Categories
Open Thread

Open Thread 9 – technosolar catastrophe?

This is the first Open Thread of 2011.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the broad theme of the blog (climate change, sustainability, energy, etc.). You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the cascading menu under the “Home” tab.

————————

Technosolar’s Chernobyl?

I like to kick of with a conversation starter on these threads. One ‘argument’ that is often pushed when anti-nuclear activists protest against the deployment of nuclear energy is that there is a risk, however minute, of some catastrophe. A recent example comes from the painfully unoriginal regurgitation of memes that was posted on Climate Spectator last week, “Behind’s Nuclear’s New Face“, where the author said:

One 1000 MW reactor generates about 20 tonnes of spent fuel every year. This is enough to poison millions of people, and will remain deadly for over 100,000 years.

One can only presume that she imagines this might occur via some magical intervention that allows for the complete aerosolation and dispersion of the fuel — a super-Chernobyl perhaps? The mind boggles…

But what caught my eye was one of the comments in response, where commenter “Maxwell Smith” said:

Julie is happy to put all eggs in the one basket, or maybe two baskets (solar and wind power). Another volcanic explosion the size of the Tambora (Indonesia) volcanic expolsion would virtually shutdown solar power generation for 2-3 years.

It’s an interesting take — especially because it’s a sound bite, and in debating situations, they are very useful. After all, if we relied largely on nuclear energy and intensive food production via mega-greenhouses etc. in the future (powered by nuclear heat, electricity, synthetic fuels and desalinated water), we’d have a much greater chance of getting through another such ‘supervolcano’ event with most of the human population intact.

Anyway, look forward to the comments on this, and just about anything else you want to raise, on climate change or sustainable energy…

By Barry Brook

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

385 replies on “Open Thread 9 – technosolar catastrophe?”

He’s lying to people deliberately?

The alternative is that one of the most senior and powerful Green politicians in Australia knows virtually nothing about a field he has set out to prognosticate upon at every opportunity. But ultimately it probably doesn’t matter whether or not he actually believes what he’s saying.

Like

GM the first mover advantage comes up in game theory whereby one player has the jump in terms of brand loyalty or learning compared to later movers. The archetypal example is eBay whose competitors struggle for market share. I suggest Europe does indeed have an early mover advantage over the US in oil consumption. This may be attributable to fuel taxes rather than an explicit carbon price. The next oil price shock will hurt Europe less than the US because they are further along the energy frugality learning curve. Doing it tough for a while can pay off sooner rather than later.

Rather than the gamut of usual reasons I’ll mention an odd one, namely ‘fighting spirit’. If anybody says there is nothing we can do about any bad situation then they are not trying. Don’t ever take them on a camping trip. This is why I think history will be kinder to Gillard than Obama since she’s a fighter. Obama has wimped out.

Like

The alternative is that one of the most senior and powerful Green politicians in Australia knows virtually nothing about a field he has set out to prognosticate upon at every opportunity.

This reminds me a bit of academics who study religion – the theist types, that is. They spend their life studying whatever scripture(s) it is that they happen to believe in, in great depth. They must realise at some point that the vast majority is rubbish, but they somehow retain the original belief anyway. Orwell’s “doublethink” seems an accurate description here.

Luke – I like your analogy of Ludlam to Fielding.

Like

There’s a bit of hysteria and FUD that is starting to flow around the social networks, related the idea that the recent earthquake and tsunami could cause catastrophic nuclear disasters in the Japanese nuclear energy industry.

Despite lots of fear, uncertainty and doubt flying around to the contrary, I would put money on it that nothing adverse will happen to any Japanese nuclear power station as a result of the recent earthquake that will have any adverse effect on any person’s health or on the environment.

Like

Well, my 10 year old daughter has just come home with a school assignment (year 5 primary school) to produce a poster on nuclear power – how it works, its advantages, and disadvantages. Her classmates have likewise been assigned various forms of renewable energy.

I am delighted by the opportunity this presents!

She has just suffered at my hands a two hour lecture on nuclear physics and reactor engineering. Actually, she stayed interested and engaged the whole way through.

We got out the coloured pens (everyone knows protons are blue, neutrons are red and electrons are yellow), started out with the periodic table and elements, the atomic structure of hydrogen, the light elements, nuclei and electrons, then the heavy elements, and what keeps all those positively charged protons from flying apart.

“They must be just about bursting!” she said, when I showed her the uranium nucleus, and went on to explain how they do burst when they get hit by a neutron, and talked about alpha and beta decay, and neutron capture and fission.

That led on to chain reactions and heat, then boiling water to drive turbines to crank generators to make electricity, all being sketched on paper as we talked.

