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Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 2)

This post continues directly on from Part 1 (please read that if you’ve not already done so!). I also note the flurry of interest in the new IPCC WGIII special report on renewable energy prospects through to 2050. I will have more to say on this in an upcoming BNC post, but in short, it fails to address — with any substance — any of the significant problems I describe below, or in the previous post. What a disappointment!

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Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 2)

Renewable energy cannot provide reliable 24-hour, 7-day-a-week  power to meet baseload demand

The minimum amount of power that a city or country demands usually occurs at night (when most people are asleep); this is called the electricity ‘baseload’. Some have claimed that it is a fallacy to argue that all of this demand is needed, because utilities tend to charge cheap (‘off peak’) rates during these low-use periods, to encourage more uptake (by everything from factory machinery to hot water systems). This is because some types of power stations (e.g., coal and nuclear) are quite expensive to build and finance (with long terms to pay off the interest), but fairly cheap to run, so the utility wants to keep them humming away 24 hours a day to maximise returns. Thus, there is some truth to this argument, although if that energy is not used at night, extra must instead be supplied in the day.

Some critical demand, however, never goes away – the power required to run hospitals, police stations, street lights, water and sewerage pumping stations,  refrigerators and cold storage, transport (if we are to use electric vehicles), and so on. If the power is lost to these services, even for a short while, chaos ensues, and the societal backlash after a few such events is huge. On the other side of the energy coin, there are times when huge power demands arise, such as when everyone gets home from work to cook their meals and watch television, or when we collectively turn on our air conditioners during a heatwave. If the energy to meet this peak demand cannot be found, the result can be anything from a lot of grumpy people through to collapse of the grid as rolling blackouts occur.

Two core limitations of wind, solar and most other renewable systems is that: (i) they are inherently variable and are prone to ‘gambler’s ruin‘ (in the sense that you cannot know, over any planning period, when long stretches of calm or cloudy days will come, which could bring even a heavily over-compensated system to its knees), and (ii) they are not ‘dispatchable’. They’ll provide a lot of power some of the time, when you may or may not need it, and little or none at other times, when you’ll certainly need some, and may need a lot. In short, they can’t send power out on demand, yet, for better or worse, this is what society demands of an electricity system. Okay, but can these limitations be overcome?

Large-scale renewables require massive ‘overbuilding’ and so are not cost competitive

The three most commonly proposed ways to overcome the problem of intermittency and unscheduled outages are: (i) to store energy during productive times and draw on these stores during periods when little or nothing is being generated; (ii) to have a diverse mix of renewable energy systems, coordinated by a smart electronic grid management system, so that even if the wind is not blowing in one place, it will be in another, or else the sun will be shining or the waves crashing; and (iii) to have fossil fuel or nuclear power stations on standby, to take up the slack when needed.

The reality is that any of these solutions are grossly uneconomic, and even if we were willing and able to pay for them, the result would be an unacceptably unreliable energy supply system. Truly massive amounts of energy would need to be stored to keep a city or country going through long stretches of cloudy winter days (yes, these even occur in the desert) or calm nights with little wind and no sun, yet energy storage (batteries, chemical conversion to hydrogen or ammonia, pumped hydropower, compressed air), even on a small scale, is currently very expensive. A mix of different contributions (solar, wind, wave, geothermal) would help, but then we’d need to pay for each of these systems, built to a level that they could compensate for the failure of another.

What’s more, in order to deliver all of our regular power demand whilst also charging up the energy stores , we would have to ‘overbuild’ our system many times, adding to the already prohibitive costs. As a result, an overbuilt system of wind and solar would, at times, be delivering 5 to 20 times our power demand (leading to problems of ‘dumping’ the excess energy that can’t be used or stored quickly enough or in sufficient quantity), and at other times, it would deliver virtually none of it.

If you do some modelling to work through the many contingencies, you find that a system which relies on wind and/or solar power, plus large-scale energy storage and a geographically dispersed electricity transmission network to channel power to load centres, would seem to be 10 to 40 times more expensive than an equivalent nuclear-powered system, and still less reliable. The cost to avoid 1 tonne of carbon dioxide would be >$800 with wind power compared with $22 with nuclear power.

The above critiques of renewable energy might strike some readers as narrow minded or deliberately pessimistic. Surely, isn’t it just a matter of prudent engineering and sufficient integration of geographically and technologically diverse systems, to overcome such difficulties? Alas, no! Although I only have limited space for this topic in this short post, let me grimly assure you that the problem of ‘scaling up’ renewable energy to the point where it can reliably meet all (or even most) of our power needs, involves solving a range of compounding, quite possibly insuperable, problems. We cannot wish these problems away — they are ‘the numbers’, ‘the reality’.

Economic and socio-political realities

Supporters of ‘100% renewable energy’ maintain that sunlight, wind, waves and plant life, combined with vast improvements in energy efficiency and energy conservation leading to a flattening or reduction in total energy demand, are the answer.  This is a widespread view among environmentalists and would be perfectly acceptable to me if the numbers could be made to work. But I seriously doubt they can.

The high standard of living in the developed world has been based on cheap fossil (and nuclear) energy. While we can clearly cut back on energy wastage, we will still have to replace oil and gas. And that means a surge in demand for electricity, both to replace the energy now drawn from oil and gas and to meet the additional demand for power from that third of the world’s people who currently have no electricity at all.

Critics do not seem to understand – or refuse to acknowledge – the basis of modern economics and the investment culture. Some dream of shifts in the West and the East away from consumerism. There is a quasi-spiritualism which underpins such views. Yet at a time of crisis, societies must be ruthlessly practical in solving their core problems or risk collapse. Most people will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid a decline in their standard of living. We need to work with this, not against it. We are stuck with the deep-seated human propensity to revel in consuming and to hope for an easier life. We should seek ways to deliver in a sustainable way.

A friend of mine, the Californian entrepreneur Steve Kirsch, has put the climate-energy problem succinctly:

The most effective way to deal with climate change is to seriously reduce our carbon emissions. But we’ll never get the enormous emission reductions we need by treaty. Been there, done that – it’s not going to happen. If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal. It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose.

Currently, no non-fossil-fuel energy technology has achieved this. So what is stopping nations replacing coal, oil and gas infrastructure with renewable energy? It is not (yet) because of any strong, society-wide opposition to a switch to renewables. No, it is economic uncertainty, technological immaturity, and good old financial risk management. Despite what ‘100% renewables’ advocates would lead you to believe, it is still far from certain in what way the world will pursue a low-carbon future. You have only to look at what’s happening in the real world to verify that.

I’ve already written about fast-growing investment in nuclear energy in Asia. China, for instance, has overcome typical first-of-a-kind engineering cost overruns by building more than 25 reactors at the same time, in a bid to bring costs to, or below, those of coal.

In December 2009, there was a telling announcement from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which wish to sell their valuable natural gas to the export market. Within the next few years, the UAE face a six-gigawatt increase in demand for electricity, which includes additional power required by an upgraded desalination program. Despite being desert-based with a wealth of solar resources, the UAE decided not to build large-scale solar power plants (or any other renewable technology). In terms of economics and reliability, the numbers just didn’t stack up. Instead, they have commissioned a South Korean consortium to build four new generation III+ APR-1400 reactors, at a cost of $3,500 a kilowatt installed – their first ever nuclear power plants.

Conclusion

Nuclear power, not renewable energy or energy efficiency, will probably end up being the primary global solution to the climate and energy crises. This is the emergent result of trying to be honest, logical and pragmatic about what will and will not work, within real-world physical, economic and social constraints.

If I am wrong, and non-hydro and non-combustible renewables can indeed rise to the challenge and ways can be found to overcome the issues I’ve touched on in these two posts, then I will not complain. After all, my principal goal — to replace fossil fuels with sustainable and low-carbon alternative energy sources — would have been met. But let’s not play dice with the biosphere and humanity’s future on this planet, and bet everything on such wishful thinking. It would be a risky gamble indeed.

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.

