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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)”

Barry I find this site so informative and influential on my thinking….however I think I’ll avoid the title ‘promethian environmentalist’ as I can happily do enough damage to my liver on my own account without the need to invite Zeus and his feathered mates to the party.

If we need to keep the classic reference I rekon Friends of Philoctetes might be a goer. He of the foot so foul smelling that his friends deserted him only until they realised they needed his help after all, smelly foot notwithstanding.

insert terrible joke regarding nuclear power being held in bad odour here…

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This article is just common sense.Unfortunately,sense,while one of the few things capable of limitless growth,is not common but in extremely short supply in the population at large and also in most of our leadership.

The lack of sense in the leadership is a critical failing and it will bring us all down if allowed to continue.I am not politically partisan but I am coming to the conclusion that a federal election in the next few months would be desireable.

There is a chance,albeit a slim chance, that a new government could make a start on ending the current lunacy.

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One of the problems with renewables is like many features of our technological civilization design lock-in will get in the way of economic justification for conversion. It’s like the railroads. Just about any engineer will tell you that the gage used in almost all mainline roads is too narrow, and huge advantages could be realized by converting to a wide gage, but the fact is ant gains would be wiped out by the expense of such an undertaking, and that is not considering the cost of the disruption to commerce that such a project would cause.

Other examples abound where should we be starting from scratch, another path would have been taken that would have allowed higher efficiencies, or greater flexibility, but conversion would not be practical. The same is true of the power grid. I don’t think those that push for a 100% renewable future understand the magnitude of the change that would have to be effected to the grid to even give this idea a chance. Invariably, they tend to dwell on the projected capacity of their favourite form of generation, and gloss over the distribution issue with the buzz words ‘smart grid.’

The other major issue is the size of the environmental impact that is caused by schemes to extract energy from natural systems. With very few exceptions the size of the installations required to condense enough power for it to be useful has a major deleterious impact on local ecologies, far beyond that caused by any projected nuclear accident. Scaled to the size that would be required to supply energy to a modern global civilization, there is also some evidence that suggests that these impacts could be of a scale that would cause wholesale changes in the climate at least on a par with burning fossil-fuels.

In short, I see those that cling to the idea of renewables becoming a major source energy the same way I do those that wish that the world would move from a base 10 counting system to a base 12 one. Regardless of the arguments that can be mounted showing the superiority of the latter, nothing will ever move the former from its position. Fission, while far from perfect, is simply the best available option for the foreseeable future.

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Hat tip to Next Big Future for some sobering numbers in a new report from the Asian Development Bank:

* An additional 3 billion people to become “affluent” by 2050 if current Asian growth maintained

* 900 million Asians currently without electricity

* Half of all Asians currently live without basic sanitation.

http://www.adb.org/Media/Articles/2011/13546-asia-2050-three-billion-asians/

Failure to grasp the significance of these numbers and the implication for energy demand and environmental impact seems to me just another form of denial.

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An excellent Op Ed on this topic by Martin Nicholson, “Hanging on to the energy dreams“. A snippet:

… Recently, in this journal, we were presented with an opportunity to see Booker’s dream theory acted out. Dr Mark Diesendorf has long been a strong advocate for renewable energy and its ability to power all our needs for electricity. It seems clear from his article that he is experiencing the ‘frustration stage’ as the progress of his dream seems not to match his expectations.

His retort to those who question the ability of renewable energy to meet our needs suffers from some of the same kind of simplistic myths he claims are made by the questioners….

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Barry Brook – ‘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.”

I am dead sure they will not however as we proceed down infinite growth on a finite planet China and the Western democracies will face the same choices whether they like it or not.

Do you dismiss out of hand the work of population ecologists like those that worked on “Limits to Growth” a cling to the belief that your favourite energy source is the answer?

As you well know I do not think renewables are the answer any more than nuclear is. To my way of thinking the philosophy and attitudes of renewables are a better fit with a sustainable society if such a thing can be achieved.

What I do not understand is that you can think that one particular energy source can overcome all the problems of a large population becoming more affluent, using more energy and producing more pollution and degrading the environment more.

I would like to see in the next part the results of your population modelling that shows our society increasing in affluence without limit given the application of nuclear energy. Have you or any one else on this blog done such studies? If so please present them along with the peer reviewed work that supports them.

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” all the problems of a large population becoming more affluent, using more energy and producing more pollution and degrading the environment more.”

Why would you think that poverty = less pollution?

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@ Ender

What does population ecology have to do with energy?

Limits to Growth modelled the consequences of a rapidly growing population against finite resources. I don’t see anyone here disputing the fact that we can’t continue consuming finite resources infinitely. Nor have I read anyone promoting the idea of “our society increasing in affluence without limit ”

In the case of nuclear fission, which has virtually inexhaustible fuel, the energy resource is not a constraint. And abundant energy puts us in a much better position to tackle almost every problem facing the planet.

Firstly, an affluent, educated population is one that reproduces more slowly (some affluent societies have negative reproduction rates).

Secondly, we are put in a position where, as resources do grow scarce, we can sustainably recycle/reuse the resources we do have, which ultimately requires a lot of energy.

You seem to sum up your fears by saying

What I do not understand is that you can think that one particular energy source can overcome all the problems of a large population becoming more affluent, using more energy and producing more pollution and degrading the environment more.

Using more energy in itself is 100% benign. There are some major impacts associated with how we currently derive this energy, but nuclear power offers us the opportunity to fix this. So ultimately it boils down to the fact that you seem to think pollution and environmental degradation are dependent variables of energy consumption. To my mind, abundant energy really puts us in the position to eliminate many of those degrading practices, so this is where we disagree.

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@ ender:

Ah, Mr. Gloor. Back again in the hope that your antics from your previous incarnation here have been forgotten. No such luck. your repetition of the tired points of the Limits To Growth ideologues of yesteryear will not serve your purpose. But do go on.

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Ender,

I think it is fairly clear that there are very likely some limits to growth beyond which planetary boundaries will come as a very rude shock. But what this has to do with opposition to nuclear power completely escapes me.

There are a plethora of unanswered questions about “growth” that will in reality only ever be worked out in practice. Is continued economic growth possible where economic activity is increasingly oriented to service industries such as leisure, education, health and so on with reduced demands on resources? Maybe. Is a zero-growth capitalism even possible without ongoing and quite dire economic depression? Probably not. Can massively improved recycling of materials (and the implied energy requirements) alleviate the demand on resources and support growth? Possibly. Can everybody on the planet dine on T-bone steak? Definitely not.

Interesting as these questions may be, economic growth worldwide is certain to continue for many decades at least – certainly long enough to cause massive planetary scale damage if fueled by burning stuff.

Being of a somewhat practical nature, I would rather see effort go into limiting that damage, rather than hand wringing waffle that will be consigned very rapidly to the dustbin of historical irrelevancy.

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Now my BS detector is off I can agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed on this thread, especially the doubts expressed about the ability of renewables to replace fossil fuels or nuclear power.

The Germans are great engineers so it is sad to see them wasting their time and money on white elephants like the Solarpark Mühlhausen in Bavaria.

To use 25 ha to generate a miserable 6.3 MW at a capacity factor of 0,11 is just cuckoo.

Ender,
Poverty creates pollution while prosperity provides the means to eliminate it.

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I like ‘Promethean environmentalist’.

Yes much better than ‘ecopragmatist’ with connotations of unacceptable compromise, that would inevitably be labelled ‘sell-out’.

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Tom Keen – “What does population ecology have to do with energy?”

I think that if you can say this then you clearly have not thought about it. Populations use energy, create pollution and deplete natural resources thereby creating a constraint to their growth. With fossil fuels we have temporarily removed one constraint allowing our population to greatly grow at the cost of enormous environmental damage and depletion of natural resources.

“Limits to Growth modelled the consequences of a rapidly growing population against finite resources.”

Amongst other things. It also modelled a society with unlimited energy and unlimited resource recycling – it also overshot and crashed.

Look I am not saying you are wrong just present the modelling that confirms your world picture that unlimited energy is all we need.

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quokka – “I think it is fairly clear that there are very likely some limits to growth beyond which planetary boundaries will come as a very rude shock. But what this has to do with opposition to nuclear power completely escapes me.”

I am not opposed to nuclear power. In my view of the future it will have a small place in the future where renewables cannot work. Also the 4th gen reactors still have a mountain of work to do, when they finally get off the ground, converting all the waste from our folly of PWRs into less harmless waste and generating some energy while they do.

However that is not the point. I am opposed the idea that all we have to do is boil water in a different way and all problems will be solved.

Nobody has presented any proof from modelling or anything to support the view that unlimited energy = all problems solved for ever.

You can say it all you like however that does not make it true.

I have presented evidence in the form of work done by population ecologists that shows that populations no matter how much energy they have still overshoot and collapse when presented with the problem of constrained natural resources and filled up natural sinks.

What evidence do you have to the contrary?

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galloping camel – “Poverty creates pollution while prosperity provides the means to eliminate it.”

So where is your evidence? Where is the prosperous society that has eliminated pollution?

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quokka – “Interesting as these questions may be, economic growth worldwide is certain to continue for many decades at least – certainly long enough to cause massive planetary scale damage if fueled by burning stuff.”

It is not only fuelled by burning stuff – that is not the whole problem. The fact that it is fuelled by burning stuff is creating only one of the problems facing the planet – climate change.