She knows about carbon dioxide, burning coal, and global warming, so I was able to explain that nuclear power doesn’t create co2. She thought that was pretty good.

I then emphasized how concentrated nuclear power was,. She asked me what I meant, so I talked about how many thousands of tonnes of coal she would use in her life, having her picture how much that would be, and the mountains of ash and the co2 going into the air. Drawings of coal trains and ash piles, etc. Then I gave her the golf-ball of uranium in the hand image of energy equivalence. You should have seen her jaw drop and her eyes go wide!

With that grounding, we could then talk about the relative environmental impacts and the scale of the nuclear waste problem. I explained the waste was radioactive and dangerous for tens of thousands of years, but because the power was so concentrated there was very little of it. I sketched Barry’s image of a two story structure on a basketball court for the whole world’s cumulative spent fuel, and again the jaw dropped (literally). She observed that her grandmother lived in a 12 story apartment, which she estimated could hold 180 years of power waste (she came up with that herself – I’d told her we’d had nuclear power for 30 years).

She actually asked, “Isn’t there something useful you could use this stuff for?” I’m so glad you asked. I talked a bit about nuclear medicine, then explained that the waste was mostly unburned fuel. The image I used was wet firewood – perfectly good fuel, just spoiled by a small amount of neutron poisons, and explained some of the fission products were like water in firewood.

That let me talk about fast reactors and high burnup. I suggested she should email George Stanford, who invented a kind of reactor that can burn this “wet” fuel thirty years ago. I said there were only a couple of reactors like this. She said “It must be very disappointing for him to have invented this thing and not have it being built.” No doubt.

She thought it was pretty amazing that we could wring out so much energy from the nuclear waste, and drop the sequestration time down to a few hundred years.

I explained people worried about nuclear accidents, and talked about Chernobyl. I told her it was a terrible accident that killed about sixty people, and made a few thousand sick, and frightened many more. But I also explained how we don’t make reactors like that any more. I mentioned Three Mile Island and how it overheated and melted, but was contained and no one was hurt or got sick, and that that was how reactors we build now work. I also mentioned Mr Stanford’s reactor was much safer and this couldn’t happen.

Then we talked about was nuclear bombs, and how the isotope mixtures in reactor material can’t be used to make them. We also talked a bit about cost and build times.

She brought up renewable energy and how solar energy didn’t work at night so we also talked a bit about the intermittency problem and the reliability of nuclear power. I described nuclear synfuels for non-electric applications.

The last thing we talked about was really about values – mine being strongly based in the values of wilderness and ecology, I emphasized my own belief that nuclear power is critical to sustaining our natural environment and averting the worst impacts of climate change, and in fact ultimately continuing our human civilzation, and that it is worth the effort to work convince people of this.

She really followed all this – it wasn’t a one-way harangue, she was fully engaged and asking next-step questions or drawing sensible conclusions the whole time. I was struck by how easy it was to communicate the basic ideas to an intelligent non-expert. I’m a strong believer in the idea that there are few complicated ideas in science, only complicated explanations, and that if you can’t communicate some aspect of science to an intelligent child, you’re doing it wrong.

I was also struck by how straightforward and obvious this all was to someone who has not been subject to a lifetime of antinuclear propaganda. The contrast with Luke and Finrod’s comments above on Scott Ludlum is stark.

Anyway, it was a very enjoyable and stimulating discussion. Her assignment’s due in a week, so I’ll point her to Barry’s poster, Marion’s pamphlet and EclipseNow’s designs, and various other resources here.

Like

Luke:

what I heard was that there may have been a failure of the cooling system in an npp and that they evacuated the area on precautionary grounds. No radiation leak yet.

Meanwhile, oil refineries were in flames.

What would happen to an npp under conditions described above? I guess it’s hard to tell without more info.

am going to reread cohen, chap. 6.

John: looks like I got it about right on the first mover.

Europe’s susceptibility to oil shocks are certainly way less than u.s. because of much better public transport, many fewer cars per capita or otherwise, etc.

Gas was four times as expensive there even in 1979 when I lived in France. I never wanted to get in a car.

Like

Luke: read wall street journal article on the plant.

No radiation leak, precautionary evac of 2000 people.

Backup Diesel generators out.

Plants automatically shut down in an earthquake.

any notion what will be done to prevent heat buildup?

ps: I facebooked the natural gas pic.

Like

Worth reading:

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

HPCI is powered by steam from the still-hot reactor itself, and is not dependent on off-site power or the backup diesel generator power supply.

RCIC is powered by battery power, and is not dependent on generator power or off-site grid power, either, and the LPCI is driven by diesel-driven backup pumps which is also completely redundant itself.