184 replies on “Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises (part 2)”

Environmentalist, your math is NOT solid because 1 day is WAY not enough storage. If I went off-grid with a 1 day storage system it would be much less reliable than my on grid utility connection today, for two reasons; first seasonal variability makes even a full week of storage insufficient, second a two or even three week cloudy period happens *ALL* the time here. We have a notoriously unreliable climate. Making our electric grid reliant upon a notoriously unreliable weather system is madness to most people, but to an anti-nuke such as yourself, apparently perfectly reasonable. We need most energy in winter, when the sun is out with the flowers. Talking about ‘flower power’.

Last year my grid reliability was 100%. No blackouts/brownouts. As it should be.

The solar project above costs 24.4 euros per Watt average electric which is 34 USD/Watt average electric flow. It is not financed old, it is a new project just ordering the panels from China as we speak. For a cheaper solar cost in a sunnier climate, you get Bill Hannahan’s estimate, comes down to 32 USD/Watt average electric flow, without battery replacement cost. You get around 40 USD cents per kWh including battery replacement. The cost of battery replacement alone (8 USD cents/kWh) is higher than Olkiluoto’s total levelised cost (around 7 USD cents/kWh). The batteries give a considerable waste disposal and recycling issue, ironically:

http://www.coal2nuclear.com/energy_facts.htm

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“How can anybody in their right mind dismiss 1000% growth”

How can anybody in their right minds think a power source that is uncontrollable and not there 90% of the time (solar in Germany) can continue growing exponentially? Don’t you just think there *might* be limits here?

Germany has daytime summer peak of around 60 GW electrical. Say you install 60 GW peak solar panels. Oops this only gets you roughly 10% of Germany’s annual electric demand! And building more means either dumping peak summer output, increasing cost per kWh, or installing expensive energy storage, increasing cost per kWh (by capital cost and storage losses).

The Germans are going to hit a wall soon, when they’ve installed too much useles solar capacity. Of course natural gas from Putin comes to the rescue. Have no fear, Putin is here.

Well, let them. Let the Germans feel what the consequences are of living in fantasy island.

Disillusionment is possibly the only tool powerful enough to make the Germans stop having a fantasy energy policy.

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sod, may I ask you two questions? First, are you living on solar only, off the grid, and if so what is your system?

Second, have you developed a business plan for a moderately energy intensive business – say an artist’s pottery, including a kiln – run entirely on solar energy and presented it to a bank for financing? I suggest an artist’s pottery since it can run much smaller kilns than a commercial pottery and has that nice ‘artist’ cachet to it.

I find that developing business plans makes me think very hard about choices and costs, and presenting it to a banker is a hard-nosed reality check. You have to demonstrate that you understand all the numbers and how to put them together.

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“Second, have you developed a business plan for a moderately energy intensive business – say an artist’s pottery, including a kiln – run entirely on solar energy and presented it to a bank for financing? I suggest an artist’s pottery since it can run much smaller kilns than a commercial pottery and has that nice ‘artist’ cachet to it. ”

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there are actually plenty solar based businesses alive and kicking. for example a lot of displays for road signs and things like parking machines have moved to solar.

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“sod, may I ask you two questions? First, are you living on solar only, off the grid, and if so what is your system?”

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no. i think you did not understand my point. (and just in case you are really interested, i live in a former mill, next to a stream. if i wanted to leave the grid, i would mix solar and water power and i am pretty sure that i could do so)

i keep repeating this over and over: if you want electricity at night, PV solar is NOT the way to go!

when i spoke of “independence” above, i did obviously NOT mean real energy independence from the grid. this is about a psychological effect and not about producing every single watt you use all by yourself.

you will find an enormous amount of PV solar panels on roofs in southern Germany. and this is not easy to explain. because there are much better investments. (a lot of funds will provide better returns) there are even better green investments (basically most bigger projects will be better than your rooftop) and of course much more useful projects if you want to move into solar. (investing in spain or italy, if you don t want to go to north africa)

if you ask them, you will find that the majority of people owning PV panels will NOT be a customer of green energy themselves. (even though this is not more expensive in Germany)

if you want to understand why they put those panels on their roofs, you will have to look at details and at psychology. they want to invest in something they can see and really “own”. not into papers or a project far away. they also want an investment that feels like doing the right thing (sort of greenish)

they are happy about the money they receive from the state (this is worth double the same amount of money when you earn it) and many are not unhappy that everybody can see the panels on their house.

and they feel good about producing some part of their own energy, many love to show you how their counters move backwards.

some of this points are not very rational, others are. (you get cheated a lot, while investing into stuff far away..)

the minor independence has one big advantage, for example: i have often been lectured about the difference between costs and prices. distributed ownership of alternative energy has a big advantage in this aspect: at the end, now not only big companies can profit from ever increasing prices while costs should be sinking.

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ps: i do not think that storage should be factored into the cost of PV solar at all. it simply doesn t make any sense. storage of solar energy becomes interesting when we increase it above 5-10% of total electricity before that, PV will mostly supply daytime peak demand and does not need any storage at all.

Germany increased its solar power by a factor of about 1.5 every single year over the last decade. it will be much eassier for other countries to do the same in the next decade, as prices has declined a lot and many countries have better sun conditions. Germany will achieve above 5% PV solar in the next decade and many other countries will do so as well.

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The above debate about Solar PV largely misses one single point.The technology is OK for small stand alone applications.It can’t be scaled up,in any practical sense,to providing base load power.

Nuclear is ideal for non- polluting base load power.
Horses for courses.

In addition,domestic solar feed in is not of much use in terms of useful power produced,it destabilizes the grid if there are sufficient solar generators and the cost is paid by users who don’t have solar systems through higher electricity prices..That is not equitable and I predict that the solar feed in tariff schemes in Australia will be tinkered with by the various state governments until thay are practically non- existent.

Meanwhile nothing is being done to replace fossil fuel generated electricity.Carbon trading and carbon taxes are just a politicians way of kicking the can down the road.

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“The above debate about Solar PV largely misses one single point.The technology is OK for small stand alone applications.It can’t be scaled up,in any practical sense,to providing base load power.”

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pump storage can not provide base load either. is it also a technology that is “OK” at best?

not all energy supply has to be base load. PV solar supplies energy at a time of high demand. this is good.

the destabilization of the grid is mostly a myth. a lot of solar is used very close to were it was produced. so it doesn t use a lot of grid at all!

here is the power output of German solar today. can you explain to me how it has destabilized the grid?

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

notice that we got over 9 GW at all times between 10 am and 4 pm today.

what would you consider to be “scaling up”?

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“Environmentalist, your math is NOT solid because 1 day is WAY not enough storage. If I went off-grid with a 1 day storage system it would be much less reliable than my on grid utility connection today, for two reasons; first seasonal variability makes even a full week of storage insufficient, second a two or even three week cloudy period happens *ALL* the time here. We have a notoriously unreliable climate. Making our electric grid reliant upon a notoriously unreliable weather system is madness to most people, but to an anti-nuke such as yourself, apparently perfectly reasonable. We need most energy in winter, when the sun is out with the flowers. Talking about ‘flower power’.”

Its a very good point and one that did make me tepid in my original post in recommending this system to say Germany as of today, but lets look at this for a second, the main point of that post was not the specifics but rather the main point that inverters, charge controllers, cables, storage these are all share a static “capacity factor” of near 1, they only need to be rated towards peak power and with their inefficiencies included and not much else but they work the same everywhere. $/watt of panels that has always been the detriment of Solar energy. If it keeps falling it will reach a point where storage costs dominates the discussion.


This is the solar variation in Darwin Australia.

If you are worried about not enough batteries to last you more than a day you can triple the capacity and only pay only a dollar more per watt. Of course for countries with strong seasonal variations the only solution is to just use hydroelectric dams or large storage pumped hydro.

“without battery replacement cost. You get around 40 USD cents per kWh including battery replacement. The cost of battery replacement alone (8 USD cents/kWh) is higher than Olkiluoto’s total levelised cost (around 7 USD cents/kWh). The batteries give a considerable waste disposal and recycling issue, ironically:”

These are operating costs while we are talking capital costs, maintenence+inspection+ worker in solar should always be less than maintenance+inspection+ workforce+ fuel in nuclear,also is that 7 cents/kWh updated to reflect cost overruns?

“How can anybody in their right minds think a power source that is uncontrollable and not there 90% of the time (solar in Germany) can continue growing exponentially? Don’t you just think there *might* be limits here?”

