Open Thread

Open Thread 17

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the cascading menu under the “Home” tab.


Note 1: For reference, the last general open thread (from 7 June 2011) was here. Why another one so soon, I hear you ask? Well, blame yourselves, you worked the last one over too quickly (almost 600 comments accumulated), and this payload slows down the thread loading too much. Hence, a fresh canvas for you.

Note 2: I have now added the BNC animated video as a permanent widget, located at the top right hand column of the blog — so it will always be easy to find (and, I hope, will act as an introduction to the site for those who are visiting for the first time).

Note 3: Some interesting reading… Joe Shuster (a member of SCGI and author of ‘Beyond Fossil Fools’) has written a 24-page pamphlet called “Energy Independence Day: July 4th 2040” (PDF download). This US-focused plan includes 15% wind, 15% solar, 5% hydro, 6% biomass, geothermal, tides and waves, 5% plasma remediation (waste), 12% natural gas, and 42% nuclear (an initial build out of advanced LWR and a transition to predominantly IFRs). Click the link to read the document, which is well argued (even if you disagree with some details), colourfully illustrated, and thought provoking. Tom Blees said the following:

Joe Shuster has distilled the confusing energy picture and presented in this brief report a rational, logical, and quantified solution to some of the most intractable problems of our day. Unlike most visions of humanity’s future, Joe foresees an energy-rich world that would enable a dramatic improvement in the lives of everyone on the planet. This is not just about energy. It’s about social justice on a planetary scale.

—Tom Blees, President of the Science Council for Global Initiatives


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.

557 replies on “Open Thread 17”

I have nothing interesting to say about the U.S. public, save that it would not be overwhelmingly complementary.

and that large portions of the u.s. public are planning a trip to David Walters’ house on the California coast, where it stays cool.


Bern, on 22 July 2011 at 11:17 AM said:
I.e. the people who get paid to have turbines on their land, for some reason suffer no adverse health effects at all. It’s only their neighbours who seem to be affected.

I voluntarily live next to a major interstate highway. The traffic on the highway drops off in the evening and doesn’t pick back up until between 5:30 and 6:00 AM the next morning.(The time when I’ve been waking up for the last 15 years without an alarm clock). I.E. The change in noise level controls when I wake up.

I’ve also visited a Gigawatt class wind farm

The wind blows at random times, frequently at night. The change in noise levels could occur at midnight or 3 AM or 6 AM.

I wouldn’t voluntarily live near a gigawatt class wind farm. The transition from absolute dead silence to whoosh, whoosh, whoosh and back to dead silence again would drive me nuts.

A fair proportion of people voluntarily living in rural areas in near poverty are living there because they found the noise of an urban environment overwhelming.


Nuclear Demand Tracking

Since electricity demand is not constant, the generation of electricity cannot be constant. A generating plant will not produce electricity all of the time. The capacity factor of a generation plant is the percent of the electricity the plant actually products as compared to the rated ability to produce electricity.

But what would the demand capacity factor of the grid itself be? Let’s say the maximum capacity of the grid is the highest amount of electricity that the grid has ever produced and that the average production (demand) is taken over a year. Then would the grid capacity factor be closer to 60% or 70%? My uneducated guess is closer to 60%. Please educate me.

Let’s consider two scenarios: 100% nuclear generation and 40% nuclear + 40% renewable + 20% fossil.

Scenario 1 – 100% nuclear generation
Grant me the assumption that the nuclear plants can track demand. The nuclear capacity factor would be 60% (what ever the demand capacity factor is really). The capacity factor of 90% is only possible when nuclear is a small part of the total grid capacity and among the lowest cost producers of electricity. So a scenario of 100% nuclear would need to use a capacity factor much smaller than 90% therefore increasing the cost.

Scenario 2 – 40% nuclear + 40% renewable (20% wind +10% hydro +10% solar) + 20% fossil
Under this “balanced portfolio” approach it becomes very interesting to think about the capacity factor of nuclear. If I were to control this grid so that the least CO2 is created and the least cost is spent, then here are my rules:
1. Fossil is only used when the other sources cannot equal the demand,
2. Wind and solar are used when available. (Wind must be able to turn off if too much electricity is being made.)
3. Hydro is used to balance the demand and supply if fossil is not in use.
4 Nuclear is used to supply the rest of the demand.
The capacity factor of nuclear under this set of rules beyond by ability to guess. Probably less that 60%.

Nuclear reactors under design should optimize the ability to match demand (variable output).

Does the EPR track demand better than the AP1000?

Molten salt reactor enthusiasts claim super variable automatic demand tracking.

Does the PRISM reactor track demand well?


John Newlands,

“Does the heatwave mean the US public could one day accept GHG abatement measures like carbon tax?”

It could well be a trigger. In 1988, another heatwave in the US started the first serious discussion here about global warming. To paraphrase the late Senator Dirksen from Illinois: When they start to feel the heat, they begin to see the light. (Dirksen was referring to politicians feeling political heat.)

But any measure must be politically astute, appealing to most segments of society, and it must be cost-effective. Again, to paraphrase Dirksen: A billion here, a billion there, and it starts adding up to real money.


If I recall Barry predicted that 2013 would be a hot year world wide and somebody said James Hansen thought 2012-2014 could be El Nino conditions. Southern Australian cities might hit 47C again as happened with the outer Melbourne bushfires. Air conditioning will be rationed for all except the important people who need to wear dark suits.