The RPS/ECCS is made up of layers and layers and layers of completely independent, redundant systems, and running without off-site power and without the auxiliary diesel generators is certainly one scenario that it’s designed to handle.

Like

luke: the reactors in question are boiling water reactors?

I figure the answer is yes; otherwise, you would not have posted the link, which is really excellent.

what this means is that the reporters are not familiar with the defense in depth systems?

Like

http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031104-e.html

http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031103-e.html

http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11031102-e.html

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Massive_earthquake_hits_Japan_1103111.html

Please note that there are two nuclear plants that have been affected by the quake. Fukushima Daini and Fukushima Daiichi.

Fukushima Daini are using RCIC for all 4 units. ECCS was started (initially?) for unit 1 because of increase in containment pressure assumed to be from leak.

Fukushima Daiichi lost off-site power from one of two sources and the emergency diesel generators (all of them) stopped working. Not sure what they’re doing now. I presume RCIC or HPCI?

All BWRs.

Thanks.

Like

From marketwatch, I found the following, which given what you say above indicates ignorance of full defense in depth?

Electrical systems that provide power to cool the reactor were knocked out in the earthquake, and a diesel-powered backup system also failed, leaving the utility short of the coolant necessary to keep the reactor at a safe temperature, according to a news reports.

Like

scott:

sounds like the situation is under control but it also sounds like the daiichi plant lacks the backup of the other plant.

The article makes it sound like the diesel generator was last backup and crews then had to be sent in.

anyway, with the mishaps, looks like a ringing endorsement of nuclear power to me. Imagine if they had gotten their power from offshore wind.

Like

Sadly, if this next story is for real, that ‘one more accident will set our cause back decades’ phenomenon may have just occurred. I thought they built these things 9/11 and earthquake proof!

///Japan safety panel says radiation at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima is 1,000 times normal levels.

Residents within 10km of the plant have been told they must evacuate.
////
http://www.abc.net.au/news/events/japan-quake-2011/#entry-6a00e0097e4e688833014e86a79f81970d

Like

But if it is real, the alternative — just giving up because it’s a little bit dangerous and going without energy — is so much worse. I’m using this as an opportunity to explore the ‘what if’ scenario and talk about 13 thousand reactor years with only 1 really STUPID AVOIDABLE accident that even Professor Ian Lowe says was tantamount to sabotage, 1 accident where the containment dome worked exactly as it was meant to, and now this.

I’ve also highlighted that burning coal in the Hunter Valley has raised lung cancer rates there 3 times that of the “Big Smoke” in Sydney due to the particulate radiation released.

I see this as an opportunity to explore the risks. That way if it IS real we’re at least having the conversation about how ALL energy types involve risk — the modern world simply depends on energy or we’re going Mad Max — and if it ISN’T we get to put up load headlines after the event and all the dust and propaganda has settled down.

Like

@ John,
sounds like a great discussion and I like the ‘wet firewood’ analogy. I wish you could sit down with every concerned grandma, frightened kid, and anti-nuclear politician and have the same chat.

(I would spare you the angst from anti-nukie activists like Peter Lalor. No one needs that.)

Like

I read the abc report.

They cited one anti nuclear activist who made what is almost surely a hysterical claim, but the claim was not refuted directly even though the on site reports suggested nothing apocalyptic. This activist claim by Kevin Kamps has led to headlines like the following:

As an ABC report explains, overheating fuel could lead to a meltdown, and in turn to a large release of radioactive Cesium-137 into the environment, dwarfing even the Chernobyl disaster.

If you read the article, the ABC report does not “explain” anything of the sort, as this claim is made by the activist.

Like

This is actually a pretty good article, with Lochbaum of UCS playing a relatively responsible role.

On other hand, I saw a UK telegraph report interviewing a moron from the ukraine suggesting this could be far worse than chernobyl.

Like

It’s taken its time, but I finally got around to finishing my blog on Chernobyl (Third year at university is taking its toll on my heavily).

http://fissionenvironmentalists.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/could-a-chernobyl-happen-in-the-uk/

Please Tweet, repost elsewhere etc. after a good peer review by you guys :) Anyway let me know what you think.

Sorry I haven’t had a chance to post in ages (not that my contribution was ever amazing).

In other news, my friend Tom who posted on this forum ages ago with his dilemma of if he should take a career in renewables or Nuclear , is currently studying reactor tech as a Masters degree. He’s already been offered a job with Westinghouse. Barry and others here should be proud that the website has resulted in at least one person contributing to the success of the nuclear industry in a real way.

Like

Looks like the situation in Japan is getting worse:

“The amount of radiation has reached about 1000 times the normal level in the control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.”

