I’ve talked recently on BNC about various recent energy plans. which seek to replace fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives. On the whole, I’ve been left dissatisfied. For instance, there was the Scientific American article ‘A path to sustainable energy by 2030‘ (technology = renewables only, critiqued by me here) and the UK Royal Academy of Engineering study Generating the future: UK energy systems fit for 2050 (technology = renewables + nuclear, critiqued here). Neither pass muster, even when evaluated on general principles.
In this post, I’ll describe a third study. It provides a contrast to the other two, because it doesn’t start with the (preordained) premise that renewables and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage WILL together do the heavy lifting. Instead, it focuses on nuclear power deployment as the primary ‘decarbonisation silver bullet’ (although other techs do play a role — perhaps an overly generous one at that). This energy map was developed by the World Nuclear Association and is called the ‘Nuclear Century Outlook‘ (NCO).
The NCO projects out 90 years, to the year 2100 — I use the term ‘project’ loosely, as really, any forecast that stretches beyond about two decades will axiomatically fall into the ‘crystal ball gazing’ category. But that’s not meant to dismiss the value in such an exercise (or others that attempt to take the long-term view). I just want to make it clear that any such long-term projection represent a ‘storyline’ (sensu IPCC SRES) rather than a ‘prediction’.
The aim of the NCO is to conceptualize nuclear power’s potential worldwide growth in the 21st Century, based on country-by-country low/high build-out assessments. Nationally aggregated data are given in tabular form here, for 2030, 2060 and 2100. The figures in this table are updated as new information comes to hand (for instance China recently upgraded their 2030 forecast from 150 to 200 GWe, and India’s 2060 goal from 350 to 500 GWe). The low/high projections are considered boundaries of a possible domain, with “low reflecting the minimum nuclear capacity expected and the high assuming a full policy commitment to nuclear power“. The forecast includes nations that currently use nuclear power, those which have expressed intention to entering the market (e.g. UAE, Egypt, Poland, Turkey) and potential future entrants (including Australia and Italy). Here is the overall projection:
As you can see, the domain (in green) is wide (!), with the lower bound approaching 2 TWe by 2100, and the high bound being >11 TWe (that’s the equivalent of 11,000 reactors, worldwide, of the size of an AP1000). To quote:
This order-of-magnitude estimate of future Clean-Energy Need gains credence from an alternative calculation. Today the IEA judges that that nuclear power’s 370 GW represent 6.3% of world primary energy consumption. If so, world energy consumption corresponds to the output from 5,875 Nuclear GW. If total primary energy consumption doubles by 2050, 85% of energy must be supplied by clean technologies in order to attain a 70% GHG cut from 2000 levels. On that basis, Clean-Energy Need in 2050 would be 9,990 Nuclear GW.
Here’s how the projections line up with the NCO’s anticipated demand curve (which factors in population growth and some serious energy efficiency):
Bold stuff, no doubt. Here’s my brief take — we can explore the pros/cons of the forecast further in the comments section.
Important features of the NCO include its explicit recognition of the need to deal urgently with the climate problem (and associated issues of environmental degradation), and the imperatives of a relatively rapid replacement of transportation fuels, whilst meeting the changing needs of the developing world. Some problems include a lack of transparency about how the low/high scenarios were parameterised, and overall, a lack of ambition for some countries — and for the worldwide 2050 target — which stands in juxtaposition to the grand ‘vision’ goals (in short, 3.7 TWe by 2060 just ain’t gonna cut it fellas). At least they admit the problem of this ‘clean-energy gap’ in the period 2000 to 2080 (red area of the above chart) — it’s just a pity they don’t really seek a way to plug it.
One underlying problem with the NCO forecast — a problem that is common to all large-scale energy outlooks I’ve seen — is the lack of explicit detail about technology type/role and their relative contribution to overall system reliability. Like other plans like those cited at the top of this post, the NCO also sets aside the (ultimately crucial) question of cost — which makes it difficult to assess feasibility and likelihood. Now don’t get me wrong — I can understand their reticence to tackle this thorny problem. The ‘nuclear renaissance’ might well be gearing up big time, but hasn’t really produced the goods yet, and this makes ‘settled down costs’ tough to gauge, even for Gen III nuclear power, let alone Gen IV. But leaving economics out does beg the question of how realistic it is assess relative fractions of nuclear vs fossil-CCS and ‘new renewables’. Indeed, it might be that some technologies never even make it to the starting gate, let alone see major commercial deployment, if allowed to compete on a cost-levelised playing field. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind. On that point, I’m co-authoring a technical paper with Martin Nicholson (lead author) on this very topic at present, which we plan to submit to a peer-reviewed journal within a month or so.
What of the technological mix WITHIN the nuclear domain? For instance, what is the likely proportion of Gen II, Gen III and Gen IV technologies, and how will that mix of contributions change over time? Which of the current Gen III designs will see the major deployment in the 2010 to 2030 period? What would such a massive nuclear build-out mean for uranium demand? How might nuclear power growth rates be constrained (or otherwise) by the availability of fissile material? On these seemingly rather important points, the NCO is, alas, silent. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to make an informed guess as to the answers…
In an upcoming post I’ll try to do just that (for a teaser, read this and this), and will propose a plan that’s even bolder than the NCO high scenario. But, before I write more on this technology breakdown, I need to add one more post, on fissile inventories, to the IFR Facts & Discussion series. That’s next.
Okay, for now, I want to hear your view on the NCO storyline. Shoot.
460 replies on “Nuclear century outlook – crystal ball gazing by the WNA”
Because, as I’ve explained before, it is too difficult. Also, it is not necessary until after we’ve got rid of all the imposts that are making nuclear uneconomic. Thirdly, it is just a distraction from tackling the real issue.
Once we’ve actually removed the distortions, we wont need to increase the cost of electricity by government intervention.
That is the short and simple answer. In fact, I do agree that we will internalise some of the costs of coal (but not with a tax), but I am not interested in chasing that rabbit until we’ve properly dealt with the removal of the impediments to nuclear. My reason is that I do not trust the motive. Partly because I know that the deep green activists have no intention of removing their opposition to nuclear. They simply want to raise the cost of electricity to make renewables and all their other irrational schemes closer to being viable. There is no limit to how far these extremists would like to push the cost of electricity. So, if we impose a cost on carbon now, we’ll never remove the imposts. The Greens will love it, raise the cost of electrcity, get their carbon tax to waste on all their irrational policies (MRET, feed in tarrifs and many more). They have no compassion for humanity. They just pretend to have.
I can’t respond to your comments because I don’t understand them – they are outside my area of expertise. However, I can say that I do not see business as evil. I see it as essential to our way of life, and infact what ultimately provides the funds that pay for it – all of it. When we have a business friendly environment, with appropriate light regulation, society is better off. There are always balances and nothing is perfect. But we are better off over all – much better off. The idea of raising the cost of electricity because of the demands of groups with a single issue agenda, is just plain dumb as far as I am concerned, at least until we’ve removed all the distortions that are preventing low cost clean electricity for substituting for coal.
Your reasoning makes little sense Peter.
Assume (as I do) that you are right in that renewables cost orders of magniture more than coal or gas or nuclear. Even a price of $100 per tonne isn’t getting wind or solar into the game, especially when one factors in the carbon cost of all that steel, copper and concrete.
All a system like that does is force the government to take nuclear power seriously. MRETs and FiT aren’t getting them there either because the pool of money to buy them won’t be large enough.
Garnaut, for the record, thought with a proper cap and trade, MRETs and other similar measures were redundant, and he was right.
Good on you Ewen,. I ditched the ACF years ago when they made a very sharp left turn. I noticed Ian Lowe had a little anti nuke letter in the Australian today and asserted that we don’t need nuclear because efficiencies and renewables and coming technologies will save us. He’s got his head and the collective heads of the ACF well and truly in the sand. They just don’t,won’t get it. We have to do our best to discredit them, and to stop them making out of date claims about the dangers of nuclear power and also unrealistic claims for what the renewables can achieve. Worldwide,sun and wind account for 0.6%of the world energy total and by 2030 that is expected to reach 2.8%. Of course, clean coal will ultimately pick up the balance needed. Pull the other one.
I assume that business is a tool. It can work well or badly, depending on the design and use of it.
Quite right, because as you say, the current rules put not value of human life chances. I want them priced in. Peter says its too tricky, but it is not hard to calculate and model. We do this all the time when deciding what to put on the PBS, for example. Law of tort is well established. We know what it costs to treat emphysema and black lung for example. We can work out the costs of mercury poisoning.
Not hard at all.
It is not hard for us enlightened people to make these calculations (my lack of ability to make wind calculations notwithstanding).
Well seriously, I suspect we don’t have much time, and to some extent we have to hold our noses to get a specific outcome. It is surely crazy to sideline nuclear power. We have to do our best to unsideline it. However each of us has our principles, and practicalities, and hopefully we can get a good result somehow.
I seem to be made in such a way that I would like to have a complete understanding of the whole world and it’s workings so that I can take a consistent, fair and hopefully optimal way forward.
I don’t have this so that’s not going to happen.
Peter, from your most recent remarks, it would seem that you think that, given a robust attitude to nuclear safety, it should be possible for Australia to switch from coal to nuclear electricity at no cost to the exchequer – even, possibly, to save money in so doing. In other words, your original estimate of an AU$ 35 billion cost would disappear altogether if one could contain the goldplating activities of regulators.
If the above is, indeed, a fair reflection of your views then I can fully appreciate your hostility to ETS or carbon taxes. Before endorsing them, however, I would like to raise certain issues:
1) I don’t know whether you take anthropogenic climate change seriously or not and it might be helpful to know. I see your route as more suited to dealing with problems relating to energy security and peak oil.
2) If it is necessary to obtain most of our energy electrically, then we are going to have to do a lot more in the way of nuclear construction than merely to replace exising baseload coal generated electricity with nuclear.
3) However much you manage to contain them, the upfront costs of nuclear power will be high, even though, over the lifetime of the plants, electricity from them will be the cheapest available.
4) I suspect that, in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, one will need a large scale transition to nuclear at a rate faster than you are envisaging. Should such be the case, it will need to be paid for and the money will have to come from somewhere.
5) If I am wrong (and I’m not alone with my views), perhaps you could explain how we can avoid dangerous climate change at no cost in the short term. If you can convince me about that, then I’ll willingly endorse your regulation/no tax approach.
Regardless of whether coal could be replaced with nuclear at acceptable speed for zero dollars (and one has to doubt that seriously) the broader question is — why should the polluters continue to get a free ride at the public expense?
For example, in 2004 in the US it was found that 20% of women of childbearing age had mercury levels in their hair that exceeded federal health standards. This is largely the direct and indirect result of the combustion of coal in the US.
As this paper shows coal clombustion has a whole host of nasty consequences
Again, why is Peter so keen to let these systematic poisoners off scott-free and to shift their responsibility to the public? Why does he imply that this is all simply “deep green” misinformation?
There is a persuasive explanation, but it speaks against him.
Again, why is Peter so keen to let these systematic poisoners off scott-free and to shift their responsibility to the public? Why does he imply that this is all simply “deep green” misinformation?
Possibly Peter recognises (quite apart from the moral argument he has framed around the issue) that to cripple coal by artificial price rises before an equivalent-price-or-cheaper alternative is percieved to be ready is politically impossible.
What makes the price rises artificial? It’s not as if these costs are not being borne one way or another by the public in lower health outcomes, increased public expenditure, lost productivity and generational debt.
The reality is that such an alternative will never be ready, but for the act of forcing these parasites to unlock their fingers from the public purse and indeed the public’s throat and to compel them to pay their way.
If tidying up nuclear regulation can also make it cheaper while not opening the door to spurious campaigns about declining safety, then that is all well and good, but success should not depend on this. Peter’s program sounds far too close to the protection of the interests of these unscrupulous rentseekers, in my opinion. In the US their cousins try to persuade people (ie their intended victims) that the toxic waste they dump in streams is “just like dirt”. These “people” can and will say anything, and here Peter comes along and says that our focus should be on how to abet them in their crime.