Of course there are limits, my comment was more tongue in cheek at the dismissal of 1000%, the correct argument is that such rate of growth is unsustainable, not that 1000% from small is nothing. At such exponential growth the starting point is irrelevant.

That said I do see 100% growth a year in the foreseeable future for Germany, its absolute limit is only total solar irradiation * efficiency, say 15%. For Ganimede its 45%! Of course they will stop way way before that, they will slow down in growth until they need to address storage, Then they will have a choice to make:

Its all predicated on this crude simplistic formula

Solar cost/watt /.11 + Wind costs/watt /.25 + daily storage * redundancy factor.
Or
Solar cost/watt/.11 +seasonal storage

If it were Arizona it would be a no brainier with almost no seasonal variation.

Solar cost/watt /.19 + daily storage*redundancy factor.

Also this is not about is the endorsement of lead acid batteries, even though they can be recycled, pumped storage is a much better solution because of durability, deep cycling, and minimal losses in seasonal storage.

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@Cyril, May 13, 10.22pm
Here’s the IEA pro-solar projection: 11% PV electric by 2050. Oops! Thats not much at all!
Here is a more complete quote from the link you provided:
According to these two roadmaps, solar PV and CSP could each account for between 4,000 and 4,500 Terrawatthours (TWh) or 11% of projected global electricity demand in 2050. In other words, 40 years from now, solar power could deliver between 20% and 25% of global electricity. That’s a huge upgrade from earlier projections the IEA made in its famous annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) reports.
I would call 25%significant(about twice what nuclear is supplying at present), lets hope nuclear and wind can also contribute similar amounts, and that hydro and geothermal can pick up most of the balance.

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Finrod,Cyril, Harry2r, DV82XL,
If you are agreeing that renewable energy is providing more electricity than nuclear, than you should agree that renewable energy contribution is more than trivial.
Sure nuclear and hydro are both growing at a slow rate, but solar and wind are expanding rapidly.
You seem to be saying either that wind and solar cannot continue to expand at >30% per year for the next 10-20 years AND/OR having wind plus solar supplying >50% of the energy supply is not practical because of localized variability.
While we have 5-10% of our power provided by FF, having a high capacity of FF back-up is not an issue IF it is used at a low CF, and after hydro will be the cheapest option to provide peak demand whatever provides >80% of energy..
My fear is that nuclear power won’t be expanded fast enough to provide even 25% of demand, leaving FF to continue supply more than 5-10% well past 2050.. Whatever nuclears’ contribution it will be significant and deserves support for that reason alone(as do solar and wind).
Saying that money spent on renewables would be better spent on nuclear ignores the source of those funds and assumes they are transferable.

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@Andrem I think you have effectively checkmated sod, or given him a reality check with your artist’s kiln and bankmanager’s scenario. And dear sod, why would UAE be building nuke plants, even though they have even better solar resources than Australia? Here in Oz the electricity consumers are waking up to the fact that they are effectively subsidizing PV panels for urban greens, and they are pissed off about it. However the German taxpayer seems to have an infinite capacity for self flagellation as they keep on voting in the Greens. As I have remarked before , you guys can always buy cheap clean electricity from France

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@Neil Howes – Please don’t try to put words in my mouth – I did not agree ‘renewables’ were providing a significant amount of power, I wrote that hydro did. Trying to hitch a free ride on hydro’s performance is on of the more egregious lies attempted by wind and solar supporters. It is the equivalent of asserting that because nuclear is thermal conversion it must be as bad a coal. People here are not simpletons.

The growth of wind and solar are artifacts of a very distorted market, that is running on pure politics and the support of those that are simply too ignorant to understand why these modes cannot do what they think they can, and too stupid to follow the reasoning why.

The simple truth is that 20% penetration of intermittent and variable sources is the maximum theoretical amount that the grid can manage, without a complete redesign of its fundamental architecture, even with a heavy investment in sophisticated switching. This is just not going to happen, and FF will continue to form the backbone of any wind/solar initiative because of it.

Believing otherwise only demonstrates how little you understand the whole system of electric power, and how deeply you have been taken in.

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Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error, because it has been pointed out to them on innumerable occasions. Shouldn’t this particular falsehood be categorised under false/repetative tirades?

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Finrod said

Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error, because it has been pointed out to them on innumerable occasions. Shouldn’t this particular falsehood be categorised under false/repetative tirades?

I have been leaning towards that assessment for a while now. False/repetitive tirades are against the BNC Commenting Rules, however, it is not easy to moderate something like this. So – a warning to Neil Howes and others who are guilty of it – I will be unapproving/placing in Pending any further instances for Barry’s final decision.

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DV: I need to understand the following point as deeply as possible:

The simple truth is that 20% penetration of intermittent and variable sources is the maximum theoretical amount that the grid can manage, without a complete redesign of its fundamental architecture, even with a heavy investment in sophisticated switching. This is just not going to happen, and FF will continue to form the backbone of any wind/solar initiative because of it.

what sources would you recommend to help understand this point? I understand it intuitively, but would like a david mackay level version.

Don’t think De Carolis and Keith address it; they seem to sweep it under the rug.

any ideas?

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Most of us who follow this blog are either techies or people who want to be. That is all very well but once in a while we need to look at energy policy from a completely different viewpoint. For example, what can financiers, economists or historians tell us about RE.

Here is a link to an article published in the Forbes magazine last month:
http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

Taylor and van Doren make five points starting with the “diffuse” nature of renewable energy. That happens to be the issue that struck me most forcibly when I visited the world’s second largest solar installation last month.

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Neil Howes, on 14 May 2011 at 8:16 AM said:

If you are agreeing that renewable energy is providing more electricity than nuclear, than you should agree that renewable energy contribution is more than trivial.

The Biggest single source of hydropower in the Pacific Northwest, the Grand Coulee Dam was authorized in 1935 and completed in 1942.

Let’s not conflate ‘renewable’s’ that have been ‘on the books for 70 years with ‘modern renewable’.

Our grandfathers were pretty smart, they exploited those renewable resources that were exploitable.
The idea that yet another generation can come along and somehow exploit substantially more then our grandfathers could over states the rate of change of technology.

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Environmentalist,
At the top of this thread, Barry has promised to provide a critique of that “Groundbreaking” report on RE published by the IPCC. I expect to be enlightened.

The graph that you cited is from page 12 of the “Summary for Policy Makers”.

The trouble with the IPCC is that there may be a great deal of excellent science in the WGIII document but in recent years the executive summaries have become increasingly political.

For example that graph you linked is misleading because it shows $/W of nameplate capacity but fails to mention that the capacity factors range from 0.10 to 0.33. When reviewing the investments required for an electrical generating technology you should compare $/W of AVERAGE power.

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@Gregory Meyerson – About a year ago, I realized that much of what I was reading in relatively credible literature on wind and solar (ad hom deleted) wasn’t adding up. There seemed to be very large unsaid assumptions being made in the area of how integration into the grid was going to be accomplished. In many cases this was covered by the buzz phrase, ‘smart grid,’ but in almost all cases this value of 20% kept cropping up. While there seemed to be broad agreement on this number, there was almost nothing on why that particular level of penetration was seemingly universal. The implication was, therefore , that it was some limiting factor of the grid that was responsible.

At this point I realized that I knew very little detail on how both the grid, and operations in the electric power market worked. Bringing myself up to speed, I realized that both were much more complex than I had realized, and that indeed there were limits that were set by set by several factors. Generally the grid grew in a sort of semi-random way, and protocols kind of accreted , and its architecture was not all that homogeneous. This in itself limits the amount of intermittent energy that can be traded at any distance. As well, the market itself is complex, with trades being made both in real time and forward, not only for generation, but transmission and number of ancillary services. Regulation services, frequency discipline, reactive support and voltage control service, being the major ones and several minor ones like Rapid Generator Unit Loading/Unloading Protection, and standby Black Start service. All this has to be contracted for, scheduled in advance, and paid for, used or not.

Forgetting for the moment that payments would probably have to be made to a dispatchable generator that was contracted to assume load, even if much of that load was being offset by a wind or solar facility, consider what other potential upsets would this cause to the system and you find that the 20% figure more or less fits in with the amount of slack that they try to maintain in the system to allow for unforeseen problems, like sudden load variations, failing generators, downed lines and such. This is the margin that variables claim they can fit in to.