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/japan-declares-nuclear-emergency-following-huge-earthquake/story-e6frf7jo-1226020058265

Can’t wait to see what Giles Parkinson will say about this over at Climate Spectator.

Like

The “vapour” being released is steam from coolant in passive evaporation, according to WNA . Note that the evacuation was ordered by a beleaguered Prime Minister and not by the Safety Officer.

Like

New to your site, found it looking for nuclear-supporting response to events in Japan.

Not a supporter of nuclear power and have one comment and one question.

Seems that human perception of risk is not based on statistical risk. Otherwise lots of people would be afraid to get in a car and few would be afraid to fly. This is why the airline industry accepts intrusive regulation – because they need to have this public perception of incredible safety – which over time they have earned.

I’m not sure if the nuclear power industry and it’s supporters understand this (easier to blame anti- activists), but since a worst case accident (such as has not happened yet [or maybe happened once] but is at some level plausible) is far worse than the worst plausible airline crash, the burden on nuclear in dealing with real-life human risk perception will always be enormous. Anti-nuclear political movements may magnify this, but they didn’t create it.

That comment (for those who agree) leads to this question. If a country with the experience, expertise, and with a culture attuned to detail like Japan can face a situation like this, what would it be like if there were orders of magnitude more reactors around the world, in places with a lot less attention to detail and less expertise, both technically and managerially. After all, commonality and familiarity tend to breed carelessness a lot of the time.

In other words, while I hope and expect that Japan will avoid the worst case and end up with some low-to-moderate level radioactive releases, I would imagine many other places where, if there were many thousands more reactors in the world, it would be much worse.

After all, to use my previous example, airline safety varies quite a bit around the world. Wouldn’t we expect the same if nuclear energy facilities start getting built that widely?

Like

Hi Dean,
my understanding (from the more technically informed people on this site) is that the real revolution that is coming in nuclear power is standardisation. Nukes today are built roughly akin to cars before Henry Ford invented the assembly line. The goal with Gen3 and eventually Gen4 reactors will be to make nukes that are built off the assembly line, trucked to site in components, and then assembled on site.

We are not just talking about volume which will bring prices right down, but standardisation of technologies, installation procedures, and even standardisation of the maintenance personal and international fuel supply organisations that run these systems. Best practice safety systems will be built into these standards along with the rules and regulations for maintaining these systems.

When word gets out that renewables just can’t do the job (yet) of providing baseload power, people will simply have to re-evaluate the risks. Without abundant energy the modern world will simply collapse. When the grid goes down, water stops coming out of the tap, food goes off in the fridge, and agriculture collapses. We need energy and lots of it or we’re talking Mad Max.

Renewables advocates simply will not admit the problems and honestly answer the questions Barry and friends put to them.

Like

Eclipse – I’m a renewables advocate who admits the limitations. I live in a place where they dominate electrical generation (PNW – within site of the Columbia River from my porch). Their limitations are both technological and political. There is an enormous amount of wind generation around here as well, though it’s all sold to Calif. So we’re getting into integration issues. These are serious but by no means unsolvable.

Although the specifics are different, nuclear also faces both technological and political limitations. For example, you say that standardization is a key aspect for nuclear, but it seems I’ve been reading about that for many years, just as I’ve been reading that some innovation or another is imminent for wind or solar that would put them over the edge as to viability. In the mean time, both live on due to various types of subsidies.

I don’t want to get into a long-winded debate about why this or that power generation system is preferred or feasible, mostly because I don’t have the time and it isn’t why I came here. But I will add that many people seem to be technological optimists for one type of generation and technological pessimists for another. Funny how ideology seems to determine in what field somebody is an optimist.

But the key issue is your claim/hope regarding “people will simply have to re-evaluate the risks”. When I see people now opposing smart meters due to a fear of their EM fields among other things, I am skeptical about any rational debate on risks. Otoh, people frequently ignore much more real but long-term risks for short-term gains. The process strikes as virtually the definition of irrational, and on which side something like nuclear ends up falling is probably close to a random toss. Whether one supports nuclear energy (or smart meters for that matter), it’s a pretty disheartening state of affairs.

Like

Also, given the planned rolling blackouts now scheduled for Japan, I wonder if you really can claim nuclear as a good way for reliable power. Sure, 8.9s are very rare. But are any other power generation systems in Japan so affected?

Like

Dean said:

////I don’t want to get into a long-winded debate about why this or that power generation system is preferred or feasible, mostly because I don’t have the time and it isn’t why I came here. But I will add that many people seem to be technological optimists for one type of generation and technological pessimists for another. Funny how ideology seems to determine in what field somebody is an optimist.////
This is a cheap argument and logical fallacy called Bulverism. It attempts to psychoanalyse WHY someone is wrong without proving THAT they are wrong. Indeed the main point of it is diverting attention away from the facts about the matter itself into how the individual in question became so silly.