And there’s nothing the least bit “moral” (I would say ethical) about that.
“3) However much you manage to contain them, the upfront costs of nuclear power will be high, even though, over the lifetime of the plants, electricity from them will be the cheapest available.”
Thats exactly the problem once a cheaper energy source comes along.
Now it is not cheap. There is only the promise that it is going to be cheap.
Despite all the claims about cheap indian or chinese nuclear programs there is no way to prove these figures.
The UAE can tell you any price. They would not admit failure either if it does not turn out a success.
(Their whole society is a failure to beginn with, they would not need that much energy in the first place)
Utilities are raising prices every year. Their profit also rieses every year. I suspect that electricity prices are not really reflecting production prices.
In the end it does not make a difference if you try to go renewable or nuclear.
Some intelligent way to cope with the proplem would be to use energy when it is available. Sleep when the sun goes down. Work when there is power.
Take some time off. Maybe store some energy.
Siesta when the sun is killing you.
People work too much and use too much.
A cut down in use and a built up of nuclear generation are both unrealistic.
A forced cut in use through carbon taxes is much more realistic.
Douglas Wise, @ 6 April 2010 at 19.28
Responses to you points as follows:
1) I don’t think this is something that can be discussed on BNC. Too many extremists with deeply held beliefs. I am approaching this from the position that we need to change to clean, sustainable energy for many reasons, and reducing CO2 emissions is one of them. However, I do not agree with damaging Australia’s economy when other major emitters are not prepared to do so. It is a futile exercise. I also don’t believe the approach, espoused by some, that Australia should show the way to the rest of the world. How naive is that? I’d argue that my position is widespread and growing and my proposed approach can address everyone’s beliefs, if we stay rational.
2) True. If you would re-read the paper https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/09/emission-cuts-realities/ , you would see that this is addressed. We also need to recognise that the new demand does not develop overnight. It will increase over decades. We know we can gear up quickly in the developed countries if we need to. We’ve proven that in wars (remember the post by David Walters or was it DV82XL which described how USA ramped up to make tanks in the WW2). What we need to concern ourselves with is providing a way for the developing countries to move as quickly as possible to clean electricity. That means it must be cheap. Much cheaper than the developed world has now. So we need to develop as quickly as possible, cheaper ways to produce clean electricity, not, more costly ways. So we definitely do not want to take a step backwards and raise the bar on the cost for electricity in the west. We want to reduce the cost as fast as we can. Get it Ewen?
3) Please look at the paper. It shows the rate of capital expenditure (in figures not adjectives). And this is for high cost nuclear, which is exactly not what I am advocating. The investment funds will definitely be available if we establish the appropriate investment regime. The investors (e.g. the superannuation funds, international investors and mum and dad investors) will invest if they believe there is a stable regime, their capital investment is safe and the return is acceptable. We need to regulate to establish those conditions. That means getting rid of all the imposts to nuclear.
4) No, Douglas. It’s your turn. I’ve explained repeatedly my reasons. So now it’s your turn to reply to the points I’ve made on this issues (many of themn in reply to your continuing question about this). I will do submit, however, we can handle whatever build rate we need, certainly in the west. It is the developing countries that are the problem. So, again, we want to reduce the cost of clean electricity. I’d like to see us aim to halve the cost of nuclear and then halve it again. If you and the Alarmists really want to move faster, that is what you should be thinking of, not raising the cost with ETS and Carbon Tax.
I am getting a bit frustrated with the lack of input from others (except DV82XL) on how to reduce the imposts on nuclear. It seems there is an enormous belief that a carbon tax or ETS will fix all evil. Everyone keeps asking the same questions about them over and over and over again. But there is almost no attention to reducing the cost of nuclear.
Wouldn’t the answer to coal pollution be to replace coal with nuclear? If nuclear was cheaper than coal wouldn’t that be more likely to happen? If nuclear was cheaper than coal we would get the benefits of both cheap energy and pollution free energy. Why aim for just one?
I understand your concern about lowering nuclear safety but I don’t think anyone is proposing that. Peter is (I think) is looking to do away with superfluous safety. On this point DV82XL made some pertinent remarks. For example:
Why risk superfluous safety measures when they unnecessarily increase cost and can in fact be counterproductive?
@ Laver: I congratulate you once more very strongly both on style and content, this time in regard of the internalisation issue.
@Lang: the Besse-Davis NPP incident and other NPP incidents in e.g. Japan show how cost-cutting by your beloved private operators in the area of operator training led to injury or death.
I realise you are a neoliberal engineer with no interest in/knowledge of economic history. if you even knew something about the history of AU/UK, you would know what corruption and financial abuse and death (respectively) were bound up, to the benefit of your ideological forebears, in eg. the private mails and private railways in the 19th century before the State took them over, eg. the penny post in 1840. This is evidenced by documents of the time: the legislators were quite explicit.
I thus find it amusing that you claim rationality for your side and impute evil to all others.
So just hope, assumung that the Chinese install their 100 AP 1000s by 2020 or so, that it is not the profiteering offspring of Communist functionaries (see recent article in the FT. London) who have the cost-cutting oversight of them.
I haave read Tom Blees’s book. Have you? Why do you think he wants GREAT as a international regulatory solution, to use his acronym?
“What makes the price rises artificial? It’s not as if these costs are not being borne one way or another by the public in lower health outcomes, increased public expenditure, lost productivity and generational debt.’
The fact that you’d have to impose legislation of some kind in order to reach them. As for the health effects, they’re real, but the benefits of cheap electricity from coal outweigh that consideration (without it, there would be more disease, not less).
“The reality is that such an alternative will never be ready, but for the act of forcing these parasites to unlock their fingers from the public purse and indeed the public’s throat and to compel them to pay their way.”
I take it you’re arguing that politics is the main obstacle here, not technology (at least I hope you don’t mean that you think it will never be technically possible to produce cheaper power from nuclear plants than from coal). I don’t get what you mean by ‘never be ready’. If the proposals are technically ready to go, then adroit propaganda can get the point across to the public. That is the point when some political action will be necessary, to get the regulatory framework and workforce developed, and the first build underway.
I rather suspect that when it comes down to it, the program will be designed and overseen at every stage by the government, rather than relying on indirect economic incentives to cajole the nation towards a low-carbon economy.
“Peter’s program sounds far too close to the protection of the interests of these unscrupulous rentseekers, in my opinion.”
I actually saw it as the protection of the (short term) interests of society as a whole, the poor included, given the utility of cheap electrical power. Hence my description of the position as moral. I’m aware that various ethical systems have different criteria for assessing morality.
Most assuredly …
Nuclear is cheaper than coal, but we aren’t getting it, mostly (in Australia) for political reasons but partly because coal is allowed to store its poisonous waste in the biosphere including the living tissue of human beings, for free.
That must stop, regardless of what we do about making nuclear a more cost-effective solution. There’s really no connection between the two issues. Trying to cut the cost of nuclear by 75% so it can compete with a subsidy in lowered human jhealth handed to coal (and fossil fuels more generally) is likely to defer nuclear for much longer than is desirable and present it as if it was a demand to lower safety.
Recall home insulation. Was that discussed rationally? Of course not. Do you think a concept such as “superfluous safety” would fly? Nope. QANTAS isn’t getting away with it and it has a much better reputation than nuclear power.
For the record. I agree that genuinely superfluous safety measures ought to be dispensed with, but that wouldn’t be a selling point I’d make in the campaign. I’d be selling the opposite — nuclear power — 100 times as safe as coal and one million times as clean.
While I can see your point of view from an ideological perspective, I’m not sure you are correct from the practical point of view.
You seem to be ignoring already existing emissions control regulations which are improving air quality and imposing extra costs on coal plants. Even the new plants being built in China produce less non CO2 emissions than their old ones. In the UK, these regulations are making it very expensive to use biomass waste for carbon neutral energy, thus they may be actually contributing to more CO2 emissions than necessary while reducing non CO2 emissions.
You mention the high mercury levels in 20% of US women. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if female longevity isn’t increasing in the States. As one who has been involved in the licensing of animal pharmaceuticals, I know that regulators demand residue levels that are very many times lower than those that might possibly do any harm. (Perhaps they’re a bit like nuclear regulators!) You refer to fluorosis in British cattle. As far as I am aware, this occurs in stock grazing downwind of brickworks but I have never heard of such a phenomenon downwind of coal plants.
Anyway, we can all agree that the sooner we can get rid of coal the better. I endorse the views of Peter and Marion that, by keeping nuclear low cost, this will happen more quickly.
“I am getting a bit frustrated with the lack of input from others (except DV82XL) on how to reduce the imposts on nuclear.”
1. Initially only use designs which have been licensed in jurisdictions whose safety record we approve of as suitable for Australia. Use the work that has already been done, and don’t reinvent the wheel here.
2. Enact legislation to prevent cost blowouts from frivolous lawsuites by antinukes, and enact stiff penalties for sabotage (in the form of ‘direct action’ by antinukes).
I’m fine with that.
That’s like the problem in which two people agree to kill the third person so the majority will be better off, only more complex. Some people are better off and some people are a lot worse off. The tradeoff is false too because as we both agree, with nuclear one need not make the trade.
I’m arguing politics and economics. We need to make coal pay its way. It has an unfair advantage much larger than the subsidy to renewables.
The first thing we need to do is to realise that coal is the principal rival to nuclear and the biggest threat to human welfare right now. To get the opponents of nuclear to see that they would be measurably better off with a nuclear-centered energy system is a first goal. Pitching the rights of polluters is the antithesis of such a program.
“The fact that you’d have to impose legislation of some kind in order to reach them. As for the health effects, they’re real, but the benefits of cheap electricity from coal outweigh that consideration (without it, there would be more disease, not less).”
The health impacts of coal may be “less costly” than the impacts of the absence of the electricity a coal power plant would generate, but for new build would it not be the case that the price of (coal + external impacts of coal) would be more than price of (nuclear + external impacts of nuclear).
However, in the absence of any carbon price or other internalisation of externalities those investing in new generation capacity only have to take onboard the direct generation costs and not the overall costs to the economy and society. New coal more costly than new nuclear but in essence coal plant investors are being subsidised by society as a whole that has to pay for those external costs.
OK … so they live longer but have reduced mental acuity and also have children that are similarly afflicted — this is your calculus?
Please research more then — or just read the whole quote.
As I’ve said, as long as coal is subsidised to the extent it is, there will be no parity in practice. This is a program for b-a-u and I find it completely retrograde.
“That’s like the problem in which two people agree to kill the third person so the majority will be better off, only more complex. Some people are better off and some people are a lot worse off. The tradeoff is false too because as we both agree, with nuclear one need not make the trade.”
Actually, a society without electricity will be medically far worse off than one with electricity powered by coal. In all likelihood, many if not most of the people who currently succumb to respiratory and other ailments attributable to coal pollution would probably not live long enough to be eligible for that death in the unelectrified alternative. With nuclear we don’t need to make that trade in the future, but for now we’re stuck with the infrastructure we have.
“We need to make coal pay its way. It has an unfair advantage much larger than the subsidy to renewables.”
Coal’s greatest unfair advantage over renewables is that for all its failings, it actually works and does it pretty well. That’s the real obstacle to getting rid of it; it’s just so damn useful! So useful, in fact, that our dependence is currently extreme, and screwing around with the supply is going to cause major problems. Peter is right. We need to undercut it.
“The first thing we need to do is to realise that coal is the principal rival to nuclear and the biggest threat to human welfare right now. To get the opponents of nuclear to see that they would be measurably better off with a nuclear-centered energy system is a first goal. Pitching the rights of polluters is the antithesis of such a program.”
I agree with the first sentence, but I do not agree that the second follows on logically. The first goal of the pronuclear movement at this time should be the organisation of current supporters into an effective political force rather than engaging in outreach to our adversaries.
The health impacts of coal may be “less costly” than the impacts of the absence of the electricity a coal power plant would generate, but for new build would it not be the case that the price of (coal + external impacts of coal) would be more than price of (nuclear + external impacts of nuclear).