The growing population that is not only growing but attempting to increase in affluence depletes resources more rapidly as affluent people such as ourselves consume more resources that poor people. The fact is to feed the population at the moment we are using fossil fuels to make fertiliser and pump water unsustainably out of aquifers that that are rapidly depleting. Saudi Arabia just stopped growing grain because they pumped their aquifer dry and now they depend 100% almost on imported grain. Even with their unlimited energy resources they cannot reverse this.

Secondly the world’s farmlands are being depleted by overcropping to give us the cheap food that we need. Desertification is proceeding at a rapid pace as is loss of topsoil as factory farming depletes the most valuable of all resources – the topsoil.

The point is the burning fossil fuels is only part of the problem and nuclear power can only be part of the solution. The problem is recognising this and embracing a more holistic view where problems are interconnected.

For instance even if you give the world unlimited clean energy they will start to eat more and consume more and thereby pollute more and deplete natural resources faster. Now to fix those problems you have to have more and more energy so more and more of it is devoted to cleaning up and less is available to continue making people more affluent. Eventually, and the modelling shows this, no matter how much energy you throw at it the natural resource eventually collapses leading to a crash in population and affluence. It is called overshoot and collapse.

The symptoms of overshoot are depleting aquifers, climate change, desertification, resource boom and busts etc and we are seeing them all now.

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Finrod – “Ah, Mr. Gloor. Back again in the hope that your antics from your previous incarnation here have been forgotten. No such luck. your repetition of the tired points of the Limits To Growth ideologues of yesteryear will not serve your purpose. But do go on.”

No stuck on an offshore oil rig for three weeks – have some time on my hands after work.

I am hoping that you will have some evidence that shows that Limits to Growth is an ideologue of yesteryear. Please present the modelling that shows your ideologue of unlimited nuclear fuelled growth works.

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Ender:

You state that Limits to Growth modelled a society with unlimited energy and unlimited resource recycling which nevertheless overshot and crashed.

You also suggest, and most would agree, that the size of the current global population is a consequence of our exploitation of fossil fuel energy. I wonder, therefore, what current population size you would regard as sustainable with no fossil fuels. Clearly, your response would in part be dependant upon what alternative sources of energy were available. Even though you argue that unlimited and cheap energy alone will not prevent a crash, you would presumably accept that such a crash would be much sooner and greater in its absence. Do you believe that, as a crash is inevitable, it is better to get it over and done with as soon as possible in the hope that that there will be sufficient residue to re-start from a smaller base? You might consider that the nuclear advocates here will merely delay and magnify the crash until its consequences are so catastrophic that there won’t remain any base to re-start from. If that is, in fact, your point of view, then I can understand your perspective. I think, however, that I would be able to respect you more were you to spell out how many deaths you advocate in order to return to sustainability (would it, perhaps, be half the current global population number and two thirds of that anticipated by mid century?) I expect that you object to my use of the word “advocate” – you would say that you are not advocating, merely pointing out that the consequences of nature’s laws. Do you not think that many others here might share your concerns, but, rather than wallow in the resultant gloom, are attempting to plot the optimum escape route in the hope that it might just succeed?

The hope would be that demographic transition theory works and that global numbers will stabilise by mid century and then start falling. (Did the Limits to Growth model factor in the demographic transition? If not, its dismal findings were obvious and a model was not needed.) The big question is whether we can reach stabilsation and decline voluntarily before resource/pollution factors precipitate a nature-induced crash. It seems evident to most here that the hope will not be fulfilled by any energy source other than nuclear, which, itself, will prove inadequate unless we get on with deploying it quickly and on a large scale.

I think it fair to suggest that few of us are mindless and technologically-crazed cornucopians. We share your fears, so why don’t you join us in advocating nuclear power as the last best hope for our future, even if you judge it to be but a small hope? Is it because you enjoy portraying yourself merely as a prophet of doom? Alternatively, is my earlier suggestion correct, namely that you fear that nuclear deployment will delay but exacerbate the coming crash? If so, why don’t you provide us with your ideas for managing it, unpalatable as they are bound to be?

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Barry,
Your key arguments against renewable energy are somewhat over-stated:
“all the sources described are incredibly diffuse”
Average solar energy is 5kWh/ sq meter/day, average land area per person is 25,000 sq meter. The highest electrical energy consuming countries use < 50kWh/day/person.
Wind, hydro and geothermal are even more "diffuse", but they are more concentrated at some locations and all can be concentrated further, using mirrors, turbine blades or dams.
It is true that specific renewable energy resources at specific locations are variable and as a consequence require storage and /or back-up, but this is also true for any one nuclear reactor or FF power plant, whats important is the performance of the entire generating infrastructure connected to grid.
"massive storage" sounds challenging but most grids are already connected to massive hydro storage.
"backup" in the form of OCGT capacity is going to be around for a long time to help supply exceptional peak demand, whether most electricity comes from renewable or nuclear. Its good to have natural gas back-up but whats important will be how often it has to be used and how we can reduce this to a minimum with renewable hydro storage or other energy storage systems.
There are excellent reasons why nuclear power should be expanded and used by a large proportion of the worlds population, but only in very specific locations would the primary reason be because renewable energy is not available or too diffuse or too variable.
More significant issues are: how quickly and to what extent can specific renewable and types of nuclear power be expanded, what will be the bottle-necks or capacity issues of rapid expansion and what will be the costs?

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I am hoping that you will have some evidence that shows that Limits to Growth is an ideologue of yesteryear. Please present the modelling that shows your ideologue of unlimited nuclear fuelled growth works.

Surely you mean ideology, in this context. Anyway, you are the one claiming that nuclear advocates are aiming for ‘unlimited growth’. You seek mathematical fictions to confirm your views and refute others, but reality doesn’t work that way. I’ll settle for the more modest goal of ensuring adequate robust energy supplies for the next few hundred million years.

http://channellingthestrongforce.blogspot.com/2010/03/is-nuclear-power-sustainable.html

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@ Ender

Populations use energy, create pollution and deplete natural resources thereby creating a constraint to their growth.

That is not population ecology. That’s social demography.

It also modelled a society with unlimited energy and unlimited resource recycling – it also overshot and crashed.

I am quite familiar with the book, and there is absolutely no modelling of this kind.

Look I am not saying you are wrong just present the modelling that confirms your world picture that unlimited energy is all we need.

I never claimed it is all we need. I said it puts us in a better position to tackle virtually every problem. As for asking for the presentation of a model which shows the benefits of plentiful energy – that is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Equally ridiculous as if I was to ask you to present a model which shows that plentiful energy and a decent standard of living cannot coexist with a sustainable lifestyle, where we have taken our dependence off of the biosphere (which is ultimately what needs to be done)?

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Tom Keen – “I am quite familiar with the book, and there is absolutely no modelling of this kind.”

My apologies – I should have said “Limits to Growth – the Thirty Year Update”. I think you will find it modelled in Chap 4, fig 4.8 what they call Scenerio 0 which has unlimited in, unlimited out. This is but one example.

“I said it puts us in a better position to tackle virtually every problem.”

Why? We have had “unlimited” energy from fossil fuels for the last 100 or so years and the problems still remain. Why do you think that a new unlimited energy will change things?

“As for asking for the presentation of a model which shows the benefits of plentiful energy – that is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Equally ridiculous as if I was to ask you to present a model which shows that plentiful energy and a decent standard of living cannot coexist with a sustainable lifestyle, where we have taken our dependence off of the biosphere (which is ultimately what needs to be done)?”

Again why. You are advocating a form of energy that you think will put us in a better position to tackle virtually any problems. All I am asking is some modelling or evidence that shows what you are saying is true. Or is the truth of what you say so self evident that you do not need to back it up?

Again I apologise about the mix up with the books – i was not intending to deceive.

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Douglas Wise – “I wonder, therefore, what current population size you would regard as sustainable with no fossil fuels. Clearly, your response would in part be dependant upon what alternative sources of energy were available.”

Without setting up “Limits to Growth – The Thirty Year Update” as a ‘bible’ there is a scenerio in Chap 7 that serves as an example of what could be done. It involves profound changes to the world’s economy and the way people interact. I suggest you read it. BTW if anyone is wondering I have a copy of Limits on my phone and can refer to it.

“Do you believe that, as a crash is inevitable, it is better to get it over and done with as soon as possible in the hope that that there will be sufficient residue to re-start from a smaller base? You might consider that the nuclear advocates here will merely delay and magnify the crash until its consequences are so catastrophic that there won’t remain any base to re-start from. If that is, in fact, your point of view, then I can understand your perspective.”

Because the changes are so profound I do not think that there is much chance that they will be done so if the modelling is correct then we are headed for something in the next 50 years.

You can look up my previous posts on this. Renewables, as they are diverse and resilient to an extent my be able to provide something after what happens, again if it happens, to whatever society survives. That is my main reason for advocating them.

They also fit much better with a low energy sustainable society that if we did make the really hard decisions and decided to transition to a steady-state low energy, low pollution economy as in Chap 7. Nuclear power and nuclear power advocates to my mind seem far more interested in substituting nuclear power for fossil fuel in the vain, IMHO, hope that this will work and growth and the present economy can continue as it has in the past. In short if it worked before in will work again.

“The hope would be that demographic transition theory works and that global numbers will stabilise by mid century and then start falling. (Did the Limits to Growth model factor in the demographic transition?”

Absolutely. Why would you think professional scientist would leave out such an obvious thing? The problem is that even small growth still compounds. Also as energy is unlimited the population even though it is growing more slowly demands a higher and higher lifestyle for more and more people. Eventually even with lower growth the increasing affluent people overwhelm the resources of the planet.