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

If you want to actually debate the facts, the technicians here will eat your claims for breakfast.

Like

Sorry I even brought it up Eclipse. If I wanted to debate renewables, I would have offered some relevant facts for debate. It was an observation, which apparently is not very welcome here. You don’t even know what my claims regarding renewables are so how do you know the technicians here would eat them for breakfast?

Like

///But I will add that many people seem to be technological optimists for one type of generation and technological pessimists for another. Funny how ideology seems to determine in what field somebody is an optimist.///

I may have read this wrong. I thought you were attacking nuclear advocates, but I now think you were making more general comments about how people evaluate anything. I apologise.

Like

I would add that some BNC adherents are disillusioned renewables users which adds a fresh perspective. In my own case I’ve been about 80% reliant on PV, wood and biodiesel for 6 years now yet I’m certain they won’t scale up.

Like

Yes, my comment was in general, and applies to renewable advocates as much as nuclear or anything else. And of course it doesn’t apply to absolutely everybody. Some people can look at things more even-handed.

John Newlands – You’re saying that you have this power production on your own place? Seems that a person’s individual experience would have limited relevance to whether or not large-scale centralized production is practical.

This thread has hundreds of comments and almost none on the last few days. Are all the nuclear advocates drinking themselves silly in depression? After decades of accident-free operation, a collection of liberals and environmentalists was supporting new and more nuclear – and now this, in Japan. I seem to remember reading that TMI happened a week or two after The China Syndrome was released. Is bad luck timing a permanent burden on nuclear?

Like

Does anybody want to get back to energy supply and demand fundamentals? One of Peter Lang’s predictions appears true: a politically survivable carbon tax is not enough to shut down Hazelwood the world’s dirtiest power station
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/carbon-price-would-need-to-be-tripled-to-force-change-from-coal-fired-electricity/story-fn59niix-12260200252
Basically brown coal costs 60c a gigajoule whereas Victorian gas costs $7. A carbon tax of $20-$30/tCO2 is not enough to swing the difference. $20 or 2c a kg of CO2 will add nearly 3c per kwh with 1.4 kgs emitted.

I think the likely tactic is to stall or deny. The 1.6 GW Hazelwood brown coal fired power station emits 17 Mt a year of CO2 (some say less) and is due to retire in 2031. Good luck replacing that with wind or solar.

Like

Dean M: “John Newlands – You’re saying that you have this power production on your own place? Seems that a person’s individual experience would have limited relevance to whether or not large-scale centralized production is practical.”

I think you miss John’s point. He is not saying that his experience at his place has relevence to large scale production, he is pointing out that he was clearly enchanted by the prospects of renewable energy to the extent that he has lived off them for years. Yet this has not prevented him from making a rational investigation of energy supply and coming to the conclusion it does not stack up at a large scale.

Like

Yesterday’s carbon tax announcement
http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/s3167103.htm
would normally mean nuclear power goes to the head of the line. NREL and WNA cite new costs per Mwh of about $45 for pulverised black coal, $70 for combined cycle gas and $70 for nuclear. Adding $25 per tonne of CO2 takes these figures to about $70, $82 and $70. Others claim that nuclear in Australia will cost a lot more than gas. True or not gas is certain to greatly increase in price.

This time last week the major snag for nuclear to overcome was the repeal of blocking legislation. Now it’s the Fukushima effect. It remains to be seen how the carbon tax will cut emissions long term in the absence of nuclear, very little I suspect.

Like

Forgive me for being only recently introduced to this Blog, a voice of reason in sea of mis information.
I have been an avid Nuclear supporter for many years because it is a blatantly obvious solution to the the worlds energy and global warming problem.
I can now direct detractors to the bravenewclimate web and not feel like a lone crackpot around the family dinner table.
Nuclear power station design is safe and has been for quite a few years, perhaps R&D should be directed to waste disposal. If a solution to the waste problem where found most oposition to nuclear power would become support.

Like

Hi John,
welcome. There’s some smart people here who know their technical stuff, and there’s activists and artists and campaigners as well.

///R&D should be directed to waste disposal///
Maybe let’s rephrase that to “directed to safe waste reprocessing and reburning”. Gen4 reactors could run the entire world for about 500 years just off the depleted uranium we already have sitting around in ‘waste depositories’. As my poster says, “Nuclear waste, it’s not the problem, it’s the SOLUTION!”

Cheers.