Of course. I’m all for phasing out coal by replacing it with nuclear worldwide in as short a time as practical.
“However, in the absence of any carbon price or other internalisation of externalities those investing in new generation capacity only have to take onboard the direct generation costs and not the overall costs to the economy and society. New coal more costly than new nuclear but in essence coal plant investors are being subsidised by society as a whole that has to pay for those external costs.”
I’m given to understand that the new coal plants which are going to come on line in the future will cost more than the current generation, so our electricity prices will be going up anyway. Going over the information provided here and elsewhere on the economics of nuclear power, I have reasonable expectation that in this country it should be able to match or undercut coal in cost.
Peter Lang #53801:
Peter, undeterred, I’ll try another bite of the cherry.
Your response to my point 1 indicates that you think it would be foolish to transition to clean energy at rate faster than any other economy lest it put Australia at a competitive disadvantage. This was reinforced by an earlier comment that coal producers should be free to export the extra coal that wouldn’t be needed by the redundant Australian coal plants, thus avoiding any need to compensate them for leaving it in the ground. This is a reasonable attitude for one who isn’t a global warming alarmist . However, the wait for global agreement, a desirable goal, might be a long one. By then, we would probably be kissing goodbye to civilisation. Podargus, I think, made the point that we can’t wait for the last passenger to board the bus. A consortium of states could go ahead with rapid transition, protecting themselves from non compliant states with import tariffs until the latter got on board.
Your response to my points 2 and 3 was yet another invitation to read your excellent paper on Emission Cuts Realities. I have now been through it 4 or 5 times but regret that I haven’t yet managed to learn it off by heart. Looking at those of your assumptions which relate to the escalating need for electricity to 2050, they were based on ABARE (2007) figures which you then projected forward from when they stopped in 2030. Roughly, this provides 60% more in 2050 than currently generated. This was, I think, a BAU figure. You then made a further assumption that efficiency savings would cover the electrification of transport and other such activities that currently generate CO2 (eg desalination). I hope you’re right. I don’t know what proportion of Australian energy use is provided by electricity. In the UK, it’s about 20%. A 60% hike would bring this to 32% (for simplicity, I’m assuming that electrical energy is equivalent to other types – which it isn’t). Anyway, I would have thought that this would have been insufficient, regardless of efficiency savings, to achieve 80% emissions reduction.
On my point 4, you invite me to explain why I think transition rate needs to be faster. I get that impression from the copious reading I’ve done but I’m not an expert on climate science. However, if Barry were to endorse your Emission Cuts plan as a sufficient and proportional Australian response to AGW, then I’ll change my opinion and back you. In other words, if all Western democracies and BRIC countries followed the Australian example you recommend, to an equivalent degree and in proportion to their current levels of emissions, would we have stabilised CO2 at less than 450ppmv and avoided dangerous climate change (350ppmv for those with a more cautious disposition)? I know Barry endorses your view that nuclear is the most most economic transition technology but that is a separate issue. Anyway, Peter, I hope you can appreciate that I’m trying to be flexible as well as to learn and provoke others to express their views.
I share your frustration that relatively few others are joining in. I suspect that they may be bored to tears so perhaps we should shup up for a bit.
O.K. I agree, in Australia it’s mostly political and coal is allowed to shirk the responsibility for much of it’s consequences, but Australians just aren’t scared of coal. Arguing for more expensive coal when there is no price-equivalent alternative, isn’t going to wash either. That is, people are not going to be happy to pay more for coal and be forced to continue using coal, this is just going to lead to more climate denialism. We need to get nuclear accepted as an option – before we even think about messing with prices – so they actually have a least cost option.
In Australia we appear to have a two pronged problem. Firstly, we need nuclear to be as cheap as coal currently is (largely to keep pensioners, low paid workers, conservatives, climate skeptics, head in the sanders, etc happy) and secondly, we need to allay the general publics’ fear of nuclear power. Can these two problems be any more at odds?
To lower nuclear costs without raising the cost of coal we need to address issues such as over-regulation/legal stalling but these issues are a consequence of public fear. So, to address over-regulation we need to address public fear. If we can reduce fear, then we can reduce regulation, then we will reduce cost.
How do we reduce fear?
We need people to take a serious look at nuclear. Ideally the public needs to be presented with something like two clean energy scenarios, one for nuclear power and one for renewables. For anyone in the least concerned about climate change, nuclear power’s lower cost and greater capacity for emissions reduction compared to renewables has got to lead them to consider nuclear power. But Australian politicians won’t do that because they are afraid the public is too afraid of nuclear.
We won’t look at nuclear because we’re afraid of nuclear, but we can’t resolve our fears surrounding nuclear without being prepared to look at it. Arrgh. It’s all so frustratingly circular.
I don’t know the answer, so I guess my question is, how would you address the issue of fear, in order to get nuclear accepted as viable and reduce costs?
Someone asked for more estimates for the CANDU 6.
The Ontario Power Authority in its report Supply Mix Advice Report calculates the capital cost of a CANDU 6 nuclear generating station at $2845CDN/KWe and the Canadian Nuclear Association sets the price at $2598CDN/KWe, but assumes two are built at the same time, which is common practice, as certain features can be used in common (like fuel handling.)
However, as I wrote up thread. export pricing is based on how much local content is being used, which can reduce the price.
AECL will not release cost breakdowns for turn-key contracts, considering such information to be proprietary.
Marion Brook, on 6 April 2010 at 23.38 Said:
“I don’t know the answer, so I guess my question is, how would you address the issue of fear, in order to get nuclear accepted as viable and reduce costs?”
It is important to understand that most of the regulatory shenanigans I described above were not due entirely to fear, incompetence, or ignorance, but were transparent efforts to raise the cost of nuclear to make it uncompetitive.
The role of the fossil-fuel lobby simply cannot be discounted in this matter, and it is this group, working behind the scenes that drives the antinuclear climate.
Canada’s 22 nuclear generating stations were built under the regulatory watch of the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), which was made up of professionals, and who’s mandate was to drive the orderly and safe development of nuclear energy in Canada. There was not one single serious accident on their watch, other than the Chalk River incident, which was with a non-power reactor, and which occurred very early on in the story. Not one power reactor ever had a major problem.
This agency was replace by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which is a creature of dirty politics and exists primarily to get in the way of progress in nuclear energy. It was initially chaired by a certified agrologist, previously working for Agriculture Canada, who also happened to be deeply involved in the Liberal Party of Canada. The current chairman was taken from the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs. Other members have similar credentials: one from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, another from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, yet another an ex-Member of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly . You see the pattern.
These are the clowns responsible for the medical isotope shortage, and the reason why a nuclear generating station has not been built in the country since. Not only that their meddling in the Point Leperau refurbishment has beggared Energy New Brunswick, and guaranteed that the plans to build a second merchant NPP there has been shelved for ever.
There is no doubt in my mind that this group is nothing more than a creature of natural gas interests, out to protect their master’s turf.
This has nothing to do with public fear.
I would be most happy to do this, if DV82XL wishes it. He has my email if he wants to pursue this.
I also wrote about regulatory ratcheting and regulatory turbulence in my book. One important source of information for me was Cohen’s excellent book, chapter 9, “COSTS OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS — WHAT WENT WRONG?”
I wonder if you could ask Rod Adams for some ideas about reducing the cost of nuclear?
I’ll see what I can do.
I am currently working on contract doing a technical audit, and much of what I write here is off the top of my head, with a minimal amount of research and verification. Were I to write a lead article, I would have to compile my comments in some sort connected way, check that all my facts were straight and reference them properly. It also goes without saying that I would need someone with a better command of English than I have to point out the errors that would surely accumulate.
To do this properly will take some time given the demands of my current project.
The reality is that if, for argument’s sake, fossil fuels (including coal) had a carbon cost of $100 per tonne, but the ban on nuclear were maintained, the big winner would be gas. Coal seam bed methane, other NG, and maybe landfill. A lot more waste biomass would also be used. The coal that was used would be used a lot more carefully to extract maximum value from it. Cogen would be done.
The money raised could be used to progressively evacuate people from the footprint so that toxicity would be minimised and there would be cash to clean up emissions substantially. The most toxic plant in the world — Hazelwood — would go. So would Muja.
It’s possible we would import more aluminium, but since that is heavily subsidised, that would be a good thing economically as well as environmentally. People would be more careful in how they used their electrical power. Designing buildings around energy efficiency would become viable and the whole McMansion-on-the-urban-fringe thing would begin to disappear. We could move to higher urban densities and begin more intensive use of public transport. The air in our cities would be cleaner and this would cut the money we need to spend in health. Carbon intensity would fall dramatically.
In short, this would move us in the direction of picking the “low-hanging fruit”. It would buy us the time we need to have the policy debate we must have on nuclear. As Tom Blees noted recently, by 2015 the IFR will probably be up and running in Russia. I see this as being an excellent opportunity to revisit the nuclear question with the old shibboleths about nuclear “waste” and non-proliferation now working for us rather than against us. The truth of the matter is that even if we got the cost of building nuclear plants down to about $2000 per Kw and even if we won the debate by 2015 it would be 2025 at the earliest before the first plant could be operating. In the meantime a whole bunch more coal and oil will be burned and we won’t have laid the foundations for a clean energy economy. If by 2025 we have reconfigured our cities and have large swathes of our vehicles running on the grid then that nuclear capacity will really make a difference.
Well yes, but who said anything about zero electricity? That’s a strawman. The question is how do we trade the risks and costs of producing electricity effectively with the risks and costs of having none of it?
See my answer to Marion …
Given that the main obstacle is political, I don’t see how you can avoid reaching out to those who currently oppose nuclear. We must show good faith. We must persuade them that we are more consistent and pragmatic environmentalists than they are and not at all the catspaws of big business. Only when we do that will our political groups apeear to be more than handfuls of eccentrics handing out leaflets on street corners.
If for argument’s sake, the bulk of those who saw themselves as environmentalists were on board, do you think this would make no difference? Do you think that you can get them on board without making fossil fuel meet its obligations?
I saw your first sentence here and didn’t bother reading any further.
I didn’t say that. Itis a complete distortion. I am not happy that you keep attempting to put words in my mouth to suit your argument. Please be more careful.
I wwant Austrralia to transition to clean electrcity as fast as possible. I also want elevtrcity to be as cheap as possible. You problem is you can only think of carbon taxes. You mind is locked into this being the only solution.
What an excellent, clear thinking comment. Let’s consider how we can progress from from the question in your last paragraph, which asks:
My suggestion is we need to establish a faculty in at least one university in each mainland state capital, and Canberra.
The faculty’s Terms of Reference would be:
1. Determine how Australia can move to clean energy (or perhaps just electricity) as quickly as possible.
2. Determine practicable options, and the overall costs to the country of each option.
3. Determine ways to proceed – how to implement the changes, fund them and facilitate the earliest start and optimum roll-out rate.
4. Advise how to provide the needed skills.
5. Establish education and research facilities in the universities for nuclear engineering (if it is a necessary component of achieving low cost, low emissions energy in Australia)
6. Establish education and research facilities for the social engineering that will be needed to enable Australia to implement the changes as quickly as possible. This is the one that addresses Marion’s question: “how do we address the issue of fear?”
7. Continually brief the media and politicians on progress in an open and transparent way. (like Barry’s new web site is intending to do).
This to be funded in the May 2010 budget !!!. Just 4 weeks to go or we wait another year !!!!. Better get started !!!!!. We’ve wasted a lot of time already talking about raising taxes. A total ‘no go’ area !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Marion, as I progressed I move from talking with you to talking AT others. Sorry. I’m told I do this all the time.
Oh. By the way, in parallel with the education revolution (not Rudd’s, mine, as laid out above), I also propose we set up the modern equivalent of the Snowy Mountains Authority. This is to be a federal government body (like the Reserve Bank Australia), headed by an engineer (the modern equivalent of Sir William Hudson). This will be charged with bringing lowest possible cost, acceptably safe, clean electricity to Australia. They will work out the best way to achieve the stated objectives within their terms of reference which will be set by government.. The best way to progress the transition may involve public ownership of electricity system or whatever is determined to be the best able to achieve the objectives.
