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Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 1)

We must deal simultaneously with the energy-resource and climate-change pincers

The modern world is caught in an energy-resource and climate-change pincer. As the growing mega-economies of China and India strive to build the prosperity and quality of life enjoyed by citizens of the developed world, the global demand for cheap, convenient energy grows rapidly. If this demand is met by fossil fuels, we are headed for an energy supply and climate disaster. The alternatives, short of a total and brutal deconstruction of the modern world, are nuclear power and renewable energy.

Whilst I support both, I now put most of my efforts into advocating nuclear power, because: (i) few other environmentalists are doing this, whereas there are plenty of renewable enthusiasts  (unfortunately, the majority of climate activists seem to be actively anti-nuclear), and (ii) my research work on the energy replacement problem suggests to me that nuclear power will constitute at least 75 % of the solution for displacing coal, oil and gas.

Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to mortal man

In the BraveNewClimate blog, I argue that it’s time to become “Promethean environmentalists”. (Prometheus, in Greek mythology, was the defiantly original and wily Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals, thus improving their lives forever.) Another term, recently used by futurist Stewart Brand, is “Ecopragmatists”. Prometheans are realists who shun romantic notions that modern governments might guide society back to an era when people lived simpler lives, or that a vastly less consumption-oriented world is a possibility. They seek real, high-capacity solutions to environmental challenges – such as nuclear power – which history has shown to be reliable.

But I reiterate — this strong support for nuclear does NOT make me ‘anti-renewables’ (or worse, a ‘renewable energy denier‘, a thoroughly unpleasant and wholly inaccurate aspersion). Indeed, under the right circumstances, I think renewables might be able to make an important contribution (e.g., see here). Instead, my reticence to throw my weight confidently behind an ‘100% renewable energy solution’ is based on my judgement that such an effort would prove grossly insufficient, as well as being plain risky. And given that the stakes we are talking about are so high (the future of human society, the fates of billions of people, and the integrity of the biosphere), failure is simply not an option.

Below I explain, in very general terms, the underlying basis of my reasoning. This is not a technical post. For those details, please consult the Thinking Critically About Sustainable Energy (TCASE) series — which is up to 12 parts, and will be restarted shortly, with many more examples and calculations.

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Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 1)

Boulton and Watt's patented steam engine

The development of an 18th century technology that could turn the energy of coal into mechanical work – James Watt’s steam engine – heralded the dawn of the Industrial Age. Our use of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – has subsequently allowed our modern civilisation to flourish. It is now increasingly apparent, however, that our almost total reliance on these forms of ancient stored sunlight to meet our energy needs, has some severe drawbacks, and cannot continue much longer.

For one thing, fossil fuels are a limited resource. Most of the readily available oil, used for transportation, is concentrated in a few, geographically favoured hotspots, such as the Middle East. Most credible analysts agree that we are close to, or have passed, the point of maximum oil extraction (often termed ‘peak oil’), thanks to a century of rising demand. We’ve tapped less of the available natural gas (methane), used mostly for heating and electricity production, but globally, it too has no more than a few more decades of significant production left before supplies really start to tighten and prices skyrocket, especially if we ‘dash for gas’ as the oil wells run dry. Coal is more abundant than oil or gas, but even it has only a few centuries of economically extractable supplies.

Then there is climate change and air pollution. The mainstream scientific consensus is that emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), are the primary cause of recent global warming. We also know that coal soot causes chronic respiratory problems, its sulphur causes acid rain, and its heavy metals (like mercury) induce birth defects and damage ecological food chains. These environmental health issues compound the problem of dwindling fossil fuel reserves.

Clearly, we must unhitch ourselves from the fossil-fuel-based energy bandwagon – and fast.

Meeting the growing demand for energy and clean water in the developing world

In the developed world (US, Europe, Japan, Australia and so on), we’ve enjoyed a high standard of living, linked to a readily available supply of cheap energy, based mostly on fossil fuels. Indeed, it can be argued that this has encouraged energy profligacy, and we really could be more efficient in the mileage we get out of our cars, the power usage of our fridges, lights and electrical appliances, and in the design of our buildings to reduce demands for heating and cooling. There is clearly room for improvement, and sensible energy efficiency measures should be actively pursued.

In the bigger, global picture, however, there is no realistic prospect that we can use less energy in the future. There are three obvious reasons for this:

1) Most of the world’s population is extremely energy poor. More than a third of all humanity, some 2.5 billion people, have no access to electricity whatsoever. For those that do, their long-term aspirations for energy growth, to achieve something equating that used today by the developed world, is a powerful motivation for development. For a nation like India, with over 1 billion people, that would mean a twenty-fold increase in per capita energy use.

2) As the oil runs out, we need to replace it if we are to keep our vehicles going. Oil is both a convenient energy carrier, and an energy source (we ‘mine’ it).  In the future, we’ll have to create our new energy carriers, be they chemical batteries or oil-substitutes like methanol or hydrogen. On a grand scale, that’s going to take a lot of extra electrical energy! This counts for all countries.

3) With a growing human population (which we hope will stabilise by mid-century at less than 10 billion) and the burgeoning impacts of climate change and other forms of environmental damage, there will be escalating future demands for clean water (at least in part supplied artificially, through desalination and waste water treatment), more intensive agriculture which is not based on ongoing displacement of natural landscapes like rainforests, and perhaps, direct geo-engineering to cool the planet, which might be needed if global warming proceeds at the upper end of current forecasts.

In short, the energy problem is going to get larger, not smaller, at least for the foreseeable future.

Renewable energy is diffuse, variable, and requires massive storage and backup

Let’s say we aim to have largely replaced fossil fuels with low-carbon substitutes by the year 2060 — in the next 50 years or so. What do we use to meet this enormous demand?

Nuclear power is one possibility, and is discussed in great detail elsewhere on this website. What about the other options? As discussed above, improved efficiency in the way we use energy offers a partial fix, at least in the short term. In the broader context, to imagine that the global human enterprise will somehow manage to get by with less just doesn’t stack up when faced with the reality of a fast developing, energy-starved world.

Put simply, citizens in Western democracies are simply not going to vote for governments dedicated to lower growth and some concomitant critique of consumerism, and nor is an authoritarian regime such as in China going to risk social unrest, probably of a profound order, by any embrace of a low growth economic strategy. As such, reality is demanding, and we must carefully scrutinise the case put by those who believe that renewable energy technologies are the answer.

Solarpark Mühlhausen in Bavaria. It covers 25 ha and generates 0.7 MW of average power (peak 6.3 MW)

The most discussed ‘alternative energy’ technologies (read: alternative to fossil fuels or nuclear) are: harnessing the energy in wind, sunlight (directly via photovoltaic panels or indirectly using mirrors to concentrate sunlight), water held behind large dams (hydropower), ocean waves and tides, plants, and geothermal energy, either from hot surface aquifers (often associated with volcanic geologies) or in deep, dry rocks. These are commonly called ‘renewable’ sources, because they are constantly replenished by incoming sunlight or gravity (tides and hot rocks) and radioactivity (hot rocks). Wind is caused by differences in temperature across the Earth’s surface, and so comes originally from the sun, and oceans are whipped up by the wind (wave power).

