Some mention of the facilities that make the power plants and related hardware. Probably these are similar in scale for all the three technologies, but it is best to mention that, to allay the some readers may have.

    (Nuclear fatalities charts – will look at them later.)


  52. Alexi,

    If the BNC web site gets diverted into discussing minutiae, it will lose its value for educating the public, media and people in position of influence.

    There are thousands of reports, many from authoritative studies, that compare the electricity generation technologies on the basis of costs, external costs, materials used, emissions of all the main hazardous products, immediate and long-term health effects to population and industry workers, and many other factors. Selecting and summarising all this is a massive task, and would add nothing.

    My suggestion is to focus on a comparison of the most important questions that people ask. But the unique selling point of this web site is that it recognises that intermittent renewables must be compared with other generation technologies on a basis that is truly comparable. That basis is that the technologies compared must be able to supply the power demanded by the consumers. A mix of technologies is required. Examples of technology mixes that can provide power on demand are:

    1. coal + gas and/or hydro

    2. nuclear + gas and/or hydro

    3. wind + gas and/or hydro + extra transmission capacity and power quality maintenance systems

    4. wind + on-site energy storage + extra transmission capacity

    5. solar + on-site energy storage + massive extra transmission capacity

    6. Others

    I suggest the basis for comparing these technology mixes that can deliver power on demand should be kept at a high level, and would include:

    1. $/MW
    2. $/MWh
    3. $/t CO2e Avoided (avoidance cost)
    4. Health effects per TWh
    5. Externalities costs per MWh

    By the way, here are some sites that do just this:

    Click to access peter-lang-wind-power.pdf

    Click to access 15%20-%20Polenp~1.pdf

    Recall that many of these references do not compare the technologies on a properly comparable basis. For example, CO2 emissions for wind and solar do not include the emissions from the back-up or energy storage that is essential to enable these technologies to supply power on demand, nor for the over-build necessary.


  53. Alexi,

    Regarding comparison of area used by wind an nuclear, I think both methods are valid. I compare the total area occupied by the wind farm with the site area of the NPP which includes an exclusion zone. I compare the area excluded from other uses by the wind farm turbine foundations, assembly area and access roads with the area in an NPP excluded from other uses – ie the buildings, and paved areas. This Environmental Product Declaration shows what is included for an old 1970’s design NPP:

    I gave the link the new Capital Wind Farm sheet which gives the areas for it.

    Regarding volume of mining for the nuclear fuel cycle, it is miniscule. From memory, figures are included in the ISA study (link provided in previous post).


  54. Hi everyone:

    This is to Peter, Barry and Tom (oh my):

    It piggybacks a bit off of Alexei’s query about zirconium. is there anything like a peak minerals or peak minerals/metals problem for nuclear, solar, etc.? I have heard some talk about trace metals in pv production (gallium, indium) that are not in great abundance, especially given efforts (misguided imo) to scale solar. I myself wondered about zirconium supplies for nuclear power. According to one usgs chart (2006) I saw, Zirconium supplies would be depleted in 49 years given two percent economic growth. I asked Steve Kirsch about zirconium and he replied that the amount necessary to power scaled IFRs is small and could be withdrawn from the reserves. this doesn’t sound convincing but that’s cause, perhaps, I don’t have the numbers–I also question the assumption that the (capitalist) world would coordinate well enough to avoid resource wars over zirconium if indeed there was a shortage in light of nuclear renaissance.

    but put aside the political questions, however important they may be.

    and two more related question. do we have sufficient supplies of copper for electrical wiring? if the answer is “maybe not,” do we put “our faith” in technological substitutes? (and how scientific is this?

    I have seen free market a priorists and technooptimists out there who assume humans will find what they need.)

    I should say that I have been following this blog closely, as suggested to me by Tom B and have been almost totally persuaded that without nuclear power, we are in trouble.

    Please Barry: scrutinize that Mark Jacobsen study above claiming we can get 11 TW of power from wind, solar and hydro (oh my).


  55. Peter has given the same answer I’d have given to Alexei. The post is about brush strokes, not details. The details come later, but as I said, the aim of this series is to keep each piece in a small(ish) digestible chunk, as an aid to gradual (cumulative) eduction (both of my readers AND me!).

    Gregory, in my view the concept of ‘peak minerals’ is basically flawed. There are sufficient quantities of just about every mineral you can imagine in the Earth crust, IF we are willing to pay the cost (energy, time, $$) to get to it. For a substance that is used as an energy source, clearly a constraint is that its EROEI must exceed unity, unless it is a useful energy carrier and you are willing to pay the energy cost from other sources that are less useful energy carriers (think here of the proposal to tap the shale oils by using in situ nuclear power plants to provide the ‘cooking’ heat source). We’ll probably continue to extract some quantities of oil and gas even after their EROEI drops below 1, because they are useful as lubricants, chemical feedstocks etc.

    What of something like zirconium, used in the cladding of fuel rods? There is a simple answer and an amusing one. The simple answer is that current reserves are estimated at over 60 million tonnes, so we are in no danger of using it all up in clads! The amusing answer is that it is one of the more common fission products, so reactors are actually also making it via nuclear alchemy. Ahhh, it’s a funny world.

    As to Jacobsen, I’ve read the Sci Amer article and was shaking my head throughout (Did you know, for instance, that nuclear power produces 25 times more CO2 per MWh than wind? [this was a single throw-away line used to dismiss nuclear and then move on] And here I was thinking it was the complete opposite…). But I’ll withhold full judgement until I’ve read the technical journal counterpart, which is about 40 draft pages long so will take a while to get through.


  56. Thanks Barry:

    that’s a terrific answer to my question. Thank you.

    but: while it is ridiculous to think that Z reserves would all be used for cladding, what about that 49 years figure?

    is this figure as utterly misleading as you suggest? (the answer may be an obvious yes, just by virtue of your “amusing answer” about fission products)

    I get your EROEI point. I also get the point that even were EROEI to drop below one for a particular mineral (you are talking about oil above), it would be well worth mining it to keep energy processes going which had astronomically good EROEI numbers–IFRs, etc.


  57. Friakel Wippans (63) — Those are reasons to actually build a pilot plant to discover what needs doing better. I have written that repeatedly.

    CSIRO clearly started out to see how expensive it would be to produce biodiesel this way. I make the modification that nothing is done with the algae but make biogas; less cost. Even so, my (inexpert) cost estimations, based on the CSIRO report, is that the biomethane might just cost as little as natgas; no surprise as natgas does not yet have to pay a CO2 tax. With a decent CO2 tax then the algae farms could probably afford to buy liners.

    However, blue clay is impervious to water. If less expensive than a liner, use it.

    I still hold the proposal is sound; start with a CSIRO sized pilot unit and associated gas turbine; develop some experience.


  58. Nuclear plants, one deployed, last at least 60 years, and next-gen plants may have their lifetimes extended to 120 years. Windmills, in contrast, last 15-20 years. So, in that sense, we would need to begin replacing windmills well before the 2050 timeline. We would also likely begin running out of windy locations and have to go to less windy areas, with capacity factors below 20%. Energy storage or load following would also require yet more materials, and reduce energy efficiency. The devil truly is in the details. I am convinced that there are even more problems I have not thought of.


  59. Alexei (#67), maybe accounting 100% of the land use to wind is overeaching.

    But I don’t think its an extreme position, other than in the mathematical sense. Consider:

    Barry’s said we need “1,160 GE 2.5xl turbines per day, worldwide, spread over 340 km2 of land”. This is strictly correct (for those turbines, that capacity factor, etc.). Its an irreducible requirement that your wind harvesting apparatus has that physical extent. If you can’t harvest that area, you don’t get that power. Its the objective, physical constraint, and should be stated, as its the starting point for any further discussion.

    If wind is the primary land use, the secondary use is likely just opportunistic. That may not be the case right now, with much less area used for wind than would be required for serious power. But to displace coal and gas, the scale of wind rollout means it will become so. Think of the complementary land uses, and consider whether they are also activities that can or should develop at a rate of 340 km2/day.

    That total area is a proxy for many things. It might be a measure of intact ecosystems. It might be a measure of land lost to houses. It might be a measure of the cost to buy land, or access to the land. It might be a measure of the social resistance to the infrastructure, of the cumulative battles with small landholders, or communities, etc. The actual physical area associated with just the turbines themselves would give a very misleading picture of what would be involved in a serious wind power effort.

    I mentioned a couple of national parks to convey a sense of scale. In fact, there was something else in the back of my mind when I wrote that. Having lived through the experience of seeing some large national parks gazetted, I could estimate the time taken to identify, lobby and campaign with communities and governments to secure land to a particular use as being of the order of a decade per 340 km2. It would be interesting to see some figures from the various state governments on how many square kilometres of land get rezoned per year, just as a rough estimate on the social friction of any major change in land use.


  60. Barry,
    “Brush strokes” are OK. Using them unapologetically, without the appropriate reservations/qualifiers/justifications, may or may not be OK.
    It depends on the task and on the audience.

    As “workshop banter”, this post is perfectly all right.
    For public consumption though, it may turn off the members of the public who expected a more careful, more objective approach.
    For example, something should be said to justify our focus on concrete and steel. A phrase like “concrete and steel account for over X% of all material inputs for each of the three technologies” may suffice, especially if X is convincingly high.

    Peter and Barry, you both tell me “this is not about details” (Barry), “summarising all this is a massive task, and would add nothing” (Peter).
    Why then should we do this selective comparison at all? Apparently only so we can get a sense of victory. We didn’t need it to refute the imbecile argument “since nuclear power stagnated for 20 years, it can’t grow X-fold in 50 years”.