“Oh. By the way, in parallel with the education revolution (not Rudd’s, mine, as laid out above), I also propose we set up the modern equivalent of the Snowy Mountains Authority. This is to be a federal government department, headed by an engineer (the modern equivalent of Sir William Hudson). This will be charged with bringing lowest possible cost, acceptably safe, clean electrcity generation to Australia. They will work with government to work out the best wauy to do this. That may involve public ownership of electricity or any option. Whatever is best able to meet the challenge.”
I suspect that the people at ANSTO would consider that they should be in charge of most of the stuff you’ve advocated here. They were ready to ramp up their activities in that direction just before the last change of government.
Peter Lalor has eluded to the reactor problem associated with the 6.8 Richter Scale earthquake near Niigata in NW Japan on July 16th 2007. That earthquake caused four Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power reactors close to the epicentre automatically to shut down safely. This is as they are designed to do at a ground acceleration at less than half of the “keep operating” design basis for each reactor. Three other units at the plant were not operating at the time. All will be checked for damage before returning to service. Some 1.2 cubic metres of water containing radioactivity equivalent to three household smoke detectors[and well within regulatory limits] was spilled from a storage pool and drained away. Oil from an electrical transformer at the plant caught fire and was not extinguished for two hours. In the city, 10 people were killed and there was major damage to houses and infrastructure. At this stage, the most notable feature of the event has been the media attention implying significant radiation leaks and damage of which there has been no evidence, and corresponding local government nervousness.
These facts were gleaned from the World Nuclear News weekly digest of July 20th 2007 Peter. In May 2009, all reactors at the site resumed operation.
“Given that the main obstacle is political, I don’t see how you can avoid reaching out to those who currently oppose nuclear. We must show good faith. We must persuade them that we are more consistent and pragmatic environmentalists than they are and not at all the catspaws of big business.”
No, we don’t have to persuade them, we have to pursuade the general public.
Only when we do that will our political groups apeear to be more than handfuls of eccentrics handing out leaflets on street corners.”
The pro-nuclear movement isn’t even at that stage yet, and when we start, it will probably have the immediate effect of generating interest from those who’ve only ever seen the anti-nukes in that role.
If for argument’s sake, the bulk of those who saw themselves as environmentalists were on board, do you think this would make no difference? Do you think that you can get them on board without making fossil fuel meet its obligations?
If by “the bulk of those who saw themselves as environmentalists” you mean the mass of citizenry who think we ought to do our best to protect the environment and keep the planet liveable, of course it will be good to have them on board, but I expect that to happen naturally as the campaign ramps up anyway, since the pro-nuclear cause is the best policy match for those aims. We just have to inform people that this is so. They’re not who I’m talking about. I’m saying we shouldn’t waste our time and effort trying to convert the unconvertable, waiting forever for a sanctioning of our aims which is never going to come. These people must be marginalised, not elevated to the status of respected critics.
I don’t suppose Finrod, you’d include Barry Brook in the “unconvertible” would you? There was a time when he was opposed to nuclear power on environmental grounds. James Lovelock came across. So did Mark Lynas.
So was I, for most of my life as I really believed that it was a risk not worth taking and that renewables would do the job nicely. I believe our correspondent John D Morgan also shared this view.
While there probably are some obsessives who really are moved by the kind of angst that puts them beyond the reach of reason, in my opinion, most are not. Most of us have spent the last decade not merely convinced that evidence-based policy is key to good outcomes but repeatedly asserting that to others. When it dawns on most environmentalists just how advantageous nuclear power can prove I have no doubt these will prove an invaluable resource for progress on this matter.
To clarify once again, I was never opposed to nuclear power on environmental grounds. I was simply not an advocate of it as a primary solution, until I looked into the matter in depth (the science/engineering behind both nuclear power and the alternatives). The history of this blog details the evolution of my thought on the matter quite clearly.
DV82XL @ 6 April 2010 at 23.43
Thank you. That is exactly the information I was looking for.
I have two questions. Are these figures 2009 C$? If not, could you please give me what you would expect them to be in 2010 $?
Secondly, could you give me the expected cost of electricity ($/MWh sent out from the power station.
If you can give me these two figures, I can plug them into the spreadsheet I used for the “Emission Cuts Realities” paper, and see how much more we need to cut to be ahead of new coal.
In the meantime, let’s play with the figures you’ve provided.
The $C and $A are close enough to call them equivalent. Let’s take the cost for the twin system at say $2600/kW. I’ll call this a $ figure for 2010 for now so we can compare it with the ACIL-Tasman figures that are the basis of the “Emission Cuts Realities” paper. The ACIL-Tasman report to the Australian Energy Market Regulator is here. It is a mine of very valuable, up to date and authoritative information of present and future electricity generation costs and CO2 emissions for Australia’s National Electricity Market. http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/419-0035.pdf
Table 35, p58 gives the capital cost for new super critical, air cooled, black coal as $2,291/kW, and ultra-supercritical as $2.451/kW. The equivalent figures for brown coal are: $2,520/kW and $2,697/kW. So the twin CANDU 6 at $2,600/kW (settled down cost) sits fairly well in amongst the coal.
I argue it is fair to use Air cooled in the comparison rather than water cooled for these reasons:
1. We are a dry country, desperately short of water, and we will need the water for other reasons – eg for our projected 35 million inhabitants which will be here while these power stations are operating.
2. Our two newest coal fired power stations, Millmerran and Kogan Creek are both air cooled, super critical black coal, so I can see Australia ever building a new water cooled coal power station.
3. Nuclear should be located on the coast so it uses sea water for cooling (IMHO), so it is fair to compare air cooled coal (which have to be located inland near where the coal is mined) with sea-water cooled nuclear.
For your interest and completeness (although I don’t believe these figures) the table provides projected costs for Ultra Super Critical with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as follows: Air cooled black = $3,922/kW and Air Cooled Brown = $4,415/kW. Who’d want CCS in preference to nuclear at these costs? I guess for completeness, I should say the this table gives the cost of nuclear as $5207/kW. However, the terms of reference for the nuclear make it clear that it is not wanted, thank you very much, and certainly anywhere near the coast!!
Much as I respect ANSTO for what they do, and do very well, they are totally the wrong type of organisation to head up an engineering effort like the modern equivalent of the Snowy Mountaisn Authority. ANSTO is a science and research organisation – definitely not an engineering organisation – appologies to the engoineers at ANSTO, I am sure you appreciate what I am saying. I am talking about implementing a massive build program with fantastic project management, design control and construction supervision – with least-cost being a major focus.
i>Much as I respect ANSTO for what they do, and do very well, they are totally the wrong type of organisation to head up an engineering effort like the modern equivalent of the Snowy Mountaisn Authority.
You may well be right Peter, and I’d say that our host at ANSTO was probably not referring to a role quite as wide as the one you’ve proposed here, but he seemed very confident that if we ever have a nuclear power program in this country, they have all the skills necessary to underpin that effort.
Sorry. Try this.
Much as I respect ANSTO for what they do, and do very well, they are totally the wrong type of organisation to head up an engineering effort like the modern equivalent of the Snowy Mountain Authority.
You may well be right Peter, and I’d say that our host at ANSTO was probably not referring to a role quite as wide as the one you’ve proposed here, but he seemed very confident that if we ever have a nuclear power program in this country, they have all the skills necessary to underpin that effort
I don’t suppose Finrod, you’d include Barry Brook in the “unconvertible” would you? There was a time when he was opposed to nuclear power on environmental grounds. James Lovelock came across. So did Mark Lynas.
So was I, for most of my life as I really believed that it was a risk not worth taking and that renewables would do the job nicely. I believe our correspondent John D Morgan also shared this view.
Is this supposed to be a serious question? Anyone of goodwill who has remained anti-nuclear to this point will most likely change their minds as our campaign ramps up. they should not be considered a priority.
My apologies Barry as it seems I’ve read your account of your transition a little carelessly.
@Peter Lang – Any attempt I make to adjust the figures I offered to 2010 values would probably distort the picture more than it would clarify it, The numbers I quoted were from late 2008, and given the path of the global economy since then are probably as accurate as we can hope for estimating the cost of a domestic NPP in Canada, before the usual array of cost overruns caused by the bureaucracy, banks, barratry, and other bastards that bugger nuclear builds, cuts in.
Retail price for the power is a difficult thing to give a reliable number for, since the only one that matters is the net cost to the generating station that produces it, and the only numbers we are likely to find are net retail. Bruce Generating Station in Ontario sold power to the grid for an average of about 2.4¢/kWh, last year but the cost of it to them I could not determine. Keep in mind that the power market is very volatile here and for several hours, a few months ago, the spot price Bruce was offering was -5.1¢/kWh (yes, negative!) due to warm temperatures this Winter.
Thanks you. I didn’t realise the foigures were from 2008. I got the report you mentioned on line (or thought I did) and I thought the figures were 2005 figuresd. Knowing how much the capital cost of baseload plants had increased from 2003 to 2009 (reported in the MIT update for coal and nuclear) I was concerned that the figures could be too low by as much as 50%. Hence, my asking for what year the figures applied to.
Regarding electrcity cost, I wwas definitely not interested in price. This is a totally different issue and varies enormously by the minute. I was looking for the long run marginal cost which is calculated from factors like: overnight construction cost, build period, investment rates for debt and equity, cost of fuel and operation and maintenance costs, expected life of plant, etc. This figure is commonly used for comparing options such as coal versus gas versus nuclear.
This discussion is certainly the longest or almost longest on the BNC in quite some time.
We don’t need “taxes”. We need “policy”. We need decisions by countries that we are going to end fossil fuel and replace it with nuclear generated electricity and nuclear synthesized fuels.
For sure, if you “let the market decide” nothing will get done. Things that are of national policy ‘size’ are not decided…quite literally “willy nily” by “the Market”. The COST of electricity is actually less important here than the PRICE ratepayers pay.
All the base load power sources come in at between, in the US, from under 2 cents/ KW (coal and hydro) to slightly above that, up to, if you include NG when the price is higher, about 6 or 7 cents a KW. SO WHAT? It ALL comes in cheaper than what I have to pay for it at my brand new “smart meter” PG&E installed last year. I pay 11 cents folks. Admittedly, high for the US, where it averages 7 to 9 cents. So, *anything* that comes in UNDER 11 cents (it goes to 14 cents if I use more than 260KWs/month) is then acceptable by “the masses”.
So then WTF are we really talking about? The actual differences are so little that we need a policy that states, clearly, *legally* that country “A” is going to phase out coal and natural gas and replace it with nuclear over the next “X” number of years. We will will finance it with a combination of state credit and private investment where appropriate. Costs can be recovered the following ways….
No market, no “I’m cheaper than you are” crap. It doesn’t really matter. We are talking about the future of the planet from the point of view of our climate and the future of humanity from the point of view of development. We need to do it, so we need to convince people we need to do it and make it The Law.
Thats probably a fair reflection of my position from about two years ago, Ewen, although to be perfectly honest I have difficulty now recalling exactly my thinking on NP from that time. I believe that is simply a consequence of my thinking not having been rationally constructed. I think my views were probably formed around reservations regarding waste, safety and proliferation, uncritical acceptance of typical ‘anti’ ideas on those topics, and a dose of political and cultural tribalism thrown in for good measure. Along with a fair amount of techno-optimism for renewables without an appreciation of how serious their limitations were.
But I changed these ideas fairly quickly and fairly painlessly just as soon as I chose to look at NP in any detail. And I think a lot of the opposition would fall away with a little bit of education.
Your point about Lynas, Lovelock et al. is well taken, and is why I think there is much to be gained by courting the environmental movement – at some point fear of real climate change will trump fear of fantasy nuclear disasters.