Technically, there are many challenges with economically harnessing renewable energy to provide a reliable power supply. This is a complex topic – many of which are explored in the TCASE series – but here I’ll touch on a few of the key issues. One is that all of the sources described above are incredibly diffuse – they require huge geographical areas to be exploited in order to capture large amounts of energy.

For countries like Australia, with a huge land area and low population density, this is not, in itself, a major problem. But it is a severe constraint for nations with high population density, like Japan or most European nations. Another is that they are variable and intermittent – sometimes they deliver a lot of power, sometimes a little, and at other times none at all (the exception here is geothermal). This means that if you wish to satisfy the needs of an ‘always on’ power demand, you must find ways to store large amounts of energy to cover the non-generating periods, or else you need to keep fossil-fuel or nuclear plants as a backup. That is where the difficulties really begin to magnify… To be continued…

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Part 2 will cover the ‘fallacy of the baseload fallacy’, ‘overbuilding’, costs, and evolution of real-world energy systems.

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.

189 replies on “Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 1)”

@sod

PV solar and wind will produce extremely high amounts of excess energy at certain times. this electricity will drive the development of storage, as it means that you can fill for free. (if you can wait for the right moment)

You don’t really believe that do you? I mean the “free” bit. The cost of charging the storage is actually the LCOE for wind (or solar). The system cost of electricity is LCOE PLUS the cost of storage (including cost of energy loss).
(deleted personal opinion of motives)

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DV8,
Please accept my abject apologies; it was a real blow to think you had lost your marbles.

The comment I was objecting to was this one:
Ender, on 10 May 2011 at 5:55 PM said:
“Again in any deregulated market renewables should be able to fill storage much cheaper than new nuclear. Please read Jerome a Paris’s analysis here http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/6418

Somehow, owing to the lateness of the hour and Glenfiddich single malt I picked up your name instead of the real culprit.

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Greg Meyerson,
I downloaded the executive summary of the IPCC’s “Groundbreaking Report”:
http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2069207/ipcc-80-cent-global-energy-renewables-2050

This is just another exhortation to the faithful. It makes no serious attempt to estimate realistic costs and time lines.

Instead we are treated to graphs showing things like the capital costs of renewables falling to levels that look competitive as long as you forget about capacity factors. For example on page 12 one can see large wind generators @ $1/W.

Perhaps some of you with a high boredom threshold can find the time to do a detailed critique of the full report.

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I’ll have to be off to a later time my (brief) review of what pumped hydro is good for and why it can not (except in the most unusual terrain) be a solution for storing substantial amounts of energy.

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“You don’t really believe that do you? I mean the “free” bit. The cost of charging the storage is actually the LCOE for wind (or solar). The system cost of electricity is LCOE PLUS the cost of storage (including cost of energy loss).”

you assume that the people who run the wind or solar PV systems also do the storage.

any person independent of the producer simply buys at the cheapest price he can. at high penetration of wind/PV this price will be negative at times.

this will move storage technology forward fast.

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sod said:

this will move storage technology forward fast.

The high price of urban transport infrastructure combined with the convenience of personal-scale VTOL vehicles for getting around town should move antigravity technology ahead fast.

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David Benson thank you for the study, I will finish reading it tomorrow that said I already see a flaw

“Grid-scale energy storage can lead to reductions in GHGs only if
its input energy is extremely clean (mostly wind, hydro, and nuclear)
and if the economics drive increased utilization of clean energy. (For
discussion purposes, clean energy is used interchangeably with
renewable energy, and reduced- or zero-emission sources.) The only
place cheap, clean, grid energy is available is in good wind areas or
near nuclear power plants during off peak hours. Note that we see
little potential for solar to participate in electrical energy storage, as it
is available during off-peak hours only on weekends, and the price
variation during the day on weekends is small.”

The problem is that he assumes that electricity prices would follow today’s daily trends, lets forget about demand for a second and the already dismissed smart grid, during peak demand the price of electricity from solar would actually be cheapest because of the highest level of supply, only to be sold at night when it would be more expensive, even if demand is lower.

Again, some of you would reject free solar panels.

“Instead we are treated to graphs showing things like the capital costs of renewables falling to levels that look competitive as long as you forget about capacity factors. For example on page 12 one can see large wind generators @ $1/W.”

As long as the prices keep dropping it will keep looking better and better, its not like nuclear is at the 1$/watt range either.

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“The high price of urban transport infrastructure combined with the convenience of personal-scale VTOL vehicles for getting around town should move antigravity technology ahead fast.”

i assume that you were just joking, but the major difference between the two is, that energy storage is an existing technology. antigravity is not.

at the moment, storage (at small scale) can not even demand a peak price. instead it consists of the difference between night price and day price. minus all the investments.

not paying for the stored electricity at all, makes a huge difference. being able to sell at top prices add to this. and then there is the psychological effect or refueling your car for free. you will see.

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@sod

You are mistaking price and cost. I seem to remember somebody else pointing this out. All you are describing is a price setting mechanism.

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Sod has finally agreed that wind and solar have negative value! Lol. And then Sod’s conclusion is that this will allow solar and wind to be stored cheaply.

Wrong Sod, energy sources with negative value are not used in ‘deregulated markets’. Of course its crazy to talk about deregulated markets when the solar market is over 90% subsidized. Wind is also highly subsidized and does not get built in deregulated markets to any meaningful extent.

Environmentalist, how will these deragulated markets cause the wind to blow constantly and reliably? How do deregulated markets deal with energy sources that are non-dipatchable and not there 80 to 90% of the time?

Don’t bother – rhetorical question. Deregulated markets burn natural gas and coal. The end.

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So Sod also wants to close down industries that run in shifts. Okay workers you can go home today, the sun isn’t shining, we won’t make any aluminium today. Go back to your families with no money.

Oh yes a very good industrial energy policy Sod.

I worry about these attitudes a lot, because it will never ever happen. Industries must produce, closing down every night rather than operating in shifts will cost billions. This demand-forcing to such a huge scale will simply not happen, and you risk that the industries burn natural gas themselves in very inefficient combustion turbines just to make sure they’ve got power.

Solar in Germany is non-dispatchable and not there 89% of the time.
Wind in Germany is non-dispatchable and not there 83% of the time.

Any clear thinking person can see the implications.

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“You are mistaking price and cost. I seem to remember somebody else pointing this out. All you are describing is a price setting mechanism.”

i do not think that i am confusing anything.
but please educate me. if i buy electricity at a price of ZERO, what is the cost of buying that electricity to me?

when people can make use of the big price difference between peak high and ZERO cost at peak solar/wind, then they will invest in storage technologies.

currently they can buy at night and sell at a flat price that is only 50% higher. and so few people do this.

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apart from people who already today can profit from the full price difference between something close to zero and peak demand prices. in Germany the green party was accused of blocking and demonstrating against pump storage.

they were accused of blocking the technology that is required to move renewables forward. on close inspection, things look different, of course.

it turns out that pump storage was pushed by big companies to store their cheap night nuclear and fossile electricity. they can make use of a rather big margin already, as the electricity produced is their own (cutting out some intermediate costs) and they can sell at peak prices.