The argument made by some renewable advocates is that this margin could be reduced without compromising the network, but their arguments are based solely on statistics, and it would seem (at least to me) that they are willing to sacrifice a t least some reliability to allow more variable sources on-line. This is the core of the ‘grid stability’ debate that often crops up in places where this subject is debated.

To compensate for this, several switching schemes have been proposed, and some implemented to accommodate variable generation, but even there legacy features of the grid limit their ability to allow much improvement, and they are expensive.

Thus the argument has boiled down to one where the issues are: How much reliability, and expense are going to be sacrificed to accommodate these non-dispatchable generators; and how are those that will supply what the renewable crowd euphemistically call backup, be compensated for power they make available, but is not used, and cannot be resold.

As I wrote above this is an analysis that came from a broad study of the system, thus there is no single reference I can post, but this article mentions a report not available to the public, (that I know of) that discusses the expense of accommodating that 20% on the U.S. grid. The numbers are staggering.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123414242155761829.html

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@DV82XL
…..the expense of accommodating that 20% on the U.S. grid. The numbers are staggering.
The article mentions $100Billion to provide major grid upgrades to handle 20% of electricity (from wind?) ie 100GW . This is 15% of overall cost of 870billion to provide as much power as present nuclear, very similar to present costs of new nuclear in US. As the article points out, an improved grid would be also used to move power from other sources presumably including from all the new nuclear that is also going to be built in next 13 years.
In many cases this was covered by the buzz phrase, ‘smart grid,’ but in almost all cases this value of 20% kept cropping up. While there seemed to be broad agreement on this number, there was almost nothing on why that particular level of penetration was seemingly universal. The implication was, therefor , that it was some limiting factor of the grid that was responsible.
The reason 20% keeps cropping up is because this was the contribution of wind to Denmark’s grid. The fact that Denmark is now planning to upgrade the grid to handle 50% wind power shows this is not a limiting factor, even when the wind power is collected from a very small region (0.5% area of US). When the US built 100GW of nuclear it also added 20GW of short term pumped hydro to help balance the grid, that didnt seem to be a “staggering cost” at the time.

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Harrywr2.
The US only exploited what hydro power was needed 70 years ago. Modern wind turbines have used advances in aviation that were not available 70 years ago even if there had been a demand for more electric power.
The fact that some renewable energy has been on books for 70 years or that some nuclear has been on books for 35 years is testament to the value of these energy resources.
The issue is what can be built in next few decades, and even though US has only developed 10% of hydro potential( according to DOE ), dams take a long time to be built. Wind and solar however can be expanded rapidly, much faster than hydro or nuclear, even though they require some back-up power. Fortunately the US has 400GW of fairly new flexible NG fired power that can be economically used at a very low CF.

The idea that yet another generation can come along and somehow exploit substantially more then our grandfathers could over states the rate of change of technology.
By your reasoning we should never have been able to build any nuclear power either, because our grandfathers couldn’t do it. Wind and solar costs have declined 10 fold in last 20 years, all due to technology!

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@Neil Howes – You simply do not know what you are talking about, and like most religious types trying to explain why their particular beliefs are valid, employ a very particular form of exegesis on what is written.

Nuclear simply doesn’t need long transmission, and would not benefit from this sort of upgrade. Nor is any power produced by this scheme, it is simply an added cost to accommodate wind and solar. Trying to confound the cost of transmission with that of generation, is ether outright mendacity, or deeply ignorant.

Consider that the phrase: “upgrade the grid to handle 50% wind power” is logically equivalent to asserting that the current grid in Denmark cannot handle more than 20%, which is the thrust of what I wrote above. It it could handle more, why are they needing to upgrade it?

Nor have you mentioned what the cost of this short term pumped hydro was, making your implied comparison worthless.

Please make meaningful comments, nonsense like the above will not get a free pass.

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DV82XL,
The grid wasn’t built to accommodate wind power, or any one power source but to allow power to be used more efficiently. Are you suggesting nuclear does not benefit from being connected to a large grid, or cities close to a nuclear power having access to other forms of energy when specific nuclear plants are off-line or during exceptionally high periods of demand?
Any large additional power generation is going to require upgrading of an existing grid, but these costs are not especially large in relation to the existing grid or to the cost of addition generation.
I have already pointed out that nuclear did require 20GW of pumped hydro “back-up” not a staggering cost nor would a similar additional pumped hydro back-up for wind be ” a staggering cost”.
As far as objecting to including hydro, (based on very variable and intermittent rainfall) as part of renewable together with wind and solar, as far as I can see these renewable energy resources all need a form of energy storage, its just that most hydro needs a lot more (in some cases years) except where run of river is very reliable. The major variations in wind are generally days to weeks, and solar generally 24h( with a seasonal variation at high latitudes). The storage requirements of wind and solar are much less demanding than most hydro, but the best news is that together they can share the same storage because they operate at different variable time periods.

I suppose if geothermal power was as significant as hydro you would not want that to be included as part of “renewable energy” either, or reject it on the basis that it is not available everywhere or requires long transmission lines.

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Neil, the problem with wind and solar is that they have common-mode failure; when its calm, all wind turbines fail, when its dark at night, all solar panels fail. Not technically, because they are technically reliable, but the resource fails. And its common for solar panels to fail during entire SEASONS in most of the world. Nuclear plants don’t have this problem; they don’t fail all at the same time when the weather changes. One or two can fail at the same time for technical/maintenance reasons, but the other are statistically disconnected so the chances of more than a handful of plants failing at the same time becomes vanishingly small.

A few hours of pumped storage for nuclear is often cost-effective; riding through weeks of weather changes that happen everywhere around the world, will require weeks of pumped storage, which *IS* prohibitively costly. Dealing with seasonal variation this way is even more absurd.

That’s what DV82XL has been saying all along; nuclear needs orders of magnitudes less storage capacity for the same reliability level. If you read the DeCarolis and Keith paper you will see that some 500 hours of storage will be required for wind in high penetrations. For nuclear at 90% it would be more like 5 hours. If storage gets cheaper/more scaleable, nuclear will use it. Its absurd to think that we will store energy from sources that are not there 80-90% of the time. Energy that’s not there cannot be stored. Wind is typically 10x less productive than nuclear over its lifetime. For solar its even worse, typically at least 15x less productive.

Society moves on to increasingly greater energy density. We moved away from biomass to fossil fuels because of their greater availability, reliability, and energy density. The next step in human evolution is logically nuclear power, because it is even more available (nuclear fuel is log normal distributed in the earths crust even without breeders) and more reliable (fuel delivery only once every year or two, highest capacity factor of any powerplant) and much more energy dense. Check out my not-very-artistic, but illustrating way of explaining it:

http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2757

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“@Andrem I think you have effectively checkmated sod, or given him a reality check with your artist’s kiln and bankmanager’s scenario. And dear sod, why would UAE be building nuke plants, even though they have even better solar resources than Australia?”

————

i am seriously confused by this sort of argument. so when i cannot provide a business plan for pottery (???) run on pure solar, this somehow proves that the technology can not supply useful energy?

can you folks provide me a business plan for your pottery business run with your own nuclear power plant?

——————-

Most of us who follow this blog are either techies or people who want to be. That is all very well but once in a while we need to look at energy policy from a completely different viewpoint. For example, what can financiers, economists or historians tell us about RE.

Here is a link to an article published in the Forbes magazine last month:
http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

———

(ad hom deleted)

and notice this gem: obviously fossil fuels are too scarce to provide backup for altzernative energy:

“Third, it is unreliable. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine when the energy is needed. We account for that today by having a lot of coal and natural gas generation on “standby” to fire up when renewables can’t produce. But in a world where fossil fuels are a thing of the past, we would be forced–like the peasants of the Dark Ages–to rely upon the vagaries of the weather.”

————

but are plentiful when used on their own: (page two of the SAME article!!!

———

“Fossil fuels are everything that green energy is not. They are comparatively cheap. They are reliable; they will burn and produce energy whenever you want it. They are plentiful (we use only a tiny bit of oil in the electricity sector). And you can store fossil fuels until you need them.”

