Nuclear Policy Renewables

Equinox Energy 2030 communiqué

The Equinox Energy 2030 Summit (2011) has  now concluded, and I’ve arrived back in Australia. It was an enthralling and exhausting experience, and I befriended a wonderful group of people — members of the Forum (aged ~25 to 30 years), Advisors (including me — for generalist critiques and ), Quorum (advocates for specific technologies) and the WGSI and Perimeter Institute teams. I’d like to express my sincere thanks to everyone for giving their time and personal energy to this summit, in a spirit of camaraderie, critical thinking and practical direction setting.

On the final evening of the summit, I was part of a panel of experts on Steve Paikin’s show “The Agenda. He’s a terrific host/moderator, and it was a really worthwhile event. (I wish Australia had a panel show of this quality!). Unfortunately I can’t embed flash videos in WordPress, so to watch the video (53 min), click on the image below to go offsite to

At the TVO website where the video is hosted, you can also find the list of the four other energy programs that The Agenda hosted during the summit, on the problems we’ve created and how we live, move and share. They’re all worth watching (maybe do one per night!), and include special commenters such as Vaclav Smil (energy policy), David Keith (geoengineering) and many others.

The Flickr photo feed of the Equinox event — day-by-day action — can be viewed here.

I obviously can’t cover off here on all of the wide-range discussions/debates we had during the week (there were some doozies!), although much of this material is now being reviewed and will subsequently be presented in the forthcoming ‘Equinox Blueprint‘ (being prepared by the WGSI team). But I will (in the coming week or so) blog here on BNC on a few key ideas that emerged — well, at least those which I found particularly exciting and thought provoking. This includes first electrification for 2.5 billion people using new technologies like organic solar, ultimate potential (and limits) of chemical storage batteries, lower-temperature thermochemical hydrogen production, and integrated plans for future urban and rural low-carbon communities.

As a prelude to the production of the full blueprint, a 4-page communiqué of core ideas and themes was produced at the end of the summit. You can download the printable PDF here, and it is reproduced below. I hope you find something in it to agree with — and to argue over! It certainly includes some bold thinking (and no doubt some blind alleys). But it’s a vision, and moving forward, we (both the summit participants and the wider community of decision makers, entrepreneurs, and general public) need to start making this happen. Sustainable energy must underpin all of our futures.




Energy is humanity’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and our appetite for electricity is growing faster than for any other form of energy. Transforming the ways we generate, distribute and store electricity is among the most pressing challenges facing society today.

Over the next four decades, global energy demand is expected to almost double from 16.5 terawatts to 30 terawatts. If we want to stabilize CO2 levels in our atmosphere at 550 parts per million, all of that growth needs to be met by non-carbon forms of energy.

Reducing the amount of fossil fuel we burn to generate electricity would make a substantial contribution to the goal of addressing climate change. In the wider context of peak oil and the rapidly growing global population, there is an urgent need for action.

The Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) was established to help bring science to bear on the most difficult problems facing our world. Over the past week, 36 scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and future leaders from around the world came together to explore how science and technology might serve as a catalyst for the urgent change that is needed.


This Communiqué identifies a group of technological approaches and implementation steps that have the potential over coming decades to accelerate the transition of our energy systems toward electrification and in the longer term toward an energy future where our dependence on fossil fuels is greatly reduced.

Given the right support, the six priority actions identified below can catalyze change on a global scale, from the cities of the developed world, to the billions of people who live in towns and villages that lack adequate access to electricity.



Many of the world’s towns, cities and industries rely on a consistent supply of “baseload” power, most of which is currently generated through the burning of fossil fuels. Among a range of options, the Summit has identified three alternative means of providing that power that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

· Geothermal energy is a large resource capable of providing a significant proportion of the global energy demand. Costs for geothermal electricity generation can be a competitive resource if deployed on a large scale.
· The fundamental challenge is that subsurface resources can only truly be understood by undertaking major drilling programs.
· Several large demonstration projects would be required to deliver certainty about the exploration techniques, and engender confidence in production costs, potentially advancing geopower to the terawatt scale.

· The world needs its sources of power to be reliable and efficient. But wind, waves and sunshine do not always meet these criteria. We could change that by turning our attention to a long-neglected aspect of the power system: storage.
· Electrochemical batteries, including vanadium redox flow batteries, have proven utility in a limited number of real-world situations, but substantial initial investment is needed to reduce costs and commercialize a range of these technologies.
· Large-scale demonstration projects in countries with high penetrations of renewable energy sources are recommended.

· Nuclear energy has proven capacity to deliver, on a large scale, low-carbon baseload power, but there are still concerns regarding safety and radioactive waste.
· Accelerating the development of forms of nuclear power that close the nuclear fuel cycle, including an effective solution for managing long-lived nuclear waste, and a widely available fuel supply, would be transformative.
· To achieve significant and timely uptake of these technologies, we propose international collaborations to develop the first commercial demonstration of the integral fast reactor with a fully closed fuel cycle (full recycling of uranium and plutonium), and experimental demonstration of novel accelerator-driven thorium-based systems.

· As countries become more urbanized, demand for transportation will increase. Transportation contributes 40% of humanity’s global greenhouse gas emissions currently, a problem only likely to worsen as these cities grow.
· Replacing gasoline-fuelled vehicles with electric ones has the potential to reduce emissions significantly. We could amplify this benefit by designing transit and vehicle-sharing schemes that integrate information and communication technologies to enable a shift in focus from ownership of vehicles to access to mobility.
· Within a short time it could be possible to demonstrate the benefits of combining ICT and battery powered electric vehicles in a small number of representative cities around the world.