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“Sod has finally agreed that wind and solar have negative value! Lol. And then Sod’s conclusion is that this will allow solar and wind to be stored cheaply.

Wrong Sod, energy sources with negative value are not used in ‘deregulated markets’.”

i visited a rather big biogas plant, running mostly on waste a month ago.

when they started the plant some years ago, the companies delivering waste would pay them per ton they took from them. but over the years this changed, with several similar plants being installed. now they have to pay a small amount of money to get the fuel. (and they are doing an exchange with farmers who bring waste and receive the remains which are a very good fertilizer)

organic waste turned from rubbish into a resource. the same will happen to peak solar and wind output. with storage coming up, it will increase in price again.

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“Environmentalist, how will these deragulated markets cause the wind to blow constantly and reliably? How do deregulated markets deal with energy sources that are non-dipatchable and not there 80 to 90% of the time?”

Cyril, you are ignoring reality. wind soar, biogas and water can be combined to follow demand 24/7.

http://www.solarserver.com/solarmagazin/anlagejanuar2008_e.html

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and then there is the psychological effect or refueling your car for free

Why do you keep repeating this nonsense mantra about renewable energy being free? The fuel is free and that is it. They have huge infrastructure requirements, and on top of that require enormous additions to transmission infrastructure as well as extensive storage capabilities to be achieve anything that resembles reliability. These all have a cost. It’s too expensive – except in very small portions, people are not going to buy it. Not the rich in the west, and certainly not the poor in the developing world.

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Cyril R:

Thank you for responding to my questions.

Would anyone care to comment on the potential of a start up company that I learned of on Charles Barton’s Nuclear Green site?

The company, MTPV, claims to be able to produce electricity from heat sources in the range of 100 to 1200 deg C with a method involving a revolutionary improvement in thermo PV efficiency through the use of “micron gaps”. (www.mtpv.com)

IMO, the technology looks genuine and seems to offer great promise, at least for electrifying heat that would otherwise be wasted.

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Why do so many renewable-only advocates think hydro is so great?

No nuclear accident has ever come close to the scale of devastation of the Banqiao Dam collapse.

Nor does nuclear have the huge biodiversity consequences associated with flooding vast areas of land.

Nor is nuclear geographically limited and massively declining in availability.

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A US cost of storage paper linked a month back gave pumped hydro a cost of 5-7c per kwh on top of generation costs. In Australia it is rumoured (the details are commercial secrets) that aluminium smelters have long run supply contracts at around 3-4c per kwh, Carbon tax on brown coal fired electricity could itself add another 3c. In Australia the proportional hydro contribution must be declining.

Big Al faces some unhappy prospects. It can’t safely move to China because that country’s coal production has peaked and there is the spectre of import carbon tariffs. Can’t moved to Iceland for cheap hydro as they are maxed out. Not sure about new hydro in places like DR Congo and Quebec.

One option is to paying more for aluminium e.g. 20c refundable deposits on soft drink cans. I bet in Australia the federal government will effectively pay the industry’s carbon tax for them as ‘trade exposed’ compensation or somesuch. In reality Big Al may have few places to go.

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What sod is doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Suppose I own some PV, to make a profit I need to sell all the electricity generated at say 1.20 * LCOE. But I can’t because I have to give some sway due to the peaky nature of supply. What happens? I either raise the price of the amount that I can sell or get out of the business.

The point is that somebody has to pay somewhere to cover costs plus reasonable profit. There is no such thing as free electricity on the macro level. It’s a complete nonsense.

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Lol, Sod is getting wronger by the minute. Biogas plants are highly limited in primary energy terms due to the absurd areas needed to grow biomass. Waste biomass can be useful but is extremely limited.

Sod is accusing me of ignoring reality, by giving me a hypothetical reference. Here is Germany’s reality Sod:

Click to access DEELEC.pdf

http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2689

Lots of coal, natural gas and nuclear. Hydro and waste to energy that can’t expand much. Leaving the solar and wind that are not there 83-89% of the time. Gee I wonder if that will work.

Keep rearranging those chairs Sod. Never mind that iceberg. If you keep trivialising it, it might just melt.

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Now biogas plants, Sod do you mean the biogas plants that receive more than 100% market rate subsidies? Oh those biogas plants. Well never mind subsidies, lets take a look at the biogas potential in Germany. Germany can produce, in the long term, a potential 470 PJ from biogas, which is 3% of primary energy consumption of 14000 PJ.

Click to access 0_Background_paper_biogas_Germany_en.pdf

Oops! Theres not enough biogas for Sod’s grand renewable glue scheme. Without glue, solar and wind schemes fall apart.

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David B. Benson said:
“Those interested in storage should read

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


to discover just how expen$ive even modest amounts of new storage has become.”

Thanks for that link. The authors are pushing “Windfuels” which turns out to be the Fischer-Tropsh process brought up to date.

While I agree with you that $torage is expen$ive, FT converters are technology you can believe in given that it was implemented on a huge scale during the latter stages of WWII.

Probably there will be at least a niche market for Windfuels.

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“What sod is doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

rearranging deck chairs is not always a bad thing. sometimes you have to rearrange them, so that you can do some restauration work. and afterwards, there might be space for some additional chairs, or for a lifeboat…

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“Sod is accusing me of ignoring reality, by giving me a hypothetical reference. Here is Germany’s reality Sod:

http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/DEELEC.pdf

a link to data from 2008?

at this moment, there is more renewable electricity produced than nuclear one.

a change is possible.

ps: ethic commission on nuclear energy in Germany is giving the advice to exit nuclear in 2021 and leaving the 7 moratorium reactors off-line permanently.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/130979d0-7bb9-11e0-9298-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1M31lgPc9

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Frank Jablonski:

thanks for the links. They are excellent. Thanks also to quokka for the summary.

what’s interesting among other things is that the “80 % figure” is in fact 77 % and that is the HIGHEST ESTIMATE AMONG MANY.

Slightly over half give renewables numbers of slightly over 17 and 27 percent for 2030 and 2050 (which means slightly under half are below these numbers). This is all a far cry from 80.

and much of this number relies on biomass, including traditional biomass.

SCGI people: any way we can get Hansen’s response to this report?

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Hi,
I was wondering, how did the IPCC arrive with the 77% figure for renewables in 2050, which contradicts the information published on this blog. Are they assuming less growth in overall power consumption? Or more favourable cost/efficiency of renewable energy sources? Or both?

Max

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> I downloaded the Executive Summary ….
> It makes no serious attempt to estimate realistic
> costs and time lines.

Wait, do you mean you didn’t find that in the Executive Summary? Or that the Executive Summary makes it clear to you that you won’t find a serious attempt in the actual document?

The link you gave isn’t to the Executive Summary, it’s to a news story about it; the news story says:

“The 26-page report provides a summary of a 1,000-page comprehensive assessment compiled by more than 120 experts working for the IPCC’s Working Group III. It is based on modeling for more than 160 different scenarios ….”

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Hank Roberts,
The link to the “Executive Summary” is in the second paragraph of the news report. I guess I should have mentioned that.