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Here’s a typical industrialised country daily electric demand graph (Germany):

You can see that this matches very well to baseload. In fact the Germans could replace all dirty lignite with nuclear, with very few grid changes and very little effect on capacity factor for the nuclear plants (slightly lower than 90%, probably 80%, due to providing less power in weekends).

That would be a massive improvement for Germany.

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“Finrod, on 14 May 2011 at 9:53 AM said:

Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error, because it has been pointed out to them on innumerable occasions. Shouldn’t this particular falsehood be categorised under false/repetative tirades?”

could you please provide a link to any actual example where we do this?

small amounts of PV solar will not require storage, as they will be used to supply peak demand.

if storage is needed, pumped hydro is the cheapest solution at the moment.

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“Here’s a typical industrialised country daily electric demand graph (Germany):

You can see that this matches very well to baseload.”

why can this false claim be repeated over and over?

the graph does look flat, because of how pump power flatening it. and so does demand, that was moved to the night by cheaper prices.

on the other hand, solar power can provide the peak demand that this graph shows between 10am and 3 pm.

http://www.sma.de/en/news-information/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html

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Finrod
Niel Howes and other renewables advocates have repeatedly conflated wind/solar output with hydro output to make wind/solar look vastly better than it is. It can no longer be a matter of error,
Its definitely not an error.
What do wind, solar and hydro have in common?
(1) great variation in energy availability of wind speed, sunlight and rainfall.
(2) the variability is reduced by collecting these renewable energy resources over very large geographic areas, for wind and solar larger than weather systems, for hydro over different or very large catchments.
(3) large amounts of storage are required to enable these renewable resources to provide energy on demand, the amount required depending upon wind conditions( for wind), cloud cover(for solar, but all locations would require 12h storage ) and reliability of rainfall( for hydro).
(4) all have to spill excess energy because it is not economic to store the energy available at peak output, solar is more predictable than high wind or flood events.
These different renewable resources complement each other to some extent(at least in sharing storage) because the variability frequencies are different, hydro can have 1-10 years storage reflecting seasonal or long term rainfall variations, but we don’t have a year without wind or sunlight and a major cause of widespread low winds are blocking high pressure weather systems associated with low cloud cover(high solar output).
In two respects wind and solar are much better than hydro, they can scale to provide much more energy than hydro, and can be built faster.
What do these renewables have in common with nuclear? Renewables in total displace about the same amount of FF as nuclear, and this to me is the most important feature.
MODERATOR
The quote was from Finrod not from the moderator.

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What do these renewables have in common with nuclear? Renewables in total displace about the same amount of FF as nuclear, and this to me is the most important feature.

Yes, good point Neil. Just in the same vein, in total Bill Gates and I are the richest men on the planet.

Oh… wait.

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Sod, even without the small amount of pump power its still very much flat. Much closer to baseload than to wind or solar. That’s the point.

And again, *sigh*, again, daily peak in Germany and most other countries occurs AFTER noon which is when solar is going down. Bad. Peaks are highest when people get home from work and turn on their TVs and lights, and boil their electric kettles to make some tea. Just when solar is well on its way to oblivion.

With nighttime PHEV and EV charging, all demand is essentially baseload, so close to 100% nuclear. Most renewables enthusiasts are suggesting wind and solar work well with PHEV and EV charging at night, but its plain for all to see that constant output would match this scenario much better and reliably than unreliable wind/solar sources.

Moderator, why is Sod allowed to make these debunked claims constantly? Is there only moderation on form, not on content? It is especially ironic that Sod can’t see the real facts but accuses people that bring up important real facts of putting out false claims.
MODERATOR
See my earlier remark at 5:48pm in response to Finrod’s re false repetitive tirades. I will leave Barry with those decisions

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@ Neil, the difference is that hydro – at least the large type with resevoirs – already has its multi week (sometimes even longer) storage built-in. This makes large hydro non-marginal. Hydro works best with lots of constant output nuclear, but does not work optimal with unproductive unreliable intermittent wind and solar.

And we must leverage hydro as much as we can, because its hard to see a large factor of growth for hydro. 2x, maybe, but not 10x growth. Since nuclear leverages it the best, countries that have substantial hydro can combine this with nuclear with the greatest fossil fuel savings on the system level.

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Similar to hydro, pumped hydro is very limited in potential and again nuclear leverages it the best. In practice, many pumped hydro systems were built in conjunction with nuclear plants because they work so well together. With just a few hours of pumped hydro capacity, you can meet much/most of the peak demand with nuclear, as well as the baseload, tackling 90% or so of the electric needs.

Its plain to see that with nighttime commuter cars electric charging, nuclear plants would be further synergised, running day and night, while tackling the big commuter car CO2 emissions problems.

With wind and solar, much more pumped storage capacity would be required, because there would be many nights without wind and all nights are without solar (duh!), and such deep energy storage with pumped hydro is neither available and nor would it be cost-effective if it was available. 500 hour storage schemes would be required to meet the reliability level of a nuclear system with just 5 hours of pumped hydro. There are no 500 hour storage systems in the world, it is complete fantasy. Even with a 500 hour storage system there would be freak weather events like multi month calm or cloudy periods or even both, that can shut your entire country down, forcing a fossil fuel strategic reserve to be used (which is emitting CO2 and costs money to maintain).

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@Cyril
And we must leverage hydro as much as we can, because its hard to see a large factor of growth for hydro. 2x, maybe, but not 10x growth. Since nuclear leverages it the best, countries that have substantial hydro can combine this with nuclear with the greatest fossil fuel savings on the system level.

this statement makes a lot of sense. I would point out that to complement nuclear we don’t need to expand hydro average output, just capacity (up-rating) to cover daily demand spikes and some pumped storage to recover some of the hydro used during the daytime. CST with 6h thermal storage also works well at reducing average daily demand on hydro, even if on some cloudy days, no hydro would be saved, because on high solar output days more hydro could be saved . In this respect wind is inferior to CST, and like nuclear really needs some pumped hydro capacity but is lower cost and can complement season variations in CST. Where we use FF to generate >70% electric power and can expand hydro turbine capacity, any additions of nuclear and renewables are beneficial.

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sod,
Do you disagree with the five main points in the Forbes article? If so let’s hear your arguments.
http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

Apparently when faced with pertinent observations that fit the facts as we know them you resort to attacking the messenger. Enough of the ad hominem already!
MODERATOR
I picked up and deleted one ad hom from sod but may have missed some. Could you please indicate the comment/s from sod that you feel violate there rules so I can amend them.

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@Cyril,
The title of Barry’s post is “renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises”
I take that to mean increasing available energy (to >8000GWav)and dramatically reducing FF use within the next 50years. By Barrys criteria providing 75% of the energy from renewables(and efficiency gains) and the balance from nuclear and FF(with CCS) would be considered a renewable fix, while 75% from nuclear would be considered a nuclear fix.

We dont need 500h pumped storage to cover the entire energy demand for 10days. Pumped storage would be used for absorbing off-peak excess wind and nuclear. Excess wind usually lasts 1-2 days( and the rest can be spilled ) and only excess during off-peak periods would be spilled( ie 20-30h/ 2 days). If wind provided 40% av power this would be equivalent to 8-12h of excess wind or 4-6h of system demand assuming high wind is twice average(not 500h of system demand). If solar provides 35% we dont need any pumping for CST.
During low wind and low CST periods of perhaps weeks output is not zero, but the the normal 70% of power provided by these may be only 35% over the size of US or Australia, or 500h x35% of system demand= 170h system demand. This would have to be provided by hydro storage and FF/biofuel back-up( and a little from pumped hydro). If this was operating today with present US system demand of 500GW, it could be met by 85GW hydro and 85GW OCGT operating for 500h perhaps once a year(ie providing 0.5% of yearly energy). Since the 75% nuclear scenario will have only 40% energy from nuclear as late as 2050(and 35% from FF), 0.5% from OCGT back-up doesnt seem excessive or climate threatening. Even having all of the back-up from OCGT would only represent 1% of system demand.

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@Neil Howes – Nuclear does not need the sort of grid upgrades referred to in the link I posted. The current state of affairs is more than adequate for any dispatchable generator like nuclear, and trades in power from these stations need not be effected across transcontinental distances without wheeling, as is the case with wind and solar.