But I also agree with Finrod that they are not the most important demographic. Mainstream Australia, without strong views, when faced with brownouts and blackouts, will simply look at their taxes and look at their rates and look at their power bills, and choose to build the cheapest available electricity that can be trusted to be reliable. This will never be renewable power, so we’d better make sure nuclear is cheaper than coal.
Peter Lang – As far as I know that report was 2008 however you may be right, I was working from a collection of notes I keep, and draw on for these comments. As I mentioned up thread I cannot at this moment verify everything I post to the degree I would like to.
Unfortunately I think I have come to the limit of what I can offer in the way of cost/price data without investing more time than I have at my disposal right now, and again I reiterate: your mileage may vary. Canadian pricing is not by any means an accurate reflection of the export price of a CANDU nuclear generating station, and it would be an error for you to assume that any figures derived from such would apply to an Australian project. I assume that there would be a fairly high amount of local content, which could drive the price down, and other factors based on market segmentation, delivery dates, and just how many other projects AECL (or its successor company) has in progress or already booked. And it should not be forgotten that there is now a competitor in NPCIL for PHWR plants which may also pull down the price in the short term.
Consequently I caution you from attempting to refine these numbers much beyond what they are now – they are ballpark estimate. Nevertheless they do illustrate that a CANDU NPP is competitive with other modern thermal plants before the carbon burden is factored in, which is the key point I wished to make.
And the rough account of your thinking on the nuclear issue probably also reflected mine. I had some ill-defined fears of waste and nuclear weapons, an optimism in relation to renewables (and perhaps some pride that we here in Australia were so fortunate to have it all) and a basic suspicion of anything to do with the Liberals since if they said it, it was probably part of an attempt to trash the environment make some some shonky operator rich.
Like you though, AGW concentrated my mind on the issues and forced me to think about it a lot more closely. And in the mid 1990s, I had no idea just how dreadful coal was. I suspect many greens even now don’t know.
I disagree with you though on which is the most important demographic. While only about 10-12% are green voters there is probably a further 15-20% who are sympathetic to green issues. The ALP could not move against this group even if 55% of the population were in favour, because most all of them would be people who are tribal Liberals and would not vote ALP, while the ALP base would defect. The Libs would oppose and leave the ALP wedged.
OTOH were the Greens to adopt a positive posture, the ALP left would likely follow, neutralising the potential wedge. All the tribal voters stay where they are and the Liberals can hardly declare their opposition. –> Policy change.
What a really good debate has just finished at the National Press Club. It was between Ziggy Switkowski (for nuclear energy) and Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens Party, (against). Very enjoyable.
My short review:
Ziggy Switkowski – sane, balanced, factual. Pure sanity throughout.
Bob Brown – all emotive. Where will the power stations be located? What about the proliferation? We can do it all with energy efficienty, solar panels and windmills!!.
Ziggy does advocate a price on carbon of $15 – $40 tonne carbon and says that will raise electricity prices for the household consumer from 15c/kWh to 20 c/kWh by 2020. (as you know, I don’t agree, but I haven’t managed to get through to him on that yet :) )
There was lots of good stuff from Ziggy in this debate and lots of enjoyment from Bob Brown. I belly laughed my way through his stuff (I think even he knows how ridiculous most of it is, but it’s great politics and the irrational Greens love it and will vote for him and no nukes).
I loved the whole hour. You should be able to view it on line somewhere.
This is a great start to the debate in Australia. Bring it on!
One line that does strike a chord with the public is hypocrisy. Rudd’s two major election promises back in 2007 were repeal of anti-union legislation and climate action. Apparently the latter turned out too hard. I’ve found that it’s not just me who is irritated with Rudd basking in the limelight of a climate champion. Recall the Bali hi fives and giving a condescending speech at Copenhagen. For what? His only serious mitigation program, the insulation scheme, was screwed up. Coal exports to new customer China are going gangbusters, shame about the odd glitch like damaging the Reef. The ETS won’t be implemented this Parliamentary term even if the Libs and Greens approve it. In any case it is convoluted and weak.
The Qld, NSW and Vic governments all want to build or extend coal plant though expensive gas seems more likely. While I’m sure the public doesn’t want higher power bills I think they like dishonest politicians even less. The public should now insist they put up or shut up about carbon cuts.
Thank you for the cost data you provided and for all the other very wise advice too. It has all been very helpful. I think it has progressed the debate on this thread enormously. I hope you can find the time to keep contributing and sorry if I pushed too hard.
It is really hard to get compartable cost data. I accept/agree with your points on this. It is way to hard for citizens to try to do these sorts of copmparisons properly. We have to depend on expert reports such as ACIL-Tasman, EPRI, MIT who all do these comparisons on a comparable basis within in each report, but we cannot compare the costs in one report to those in another because of their different assumptions. And none of them compare all the technologies we are interested. ACIL Tasman, the most useful for what I want, did not include wind or solar, for example. The costs for geothermal and CCS are obviously low biased, and the nuclear high biased to suits their client’s political master’s policies. And none of the comparison reports I have seen include an ecvaluation of the costs of the CANDU NPP’s.
I agree with almost all you say in your recent post, but have to pick on one minor point, (for the sake of an argument , and perhaps to correct a potential misunderstanding that could arise in some readers minds.
It is the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), not the price, we need to concern ourselves with if we want to compare technologies. And we need to compare on the basis of equivalent power quality, same year cost basis, and ‘sent out’ electricity. We need to use properly comparable: discount rate, rates for debt and equity, plant life expectancy and other factors.
The price to the consumer depends on lots of other factors. Starting at the PRICE the generator gets for its electricity, this varies between negative and +$12,500/MWh in the Australian National Electricity Market. It can swing wildly every five minutes. The difference between cost and price can be compared with what happens when a farmer takes his cattle to a sale where they are auctioned. His cost, is his cost of production for those cattle. The price he gets at the sale depends on many factors on the day of the sale, such as how many bidders, what other cattle are offered, are their more or less cattle at the sale than the buyers want to buy. This is similar to what controls the sale PRICE of the electricity sent out from the power station.
Next, the grid operator needs to add on his costs.
Then the retailer has to buy the electricity from the generator at these wildly varying prices. But the retailer is forced by market regulation to sell his electricity at set rates set by the market regulator. This is the PRICE the consumer pays.
So we can now see we are not at all interested in the price the retailer pays. We want to know the levelised cost of electricity. Over the long run, that is what must be returned to the generator, plus profit, or the generator goes broke. So that has a major effect the consumer price over the long term.
As and aside, Ziggy Switkowski said in the debate at the National Press Club today, that raising the cost of electricity with a price on carbon of $15 to $40 per tonne would only raise the price of electricity to the retail consumer by 5c/kWh (from 15c/kWh to 20 c/kWh.
I don’t believe that. I think it is to low. His own report say that if we double the cost of sent out electricity from a power station we can expect to raise the retail price by 50%. The price he quotes for carbon will certainly double the cost of electricity sent out from the power station. So this would lead to a 50% increase in the price paid by consumers. We have already had a 35% increase in electricity prices in the last two years which are attributable, in part, to the scare of the ETS/CPRS and all the solar panels and windmills we’ve been building. The price of electricity is expected to increase by another 60% in the next two years (I think from memory).
Peter Lang, Yes, Ziggy did well and Bob Brown looked a bit silly I thought. I noticed that he thought Mark Diesendorf”s 900Square Km solar panel would help save us. When are Brown and the Greens going to stop their outrageous claims of what the renewables can deliver? Damn it all, wind and solar aren’t even green besides being too dilute and discontinuous. And it’s anticipated that by 2030 they will deliver just 2.8% of the total world needs. There are some who will never be persuaded by fact or reason. Let’s ignore them and speak to the more rational population of whom there is now clearly a majority.
It seems to me that if CO2 is penalised at $x per tonne then much of Australia’s electricity should go up $x per Mwh or (x/10) cents per kwh. That’s based on 1 tonne of CO2 per Mhw in a conventional black coal fired plant. Example if carbon tax is $20/t then 2,000c/1,000kwh = 2c additional cost per kwh.
That assumes other costs like labour and depreciation are unaffected. I’m mystified how all those power resellers were awarded hefty price increases when the ETS won’t even start this year if ever.
Re air cooling didn’t ACIL Tasman claim that it negated the claimed ~20% efficiency gain of using supercritical water at Kogan Ck power plant? I also seem to recall there was a standby plan for spraying river water on the outside of the heat exchanger during heat waves. So much for preventing evaporation.
You are correct that air colling reduces the efficiency of the panst. If everything else is equal, an air coolled plant will emit more CO2 per MWH sent out than a water cooled plant. So this offsets (to some extent) the gains that would othewise be achieved from the greater efficiency from super ctitical.
The point is that the water is a valuable resource and there is a cost to using the water. It seems we will have to accept the efficiency, cost and CO2 penalty of air cooled if we want to build new coal fired power stations. Or we can accept just the cost penalty by moving to more efficient power stations – super critical and then ultra super ctitical.
However, nuclear can be located on the coast and use sea water for cooling. So we dont need to use fresh water for cooling and we don’t have to incur the efficiency penalty. And of course there are no CO2, particulate or toxic emissions, as you know.
Isn’t it the case Peter/DV8 that some nuclear reactors (VHTR?) can mimic the ultra supercritical coal reactors, further increasing thermal efficiency?
I will make one more attempt at persuading you that the programme outlined in your Emission Cuts Realities paper would not be sufficient to effect the level of emissions reduction that I think is needed by 2050. This is not in any way to detract from the principal lesson that I thought I was supposed to take from it, namely that any route other than a nuclear one would be economically suicidal.
Forgive me if I attempt to make my case with UK data with which I am more familiar. I link to official government statistics to which you might wish to refer:
Total end user use of energy was 154000 million tonnes of oil equivalent/annum in 2008. Total energy use was 226.5 MTOE (the difference due to 40% efficiency of energy conversion of coal to electricity).
If one breaks down the end user use by fuel, one arrives at the following percentages for each fuel : 44% petroleum; 34% gas; 19% electricity; 2% coke and coal; 1% renewables/waste.
For interest, percentage breakdown by sector is as follows: 38% transport; 29% domestic; 21% industrial; 12% service.
In your paper, you project forward to 2050, using a BAU approach, which doesn’t assume any significant changes in the percentage use of different fuels (I am referring, of course, to the ABARE case and your continued projections therefrom). It delivers twice as much electricity in 2050 as currently used. This factors in hoped for increases in GDP/capita and population growth. In your Assumption 9, are you really relying, as implied, on efficiency to enable electricity to replace all other ghg-producing fuels not currently used to produce electricity?
I would suggest that your assumption is lacking in validity unless the Australian pattern of fuel use is massively different from that in the UK. I take this view despite the fact that the potential for efficiency savings in Australia ought to be far greater than that in the UK due to your per capita energy consumption being double ours. In fact, were one to extrapolate from the UK figures and to replace all fossil fuel use with clean electricity, factor in the ABARE doubling to 2050, but ignore efficieny altogether, one would need to increase current electric power by a factor of 10 by that date (hence my cynicism about your factor of 2).
This is why I talk about the need to go on “a war footing” and worry where all the money is going to come from while you take the laid back view that transition to clean energy could even save the Australian exchequer money if only you could get nuclear costs lower. Furthermore, I’m not sure that you’ve considered that efficiency can give long term savings but only after short term extra expense.
Douglas Wise – There are several influential studies that suggest that we can dramatically reduce and stabilize GHG emissions. In particular, these studies suggest that cost-effective energy efficiency investments that are not undertaken by consumers in the marketplace can provide a massive reservoir of carbon abatement investment options.
However the logic does not hold in the context of productive capital markets. The hypothesis implies a deeply flawed capital market causing massive economic losses along with political and institutional failure to implement available cost-effective remedies.
Any critical review of the arguments for energy efficiency shows some are inconsistent, at odds with available data, simply anecdotal, and often misinterpret evidence. In addition, many of the the suggested remedies involve fixes that have already been implemented or remedies that involve very high additional costs. Finally, available evidence does not substantiate the existence of massive, unproductive misallocations of energy at the scale implied to cover the cost of redirecting capital to reduce and stabilize GHG emissions in any substantial manner.
