SNE 2060 – a multi-source energy supply scenario

In this post, I develop a hypothetical multi-energy-supply scenario for global low-emissions electricity in ~2060. The assumed energy mix is 75 % nuclear fission and 25 % non-nuclear sources, with fossil fuel use virtually eliminated except where it is used with carbon capture and storage.

The % annual growth rate (GR) of energy supplied assumes an exponential rate of change from today’s levels over a 50-year period. It is consistent with (actually, better than) the IPCC WG III greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. World total supply (277 EJ) matches the demand forecast in the previous post.

The future energy mix scenario offered in Table 1 should not be considered a forecast — it is better thought of as a ‘working hypothesis’ (sensu Elliott and Brook, 2007).

Table 1

Nameplate (installed) capacity is approximate, based on average capacity factors of hydro 0.45 (world average for 2006), wind/solar 0.3, other 0.5, biomass 0.85, fossil CCS 0.85, nuclear 0.9. These capacity factors are similar to those generated today, but are only used to estimate the nameplate column of the table above, and don’t affect the EJ supply column.

In this scenario, all existing non-fossil-fuel energy sources are expected to increase, with the highest rates of growth anticipated for wind/solar and nuclear fission. Comparing and contrasting my 2060 scenario with that of Trainer (2010, his Table 1), I (optimistically in all cases) have:

1. Hydro growing by 50% on today’s energy share (similar to Trainer’s 19 EJ)

2. Fossil fuels with CCS increases to a level similar to that of hydro (this is one third of the maximum 51 EJ allocated by Trainer)

3. Biomass and waste used for direct electricity generation increases by 50%; the majority of crop energy is used to supply 15 EJ of ethanol

4. Wind and solar output collectively expands 40-fold on today’s levels

5. Nuclear fission growth is then used to balance the total demand. This results in a 21-fold increase on today’s share of ~310 GWe average

The final ratio of 75% nuclear fission to 25% non-nuclear energy sources is similar to the national domestic electricity mix of France today (but the French are, of course, still reliant on oil, and haven’t yet taken they synfuel production step that will be necessary as oil/gas supplies run down).

This general forecast is also consistent with the conclusions of Jean-Baptiste and Ducroux (2003). In reality, there may be considerably greater or lesser supply from any of these low-carbon energy sources, but this depends on a broad range of complex factors, including carbon prices, subsidies and tariffs, energy security considerations, fossil fuel supply constraints, and technological, logistical, economic and socio-political circumstances (Hoffert et al., 2002).

The Table 1 scenario is simply offered for evaluation, as one possible which is able to meeta number of first-order logical, plausibility and sustainability criteria. Note that it is less demanding than the more pessimistic TR2 scenario described here. I will use the nuclear supply value of 7,300 GWe nameplate capacity (6,500 GWe average) for all future projections in the SNE2060 series.

Having arrived at what I consider a scientifically justifiable scenario, I will now turn back to modelling. The next few posts in the SNE2060 series will look at a couple of possible pathways for that 21-fold increase in nuclear power, incorporating a synergy of thermal reactors and Gen IV alternatives. I will also consider some further constraints on this roll-out, and the carbon mitigation implications of all this energy re-tooling.

Footnote: China has once again revised upwards its 2020 target for nuclear energy. It now stands at 112 GWe, up from the earlier target of 70 GWe (which itself was a positive revision of an earlier 40 GWe goal). This is relative to the 11 GWe of nuclear capacity operating today. China is most definitely moving quickly — as fast as they can possibly go — and I suspect they still haven’t shown their full hand. What their 2030 goal might now be is anyone’s guess (mine, for what it is worth, is ~500 GWe).

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30 Comments

  1. What recovery factor is reasonable to assume for CCS. 100% (Impossible?) 80%? 60%?

    Any difference within that range will not change the energy demand, but it will certainly impact cost, generation losses and availability. Availability, because CCS will still be new technology, using recent designs which can be expected to have bugs in them. Hence higher planned and unplanned maintenance needs, expressed as availability.

    Mostly, anything less than 100% will represent continuing carbon emissions of the order of a large fraction of a tonne CO2-e per GWh energy sent out.

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  2. Frankly I think a 12% share from renewables (other than hydro) is overly optimistic, particularly because of the need for fast-response backup for wind and solar. As this is most often provided by gas, it seems a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Wind and solar are simply diversions that will never make a significant contribution to carbon mitigation.