Again you are trying to use sophistry and prevarication to avoid the fact that you are dead wrong, nor have you posted numbers on the cost of the stored hydro you claim was built to accommodate nuclear, so that the cost can be compared.

You are also restating my argument, that the grid was not designed to accommodate variable power, as if somehow this proves some point you are making.

Your arguments are transparently idiotic, without logical content, and an insult to others posting here. This sort of verbiage may serve you in other places, it will not fly here.

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Neil, take a look at this graph:

If you spill everything beyond 2 days high periods then that increases the cost of wind a lot because it turns out to happen a lot! 3-10 days low wind speed periods are also common so you get into trouble there, forcing you to burn natural gas. While the spillage of wind means your levelised cost increases; if you can’t sell half of your output, your levelised cost doubles.

The problem is that V^3 vector, it makes wind turbine output behave like a rodeo cowboy. That’s why you see this pattern all the time:

The result is typical exponential cost curves for wind at higher and higher penetrations. At some point you just stop building wind turbines and burn gas. If you don’t want to burn gas you need that 500 hour storage, according to Decarolis and Keith.

The nice thing with nuclear is that almost all mismatch is within 1 day, so you can use pumped storage with effectiveness and achieve high economic turnover. Moreover with plugin hybrid nighttime charging, nuclear becomes that 90% solution, removing almost all storage requirements (existing pumped hydro comes in handy though) whilst tackling the biggest automotive transport CO2, noise and pollutant emissions group: commuter cars. These can be charged with simple frequency sensors that ‘listen’ to the grid, if the frequency goes up they charge harder, if the frequency goes down they stop charging a while. No elaborate smart grid required to get this started, we can get started right now with just a cheap grid frequency sensor on the charger.

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Cyril R,
That frequency sensing thing sounds really neat. Are there any examples of suppliers pricing “off peak” electricity using this mechanism?

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I’m not aware of any suppliers using this. Rapid response frequency sensors are simple things though and can just be embedded as integrated circuit on the EV charger at your home. The utilities would be happy because they get less problems with maintaining frequency, reducing ancillary services costs and allowing baseload plants to operate more through the night. I’ve emailed on of the Dutch energy companies about it, they were interested about the concept because of problems with full scale smart grids (privacy/legal issues, politically sensitive subject here…). I don’t know if anything will come to it. But its the way I would skin the cat, because its simple, demand side, very little supply side investments or infrastructure required. EVs are just getting into the market here, so how to deal practically with nighttime charging is getting less of a theoretical issue every month.

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thanks DV. great stuff.

Neil says denmark is planning on restructuring their grid to accommodate 50 % wind?

is this so? I thought they were backing away from wind? since they sell at low price half of their produced wind now, what gives them the idea that the other countries will cooperate in buying all the added wind?

additionally, for cyril or anyone, does “dumping” and “spilling” refer literally to waste or does it also refer to selling at very low price to get rid of it?

all renewables schemes seem like rube goldberg contraptions, both materially, in the actual energy system they envision, and rhetorically, in the argument structure they require–filled with double talk, compensatory mechanisms, and other complex forms of incoherence that make the incoherence hard to recognize.

perhaps funhouse is the better metaphor than rube goldberg device, though the funhouse in horror movies. what looks like fun turns out to have dead ends and false leads and freddy kruger.

freddy kruger in the role of climate change.

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Cyril R,
I am used to schemes that offer “off peak” discounts at certain times of day and schemes that give the power company the ability to turn my HVAC system off during heavy load periods.

What you are suggesting seems to offer great flexibility coupled with the ability to react in seconds rather than hours.

If a significant number of people buy vehicles for charging overnight at home, frequency sensing could be an almost perfect approach to load leveling assuming that some enlightened supplier will offer the appropriate incentives.

I am probably drifting “Off Topic” here but maybe some future thread will look into the potential of this idea.

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Gregory, dumping may refer to foiling the wind turbine blades to not generate electricity in the first place, or dumping electricity in resistance heating emergency systems, or selling way below cost. Any of the above increases cost per kWh sold.

Rube Goldberg does appear popular among wind enthusiasts, especially the kite generator people appear to be Ruber Goldberg fans.

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@Gregory Meyerson – I take any undocumented ‘fact’ asserted by Neil Howes with a grain of salt. I don’t have the time or inclination chase each of them down, so I ignore them.

@Cyril R & gallopingcamel, – Frequency control by dynamic demand has been around for years. Invented by an American, there is now a U.K. firm pushing it there.

http://www.dynamicdemand.co.uk/about.htm

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Thanks DV, good to see people are picking up simple yet effective ideas, such as demand based frequency control. Your source claims the frequency control would cost ony 5 pounds, even cheaper than I imagined…

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“Neil says denmark is planning on restructuring their grid to accommodate 50 % wind?

is this so? I thought they were backing away from wind? since they sell at low price half of their produced wind now, what gives them the idea that the other countries will cooperate in buying all the added wind?”

———–

it is easy to find these facts on the web. a huge off-shore windpark will come online in a few years. it will provide 4% of danish power.

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

the important thing to now about Denmark and their “change” on wind power is often lost: Denmark changed Government to a centre right party (to add confusion the name of the party translates into “left”) they stopped most support for alternative energies.

http://www.folkecenter.dk/da/presse/disaster_for_danish_RE.htm

this was of course a false decision. Denmark lost market shares in selling win power plants and it also turned out, that wind power is actually driving DOWN the price! (from the wiki article linked above)

“Wind power output reduces spot market prices in general via the merit order effect, which led to a net reduction of pre-tax electricity prices (balancing the increase from the feed-in law) for the first time in 2008.[16]”

Denmark also demonstrates that pure alternative energy can work, with the Samso project.

“The island of Samsø erected 11 one-megawatt, land-based wind turbines in 2000, followed by ten offshore 2.3 MW wind turbines completed in 2003. Together with other renewable energy measures, this community of 4,200 achieved fame[31] as the largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet.[32]”

—————–

“sod,
Do you disagree with the five main points in the Forbes article? If so let’s hear your arguments.

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/opinions-taylor-van-doren-capital-flows-green-energy.html

yes, i think all 5 points are plain out wrong. i did already point out that the 3rd point is contradicted by themselves in the same article.

and the second point they make (wind being 80% more expensive than gas plants ) is absurd at best. just look at the graph provided by Barry at the head of this post, for numbers in 2030. (wind 6.0-7.5, gas 5.5 to 14.5)

i do not think that discussing this article improves the discussion, as i actually think that commenters here make better points than the Cato institute.

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“And again, *sigh*, again, daily peak in Germany and most other countries occurs AFTER noon which is when solar is going down. Bad. Peaks are highest when people get home from work and turn on their TVs and lights, and boil their electric kettles to make some tea. Just when solar is well on its way to oblivion.”

i am sorry Cyril, but your own graph shows the day peak at about noon. (and PV peak typically is after noon.)

(the graph does a very good job in illustrating how different plants are used at different times. but i don t think it does really describe real days demand very good. i guess that it is an average of work and non-work days, which are very different)

in general, night time cost rates of electricity seems to be at about 2/3 of daytime rates in several countries. i would say that this translates into real demand figures very well. (and it is even close to what your graph says, if we remove pumps)

—————-

“http://i27.tinypic.com/2mp06ft.jpg

If you spill everything beyond 2 days high periods then that increases the cost of wind a lot because it turns out to happen a lot! 3-10 days low wind speed periods are also common so you get into trouble there, forcing you to burn natural gas. While the spillage of wind means your levelised cost increases; if you can’t sell half of your output, your levelised cost doubles.”

—-

this is not true for low penetration of wind. because at low penetration, you will sell everything.

if you look at the graph, you will see that the majority of the surface of your graph is below the 50% line at 8000 GW.

so if you write off the top 50% of production capacity (that is results between 8000 and 16000 GW) you keep much more than 50% of your income.

a fair graph would show a line along the capacity factor that you expect from wind. and you would see that you get pretty solid (though of course not permanent!) supply below lets say a 20% line. (somewhat below 4000GW on Cyril s graph above)

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Some comments on Barry Brook’s essay:

He is keen to grab the title of Promethean, as if it would give him legitimacy. He goes on to say that Prometheans are realists – as though he is a realist and, by implications others are not.