    The technologies’ costs already include all their material inputs. We know the costs. There is only a need to look at specific inputs when their current price doesn’t anticipate a future scarcity. So let us check for future scarcities of steel and the components of concrete (and then of zirconium etc); and work out, at only some very crude approximation of course, the implications of future scarcities.

    That could be a very useful “brush stroke” indeed.


  61. Alexi,

    The planet is not going to run out of minerals, other than fossil fuels. As demand increases, exploration finds more of the mineral we need. You can look up the abundances of all the elements in the Earth’s crust.

    To highlight this point, in the mid 1950s, Australia thought it had just 80 million tons of iron ore, insufficient for its own needs, even then. So there was an embargo on exporting iron (Note 1). Now we have the largest iron ore reserves in the world, and they are effectively unlimited. With uranium, we have hardly scratched the surface, let alone penetrated it. The same goes for other minerals (except fossil fuels). So lack of minerals in not the issue.

    The main concern we hear is the environmental issues relating to the volume of mining required to extract the materials. Concrete and steel are by far the dominant materials used in the generation technologies. So it is reasonable to compare these as a guide to show that the volume of mining required for solar and wind power is much greeater than for nuclear.

    An infinite number of questions can be raised. It is impossible to answer all the questions that could be raised. The further down we drill the more data and the more it simply confuses the otherwise very clear picture.

    Luckily, anyone who wants answers can find them on the web. What they need to be careful to do is to go to authoritative sources. I listed some in #68.

    Note 1: 1959 – Australia’s population reaches ten million. In February 15th the Commonwealth Government announced relaxation of the embargo on iron ore exports that had been in force since 1938. Major finds of iron ore in the Pilbara (WA) were announced over the next few years. First coal exports from the Bowen Basin (Qld). Mt. Whaleback (WA) iron ore deposit pegged; production began 1969.


  62. Matt and Alexei (got it right at last),

    Yes my apologies again. I noticed as soon as I sent it and thought what do I do, write another apology or just be quiet? I decided to be quiet. Oh for the capability to edit comments!


  63. Pingback: TCASE 5 – Ocean power I – Pelamis «

  64. Peter,
    Never mind the name. Actually I was once issued a license with that same mistake.

    You claim – and I feel you are sincere, and yet … —
    The planet is not going to run out of minerals, other than fossil fuels.
    As demand increases, exploration finds more…

    What’s so special about fossil fuels that exploration doesn’t find more of them?

    And Peter, I mean to repond to your #68, hopefully soon.


  65. Alexei #82

    What’s so special about fossil fuels that exploration doesn’t find more of them?

    Fossil fuels are different. They formed from plant life. They were deposited in sediments over the past 300 million years (ie the last 6% of the planet’s life).

    All other minerals have been here since the planet formed 4,500 million years ago. They are being further concentrated in the crust as the crust forms (and continues to form by differentiation from the Earth’s mantle).

    Just as an aside, uranium continiues to be concentrated in the Earth’s crust at the rate of about 10,000 tonnes per year. Reference: Peter Lang, pers. com. :)


  66. Alexei #82,

    I didn’t answer your question very well in my post #71.

    Fossil fuels are in sedimentary rocks. Sedimentary rocks form a very thin veneer over part of the Earth’s surface. The quantities of fossil fuels are extremely small, but they are near surface and, therefore, easier to find than minerals that are not concentrated at the surface. The rate of finding new, ‘easy-oil’ deposits has not kept up with the rate of production recently. By ‘easy oil’, I mean fluid oil that can be pumped. There are much larger quantities of oil in tar sands and oil shales, but extracting them is a dirty process. There are large quantities of coal available, but nowhere near the quantities of other minerals.

    The abundances of minerals (non fossil fuels) in the Earth’s crust are well known. Here are some examples in ppm for the Continental Crust (figures from an old text book).

    Al 8.2 x 10^4
    Fe 5.6 x 10^4
    Th 9.6
    U 2.8
    Sn 2.0
    Ag 0.07
    Au bit of a worry

    The mass of the Continental Crust is approx 2.2x 10^22 kg, so you can work out how much of each mineral is there for the taking by future generations.


  67. Peter Lang@#55:
    Just as an aside, uranium continiues to be concentrated in the Earth’s crust at the rate of about 10,000 tonnes per year. Reference: Peter Lang, pers. com. :)

    That’s the figure I came up with assuming a formation rate of new crust at ~1km^3/yr with an average U concentration of ~4ppm, as is normal. These assumptions may not always hold, but they’re the best figures I could find at short notice (I’ve been thinking a bit about this today). Assuming that Th is also concentrated at its usual level of ~4 times that of U, then we have ~50,000 tonnes of fertile (ie, breedable into fissile fuel) material replenishing the crust each year. This represents ~50 Terrawatts of continuous power, which is over three times the level Barry estimated necessary (~15 TW, IIRC) for an advanced, wealthy world community of ten billion people.


  68. Peter,
    You’re presumably correct about abundance, but that’s a very abstract approach. Lots of stuff is there in the crust – but not all of it near the surface or conveniently concentrated! Surely this has price implications? as miners dig deeper for poorer ores?

    John D Morgan,
    I agree, except with your third-last paragraph (I fail to understand why “complementary land uses” should “develop”. What’s wrong with continuing the original use, or disuse, of the land? Provided the original use was say a sheep farm or a wildlife park?)

    Now, could we somehow proceed from general considerations to actual estimates? Of the sort that could be ultimately converted into cents per kWh ?

    I see this way of getting a quantitative handle on the situation: how much would a farmer charge to allow a wind turbine on his land? I’d seen the figure of $5000 per turbine per year, for U.S. A 2 MW turbine operating for a year, an equivalent of say 2500 hours at full capacity, should produce 5000MW-hours = 5 mln kWh. $5000 divided by 5 mln kWh, equals 0.1 cents per kWh. That’s quite affordable; and even 10 times as much, 1 cent per kWh, would be affordable.

    Setting therefore the limit ten times higher, at $50 000, I ask: how much farmland could be readily used for wind power if farmers were paid $50 000 per turbine per year?

    How much parkland would be happily made available by whatever authority controls it?


  69. I am interested (pleased) that you did that calculation on U and got the same number as I did.

    It seemed pretty straightforward. 2.7 tonnes/m^3 average density of continental crust yields 2.7 billion tonnes of material/km^3. 1ppm of that is 2,700 tonnes, and four time that is close to 10,000 tonnes. All I needed then was the estimated formation rate of new continental crust in cubic kilometres, which turned out to be ~1 (although there is some dispute concerning this).

    I was a bit disappointed by this. I’d hoped that the rate of continental crust formation might be about 30 or 40 times higher, to permit a perpetually sustainable 2000 TW economy (that being ~1-2% of the insolation value for earth). That would really represent an upper limit on planetary habitability without large-scale management of incoming solar radiation. Alas, it seems it is not so. A 2000 TW economy could not likely be sustained on this planet (using its own unaided fission resources) for more than 50-100 million years.

    Oh well. Maybe we’ll work out how to do fusion in that time.


  70. Finrod,

    What I now find really interesting is we had a totally different approch to the calculations. I determined the lenght of the subduction zone (plate boundaries where new conitnental crust is formed) and used an average rate of subduction. I used the U = 2.8 ppm concentration in the continental crust rocks and calculated 10,000 tonnes per year of U concentrated in the crust. The same number as you but by a different method.


  71. Alexei

    You’re presumably correct about abundance, but that’s a very abstract approach. Lots of stuff is there in the crust – but not all of it near the surface or conveniently concentrated! Surely this has price implications? as miners dig deeper for poorer ores?

    Yes. I agree. But the fact you haver raised this demonstrates my point. When you start drilling down into these sorts of questions, the questioner will never be satisfied. So the discussion on the BNC web site needs to be kept at a high level, or nothing can be achieved.

    In answer to your specific comment, yes, of course you are correct that: “not all of it near the surface or conveniently concentrated”. But what you need to consider is that exploration and mining techniques are always improving. They improve year after year. The methods we will have by mid century will have very little relationship to what we are using now. Look at the new in situ leaching they are employing in the new mines in SA for example. So, being concerned about whether or not there is sufficent quantity of a mineral to last 1000 years is rediculous. We’ve hardly looked yet, and the methods are improving all the time.

    Arguing about mineral availability (other than fossil fuel) is a distraction.


  72. Peter Lang@#89:
    What I now find really interesting is we had a totally different approch to the calculations. I determined the lenght of the subduction zone (plate boundaries where new conitnental crust is formed) and used an average rate of subduction. I used the U = 2.8 ppm concentration in the continental crust rocks and calculated 10,000 tonnes per year of U concentrated in the crust. The same number as you but by a different method.

    Looking back, I think I got mixed up between continental crust (2.8ppm) and oceanic (4ppb) concentrations. On the other hand, I only calculated for terrestrial land area (25% surface area), rather than the total area of all continental plates (40% surface area), which neatly compensated for my initial overestimate for U abundance in the crust.


  73. “As to Jacobsen, I’ve read the Sci Amer article and was shaking my head throughout (Did you know, for instance, that nuclear power produces 25 times more CO2 per MWh than wind? [this was a single throw-away line used to dismiss nuclear and then move on] And here I was thinking it was the complete opposite…).”

    That would be from Jacobson’s “Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security”. He estimates nuclear as having life-cycle emissions of 9–70 g CO2e/kWh … plus an opportunity cost of 59–106 more, because “the overall time between planning and operation of a nuclear power plant ranges from 10–19 yr.”


  74. A very interesting complementary post here by Rod Adams, which looks at the material inputs of renewable energy’s favourite fossil backup, natural gas. The money quote:

    Gail’s post did not include the computational details that Barry’s did, but it did include one statement that should overcome claims that a vast increase in dependence on natural gas can be realized easier, with less resource constraints than an increase in nuclear energy production.