Like

One element of the nuclear debate that does not receive enough publicity is the difference between wave and particulate radiation contamination. A minute radioactive particle lodged in your lung will keep on radiating for the life of the particle. Wave radiation, Gamma and Alpha, is instantaneous and disappears as the source disappears. There is no connection between breathing in radiation particles and flying in an aeroplane. They are totally different problems.

Like

@Eclipse suggests a reply to …
>”R&D should be directed to waste disposal”

Sounds like a wobbly manoeuvring you into agreeing that there is significant “waste”, that it should be “disposed of”, and that there is some sort of “problem” which gives excuse for delaying taking responsible action. I suggest you don’t repeat any of those three words, and pre-empt any excuse for wobbling.

I often hear it as a taunt, rather than a question: “What abaht the waste!”
To which I try to reply before the idiot shuts his brain down again, “Well, what about the CO2?”

Then, if they show signs of intelligence, assert: “It’s better to have one tonne of fission products in the ground, than a million tonnes of CO2 in the air.”

Of course, it can be offensive asking blind believers to use their brains, but at least we can shake their certainty. Later, it may cause them to read up on the puzzle, and learn something that might help the environment.

Perhaps your slogan might sound: “Today’s storage contains tomorrow’s fuel”
Then if there is a glimmer of attention in your listener, you can chant off “reduce, reuse, recycle!”, and see if they are capable of more intelligent discussion.

Like

The following draft LCOE exercise is intended as a generic version of the ideas of Peter Lang. I’m posting it here now in the hopes of obtaining some comments which will improve the draft. [It is intended for those who know little about electric power production.]
————
A Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) comparison exercise

WindCo runs a big wind turbine farm while AtomCo run nuclear power plants; both are independent generating companies. PumpCo runs a big pumnped hydro facility as backup to the intermittent wind power. DistCo distributes the wheeled power to the retail customers; the same amount of electric power is assumed to be required at all times, just for simplicity.

WindCo sells power @ 9.2 cents/kWh[1]. This power is wheeled to DistCo and PumpCo, both receiving at the same price. The Capacity Factor (CF) is 32%[2], so 32% of the time PumpCo is pumping and 68% of the time, PumpCo is generating and selling to DistCo @ 16.5 cents/kWh[3]. So the levelized cost to DistCo is the average of 0.32×9.2 + 0.68×16.5 = 14.164 cents/kWh.

AtomCo sells to DistCo @ 12.0 cents/kWh[4].

Discussion:

Having a very large WindCo means a lower average CF which requires ever more pumped hydro. That probably means an even greater expense, a dis-economy of scale.

Notes:

[1] This is an actual contracted price from a new wind producer selling to Idaho Power. It is in good agreement with the EIA estimated LCOE for on-shore wind. The price includes the transmission charge.

[2] The CF of 32% is from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) 6th Power Plan, Chapter 6, for the Columbia Basin wind location.

[3] Existing pumped hydro stations in the USA have an operating cost of around 1 cent/kWh. However, costs have at least tripled since the last pumped hydro was constructed and the assumption used here is that land acquisition costs have also risen. The operating cost assumed is 3.3 cents/kWh to which a transmission chage of 1.7 cents/kWh has to be added. The “fuel” cost is the cost of electric power from WindCo of which but 80% is recoverable, that being typical of pumped hydro stations. That means the selling price is 5.0 + 9.2/0.80 = 16.5 cents/kWh.

[4] Using the NREL simplified LCOE calculator with a 30 year 10.8% loan and technical data about advanced nuclear from the NWPCC 6th Power Plan, Chapter 6, the LCOE is 9.2 cents/kWh to which a transmission charge of 1.7 cents/kWh must be added. The NREL simplified LCOE leaves some matters out, so another 1.1 cents/kWh is added to cover those expenses.

Like

DB your assumption seems to be
nuclear + direct wind + ex hydro = constant demand.
If nuclear is itself somewhat constant it means
direct wind + ex hydro is another constant. They must mirror each other. The potential energy in hydro storage must exceed the maximum possible shortfall due to a protracted wind lull, that is if wind is zero then hydro has to solely carry the non-nuclear load. Reliable river flow could help which cuts out these cliff top sea water tanks proposed elsewhere.

As to costing see Table 1 in

Click to access Doty-90377-Storage-ASME-ES10.pdf


which has pumped hydro at about 6c per kwh extra and lead acid batteries around 10c, aside from the fact the latter is unproven at Gwh scale. The report strays into unknown territory such as wind powered synfuel.

Like

EN the worry I have with the cliff tanks idea is the same as the solar updraft tower – you have to spend billions before you know if the low average cost eventuates. With wind pumped hydro in the mountains the river flow provides a steady top up. The catchment could cover hundreds of square kilometres of side creeks and spongy soil. A 7km diameter cliff top tank is not really that big in comparison.