· Expanding, dense urban areas have an unsustainably high carbon footprint. The world is becoming increasingly urbanized, with predictions that by 2040, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities.
· Our buildings and infrastructure in cities need to be smart enough to incorporate renewable energy solutions such as innovative quantum-based solar technology, smart metering, superconducting conduits and systems for intelligent data collection about building performance and behaviour.
· Pilot demonstrations in carefully selected neighbourhoods that combine these technologies could provide the knowledge needed for the developing world to leap-frog the inefficient and unsustainable designs of the past.

· Approximately 2 billion people around the world have no, or very limited, access to electricity or other modern energy services. The negative consequences for their human rights, including health, education, and economic development, have been recognized as a significant barrier to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
· Although many options to alleviate poverty exist, lightweight, durable and flexible photovoltaic technologies that are currently being developed offer a technologically and economically feasible solution for remote, off-grid deployment. Both the photovoltaic and battery storage technologies needed for these applications are three to four years from commercialization, and still searching for markets.
· Creating partnerships locally and internationally could facilitate the roll-out of integrated micro-grid systems based on renewable resources to provide basic energy needs such as lighting, communications and medical refrigeration.


The ideas outlined in this Communiqué will form the basis of a detailed document that will be produced in coming months – the Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030.

Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030 will paint a picture of the challenges faced by society in energy, detail forecasts from various global and national agencies for the likely state of affairs in 2030, and list the Equinox Summit’s recommendations and proposals to address these.

Equinox Blueprint: Energy 2030 will be aimed at informing, advising and inspiring science and technology influencers, government and industry leaders globally. It will focus on how science and technology can contribute to the challenges faced. It will offer practical, real-world solutions – based on the latest scientific thinking – and offer recommendations for investment and focus, and for the coordination of national and international scientific and engineering efforts which may, over the next 20 years, help address energy challenges in a meaningful way.

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.

65 replies on “Equinox Energy 2030 communiqué”

Awesome Barry! I’m of course also interested in whether you met any of my New Urbanist hero’s in these discussions. “integrated plans for future urban and rural low-carbon communities.”


Not much on demand side management and energy efficiency/conservation in the communique–apparently I didn’t fight hard enough….


These sort of talk fests,while often satisfying for the participants,quite often don’t come up with much that is sensible.

A case in point is the inclusion of renewables with their necessary attendant storage.For much less than the cost of this storage you could build a nuclear system which would cover maximum demand.If load following won’t take care of the off peak periods then the excess generation can be used to power useful applications like desalination and/or the production of ammonia for fuel and ferilizer.

Storage is a part of the renewables delusion and is the province of technocopian fools.

The rural electrification section has me intrigued.If PV and battery storage technology has not yet been developed then I must have somehow got into Dr Who’s Tardis.Because,as I type this,I am sitting right next to just such an installation and it sure is not cutting edge.This technology has been around for years.


Podargus, the transformative aspects of small-scale PV+batteries were built around the requirements of organic solar (cheap, rugged, flexible, install anywhere) and more advanced batteries (cost of lead-acid but supporting at least 5,000 cycles). So what we need for this type of deployment isn’t yet on the market, though it seems to be getting closer.

Re: renewable+storage vs nuclear+storage, yes, I made that point a few times, but I guess the key is how much one is willing to pay to have your *preferred* energy source (for whatever reason beyond economics), and other situation of circumstance (be they social, political, ignorance, or whatever). It’s about dealing with the real world beyond just economics, as important as the latter might ultimately be.


The thing is, storage is useful for so many reasons, not just for backing renewables. Imagine if car batteries were 5 to 10 times better. Goodbye ‘range anxiety’.

But today’s technology is doable *IF* someone wants to go a bit hippie and alternative and live off grid, but it just means they’ll have a more reasonable sized house than the oversized American McMansions so many are used to. Google “Earthships” for the ultimate in low-energy but comfortable off-grid homes. Yes, some of them look like they are off Willy Wonka, but that’s because hippies were the first ones to build them. Some councils in England are trying to package them in a more mainstream village and look.



I have just finished watching “Energy: The Problem To Solve” … good stuff.

I applaud the consideration given to the billions off-grid and the notion of micro-grids at the community level. There is already some pretty decent solar PV solutions out there.

But the bit that intrigues me is how to fund the energy uplift for hundreds of millions of households in dozens of really-hard-to-work-in countries. I guess the Equinox blueprints will be forthcoming over the next few months and present more detail based on more analysis and creativity.

Funding is critical and channels into these countries and into the rural areas is critical.

I suggest looking at the social enterprise/micro finance industry as a player which could play a major part in this aspect. They have billions of dollars of donations which they circulate (on a micro loan basis so the pie doesn’t diminish) and tens of millions of existing ‘clients’ across dozens of countries.

If this sort of funding/execution approach is of interest when the blueprinting is being done, I can offer introductions to some good sounding boards eg the immediate past Chair of Opportunity International Network (US$500m in fund) and a very senior member of the World Bank (out of Africa).

Cheers, Alan


Just watched this video and thought it was quite interesting. I am pleased to see that the anti-nuclear side did not win out, as far as the final communique is concerned.

The communique starts off right with naming “replacing coal” as the first priority. However, that probably should include all fossil fuels.