Your claim that Australians use much more energy per capita than consumers in the U.K., may well be true, however like North America, the climate and the distances that must be traveled, and the lack of legacy infrastructure, are vastly different from conditions in the British Ilses. Once this are factored in, along with the different industrial activities between these two nations, the spread in energy usage may not be as substantial as the raw numbers suggest.
Having said that, I do agree that we must indeed go on a war footing to deal with this issue, but as I have often written, the impetus for this must come from the bottom.
And just to make my point on the question of externalities and coal, lets’ seer an example of what this means at the pointy end of the discussion …
Massey Coal (Author of the West Virginia Mining Disaster
As the article notes:
The article continues:
The article concludes aptly:
I’d like to have another go at presenting the case for no carbon tax.
Let’s say that the current cost of electricity generated from existing coal power stations is $30/MWh and from new coal power stations will be $50/MWh (Table 52, p82, http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/419-0035.pdf )
We have two options:
1. We do not add a price on carbon, but instead we bring nuclear to Australia at a cost that can undercut new coal; or
2. we add say $40/tonne = $35/MWh to the cost of coal generated electricity.
If we invoke option 1 we maintain cheap electricity, and get all the advantages that brings. And the benefits are huge (I am allowed that adjective). We also are helping to bring costs of electricity down for the whole planet, because we are setting lower benchmarks for competition, and the lower costs will influence costs everywhere (including in the developing world) going forward.
If, however, we invoke option 2, we will increase the cost of electricity (sent out from the power station) by some 70%, and the cost increase will be locked in forever. Nuclear will then compete and substitute for coal, over time, but it will compete in a market where the floor price is $85/MWh instead of $50/MWh. So the price of electricity would be raised for ever, compared with what would have happened if we’d invoked Option 1. This means, Australia would permanently ratchet up all energy costs. Our international competitiveness would be reduced. Some industries, such as aluminium, would move to other countries where electricity is cheaper. This is what happened in Europe. It forced much of its heavy industries to move to Asia. The poor Europeans (including the Brits) have become poorer than they would have been.
Ewen advocates internalising more of the externalities of coal. Anti-nukes often argue that the state should not subsidise the insurance for nuclear plants.
I suggest (I know this is a bit of a change of opinions I stated previously) we do not internalise more coal externalities (it is too hard). Instead we accept these as a cost to the community and balance this up by also accepting the insurance risk for nuclear. This brings the cost of nuclear down a lot. It is also justified for another reason. The high cost of insurance for nuclear is caused by the anti nuclear perceptions. These have been caused by society’s anti nuclear stance. It is the community’s fault that the cost of nuclear is so high. So it is best for society to ameliorate that higher cost, over time, b accepting the risk premium for severe accidents. (and yes the word severe is included intentionally to get all those fear hormones and adrenaline rushing).
1. Do not add a cost to carbon
2. Public owns the risk of nuclear accident
3. We remove all imposts to nuclear
4. Proportion of public versus private ownership is a subject for future discussions, but not until we’ve worked out how to reduce the cost of nuclear.
5. What level of safety will be required will be a cost versus risk relationship that must be put to the public for them to decide. More safety means higher electricity cost and lower standard of living. You choose what level of safety you want.
Peter Lang, on 8 April 2010 at 8.48 — Exprience in the USA with your point 5 shows that people will underestimate the risk of (flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, you name it) and then taxpayers have to pick up the resulting costs via FEMA.
Much better, as the contrast between Haiti and Chile shows, is to insist on appropriate levels of safety for the risk.
David B Benson,
There really is no way I can see to progress with cleaner fuels if the sort of irrational statment you have just made is going to prevail. We might as well just throw our hands in the air and stick with coal, because you and so many others are happy with the known consequences of coal and scared stiff of nuclear.
You are reading more into the “Emission Cuts Realities” paper than you should. I did not intend to discuss the basis of the ABARE projections. I just accepted those projections and used them as they are. To start discussing the assumptions upon which they make their projections is another subject altogether. ABARE do allow for energy efficiency improvements at roughly historical rates. I agree with their approach, but that’s another story. They have not factored in a massive swing to electric vehicles or other such changes towards electricity and away from fossil fuels. Such changes in assumptions would require a separate discussion and I’d need a replacement demand and supply projections.
One of the major assumptions underpinning the “Emission Cuts Realities” paper is the rate at which coal power stations can be replaced with low emission alternatives. I was trying to take a pragmatic approach to what may be achievable. I assumed that owners of coal plants would be prepared to replace their plants with new plants at the end of their original design life (40 years) and this would not require a government subsidy to do so. This would be true IF there was a rational market – that means the investors believe we have progressed past our state of continual government intervention (such as proposed by Ewen and yourself).
To enable the change to be to nuclear (instead of other alternatives) we need either regulation on the emissions from a mix of generators (as I proposed here https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/ ), or clean electricity to be cheaper than coal, or a combination of these two. (Forget the carbon tax idea for now for many reason as explained in earlier posts on this and other threads). I prefer reducing the cost of nuclear because I believe this is by far the best option and I believe it is achievable if we can get past the fear of nuclear. I feel you and Ewen are not advocating the best approach. You seem to be totally opposed to even considering this notion. You just want a tax, and your minds are locked in on this one solution. That is my impression.
Do you agree that if we raise the cost of electricity (or all energy) the world will be poorer?
Do you recognise that this will make us less able to take the actions we may need to take in the future?
If you agree with these, can you understand why I am arguing to not raise the cost of electricity? (Especially given that the cost of nuclear electricity is grossly inflated due to a long history of grossly irrational policies leading to massive cost imposts on nuclear).
We can remove these imposts, have nuclear at a price less than coal (much less, I believe, eventually. But we need to focus on that, not on the easy band-aid to cover a badly infested wound.
I see all this talk of carbon taxes and caps as just the final stupid chapter in the near religious obsession that big business and their lackeys has with market forces. Never forget that the “hidden hand” is in your pocket and groping your privates!
Ewen has a point, but his whole market forces idea is just plain dumb. Won’t work and too much churning
What we should do is this.
1. Abolish all restrictions on bringing in nuclear power
2. Bring in regulations progressively reducing the pollution (not just CO2 but all pollution and environmental damage associated with the lifecycle of energy production) to that of the best nuclear we have. This could be phased in over 20 years, to avoid massive disruption to current energy supply.
3. Bring in serious fines for those who in any year don’t meet the targets up to and including forfeiture of assets for repeat offenders.
4. Offer to buy the assets (pro-rata) of anyone who sells up before the 40-year lifetime of a plant
5. Where pension funds or similar hold assets, offer separate compensation to the fund for any losses associated with the new regulations on assets for shares/assets bought before the regulations were announced
6. The state tenders for construction and operation of shadow nuclear assets on a timeline matching the phase out of coal or gas. When these come into operation, they can compete with coal and gas to drive down costs. As always, the coal and gas people can sell up to the state at market price.
If that were done, we would have, at worst, all primary energy assets at the ecological footprint of nuclear by 2035. Since more than half are over 25 years old, most would have been replaced by 2025
Simple. No fancy trading schemes or churning or expensive pay offs to polluters. We clean up our energy supply within 25 years.
Coextensively with this we require all non-commercial or rural/farm vehicles to have tailpipe emissions no more than 80g per km by 2020 and zero by 2035. Vehicles not meeting the standard must show that they are used substantially for agriculture, mining, or some other commercial activity and pay a fee based on emissions to operate.
You are sounding more and more like Helen Caldicott ever day.
Hardly. She thinks nuclear is unthinkable. I regard it as utterly essential. That these polar opposite positions seem similar to you or even incipiently connected, suggests that it is you who are blinded by your own paradigm. If we are to make comparisions, I’d say you were a lot cloers to Mr Blankenship above than I am to Ms Caldicott.
You offer no basis at all for accepting that full internalisation or cost equivalent — which you now candidly admit you don’t favour — is too difficult. You simply restate it as if repetition proves it so.
Yet one could simply impose these costs, in the form of mandated action, restitution, strict liability, tort and so forth at the various points of the chain and allow these to wash into prices. That would work. I’d be thrwoinbg in costs for cadmium and mercury and the other toxics as well of course. I’d be getting the coal companies to acquire property within the footprint at the market value it would have been without a the contamination of coal. I’d get the haulers to buy along their corridor and the miners to have to restore land to something like its pre-harvest state and stability. They’d have to pay to decontaminate rivers and not use these for dumping. And we’d charge them of course with the likely pro-rata costs for climate change on the mid range modelling scenario for 1 mettre sea level rise. They could chip in for all the costs of damage to coastal infrastructure, depreciation in land values, climate displaced persons, drought and so forth. I’d leave them to offset their losses by approaching thowse who thought they would benefit from climate change for a dividend and wish them luck. And if they challenged I’d make sure that the lawyers’ costs alone doubled each of the above.
A carbon tax or cap and trade looks pretty soft beside that scenario.
I must admit, your proposal sounds pretty good, but a little too much like picking winners to me. We have a market economy and as the health issue showed in your country (I assume you’re American since you spioke of “pension funds”) whole slices of America are borderline potty about anything that can be described as “socialism”.
Then again, you may be onto something. If they really hate Al Gore all that much, maybe the government stepping in and regulating is what they should get instead.
Having an ETS is a low cost way to implement a transition and would allow each business to calibrate its response either by innovating or paying or some tradeoff between the two. You could have a much smaller bureaucracy. Then again, despite the squealing, much of the public would understand this a lot better than an ETS and it might actually be easier to sell, politically.
Peter Lang, on 8 April 2010 at 9.31 — You completely missed my point.
Setting safety standards requires something far more thoughtful than everybody choosing their own level of risk/safety. If the safty standards are set too low (or the saftey inspectors are corrupted), society as a whole eventually pays when some extreme event occurs.
Of course, with coal there are various extreme events such as slurry pond failures as well as continual environmental damages. I find all such unacceptable and hope to help create better national standards via the EPA and even stricter laws.
Your point 5 appeared to me to be overly libertarian and much experience shows such an approach is eventually highly costly. Instead saftey standards need to be set in concert, with some rationality attached to the process. That dosen’t appear to be your view.
“Do you agree that if we raise the cost of electricity (or all energy) the world will be poorer?”
David B Benson,
Are you familiar with ExternE and within it the NEWEXT study. If interested, google ExternE and you will get to it.
Lots of good thinking in your post. I’m thinking about your points. I agree with much of what you say.
The quotes you have posted and make a big deal of are routine messages that get passed day in and day out in operations of all companies.
Activists take bits and pieces out of the millions of emails and instructions and make a great deal out of it. Extremist activists thrive on this sort of stuff.
Your posts scare the hell out of me. What scares me is that people who have absolutely no experience in the real world and no understanding at all of what goes on in an operating business, have such strong opinions about how businesses should manage their operations and staff. I am scared that people like you can have such a strong influence on how the country is governed. It’s really scary.
And of course Matt, Peter Lang, despite repeatedly being corrected on this, continues to utter an entirely false premise — which is that a price on carbon dioxide emissions will raise the cost of electricity. Done properly, it merely shifts the cost factors from one column to another.
In a free and competitive market with nuclear power allowed to compete, fairly, (including with other suitably regulated nuclear power businesses) the price of electricity will fall. The kinds of regulatory reform that DV8 suggests can proceed in a much more systematic way.
Well said Johnathon Price. Yours is a most commendable plan to phase out the fossil fuels and phase in nuclear and at a rate and cost that is affordable. It seems to me that most of us want nuclear instead of the fossil fuels, we understand that the renewables and yet to be developed technologies will not meet the world’s power needs,EVER and so we need to get on with convincing the people that nuclear is the way to go. A majority in Australia already agree to introducing nuclear into our energy mix and so we have to get stuck into our leaders to start looking at nuclear as necessary. 20 additional countries over and above the 33 already with nuclear power are building reactors. All of the barriers, including COST, have not deterred them from going nuclear. They are going nuclear for two main reasons. They want a secure energy future and without greenhouse gases. It’s as simple as that. We need to get on with it in Australia and urge our governments to do it, as Ziggy Switskowski did at the Press Club yesterday. It’s time for all of us to stop talking and start doing something.