For connoisseurs of the absurd government policies, here is one of the gems (page 24 of 25):
QUOTE
In the transportation sector, RE fuel mandates or blending requirements are key drivers in
the development of most modern biofuel industries. Other policies include direct
government payments or tax reductions. Policies have influenced the development of an
international biofuel trade.
UNQUOTE

Here in the USA we have mandated that gasoline contain up to 15% of ethanol while “Regular” unadulterated gasoline is only available at a few gas stations that serve boat owners.

My Jeep does not like gasohol so my miles per gallon is down by 5-10%; the adulterated gas costs more too.

On a more serious note another effect is a sharp increase in food prices that is a factor in the political unrest in many countries.

In spite of all the negative consequences, the IPCC wants governments to do more of this!

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“Environmentalist, how will these deragulated markets cause the wind to blow constantly and reliably? How do deregulated markets deal with energy sources that are non-dipatchable and not there 80 to 90% of the time?”

Cyril power is power, in a deregulated market the cost of electricity produced when production peaks is when it would be cheapest and most likely bought, and sold when production falls levelling the average.

I can build a system that stores solar in lead acid batteries and have enough power to get me through the day, how can you think it would work different in scale (other than it would be pumped hydro and not lead acid).

The only problem is cost, the PV being the biggest pie in the total cost, eventually as prices keep falling and falling the combined cost per watt and cost per kwh of storage would be so low that it just makes perfect sense. Of course wind would help out too if it can keep dropping in price from the link above the Chinese are pushing .80$/watt.

You can argue all you want that it will not get there, but the whole system behind storage works and is bulletproof. You would not be living in an intermittent world but in one where storage levels out production to meet demand, exactly how uprated dams work today.

“Why do so many renewable-only advocates think hydro is so great?

We are talking about first
A) Uprating dams, meaning they are already built
B) pumped hydro once that storage capacity reaches its limits, this is closer to a water tower than a dam. The enviromental costs are minimal.

“No nuclear accident has ever come close to the scale of devastation of the Banqiao Dam collapse.”

Dams have saved more lives than they have killed, none more evident than dams that produce no power and are still built.

“Nor does nuclear have the huge biodiversity consequences associated with flooding vast areas of land.”

I oppose new mega dams, the one in the Amazon for example, but we are not talking about that.

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Barry, I hope you allow this comment because it has to do with load following, not about renewables, per se…

Folks, the myth about nuclear not being able to load follow has only partly be addressed. With the exception of the French and Canadians, the *current* fleet of reactors were designed *as baseload*. This has zero to do with the physics and engineering of nuclear energy but everything to do how and why they were deployed to start with.

Most new reactors can load follow just fine. ALL GenIV reactors can load follow VERY well and the LFTR can load follow completely based on *reacting* to the actual load without intervention by operators…and at almost any rate the turbine will tolerate.

All current nuclear reactors are derivatives of US navy propulsion systems. These reactors are designed from almost zero load to full load in *minutes*, to rapidly propel a craft from zero knots to plus 35 knots very quickly. They simply engineered out this ability from the generations of reactors that followed it. Gen III reactors have be re-engineering this ability back in. I believe the Korean, AP1000 and the EPRs are all capable of regular load following.

This is a totally non-issue with regards to nuclear.

I might also add, I’ve proposed to renewable advocates that if we could, I would be for dividing up the grid this way:

70% capacity *factor* for nuclear, 30% capacity *factor* for renewables. Let’s see what happens. NO FOSSIL fuel back up allowed. We’ll see if the CF for renewables can provide the 30% CF.

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David, load following with control rods or boric acid does have some issues. Either lose some neutrons as opposed to continues operation with all control rods withdrawn. Increasing boric acid to turn down power makes more liquid radwaste.

Boiling water reactors are the best we’ve got right now in this sense, because you can just dial up the recirculation pumps to get more power, and dial down for less. Wonderful. No control rods needed so no neutrons wasted. Too bad boiling water reactors have recently had some very bad press…

The important thing with nuclear is that its reliable, you can turn them on when needed. Some may be in maintenance but a nuclear grid with lots of reactors will be very reliable. Compare this with solar panels and wind turbines, that, while technically reliable, have an unreliable resource that has common-mode failure every night (solar) and winter (solar) and during cloudy periods (solar) and during heatwaves (wind) when a lot of AC is needed. Come to think of it solar is quite terrible in terms of intermittency, whereas wind in some cases is bad but less terrible than solar.

And 30% capacity factor, not a chance. Germany gets 11% from solar and 17% from wind. Areas with more sun can get around 20% for a fixed installation, and 25% can be done with trackers maintained by professionals who know what they are doing. It appears the solar enthusiasts mostly want to generate their own electricity. So there will be innumerate morons in charge of the electric supply. The result is 6% capacity factor for example in the case of my neighbour who incorrectly installed his panels. It appears very difficult to understand that solar panels must be pointed to the sun and must be cleaned when birds shit on it.

Wind in a quality location can get 30% or even 40% (world class sites). There is one facility on an island that gets almost 60%. That starts to get interesting, especially since that island has only expensive oil fired generation and not enough electric demand for a large nuclear reactor.

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Cyril…you do know that navy reactors use neither boric acid nor control rods, don’t ya? :) They use another method to control zenon poisoning. But you take a hit with control rods…so what?

My ‘bet’ is just that. I don’t believe they can do a true CF of 20% without…load following nuclear back up. The realistic bet is to see how much the insanely expensive solar power can reduce reliance on nuclear in France. That’s something to watch.

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“Cyril…you do know that navy reactors use neither boric acid nor control rods, don’t ya? :) They use another method to control zenon poisoning. But you take a hit with control rods…so what?

My ‘bet’ is just that. I don’t believe they can do a true CF of 20% without…load following nuclear back up. The realistic bet is to see how much the insanely expensive solar power can reduce reliance on nuclear in France. That’s something to watch.”

Capacity factor keeps being ignored, lets pretend for a second that a baseload reactor has a capacity factor of .9, but a load following reactor has a capacity factor of what .7? its nameplate capacity will always be higher than its average power meaning you are wasting money, now you could argue that like with renewables nuclear prices just keep dropping but that is not the case (quite the opposite), the costs in making them load following is most definitely a lot more than if you used pumped hydro.

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Environmentalist, going 80-90% nuclear in that case gets you a penalty of going from .9 CF to .7 CF, less than 30% penalty.

What is the economic penalty of 80% wind and solar? The DeCarolis and Keith study showed 300% penalty at 70% and the other 30% had to be inefficient natural gas burners. And that study didn’t consider the effects of that much throttling on cycle efficiency for the gas burners, at all…

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The comment on pumped hydro is correct though – this is attractive for nuclear power, because you can run at night and charge the pumped hydro.

This doesn’t work for solar because, who knew, its not there at night. In fact it is not there 80 to 90% of the time so talking about storing energy that isn’t there is amusing nonsense in the first place.

Pumped hydro was built for nuclear. You only need a little unlike wind and solar when you need gigantic amounts to get the same level of reliability.

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Enviromentalist, on 12 May 2011 at 2:18 AM said:

now you could argue that like with renewables nuclear prices just keep dropping but that is not the case (quite the opposite),

On which Gen 3+ reactor do we have actual cost data beyond copy #1?

Copy #1 of almost everything ends up being ‘more then initially expected’.