    Even more surprisingly, to me, is what he told us about the planned 1220 kilometer MacKenzie natural gas pipeline from the Northwest Territories. He noted that the total steel requirement for that pipeline would exceed the annual world production of steel. (Emphasis added.) Of course, it wouldn’t be built in one year, but that’s still a staggering amount of steel, and is bound to have an impact on availability and prices of steel for other purposes.

    As some others have commented on Rod’s blog, I think she must be talking about some special type of steel, as a pipeline that size couldn’t possibly constitute more than a tiny fraction of global annual production. But they point about large material requirements for ANY big energy infrastructure investment holds (fossil fuels, renewable energy, nuclear) – don’t let people bait-and-switch you on nuclear.


  75. Peter,
    reluctantly I drop the “distraction” – until and unless you reconsider – and use the opportunity to turn to your #68.

    Ironically, #68 goes way beyond this thread’s topic – whereas, IMO, a discussion of resource scarcities does not – but I hope that the license you took in writing #68 can be extended to my answering it.

    You lay the overall scheme there, for how to compare the technologies. The scheme makes sense to me. I “only” have these further requests:

    1. That nuclear proliferation and “nuclear” terrorism be included among externalities and evaluated.
    2. That all externalities be evaluated, as price-per-kWh.
    3. Implications of future scarcities evaluated.
    4. Implications of future technology advances evaluated.
    5. Costs of intermittency evaluated for realistic technology mixes. (not just the dramatic all-wind or all-solar illustrations.)

    A tall order? Maybe… but can’t help it, that’s what it takes to move me from my current position, a tentative supporter of nuclear, to full-fledged supporter.

    Reading this now, you’re probably tempted to offer me some of the usual hand-waving: there will be no future scarcities, there will be no nuclear terrorism, civilian and military nuclear are separate….. etc etc. Sorry, such “high-level” argument would be superfluous. I’d heard enough of it over the years; now I am after hard facts and defensible estimates.

    There is no need to bury BraveNewClimate in details. For example, considering scarcity, surely somewhere on the Web someone is arguing that resources are inexaustible, that extraction technologies improve, and therefore the prices shall stay level. All you need is provide a link.


  76. Alexei,

    I have provided many of links. Have you looked at them? Have you followed the references cited in them? I suspect not. It is all very well throwing out questions. For every one we answer, I suspect you will come up with ten more. If you want to know the answers to your questions, you’ll need to do some research yourself.


  77. Alexei,

    Further to my previous post, can I suggest that you decide what are YOUR criteria for deciding what technologies should be used. Weight the criteria and develop your own weighted factor scoring scheme.

    From my perspective I place zero weight on your first point. That is because I know that chemical poisons are more hazardous, more lethal, easier to manufacture and handle and easier to distribute. From my perspective I believe if we want to ban uranium because it is also used by the military to make weapons, then we should also ban oil. Oil is used to make explosives and it powers all the delivery mechines (aircraft, tanks, ships, trucks, etc). So, many of your questions are about value judgements and cannot be answered numerically.

    Regarding the technology mixes, if nuclear cost $120, Wind with back up cost $500 and solar with storage costs $4,600, then surely you can see that any mix of solar and wind will cost more than nuclear.


  78. Alexei,

    I fail to understand why “complementary land uses” should “develop”. What’s wrong with continuing the original use, or disuse, of the land? Provided the original use was say a sheep farm or a wildlife park?

    They don’t have to develop, of course. But if they don’t, and you’re expanding wind capture into otherwise ‘disused’ territory, then why would you discount the land use as less than 100% utilized for wind? But its semantics really, and I note you don’t take issue with the substance of the impacts as I described them. I still think the headline area number is an important one to cite, because we really need to develop that actual 2D area for wind, irrespective of any other utility it has.

    Grazing would be an ideal dual use. I’ve heard similar costs to you cite and that sounds OK. But what’s the overlap between quality grazing land and quality wind sites, on the large scale? I don’t know. My assumption is that if the wind deployment is as large as required, we’ll quickly run out of either sensible complementary uses, or land that we’d prefer wasn’t impacted by turbines and transmission infrastructure. Because, as David MacKay says, renewable deployments need to be country sized.

    How much parkland would be happily made available by whatever authority controls it?

    A good question, which ultimately comes down to what our values are concerning national parks and reserves. I value the ideal of wilderness highly, though I would compromise it to deal with climate change if I had to. Others value offroading, various tourist and commercial activities etc., which are somewhat at odds with my priorities.

    Installing wind turbines in national parks would need to be consistent with the park plan of management. The National Parks Association of NSW (a public conservation organization) urges the National Parks and Wildlife Service (the government organization) to recognize the following roads policies in the plans, inter alia:

    8. Roads in national parks should be minimally provided. They should be short, unobtrusive, peripheral, and their impact on the natural environment in all respects should be minimised by careful routing, siting and construction.
    9. Road access should not be provided to or through rare of fragile environments, ecosystems, communities, or the habitats of rare or endangered species of plants and animals.
    10. No road should either be constructed or be permitted to remain in a designated wilderness or designated roadless area.

    A road grid through parkland of ~540 m grid unit is inconsistent with the values for which national parks were created (and by extension would compromise the same values extant in lands not gazetted as parkland), before consideration of the turbine structures and transmission lines. Would the NPWS give this up ‘happily’? Depends on the state budget and how much they could screw the developers for, mainly ..


  79. Alexei, on

    1. That nuclear proliferation and “nuclear” terrorism be included among externalities and evaluated.

    can I suggest the following papers as a starting point to that evaluation:

    Bombs, Reprocessing, and Reactor-Grade Plutonium (April 2006)
    Coauthor: George S. Stanford (PDF)

    Nuclear Power and Proliferation (January 2006)
    Coauthor: George S. Stanford (PDF)

    Purex and Pyro are not the Same (July 2004)
    Coauthors: William H. Hannum and George S. Stanford (PDF)

    (George Stanford was one of the contributors to the IFR development.)

    Barry, I miss the old theme, but I like the new one. Except, the comment numbering has been lost, which is going to make the long comment threads a pain to track.


  80. John, yeah, the theme change unfortunately (unexpectedly) removed the comment numbers. Gah! The new theme has some advantages and some disadvantages; like anything in life it’s a trade off. If you hover your mouse over the comment date/time, you’ll see a unique number there. We can always use that henceforth (your last comment was #32422, or instance). Why is the number so high? Well, there has been 9,215 legitimate comments on BNC to date. The rest were consigned to the spam bin :)


  81. Barry

    I am bit late into this discussion but I noticed you quoted numbers for concrete, steel and glass from David Mills.

    A more independent source for material for solar thermal systems is the NEEDS report of last year:

    “Final report on technical data, costs, and
    life cycle inventories of solar thermal power plants”

    Click to access RS1a%20D12.2%20Final%20report%20concentrating%20solar%20thermal%20power%20plants.pdf

    Figures on page 88 of that report suggest concrete usage per rated MW for Andasol at 1303 tonnes and steel at 406 tonnes.

    I realise that Mill’s Fresnel technology is different to trough but NEEDS numbers are significantly higher than ones you quoted. NEEDS numbers are for the full plant including the power block. It is possible that David only include the solar field but even so they seem very low. The NEEDS figures for Fresnel solar field on the same page are significantly higher than the ones you quoted.


  82. Peter, my “requests” as I called them were suggestions, not “questions”. Not to be answered there and then, and thereafter buried in BNC’s archive; but to be included, where appropriate, in future BNC posts and your analyses. You dislike these suggestions, well, what of it, no harm done.
    Admittedly I didn’t look carefully into your links. I already know costs and externalities, except nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and didn’t expect that your links would address these two missing pieces of the puzzle that I am most frustrated about. All else is falling into place, more or less, but not these…..


  83. Martin Nicholson,

    Good point. Excellent pick up. And the NEEDS numbers are for only 7.5 hours of energy storage with the solar thermal trough, which is their reference technology. For solar thermal to be able to provide baseload power it needs much more storage than this – for example, at least 18 hours to get through one night in winter and several days of storage to get through periods of overcast weather. For those who argue the sun is always shining somewhere,see:


  84. Barry – I also am disappointed that we have lost the comment number. As suggested, I “hovered” over the date of the comment but got no number. Maybe my “hovering” tecnique needs practice:)
    I also find the format more difficult to read, compressed, as it is, to the centre but I do like the new layout, indexing etc so I guess it is a case of “win some, lose some”!


  85. Perps are you on a Mac? yesterday I could not find the number by “hovering”, but here at work it pops up in the bottom left of the browser window (it normally says “Done” there). It may do that on the Mac – I was expecting a little bubble to pop up near where I was hovering, not down the bottom left.

    Barry my only real concern about the whole direction of this blog is that it appears that I’ve been decieved for years on the potential for renewable energy, and stand here an acknowledged convert to nuclear power. But if they lied and distorted about nukes… then what about AGW… ;)


  86. John D Morgan:
    Depends on the state budget and how much they could screw the developers for, mainly ..
    For $50 000 per turbine per year, based on 1cent/kWh.
    That maybe equals $200 000 per km2 per year.
    Sounds good?