In contrast, right now there is a video of a discussion the Japanese Prime Minister Kan had with industrial leader Son and some other celebrities on Sunday. They spent close to two hours discussing “renewable energy” without anyone even mentioning global warming. Nuclear energy did not get much support in that particular forum.


I’m curious as to how Vaclav Smil gets the good press he does. Smil is touted by Bill Gates as the guy he thinks has the best view on energy issues. Revkin at Dot Earth also puts in a favorable mention for him periodically – Andy once called Smil a “truth teller”.

I thought I’d read Smil’s “Energy: Myths and Realities”. Since Smil has a nuclear chapter, I turned to it right away. Right off the bat, I see Smil distorting the truth he tells.

Smil tells us that regarding nuclear power in the US: “no other mode of energy production has received such generous public subsidies. U.S. data show that the nuclear industry was the recipient of no less than 96% of all funds, amounting to about $145 billion in 1998 dollars, that were appropriated by the US Congress for energy related research and development between 1947 and 1998″.

The footnote goes to “Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) 1990.
The NIRS Facebook page informs us that “NIRS organizes, mobilizes and empowers people to build a safe, clean and affordable nuclear-free carbon-free energy future for our planet. Wikipedia describes NIRS as an “anti nuclear group”.

Those interested in another view of the US energy subsidy situation over time might want to look at the article published in Issues Online, a publication of the US National Academy entitled “The US Energy Scorecard”

Smil’s book is published by American Enterprise Institute. Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, has this to say about the AEI: “the American Enterprise Institute, which promoted the work of the late fiction writer Michael Crichton… [who] portrayed global warming as a liberal hoax meant to bring down Western capitalism. Crichton also took on the DDT issue… banning DDT killed more people than Hitler… It was so safe you could eat it”

The cover of Smil’s book advertises that he is “Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate”. If this is science, perhaps we don’t need it.


@Barry Excellent discussion, very informative, and good to see that there is at least somewhere in the world where people can have a level-headed public debate about the future of energy generation. :-) One thing that irritated me a bit, though, was Walt Patterson’s very skeptical attitude toward getting the UK to 40% nuclear by 2030. Has he heard of France? I’m surprised you didn’t step in there and mention that we already have the tech to produce safe nuclear plants with a closed fuel cycle, and that there’s no need to be so skeptical about new nuclear. He seemed to be approaching things from a 1960s mindset!


I was disappointed. Yes, of course, I loved the “acceptance” of thorium as a nuclear solution they could all agree on. Surprised the IFR wasn’t mentioned. Highly disappointed that the ideas were all ‘market’ oriented along with counter-cultural “changing people’s behavior”. Generally I would of sat there very frustrated.

Of course generally, in away, a big way, nuclear was legitimatized as one of the solutions so that’s good I suppose. But Walt Patterson’s berating of it and his believe that efficiency is the solution was sad to see from someone with a nuclear physics degree. I think the video played to yuppie, and not the mass of working class, sentiment on this: the folks that can afford a 3kw PV system on their *roof* which of course they have since they don’t live in Brooklyn or Chicago in a 4 story walk up.


Oh yeah, the HIGHLY CHEAP SHOT Patterson took at France by claiming that they use more oil now than they did in the 70s without noting the TRUTH that 100% of this was from automobile usage made possibly by a higher standard of living because nuclear electricity is so damn cheap. AHHHHH!


Barry Brook,on 14 June at 4:35 PM –

I took the trouble to look up Organic (aka Polymer) Solar and I apologize for being a tad sarcastic about this part of the report.However,it appears there are major problems with the technology,namely low efficiency and poor durability.
If those problems can be sorted it might have a niche application just as silicon cells have now.

Re batteries – there have been gradual improvements in battery technology over the years.Barring an economic meltdown I would expect that process to continue but I wouldn’t be counting on any miraculous breakthroughs any time soon.

Incremental improvement is the way science and technology work plus the very occasional eureka moment.This particular fact of life seems to escape the technocopians.Belief in miracles is not confined to religion.

There is one inescapable fact in all the noise surrounding energy.We have a crisis in our relationship with Earth.This is not just confined to climate change.
We need to intelligently use what we have in our toolkit to mitigate the effects of this crisis.If we can also support our boffins in their quest for better ways to do things that is all to the better.


Podargus, can you be more specific when you say we “have a crisis in our relationship with Earth…”? I probably don’t disagree but that’s a vague statement if it means anything beyond climate change.


It’s troubling that two of the identified solutions, geothermal and vanadium redox batteries, have been tried here and found wanting. That’s non-volcanic ‘dry’ geothermal in our case.

The half the world’s population that is roughly middle class got there on the back of burning fossil fuels. That pathway to wealth is no longer available to the most of the poor. I suspect we shall soon see the middle classes objecting to energy cuts irrespective of carbon caps or nuclear phaseouts. Similarly it’s hard to see the poor contented with simple rural electrification. They want cars and wide screen TVs. Can they possibly get there? Perhaps we’re heading towards a global frugal economic class but I don’t see things going smoothly.


david Lewis: smil is very much worth reading.

like many on this list, he has good ideas; and like many, he has bad ideas.

He is not very good on nuclear power; another smart conservative energy analyst, robert bryce, is far better.

he’s a necessary corrective to the al gore green capitalists who think that energy infrastructures (based on wind and solar) can be transformed in 10 years.

smil has a very useful analysis of inertia in energy systems.

if you choose who you are going to read in the energy debate based on your politics, you will be misinformed. While in my view, the “left” very vaguely understood is better on climate issues, they are often not very good on energy.