“We share your fears, so why don’t you join us in advocating nuclear power as the last best hope for our future, even if you judge it to be but a small hope? Is it because you enjoy portraying yourself merely as a prophet of doom? Alternatively, is my earlier suggestion correct, namely that you fear that nuclear deployment will delay but exacerbate the coming crash? If so, why don’t you provide us with your ideas for managing it, unpalatable as they are bound to be?”

Because I honestly believe that a massive nuclear rollout as would be needed, and the subsequent no change in energy use and resource depletion that would follow would only make us crash harder and faster.

IMHO the only way to be a sustainable society is to change our economy to one that does nto need endless growth. Until that happens you can power it with whatever you like, it will still crash eventually.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function” – Dr Albert Bartlett

Look up his lecture.

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There is a new IPCC WG3 report about to be released on the role of renewables in mitigating climate change. The full report is not yet available, but the summary for policy makers is: http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report/report/srren-spm-fd4

This is already being spun as “Renewables will power the world”:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/09/ipcc-renewable-energy-power-world

The whole report is going to make very interesting reading, but one thing that instantly caught my eye was the pie chart showing world energy production by fuel source. Rather ingenuously in my view, it put nuclear at 2% by considering the electrical output and comparing that to the primary heat energy produced for example by coal. If you are generating electricity by boiling water to drive steam turbines, it seems only reasonable to compare the heat production required to do that regardless of source of heat.

I suspect that we are going to hear quite a bit about this report in the near future.

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Ender:

Thank you for your reply. I accept that you honestly believe that a massive nuclear rollout “would make us crash harder and faster”. I have several times read Dr Bartlett’s lecture and don’t disagree with any of it.

However, I can’t agree with the “harder and faster” conclusion. I would choose a description such as “later, but failing population stabilisation, more severely and more acutely.”

Do you accept that, if we attempted a sustainable approach now, such as you appear to advocate, we could only sustain a population well below the current number? The crash would thus come sooner.

However, while I accept that every effort should be made to reduce female fertility rates, I really don’t see that why you should necessarily deem it a bad thing to attempt to avoid mass starvation and misery while doing so.

On the subject of endless growth, I thought Quokka gave you an excellent, thoughtful and reasoned response. I couldn’t better it so won’t try.

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The Solarpark Mühlhausen in Bavaria shows why solar doesn’t cut it.

“It covers 25 ha and generates 0.7 MW of average power (peak 6.3 MW)”

This means a capacity factor of 0.11 in other words the energy is not there 89% of the time. Thus fossil fuels are locked in forever with solar. The fossil fuels only have to compete with the cost of energy storage, which is easy even with big carbon taxes. In practice, solar grids end up greenwashing load of fossil fuels.

Even in the desert you’d be hard pressed to get twice that, for example the Solar Generating Station in the Mojave gets around 0.19 capacity factor, still not there 81% of the time.

http://www.pvresources.com/en/sgs.php

Make no mistake, energy that is not there 80-90% of the time and that cannot be turned on when needed, is not going to replace fossil fuels. Indeed it will enforce their role as a critical portion of electric grids.

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Ender, it sounds to me like your concerns are entirely orthogonal to the issue of how we power our society – more like how we run our society.

I trust you would acknowledge the observed linkage between a certain level of affluence and stabilization of population. Only the enforced fertility restrictions of China have offered any alternative. In general, poverty does not just equal pollution, it also perpetuates population growth

If – in a postulated high energy future – we were able to stablize population and use methods of growth that involved quality rather than quantity, how would that impact the crash scenarios you fear?

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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.

Doesn’t Shale Gas and Coal Seam Gas and the technology of fracking challenge the assertion that gas supplies will decline (any time soon) or that prices will tighten? In fact isn’t it likely that gas will in fact become abundant and cheap and the locations in which it can be sourced quite widespread? And gas can be used as a mobile energy carrier for transportation almost as readily as oil based fuels.

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Shamus, its easy to see that this recriticality thing is plain nonsense; iodine is decreasing not increasing. The ‘new study’ you cite uses VERY old data. Recently, more cesium has been leaching in from the rods in the nr. 4 spent fuel pool, increasing the concentration. When you add water the concentrations will all decrease again. Iodine however never increased, because it is not there in old fuel rods (well relatively; its still a highly active nuclide compared to cesium, even after a few months of storage you still get significant iodine in terms of Becquerel activity).

Click to access 110509e3.pdf

MODERATOR
Cyril, this is OT. Please repost this on the FD Open Thread

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The empirical evidence suggests that cheap energy is necessary (not sufficient) for a well-educated wealthy society, and that these societies have low and decreasing birth rates (Europe is below the replacement rate from Portugal to Russia).

Isn’t it usually referred to as the ‘limits to growth fallacy’?

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shamus, on 9 May 2011 at 11:47 PM said:

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26738/

Cue the advocates to let us know how this is not new

To quote from your link –
Matsui points out that there are some potential question marks about the data. One possibility is that the chemical properties of cesium and iodine might mean they are flushed away from the reactors at different rates, changing their ratios.

But it’s hard to see what chemical processes could be responsible for this and even harder to understand why they would occur in some places but not others at Fukushima.

Unit #2 is know to be leaking, possibly via the torus.
Why would anyone assume that the proportions of heavy metals dispersed via steam pressure venting would be the same as the amount dispersed via a water leak?
MODERATOR
The original post by Shamus was moved to the Open Thread. Please re-post there.

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I think we need to parse the IPCC report as it comes out as it is not just The Guardian but every major paper of record that is reporting on this.

For the record, what makes anyone think that just because some resources are “finite” we know what that limit is? Being gas, oil, uranium, etc? I think people are operating under some assumptions that are hardly provable as new techniques for prospecting and extracting resources are developing.

Secondly, *every* major advancement in human civilization corresponds to some form of increased use, increased supply and lower costs of energy. And…denser forms of energy at that. With a massive roll out of nuclear energy, who really knows what we can do with almost limitless supplies of electricity? What you new compounds can be made? What new applications of energy for human use can be developed? The highly reactionary idea that ‘we used to much’ needs to be discarded. It should always be “how can we use more, in better, more efficiency ways…”, not “let’s go back the days of the Hobbit”.

Lastly, it is clear that people in Western democracies will vote to roll back gains made in energy expansion: we see this in Canada as someone noted; we see this in Germany and many other places. The ‘fear’ parlayed into voters minds by Fukushima (now a ‘noun’).

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” Thus fossil fuels are locked in forever with solar. The fossil fuels only have to compete with the cost of energy storage, which is easy even with big carbon taxes. In practice, solar grids end up greenwashing load of fossil fuels.”

Hydroelectricity is the cheapest form of power today, more so than anything fossil fuel related, and while pumped storage being mildly more expensive than natural gas simply because it has to buy baseload energy first and sell marginally more expensive peakload, the more logical solution would be to make the energy it buys the cheapest and greenest energy period. Not to mention cheap oil already peaking how would this scenario ever happen?

The problem with hydro is scale, (among other simplifications) there are few places where solar energy is converted into rain which would then flow and accumulate in a top reservoir. With human beings taking over from the middleman rain cycle, it means pumped hydro fixes the hydroelectric scale problem for good. All it takes is cheaper and cheaper PV per watt.

Sometimes I wonder if you would reject solar panels even if they were free.

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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.

A less consumption oriented world is not a romantic notion, it is a physical possibility, and, in my view, very likely a physical necessity. The assumption that, once our energy supply is decarbonized, a constantly expanding global economy will have no serious environmental impacts is likely to prove false. Furthermore the perceived ‘necessity’ of constant economic expansion not merely for China, India, South America, and Africa, but for North America, Europe, Australia and Japan makes it highly likely that the process of decarbonization will be long and drawn out, guaranteeing lots more GHG emissions in the decades ahead.

The human economy cannot expand exponentially forever. The fact that the world is filled with cultural zombies who do not want to admit this obvious truth does not make the people who are not zombies ‘romantic’ dreamers. I do not have romantic dreams, I have nightmares, because the world is filled people like you who insist that human cultural prejudices will prevail over the laws of nature.
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.

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@Environmentalist – But they are not free, and new hydro is going to be much more expensive than it was in the past as well. Again like most renewable supporters, you fail to take into account that it is not just the generator, but the whole system, end-to-end, that must be considered.

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today in Germany (a sunny day) we had above 7 GW of solar power between 9:15 am and 5:15 pm.

http://www.sma.de/de/news-infos/pv-leistung-in-deutschland.html

7 Gw is the amount of power that was switched off, when German chancellor Merkel took down 7 reactors due to the nuclear moratorium.

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atom-Moratorium

the small amount of solar power that we have installed is already making a rather significant impact on our electric supply on sunny days. and as i just said on another topic, about 0.65% of German surface are rooftops that could be used for solar with zero cost of space.

Denmark is demonstrating, that 20% wind is possible. together with other renewables, it might not “fix” the energy crisis, but it will have a very serious impact.

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Yes I would reject solar panels if they are free AS LONG as I remain unconvinced of large scale cheap energy storage, cheaper than burning coal or natural gas. Because as long as that’s the case, all you’ll achieve is a little solar and a lot of must-have fossil fuels to back up that former energy source which is not there 80-90% of the time.

Based on simple observed learning curves for various large scale energy storage technologies, I conclude that energy storage is completely uneconomical today and in the distant future. Pumped hydro does not scale. You need alternative pumped hydro such as underground pumped hydro, to scale, and that will greatly increase costs. As solar penetration increases you are stuck with a new problem, which is exponentially increasing marginal costs, due to massive mismatch and increasing storage requirements at higher grid penetrations.