    While I didn’t clearly disagree with any of the impacts on wildlife you mentioned, earlier, I felt that you were possibly making it sound as a bigger issue than it really is. Say there’s a road…. wildlife can crawl, hop, or fly across it…. how are they impacted? Seeds and pollen can fly over it. Water runoff is affected, but maybe not in a bad way – there’s more water at road edges, allowing species to exist with higher water requirements, thus enhancing diversity.
    “Light industrialization” it may be called, perhaps justifiably. But there’s only a big fuss when things are constructed; thereafter, it will all be quiet, but for the swish of the blades …is it really a serious impact?…


  87. Matt @32531
    Thanks – as you see I was able to access the comment number due to your instructions. I just wasn’t looking for the number in the right place as you surmised. Hope that helps other “hoverers” too:)


  88. Matt #32531:

    But if they lied and distorted about nukes… then what about AGW… ;)

    It depends who is ‘they’. The scientists didn’t lie about nuclear – well, at least the credible ones didn’t :)

    Martin #32478:
    Wow, those NEEDS figures are astounding. Thanks for providing the link to this. I’ll need to digest these figures and update the post accordingly.


  89. I just recrunched those NEEDS numbers from the real construction data, and they’re mighty ugly.

    Andasol-1 is rated at 46 MWe peak with a an energy output of 150 GWh/yr. This is a CF of 37%. Let’s say 40%.

    This makes the 680 MWe average equivalent to 2,215,000 tonnes of concrete and 690,000 tonnes of steel per day. This is a lot worse than wind.

    Anyone else care to verify my calculations?


  90. Barry #32560

    I have done an analysis for my next book of concrete and steel per ouput GWh over the plant lifetime comparing wind, solar thermal and PV against nuclear. These are the numbers in ratio terms that I came up with from various sources including the NEEDS report I sent you.

    Materials (tonnes per output GWh) Ratio to nuclear
    Con Steel
    Wind Onshore 7.6 11.5
    Solar Thermal 27.4 48.4
    Solar PV 2.0 2.5
    Nuclear 1.0 1.0

    From what I can work out from your original wind estimate the ratio between solar thermal and wind for concrete is about right (3.6x) but the steel ratio seems a bit low. I make it over 4 times more than wind. This is the primary reason that solar thermal power cost are (and will continue to be) signficantly higher than wind unless they come up with some ground-breaking new solar thermal technology.

    Peter Lang’s point is also very important. Solar thermal advocates often talk about baseload replacement which (whatever the RE spin doctors like to say) really is a 24 x 7 problem. Andasol-1 is not a 24 x 7 solar thermal power plant. To make it one (without resorting to gas co-firing) means at least a doubling maybe a trebling of the solar field and storage tanks so these concrete and steel numbers are very conservative.

    I hope this helps.


  91. Martin, I can read the table okay, but if you could send the working numbers to me that would be much appreciated.

    I jumped over to your website — your book looks very interesting. I’ll have to get myself a copy and read it. Do I understand correctly from your last post that you’re currently writing another book?

    The Solar Thermal numbers you present are stunning. As an engineer, do you suspect these material inputs will be able to be reduced significantly with improved technology? I understand that the diffuse nature of the resource to be collected will always mean a large material component, but would slimmer, more lightweight designs be feasible?


  92. I was just thinking further on the numbers presented in the table in comment #32612. Martin, what lifetime did you use for wind, solar thermal and nuclear?

    If I use 30 years for wind and ST and 60 years for nuclear, and then convert this to the 680 MWe average power per day, I get the following material figures (per day).

    CONCRETE (million tonnes per day)
    Wind 1.36
    ST 4.9
    NP 0.36

    STEEL (millions tonnes per day)
    Wind 2.06
    ST 8.72
    NP 0.36

    However, you say in your table tonnes per GWh but also ratio to nuclear, so perhaps the absolute values of the above are wrong, if you’ve used a value per GWh for nuclear that is different to 1 tonne.

    Short question is, could you help me advise the correct way to translate your GWh ratios above to material requirements per day based on 680 MWe average power for each of the above technologies (ignoring storage).


  93. Martin Nicholson,

    Excellent post. This is a valuable comparison. It would be great to have reliable figures for steel and concrete posted here.

    I have no doubt you have the tonnes/MWh figures correct and have used the appropriate lifetimes for each technology. However, I wonder if the MWh for each technology are truly comparable.

    For example, nuclear provides power on demand 365/7 (with about 6% redundancy for refuelling). But Wind and Solar need energy storage to be able to meet demand 24/365. Barry added 130,000 tonnes for NaS batteries to the steel for Wind power (the 130,000 tonnes is actually the total weight of the batteries, but applied as steel for simplicity). I’d suggest this should be included for wind, and appropriate quantities for steel and concrete for energy storage should be included in PV and the extra amount needed for Solar thermal to make it 24/365 capable.

    The weight of the NaS batteries was calculated from here:, parent web site is here:

    By the way, Martin, here are some figures for the Huron wind farm, Ontario Canada. The detailed figures have been removed from the web site:

    Generating Capacity MW 3,100
    No of wind mills No. 5,740
    Land area ha 46,000
    concrete volume m3 1,300,000
    Glass fibre reinforced plastic tonnes 290,000
    steel tonnes 360,000
    truck loads (Owen Sound to site) 52,000
    Cost C$ $17,000,000,000
    design life years 20

    Click to access 34.pdf


  94. Barry #32617

    I don’t pretend to be a solar thermal technology expert but I largely agree with your statement “that the diffuse nature of the resource to be collected will always mean a large material component”.

    I can’t say if new technology breakthoughs for collectors will significantly reduce the amount of glass, steel and concrete.

    NEEDS suggests that the solar field efficiency might improve by 10-30% by 2025. This should therefore reduce the volume of steel, glass and concrete needed per MW assuming the efficiency of the power block doesn’t change much. So I don’t see “order of magnitude” reductions in materials used for solar thermal plants.

    Yes I am writing another book specifically on low-carbon electricity designed for layman readers not engineers. I’m hoping to influency this crazy debate we are having in the public forum around what is actually possible and at what cost.

    I will crunch some numbers and get back to you and Peter re your specific questions.


  95. Barry #32619

    Clearly the material used per GWh depends on the lifetime and the capacity factor of each power source. I used often quoted industry standards (which may not be those delivered in practice):

    Wind 30% cf, 20 yrs
    ST 25% cf, 20 yrs
    Nuclear 85% cf, 40 yrs

    I may have misunderstood your original calculations but as I understood it, it really didn’t consider the energy generated but the power needed to be constructed. You came up with 10 TW of new power to be constructed over 40 years thus needing 680 MW of new capacity per day (assuming all the plant built had a lifetime exceeding 40 years).

    Clearly if you used my lifetimes then 680 MW per day would be too small for wind because all the wind turbines would need to be replaced somewhere in the cycle. So perhaps this is where our numbers would differ.

    Personally, I think all comparisons between power sources are best done considering energy generated over the lifetime of the plant rather than just considering capacity.

    So to answer you “short question”, I think I would start with how much energy do I need from the source over say 40 years. For the purpose of discussion, let’s say that it is a million TWh. I would then work out how much energy I can get from 1 GW of wind power (say) over the plant’s lifetime. Using my numbers of 30% cf and 20 year life that would be 52.6 TWh. So I would need to build 19 TW of wind power to deliver 1 million TWh or 1300 MW per day. Note this is close to twice your number because wind turbines do not last 40 years. Clearly if you did the same sums for nuclear power the answer would be much less. 1 GW of nuclear would generate nearly 300 TWh over it’s lifetime. So I would need only 3.3 TW of nuclear power or 230 MW per day.

    The numbers are now spinning around in my head so if I have made a monumental blunder in these calculations then please forgive me. Hopefully you get the gist of the argument.

    Peter #32629

    You are right to question whether the MWh from each technology is comparable for the reasons you discuss. But they are much more comparable than the MW capacity (as I know you know). If indeed you were making a decision “Do I build all wind power or all nuclear power” then you would need to take the storage materials into account. The real world is that we will use a combination of sources and depending on that combination we may or may not need storage. For example if we used nuclear for all the baseload and solar thermal and hydro for peaking power and solar PV for peak demand reduction in buildings we may need very little storage.


  96. Martin,

    Without going back and checking, I think Barry based his calculations on ‘average power’ which is OK for these simple, ball park analyses as long as the calculations include the allowance for the life expectancy of the plant.

    I persume your capacity factor for ST = 25% includes storage. Because clearly that figure is too high if it does not.

    I do not agree that is is appropriate to compare a MWh of energy from a wind turbine with a MWh from a nuclear plant. The scenario being considered here is not the situation with say 20% or less of wind capacity. We are looking at what is needed to supply the world’s power needs. Wind and solar cannot make a significant contribution without either energy storage or back up. So it is not a fair comparison if you do not include the costs, mass of steel and concrete etc to allow wind and solar to provide power of the same quality as nuclear.

    As you know, energy (and average power) hide the problem that power must be supplied on demand – even at night, when no wind is blowing and on days of overcast conditions and no wind.

    You said “The real world is that we will use a combination of sources and depending on that combination we may or may not need storage.” Do you mean the ‘real world” withoit government intervention such as mandatory renewable energy targets”?

    It is grossly unfair on the investors in the nuclear and fossil fuel plants to expect them to pick up the extra costs imposed by regulations that mandate a proportion of renewable energy. If wind can compete without being mandated or subsidised, then your argument would be valid. Otherwise, it is not.


  97. I think the ‘gas boom’ may arrive in easy stages, not a whoosh. Yesterday a complex of gas fired generators was opened in Tasmania. It included both combined cycle intermediate load and turbine only peak load. The rationale was The power station features low emission, efficient gas turbine technology using gas sourced through the Tasmanian Gas Pipeline from Victoria, thereby reducing the State’s reliance on brown coal generated electricity from the mainland via the Basslink cable and helping to minimise the stress on Tasmanian hydro dam levels.
    Coupla questions
    1) where are the new renewables?
    2) what happens when the gas runs out?