As a Marxist (along with Mr. Walters), I have learned a lot from conservative writers on energy. Bryce, Huber and Mills, and Smil (it’s probably a stretch to call him a conservative–that he did one book with AEI is insufficient evidence but I’ll go along with the designation anyway.) His energy textbook was published by MIT Press.

Is that better?


Hi Gregory,
are any of the books you describe for non-technical humanities heads like myself? I like energy writing that tends to break things down into clever sound-bytes and convincing ratios. EG: It would take 10 times more steel and concrete to build all the wind turbines we wanted than nuclear power plants, or burning today’s nuclear waste could run the world for 500 years, etc.


David Lewis, I pretty much agree – Smil came across as very pessimistic and uninspiring. He has a good grounding by referring to history as the best predictor of future energy trends — I have no argument there. But we also know that things DO change.

For instance, if you were a scholar in the year 1750, you might have expected Britain’s energy pathway (wood burning, livestock and human muscle, wind and water power for milling grain, ship transport etc.) to continue through to 1850 in much the same way as it had since 1650. But you’d have been dead wrong, of course.

At some point, we will make an energy transition, but I think that history will not be a good lesson about how fast it will be, or what form it will take. Except of course that prognosticators like Smil or Brook will have almost certainly got the details wrong!


Barry – I watched the Energy: The Problem to Solve video. Thanks for doing a great job. I note that both Zoe Caron and Tom Rand feel a sense of urgency about changing our energy systems. I feel it too.

But I also agree with posters like Podargus, David Walters, and John Newlands about the overall feel of the results. Will the conference and report be enough to get government and industry off the pot? We need action on many levels.

By following Rod Adams’s Atomic Insights blog you’ll know about his tacit conspiracy theory by which fossil fuel interests are maintaining business as usual. Tom Rand’s example of my Canadian government’s pursuit of glamorous and fossil fuel use promoting CCS over unglamorous and fossil fuel conserving building insulation and improvements is just another example. I think it’s going to be tough to get motion.

Tom Rand has a great take on pension funds’s filling their responsibility to the future by investing in change. There might also be a wedge available by getting industrial energy users worried about relying on fossil fuels. IIRC some German firms have made their concerns about the nuclear phaseout public.

I also have to admire your restraint over Walt Patterson’s statements about nuclear and his reply to the moderator’s question “Can you consistently be against climate change and against nuclear power?” at about 35:10. Part of his reply: “Nuclear power needs climate change more than climate change needs nuclear power.” I think I’d have tried to throttle him. His credentials say nuclear physicist but … and I’m not sure what to say here, judging by some of the comment moderation lately. Let’s just say that my opinion of his numeracy and analytical skills is low. I’ve had a look at Walt Patterson On Energy. Here’s something from a Guardian article about Three Mile Island, Grim legacy of meltdown

Unlike them, however, I and my colleagues at Friends of the Earth had been outspoken since the early 1970s about the possibility of a core-melt accident in a pressurized-water reactor. By the late 1970s, nevertheless, my attention had shifted away from the hazards of civil nuclear technology to its putative benefits. The harder I looked, the less evident the benefits.

Maybe we’re lucky he didn’t try to throttle you.

I imagine you didn’t get to connect with DV82XL while you were at the conference. If so, it’s a pity.


Thanks Andrew, yes, I agree that Tom Rand’s point about pension funds was terrific, and I’ll be using that one. As to Walt, well, all I can say is that one must retain a sense of dignity whilst on air (!) and butting in too much is unhelpful. Off camera, we agree to disagree on about 50% of energy matters and talked productively about the rest. Alas, I didn’t get to meet the Canadian nuclear bloggers (DV8, Rick etc.) as I was closeted up all week at Waterloo.

Podargus, the organic solar tech is definitely not there yet, I agree. Efficiency has gone from about 1% to 9% over the last 10 years, and the aim is to get it to 15% and a 10 year lifetime within 10 years. Similar deal for new batteries like Lithium-air. We’ll see. I respect your scepticism on this, I will add, but I am an admitted technophile, I remain cautiously optimistic that some of these things will reach fruition.


hmm: there’s a lot of numbers in smil. not too bad though. mostly power density numbers and stuff.

try energy transitions. not too long.

I said smil is worth reading. that’s about it. there’s much to criticize. he’s very pessimistic, as Barry says. I just find stupid optimism no better.


<b"excess generation can be used to power useful applications like desalination and/or the production of ammonia for fuel and ferilizer."

The problem with this is that you are messing with the availability factor of the desalination plant, in short its difficult to find anything with significant capital costs that would work well with excess generation, EXCEPT storage. High capital costs means that people expect it to have high availability factors, Solar has almost .99 AF despite having a .1 or .2 capacity factor.
This is not an Open Thread – please supply references to back up your statements.


Thanks Barry, interesting discussion and some generally good positive energy (excuse the unintended pun).

I was surprised in your opening address that you came across sounding so optimistic about geothermal – though you did explicitly mention that it is endless potential energy that is available.

I took the time to read some of Jatin Nathwani’s work – a very intelligent, rational guy. There’s some really good talks he did on Fukushima available on YouTube.

I enjoyed most of what Rand said (boy he can talk!), and I also thought his point about pension funds was great (has anyone got a reference for that huge number he quoted that’s locked up in pension funds?!).

Walt was, frankly, just annoying.

Zoe Caron seemed more open than your average environmental NGO representative. I must say I cringed at her answer to “is there such thing as clean coal?” though.