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Boiling water reactors are the best we’ve got right now in this sense, because you can just dial up the recirculation pumps to get more power, and dial down for less.

Cyril: can you explain this a bit more. Pretend I’m a ten year old with a decent attention span.

what are the recirculation pumps? (water?) and how does dialing them down and up connect to power output?

g

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Part of the problem I see here is that many who are commenting obviously have a very limited idea of just how the power network operates.

At best naturally intermittent generators can reduce fuel use in situations where the baseload generator they are supporting is flexible enough to take advantage of it. Under the right conditions this is possible for hydro and gas turbine generators and little else. However the degree of net gain even in these cases, is very dependent on circumstance and is not guaranteed by any means.

What intermittent sources cannot do is replace the top part of power demand, no matter how much its supporters think it could. Economically and practically attempting this is simply not viable. Nether the grid, or the power market is set up to permit this sort of application of intermittent sources without so much change that the payback would take forever.

This cannot be ignored. The modifications that would be needed to the grid to allow it to operate on large amounts of intermittent energy, are truly staggering and too little consideration of this is given by those that support renewables. This cannot be made to go away with statistics, or “smart metering” type of demand management, it needs to be addressed directly with an eye to costs and practicability that is sorely lacking in this debate.

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“Environmentalist, going 80-90% nuclear in that case gets you a penalty of going from .9 CF to .7 CF, less than 30% penalty.

What is the economic penalty of 80% wind and solar? The DeCarolis and Keith study showed 300% penalty at 70% and the other 30% had to be inefficient natural gas burners. And that study didn’t consider the effects of that much throttling on cycle efficiency for the gas burners, at all…”

Ok lets try separating the debate:

Natural gas turbines compete with pumped hydro, natural gas turbines are wholly dependent on the price of oil (1/6th),while pumped hydro is completely dependent on the costs of the electricity it buys + capital costs (which for a structure that will last a hundred+ years it is not bad).

A common case of a pumped hydro system that gets the “electricity” it “buys” for free is hydroelectric dams, the intermitency of rain is irrelevant it can rain 1% of the time (but it better be dogs and cats) and it will still provide near perfect load following power, reason being that it is mechanical and not heat based. These are the cheapest form of power known to man, the problem is that it is not scalable.

With Solar you can replace the rain cycle and therefore make it scalable, at what dollar per watt would this be the point of no return? that is debatable, but we all know that if it were 0 it would definitely be the solution not even renewable fossil fuels could even compete with. Only unsafe nuclear comes close, in nominal costs of course.

“On which Gen 3+ reactor do we have actual cost data beyond copy #1?

Copy #1 of almost everything ends up being ‘more then initially expected’.”

No offense but nuclear keeps getting expensive because Copy #1 is usually always the case, now you need Gen V reactors to prevent what happened in Fukushima (as in permanent passive cooling) aside from increased costs in safety the teething will be harsh.

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Hello Gregory, the recirculation pumps are the pumps that boiling water reactors use to increase the flow of the water through the core. Increasing the water flow means more water (cooler) which means less steam bubbles. Less steam bubbles, so more water per volume of core. That means more water to slow down neutrons to fission more uranium or plutonium. Water slows down neutrons and slow moving neutrons are more likely to cause a fission. More fission, more reactor power. Which means more steam to run the steam turbine. More electricity.

Turn the pumps down and there will be less water pushed through the core, so less liquid water, more steam, which means less water to slow down neutrons, so less fission, less power, less steam to drive the turbine.

Typically this can be done to throttle between 60% and 100% output efficiently. The reactor could/can be made to run at lower output but the limiting factor is the steam turbine, it needs a minimum steam flow. Its really designed for full throttle efficiency as well so less power means lower efficiency. If the reactor is going to do load following it can be a good idea to use multiple turbines so only one has to be throttled at the same time.

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here’s an interesting article by Mark Lynas on the Climate Change Committee renewables report.

Cyril et al: what do you think of the claim made for renewables at hi penetration. that the cost of intermittency is only 1 p/kwh for additional renewable generation up to 80%?

Is it plausible for the cost of intermittency to be 1 p/kwh at all levels of penetration up to 80 %?

Is this based on a wide mix of renewables as in the intermittency graph shown? He doesn’t say.

Given the intermittency and low capacity factor of even the averaged renewables, it’s hard to imagine (I of course put little stock in what I can or cannot imagine) this having a relatively negligible cost impact.

anybody have any suggestions for a good tutorial on the costs of electricity?

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Just on pump storage. The largest PS system in the US is Helms, in California. It’s 1800MWs of on demand power built in conjunction with Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant.

It should be noted that generally, ALL schemes for efficiency, transmission (HVDC, UHVDC), storage (PS, Molten Salt), Smart Meters (I’ve had one for a year), all, are far better untilized with highly centralized generating stations than diffuse sources of renewables.

BTW…has anyone tackled this report???
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html

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Its simple Gregory. The renewables UK report doesn’t compare real wind/solar system output for real systems operating in the UK and does not compare these to real UK electric demand data with a high resolution.

That makes the 1 p/kWh poppycock. It might as well be a quid to the kWh.

Comparing real German wind output of january 2009 (january is supposed to be a fairly windy month) with nuclear output of a grid area in the US shows the big picture:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010/03/uptime-downtime_07.html

And standard issue Greenpeace bunk debunked:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/07/greenpeace-on-wind-variability.html

Be sure to check out the excellent comparisons of CSP and nuclear as well:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/07/new-character.html

And PV in Spain:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/07/test.html

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cyril: I’m familiar with those graphs. They’re excellent.

But how do they translate into the costs of intermittency? How translate the vast difference in reliability between wind and nuclear into costs?

Intuitively, I want to say the cost must be significant, but I don’t know what that means. As Mackay says, I’d like numbers that mean something, and not have to rely on my adjectives.

C: what’s “high resolution”? High time resolution? production/costs per minute/hour, etc?

Oh: what is the UK wind and solar report based on?

Models based on hypothetical wind outputs, solar outputs?

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BTW, every headline for that IPCC article focuses on the “best case”–“up to 80%” b.s.

It really is infuriating that science gives way to advertising, as it is my impression that this 80% scenario is an outlier.

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Cyril R. environmentalist, dv82xl, John Morgan, David Benson, and David Walters – thanks for all your comments following up on load following. David Walters especially for clarifying load following on GenIV (and beyond) reactors.

dv82xl – I absolutely agree that most people (myself included, but my picture is improving) have no idea of what a stable, reliable grid requires. I have collected a few urls of comments from people who seem to be ‘on the floor’ or ‘in the seats’ at electric system operators, and I value their comments very highly. Here’s a little bit of a fairly long comment from Engineering Edgar on Depleted Cranium:

Grid energy storage has its place, but it is always a net consumer of energy (more goes in than comes out). This is true for pumped hydro and for batteries. Pumped hydro is still the most common and we may see batteries more common for some smaller regional applications in load smoothing, but really, those are not for much more than short term spikes in demand.

Grid storage is not as good an idea as it might sound at first. Utilities will use it in some cases in circumstances where it is favorable, but generally load following is best done by alocating certain plants as baseload and others as fast-response load followers. The gold standard for this is hydroelectric. If you have a descent number of hydro plants in an area, even if it’s only a minority of generating capacity, allocate those to fast response peaking and it’s a no brainer.