Jonathon I think what you are alluding to is a de-scammed simpler ETS. That is no dodgy offsets, feed-in tariffs or renewables targets. I do think CO2 permits should be purchased not given out but any subsequent trade confined to those alone, not credits. It sounds like a deadweight loss but there must be some method of keeping check on aggregate CO2. I think a no-copout CO2 cap can work, the govt just needs the cojones to do it.
Since we want 80% CO2 reductions by 2050 that is only 2% arithmetic reduction per year. The catch is that may be inevitable given fossil fuel depletion and/or high prices. Better to ease back at 2% in 2010 et seq than say 20% in year 2020 alone because of a sudden fossil fuel crisis.
I also think we should reduce coal exports 2% a year to help other countries find their way. On nuclear loan guarantees and accident liability the Australian government has already given a form of free insurance to fossil fuel. If any of a future 120 Mt of sequestered CO2 leaks from under Barrow Island the company (Chevron) is off the hook. The next step is nuclear indemnity.
John Newlands said:
I’d endorse such a thing but I don’t see that as what Jonathon Price is after. He is proposing change by government fiat, though in this case the fiat is a Mack Truck.
For the record, I’m not totally against doing it his way. If we have a clear (and near) end point for the phase out of the right of holders of fossil fuel assets to poison at large, then I guess I can live with that. Effectively, his system would mean that there would be no new investment in coal assets for local combustion and in practice, there would probably be a clamour to offload the assets in the market since they would decline rapidly as they approached 2035 or 40 years.
The government would probably get these at firesale prices and even though, in a way, the state would be compensating these criminals, in the spirit of looking forward rather than back and getting stuff done, it’s probably a reasonable compromise.
I’m not sure what your distinction between “credits” and permits is. If you simply mean you’re against allowing offsets that aren’t verifiable, or RECs then I’m with you on that. Ultimately though a permit that is issued is a credit.
Peter Lang #53289:
In suggesting that I am trying to read too much into your Emission Cuts Reality paper, you signally fail to acknowledge what I wrote in the opening paragraph. You constantly exhort others who try to discuss matters with you to go back and re-read what you have previously written. This, I have done and, to an extent, it has clarified my thinking. Might I suggest that you try the same? It seems to me that you instantly make up your mind about another commentator and then assume you know what he is likely to be writing without taking the care to read what he has actually written.
You, yourself, state that “ABARE have not factored in a massive swing to electric vehicles or other such changes towards electricity and away from fossil fuels.” (PRECISELY MY POINT).
Until such time as ABARE do factor in these massive swings, you won’t know exactly what amount of new electrical generating capacity you’ll need, but I’m prepared to bet that it will be a hell of a lot more than a mere doubling, however much more efficiently it is used. Furthermore, I contend that it is this higher level that will be necessary if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.
If I am right (I don’t profess to your level of expertise), I suggest that your paper could be very misleading. Perhaps others have read too much into it as well. It would be extremely dangerous to leave the impression with anyone that your coal to nuclear electricity plan represents other than a (possibly small) part of a realistic clean energy transition package.
Should any other readers think that it does, they would probably find the logic of your low cost nuclear/(no ETS or Carbon Tax) approach to be flawless. (I do wonder whether you may have deluded yourself, thus explaining why you think that others who believe that some form of carbon levy might be necessary are merely crazed, ideological lefties.)
Please recall that I have already accepted that a carbon levy may not be necessary to achieve a satisfacory transition. One could attempt to achieve one’s objectives entirely by regulation. However, my point is that transition will be costly in the short term and regulation won’t be fiscally neutral. This is why the choice you offer – cheap nuclear or tax – is spurious. I horribly fear we need both.
Peter, please appreciate that I’m trying to move this debate forward. Can you explain why I’m wrong to think the choice you repeatly return to is a false one?
Thanks for your response. I wouldn’t wish to suggest that one should in any way discount what should and must be achieved through efficiency. In fact, in my post on Britain’s Energy Future, I suggested that generating capacity should be increased 4-5 fold rather than 10 fold which would be necessay were there to be no efficiency savings and continued GPD and population growth to 2050. Nor was I having a dig at Australians (or Canadians) for their greater use of energy when I suggested that they possibly had more potential for efficiency savings. I was, in fact, trying to make it clear that I was aware that Australians used double the per capita energy but, notwithstanding, considered that their possible consequential potential for increased efficiency would be insufficient of itself to negate the thrust of my argument. I had feared that Peter might otherwise muddy the waters by reverting to Assumption 9 in his paper and suggest that a doubling of electricity plus efficiency would hack it. If, in fact, he really does think that, then I would like him to explain why he considers this is the case.
To the extent that you agree with the need for a “war footing” approach to clean energy transition, I take it that you are less sanguine than Peter appears to be. I agree that “bottom up” may be needed but could be slow. The UK is in such an economic and energy infrastructure shambles that a temporary suspension of party politics may be a quicker route. We talk “war footing”. In the last world war, Britain did, indeed, suspend party politics and instituted a National Government – a quicker and non bottom up approach. I do accept, though, that Hitler represented an immediate threat which the human mind has evolved to deal with. Such, unfortunately, is not the case for untutored minds where the threat is less immediate. Nevertheless, an election campaign is starting here and it is becoming clear that many in the electorate know we have massive problems and are getting infuriated with politicians who appear unwilling openly to discuss the severe tax rises and public spending cuts that will almost certainly be required. However, it remains the case that any political party that was honest would lose votes. It is for this reason that we might actually have a chance of National Government. Any party that won in the current circumstances would be so unpopular if it administered the correct medicine that it would be likely to lose power at the following election.
Douglas Wise @ 8 April 2010 at 18.38
I accept your criticisms in your first two paragraphs.
However, you did start your post I was answering (@8 April 2010 at 1.44) by saying:
You want to discuss what you think the demand projection should be. You think ABARE has underestimated the rate of demand growth.
I agree the ABARE projections may be an under estimates. They realise that. They make assumptions. You do need to read the background and all the assumptions before we could discuss this. ABARE do many different projections for many different scenarios. But this is the central projection (as at 2007) and the one used by the government for planning. If I was to use a different set of projections I’d need to justify why. And anyway, from any perspective it is off the critical topic. So it is a diversion. There are many, many reasons I am not really interested in trying to go off on a tangent from what is the most important issue.
Likewise, I urge that we should not be distracted into discussing ETS or Carbon Tax approaches until we have fully explored what we can do to reduce the cost of nuclear. Because, from my perspective, as long as we are taking the approach of adding costs to electricity, rather than reducing them, we are taking an exactly wrong approach (as explained in many previous posts on this and other threads). The cost of energy has been decreasing for 10,000 years in real terms. We can continue that trend by allowing and encouraging competition.
The critical point that it seems we are unable to stay focused on here, although there have been some excellent contributions, is how to reduce the cost of nuclear so it can undercut coal in Australia. It is definitely possible and achievable – I’ve given reasons why up-thread. But we are being blocked by the attitudes in the community that are propagated by the Greens and their activist groups. These are the sorts of attitudes that have held us back for 40 years. Ewen is expressing quite a widespread view that exists amongst articulate and influential groups in Australia, so it is valuable that he is expressing them here. What we need to do is work out how to get over the fears but also realise that business is what drives the economy and gives us our wealth and standard of living. Successful, profitable business is our friend not our enemy. It plays within the rules we set. If we implement laws to favour renewables, coal and gas, that is what we’ll get. Business responds to the rules we set. Unfortunately, too many people with no business knowledge and experience are arguing for laws to constrain business and direct them in ways that are not good for society. Some of the ideas expressed by some posters here about evil business and investors are so naive it is astounding.
At the moment I feel we can’t even agree on the most basic facts, so there is little chance of us getting to the key issue – which is: what do we have to do in Australia to bring nuclear here at a price that can undercut coal?
One more point. I’ve discussed my reasons for believing that the amount of energy efficiency that can be achieved, is grossly exaggerated by the proponents. DV82XL has pointed this out too. We’ve been through all this before in the 1990’s with the same overblown claims. The ‘hard heads’ with experience said at that time that the claims were greatly exaggerated. They were proved correct. The same is the case this time. Look at our pink bats insulation program for one example that was supposed to pick the lowest hanging fruit of all. The insulation will reduce emissions for a cost of $200/tonne CO2 avoided. Some low hanging fruit that is !!
And another point. You state that you believe the demand projections are underestimates and therefore cheap nuclear wont solve the problem so we need an ETS or carbon tax. I don’t agree. If we are going to reduce emissions world wide, then we have to electrify, everywhere, with clean electricity. To achieve that we need cheap electricity, not higher cost electricity. The total focus needs to be on low cost clean electricity. The fastest way is to reduce the cost of nuclear, fast
If we set engineers the task to give us “clean electricity at least cost and acceptable safety” they will achieve that!!! We do of course have to specify what we mean by those terms. The researchers will provide the community with the cost benefit curves and we can then make our decision what balance of cost versus benefit we want.
Douglas Wise, on 8 April 2010 at 18.38 Said
“One could attempt to achieve one’s objectives entirely by regulation.”
That is not the primary approach I’ve been advocating. The primary approach is to remove all the impediments that are making nuclear more costly that coal.
How can I make this any clearer?
Low cost, clean electricity is neutral to government finances. Infact, because it makes the nation more wealthy, it is a positive to government finances.
There is a cost to get through the FOAK stage and that should rightfully be carried by society. Also the incentives to investors and loan guarantees should be carried by the community. This balances the community’s carrying of the externalities of coal, gas and renewables.
Peter, we really are not that far apart. For example, I agree that “successful, profitable business is our friend, not our enemy as long as the right rules are set” (though I do worry about some aspects of globalisation and consequential massive trade imbalances – something of a red herring).
More importantly, I agree that “low cost clean electricity is neutral to government finances. In fact, because it makes the nation more wealthy, it is positive to government finances.” What you seem unwilling to accept is my point that this is true only in the longer term. Because of up front loading on costs, transition will create cash flow problems in the short term.
One way to address this is my suggested short term, carbon levy which Joe Schuster (SCGI) came up with. However, I have, from time to time, considered alternatives. These have included added inducements to pension fund investors looking for long rather than short term returns. Another idea was to incentivise the very rich to avoid increased rates of tax at the top rate by offering them the alternative of nuclear investment. Anyway, whether you agree or not, I think a carrot or a stick or both are required to cover the short term funding issues, given my belief that we’ll have to transition at a rapid rate. I would not rule out the possibility that the carrot might prove more expensive to the taxpayer than the stick (particularly with the no- picking- of- winners model with or without continued renewable subsidies). Overall, I have argued for short term pain for long term gain. It is implicit in this statement that I accept that transition need not be painful in the longer term.
I agree that the points I am discussing do not deal directly with the issue to which you attach the major importance – that of driving down the costs of nuclear energy. However, I do see them as highly relevant to the determination of what is required to transition at an appropriate rate.
I think you are prepared to agree that full clean energy transition by 2050 may require considerably more than a doubling of electricial generating capacity, particularly given your acknowledgement that emissions savings through efficiency measures are not necessarily cheap and seldom achieve their theoretical potential.
Maybe we’re done arguing!
Peter, I agree with your position, that our priority should be to bring in nuclear cheaper than other alternatives. This I think is a sine qua non for dealing with our emissions problem. I see no evidence that the community would demand clean power if at comes at a higher price, and I don’t believe a carbon penalty (or complete internalization of costs if you prefer) would be sufficient by itself to drive a transition. Therefore dropping the cost of nuclear below coal is an absolute necessity.
I remain agnostic, hopeful even, about the potential of some form of carbon pricing to accelerate or ease that transition, but only if clean energy is cheaper. If its not, I don’t believe we will move to a higher cost power system by carbon pricing.