Most importantly though – good work on keeping nuclear in the discussion.



@ Environmentalist, 15 June 2011 at 12:49 PM

“messing with the availability factor of the desalination plant”?

I’m unsure what exactly you’re trying to get at here, but unlike electricity that’s being produced when we don’t need it, excess desalinated water can simply be pumped to existing reservoirs for use later. Production doesn’t need to match demand exactly at all times like an electricity system.

And as per usual, you haven’t provided a reference for your statement “Solar has almost .99 AF despite having a .1 or .2 capacity factor.” As if this has anything to do with the “availability factor of a desalination plant” anyway.


Conceivably desalinated water could even be used for pumped hydro as will be done at El Hierro in the Canary Islands

The fact the water is desalinated is mentioned about 2.30 in. However it only has to be cheaper than diesel generators.

In the case of pumping desal water 300km from the coast to a mine pumping to a sequence of one or more inland hilltop tanks could be regarded as a ‘prepayment’. That means less pumping effort later for the entire length of the pipeline. Another intermittent watery application for excess baseload could be hydrogen generation.


Some quick cost calcs for the above project. 10 MW wind X .3 c.f. = 3 MW av. Project cost €65m or €22/w about $29/w. Then again the desal is built in so saves some costs.


David Walters, on 15 June 2011 at 8:07 AM

I don’t like writing long comments as they would likely bore most readers to tears.
I try to keep it short and to the point.

The crisis in our relationship with Earth – briefly –

Overpopulation – the elephant in the room which most people pretend not to see and the root cause of a lot of our problems.If we don’t get this under control,and this means a declining population not stability at the present level,there will be a Malthusian solution.

Widespread environmental damage – salination;desertification;destruction of river systems by dams;urban sprawl destroying agricultural land;destruction of forests,particularly rain forests,by logging,legal and illegal and by encroachment for agriculture and livestock grazing;soil erosion from all of the above;soil degradation by destructive agricultural methods;pollution of streams by toxic waste;destruction of mangrove forests.

Damage to ocean ecosystems by overfishing and by destructive fishing methods like heavy trawls and longlines.Destruction of coral reefs by using explosives for fishing.Hunting large species to extinction or near extinction.Pollution of estuarine and bay areas through runoff containing high levels of nitrogen and other nutrients causing toxic algae blooms.

I could go on.Add anthropogenic climate change to all this and we have a crisis,would you not agree?


I have also read Smil’s book discussed above and wrote a couple of comments on my blog.

Some problems I noted:

He starts out with an obvious mistake regarding the potential of electric cars to reduce carbon emissions.

He is basically contradicting himself in a large way. The main thesis is that it is impossible to predict energy developments, but most of the book tells us how this or that alternative will play out anyhow.

I still like this book and learned a lot from it. Most interesting for me was to note that people in the nuclear business in the 1950s thought of “complexes centered on nuclear plants, located in coastal desert areas”. That is the idea of energy from the desert, about 60 years before DESERTEC.

And he better be wrong about the inertia part at the end.


Battery technology is seen as important in enabling zero-carbon mobility, but what about hydrogen fuel cells? Fuel cell cars (such as those developed by Mercedes) have a much greater range and are almost ready to go into mass production. Even at today’s hydrogen prices, a fuel cell car would be able to economically compete with gasoline-powered vehicles in most countries. Yes, hydrogen is more expensive, but you only need about 1kg to go 100km. The problem with hydrogen is that we would need to ramp up the production of hydrogen from low-carbon energy sources (renewable, nuclear) and create a network of hydrogen fuel stations. The latter is a problem shared by battery-powered vehicles as well though.


The problem with hydrogen is that it requires like 8x as much electricity to make compared to direct battery electric.

Hydrogen is essentially just another battery. A very expensive and inefficient one. Today’s hydrogen fuel cells cost about a hundred grand per car. When car companies are wining about ten grand battery packs, hydrogen fuel cells are still dead.

Use plugin hybrids in stead. Leverage advantage of internal combustion plus internal combustion infrastructure while still get to reduce liquid fuel consumption by 80-90%.


Vanadium redox batteries will be juiced up by wind and solar generators. These batteries have a storage capacity of the size of the container the vanadium pentoxide liquid solution is stored to be charged, and discharged. This is the coolest set up I have ever seen. You could live any remote jungle or mountain peak as long as you had the vanadium redox battery, and a solar panel or wind turbine.


Click to access thomas_fcev_vs_battery_evs.pdf

According to this study, fuel cell vehicles come out ahead of batteries because of their superior power-to-weight ratio and extended range and they are also the most efficient solution to meet our emission reduction goals.

Fuel cell vehicles are close to commercialization:

The main problem with battery-powered cars is the limited range. They will never be used for more than niche applications. Hybrids, while a step in the right direction, are not a solution because they still emit greenhouse gases.


“I’m unsure what exactly you’re trying to get at here, but unlike electricity that’s being produced when we don’t need it, excess desalinated water can simply be pumped to existing reservoirs for use later. Production doesn’t need to match demand exactly at all times like an electricity system.”

You don’t understand, desalination plants are capital intensive for example Gold Coast Desal Plant $1.2 Billion to build and roughly 20 million dollars a year in energy costs (asuming 10 cents kWh).

Meaning the owner wants to run the plant 24/7, meaning that you cannot just ask him to turn it on during the night and shut it off during the day, the demand would be a solid increment 24/7. Of course barring maintenance and that is where the Availability factor comes in.