There’s a lot more in this comment that’s worth reading and understanding. He talks about power quality (which I appreciate from my dabbling with power electronics and motors), single phase in homes and three phase on the grid, and the ultimate lunacy, distributed backup on the ‘smart grid’:

The other problem is load distribution. Residential areas and light commercial are not the big draw on power. The biggest are industrial customers. However, city centers do also require some pretty heavy power usage. Now the problem is that if a significant portion of your generating capacity is out in residential neighborhoods in the suburbs, but most of your demand is in the cities and at aluminum mills and chemical factories and so on, how in the hell does it get there? The system was not built with the capacity to back feed that much power from traditionally low-demand sprawling areas to demand centers. Modifying it to do so would be super expensive. We’re talking about multiplying the capacity at all the suburban substations and running a lot of new lines to accommodate the fact that power is now going every which way.

I really value the straight word from the people who have been doing the work of keeping my power on.

Just one comment on hydro. It only has a high capacity factor and relatively low cost because we didn’t have to build the watersheds that collect the raindrops and channel them to places we can build dams. Hydro’s overall collection footprint is very large, but we don’t notice it. David MacKay does, though, and in the hydro chapter of Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air calculates Britain’s hydro power density at .02 watts per square meter maximum. Stored hydro’s energy density is also low, as I noted in my earlier comment.

Anyone who hasn’t read Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air should be required to, before being allowed to write or blog on energy matters. IMO.

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After being challenged by the Ontario Liberals for the past six months to “show us your plan,” Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Conservative party, did just that on Tuesday. In a speech that outlined what could well become the defining issue of the coming Ontario election, Mr. Hudak promised to take down the key elements of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s green energy program.

Mr. Hudak will find allies among consumers, business consumers of electricity and many local governments. [Among other things] Mr. Hudak promised to revisit what many consider one of the most offensive parts of the Green Energy Act, provisions that took away local decision-making powers. These provisions would be tossed out, he said, allowing local municipalities to decide if they wanted industrial wind or solar or other generating installations -hotbutton issues across rural Ontario.

http://www.financialpost.com/news/The+end+of+FIT/4761366/story.html

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Andrew Jaremko, on 12 May 2011 at 11:09 AM — Actually, some distributed generation is easy to accomodate. Assume a substation with its stepdown transformers has a maximum load carrying capacity of 10 MW (I don’t actually know what typical values are). Then as far as that setup goes, it can equally handle the same power flow in the opposite direction.

Around here the two utility substations have been equipped with three (very small) monitoring computers connected via fiber strung on the distribution lines to, eventually, the utility control center. For a slight additional cost (if not done already) the amount of power (and its direction) through the substation can then be monitored. This same idea can be extended to each microgenerator.

The main difficulty with distributed generation is not technical but rather establishng the regulations governing it so that the utility can limit the amount of generation to no more that that required to met demand and keep the grid stable.

Of course if the microgenerators can generate more than the distribution lines can stand then somebody has to pay for upgrades. Thus even more regulations have to be put in place.

Nor am I claiming that this is the most efficient way to develop a power grid. I’m only stating that it is now possible for an extremely small incremental cost.

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@David B. Benson – At the current tiny levels of penetration of small distributed generators, the only thing that is actually accomplished is heating up the equipment.

Also your example is overly simplistic, as this same transformer cannot both supply power to its distribution lines and sent power from those same lines back to the transmission network. At best local distributed generation could, with the right switching, replace some of the power being drawn from that substation. Situations where power can be allowed to flow freely in one direction or the other are necessarily rare. The few places that do have this capacity are privately held hydro facilities that were built to serve a single industrial concern. There, in some cases, two-way dispatch has been designed and built into the system.

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Re my previous:

I’m not claiming that the microgenerators themselves are low cost. AFAIK solar PV is still quite expensive although widely predicted to become the least expensive of the (relatively) unspecialized generation technologies.

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Corrr: “Also your example is overly simplistic, as this same transformer cannot both supply power to its distribution lines and sent power from those same lines back to the transmission network. simultaneously

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Anyone who hasn’t read Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air should be required to, before being allowed to write or blog on energy matters. IMO.

I strongly agree.

Scarily enough though, some people I have recommended this book to haven’t been able to get their heads around the most basic numbers and math, even in the main, non-technical chapters. This is big problem in these discussions. A lot of very innumerate people in a society which relies heavily on technology.

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DV82XL, on 12 May 2011 at 12:17 PM — This region has four major interconnects, two to California, one to BC and one to eastern Montana. The latter two have been used in both directions, at least as recently as last June. SInce the HVDC interconnect to souther California uses exactly the same elements for both the rectifier and the alternator, I see no reason why it couldn’t, in principle, be used in reverse (although I am quite confident it never has been).

As for the local distribution lines, everything is entirely bilateral and so for a modest additional cost for monitoring power could flow from the local substations out on to the rest of the grid. The issues are only those of maintaining gird stability (now incrementally easy) and establishing appropriate regulations (maybe not so easy). It would be quite a bit more expensive to put power electronic phase shfters on the substations to limit flows back out onto the grid; moving information around is quite inexpensive but (partially) overcoming Kirchhoff’s laws via power electronics starts to co$t.

In any case, the academic power engineering community has papers on microgeneratin networks and the stability and control problems associated with the matter. The general trust of the papers I’ve read generallly agree with the trust of my comments.

To hammer home yet again an important point: I am not making a claim for efficiency, just feasibility.

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DV82XL, on 12 May 2011 at 12:19 PM — I see I didn’t explain it very well, apologies.

Consider the net power flow through the 10 MW substation. If no local generation the net flow is utility–>local. If local generation exactly matches local demand the net flow is zero. If local generation exceeds local demand the net flow is local–>utility.

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@David B. Benson – I do not think you fully understand what you are asserting. This underlines what I wrote above: that many here do not have sufficient understanding of how the power network operates.

Interconnects on the transmission network are designed for two way traffic, it is a necessary feature for market operations like wheeling. This is nothing new and has been part of the system for many decade.

Local lines are not necessarily capable of two way traffic, and installations like co-generators work on lines set up for this. Mostly small local generation offsets local load, it does not send excess power back in the real sense of the term.

The papers that you are drawing on do not envision, simply ‘plugging in’ micro-generation into the existing network, but contemplate, rather extensive modifications needed to accommodate such.

I would show you in detail, however we both know that if I ask for references you will only prevaricate, as you have done in the past.

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This quite interesting discussion has led me to think that a better single measure of the cost of electricity generation, better than what just LCOE provides, is required. Irrespective of LCOE, NPPS have to be considered as better than the worst, wind, despite its lower LCOE. Even solar is better than wind (I think) because of better predictability (isn’t there at night, for sure).

While one could discount via the capacity factor, I’m not sure that fully reflects the lower desirability of wind power. Suggestions are welcome.

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DV82XL, on 12 May 2011 at 12:48 PM — I fear we’ll just have to disagree. Maybe my utility puts in better gear than yours (but I doubt it). It is only a matter of how all this bilateral, passive (mostly) and linear (almost and mostly) collection of local wire, distribution lines and transformers between them at the substations functions. That is different than how it is operated, although obviously it must be operated within the functional constraints. From the literature I’ve looked into and from local contacts here, the issues are simply a matter of providing the information to maintain grid control.