This isn’t a problem for nuclear. Most countries can do what France did, around 80% nuclear, 10% hydro, a few percent waste-to-energy&biomass, and you’re there 95%. With electric vehicles it will get better as you can use the excess nuclear baseload power to charge daily commuting and trade vehicles (by far the majority of vehicle-kilometers). Then you might be able to do up to 90% nuclear. Run the things 90% capacity factor and eliminate almost all of the gasoline consumption at the same time. With solar you couldn’t do this; the sun never shines at night, so you’d need a lot more storage capacity to even things out.

As an engineer I have decided to reject the notion of investing heavily in 20% solutions that don’t question the other 80% of the problem except by fortune cooky eating & prophetic promises of cheap energy storage.

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The funny thing I’ve noticed is that many solar enthusiasts are confused between productivity and total resource availability.

We hear things like ‘the sun shines down thousands of times more energy than mankind consumes’.

Of course that is true.

Alas, that’s also not the whole story. The solar resource may be large enough, but it turns out to be not there 80 to 90% of the time.

A properly installed properly maintained modern solar installation with high efficiency inverters might get you 1000 to 2000 kWh per kWp of panels per year, depending on how sunny your location is.

That sounds like a lot, but is it?

A year has 365×24= 8760 hours. So 1 kW running constantly at full throttle gets you 8760 kWh per year.

Suddenly that 1000 – 2000 kWh per kWp per year doesn’t sound so good anymore; it only runs at 11.4 to 22.8 percent of the time, meaning the energy is not there, on average, 77-88 percent of the time.

It just so happens that modern countries such as Germany need power all the time; even at nighttime low the demand is still 70% of the daytime peak. And that daytime peak, by the way, does not coincide with the solar peak; peak occurs around noon for solar but in the early evening for most grid demands.

It gets worse when we realise that Germany needs more electricity in winter, when solar is out, 96-99% of the time, not to be back with the flowers in spring, and even then you should be lucky to have solar at 20% of the time.

Energy sources that come and go with the flowers are not going to fix our fossil fuel addictions and the phalanx of problems continued reliance of fossil fuels cause.

We cannot afford this addiction. We need a potent, reliable, practical affordable medicine to get rid of our addiction. Pies in the sky, such as the solar dream, are dangerous when to one who is starving.

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“Yes I would reject solar panels if they are free AS LONG as I remain unconvinced of large scale cheap energy storage, cheaper than burning coal or natural gas. Because as long as that’s the case, all you’ll achieve is a little solar and a lot of must-have fossil fuels to back up that former energy source which is not there 80-90% of the time.”

You do realize that you just described hydroelectric dams as unfeasible and unreliable? It only rains 10-20% of the time? Say its not so!

“Based on simple observed learning curves for various large scale energy storage technologies, I conclude that energy storage is completely uneconomical today and in the distant future. Pumped hydro does not scale. You need alternative pumped hydro such as underground pumped hydro, to scale, and that will greatly increase costs. As solar penetration increases you are stuck with a new problem, which is exponentially increasing marginal costs, due to massive mismatch and increasing storage requirements at higher grid penetrations. ”

Underground storage is an option, seawater storage is more likely.

http://virtualglobetrotting.com/map/okinawa-yanbaru-seawater-pumped-storage-power-station/view/?service=0

These storage sites exist today only to buy baseload and sell at peak. They are competing with Natural Gas turbines today. Since the price of gas is tied with the price of oil (1/6th the energy potential) its inevitable that these sites will pop up, on a smaller scale even in your visualized nuclear future. Hopefully it will be solar and wind supplying the energy they buy. The externalities have to be included in the costs period.

Looking at the IPCC report is kind of sad that wind is stuck at 1-1.4 $/watt it seems it might have hit a floor of sorts, but I am not too familiar, the good news is that offshore could help with the capacity factor.

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“Because as long as that’s the case, all you’ll achieve is a little solar and a lot of must-have fossil fuels to back up that former energy source which is not there 80-90% of the time.”

Cyril, you seem to be focused on capacity factors, without fully understanding it.

if i want 10 MW of photovoltaic solar energy, i do NOT install a system, that has 10 MW nominal value and cover the big gaps with 90% backup gas plants.

to get 10 MW of solar, i will look at the real output of the panels, so i will have to install 50 to 100 MW of nominal power.

we need more electricity during day than during night. a conservative guess (a lot of current night energy is demand that followed cheap supply) would be that we need 1/3 more during the day. for this part of demand, it doesn t make a real difference, that solar is not available during night.

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Cyril R
You are mixing up capacity factor and intermittency.

Wind is cheaper than nuclear anyways. Even China is investing more money in wind than nuclear. And they are investing in high altitude wind.
Nuclear is going to get dwarfed by renewables.
Politics will do the rest.
Germany as one of the most social developed countries is leading the way.
Australia will never go nuclear. There is no way to get that going.

BNC does not get that many hits because people are interested. A huge audience is just interested in reading some nuclear propaganda and leave when they had enough of it, dismissing everything they read as very extreme opinion.
There are all the same people commenting.
I still would love to see ALL comments sent. Would it be possible to have a separate forum where just the dismissed comments get posted? Barry, do you keep those?
I still like your paper games and desperate but repeating comments.
I am still waiting for an article/tcase or whatever about the kitegen. Its one of the neatest ideas in my opinion.
MODERATOR
There is no list of dismissed comments because the only comments that are dismissed outright are those which are obscene, abusive or make threats to the person(Yes we do get those). All others are posted and edited, if necessary, to ensure thay comply with the commenting rules on BNC which I will re-post to remind everyone

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JUST A REMINDERTO EVERYONE.
BNC COMMENTING RULES
Comments Policy — I welcome comments, posts, suggestions and informed debate, from a wide range of perspectives. However, personal attacks, insulting/vulgar posts, or repetitious/false tirades will not be tolerated and can result in moderation or banning. Trolls will be warned, and then banned.
Civility – Clear-minded criticism is welcomed, but play the ball and not the person. Rudeness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humour and staying on topic are superior debating tools.
Relevance – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.
Citing literature and other sources — appropriate and interesting citations and links within comments are welcomed, but please DO NOT cite material that you have not yourself read, digested and understood. As a general rule, please introduce any and every link or reference with a short description of the material, your judgement on its quality, and the specific reason you are including it (i.e. how it is relevant to the discussion).

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I think the IPCC may be undermining its credibility by publishing an effusive report on renewables http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/press
The IPCC’s remit is long term climate issues, not nuts and bolts tinkering. They have already shot themselves in the foot with the A emissions scenarios showing steady increases for the period 2050-2100, most unlikely.

From a brief glance at the report summary the crucial shortcomings appear to be costs of overcoming intermittency, overestimation of net energy and practical limits to capital availability.

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Gregory Meyerson, on 10 May 2011 at 10:06 AM & Tom Keen, on 10 May 2011 at 11:06 AM — Thank you.

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Arguing with the renewable faction on this blog is a waste of time and effort. Their ideology is ‘renewables at any cost,’ and that includes getting into bed with fossil fuels, in the mistaken belief that this is a transitional phase.

Wind and solar are never going to contribute any meaningful amount of energy without FF back-up. This is because the costs of storage and transmission will never be competitive with thermal generation, and will never be built, and needless to say, nuclear doesn’t need anything that wind or solar can deliver.

But the renewable crowd will never look beyond their fantasies. (ad hom deleted) they will pile on the dogma, and refuse to admit that their idol has feet of clay..

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The UK government’s Climate Change Committee has released its Renewable Energy Review:

Click to access The%20renewable%20energy%20review_Printout.pdf

One of the interesting bits is an assessment of LCOE for various technologies from 2011 through 2040 (Figure 1.10 Page 70) and the effects of two discount rates (Fig 1.11 Page 73). Nuclear is assessed as about the lowest cost low emission technology over the whole period. On-shore wind is the only real competitor in terms of LCOE.

Clearly they are not buying the story about dramatic falls in the cost of renewables.

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Douglas Wise – “Do you accept that, if we attempted a sustainable approach now, such as you appear to advocate, we could only sustain a population well below the current number? The crash would thus come sooner.”

Quite possibly however that lower figure can be achieved by lower birth rates that taper down over many years. The problem I think is that you equate low energy with low technology and high birthrates. However it is possible to have a high technology and and educated population that uses much less energy. Even now European energy use per capita is less than half the US energy use. Most European cities have much higher livability indexes that most US cities. Further reductions are possible. If we as a society decide that the concept of sufficiency can be applied then we can reduce the cycle of consumerism that takes so many resources. Again they are big changes however nothing about them implies lack of education or birth control.

“On the subject of endless growth, I thought Quokka gave you an excellent, thoughtful and reasoned response. I couldn’t better it so won’t try.”

And I think that he completely missed the point however Quokka has not responded to my rebuttal.

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DV82XL – “This is because the costs of storage and transmission will never be competitive with thermal generation, and will never be built, and needless to say, nuclear doesn’t need anything that wind or solar can deliver.”

So what do you propose you do about peaking demand. Or even load following if your nuclear power plants are baseload only?

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Cyril R,
You have written many comments on this thread that are so right that all I can say is “Amen”. Now I will devote my efforts to “Ender” because he is so wrong.