As you probably would have guessed electric vehicles can work if charged at night but that is because of storage, a hydraulic rock piston at 0.50 $/kWh

Would work the same because it is the purchase and release variations that makes the energy it sells more valuable, if demand and supply were flat it would go bankrupt, but the desalination plant would run optimally.


Max, that’s why you use plugin hybrids with some battery capacity and a combustion engine for longer trips. This saves 70 to 99% on liquid fuel depending on driving habits and battery capacity.

However your first reference is based on the wrong assumptions. Expensive inefficient technology (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) do not reduce CO2 emissions, they increase it. Any nuclear, wind or solar installation producing hydrogen that is used in fuel cell cars (very inefficiently) is not displacing coal on the grid. So your emissions rise compared to using more efficient battery electric plugin hybrids and using the extra capacity saved to displace more coal. Plugin hybrids can cut emissions from light duty passenger vehicles by 80 to 90% which is a good start.

Be sure to check out Ulf Bossels’ take on this:

Click to access Bossel_E13.pdf


@Cyril R.

point taken, using renewable/nuclear electricity to produce hydrogen would delay the replacement of coal-fired power stations. But in any case I think de-carbonizing the electricity supply will precede the de-carbonization of transportation. So any hydrogen-related electricity production would be added to the available renewable/nuclear capacity.
Plugin hybrids are a great way to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, and thus a technology we absolutely need during the “transition period”, but ultimately, we need zero-emission technology to power not only personal transportation, but trucks and heavy machinery as well and in this area, the fuel cell beats the battery because of its superior power-to-weight ratio.
Even today, using hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water may be competitive with gasoline. My car (a small Peugeot 206) uses approximately 40 liters of gasoline to cover 600km. At current German gas prices this is 80 US Dollars. A hydrogen car would use only 6kg of hydrogen for 600km, which at 4 US Dollars per kg of electrolytically produced hydrogen would mean that your bill is only 24 Dollars (excluding taxes).
A electric car comes out ahead in overall energy use, but that is of secondary importance. Power-to-weight ratio and range are more important in vehicles (to a certain margin).
Hydrogen is an energy carrier, and while producing and storing it is inefficient compared to using electricity, the superior hydrogen technology may mean its the fuel of choice for mobile applications. It’s no coincidence all major car makers are investing in fuel cell technology. The fuel cell wouldn’t force us to alter our mobility patterns.
Also, hydrogen may be produced much more cheaply in the future using the waste heat from high temperature thermal nuclear reactors or more advanced lead or gas-cooled fast reactors.

To me, hydrogen is still a convincing energy carrier for mobile applications. It may power cars, trucks, diggers, planes, ships and all sorts of other vehicles, which batteries are unsuitable for.

But in any case a hydrogen economy probably needs the large-scale production of hydrogen from nuclear heat.


@Environmentalist – thanks for the link to Hydraulic Hydro storage. I read it, and his claim that power storage scaled with the fourth power of the piston’s radius jumped out at me. Since the piston radius is also the lift dimension, I thought the power should scale as the cube.

Eduard Heindl, the author, thoughtfully provided his derivation at the bottom of the article.

Calculation of storage performance

The stored energy increases with the fourth power of the system radius r. This is because the possible lifting height H grows proportional to the piston length which is chosen as two times the system radius r.

The maximum stored energy is calculated from the density of the rock Rho1 and the effective density Rho2 to consider is the hydrostatic pressure of water, as water density Rho3 substitutes the rock mass replaced. Thus, the effective density:

Rho2 = Rho1 – Rho3 (2)

The equation for the potential energy E at a height H in the gravitational field of the earth with the constant g for a mass m is

E = g * m * H (3)

The effective mass of a cylinder is calculated by

m = Pi * r ² * h * Rho2 (4)

Equation (4) in equation (3) is used, taking into account that H = r will be:

E = g * r ² * Pi * 2 * r * r * Rho2 (5)

Equation (5) summarized:

E = g * 2 * Pi * Rho2* r4 (6)

This demonstrates that the stored energy is proportional to the fourth power of the system radius.

Now it’s been a while since I was doing serious amounts of algebra, but it looks to me like he’s slipped an extra factor of r in his derivation of Equation 5. Can some of the other BNC denizens run their eyes over this as well? I’d like to know if I’m missing something here.

His big storage project calls for a rock cylinder 1 km tall. I’m not a geologist, but when I was working for oil companies I saw enough seismic sections to make me think it’ll be hard to find a formation that can provide a piston/cylinder combination of uniform composition with no faults or potential faults. His diagram doesn’t show where the water comes from or goes to either. About the only thing missing from the illustration is the combined wind and solar power plant riding on the rock plug to power the pumps. I think that was a real oversight… ;-)


“Now it’s been a while since I was doing serious amounts of algebra, but it looks to me like he’s slipped an extra factor of r in his derivation of Equation 5. Can some of the other BNC denizens run their eyes over this as well? I’d like to know if I’m missing something here.”

No its still (r^4)/2 assuming H=r, in detail its more like this r^2 * h = mass and the H/2 which is the height of the piston before it can tip over its side.

So in short you can build a piston that moves an inch or one comparably smaller that moves a mile and the same potential energy is stored (granted in this case H does not necessarily = r).

” I saw enough seismic sections to make me think it’ll be hard to find a formation that can provide a piston/cylinder combination of uniform composition with no faults or potential faults. His diagram doesn’t show where the water comes from or goes to either. About the only thing missing from the illustration is the combined wind and solar power plant riding on the rock plug to power the pumps. I think that was a real oversight… ;-)

Watch the presentation it answers most of your queries, as I said in the other thread its experimental but it makes a lot of sense.