The biggest obstacles (other than cost effectiveness) are appropriate regulations. One of the reasons for the so-called smart grid stuff going in in this small town are to help develop enough experience (at a smallish scale) to see what can be reasonably expected regarding so-called demand management (which then can be thought of as a particularly benign form of local generation). There is little likelihood that much solar PV will be installed here; this is the Pacific Northwest.

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> ask for references

Search using David’s words (with one typo fixed) finds quite a few:
http://www.google.com/search?q=microgeneration+networks+++stability+and+control+problems

Scholar finds more; this for example:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2011.01.010

“… e of electrical generation based on renewable energies is increasing, due to its low emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, Distributed Generation and Microgrids (MG) are becoming an important research line because of their peculiar characteristics. MGs are composed of small power sources which can be renewable, placed near customer sites. Moreover, they have the inherent property of islanding: the disconnection of either the MG from the main grid or a portion of a MG from the rest of the MG. There are two kinds of islanding: intentional or planned (for maintenance purposes), and unintentional or unplanned…. Once in islanding, the main grid reference is lost and new control techniques for the inverters are needed in order to obtain the correct values of voltage magnitude and frequency in the MG.

The main objective of this paper is to … present the basic architectures and regulation techniques of MGs and to study the islanding behaviour, mainly the different detection techniques and the inverters’ control once islanded….”

Just an example, from the eleven papers Scholar finds with a 2011 date, using that same search.

Seems people are thinking this through in detail.

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Hank Roberts, on 12 May 2011 at 1:16 PM — Thanks. Yes, the biggest problems are suitable control methods for the microgenerators so that they supply quality power when generating. The communication method being installed here uses wireless to avoid running fiber optic cable to every so-called smart meter. It is not clear this would give the utility company enough ability to control the solar PV inverters under all circumstances. If not, then somebody would have to pay for the extra fiber optic cabling directly to the smart meter, etc.

Hence the necessity of carefully designed regualtions (for a solution which appears to me to be far more expensive than nuclear).

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@Hank Roberts, and David B. Benson – The reference quoted refers to microgrids and islanding, this has nothing at all to do with sending power back to the main grid through existing sub-stations. You are now attempting to compare apples with oranges. Still this requires extensive modifications to do. please understand that the grid, be it the transmission network, or distribution is much, much more than the wires strung between poles.

Asserting that the network can run two way power if suitable controls are added, is logically equivalent to stating that it cannot do it without. The whole point here is that these represent exactly what I wrote above: special circuits to accommodate this; and added expense.

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Hank Roberts,

“MGs are composed of small power sources which can be renewable”

Can be coulda woulda shouldda. Microgrids boil down to inefficient fossil burning in absurd combustion engines, because small wind turbines have capacity factors between 3 and 10% and small solar installations, between 10 and 19%. Most of the time you don’t have energy from renewables so you just burn fossil.

Of course, the microgrid people might claim that their fossil backup – actually their inefficient fossil grid with a sparge of solar and wind on top – “can” have carbon sequestration and deNOx catalysts and particulate filters and…

This is Amory Lovins’s plan; burn lots of diesel and natural gas inefficiently in small engines and use a few solar panels to cover up the stink.

Here’s an example of this type of horrible greenwashing scam:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

Large powerplants are seriously underrated. People also exaggerate high voltage grid losses (they are 3-5% with modern tech). And they don’t realise how inefficient small generators are. So in an attempt to save 5% in grid losses they use 50% more fossil due to small inefficient generators. Its so sad, why are people so innumerate?

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MODERATOR
Roger – you are drifting into unaccepatable comments about other people and your opinion of their motives. Not allowed in the BNC commenting rules. Further such instances will be deleted.

Could you please be more specific in your criticism? What opinion do you refer to? Barry consistently posts comments about the motives of people who promote low-consumption lifestyles, accusing them being quasi-spiritualists, foolish romantics etc. Why am I not allowed to comment on the people who promote continuous growth as cultural norm? If limits to growth are pressing close upon us then people who deny this fact deserve criticism. The only motives that I attribute to them are the same ones that Barry attributes to them, quote: We are stuck with the deep-seated human propensity to revel in consuming and to hope for an easier life.
MODERATOR
Unacceptable comments include pejoratives (Zombies etc. – not quite the same as calling someone a “romantic”) ad hominems and snide remarks. Your last comment is in the Moderation queue because it is full of the aforementioned and I have gone back and further edited your previous remark to delete these. If you don’t like the moderation you are free to stay away.

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Roger, I can address the issue of consumption. I think you are a Utopian. You are talking de-development, some sort of ‘pastural green feudalism’ at best. There are 6 billion plus human beings on this planet.

Scarcity and want are the prime reason for all conflict on this planet. How are you going to enforce Nigeria not to develop? Or Malaysia?

The *advance* of all human civilization is has been made possible by increasing energy generation in cheaper, more abundant and *denser* forms. This is history. What you are asking for is *reactionary*.

It is so sad to see so many renewable advocates throw up their hands at humanities cognitive abilities to address climate change, expanding the forces of production and eradicating poverty. At the end of the day, renewable advocates like Roger don’t see renewables as offering something better, they see some world with few hundred million souls living on minimal energy consumption along with a mortality rate akin to the 18th Century. No thanks, Roger. We can do a lot better.

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David,

I am not a renewable energy advocate. I have extensively criticized renewable energy enthusiasts (admittedly not on this website) who downplay the economic costs of dealing with intermittency. I do not favor closing down the scientific project, and I am not opposed to the development of nuclear energy. I also agree that it is completely unreasonable to ask the underdeveloped world to remain frozen in their current economic condition. The developed world should lower its total demand on resources so that the underdeveloped world can rise to meet us on some reasonable common ground.

The focus of human economic activity should be the production real human welfare (i.e. that necessary minimum of food, shelter, clothing, leisure, comfort, freedom, solitude, and happiness, which is certainly real, essential and indispensable. John Cowper Powys) and not on the endless expansion of production and consumption.

The dichotomy of endless growth or collapse to primitive misery is a self-fulfilling prophecy which I would like to see not come true.
MODERATOR
Roger, David etc – while following these philosophical arguments is interesting, the correct place for them is on the Philosophical Open Thread. Please post replies there in future.I held off on this comment for the first couple of posts which were addressing a point Barry made in this thread but you are veering too far away from the thread’s main message. Future comments may be deleted and you will be asked to re-post in the right thread.

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Not that I’m anti-nuclear, but my own research from LCA up to fisson concludes that nuclear is only just slightly lower in terms of GHG emissons than other conventional fossil fuels (obv differs slightly from fuel source). This does not include the spent radioactive fuel/materials left over, it’s cost of disposal and having *possibly* reached peak uranium (debate still on this matter). Renewables aren’t are shining glory either but we shouldn’t have a matter-of-fact view with fission that it is the ‘next best thing’. We really need to look beyond it and start pumping in more money to R & D.