  98. I just found out the gas comes from an underwater field with the amazing name of Basker Manta Gummy, which are kinds of fish apparently.

    I think the gas grid needs to be maintained long term and supplemented with ‘unnatural gas’ for peaking power and convective heat. Different kinds of gas input should be able to be blended so they have consistent heating value and can use the same burners. The candidates would be natgas, coal seam methane, fermentation biogas, methanated syngas, dimethyl ether, nuclear hydrogenated synthetic gas and this algae gas you mention.


  99. NOTE: The materials figures/calculations and Chart in the above post have now been update to make use of the best available information. Thanks to the terrific feedback from commenters that has improved this post.


  100. John D Morgan,

    we’ll quickly run out of […] land that we’d prefer wasn’t impacted by turbines and transmission infrastructure.

    Which impacts should be our concern? One constraint is clear, we want the turbines away from human dwellings. Say at least 1 km away.

    I did estimates for Australia, assuming 20 mln km2 for 20 mln people of whom 95% leave in big cities. (including suburbs that is.) Didn’t find a problem… heaps of space here.
    Maybe there are other constraints… I keep thinking of it, and I am not finding any. Turbines seem compatible with any sort of farming and almost any sort of industry. Barring airports of course.

    And so, I expect that the use of wind will be restricted by intermittency costs before it is restricted by land use.

    Another problem that you mention, “pests and diseases” that will be brought in… but it seems that for quite a modest outlay one could buy very stringent quarantine-type measures. One could even take machinery apart and sterilize (most of) the parts at 100+ Celsius ! And issue workers with new uniforms and boots for every new national park that they enter… prohibit taking those home… prohibit coming to work in their own vehicles… etc etc.

    Thank you for the nuclear links. Would not be appropriate to discuss them in this thread I’m afraid, it’s off topic, hopefully some time later. I am still reading them anyway.


  101. Alexei,

    The high value wind resource is mostly coastal – see for instance the Australian renewable energy atlas. Its mostly concentrated in the southwest, and much less to the northeast.

    Australia’s share of world energy consumption is about 1% (see TCASE3). So the Australian wind development requirement is ~3.4 km2/day, till 2050. Forty years of days is 14600. So we’d need, more or less, 14600km of coastline packed to ~3.4 km inland with windfarm.

    The CIA world factbook has the coastline as being ~25000 km long. So lets say we need roughly the coastline extending from Port Hedland to Melbourne plus Tasmania turned into windfarm about 3-4 km deep. (Have I missed an order of magnitude anywhere?)

    Again, thats paved on about a 500 m grid, with heavy construction at the grid nodes. “Dynamiting, boring, trenching (so the turbines can pull power from the grid), concrete, roads, powerlines” (as a post here puts it), felling trees to clear way, grading earthworks, etc. etc. Is it really a serious impact? Hell yeah. Thats half the coastline industrialized, at a rate and density that won’t permit sensitive development.

    I realize the birdkill impact is downplayed, and that may be reasonable with todays trivial deployment, but to get serious with wind would turn the coastline into a birdkilling field kilometres deep. The consequence would probably be extinction of some larger coastal birds. For instance.

    Remember too, this example is worked with naively generous assumptions on the quality of the wind resource, that is, not accounting for the overbuild required to cope with more than 1 days wind outage. Its been put in discussion elsewhere here that many more days storage is required, with consequently much more generation capacity to charge it up.

    Fortunately, we don’t need to go down this path. Thank goodness.

    If you have any thoughts on those papers of Gerald Marsh et al., I’d say post them here, staying on topic be damned.


  102. This is a recent New Scientist article on the long suffering Desertec project:

    Some relevant extracts:

    “Prospects for the project, called Desertec, have blossomed over the past year, and this month 20 major German corporations are expected to announce the formation of a consortium that will provide the €400 billion needed to build a raft of solar thermal power plants in north Africa. They include energy utilities giants E.ON and RWE, the engineering firm Siemens, the finance house Deutsche Bank and the insurance company Munich Re.
    The current plan, outlined by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in a report to the federal government, envisages that the project will meet 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050, with a peak output of 100 gigawatts – roughly equivalent to 100 coal-fired power stations. Preliminary designs in the German report show electricity reaching Europe via 20 high-voltage direct-current power lines, which will keep transmission losses below 10 per cent (New Scientist, 14 March, p 42). Trans-Mediterranean links will cross from Morocco to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar; from Algeria to France via the Balearic islands; from Tunisia to Italy; from Libya to Greece; and from Egypt to Turkey via Cyprus.”

    €400 billion for 100 GW peak?? You could build at least 200 GW of continuous nuclear power, close to the load, for the same money. What price politics ….

    A very experience colleague of mine who used to be at CSIRO said “It is only a plan. A cynic could conclude that the plan was the whole deal.”

    Let’s hope he’s right.


  103. John Newlands, on October 29th, 2009 at 9.32 — The algae go into anaerobic digesters to produce biogas. For consistent heating values, an amine process (or a newer, more efficient one) is used to separate the CO2 from the nearly pure methane, often called biomethane. The latter is good enough to feed directly into the natgas pipelines and this is being done at all too few locations in the USA and Europe. More specialized operations simply burn the biogas to produce local electricity and process heat.

    Any wet biomass can go into an anaerobic digester although woody materials need to be pre-disgested to break down the celulose. A point about this is that rather than dump municiple sewage suldge into the oceans (as was being down in Sydney late last century during my visit), putting it through an anaerobic digeter produces enough biogas to support the wastewater management and a bit extra for the natgas network.


  104. Barry on this:

    Based on the University of Sydney ISA report (p145), which also agrees with Prof Per Peterson’s figures, this will consume ~1,250,000 tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel per day. Every day, from 2010 to 2050. Adding 1 day’s energy storage using NaS batteries (to make it equivalent to the solar thermal example below), increases the mass of steel required to 455,000 tonnes per day (see chart at bottom of the post).

    Someone pointed out to me that this is ‘only’ 128 million tons of steel a year. World production is over 1500 million tons so this would only represent 9% increase and totally doable.


  105. Agreed David, it’s certainly more than ‘doable’ from a production perspective (wind, solar, nuclear), but why do it with solar (where you have to also transport all this steel and concrete to a desert site) when you can use more than an order of magnitude less materials with nuclear and do it right near your factories (and load centres).


  106. Agreed David, it’s certainly more than ‘doable’ from a production perspective (wind, solar, nuclear), but why do it with solar (where you have to also transport all this steel and concrete to a desert site) when you can use more than an order of magnitude less materials with nuclear and do it right near your factories (and load centres).

    It might be doable in a world with a substantial baseload capacity not dependent on the weather, time of day, and season of the sun, but I consider it unproven that such production capacity could be maintained with the sort of industrial base technosolar alone could support.

    And if it can be done with reliable nuclear power, why worry about the technosolar component at all?


  107. David, further to Barry’s question “why do it?”, we should also ask, why would we want to do more than an order of magnitude more mining for the same energy output? With the mining comes an order of magnitude more processing, material handling, transport, fabrication, construction, etc. Why would we want to do an order of magnitude more of all this? For what benefit?


  108. I’d like to take up Finrod’s point.

    If steel is to be made sustainably, would this not be thru some sort of plasma based production (can’t be coal)? This is a very hi energy industrial process. I would imagine the inefficiencies would be staggering (any numbers on this sort of problem, Peter et al? I don’t want to rely on “staggering”) were the electricity for the procedure to come from wind/solar.

    anyway, this is a question I have thought about for a long time without having the knowledge to answer it.

    renewable power needs to make more renewable power–otherwise it’s not really renewable. any thoughts on wind/solar powering hi energy industrial processes?

    Hope this question makes sense. I share bloggers sense of urgency but lack their years of practical experience with such questions.


  109. @ David B you seem to be saying that amine scrubbing of CO2 from biomethane has a low energy penalty. I understand fermentation gas can contain up to 40% w/w CO2 whereas power station flue gas is about 13%. That suggests biogas cleanup to natgas standard could have an energy penalty of 25% or more. I made a methane digester loaded with cow poo and lawn clippings and I concluded it wasn’t worth the hassle.

    Natgas and other mainly-methane gas can of course be used as a reducing agent in iron smelting though some think it too expensive. Nobody seems to have a price yet on nuclear hydrogen made using the sulphur-iodine cycle. For seepage resistant long distance piping it could be turned into methane bio C + 2 nuc H2 = CH4 with the CO2 from burning reabsorbed by plants.

    Yet another reason I think the SA west coast is the perfect place for an integrated nuclear industry would be to use hydrogen in the steel mills. It’s slightly bizzare. The coke ovens at the Whyalla steel mills release ammonia as a pollutant yet nearby it proposed to have an ammonia based solar thermal plant.


  110. John Newlands, on November 2nd, 2009 at 8.48 — Here almost all I know about anaeorbobic digesters:
    which states the CO2 content varies from 25–50%, which I take to be by volume, and depends upon the feedstock. In wastewater management much of the biogas is burned for local process heat and electricity; typically some is unneeded and rather than just flaring it off, some installations go to the trouble of cleaning it to a high enough grade to sell into the natgas pipelines. So irrespective of the (low) costs, the amine treatment more than pays for itself.

    While algae will not produce the highest grade of biogas, it has the advantage of potentially low enough production costs for the biomethane to (almost) compete in the natgas market. While nuclear for Australia is hoped to come to pass, it is certainly possible to start an algae farm pilot project right away, say by slightly modifying

    Sorry your own project has not worked out (so far). I gather that anaerobic digesters can be somewhat tricky and finicky; experience helps.