Ender.
You raise the really big questions and that is good but you draw entirely the wrong conclusions. Humans along with every other species procreate to the point that they stress the environment. That is not good or evil; it is just what species do.

Humans are not the only species that have the power to change the planet. Some very early life forms created the oxygen that humans depend on and that is only one of many examples.

Humans create new technologies that often provide the means to support large populations which we call civilisations. There were some pretty impressive civilisations based on Stone Age technology and then along came the Romans with their Iron Age technology and so on to the present day.

History records the rise and fall of civilisations and of course we are in the middle of such a process at the moment and we can only speculate as to how our civilisation will end (as it surely will) and what will take its place.

Most of the people who post here are basically optimists who think that if we keep developing new technologies we may somehow delay the inevitable collapse of the the social order that underlies our exponential growth in population.

As a physicist and mathematician I realise that exponential growth cannot be maintained indefinitely on a finite planet.

My hope is that mankind will not chicken out by failing to develop nuclear power to the point that we have nuclear powered space vehicles capable of sending large numbers of people to other stars in the same way that salmon leave the rivers of their birth to live in huge oceans. It is just a survival thing; something that species do to the best of their ability.

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@Ender – Oh yes the old saw about nuclear not load following. That is just not true. I am mostly familiar with CANDU reactors, and they can load follow rather well.

CANDU stations operate extensively in the automatic, reactor-following-turbine mode, where the plant is subjected to continuous small perturbations in reactor power, with no adverse effects. The digital control systems provide the capability to respond to a megawatt demand signal generated from a remote dispatch facility. CANDU reactors operating in the reactor-following-turbine mode can continuously compensate for grid frequency fluctuations requiring a plus or minus variation of 2.5% full power while operating between 90% power and 100% power. In addition, considerable operational data is available documenting successful experience with deep load changes (down to 60% and back to 100%) in the Bruce B and Embalse stations since 1984 and 1986 respectively. This provides substantial data to confirm the load following capabilities of CANDU reactors.

REF: http://canteach.candu.org/library/20054414.pdf

With enough capacity, peaking just isn’t needed.

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DV82XL – “This is because the costs of storage and transmission will never be competitive with thermal generation, and will never be built, and needless to say, nuclear doesn’t need anything that wind or solar can deliver.”

I hit post to early.

What I mean is assume for a minute that I am a nuclear power advocate and want to mitigate climate change as quickly as possible. Even the most blind supporter of NP must acknowledge that they are slow to build and unmodified can only do baseload.

So IMHO the best nuclear power plan that also addresses climate change is to replace baseload coal plants as fast as possible with nuclear power up to about 40% of demand. That in itself is a massive task that will take many years.

Then fully support the fast build solar thermal, solar PV, wind and geothermal that can do load following very efficiently as these forms of power have CFs that are very close to the 45% that load following plants normally run at. This block would be about another 40% to 50% of demand.

Then the remaining 10% to 20% would still have to be FF or biomass fuelled generators that can both firm wind and provide peaking demand.

I don’t understand your (deleted ad hom) opposition to renewables.

(girding on flame proof pants now …….)

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@Ender – Renewables cannot work as peakers without good, inexpensive and reliable storage, because by definition peakers must respond to transient demands, and if the wind isn’t bowing or the sun shining at the moment it is needed it cannot service that market.

The problem is that any storage system that will permit renewables to fill that role, could be recharged with unused electricity from a NPP, and probably less expensively. You loose ether way.

e

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Ender,

Your “Macro” philosophy is full of negativity but now I would like to accept the “Micro” challenge that you issued when you said:

“So where is your evidence? Where is the prosperous society that has eliminated pollution?”

In the 1950s I was living in London where we took some short cuts in our efforts to recover from WWII. The result was lethal pollution and I was personally involved in fixing it.

In 1800 the river Thames was a commercial salmon river but the growth of the city and the practice of dumping untreated sewage into the river destroyed the fish habitat. The last Thames salmon was caught in 1815. The pollution got steadily worse until by 1955 the river was a stinking sewer with no vertebrate life forms.

It got so bad that the House of Commons had to suspend its sessions owing to the stench! As you can guess that got their attention and the Parliament enacted stronger legislation covering the discharge of untreated waste into the river. However, it took decades of effort by the government (Thames Water Authority), corporations, engineers and private organizations to reverse the pollution.

When I left London in 1981, there were over 80 species of fish in the tidal reaches of the Thames and I grew rainbow trout (a salmonid) in commercial quantities using water pumped from the river. Today the salmon are back and ~115 other vertebrates as well. See http://www.riverthamessociety.org.uk.

This shows that even appalling levels of pollution can be reversed by a prosperous society!

In parallel, the lethal atmospheric pollution in London was dramatically reduced by eliminating the use of soft coal for household heating and related measures.
MODERATOR
This type of discussion belongs in the Open Thread. It is off topic here. See my remark to Ender above.

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quokka – thanks for that link – that’s an interesting read so far. The point I’d note is in the caption to Figure 1: “Excludes additional system costs due to intermittency, e.g. back-up, interconnection.”

Presumably that would increase the cost further for wind & solar, meaning that on a cost basis, nuclear is a clear winner.

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i think the UK position on nuclear has been overstated in a comment above. this is the full quote from the report:

“Nuclear power currently appears to be the most cost-effective of the lowcarbon
technologies, and should form part of the mix assuming safety
concerns can be addressed. However, full reliance on nuclear would be
inappropriate, given uncertainties over costs, site availability, long-term fuel
supply and waste disposal, and public acceptability.”

Click to access The%20renewable%20energy%20review_Printout.pdf

“assuming safety concerns can be addressed” is a rather strong condition.

the Fukushima accident will delay nuclear reactors in a planning stage by at least 1 year in most part of the world. reactors that are currently build will be checked and several projects will have to be abandoned.

at the same time, Japan and Germany will close multiple reactors for ever.

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Sooo, Sod, correct me if I am wrong , but Germany is shutting down well functioning , safe nuclear power stations, only to import electricity after sunset or cloudy days or when there is no wind . Gee , now , remind me ,how do the French generate power again ?

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However it is possible to have a high technology and and educated population that uses much less energy. Even now European energy use per capita is less than half the US energy use.

This is utterly irrelevant to the majority of the world’s population who don’t have access to abundant, or any, electricity, and don’t enjoy the same standard of living. And unless people are willing to give up cars, much more stationary energy is going to be needed to power them.

Ender, the world’s enormous developing population is not going to stop in its quest to achieve what they perceive to be a sufficient standard of living. You can either preach doom about this, or start looking at some practicalities for dealing with the problems that might potentially arise with it. You don’t need models to show that technology can have some benefit here – just logic.

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Gee Heavyweather,my reading of the number of nuclear reactors under construction now in China is 27 and there are plans for another 245 reactors by 2050 at a cost of $550billion. Can’t give you exact figures for the wind build but a figure of $5billion is in the back of my mind. Germany’s panic shut down of 8 reactors because of Fukushima makes me wonder what form of generation they’ll replace the nuclear with. probably coal I would suggest, that’s if they want to preserve their base load supply. Can’t see the renewables doing the job. ps. Australia will go nuclear, eventually and I hope sooner rather than later.

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“@Ender – Oh yes the old saw about nuclear not load following. That is just not true. I am mostly familiar with CANDU reactors, and they can load follow rather well. ”

My thermodynamics may be rusty, but any heat system that operates on variable output should be less efficient than one running at peak operating efficiency. Meaning it should be cheaper to store with hydro anyhow and release at peak.

“The problem is that any storage system that will permit renewables to fill that role, could be recharged with unused electricity from a NPP, and probably less expensively. You loose ether way.”

We will never agree on the true costs of nuclear quite frankly, but –even using your best case numbers– I have a hunch that whatever cost per watt normalized with capacity factor of solar will beat nuclear within the time it takes to build a single new nuclear plant, 10 years is a long time with PV.

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Sod, you seem to be dismissing capacity factors as irrelevant, without fully understanding its simple yet terrible implications.

German electric demand at night is around 70 to 80% of the daytime peak. That’s huge. Solar is zero at that time. Germany needs more electricity in winter, when solar is 1-4% capacity factor, i.e. not there 96-99% of the time. There is nothing wrong with this statement; it is technically correct.

Germany needs more electricity in the evening when solar is on its way to sleep. Not good. These features are diametrically opposed to what Germany needs. Ergo solar is a fossil fuel lock-in. whereas if you look at the constant nuclear output you will see this matches very well with nuclear and coal. Your choice, nuclear or fossil. Those are the only choices. Solar in Germany is little more than greenwashing and covering up their huge fossil fuel addiction. Germany is on no path to reduce fossil fuel use.

You can’t just say ‘oh we’ll build a 5x larger array’ because then you’ve got too much power in mid summer at noon, yet still zero at all nights and declining output during evening peaks, and still too little power in winter. Seasonal electricity storage is prohibitively expensive, its much easier just to burn natural gas or coal, even if prices triple it will still be cheaper to just burn fossil.

As for the UK not going full nuclear because of uncertainties about cost, that’s just hilarious. Whats the cost of full wind/solar system for the UK? Don’t you think there *might* be considerable uncertainty about what that costs?

Environmentalist, hydroelectric dams with large resevoirs are useful because of their large in-built 99% efficient storage systems. Yes 99% because the water waits a bit longer while only evaporating a bit. Hydroelectric plants can be easily throttled at demand, unlike solar, a BIG difference.