Again “history has shown [nuclear power] to be reliable”. “History” doesn’t show anything. These days, the past is not a good guide to the future.

Another example of his emotive style: “James Watt’s steam engine – heralded the dawn of the Industrial Age”. Watt did not do an environmental impact statement. The “Industrial Age” is based on a fragile foundation. We of the industrial age are treating the atmosphere as if it were a rubbish tip. His “almost total reliance [on fossil fuels] has some severe drawbacks” is an understatement that glosses over the error, the hubris and the fragility of our industrial civilisation.

I like his “Clearly, we must unhitch ourselves from the fossil-fuel-based energy bandwagon – and fast.”

Regarding using energy more efficiently, his “There is clearly room for improvement” is an understatement. Revolution in energy use would be more accurate.

In his “In the bigger, global picture, however, there is no realistic prospect that we can use less energy in the future.” The words “bigger” and “global” tend to give emotive force to his argument and, for me, detract from reason. His “There are … obvious reasons for this” is emotive. Let the reader judge the reasoning.

India and China may aspire to live like kings as we do, but that does not mean that they will achieve that. Meanwhile, we have to scale down our energy consumption drastically if a significant percentage of animal life on earth is to survive. It will be easier for the poor countries to adjust to a simpler lifestyle than it will be for us in the rich countries.

“As the oil runs out, we need to replace it if we are to keep our vehicles going.” Are we? Do we all really need private vehicles? When I grew up in the 1940s, many people did not have cars. I agree that we will need a lot of electrical energy if we are to continue to live like kings.

His “With a growing human population (which we hope will stabilise by mid-century at less than 10 billion)” seems to take growing human population as a given. It is not. What reason do we have to believe that, with business as usual – that is perpetual economic growth, the population will stabilise at 10 billion?

He says “citizens in Western democracies are simply not going to vote for governments dedicated to lower growth”. With education, perhaps democracy will not fail to address global warming/climate change as much as it has in the past. It doesn’t take much intelligence to realise that growth cannot continue on a finite planet.

His “reality is demanding” suggests that he has a grip on reality. Not credible. Anyone who believes in continual growth is not being realistic.

His “One [of the challenges with economically harnessing renewable energy] is that all of the sources [of renewable energy] are incredibly diffuse – they require huge geographical areas to be exploited in order to capture large amounts of energy” is OK except that “economically” depends on the situation. If we rule out fossil fuels, then the renewables and nuclear become economic.

Good that he mentions Australia as a candidate for renewables – an idea that is an important factor in the Zero Carbon Australia project of Beyond Zero Emissions. Regarding his “[requirement of] huge geographical areas [as] a severe constraint for nations with high population density, like Japan or most European nations.” Japan could use the sea to capture wind energy, and import solar sourced energy from China. Europe is currently taking wind energy from the North Sea and could take a lot of solar energy from the Sahara desert. His “[renewable energies are] variable and intermittent” doesn’t convince me. Again I have the Zero Carbon Australia concept of a nation-wide grid – it is generally windy somewhere – and the molten salt storage of power tower solar looks “realistic”, if I may borrow his term.

Regarding “Large-scale renewables … are not cost competitive”. Without fossil fuels, large-scale renewables are very competitive. We cannot afford to use fossil fuels.

Regarding “The reality is that any of these solutions are grossly uneconomic”. This is language that assumes that the author has a grip on reality. Hubristic.

It is not necessarily true that renewables are unreliable.

I agree that there may be a temporary place for nuclear power until we get our renewable act together, but we cannot leave the burden of husbanding perpetually increasing amounts of long-lived radioactive wastes to our descendents.

Regarding his “Some dream of shifts in the West and the East away from consumerism. There is a quasi-spiritualism which underpins such views.” This is emotive, standard criticism of the advocates of renewables by the true believers in perpetual economic growth. It is the growthists who mistakenly believe that they alone are “realistic”. Wishful thinking.

His “deep-seated human propensity to revel in consuming” is nonsense. Of course humans like to be comfortable, but gross consumerism is not necessary.

His “friend” says “If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal”. Friends of mine say “If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make coal more expensive than the alternatives for electric power generation”.

He says “It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose”. That’s begging the question (arguing from the conclusion or petitio principii).

I agree “it is still far from certain in what way the world will pursue a low-carbon future”. We either pursue a low-carbon future or we say goodbye to any semblance of civilisation. By “we” I’m referring to our children and grandchildren. They are part of the “real world”.

In economics the “numbers [don’t] stack up” if we omit reference to our children and grandchildren. They do if we include them.

His “[predominantly nuclear power option] is the emergent result of trying to be honest, logical and pragmatic about what will and will not work, within real-world physical, economic and social constraints” suggests that anyone who disagrees is dishonest and illogical. That is emotive language again. Economic growthists are neither logical nor realistic if one takes the burden of future generations into account.
MODERATOR
Your comment here is tending towards your own philosophical opinions which you do not support with references as, required by BNC Comments Policy, and as such should be posted on the Philosophical Open Thread. I have let it stand here as it is a response to Prof Brook’s post and as this appears to be your first comment and you may be unaware of the aforementioned comments policy. Please acquaint yourself with these(on the About page) before posting again.Similar comments should be submitted to the Open Thread which is more loosely moderated.

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@Gregory Meyerson,
Neil says denmark is planning on restructuring their grid to accommodate 50 % wind?is this so?

Peter Jorgensen, vic president of Energinet.dk gave a talk in Adelaide , August 2010.
Title: Integration of wind power in the Danish .
I have the slide presentation but not the web link you may be able to find it at
(dead link deleted)
If you cannot find I can email to you.

Cyril R,
The graph of wind power output you posted comes from Ireland an area <1% geographical area of the US eastern connector grid.
If we didnt have significant hydro or a history of hydro providing most electrical power to some countries
you would be saying hydro is far too variable based on stream flow from a small catchment area.
For a serious preliminary look at integrating wind and solar on a continental scale have a look at the oz.energy web site that Barry has provided a link to on BNC front page; go to stories.

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DV8,
Many thanks for that link. Those “Dynamic Demand” folks see advantages on the supply side while I was looking at it from the point of view of a consumer with an electric car to charge overnight.

Something that benefits suppliers and consumers may be an idea whose time has come.

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@gallopingcamel – The idea is rather old, and it has been around for a few years now in the U.K. The problem is that even if these devices are legislated on to new high VAR appliances like cooling compressors, it will take a whole product cycle (+20yrs) for enough of them to be in place to make a real difference. Attempting to force everyone to put an external module on existing units seems to be something the politicians have no stomach for.

£5 might not seem like much but it would add up across a nation.

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DV8,
I hate government mandates (e.g. my gas guzzler MUST use fuel that contains ethanol).

I like incentives such as “off peak” rates for charging my Toyota Leaf. It may be a while before there are enough electric cars to contribute much loading to Florida Power & Light!

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@John Morgan – I saw that too, but it hardly qualifies as a firm plan to upgrade the Danish grid as was stated.

There are, in Europe several broad statements of intent to upgrade the power network to accommodate a higher wind penetration, but a closer look will show that like the Bornholm project, it will depend a great deal on the availably of hydro from the Nordic power market TSO.

In my opinion this is more an attempt to offset the fact that Denmark has almost no hydro, and is in a position to trade wind for water, (as it were) which is fine for them. But in the end the economics of this is highly dependent on this particular situation.

In the end, wind in Denmark, is like geothermal in Iceland, or hydro in Quebec – the viability of these are more an accident of geography, rather than a demonstration of what can be done elsewhere.

We cannot take our eyes off the goal of reducing/eliminating the use of fossil-fuel thermal generation, and in the overwhelming bulk of cases, this can be accomplished with nuclear fission, not solar; not wind, or any other marginal source, faster, and with less expense.

The salient point here is that the economic arguments for wind and solar installations must also include the cost of grid upgrades needed to support it, something nuclear energy does not require.

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@gallopingcamel, I’m no fan of mandating something like this ether – nor are the majority of folks, I’ll warrant. This is why this idea of frequency controlled demand management will likely sit on the shelf for another thirty years, as it already has.