  111. Key factors with the different forms of methane are what I’d call ‘collection effort’ and ‘dispersal effort’. With clean natgas you make a narrow hole and the ground and it practically sends itself through pipes. The shimmering heat and CO2 from the application is barely noticed. No muss no fuss. With fermentation gas we currently rely on sunk costs like sewage farms, feedlots, municipal tips and dairies. Some gas is used for heating the digester in cold locations and on farms the digester waste is spread back on the fields using diesel tractors, not biogas powered.

    Everybody says it’s wonderful. However take away free ‘muck’ imported onsite and cheap diesel and the economics changes. I believe some countries also give carbon credits which I think is wrong in principle. The reduced collection and dispersal effort is where algae may have an advantage provided it doesn’t have other problems.


  112. With clean natgas you make a narrow hole and the ground and it practically sends itself through pipes.

    Tell it to the Russians, who use almost half the gas from their Siberian gas fields to pump the other half to their customers in Europe.


  113. Australia’s LNG exporters managed to get 60% free permits under the emissions trading scheme now postponed til next year. They argued that while the foreign customer was emitting most of the CO2 they used a lot of NG to run the compressors That means they will pay at lot less carbon charges than a domestic grid dedicated generator. I heard they used 5% of the original gas but that could be on the low side.

    Now the leaky Timor Sea gas rig has caught fire I wonder if they get a carbon credit for ‘flaring’ the methane.


  114. Just to pick up on the leaking Timor sea hole, what does this say about the idea of Carbon Sequestration.

    I notice the government is prepared to carry all the risk of leakage. Yet the rules for nuclear risks are totally different. This is an example of the distortions that are so biased against nuclear and in favour of just about anything else.


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  116. John D Morgan,
    Thank you for the map, you do have a point concerning availability of windy sites. Maybe “3.4 from the coast” is too restrictive, though. The map has thick red lines tracking (some sections of) the coastline; these lines look like roughly 100 km thick.

    “Dynamiting, boring, and trenching” sound bad to us humans. But that’s an anthropocentric view. When all is done, only a few percent of the vegetation will have been removed; insects and animals are hardly affected, although their numbers will have to shrink similarly, to match the available food base.

    On birdkill, indeed it could be worse than commonly assumed. There are comparisons showing that cars and windows kill so much more – but, those I’d seen, did not claim to apply to all or even most bird species; leaving the possibility that some select species, wind turbines do matter.

    On Gerald Marsh’s papers, their stated purpose is to show that fast reactors and reprocessing won’t make the security situation worse than it already is. They make credible argument, although somewhat inconclusive because of these two weak spots:
    (1) the terror option to use gun-type “thin man” device with plutonium is dismissed too suddenly, I could not see how that followed from the preceding discussion.
    (2) it is revealed that a pyroprocessing facilitiy could have an “aqueous unit”, and it could even be the case that a mere change of operating parameters allowed to obtain weapons-grade plutonium (presumably from suitably irradiated fuel, not just any spent fuel.) This change would be detectable by on-site inspection, but still, that’s an issue.

    On the bigger security picture, one of the papers has two potentially helpful claims. One, that cheap energy promotes peace – and this could well be so, but by how much? And another claim, that non-nuclear routes are easier for terrorists.

    I’d like to say more on this last one. It seems plausible. But even so, the more of dangerous technologies there are in use, the more terror opportunities arise.

    At one extreme, there may be terrorists who decide “let’s go nuclear” and proceed head-on. Say they storm a nuclear plant. Having more nuclear plants doesn’t make us less secure with this type of terrorist, because such situations would be limited not by the number of plants, but by the number of terrorists. Besides, they would’ve done better to choose something else than nuclear, so having nuclear power, by distracting them, even made us safer.

    At the other extreme however, terrorists are waiting for an opportunity (say, an employee desperate for money and willing to sell them stuff). Under this scenario, additional nuclear activities, or any hazardous industries, mean additional opportunities. Double nuclear power use, double the opportunities.

    The reality is probably a mix between these two extremes. The terror danger from nuclear power may not increase linearly as nuclear activities increase; but increase it probably does.


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  120. “10,000 tonnes of steel per day”

    What is the source for this information?

    I found some other numbers:

    EPR, AP1000, ESBWR and ABWR (ranging from 1100 to 1600 MWe):
    Concrete – 842,400 t
    Reinforcing steel and embedded parts – 46,000 t
    Structural steel, misc. steel, decking – 25,000 t

    Click to access RM132_CEEDATA_2006.pdf

    Construction masses of a 1 GW(e) nuclear power plant
    Steel 150,000 tonnes
    concrete 850,000 tonnes
    (excluding piping, wiring and other materials)


  121. Hi,

    it’s a very interesting website and I will continue reading (I especially like chapter 2 as it gives a good introduction into this very basic physics, and still too many people have no idea about all this kWh, GW, J, the concept of power and work and so on), but just a few questions after reading this article:

    Nobody will want to produce all electricity from one source, but let’s assume this for calculation reasons

    *) Wind power:
    350 km²/day * 365 days * 40 years = 5.110.000 km²
    area of europe = 10.180.000 km²
    area of the world = 510.072.000 km²
    so why shouldn’t we use 1 percent of the world area to change our energy supply to renewable resources? Further – as you have said – you can use the area between the wind power plants e.g. for agriculture or e.g. photovoltaics, which would reduce the amount of “land use” essentially

    I don’t think that we will run out of concrete, but let’s face the steel question:
    In this case let’s take the numbers of Solar Thermal as these are worse:
    690.000 t/day *365 *40 = t
    world production: 1.326.000.000 t/year *40 years =
    so why shouldn’t we use ~19% of the world steel production for a shift to renewable energies? also in this case the numbers will be different because we will not only use solar themal but also wind, pv, biomass etc.
    Further steel is perfectly recyclable, so you can the material for the new power plant at the end of the life time.

    Please let me know about any errors in my calculation!!!!
    Thanks, take care


  122. Michael, you are quite right that the question is not whether we’ll run out of steel, concrete, or even land. It’s whether we’d be willing to waste this volume of resources, and the additional money and labour it will cost, on wind and solar power, when we could achieve a much more compact, reliable and cost-effective outcome using nuclear power.


  123. Michael,

    You ask:

    so why shouldn’t we use ~19% of the world steel production for a shift to renewable energies?

    so why shouldn’t we use ~19% of the world steel production for a shift to renewable energies?

    I’d like to put the question back to you. Why would we want to use some ten times more materials to provide our energy needs than we need to?

    The only thing renewable about ‘renewables’ is the fuel. The materials are not. The fuel for nuclear is very small quantity, and will be far smaller in future.

    So why would we want to use so much more land area, and dig up and process so much more material for an unreliable, low quality, value power supply such as solar and wind power.

    You might be interested in and especially the section “How achievable are the build rates”. If you want more details click on the link to the pdf version; the pdf version includes the footnotes, references and appendicies.


  124. Hi Peter, Hi Barry,

    thank you very much for your answer! I really appreciate this quite open-minded discussion at an at least very basic scientific level. No stupid comments or insults in this forum :-) Thanks also for this pdf – I will print it this afternoon as I am currently very much into this topic

    Last but not least: Yes you are right: In my opinion – generally in strong favour of renewables – the very limiting factor is the needed increase in production rates, I like to calculate this with my Senior High School students all the time

    Well, talk to you later..


  125. Hi,

    I read through the paper and of course one could spend easily a week in calculating all these numbers and figures and so on, but just a few key points:

    *) I didn’t find anything about PV! At least one of the renewable scenarios must include photovoltaics as it is currently the only large renewable energy technology where prices are DEcreasing (even prices for wind power are already rising again due to increasing steel prices) and PV is the only renewable technology where there are hardly any limitations at all.
    You have to be aware of the fact that renewable energies can only supply the world’s energy demand TOGETHER – and that means more than just one or two of them. You need at least these 5: wind, solar power (pv and solar thermal), water and biomass!! Please have a look at the German Kombikraftwerk:

    Click to access Background_Information_Combined_power_plant.pdf

    In certain areas – where access to some of these 5 resources might be restricted, you can replace them by others: I don’t know much about Australia but maybe you don’t have that much water power so you could replace this amount for instance with solar updraft towers (to be futuristic :-) or a larger PV share.

    *) As I have already said above I don’t think that prices for wind power will decrease (table 4 on page 15) but who knows..

    *) You did not cover the topics of
    -) safe uranium depletion
    -) price development of uranium due to sky rocketing demand (I expect you want more or less the whole world to copy this Australian scenario and one day all former nuclear weapons from the cold war will be used up)
    -) safe waste storage
    -) insurance for possible nuclear accidents
    so I am not going to ask any questions about that.
    I believe that you certainly know a lot more about nuclear power than I do so I assume that you have already thought about all that. Nevertheless one question remains: You wrote:

    “The fuel for nuclear is very small quantity, and will be far smaller in future.”

    How can you be so sure about that? For decades we are waiting for affordable electric cars, nuclear fusion and other bright technologies, and I am only 23 now but I already learned to believe only in things that already exist.

    So you can cover the world’s energy demand with renewable energies. We still have large problems with storage for transporation systems of all kind. But with today’s technology we can already save 80% of the energy problem (in theory easily 100% but then some solutions might not be very smart ;-)

    Thank you again for this very interesting paper!
    Looking forward to your answer
    take care, michael


  126. Hi Michael,

    Thank you for taking the time to read this paper carefully. It is very encouraging that a school teacher does take the time to do the research.

    The points you make in this post and your questions are all addressed on the BraveNewClimate web site. You have read one paper in the chain, but you do need to read the papers cited that are the precursors to this paper. Below are links to a few that will address your questions and comments:

    I didn’t find anything about PV!