You also forget that tidal is not among those renewables that are “variable and intermittent”. Although granted they don’t always occur when you need them most….
MODERATOR
As per BNC rules, please cite sources/references to support your statements. You will find posts, on BNC, that completely refute all of your points on nuclear power – these are our references. Please take the time to research these. Further comments, without supporting references, will be deleted and you will be asked to re-post with the necessary refs.

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Barry M said:

Not that I’m anti-nuclear, but my own research from LCA up to fisson concludes that nuclear is only just slightly lower in terms of GHG emissons than other conventional fossil fuels (obv differs slightly from fuel source).

Then your own research is not credible. There is a UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology which surveys various international data and research papers on the carbon footprint of electricity generation, which you can look at: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn268.pdf .

References to the primary studies are in the document.

Coal comes out at about 800g/kWh, gas at 400g/kWh, nuclear at 5g/kWh. That’s right, FIVE g/kWh, overall lifecycle.

Even the IPCC AR4 Report comes up with an average nuclear carbon footprint of a small fraction of gas or coal.

Your research needs a serious sanity check.

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My research shows that solar is only slightly lower in greenhouse gas emissions than natural gas because solar is really natural gas. In my country solar is not there 90% of the time. But we need power about 70% of the time. We’ve banned nuclear power, romance the sun, and end up burning gas.

With nuclear everything is productive and reliable and there is the most synergy with electrification of everything and smart grids.

The big inputs of energy for nuclear are electricity related, guess what nuclear produces. Yup. Furthermore the electric input can be reduced by going for centrifuge enrichment, already happening as older diffusion plants are shut down. Centrifuges are about 20-30 times more efficient on a LCA basis, around 50x on pure electric input basis. This is because they are compact and highly efficient.

Of course if you’re one of those people that assumed coal powered diffusion enrichment, then indeed you’re not a credible LCA researcher. If you assume all energy input to make solar panels is coal then things don’t look good either, especially in a cloudy location such as mine.

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Cyril.

Try GEMIS.
http://www.oeko.de/service/gemis/en/index.htm

Cogeneration is in the range of nuclear. Nuclear is even worse if you use south african import uranium.
At least 30g/kwh up to 130g…without waste management making it even worse than german PV (Spanish PV is rated at 27g!) .
5g?…even the swiss Paul Scherer Institute (Energy and Nuclear research) has calculated a range between 16g and 23g…getting criticized by many credible research institutes for that btw.
Where is you 5g study?

Gas plants can also run on windgas and biogas….wind is quoted at 8-16g by the PSI.

We do have huge gas storage (and transport) capacity. About 514TWh in Germany (compared to 0.6TWh pumped storage).

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MODERATOR

Unacceptable comments include pejoratives (Zombies etc. – not quite the same as calling someone a “romantic”) ad hominems and snide remarks. Your last comment is in the Moderation queue because it is full of the aforementioned and I have gone back and further edited your previous remark to delete these. If you don’t like the moderation you are free to stay away.

Yes, I probably will stay away as I perceive your moderation policy as tending toward censorship of unwelcome ideas. There was no ad hominem attack in what I wrote. An ad hominem attack is an attempt to discredit an argument based on some irrelevant personal fault or chacteristic of the person advancing the argument. So that claiming that because Barry does not believe in limits to growth then nothing he says about the relative merits of nuclear energy vis a vis renewable energy can be believed would be an ad hominem attack. I did not make any such attack.

I did attack Barry’s understanding of economic reality vis a vis limits to growth, employing the rhetorical tools of irony and metaphor. Every sentence I wrote was intended to accurately illustrate the danger and absurdity of ignoring limits to growth simply because the consideration of such limits is frightening or because it is opposed to currently popular modes of social thinking.

The simple way to refute my comment is by saying: “Limits to growth are of no relevance for length of time X for reasons A, B, and C.” I should be refuted by argument, not by censorship.
MODERATOR
You are not being singled out here – many long-standing commenters on BNC have “moderation” applied to their more “colourful” comments and the so called “censoring” was applied to that colourful language and not to your ideas. You may consider that applying the word “zombie” is not a relevant personal attack on someone but, as the moderator, I disagree. However, you could post on an Open Thread where BNC Comments Policy is more relaxed – although comments must still be civil and free from perjoratives.

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Barry, you make a lot of sense. But I’m not sure that you recognise that nuclear, as it operates at present, is any more than a potential temporary fix. There is not enough uranium (so long as we are only ‘burning’ 1% of it) to last for long if it is widely adopted as a replacement for fossil fuels. Eventually we must change to sustainable energy.

Nuclear could be of temporary assistance in getting off our fossil-fuel habit.

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@ Marcus, here’s an example of low GhG emissions for nuclear, around 3.3 grams CO2eq/kWh

http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/TheBenefitsOfNuclearPower

Your references use Storm and Smith (or references that use Storm and Smith) which makes them not credible. Storm and smith use over a hundred assumptions which they have made up themselves to get to a predetermined conclusion. They have axes to grind. However, if you actually *MEASURE* the CO2 emissions per kWh using this thing called ‘arithmetic’ and ‘real world data’ you will find GhG emissions of nuclear comparable to wind. Importantly, its much lower than fossil fuels. It’s pointless to argue over 3 or 30 grams of CO2 when coal produces 1000.

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David Clarke,
@ https://bravenewclimate.com/2011/05/09/renewables-are-not-sufficient-p1/#comment-127870

In the late 1950’s. Australia thought it had insufficient iron ore for its own needs. So there was a ban on exports. Once the ban was lifted, within a decade Australia had enormous reserves of iron ore.

In the mid 1960’s, Australia thought it had just 11 years of oil supply left. Then we allowed exploration and, 50 years later, we’re still producing sufficient for 75% of our demand.

The amount of uranium in the Earth’s crust is similar to tin, zinc and other metals that no one is talking about running out of.

Mineral deposits (other than fossil fuels) are virtually unlimited. As we need more, exploration ramps up. Over time exploration and mining methods improve. For example, one of the uranium mines in South Australia is extracting uranium by in-situ leaching, requiring no conventional mining and avoids the movement of large amounts of materials. Such methods will no doubt be extended to many kilometres depth in the future. Already, geophysical methods are detecting possible uranium deposits at depths of 400 m.

Most of the world has not been explored for uranium because, at the moment, we don’t need more than we have already found. Some 80%-90% (my guess) of Australia’s land surface is banned from uranium exploration. When we need more, the price will increase, restrictions will be removed and exploration will accelerate.

And, as you imply, when it becomes economic to do so, we’ll move to reactors, that use more of the energy in the uranium.

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There’s a trillion tonnes of uranium available in the earths crust at concentrations >10 ppm, giving EROEI of 16-32.

In a nuclear powered world with a large affluent populatioin, we will need 10 TWe of light water reactors and no reprocessing, this gives rise to a need of 2 million tonnes uranium per year. (The latest designs use 200 tons uranium per GW-year electric).

So 1 trillion divided by 2 million is 500,000 years worth of high energy return nuclear power.

http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/WebHomeEnergyLifecycleOfNuclear_Power

Clearly we are not constrained by uranium resources. The stuff is surprisingly common (and that’s why we all receive large background radiation doses from terrestrial sources – uranium and thorium are present in all soils and grounds).

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