That is almost free storage on the grid scale.


@ Environmentalist

meaning that you cannot just ask him to turn it on during the night and shut it off during the day

Who said anything about shutting it off during the day?


@ Tom Keen

Right here

“For much less than the cost of this storage you could build a nuclear system which would cover maximum demand.If load following won’t take care of the off peak periods then the excess generation can be used to power useful applications like desalination and/or the production of ammonia for fuel and ferilizer.”

Its wrong on both counts,

A) storage is cheaper (with the hydraulic piston practically free) than load following nuclear, simply because of the fact that you are lowering the capacity factor of NPP, dialing them down at night and most hours of the day if you will, just so you can have the safety needed to operate at 100% during peak. Add maintenance shutdowns and you would have a lot less than .9.

B) you cannot generate demand out of thin air (for capital intensive infrastructure), if not the demand curve would have been a flat baseload since long before you were born, the only exception of course is storage. A DeSal plant that needs “excess” generation to operate is a DeSal plant that is turned off when there is 0 “excess” generation.

I will never stop saying this NPP and storage are married to each other in a FF free world, there is no way around it unless you start pushing for a smart grid to flatten the demand curve, nobody is going to pay more for pure load following nuclear with absolutely no benefit whatsoever.
Off topic – please move to the Open Thread.


@ Environmentalist

I won’t go on with the desalination discussion as it was not my initial comment.

I’m not going to say that matching the flexibility of gas is an easy thing, but nuclear power plants do load follow, and apparently economically given the cost of electricity in France. . Besides, any problem nuclear might have with needing storage is a much bigger problem for renewables.

This converstation should continue on the open thread, it’s off topic here.
Agreed. See my comment to Environmentalist.



Hydrogen has no infrastructure for delivery, electricity does. Safety issues with an extensive hydrogen delivery issue would be considerable.

Battery technology is finally getting attention (30 years late, but oh well…). Here is an example but there is a lot more going on.

New Nanostructured Li2S/Silicon Rechargeable Battery with High Specific Energy
Yuan Yang, Matthew T. McDowell, Ariel Jackson, Judy J. Cha, Seung Sae Hong and Yi Cui 2010, 10 (4), pp 1486–1491

@ Cyril R

Although the distinction might be fussy I think the Chevrolet Volt is currently the way to go. I think this car will be looked back on as the start of a revolution. This is an ‘extended range electric vehicle’. A bit different than a plug-in hybrid. It is all-electric for 65 km (which is supposed to cover 80% of commutes in the US), then has a small engine that acts as a generator for longer trips. This is ideal I think until batteries become more capable / cheap. The control technology in this car is amazing. There is an article in SAE International, November 4, 2010.

Company website


barry: in what sense is geothermal energy unlimited? in the generation four nuclear sense or in the kansas is the saudia arabia of wind sense?

Mackay sees geothermal offering very modest contributions, though he cites one speculative source that suggests much geothermal energy could be accessed in the U.S. but if I recall, Mackay has geothermal down for under 2 percent of the 125 kwh/person/day he’s after.

do you have sources which show Mackay to be way off?


GM, the point about geothermal being unlimited was a very general one – which I never had a chance to clarify. The deeper you go, the more heat to access, but the harder and more expensive (and probably impractical – at least for the foreseeable future) it becomes. So Mackay is talking about what is probable, I’m talking about what is hypothetically possible. It’s a bit like comparing current mining operations for iron ore with the future chance to extract trillions of tonnes of iron/nickel from the asteroid belt…


Sent to me today – the obvious questions for places like Japan is, where does the other 81% come from??:

Subject: integrating renewables (From Nature Journal and IEA)

Excerpt: Variable energy sources such as wind and solar power could provide 19–63% of required electricity in many countries, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This upbeat view contrasts with what many experts have said to date: that congested power grids and rigid markets make it difficult to integrate renewable sources of energy into our existing electricity supplies.

An IEA report, Harnessing Variable Renewables: a Guide to the Balancing Challenge, released today, assesses eight major industrialized countries or economic zones. It concludes that variable renewable energy (VRE) such as wind and solar power could provide 19% of Japan’s electricity and 63% of Denmark’s. The feasible contribution of VRE for Canada, Mexico, the Nordic region, Spain and Portugal, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the United States ranges between these two figures.


the IEA Press Release:

Full IEA-Report (there’s an acess fee to pay):


A hydrogen fuel cell car is more energy efficient from “well to wheel” than a conventional car or even a plug-in hybrid. The most energy efficient solution would be the direct utilization of electricity through battery storage, but the poor power-to-weight ratio of batteries really limits their application to small cars for short-distance journeys. I have yet to see batteries who can deliver a performance similar to fuel cells. More research needs to be done in this area and apparently there are some promising concepts, but we shouldn’t dismiss the fuel cell so readily.

According to industry experts, the establishment of a network of hydrogen fuel stations across Germany would cost around 2 Billion €. These stations would be supplied by road tankers. A network of electric charging stations would carry a similar price tag (Source:

Plug-in hybrids would be a zero-carbon technology when combined with biofuels, but these fuels have their own sort of problems, most importantly the displacement of food crops in favour of monocultures for fuel production, which aggravates food shortages in third world countries.
Hence plug-in hybrids still rely on fossil fuels and can’t be the final solution. They are a technology to bridge the gap until fuel cell or advanced battery-powered vehicles are ready to go into mass production.