    Start with papers ‘Solar Power Realities’ and then “Solar Power Realities and Transmission Costs – Addendum”

    You have to be aware of the fact that renewable energies can only supply the world’s energy demand TOGETHER – and that means more than just one or two of them. You need at least these 5: wind, solar power (pv and solar thermal), water and biomass!!

    See this post I made yesterday in reply to a similar comment: .

    The comments you are raising and many others have been discussed at length on this and the other threads.

    If you want a bit more background on energy matters, you may want to start with the TCASE articles and other articles listed on the ‘Renewable Limits’ tab .

    Regarding: safe uranium depletion, uranium price, storage of once used nuclear fuel, insurance for accidents, all these issues are addressed in the post listed on the threads on the ‘Sustainable Nuclear’ tab. You will notice that the comments posted on each thread are largely by highly knowledge people. The comments are well worth reading if you want more information on the issues.

    “The fuel for nuclear is very small quantity, and will be far smaller in future.”

    How can you be so sure about that?

    This is covered in the threads mentioned above. See this one in particular:

    However, you may say, OK that’s for Gen IV but it is not in production yet, so what if it doesn’t’ work out? What if we have to run with Gen III? To start with I don’t believe that is realistic. What we are really talking about is how long until it is commercially proven. This could be a range of one to three decades. However, even if we wanted to continue with Gen III, uranium would last for centuries. The amount of uranium in the Earth’s crust is similar to that of tin and zinc. There is no question of running out of any of them. As we need more we explore for more and improve our mining methods to extract it. I have posted the figures for this in other posts and can come back to it if you want to explore this question further.

    So you can cover the world’s energy demand with renewable energies.

    Our energy consumption is going to continue to rise, and do so faster than population growth or world GDP growth. We can expect that for all of this century. Renewable energy is unsustainable. It requires far too much land area and mining of materials, and their processing, manufacturing, construction and transport between all these steps. The threads linked on the “Renewable Limits tab” cover this issue. In my opinion, belief that renewables can provide our energy needs is an ideological, not a rational, belief – Love wind power, hate nuclear power!

    I presume you have read “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air”?


  127. Michael,

    Regarding the massive popular and government suport for renewable energy in Europe, (subsidies, feed in tariffs, and mandatory renewable energy targets) you may want to read these.

    Click to access Germany_Study_-_FINAL.pdf

    Click to access 090327-employment-public-aid-renewable.pdf

    Thes renewable energy policies are sending Europe broke and sending jobs to Asia. Spain lost 2.2 real jobs for every ‘green job’ made. Green jobs are not real, productive jobs; they are publically funded jobs, like public servants. The destroy a countries wealth, not build it.


  128. I’m noticing that biogas is increasingly mentioned as the backup power source to renewables. Even Adelaide Uni is supportive
    However I believe the net energy is just a fraction that of natural gas once contaminants are removed and large masses (partly faeces based) are transported back and forth. Increased adoption of biogas will involve cultural de-sensitising to living close to highly visible flows of human and animal wastes, for example raising pigs in the suburbs. With natgas Mother Nature has done the brewing for us over millions of years. Unfortunately we are now fast depleting that accumulated reserve.

    By the way I did make an 80L digester fuelled with cow manure and lawn clippings. I used an inverted fish tank as a mini gasometer. I thought the gas flame was weak, possibly because it could have contained as much as 25% CO2.

    I’m not sure how to quantify the net potential of biogas energy assuming it supplies all its own fuel i.e. no coal fired electricity or diesel tractors. However I’m near certain that the idea biogas can ever compensate for lulls in wind and solar is wildly wrong.


  129. Germany is also constructing a lot of new coal fired power plants:

    Why? Thats about 20000 MW. As much as Germany has nuclear power, witch they want to shut down. I thaught it was ment to be replaced by renewables, not coal.


  130. Hi !
    wow so many replies :-)

    @ John Newlands 1:
    *) I am Austrian (not Australian, but we have nice t-shirts for tourists saying “no kangaroos in Austria” ;-) unfortunately we have lots of cows though which emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases ^^ Yes, both, Germany and Austria speak German and we are neighbours but I am not that familiar with German politics.

    Just my personal opinion:
    I usually use three core topics to argue in favour of renewables and I am convinced that even every single of them is enough to decide in favour of renewables:

    *) environmental reasons: coal causes dirty emissions, nuclear causes problems from depletion till waste deposition (Peter, I still have to read through the “Sustainable nuclear” part of this homepage), oil (oh yeah, gulf of Mexico) and so on…
    *) economic reasons: Austria (and Australia as well) are highly developed countries. We can only stay competitive if we develop high-technology and renewable energy technology is exactly that. Further it just hurts me seeing my grandmother sending thousands of Euro each year to some oil sheikhs to get oil to heat her house. This is a wasted chance of spending huge amounts of money in the local community.
    *) Finite resources (one day all fossile fuels and uranium will be used up. I personally don’t care whether oil peak was in 2005, will be in 2020 or 2050, for me that’s all the same)

    so to answer your question: I don’t like this climate hype. As you can see I don’t use climate change as an argument for renewable energies, because

    1st) I like to keep everything as simple as possible. All the arguments above can be understood by a child in primary school. I personally believe in climate change but I cannot prove it and therefore do not use it as an argument for anything.
    2nd) Using climate change as an argument leads people to think “Oh China is growing. They do what they want and therefore our acting in Europe will not change anything. Let’s relax or start crying and let’s continue like before”

    to answer your question: I believe that all these conferences like Kyoto or Copenhague will never lead to anything. Further, the combination of emission trading and feed-in tariffs for renewables is absolutely counterproductive. Maybe Angela Merkel understood this, but to be honest I don’t know.


  131. @ Peter Lang 1:
    Peter, first of all MANY MANY thanks to you for this link to I was always searching for something like this! I started doing similiar calculations on my own but this is obviously very time-consuming and this professor has already collected all the data! This is the perfect source for the core concept I want to teach my students and it makes my life much easier :-) to be honest, this book is also the reason why I did not yet have the time to read through vour other argumentations on

    I am not a school teacher but a mechanical engineering student and I am holding these seminars just for fun on a summer academy for highly gifted students. They are usually very critical and it is great fun discussing with them.

    I just started reading your first link about PV costs and I don’t accept any further calculation about the costs of renewable energies as long as the scenario does not include at least the 5 technologies wind, pv, solar thermal, hydro and biomass. If you have a calculation about the costs for the “”-scenario we can continue to talk about this topic, otherwise we will never end debating because
    *) I will say nuclear is maybe 4 ct/kWh and PV is (at the moment) 40 ct/kWh (and this will decrease) and therefore never 25 times as expensive and you will answer that you have to include some costs for storage and I will add that nuclear cannot provide any peak power and so on…


  132. @ Peter Lang 2:

    this study wants
    a) emission trading
    b) R&D
    to “support” renewables.

    a) is completely wrong as I said in my post at 6.36
    b) is fine, but R&D can never compensate for economies of scale! Only the combination of R&D and economies of scale lead to considerable price drops in technologies like PV.

    Further, this paper is talking about things like “total burden for past installations”, page 39 of 42. You currently cannot say how much people will have to pay during the next 20 years. The costs can even become zero if electricity prices continue to increase and power plant operators sell the electricity on the market instead of using the feed-in tariffs. So you can only calculate the actual costs and these have been 1.46 EURct/kWh in 2008 (total price is around 20 EURct/kWh for an average household). I am sorry I did not find latter numbers.

    One of the economic advantages of renewables is that you can more or less “predetermine” your energy price for the next years. Wind, PV etc. only have neglectible operating costs. Once installed you do not depend on fuels like gas, oil or uranium, which are all traded on the stock exchange and you can therefore never be sure how much the price will be in the future.


    I did not fully read it – just two points:

    *) Yes, Spain had this PV bubble, unfortunately they tend to overreact sometimes – see also the real estate bubble, I think Spain has brand new homes for 4 million people and nobody knows what to do with them because they were just built for investment reasons – economy is weird sometimes…

    *) Anyone can manipulate statistics to achieve an agenda so we should take all of these reports with a grain of salt. I could post now e.g. 3 studies that “prove” a positive effect and you will send me back 10 more “proving” the negative effect, that’s senseless. To be honest: maybe it is like that, maybe it is not, I do not know.

    I will write comments to all other posts later – because of the time shift I must go to bed now, sorry


  133. One of the economic advantages of renewables is that you can more or less “predetermine” your energy price for the next years. Wind, PV etc. only have neglectible operating costs. Once installed you do not depend on fuels like gas, oil or uranium, which are all traded on the stock exchange and you can therefore never be sure how much the price will be in the future.

    The price of power from a nuclear plant is not strongly driven by the price of uranium. The main cost of nuclear power is the capital cost of building the plant. Fuel coss are so minor that the price of uranium would have to rise greatly to have even a minor impact on the price of power. If the Japanese are correct in their claim to be able to produce uranium from sea water at US$100-300/kg, this represents a cap on its price for the forseeable future.


  134. Michael writes: “…one day all fossile fuels and uranium will be used up.” and “Wind, PV etc. only have [negligible] operating costs. Once installed you do not depend on fuels like gas, oil or uranium, which are all traded on the stock exchange and you can therefore never be sure how much the price will be in the future.”

    Michael, please read the article at the link Finrod offered you. That and other discussions about fuel for fast reactors that can be found on BNC clearly point out that not only is uranium utilized in fast reactors an essentially unlimited source of power, but the amount that we already have available as a waste product means that it is essentially free, and thus can’t be considered in the same economic sense as oil and gas. It is simply an invalid argument to conflate them.