Like

1. Relying on a very low difference of temperature the way it does, the solar updraft tower has often been called the ‘hydro dam of the land’. I want to see one built, a full 1km high version just to see what the engineers can measure from it and how it performs. It is meant to work night and day, rain or sun because of the thermal storage and VAST areas of land used to collect that very slight difference in temperature that generates the wind. It’s a fascinating idea.

The way the Federal government has been tossing around money for insulation bats, I wish they’d built a solar updraft tower for good measure. It would have been a fascinating science experiment!

2. Are there any such areas of hydro left to develop in Australia?

Like

EN you could build a 220 MW hydro on the Gordon River Tasmania below where it meets the Franklin. I’ll suggest it to Bob Brown. I note that dozens of protesters flew into Hobart on kerosene burners to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the project cancellation. Maybe fossil fuels aren’t so bad after all. The other problem is now we want 100X as much low carbon energy as such back river dams can provide.

I was recently shocked to see some Tas dams half full after 3m of rain. I’d say they were drained to chase spot peaking prices. I think that means the average residence time of water in dams is decreasing. Long term drought means many others will be chronically low eg Hoover Dam in the US. I suggest already built dams that are only half full could be the major resource.

Like

John Newlands, on 26 March 2011 at 1:45 PM — Thank you for the link to the Doty Energy paper. I changed to using the suggested 5.6 cents/kWh for the incremental cost but didn’t change much else since I hope it is even clearer which is the less expensive alternative.
——— revised ———–A Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) comparison exercise

WindCo runs a big wind turbine farm while AtomCo run nuclear power plants; both are independent generating companies. PumpCo runs a big pumnped hydro facility as backup to the intermittent wind power. DistCo distributes the wheeled power to the retail customers; the same amount of electric power is assumed to be required at all times, just for simplicity.

WindCo sells power @ 9.2 cents/kWh[1]. This power is wheeled to DistCo and PumpCo, both receiving at the same price. The Capacity Factor (CF) is 32%[2], so 32% of the time PumpCo is pumping and 68% of the time, PumpCo is generating and selling to DistCo @ 18.8 cents/kWh[3]. So the levelized cost to DistCo is the average of 0.32×9.2 + 0.68×18.8 = 15.728 cents/kWh.

AtomCo sells to DistCo @ 12.0 cents/kWh[4].

Discussion:

Having a very large WindCo means a lower average CF which requires ever more pumped hydro, a dis-economy of scale.

Notes:

[1] This is an actual contracted price from a new wind producer selling to Idaho Power. It is in good agreement with the EIA estimated LCOE for on-shore wind. The price includes the transmission charge.

[2] The CF of 32% is from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) 6th Power Plan, Chapter 6, for the Columbia Basin wind location.

[3] Existing pumped hydro stations in the USA have an incremental cost of around 1 cent/kWh. However, costs have dramatically increased since the last pumped hydro was constructed. A recent study by Doty Energy indicates an incremental cost of 5.6 cents/kWh to which a transmission chage of 1.7 cents/kWh has to be added. The “fuel” cost is the cost of electric power from WindCo of which but 80% is recoverable, that being typical of pumped hydro stations. That means the selling price is 7.3 + 9.2/0.80 = 18.8 cents/kWh.

[4] Using the NREL simplified LCOE calculator with a 30 year 10.8% loan and technical data about advanced nuclear from the NWPCC 6th Power Plan, Chapter 6, the LCOE is 9.2 cents/kWh to which a transmission charge of 1.7 cents/kWh must be added. The NREL simplified LCOE leaves some matters out, so another 1.1 cents/kWh is added to cover those expenses.

Like

It is a welcome change to see storage being included when costing renewables. Perhaps we should check more often that cost of storage or backup is included in proposals.

In Australia especially, renewables proposals should also include cost of distribution, to get the levelised power from its area of collection in the Bush to its customers in the cities.

Does anyone know the $/km of a 10 MVA powerline? Our friends on the Nullarbor clifftops will need about 2000 km of it.

Like

RC there have been several suggestions for an HVDC cable across the Nullarbor. For above ground lines that could be say $2m/km for cable that can transmit 1GW and say $150m for each converter station. Pt Augusta SA to Norseman WA is about 1,400 km.

When this came up before Peter Lang argued that a redundant line was needed in case of failure but nodes can fail as well regardless of redundant routes. This happened to a Basslink (500-700MW) converter station that overheated in 2009 if I recall.

I’d rather see billions spent on cliff top tanks and trans Nullarbor cables than the NBN. The cable would have to pass close to the Olympic Dam desal if it ever gets built.