@Environmentalist – thanks: I see it now. As I said, it’s been a while since I did much with equations. I’m still extremely skeptical of the practicality of the system. For example, I think it’ll be pretty tough to seal the cylinder and control the flow of water against pressures of the order of 15 megaPascals for the 500 meter radius system. This is approaching the pressures used in hydraulic fracturing

The system resembles a 1 km deep well 1 km in diameter. If neighbors are worried about 30 cm diameter wells in shale gas plays disturbing groundwater, what do you think they’ll think of a 1 km diameter well?

You’ll note that I’m trying to take this plan somewhat seriously – I still wonder if the original source wasn’t the Onion. Also – in all the discussions of storage going on, everybody seems to forget that any storage system results in a loss of energy in both the input and output conversions. I don’t see much discussion of the additional overbuild of energy generation needed to compensate for the storage losses.

Shouldn’t we be building the best fully dispatchable generation systems we can so there’s some energy to store before we build systems that throw it away?


A piston ring on a diesel engine may be 5 cm in diameter and faces pressures less than 50 bar or 5 Mpa. The ‘block’ is machined in a workshop to fine tolerances. The proponents of this geo piston must build a smaller version (that stores say 1 Gwh) to prove all the key features such as pressure capability.

I fear Germany is setting itself up for either ridicule or recession if they stick to their guns.


Thankyou,Andrew Jaremko,for a sensible comment on energy storage.

Storage is a necessary artefact of renewable electricity generation for base load applications and is one of the main reasons why renewables are not practical.

Of course,the lack of practicality of an idea doesn’t stop the renewables fans from advocating all sorts of wild schemes.Just to add icing on to this dysfunctional cake we now have people advocating storage for nuclear.

My home state of Queensland is geographically large and decentralized.It has a large and decentralized electricity grid powered mainly by coal burners.
It has one pumped storage hydro facility which came on line in the 80s.To my knowledge there is only one other pumped storage facility in Australia and that is at Tumut 3 in NSW.This is a hydro station and I suspect that the pumped storage was built mainly to conserve water.

For those international readers who are not familiar with Australia I have to inform you that Australia is an arid continent and is always short of water apart from the odd flood.

Queensland has functioned quite well without energy storage for coal burners.It is only fairly recently that gas burners have been built for peak loads.This is probably because these small peaking stations are a lot cheaper and quicker to build than a coal fired station.

Now tell me,all you storage fans,if 20th century coal burning technology could cope quite well with zero storage then why can’t 21st century technolgy cope with nuclear power without storage?


thanks barry: that’s what I thought.

I think you did a great job by the way. I especially liked the good natured way you smiled in response to walt patterson’s witticisms.

Me, I would have leapt across the stage and tackled him.


“I’m still extremely skeptical of the practicality of the system. For example, I think it’ll be pretty tough to seal the cylinder and control the flow of water against pressures of the order of 15 megaPascals for the 500 meter radius system. This is approaching the pressures used in hydraulic fracturing”

Again they use sealant to prevent rockfracturing as well, imagine a polymer casing of sorts backed by solid rock and covering the sides of both Piston and rock, you design a system to hold a sufficient preassure and you go from there.

“I don’t see much discussion of the additional overbuild of energy generation needed to compensate for the storage losses.”

There are inefficiencies, in this case the pumping inefficiencies + friction of the piston, and yes you do have to overproduce, but it is still far cheaper to store (practically free).

“A piston ring on a diesel engine may be 5 cm in diameter and faces pressures less than 50 bar or 5 Mpa. The ‘block’ is machined in a workshop to fine tolerances. The proponents of this geo piston must build a smaller version (that stores say 1 Gwh) to prove all the key features such as pressure capability.”

Its nowhere near the same, in ICE its a high velocity piston exposed to peak pressures and the gunk of exhaust.

This is a very very low velocity piston exposed to constant pressure and just water.


Environmentalist, you can’t use “sealant” to produce a piston-wall interface with low leakage and high durability.

Pistons don’t work with constant pressure. That’s like washing flushing a toilet without losing the water. It can’t happen.

If the piston is not exacted to high tolerances it will leak and be decimated in efficiency. This is one of the big advances in Watt’s steam engine: it wasn’t so leaky, so he was able to come up with a reasonably efficient steam engine. Even then it was very inefficient.

It is not possible to engineer high tolerances with these type of huge contraptions. The only way these storage schemes could work is if they don’t involve anything mechanical. Possibly a compressed air storage system with close to full opearting range isobaric operation via water compensating column.

These ideas have been around for 60 plus years. I’m sorry, but none of the ideas have materialized. The engineering and cost problems are as insurmountable now as they were in world war two. About the only concept that has a chance for truly massive energy storage is heat storage compressed air systems.


This reference shows what I’m talking about:

Click to access 6390927.pdf

figure 2.2, compressed air storage with water compensation column. This would work especially well near lakes/rivers/seas since the compensation resevoir is already present.

Add thermal energy storage or a nuclear reactor for the heating on expansion and you’ve got a promising configuration for large scale energy storage, widely applicable world-wide.


“Environmentalist, you can’t use “sealant” to produce a piston-wall interface with low leakage and high durability.

Pistons don’t work with constant pressure. That’s like washing flushing a toilet without losing the water. It can’t happen. ”

That is a very good point, the question being whether it can be durable and frictionless. That is why a pilot program is needed to prove the concept, the best part is the low speed which reduces friction.


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