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  3. I don’t see anything to be optimistic about in this scenario,apart from the nuclear fission element.

    More hydro means more destruction of the land taken for dam resevoirs and disruption,sometimes catastrophic,of the downstream environment.

    More biomass used for electricity generation or fuel production will inevitably mean more destruction of forests.Using food crops for ethanol and the like using industrial farming techniques which destroy soils doesn’t strike me as being too bright.In addition there will be a shortage of agricultural land for food for the billions of useless mouths.

    CCS is a pipe dream on a commercial scale and merely serves as a stalking horse for the coal industry.

    Wind and solar ,while curently fashionable,will hardly expand 40 times once the true return on investment begins to penetrate the “minds” of the sheep.
    Solar has niche applications in areas far from the grid.

    Anyway,in Australia,with the present religious leanings re nuclear,we will just continue to dig coal or extract gas from it with the consequent enormous damage.
    She’ll be right mate – until it’s not.BAU is not an option unless mass suicide is the intent.

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  4. Whatever failure occurs on the other side of the equation (the non-nuclear components) will, as the above commenters state, likely come from coal, gas and oil OR nuclear will have to take up the slack (i.e. another 2-3 TW). The above scenario, if realised, would virtually eliminate carbon emissions from human activity (if halting of tropical deforestation and reduce impacts of ruminant livestock is also achieved). But there are penalties and trade-offs involved, whatever choices are made, as Podargus points out.

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  5. While some may not see this possible future energy mix as good news, it is in my mind a kind of upper limit. Optimistic, even.

    Its value is in getting away from the outright dreaming of ZCA2020 and such. This simple list indicates to me the nature of even a non-extreme interpretation of 2030 emergy supplies on a global scale.

    Regarding hydro, even without further dambuilding, hydro will grow significantly as additional generating capacity is added to existing dams and as pumped storage increases. In particular, I see hope for many smaller schemes incorporating new smaller high dams to enhance overnight and bad weather security, including as backup to wind and solar. Maybe not much in Australia, but remember that this is a global tally.

    The truly challenging aspect of all this is the nuclear power station construction program, without which there will be irreplaceable shortfalls in capacity and resulting worldwide social disruption.

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  6. I’m glad you have included energy security in the mix – particularly the decentralized version. I live in the northern rivers region of NSW, which tends to be environmentally conscious and also has the highest per capita amount of installed solar in Australia.
    The reason most people give for installing solar is energy security in an environment where it is becoming clearer every day that our governments are incapable of dealing with the converging crisis of CC & PO and also that the nuclear option is 20-30 years away – about as long as a solar installation will last if bought today.

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  7. Someone pointed out to me privately that the following statement is somewhat misleading:

    The final ratio of 75% nuclear fission to 25% non-nuclear energy sources is similar to the national domestic energy mix of France today.

    I should have said ‘electricity’ and have amended the post. The French still need to start making synfuels…

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  8. If this is a barely achievable solution in physical terms I feel sorry for today’s little kids that will have to witness the upheavals. The western lifestyle needs 5 kw or more continuous average energy consumption, to wit David Mackay’s 125 kwh per day for the Brits and ABARE’s 3915 PJ annually for Australia’s 22m people. If world population nudges 9 bn in 2060 there is barely 1 kw apiece to cover transport, food production and everything else we now take for granted.

    Also 6% growth rates for half a century are unprecedented, even with large amounts of untapped resources post WW2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_accumulation
    There would have to be considerable cross investment between fossil fuels and NP in terms of cement, metals and mining. I’ll revisit earlier articles that estimated when there will be insufficient once-through uranium for Gen III and when higher burn rates then breeding need to kick in. Well before 2060 I seem to recall.

    Furthermore I don’t believe CCS will work on any commercial scale. Apart from physical constraints either the required subsidies will be unaffordable or the required level of carbon taxation will be prohibitive. Let’s hope what happens in the next decade will shock people into taking at least partial steps along this path.

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  9. I’m another one that doubts the commercial viability of CCS. The sheer energy costs in and of themselves, and thus the need for more coal, mined without sequestering the carbon dioxide from that process, plus the fact that the real availability of suitable dumps, near the places where the coal must be burnt, has never been adequately inventoried, gives me grave doubt.