Like

John Newlands, on 29 March 2011 at 6:29 PM — The HVDC from Bonneville to southern California has no backup line nor converters at the endstations.
It has failed at least twice, maybe as much as four times.

Like

Extending my LCOE comparison study, to the discussions add:

External costs should be added for policy formation purposes. From
http://www.externe.info/
one finds (approximately)
wind: 0.242 cents/kWh
hydro: 1.41 cents/kWh
nuclear: 0.423 cents/kWh
but see the FAQ.

Like

@Fuku-Phil-thread, 5:56pm 31March:
>”PM … uranium is okay to export [but] not to use domestically.”

It is something of a reassurance that the (Australian) PM can find it politically easy to say. After all, Australia has explorers, miners, transport workers, and secondary industries making a buck out of the export of uranium, whereas we have very few people making a living out of using it. Consequently, it is politic to nurture an expanding industry while dodging an ethical question. One step at a time.

So far, that is. At some point in the future, coal will be displaced as an energy source within Australia, while a hefty proportion of Australians continue to a buck out of its extraction and export. Then, the PM of the day will be able to say poker-faced that it is okay to export coal, but wicked to use it domestically.

Dare one suggest that future for gas yet? Just “one step at a time” may be more politick.

Like

One of the primary arguments against solar power — particularly solar PV — solving our energy needs is that it can’t support baseload requirements, in that solar is only available for a portion of any day (less still for shorter winter days and during cloudy weather).

What about using hydrogen fuel cells in tandem with solar (and wind for that matter) power in order to create a working energy storage system? In such a scenario the number of solar panels needed would be to have a power output equal to perhaps thrice the baseload power requirement. Then, during the day, the entire 24-hour power needed could be generated and 1/2 to 2/3’s of it stored for the hours without sunlight.

I understand fuel cell technology still needs considerable development, but what is technically infeasible in this? It is likely not economically feasible just now either, but further advances in fuel cell and solar PV technology ought to make it more so.

It seems like a viable way to make renewable energy sources meet baseload needs.

Like

Nuclear Layman what you suggest has been done in a number of places with Stuart Island off Washington State being particularly well documented
http://www.siei.org/
However see the section on round trip efficiency which they calculate as 7% which is woeful.

A related suggestion is that of reversible fuel cells which alternate between hydrolysis and electricity generation from stored H2 and O2. It is also claimed that synthetic hydrocarbons could be made for later use in cheap and reliable combustion engines such as diesel gensets not fuel cells.

Some claim that transport fuels could also be made this way. See http://www.dotyenergy.com/
They estimate 60% efficiency but I’m not sure yet where the boundaries have been drawn. However if the process was indefinitely sustainable, low tech and cheap then efficiency wouldn’t matter so much. I’m dabbling in a variation of this approach but it’s early days.

Like

John, thank you for the links and the information.

As to the round-trip efficiency, the Stuart Island group does say that for a full-time residence, a larger electrolyzer would be needed and that it would have no warm-up time and provide an efficiency of 14% (due, in part, to an internal economy of scale of the electrolyzer) . Still not great, but is a doubling of the efficiency.

Also, as far as the fuel cell cost, I just saw a segment this past week on the Dylan Ratigan MSNBC show (I realize this isn’t an academic citation by any stretch), in which some researchers (U. of Tenn., Memphis? — I think) are working on a fuel cell made with chicken feathers (to hold onto the hydrogen), which they claimed would reduce the price of hydrogen storage by a factor of 15.

The Stuart Island system is clearly spendy for what they get; however, with economies of scale and improvements to the technology, the price will undoubtedly come down as well as the efficiency rise for such a system. Also keep in mind this is but a prototype built with retain-priced equipment.

Do you — or does anyone else — know how much the US government is spending on fuel cell R&D?

Like

You want an automotive fuel cell to cope with deceleration and bumps which seems to cut out both ceramic oxide (which could be fuelled by natgas) and proton exchange membranes, fuelled by hydrogen. Thus I doubt feathers will make the grade. At least they’re not seeded with platinum if I understand right.

A couple of years back they said a piston engine costs $35 per kilowatt and runs maintenance free for 1000 hours. For fuel cells the figures were $500 and 100 hours if I recall though the pre-tailshaft equivalent energy conversion is much higher. They tried a hydrogen fuel cell bus in Perth WA for a while and it cost at least $50 a km to run, an order of magnitude too high.

I believe the gas fired trigen that some propose for Sydney will use pistons or turbines not fuel cells for the electrical generation task, the other tasks being heat and absorption cooling. However trigen is a better use of gas than simple baseload power.

Like

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s