    Spain’s unfortunate experience with solar feed-in tariffs is not, alas, only their problem. Germany has also blown their wad on solar, and continue to persist on a path that is economically insane in service to eco-correctness. See my article on the subject.

    As Barry has pointed out elsewhere, the question of whether solar or nuclear are more practical/economical is illustrated beautifully by the recent decision of the UAE to build four nuclear power plants in a country with vast areas of sunny desert that is arguably one of the best locations in the world for maximum insolation. One can reasonably assume that before making such a multi-billion dollar investment decision they carefully weighed their options.


  135. Michael,

    If you have a calculation about the costs for the “”-scenario we can continue to talk about this topic, otherwise we will never end debating because
    *) I will say nuclear is maybe 4 ct/kWh and PV is (at the moment) 40 ct/kWh (and this will decrease) and therefore never 25 times as expensive and you will answer that you have to include some costs for storage and I will add that nuclear cannot provide any peak power and so on…

    I suggest you need to do this analysis yourself. I’ve pointed out how to do it here:

    There are thousands of academic studies like the link you have pointed to. This one is dependent on hydro. But the amount of hydro available is small. None of the other renewables a recontributing to reducig the cost of electricity. They are all raising the cost. But it won’t matter how many times anyone explains it to you, you will not understand until you crunch the numbers yourself.


  136. Peter,

    I think that’s a good proposal, let’s agree on that. As practically everybody posting here has already created his/her argumentation in a pdf, I should do something similar, but I will need some time, at least some days maybe weeks as I have currently lots of stuff to do..

    Talk to you later


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  139. Barry, thanks for a great article!

    It would be interesting to add resource consumption for sea based wind power which is gaining popularity at the moment. Obviously this is going to be much higher because the sea based foundations are huge.

    It would also be interesting to look at resource usage per GW of capacity and perhaps add something about resource usage over plant lifetime or produced GWYear. A nuclear plant may last 40-60 years whereas a windmill have to be rebuilt every 20-25 years.

    Best regards


  140. This article was posted on October 18, 2009. The following is a list of of the major announcements in solar less than a month after it was posted


    10/30/2009 – Wrapping Solar Cells around an Optical Fiber

    Dye-sensitized cells get a double boost from nanowires and optical fiber. These cells work on cloudy days when light is diffuse\



    11/10/2009 – Cheap 3D Solar Cells – 6x More Efficient – Work Underground



    11/13/2009 – SRS Energy Receives Coveted Edison Award for its Solar Power Roofing Tile



    11/13/2009 – China announces that it is aiming for 2GW in total installed solar by 2011



    10/22/2009 – Sharp Develops Solar Cell with World Record Conversion Efficiency of 35.8%

    – LINK:

    What does this mean?? Just this – Due to the fact that solar is advancing at an exponential rate (untrue of nuclear efficiency), the numbers Barry cited in this article were seriously obsolete only a month after he cited them (and probably BEFORE he wrote them) and are absurdly outdated now

    Solar WILL reach grid parity and the world WILL go grid-less solar. There’s no stopping it now


  141. @ Stephengn, on 6 July 2011 at 6:38 AM

    This is a quote from your second link:

    “Until EarthSure can raise more funds to develop a prototype device or Wang creates a start up company to produce and market, concealed solar panels will remain out of reach for most consumers.”

    Stephen, there isn’t even a prototype…

    At link 5 – from 31.5% to 35.8% efficiency improvement? This is news? What about nights? How does it scaled up?

    Barry is comparing technologies which are at or close to commercialisation, technologies we are using right now in our attempt to replace fossil fuels. He is doing so because in order to address CC it is imperative that we start building now, using the most effective technologies presently available.

    If you’re not convinced about nuclear power for reasons other than CO2 mitigation then that’s another conversation, but if it’s because you believe we have more effective options then please, show me a commercially available technology (or even suite of technologies) which has the proven capacity to replace an average 1GW coal plant, 24/7/365, because that’s what we need to do – over and over and over again.


  142. “This is a quote from your second link”

    You’re missing the point. That quote was from news story posted almost 2 years ago and as I said, MUCH has happened since.

    The point is that regardless of what has happened to any one particular invention, innovation in nano-solar is accelerating at an exponential rate

    To quote famed futurist Ray Kurzweil from five years ago:

    “None of the global warming discussions mention the word “nanotechnology.” Yet nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years. If we captured 1% of 1% of the sunlight (1 part in 10,000) we could meet 100% of our energy needs without ANY fossil fuels. We can’t do that today because the solar panels are too heavy, expensive, and inefficient. But there are new nano-engineered designs that are much more effective. Within five to six years, this technology will make a significant contribution. Within 20 years, it can provide all of our energy needs.”

    – Washington Post, , Monday, June 19, 2006

    Proof of the above statements is occurring now on countless levels.

    17 GW of solar was installed in 2010 manufactured, shipped, and installed in 2010 that is 17 reactors. It can take decades just to install a new nuclear plant.

    ( I know, as of now Nuclear is a baseload resource and solar is more of a “peaking” resource, but this is changing)

    China’s announced in May that it is aiming for a massive 50GW in solar by 2020. And this amount will not come close to servicing the future demand for solar. Other economies will ramp up production as the technology becomes even cheaper.

    As i’ve said, I am not against nuclear if it is truly necessary. But I really don’t think you are grasping the fundamental and radical differences between these two technologies, their costs, or the difference in how quickly each technology can be deployed.

    While the nuclear of the future will remain cumbersome, highly specialized work, Solar has the capacity to be infused directly into building materials. Solar windows, roofing and even solar infused into walls and road building material already exists and solar can be deployed as easily as paint.

    Solar will thus put far more people to work than nuclear


    “Barry is comparing technologies which are at or close to commercialisation, technologies we are using right now in our attempt to replace fossil fuels. He is doing so because in order to address CC it is imperative that we start building now, using the most effective technologies presently available. ”

    I agree with this, so a little math is in order:

    if Australia were to start building IFRs today:

    First I must admit that I am ignorant of Australia’s projected energy needs, though I do know that Australia’s population might grow by maybe 2 million more people in 15 years So my first question is

    1. How many more GWs will Australia need in 2025?

    2. How long would it take to complete the new IFRs?

    3. How much would each GW of current nuclear cost when compared to current alternatives?
    – I think nuclear wins this one hands down RIGHT NOW, but…

    4. Given the rate of advance in alternatives, Is there a reasonable possibility that the future costs of alternatives might derail nuclear projects and thereby making nuclear endeavors a waste of time, money, resources and CO2?

    Two other things MUST be factored in: politics and waste

    1. We both know that (for good or ill) nuclear is fraught with politics. It is hard to realistically forecast how much nuclear power the Australian public might be accept within the energy mix but because of nuclear’s history, such calculations are necessary. (The same could not be said of solar if they were even close to the same cost wise)

    2. There is currently no such thing as wastes free nuclear. So where will Australia dispose of its nuclear waste? Or will Australia worry about waste disposal later as they are doing in all the other nations that use nuclear?

    Please read


  143. Cyril, the steel figure comes from the rebar estimate in the diagram reproduced above the calculations, which compares the footprint of the AP1000 to other designs such as the Sizewell B (65,000 tonnes) and the EPR (60,000 tonnes).

    The comment thread above is worth taking the time to skim through – there is a lot of interesting discussion around this issue.


  144. Ok, so the 15 tonnes/MWe average is only for the rebar, that makes sense. Rebar is only a part of the metal input of a PWR. Lots of metal is required for the reactor pressure vessel, steam generators/seperators, pumps, piping, secondary steam circuit, steam turbine, electrical generator, and condenser tubing. These don’t change much with physical plant size. I googled this excellent reference on nuclear materials requirements, that also looks at specialty materials availability such as neutron poisons.

    Click to access ndc-2011-15.pdf

    It’s interesting how all the passive GenIII+ are so close in steel use, they’re all around 35-40 tonnes steel per MWe average. BWR (ESBWR, 32 tonnes) or PWR (AP1000, 42 tonnes) doesn’t seem to matter much either.


  145. I also looked at the materials requirement for different energy sources, both peak Watts and average Watts. A Dutch friend helped me out with it (it is for a Dutch audience presenation so it is in Dutch). We distinguished between metal use:

    And non-metal use, mostly glass, concrete, and plastic (concrete dominates for hydro, wind, coal and nuclear, whereas PV uses lots of glass and plastic):

    If you’re having trouble with the labels, “drieklovendam” is Three Gorges Dam Hydroelectric Project in China. “kolen” is obviously coal, PV silicium NL is monocrystalline silicon PV in the Netherlands climate. “CSP trog” is linear axis tracking parabolic trough concentrated solar thermal electric.


  146. Yes, the AP1000 has less steel. But because many components don’t scale down much with physical plant size (pressure vessel, turbine, condenser tubing etc.) the total metal effect is a bit less spectacular. According to Per Peterson,

    1970s PWR: 40 metric tons steel per av. MWe
    EPR: 49 metric tons steel per av. MWe
    ABWR: 51 metric tons steel per av. MWe
    ESBWR: 40 metric tons steel per av. MWe
    (could be as low as 32 metric tons, this is an estimate)
    AP1000: 42 metric tons steel per av. MWe


  147. This compares to:

    Onshore wind: 300 tons metal per av. MWe
    Offshore wind: 400 tons metal per av. MWe
    Silicon PV in cloudy climate: 800 tons metal per av. MWe
    Parabolic trough (traditional thermal oil cooled): 600 tons metal per av. MWe.

    These figures include copper and aluminium but >90% is iron and steel (except for PV that often uses a lot of aluminium) so in retrospect its a lot less work to just look at iron and steel.


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