    There is simply too much that has been glossed over, and too many promises have been made. What particularly annoys me is seeing phrases like, ‘ CCS ready’ used to describe new dirt-burners. As if.

    CCS is fossil-fuel’s equivalent to nuclear fusion: it is the future of combustion technology – and always will be.

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  10. If I were the president of a large oil, gas, or a coal company what would I think about your vision for the future?
    Currently, I would probably not even read or hear about such a far out idea, but in years to come I will be forced to think about such a future. Most energy presidents will look for ways to protect their product. They will oppose a tax on carbon because it will eventually lead to a ban on carbon. There may be one energy company that will try to rebrand itself (like BP stands for Beyond Petroleum). So here is the prediction, “The nuclear renaissance will officially arrive when an energy company announces a nuclear energy research program.”

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  11. It appears unlikely that the wind and solar businesses will prosper once factory built Generation IV reactors move into the market, and that could be as soon as 10 years from now. Wind and solar will simply not be cost competitive with Generation IV nuclear, and it seems unlikely that the public will be willing to subsidize the installation of such expensive and unreliable sources of energy.

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  12. martin’s comment is interesting.

    CEOs of large energy firms, with billions, and globally, trillions committed to fossil fuel infrastructure, will only pay serious attention to the problem if forced to: and they won’t pay attention now due to their necessarily short term time horizon.

    what will be the force? relying on the free market dooms us. It would be great if Peter Lang were correct about the magic of markets, but markets are to a great degree about short term profit horizons, and firms are certainly not going to agree to anything which will devalue their capital. that book I referred to on another thread has an excellent discussion of the carbon trading fraud, why it has simply not worked in Europe. it’s too easy to cheat. so nothing is getting done.

    and in the u.s., someone please convince me that the market will not lead to a massive gas build. a few nukes here and there.

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  13. barry:

    I think you should seek out a social scientist or social historian (social history of technology types) very familiar with places like France and China, the two places where a fast and coordinated nuclear build took place or will take place.

    what is it about their energy situations, and their elites that allowed massive state cooperation on energy matters?

    and to what extent can this situation be reliably repeated in other countries?

    these questions will turn out to be the main ones I bet, even if we can convince many people not to be scared of nuclear. in the u.s., most people are actually in favor of nuclear and higher numbers are favorable who live near npps. but the people don’t make the decisions. Big governments and big businesses do. of course, one might put the blame on blocking nuclear on the anti nuke activists, but activists have had far more success with nuclear than with other fossil fuel forms: why is this?

    I suspect (as others have here also) it’s because there is significant money backing green initiatives, giving the activists both more of a voice and less concerted powerful opposition.

    it strikes me that it would be interesting to know how chinese workers have responded to the various energy initiatives undertaken by the government. it’s tempting to think that the workers there have no autonomy and must do what they’re told, but it’s almost never this simple and a look at China’s internal PR might be worthwhile.

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  14. I can’t see how China can be considered a good example in any respect.
    China is governed by a brutal dictatorship which may,on occasions,make sensible decisions and has the force to make them stick.
    In the final analysis the workers in China do as they are damn well told – or else.
    Whether that situation continues for any length of time given the fragility of the Chinese situation is a guess.

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  15. I’ll bet it’s a lot more complicated than that.

    aren’t they building a nuclear city? how are they presenting it to the people, the universities, etc?

    I haven’t studied it, and i wouldn’t want to rely on stereotypes about how they get things done. I surmise there is plenty of “politics” there that most of us know nothing about.

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  16. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/17/china-strikes-economy

    a cursory search shows things to be more complicated–to use the word once again– than Martin and Podargus suggest. Has either of you studied China?

    snippet:

    The Chinese Communist party called on employers to raise salaries and improve training for workers today, as Toyota became the latest foreign firm to be hit by a wave of high-profile strikes.

    The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, warned that the country’s manufacturing model faced a turning point as demographic and social changes slowed the influx of low-cost labour from the countryside.

    Coming a day after the premier, Wen Jiabao, made similar comments, the editorial suggests the authorities may be encouraging businesses to restructure the economy by putting less emphasis on cheap exports and more on higher-value goods and domestic consumption.