You have to think on the system level; with lots of nuclear to provide most demand, hydro can help with the peaks. Yes at lower capacity factor. It’s the cheapest system. Solar and wind don’t help because they lack the capacity credit, in plain English, you have double investments so the costs of the solar and wind equipment is just added cost to your system.

By the way it surprises me that some people don’t understand what kWp means. kWe, kWth, kWp, kWav, these should be self-explanatory right?

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DV82XL – ” Renewables cannot work as peakers without good, inexpensive and reliable storage, because by definition peakers must respond to transient demands, and if the wind isn’t bowing or the sun shining at the moment it is needed it cannot service that market.”

First of all I did not say they can. If you read what I wrote I said that peakers will probably be FF or biomass fuelled gas turbine or diesel generators as they have the quick stop start qualities that peakers need.

As to the storage – yes storage will benefit all forms of generation however as the marginal cost of wind is zero nothing can fill storage quite as cheaply. Right now this fact is forcing electricity prices down where wind abundant as wind farms with zero fuel costs and low capital costs can sell surplus wind at very low prices. 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

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I think Ender has a very good point: the goal with nuclear should be coal-replacement. Its good at that and coal is the worst of the fossil fuels in terms of emissions/external cost. This will indeed be challenging enough!

But Ender is wrong that nuclear plants are slow to build. Germany went for serious investment in solar in 1991, with a big solar roofs program, and continued with the high cost feed-in-tariffs, and got about 3% solar in 19 years.

In 19 years France went to about 80% nuclear.

Clearly nuclear can scale well, whereas solar is still unproven. Looking at how dismal the productivity and intermittency issues are, its hard to see how solar will ever be a majority of supply.

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galloping camel – “In the 1950s I was living in London where we took some short cuts in our efforts to recover from WWII. The result was lethal pollution and I was personally involved in fixing it.”

Yes and that is what affluent societies do – clean up their own backyards and export their pollution. Where do you get your food from? Where does the e-waste from our consumer society end up?

Yes you may have eliminated pollution from your corner of the world however making and disposing of our consumer products is polluting somewhere else. The poorer countries of the world are not making things for themselves they are making them for us. High levels of pollution in China is our pollution really. Overpumping aquifers is often done for export crops to the First World.

You have not eliminated it – just exported it. Maybe the sheer volume has been reduced but in no way has it been eliminated.
MODERATOR
Ender and others – this train of argument is veering into the philosophical and away from the thread topic. If you want to argue this please transfer to the Open Thread.

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Also I disagree that efficiency is opposed to nuclear and must only be married to renewables.

Indeed, we can see from actual projects that efficiency and nuclear work very well together. The Tricastin enrichment facility upgrade from inefficient diffusion to efficient centrifuges will save around 3 GIGAWATTS of electricity by 2016.

That’s enough to power *ALL* households here in the Netherlands!!!

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2009/12/french-enrichment-plant-reduces-energy.html

Clearly nuclear and efficiency are highly synergistic.

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Tom Keen – “This is utterly irrelevant to the majority of the world’s population who don’t have access to abundant, or any, electricity, and don’t enjoy the same standard of living. And unless people are willing to give up cars, much more stationary energy is going to be needed to power them.”

OK but 100 or so years of abundant energy has failed to give these people the same standard of living as us. Why do you think that a different abundant energy, as you perceive nuclear to be, will be any different? Maybe their problems are not energy related and throwing energy at them, abundant or otherwise, will not fix the systemic problems they have that keeps them stuck in a cycle of poverty. Think for a moment if you offered to give a large nuclear reactor for free along with all the transmission lines they need to Yemen. Do you think that that would fix all the problems of Yemen and that would be all they need. Remember Yemen is almost out of water as the aquifers are now so deep that digging them is taking a lot of energy.

“Ender, the world’s enormous developing population is not going to stop in its quest to achieve what they perceive to be a sufficient standard of living. You can either preach doom about this, or start looking at some practicalities for dealing with the problems that might potentially arise with it. You don’t need models to show that technology can have some benefit here – just logic.”

Yes I am sure I can however that path of BAU, of growth, leads to collapse. I am not preaching doom, just stating what the science says. If you are going to accuse me of preaching doom about growth then you may as well accuse people like me who also preach doom about the climate. Barry is ‘guilty’ of this however he is correctly interpreting the science of global warming to come to the conclusion that climate change will result from our CO2 emissions. I am only quoting the science behind Limits to Growth and other peer reviewed work that shows unrestrained growth leads to collapse eventually. It also shows that unlimited energy does not stop this collapse in most scenerios modelled. Now of course these are only computer models however the equations behind them are as sound and based on observations as the science of climate change.

That is one thing I do not get. You all seem quite happy to interpret the science of climate change and realise something must be done about it however when some scientists warn that our unrestrained growth could lead to collapse and show valid science to back up these assertions you dismiss it.

Not sure why climate science + modelling = climate crisis where population science + modelling != resource crisis.

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Cyril R – “But Ender is wrong that nuclear plants are slow to build. Germany went for serious investment in solar in 1991, with a big solar roofs program, and continued with the high cost feed-in-tariffs, and got about 3% solar in 19 years.”

France rolled out standard reactors at a time when safety standards were less rigorous than now. It was also a state run rollout.

In the modern environment post Fukushima reactors are going to be even more expensive. Also are you going to standardise on one design to rollout? Do you think that Areva, Toshiba, Westinghouse, GE etc will all get together and agree on one design to mass produce like the French rollout? I don’t think so.

I really think as a nuclear advocate you should focus on the 40% baseload and promote renewables just as hard to do the rest.

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Ender:

Again, thank you for your reply. I appreciate that female fertility is tending to fall across the globe and, in many first world countries, to levels that will lead to declining native populations ( though immigrants tend to prevent this outcome). I also accept that it might be possible for first world citizens to lead more satisfying lifestyles while being less consumerist and more energy efficient, though many are clearly unconvinced – which has major implications in democracies.

However, you have pointed out that much of our pollution has been exported to developing nations who make our consumer goods for us (to the extent that many nations and individuals within them have placed themselves in debt in what you would no doubt describe as futile attempts to better themselves materially and healthwise (attenuateded, non productive old age). Thus, you might accept that the cessation of imports from developing nations is liable to condemn them to falling living standards which are already very low for many of their citizens. In third world nations, living standards are lower still and the UN suggests that Africa will only be providing sufficient food for 25% of its population by 2025.

While it is good to dream of a sustainable and contented world population at sometime in the not too distant future, the trick is how to get there from where we are now, knowing as we do, that an increasing population to 2050 is already in the pipeline. In my view, we are committed to deploy all the technology we can muster to give us a chance of a soft landing. If we blow it, I accept that we will have a monumental and catastrophic crash. It seems to me that you have honestly arrived at a different conclusion. You appear to argue that technology/consumerism has led us towards unsustainable lifestyles and that we should change course immediately. This would seem to require a change in human nature or global authoritarian rule at the very least. However, I would suggest that it is already too late to slam on the brakes without a resulting population crash which, in population terms, would have to be greater in percentage terms than that occurring during the Black Death.

If you think that your way is the way to go, can you please explain how we are to reach sustainability without a population crash? In my view, a green approach of the type you appear to be advocating cannot reach a successful outcome without such a crash in the next 50 years. One might argue that it would be a once and for all corrective which would teach us to be more sensible in the future, but at the expense of whose offspring will the lesson be learned? If I had to guess, I’d suggest that the principal sufferers would be those in the indebted first world and in the impoverished third world.

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The current conversation, promoted by Ender, seems to have veered away(in some instances) from the thread topic of solving the energy and climate crisis with energy efficiency and renewables, into a philosophical discussion on lifestyle, population, pollution etc. Please argue these topics in the Open Thread so that others reading the thread for information relating to the topic aren’t put off by having to wade through off topic subjects.As per the BNC commenting rules, further off topic posts will be deleted and you will be asked to re-post in the correct thread.

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Ender, nonsense, France has some of the safest reactors on the planet. Very safe reactors replaced very dangerous fossil fired plants that would otherwise have killed tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Europeans. The Frence decided to save lives, and were very succesful.

I think its silly to criticise the French about state run rollouts for nuclear when solar and wind are all heavily dependent on government subsidies. Surely you see the double standard here, Ender?

Its not necessary to standardize designs on a global scale – competition is good especially long-term. Huge excessive solar subsidies have hampered innovation by competition. Companies that make PV panels have become lazy and go for the quick profits of today’s technologies rather than investing in disruptive things like infrared nano-antennas.

I’m fine with focusing on the baseload market for now, but you must realise that beyond that point things look great for nuclear with very little storage required whereas the opposite is true for full scale wind/solar. In order to solve our fossil problems we need a clear route to the end game. Its too risky to not worry about the big increasing fossil fuel use, we need full scale solutions.

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And by the way, the baseload market is bigger than 40% in energy terms – all coal and all nuclear are baseload and even much of gas and even some oil fired and hydro capacity do operate as baseload around the world. 60% is probably more accurate. If you keep hydro at the status quo (grow just as fast as consumptioin) then you can probably get around 80% solution this way.

Click to access 29ELEC.pdf

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@Ender, – The bottom line is that intermittent renewables simply have nothing to contribute to a majority nuclear powered grid. The major reason is issues like peaking, and seasonal load-following are themselves creatures of fuel costs to a very large extent. Because the cost of fuel is such a small part of the cost of nuclear energy, the need for these services can be reduced to a fraction of what they are on a majority FF powered grid.

The marginal costs of nuclear, once it is built, per megawatt-hour, are just as low, if not lower than wind.