One requirement for making this happen is to get the regulatory framework right. There are many nuclear regulatory agencies we could examine as models. Can we evaluate existing regulators for their cost effectiveness? Are there existing regulators which fail to ensure an acceptable safety regime? Are there regulators which gold-plate their safety requirements? Are their regulators that ensure safety at a fair price? Which ones, and how do they do it? Is there an existing model for regulation that would achieve your goal?
The Australian nuclear regulator, ARPANSA, has as its slogan, “Protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation”. A noble aim, to be sure, but maybe it needs to change to something like “Building a clean and safe power system”. Our ANSTO hosts feelings towards their regulator weren’t exactly warm.
Thanks Peter Lang and Douglas Wise. Some fine concluding remarks on this topic from both of you and with I think a nice conciliatory tone. I’ve enjoyed the debate greatly [thanks Barry] and apologize for my ignorance in these weighty cost and transitional issues. But I make “no apology” [I’m sounding like Howard and Rudd now] for urging us all to get out there and start convincing the people and the pollies that Australia has to get on with nuclear power development like most other developed countries are doing. We have to start soon.
John D Said:
I challenge the therefore in your passage.
Full internalisation would drive the change not merely because of the economic imperatives, but more importantly, on political grounds. As with any change, if you can combine carrots (lower cost nuclear power) and sticks (higher end user cost fossil power) you get maximum effect. Politically though, we need to put the fossil people on the defensive and an ETS based on full internalisation does that far better than a tax, which in turn does that far better than nothing at all.
Does that mean we should be indifferent to cost hikes in nuclear unconnected with any commensurate public benefit? Of course not. Consistent with good cost-benefit practice, we should aim for the lowest cost energy production we can have. That applies to all energy policy — not just nuclear.
It’s why renewables won’t work and would be rejected. Peter wants to give free passes to coal and to compensate coal by giving free passes to nuclear. I say there should be not be any free passes because a fair and rational system would mean that we would get nuclear.
I believe that the political benefits of an ETS (and the potential for reconciling across jurisdiction make them a preferred system. Forcing the energy producers to guess what long-term costs for emissions will be is the way to mobilise fear to the advantage of clean systems and to wedge business. Politically it would be especially effective — and that is where we need to win the battle.
Jonathon’s proposals above require a far more bold and interventionist regime than I’ve seen in this country since the 1970s, but they certainly could work, in theory. Admittedly, it affirms the right to pollute (and thus to poison), which grates with me, but as a matter of practical politics, that is going to happen anyway and it does put a stiff timeline on ending the practice, so if some government proposed this approach, I’d certainly support it.
Douglas Wise, on 8 April 2010 at 22.27 Said:
If the regulatory environment is set appropriately the private sector will fund what we want. Alternatively, we can issue bonds if we want to pay for some encouragement. Alternatively, the public can take over the electricity system (buy it for about $120 billion) and pay for the replacement generator systems using government bonds and revenue from electricity sales, as the private sector does (I can’t see a mix of private sector and public sector generators being attractive to investors).
“What you seem to be unwilling to accept is” that the electricity generation assets must be replaced on an ongoing basis. The design life for coal plants is usually 40 years. We are well over due for a lot of replacement, but no one is game to invest in replacement generator assets because of the uncertainty as to what governments are going to do next. This uncertainty has been ongoing since about 1990 and the days of the “Ecologically Sustainable Development” ideology driven policy (just like now). We could progress if we could remove the uncertainty for the generators, give them a pro-investment environment that they could be confident would not change for the economic life of the plants they invest in (i.e. the investors have certainty that idealists wont come along at some time in the future and say “nuclear is bad, close it down, the investors should have known so they don’t deserve to be compensated”).
If we could get over this uncertainty, and provide certainty for investors and a genuine level playing field, investors would begin replacing the coal fired plants that are way past their used by dates. NSW is in a desperate situation with its lack of investment in generation assets. It is importing electricity from Victoria (brown coal) and Queensland (black coal). They urgently need to start building new baseload plant. They need new baseload plant before they retire any. The new plants could be nuclear if the governments would send the right signals. If Rudd would change his opposition to enthusiastic support, before the 11 May budget, and announce his government’s wholehearted change in policy on this, the NSW government would make it their policy before their next election. We could have our first nuclear plant operating in NSW by 2020 (just). It is up to the federal government, and our prime minister, to lead on this. If he leads on this, the Opposition will support it (as long as it is going to be done economically and not disadvantage us economically)
The ETS or carbon tax will not provide certainty to investors. They know that governments will for ever be changing it. That is the last thing we need. It will favour gas (high cost power) because of the low capital cost and short build time – that means less risk for investors).
Douglas, you are focused on how to fund the transition to clean energy and a faster rate of transition. I will be interested in discussing that but after we’ve focused on how to get the cost of nuclear down. If we focus on how to fund nuclear before we work out how to get the cost down, we will be working out how to fund the high cost option rather than the low cost option. You are ‘putting the cart before the horse’.
Forget the ETS and Carbon tax for now. Focus on what needs to be done to get nuclear competitive with coal.
John D Morgan,
You always make very sensible, balanced and mediating comments. Thank you for this one too. I realise I am stretching the argument a bit, but it is intentional: the purpose is to try to get us to discuss HOW to reduce the cost of nuclear, rather than just follow the easy line put out by the pollies – put a price on carbon. The pollies approach – put a price on carbon – leaves us with higher cost electricity for ever plus more revenue for pollies to give out as suits them.
I’ll admit that I agree with you on this:
However, I stress that if we focus on carbon pricing before we solve how to lower the cost of nuclear, we’ll never succeed.
Excellent questions. Can we (the BNC contributors) follow thorough on answering these questions and see where this leads us. Let’s try to address these questions for a while. Let’s leave any talk of Carbon Taxes and ETS and internalising the costs of coal, gas and renewables, for a later time.
I believe Sweden was very successful at regulating their system before Chernobyl sent the world berserk with over regulation and raising the regulatior requirements to the worst possible via the IAEA. I don’t blame the IAEA they were forced to do so.
The point is that, Sweden is a small country with a small population and small GDP. They built their own excellent reactors, regulated them, they were very economic. They also led the world in the research into the long term storage of unsed nuclear fuel, and I believe will be the first to have an operating facility. Regulation worked for the Swedes, provided economic, clean, safe electricity. Sweden is smaller than Australia. If they can, we can too. Does someone know more about Sweden’s regulatory environment than I do. What about the regulatory environments in Canada, Korea, UAE, Taiwan, Argentina, Romania, and many of the other small countries?
Most of Europe,
All the larger countries because they can afford to.
Details would help from those who know more than I do.
I didn’t answer this paragraph in you post at
I don’t buy this arguments about ‘short term taxes’. It is naieve. If we raise the cost of electricity now, it will remain high for ever. It will slow the rate that electricity substitutes for gas and oil for heat and land transport. It will slow the rate that clean electricty penetrates into the developing countries. It is a totally WRONG approach. And it is not necessary. It is only being advocated because we cannot accept we made a massive mistake by forcing the cost of nuclear through the roof over the past 50 years by being irrational We listened to the wackos. We still are. What we need to do is to unwind all those imposts we’ve placed on nuclear. That is the solution, not raising the cost of electricity by more government intervention like this mass of distorting policies you propose in your paragraph I quoted above.
I am repeating myself because you keep repeating yourself with these same arguments for raising the cost of electricity.
I’ve been trying to get some others involved in this discussion on the BNC web site. I am going away for the weekend so will miss out on how you (BNC contributors) resolve all Australia’s energy woes while I am away. However, I have confidence the task will be complete when I return. In the meantime, here is an email just received from someone who should be posting here. His reply is as a result of my prodding:
What is the point of adding an ETS or CPRS or Carbon tax to the cost of electricity without us sorting out this mess first? Please give this question serious consideration.
What is the point of working on notional savings to the build costs and operational parameters of plants that are not yet politically acceptable? Doesn’t it make morew sense to lay down a cost environment in which all externalities are internalised and then to argue for a solution based on best value per dollar of expenditure?
Until the principle that there is no free lunch is accepted, there will be a an interminable squabble over who pays for whose lunch and who gets the big salad.
So I’m naive – or naieve as you would put it. Might I be allowed to suggest that you could be construed as being culpable of the same fault?.
For weeks now, you have been demanding that all debate on this blog be focused on the single issue of how nuclear power could be made cheaper. You seem to expect someone else to supply you with some sort a magic bullet to target a simple solution. However, it should, by now, be perfectly clear that a combination of interacting factors, all of which have been individually discussed here many times, will have a bearing on the issue of nuclear costs. I would suggest that , if you’re really seeking insight, that you follow your own advice and read back through the various past posts. I suspect, however, that you already know the answers and that your motivation is to try to persuade others that there are but two paths to clean energy transition. The first is your cheap, painless one and the second is that selected by all others who have the temerity to appear to disagree with you. You seem to be constitutionally incapable of seeing matters in a more nuanced way than simple black and white. You apparently don’t realise that few here disagree with you on the desirability of driving down the costs of nuclear power to the extent compatible with safety, as well defined by DV82XL.
I trust you enjoy your weekend break and return in a less choleric frame of mind. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to put up those who disagree when you KNOW you’re always right.
Ewen Laver, on 9 April 2010 at 14.39 Said:
“What is the point of working on notional savings to the build costs and operational parameters of plants that are not yet politically acceptable?”
This is the crux of the matter just about everywhere that there is a running debate on nuclear energy.
The fossil fuel industry is using their right to employ money-amplified free speech to persuade the world that man cannot possibly change the world’s climate and that continued use of their products is the wisest course of action.
Apparent or not, this is the real source of almost all antinuclear activities. Defeating such a foe, will require more that showing that nuclear power is economically competitive, as certainly in the U.S. and Canada, nuclear generating stations make money, and provide good returns on investment, in spite of the harsh regulatory environments the industry endures in those two countries.
The necessary changes in the political climate, (from which all other issues stem) must be via a popular movement, because there is no other option. Reason and logic are not going to change the minds of governments that are beholding to fossil-fuel interests, and even if a NPP design was offered up at half the cost of its cheapest competitor, this would not have the effect of causing a change in policy; it would probably make it worse.
The CNSC is holding public hearings across Canada this Summer to gather opinions on new type-approval regulations for small reactors. This is unusual, because that commission rarely goes to the public to hear on technical matters. I am trying to get Rod Adams to come up and present with me, mostly because I fear that this will turn into a platform for the antinukes to demand tighter regulation on these designs, effectively keeping them out of the country, and I’d like to put up some resistance.
In short nuclear energy’s problems start and end in the political arena, and that is the only place they can be effectively fought.
Just so DV8
Arguing about how to contain costs of nuclear build in places where there’s political opposition at government levbel to using nuclear at all, is about as relevant as deciding where to spend your 20th wedding anniversary or to build the marital home when you aren’t convinced you should get married.
Obviously, it will become important in due course, but getting the settings right to have nuclear accepted as the key component of energy policy is a starting point. Peter’s approach radically undermines the possibility of that happening.
Peter Lang, on 8 April 2010 at 11.51 — Thank you. I found
and skimmed the shorter of the two reports. Therein there was a sentence to the effect that the risk of an NPP extreme event was so low that steakholders would have to assess it.
I disagree with that. It is so low than even meteorite strikes are more probable.
But the rather ugly externalities for coal don’t even include the CO2 contribution. Add a samll cost for carbon offsets (or whatever) and already here in the PNW the cost of a new coal burner exceeds that of a new Gen III NPP, measured in cents/kWh.
New electric power production facilities, of whatever type, are costing more in cents/kWh. The era of very inexpensive electric power, on demand, is over; instead it’ll just be inexpensive.
The best way to lower the cost of NPPs is to produce in facories, transport and assemble on site. I am under the opion, although not well informed, that Nuscale (Oregon) has such a design, slowly making its way through the NRC process. An interesting feature lowering the cost is that everything except the cooling towers is to be underground. So rather than an expensive outer concrete and steel shell to fen off airplane strikes, there is some 10s of meters of dirt; highly effective.