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@George Carrard – I do not see anything your polemic against Prof. Brook that is not unsupported opinion or open personal attack. Please disabuse yourself of the conceit that outbursts like this have any impact on the readership here except to mark you as a nonentity
MODERATOR
Thanks DV8 – I agreed with you and I have already warned him that he should be posting his personal, unsubstantiated philosophical opinions on the OT and that anything similar will be deleted.

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A consistent trend I’m noticing from many who disagree with the statement that “Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises” is a conflation of the idea of increasing energy supply with the idea of growth without limit. It’s almost as if to say, the type of person who advocates the use of more electrical energy is the type of person who believes in unlimited growth. To them, believing in one and not the other is somehow contradictory. Not only is this demonstrably false, but I think it demonstrates a clear lack of critical reasoning when assessing the key points of an article like this.

Without wanting to get too off topic here, perhaps BNC could do with an article to help dispell this myth.

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sod, thank you for your replies. I’m trying to keep my comments to this thread on-topic. You replied 14 May 2011 at 6:53 AM

there are actually plenty solar based businesses alive and kicking. for example a lot of displays for road signs and things like parking machines have moved to solar.

My comment is that in those examples solar is used to power the devices but not to manufacture them or any of the materials that make them up. I was wondering if you could show even a hypothetical example of a small business that ran entirely on solar. And, sorry, I should have said ‘renewable’ rather than just solar. I do know the sun doesn’t shine at night.
You also said

when i spoke of “independence” above, i did obviously NOT mean real energy independence from the grid. this is about a psychological effect and not about producing every single watt you use all by yourself.

The psychological effects may make me feel good but as dv82xl reminds us, nature always bats last. Psychological effects won’t create the kilowatt hours and megajoules I need to live.

You also said

ps: i do not think that storage should be factored into the cost of PV solar at all. it simply doesn t make any sense.

I’m afraid I don’t understand this statement at all – where should the cost be allocated?

ps Your home location sounds quite pleasant.

And then 14 May 2011 at 5:08 PM you said

can you folks provide me a business plan for your pottery business run with your own nuclear power plant?

Not with my very own plant; but with one that I share with many neighbors. It would supply me with reliable energy so I could go about my life in as well ordered and predictable a way as is possible for any of us.

Please let me also say thank you to the comment moderators, both for your visible work in deleting ad hominems and your invisible work in tidying up the comments. BNC is one of my favorite spots on the Web, and Barry has started up a great community.

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When you look at Barry’s analysis in Fukushima Daiichi Open and Update Thread #6 of what it would mean for Japan if it walked away from nuclear power you can start to see why we in Australia are in so much trouble trying to reduce our GHG emissions.

The UK is shooting for a cut in its emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2025. The only possible way the UK can do this is by not only not moving away from nuclear power, but by building 10 new plants, the first of which is scheduled for 2018. A mere 7 years away.

Australia would not be able to build solar thermal with storage or geothermal plants by 2025 to come close to reducing our emissions by 50%. To do this we would need to close all Victoria’s brown coal plants and half of all NSW and QLD black coal plants. About 16 GW of baseload generation. Almost certainly an impossible task with technology that has yet to be scaled at that level.

To get the 50% reduction from coal to gas shift we would need to replace all the VIC, NSW and QLD plants, about 28 GW. An equally unlikely, although not necessarily impossible task if we could acquire 28 GW of CCGT plants over the next 14 years.

Even building 16 nuclear reactors in 14 years in Australia would be a stretch, given the first 5 years would be spent fighting the politics and regulators in a country so dead set against nuclear power.

I think we will come to deeply regret not building nuclear plants back in the 60’s. Even though they would have been old plants like Fukushima and the placards would have been waived in March as they were in Germany. At least we wouldn’t have to waste those 5 years before we could start to build new nuclear plants to replace those brown coal plants.

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Martin Nicholson
The UK is shooting for a cut in its emissions by 50 per cent from 1990 levels by 2025. The only possible way the UK can do this is by not only not moving away from nuclear power, but by building 10 new plants, the first of which is scheduled for 2018. A mere 7 years away.
A plan to build 10 new nuclear plants by 2018 has been in the works since 2009. These appear to be replacements for existing aging nuclear plants that are scheduled to be shut down. None the less it is a positive step that these plans have been re-affirmed.
The 50% reduction in CO2 emissions is not just adding 10 new nuclear plants it also included considerable renwwable energy as far as I can tell without seeing text.
To project this expansion by a much larger economy, that has been building and operating nuclear power plants for 50 years to what could be done in Australia would involve more than just a 5 year delay. I too regret that Australia didnt build nuclear in 1960’s but the reality is we didnt. Like all non-nuclear weapons states Australia will take at least 20 years to have a significant nuclear power program. All is not lost however, we can in the meantime work on adding significant renewable energy to displace some of the coal fired power that is responsible for our very high CO2 emissions.

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@ Neil Howes:

Like all non-nuclear weapons states Australia will take at least 20 years to have a significant nuclear power program.

I guess the United Arab Emirates didn’t get the circular.

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Neil Howes, why did you add that ‘non-nuclear weapons states’ bit? Was there really that much difference in the nuclear power rollout schedule between the US, the UK and France on one hand, and Japan, Germany and South Korea on the other?

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20 years is okay timeframe. Germany has been heavily subsidizing solar PV, very consistently, with a guaranteed high price program, for 20 years, and got only 3% solar electric, with no clear path to 80% solar electric (or solar/wind total) they’ve effectively lock-jammed themselves into natural gas and coal supplemental firing for most of their electric needs.

France got 80% nuclear in 20 years. Sweden got about 40% nuclear in about 15 years. Switzerland similar.

So yes nuclear scales excellently compared to solar (which, to be honest, in stark contrast to popular media, has been a pathetic failure).

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This might be worth a closer look by someone who can assess the amount of difference it could make:

http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL047265.shtml

CO2-based geothermal ….
We show numerically that, compared to conventional water-based and engineered geothermal systems, the proposed approach provides up to factors of 2.9 and 5.0, respectively, higher geothermal heat energy extraction rates. Consequently, more regions worldwide could be economically used for geothermal electricity production. Furthermore, as the injected CO2 is eventually geologically sequestered, such power plants would have negative carbon footprints.

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And here’s today’s article in the WSJ on renewables:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703421204576327410322365714.html

“The hydrocarbons … (This includes methane clathrates—gas on the ocean floor in solid, ice-like form—which may or may not be accessible as fuel someday.) … there may be a millennium’s worth of hydrocarbons left at current rates.

Contrast that with blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons, all of which plainly renew themselves by breeding ….”

Yeah, the blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons will be much better off if we continue burning fossil fuel at current rates for another thousand years.

No problem, right?

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You may be interested in two recent peer-reviewed papers with a different perspective:

The first one concludes that “barriers to a 100% conversion to WWS [wind, water, and the sun] power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic”. According to the EC, this paper suggests that “renewable power sources could meet all global energy needs by 2050”.

Delucchi, M. A., & Jacobson, M. Z. (2011) Providing all global energy with wind, water and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies. Energy Policy. Doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.045 [Part 1]

The second one claims that global human well-being is possible at low levels of energy and carbon:

Steinberger, J.K., Timmons Roberts, J. (2010) From constraint to sufficiency: The decoupling of energy and carbon from human needs, 1975–2005. Ecological Economics. 70: 425–433.

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Hank, supercritical CO2 is awesome, unfortunately when injected in the ground that has trace water in the rocks (free adsorbed or hydride bonded) it becomes a super-acid which isn’t very nice on your equipment, plus it dissolves stuff like crazy (although pure CO2 should be less bad than pure water).

Jesus, the Jacobson paper is well discredited on this site and on others, see e.g.:

https://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/03/wws-2030-critique/

http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2791

(ad hom deleted)

As for global well being possible at low energy consumption; this is just plain wrong, and history allows no other conclusion:

http://sites.google.com/site/rethinkingnuclearpower/aimhigh

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Soluble yes when you just have to pump it down once; if you need to recirculate it constantly that gives extra trouble. Engineers are optimists because they think in terms of ‘solutions’ yes – but what is this going to cost? Sure we can make the entire CO2 and geothermal plant out of special heat treated advanced Incolloy 690 alloy and devise constant cleanup systems to remove soluble material – but what does this cost?

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