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I have a hard time promoting renewables (namely solar & wind) as the only viable solution. I can promote them, along with nuclear power. However, for me, it is downright irresponsible to say we can predict the future and nuclear won’t be needed here.

As long as there is coal, it is responsible to explore all the options (including CCS) until we reach the low carbon system we need.

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With a conscious effort to return to the topic I would like to amplify what Doug Wise said:
“In my view, we are committed to deploy all the technology we can muster to give us a chance of a soft landing. If we blow it, I accept that we will have a monumental and catastrophic crash.”

Hydro is wonderful but is not available in sufficient quantity. The renewables that can be scaled up such as wind and solar have immense unsolved technical problems that will limit their ability to replace today’s work horse technologies (fossil fuels and nuclear).

Any country that embarks on replacing coal and nuclear with renewables is making a political decision rather than an economic one. The result will be an earlier collapse of our civilisation than would occur if we continue to improve NPP design and capacity.

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DV8XL,
Reluctantly I have to disagree with you and the link that you cited. There is some confusion here between what it COSTS to produce electricity using wind and what you can SELL it for.

While the “Fuel” for wind is free, once you include the amortization, transmission and maintenance costs it is a different story. Then add in the cost of storage if wind is tasked with replacing coal and nuclear.

With nuclear the fuel cost is near zero but as with wind, the other costs add up until right now coal is cheaper in many jurisdictions.

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Quokka, gallopingcamel, cyril R, DV82XL, Bern et al:

Quokka (10th May, 1.19) linked to the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee’s Renewable Energy Review, citing their conclusion that nuclear had the most favourable LCOE. Bern added that this was the case even before including the additional system costs of intermittent energy sources. Notwithstanding, the Committee went on to recommend a portfolio of clean energy solutions of which nuclear should be no greater than 40%and to claim to show evidence that the additional costs of intermittency were quite small as a percentage of generating cost, even at levels of 65 and 80% renewable penetration. Their recommendations were thus at odds with those that I and many other contributors here would have made. In fact, their advocacy was closer to that of Neil Howes.

This committee is supposedly composed of experts with relevant experience and one may presume that its advice will be given serious attention by government. I have only had a chance to skim the report so far, but a few things occur to me:
1) EC legislation mandates that a percentage of energy must come from renewables rather than merely specifying clean sources. In my view, 4th Generation nuclear technology should be classed as renewable (not that we currently have access to any). In the meantime, current nuclear should have status equivalent to renewables when it comes to government support. I believe the absence of a level playing field and the assumption that it would remain tipped may have influenced the committee.
2) The committee’s conclusions were predicated upon a carbon tax that would escalate to £70/tonne by 2030.
3) The reason for the apparently low cost of dealing with intermittency was largely ascribable to demand switching and interconnection (as opposed to storage and backup). Both heat demand and electric vehicle charging were deemed to be readily amenable to demand management aided by the universal rollout of smart meters. It was assumed that 60% of vehicles would be electric by 2030. No consideration was given to the extra associated costs and relative merit compared to, say, synfuels.
4) The committee was sanguine about nuclear safety and thought the main limit to growth was likely to be failure to locate enough sites that would be approved. They thus seemed to assume that planning would be left in the hands of local authorities and NIMBYs. They acknowledged that a much greater build rate was possible.
5) The committee signally failed to explain convincingly why it was considered that a mix of solutions was preferable to the least cost option and seemed heedless to the nation’s state of indebtedness.

I would be extremely grateful for the thoughts of others with more experience of energy/engineering than I have. I think that it is important for nuclear advocates to identify with precision those of the committee’s conclusions that are based on faulty premises, despite the fact that the report is by no means anti-nuclear.

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Douglas Wise, the first thing to look for is: does this study use real time real output both on demand and supply side? The answer is no, what a disappointment. See figure 1.3 of the report, it uses monthly aggregated data. Well gee there is a monthly aggregated correlation of wind with demand, I guess now we don’t have to worry about higher resolutions eh? Of course this is nonsense; power must be supplied every millisecond to decade. It is not useful to have average correlation over a month of wind with demand when you don’t have much power for one week and a lot in another within that month!!! Sorry utility costumers, you won’t get power this week, but we promise on monthly averages you will get your power! Oh yeah!

However there is high resolution if fictive data in figure 1.4 which make it clear that there is massive intermittency in this system. This proves the point; the renewables contribution leads to a large fossil backup lock-in. So you have a low carbon nuclear component, and a composite renewable – high carbon component. That’s not good! That’s greenwashing!

If this is what UK energy experts can come up with, then its time to start worrying. Well at least they suggest a bigger role for nuclear, it’s a start.

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Now another thing to look for is what are the numbers behind storage and interconnection. The report claims that 4 GWe of energy storage and 24 GWe of interconnection can make 80% renewables a reality. This appears to be based on complete fantasy with no real full UK scale grid demand and real renewable supply mix analysed. 4 GW of storage capacity, does anyone fall for this nonsense? UK has peak demand in the order of 60-70 GWe, and how many hours of storage is not even included in the first place. The claim is made that this has a carbon intensity of close to zero CO2 per kWh. Well then where does the 24 GWe of interconnected power come from? Nuclear plants from France, perhaps?

Mostly the report ‘deals’ with intermittency in mostly qualitative ways, by ‘mentioning’ ways to ‘manage’ the intermittency. Typical unscientific Greenpeace bunk.

France is getting 80% of its electricity from nuclear with lower electricity rates than the UK:

http://www.energy.eu/

What more evidence for cost does the committee need?

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Cyril R, on 10 May 2011 at 7:31 PM said:

And by the way, the baseload market is bigger than 40% in energy terms

Just to clarify…40% base-load nameplate capacity generally equals 70% of actual production.

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“… Nuclear plants, as large, centralized sources of power, have helped Japan’s 10 main electric utilities maintain their control over the power grid.

The advent of a so-called smart grid that would handle power supplied by numerous small producers could threaten the utilities’ dominance. “What they want to do as much as possible is to keep distributed power off the agenda,” said Andrew DeWit, an expert on Japan’s energy policy at Rikkyo University….

… One thing most experts agree on is that conservation should be a priority. Cutting power use 10 percent would be the equivalent of building about 13 reactors, said Mr. Toyoda of the energy economics institute.

The nation is likely to get a real-life conservation test in the coming months. Because of the nuclear and fossil fuel power plants knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami, businesses and households in some parts of the country will be asked to cut their peak energy use this summer by about 15 percent. ”

——–
Note that last bit: ” … fossil fuel power plants knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami …”

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@environmentalist – Thanks for pointing out the Okinawa Yanbaru Seawater Pumped Storage Power Station. The Wikipedia article lists its total water storage capacity at 564,000 m*3, generating capacity 30 mW, and flow rate at maximum output 26 m*3/sec. From which I calculate 180 mW-h of storage capacity, or 6 hours of maximum output. Energy density in the water is about .32 kWh/m*3; not very high.

Efficiency numbers aren’t given, but the Wikipedia article on pumped hydro gives a range of 70%-85%. You have to put in between 210 and 260 mWh from somewhere, to get 6 hours worth of 30 mW generation.

The Wikipedia article also doesn’t give a number for how fast the Okinawa storage can be pumped up. If we assume it’s at the 30 mW rate, it has to be pumped up for 7 to 9 hours in order to provide a maximum of 6 hours of power. That doesn’t sound good to me.

@dv82xl – thanks for the Candu load following link. The most important take-away from it for me is that the turbine/generator has to be designed for load following and transients. I suspect that most NPPs were optimized for baseload, and that power plant engineers could design reliable, dispatchable peakers as well. They may not have been asked for them yet. Can anybody with relevant experience comment?

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There is no advent of small numerous power suppliers. They need the same grid capacity to smudge things out, and they are much less efficient than big power plants. You only save a little on high voltage transmission – in theory. Because in practice it turns out the cute small is beautiful philosophy needs gigantic energy storage and/or gigantic long distance transmissions to smudge intermittency. Even if the batteries are distributed, the total amount of battery capacity will be enormous and will require a gigantic battery manufacturing, distribution and recycling industry. The consequences of shallow thinking are not pretty.

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Cyril, here’s a story about those numerous small power suppliers you say aren’t there.

This is about the dark side of distributed generation — distributed incompetence. Instead of a small number of incompetents managing a few large potentially dangerous plants, we get a vast number of incompetents installing a large number of small devices and walking away from them.

Hey, what could go wrong?

http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=the-literally-shocking-truth-about-2011-02-14

“lately I’ve been feeling less sanguine. Solar experts have regaled me with tales of poor workmanship they find when they do spot checks of installed systems. As improperly installed joints corrode, connections loosen, and wires fray, we may be looking forward to a wave of breakdowns in the coming years. “Not only is there a potential for an increase in system failures, but there is also a potential for a rise in unsafe and potentially lethal situations,” says Corey Asbill of New Mexico State University…..

Asbill is an electrical engineer, certified installer and member of a Department of Energy “Tiger Team” that goes around the country offering solar expertise. He tells me about a talk he gave in November 2009 to a meeting of installers and inspectors in Sonoma County, Calif. “It was a really nerve-racking talk, to be honest,” he says. His team had spent several days scrutinizing a sample of 15 nearby solar arrays and finding safety hazards in every one. “I was standing before this crowd and pointing out their mistakes,” he recalls.”