    For most of the past 30 years, China’s economic growth has been fuelled by low-cost migrant labour. This has helped raise national competitiveness, attract foreign investors and keep consumer prices lower across the world. But members of a new generation of migrants are less willing to endure hardship and many have successfully gone on strike to demand better conditions.

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  17. Entirely OTT but

    I was just reminded by the internet of the “degrees of separation” concept.

    DV82XL recently described himself as being on the far right, whereas I am, of course, on the far left. And yet as a result of a longheld interest of mine in the idea of sortition I posted in Twitter with that word. A googlegadget picked it up and I was emailed an invitation to visit a site called “equality by lot” (which oddly seems to have the same design template as BNC). Reading through the text on the site, whom do I find mentioned on the site and quoted? Our own DV82XL.

    How spooky is that?

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  18. DV82XL said:

    I’m another one that doubts the commercial viability of CCS. The sheer energy costs in and of themselves, and thus the need for more coal, mined without sequestering the carbon dioxide from that process, plus the fact that the real availability of suitable dumps, near the places where the coal must be burnt, has never been adequately inventoried, gives me grave doubt.

    I strongly agree. People forget that it is not merely coal that is finite. If you are permanently sequestering CO2 under pressure, the places you can cost-effectively do that are also a finite resource. Ceteris paribus you burn more coal and you use up your best storage sites pretty quickly.

    We ought to remind those who tell us in stentorian and dismissive tones about the half-life of actinides that once you store CO2, you have to store it for as long as there are humans. (I suppose if we got back to about 290ppmv we might have a program of slowly releasing stores at a rate that sinks could absorb without significant increasing pCO2, but we are a long way from that). This side of some new and unforeseen capture technology it can never be released or allowed to escape, whereas the hazmat we are considering will be innocuous within 1000 years at worst and in any event, unable to substantially affect the biosphere.

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  19. Fran – when I said I was any farther to the right I would be goosestepping, it was meant as hyperbole. Apparently it fell a bit flat, based on a few e-mail I got.

    If anything I am a centrist, to the extent I give much credence to the idea of political polarity. I like to think of myself as a commonsense utilitarian, and a rational pragmatist.

    And yes I am big on sortition, policy juries, and other manifestations of demachy, and have commented on the subject elsewhere in the past.

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  20. DV82XL said:

    If anything I am a centrist, to the extent I give much credence to the idea of political polarity. I like to think of myself as a commonsense utilitarian, and a rational pragmatist.

    They are amongst the things that I consider as well, though of course for me, as a leftist, questions of equity, social inclusion and the possibility of autonomy are fundamental considerations within which questions of utility are explored.

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  21. “and in the u.s., someone please convince me that the market will not lead to a massive gas build. a few nukes here and there.”

    Same goes for Australia. Big time.

    Has anyone seen the new-ish AGL advert on television in Australia at the moment? Footage of massive wind turbines and solar panels, “huge” investments in renewables, talk of helping the environment, etc. etc.

    For those who don’t live in Australia or aren’t familiar with AGL, they are the largest gas and electricity retailers in Australia, and have a wholesale gas portfolio of over 4000 PJ. They used to be called the Australian Gas Light Company.

    For those who have repeatedly stated that renewables are a “trojan horse” for the fossil fuels industry, I cannot express just how truthful this description appears to be right now.

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  22. I wouldn’t dismiss CCS so readily. The coal and gas industry is very keen to see it work. The separation technology is quite well developed. What is uncertain is the effectiveness of storage sites. As I understand it this could be a big problem in NSW but realistic in Bass Strait for Victoria.

    This will be a similar story throughout the world. Any CCS systems developed over the next few decades will still be around by 2060 unless CO2 storage integrity proves to be unstatisfactory.

    So I think Barry’s 6% CCS is very realistic.

    What might be missing from the model is single cycle gas without CCS. Countries without hydro or storage systems will still need fast start generators. Synfuel will do some of this but it will be tempting to use natural gas for peak load when it’s readily available. CCS will be uneconomic for a peaking plant. Peak load margins won’t be concerned by a carbon price.

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  23. Martin – you say, “What is uncertain is the effectiveness of storage sites.” Well yes, that’s the whole nut right there, separation is technical trivial, and uses off-the-shelf techniques that have been around for years. But without available, inexpensive, and secure storage CCS will never work.

    Sure the dirt burners are talking it up – what choice do they have? CCS is the only game in town for them.

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