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Regarding peaking versus load following, technically an elegant solution is to have two turbines, one optimised for baseload (efficient at constant output) and one optimised for peaking (less efficient but can throttle very well). This way the efficiency hit is minimal. The reactor itself operates at full power all the time, excess off-peak heat is used to charge a thermal energy storage system, which in turn is used to supply the peaker turbine with a short burst of peaking power every day.

It is also possible to throttle down the reactor, this is what the French do, but that makes you no money.

Another option is to have a low capital cost use for the off-peak heat. That way you can size the reactor for full peak and run it constantly, with the off-peak excess being dumped in the low capital cost heat user. Examples could be sulphur-iodine hydrogen production, desalination plants, anything with low capital and high energy cost. Even better would be to find electricity consumption things like that which have low capital costs but high electricity costs, possibly aluminium production (though I think that one is less likely). This means the turbine can just run full bore all the time, even continue in weekends.

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Hank, I didn’t claim the systems aren’t there, in my country a sizeable chunk is distributed generation. My point is that they are very inefficient and do have many drawbacks that traditional plants have regarding the grid. Most distributed generation here is 20-25% efficient combustion gas turbines. That’s crazy, when you realise that large 300 MWe class combined cycle generators are available on the market with 60% efficiency. The high voltage grid losses are around 4% in this country. Trying to save that 4% by installing generators that are 50% less efficient is nuts. Guess what, the government here provides hefty subsidies to this ‘distributed generation’ – subsidizing inefficiency. This is all possible because people cannot do basic energy analysis to figure out that we are being misled.

My neighbour has a solar system. He installed it facing north-west, the moron. His capacity factor is 6% – in a good year. Don’t worry though, this pathetic performance will be compensated by lots of natural gas burning on the grid. Probably by inefficient ‘distributed generators’.

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As for the grid drawbacks, building distributed generation to high penetrations overloads the medium voltage distribution systems, which then need to be reinforced by hefty investments. Distributed generators both give and receive electricity, a bigger strain on the grid than just receiving it. It now turns out that we have too much distributed generation in some areas and they have to be connecting to high voltage grids. Using low capacity factor distributed generators such as solar will greatly increase transmission cost per kWh because of the poor transmission capacity utilisation.

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“@environmentalist – Thanks for pointing out the Okinawa Yanbaru Seawater Pumped Storage Power Station. The Wikipedia article lists its total water storage capacity at 564,000 m*3, generating capacity 30 mW, and flow rate at maximum output 26 m*3/sec. From which I calculate 180 mW-h of storage capacity, or 6 hours of maximum output. Energy density in the water is about .32 kWh/m*3; not very high.”

Its a pilot program the first seawater pumped hydro, all you need is scale. And you have a system that will reliably store and release power for over a hundred years with some maintenance.

“The Wikipedia article also doesn’t give a number for how fast the Okinawa storage can be pumped up. If we assume it’s at the 30 mW rate, it has to be pumped up for 7 to 9 hours in order to provide a maximum of 6 hours of power. That doesn’t sound good to me.”

Its a system designed for baseload buying and peakload release, you could easily design one to pump in two hours and release in a year.

“@dv82xl – thanks for the Candu load following link. The most important take-away from it for me is that the turbine/generator has to be designed for load following and transients. I suspect that most NPPs were optimized for baseload, and that power plant engineers could design reliable, dispatchable peakers as well. They may not have been asked for them yet. Can anybody with relevant experience comment?”

If its heat based it will be significantly more inefficient, you have to remember you are building a system that can theoretically run at 100% and not utilizing that output most of the time. Not to mention the heat loss means lower turbine efficiency once the power output is dialed down.

100% Nuclear power is directly tied down with pumped hydro. France can do it since they have FF and hydroelectric dams. Not many countries are so lucky with their geography.

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In Japan there seems to be growing support for more renewables and a change of plan about the increase of nuclear electricity to 50% of supply.

i am not surprised, as it will be extremely difficult to build a nuclear power plant, while those who had to leave their homes around Fukushima are still not allowed to return. people who live in a 20km zone around a new plant might simply not be happy about a new plant.

at the same time, adding new reactors to existing plants also is difficult. Fukushima has demonstrated that reactors that are too close together are very difficult to control during an accident.

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“Sod, you seem to be dismissing capacity factors as irrelevant, without fully understanding its simple yet terrible implications.

German electric demand at night is around 70 to 80% of the daytime peak. That’s huge. Solar is zero at that time. Germany needs more electricity in winter, when solar is 1-4% capacity factor, i.e. not there 96-99% of the time. There is nothing wrong with this statement; it is technically correct.”

———–

Cyril, this is simple. if you are looking for a electricity source for the night, the PV solar is NOT the way to go.

the night time demand is at a high percentage, because over decades of cheap night electricity, demand has been moved to the night.

In Germany, many people have a dual meter, one for counting daytime, the other for counting night time (from 11pm) electricity. in old buildings, electric night stoves have been installed, to save installation costs. (typical if you go to a youth hostel in a historic building, for example)

all of this will end, when rates are changed to follow supply.

but until solar PV is a really high percentage (like over 10% of total electricity), this will not matter. basically PV provides electricity at the time when it is needed and some part of the evening peak demand will be shifted there. (people will not start their washing machines when they come home)

PV also will help us a lot with climate systems, which really threaten to increase electricity demand. together with a little bit of building improvements (useful anyway..), PV solar will provide the power to run climate systems.

———

“You can’t just say ‘oh we’ll build a 5x larger array’ because then you’ve got too much power in mid summer at noon, yet still zero at all nights and declining output during evening peaks, and still too little power in winter. Seasonal electricity storage is prohibitively expensive, its much easier just to burn natural gas or coal, even if prices triple it will still be cheaper to just burn fossil.”

——–

i am not sure, whether you understand what will happen.

for a start, PV solar will NOT be THE major source of electricity supply in a scenario with high percentage of alternative energy.

the reason for this is simple, PV indeed can not provide electricity at certain times.

but even this can work, as the “The Combined Power Plant” project in Germany demonstrates:

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

(via the Stephen Lacey link above)

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)

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@ Andrew Jaremko, & Cyril R – Its not so much the design itself that alows NPP to load follow, but how they are opperated

Boiling water reactors and Advanced Boiling Water Reactors use a combination of control rods and the speed of recirculation water flow to quickly reduce their power level down to under 60% of rated power, making them useful for overnight load-following. In markets such as Chicago, Illinois where half of the local utility’s fleet is BWRs, it is common to load-follow (although less economic to do so).

In France nuclear power plants have great load following capablities. French PWRs use “grey” control rods that can adjust power without introducing a large perturbation of the power distribution. These plants have the capability to make power changes between 30% and 100% of rated power, with a slope of 5% of rated power per minute. Their licensing permits them to respond very quickly to the grid requirements.

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Further on French reactor load following, WNA has a good description of the situation:

RTE can depend on flexible load following from the nuclear fleet to contribute to regulation in these three respects:

1. Primary power regulation for system stability (when frequency varies, power must be automatically adjusted by the turbine),
2. Secondary power regulation related to trading contracts,
3. Adjusting power in response to demand (decrease from 100% during the day, down to 50% or less during the night, etc.)

PWR plants are very flexible at the beginning of their cycle, with fresh fuel and high reserve reactivity. But when the fuel cycle is around 65% through these reactors are less flexible, and they take a rapidly diminishing part in the third, load-following, aspect above. When they are 90% through the fuel cycle, they only take part in frequency regulation, and essentially no power variation is allowed (unless necessary for safety). So at the very end of the cycle, they are run at steady power output and do not regulate or load-follow until the next refueling outage. RTE has continuous oversight of all French plants and determines which plants adjust output in relation to the three considerations above, and by how much.

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Has anyone gotten a look at the IPCC renewables report? UCS is spreading it around as you might expect, uncritically as usual.

gm

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In a Feb 2010 paper “Australia and the nuclear Fuel Cycle” by Keith Alder, former director of Lucas Heights [ANSTO] and John Reynolds,executive director of the Victorian Chamber of Mines,they noted that ” Nuclear offers immediately, electricity supply that is reliable and continuous, cleaner and safer than others, GENERALLY competitive and alleviates CO2 emissions. With advances in fast neutron reactor technology and the capability to “breed” fuel, it should become the world’s major energy source for a long period. Australia should now position itself to benefit to a much greater degree from its massive uranium resources through active participation in the rapidly expanding nuclear fuel cycle industry. We should not forego the opportunities it offers and simply remain a supplier of the basic raw material for this very important global industry.” I’ve included that paragraph in my “Ockham’s Razor” talk on Climate Change and Australia’s Energy Future which should go to air in the not too distant future on Radio National. The renewables [sun and wind]can’t/won’t cut it, CCS is way off in the future and so is geothermal [hot rocks], efficiencies will take decades to achieve, if ever, waves, tides are intereting ideas and may be helpful at the local level. But, we want base load power. We have two alternatives viz. stick with coal and try to clean it up [CCS] or go nuclear. The emissions problem is apparently quite urgent and so the world needs to start phasing out coal and phasing in nuclear and make that [nuclear] the prime source of our future power supplies. One way to help that would be for us in OZ to divert most of our support [$642 million in Swan’s last budget] from renewables Rand D to nuclear Rand D. I make that point also in my Ockham’s talk.

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Andrew Jaremko, on 11 May 2011 at 3:11 AM — It appears that other contributors have answered your questions, but if not, ask further and I’ll attempt a reply somewhat later today.

Enviromentalist, on 11 May 2011 at 3:46 AM — Pumped hydro actually does not scale up well. I’ll attempt to explain later.

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