Bring it on I say because AGW deniers will STFU for a while. By then I’ll have completed my fire bunker/cellar with LAN cabling so I can read BNC while 4 metres underground.


Since electricity demand is not constant, the generation of electricity cannot be constant

I’ve heard it said here that newer nukes can follow demand. But even if they can’t, there are other ways to smooth supply to the grid. Rather than building a bunch of new power stations there are other energy stores we might be able to draw on that will *already* be there (to help solve peak oil). EV’s will be able to supply *some* of our extra electricity, and maybe even reimburse EV owners at premium electricity prices. It would be cheaper for the utility than building a whole new power station!

I’m not sure even the experts really know how much energy can be reliably despatched back into the grid from the random movements of EV drivers in the marketplace, but experience will tell.


Martin Burkle, on 23 July 2011 at 4:05 AM said:

It would seem that scenario 1 is very unlikely (100% electricity from nuclear) because hydro and pumped hydro presently supplies about 10% of capacity in countries with considerable nuclear. Considering the high investment cost of new nuclear and the long life of existing pumped hydro and low cost of uprating existing hydro, hydro is always going to be a better option than running nuclear at 40%.
In the US and Australia for wind and solar to each supply 20% of electricity would require a wind capacity of 60% av demand, and for solar 100% av demand and nuclear 45% av demand, assuming 90% capacity operation. If all FF was NG would require enough capacity to supply 170% av demand, minus hydro capacity(30% av demand), minus nuclear(45%) , approx 95% av demand so NG would operate at 20% capacity factor.
Since solar is delivering during high demand, its unlikely to ever displace any nuclear. A wind capacity of 60% av demand will generally be generating 10-40% av demand over a large grid, so I don’t see many periods when either excess wind or excess nuclear would need to be spilled. NG and hydro would be used mainly during cloudy days and early evening peak demand.
I dont see any reason why nuclear would not operate at maximum capacity in scenario 2. Grid limitations would probably require excess wind to be spilled ahead of nuclear.


@ Huon

Again, to paraphrase Dirksen: A billion here, a billion there, and it starts adding up to real money.

With regards to American debt, isn’t that a trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money!

When divided into family units of 4 people each doesn’t your national debt work out around $130k for each family? On top of whatever other debts they are carrying? Ouch.

My preferred solution to this problem is, once again, nuclear power + electric cars + New Urbanism / Village Towns + trolley buses + fast rail.

If the $trillions wasted on invading Iraq had instead been put into nuclear power, walkable town planning reform and public transport, America would probably be independent of foreign oil sometime soon.

You waste $600 billion a year buying overseas oil. That’s $6 trillion a decade, or your national debt paid off in about 25 years.


@ Neil,
interesting figures there — how would they stack up if say night time demand were nearly as constant as daytime demand because of EV’s charging overnight? What would it mean for the grid if a significant number of home owners let their cars sell some power back to the grid during periods of high daytime demand?

Those batteries will be there anyway and some people will be happy to limit their driving to work and back and still have 100km worth of juice to sell back to the grid during peak demand. We must not forget what a game changer this will be for power plants that want to run at full speed 24/7 and also for grid utilities trying to match supply to demand. A nuclear powered smart grid could be something to behold indeed — a TOTALLY different beast.


@ John Newlands

Bring it on I say because AGW deniers will STFU for a while. By then I’ll have completed my fire bunker/cellar with LAN cabling so I can read BNC while 4 metres underground.

Ha ha, I love it when you have a good rant! Melbourne’s Black Saturday was horrific, but it also provided new benchmarks and touchstones for the public’s understanding of a ‘hot’ day.
“How do you know it’s hot in Melbourne?”
“The rails are melting out of shape and people without air conditioning are lying naked on their concrete garage floors.”


@ Martin Burkle, on 23 July 2011 at 4:05 AM:

But what would the demand capacity factor of the grid itself be? Let’s say the maximum capacity of the grid is the highest amount of electricity that the grid has ever produced and that the average production (demand) is taken over a year. Then would the grid capacity factor be closer to 60% or 70%? My uneducated guess is closer to 60%.

Martin, you appear to have conflated two concepts.
1. Generating plant all operate within ranges, depending on load levels. Some faster than others and between wide limits, some much less flexibly. The key two statistics about gen plant are their availability and capacity factors, respectively.
Availability takes in to account availability when not required – ie, on standby. It decreases with outages, which may be “forced” – ie breakdowns) and “planned outages”, for planned maintenance. The latter implies that replacement energy sources have been locked in and there is no operational issue for the system. Forced outages require immediate replacement of a unit (say 660MW, Australia’s largest). To prepare for forced outages, additional spinning reserve is kept hot and on line, partly loaded. The Australian eastern states’ grids might typically have 1GW or more spinning reserve at any time.

2. Transmission lines operate like a network of chains, each with their own particular weakest link. Think of these links as being the transformers and switchgear in the switchyards at each end, as well as the physical conductor strung between pylons, which will have load limits relating to sag, tension and more. Loading the network is like pulling on a chain, connected web-wise to many other chains. Eventually there is a maximum somewhere which must be respected or the link breaks.
Some chains (transmission paths) may at any given time be broken: the load goes another way if there is enough redundancy, otherwise the web of chains (transmission system) is torn apart by excess loads.

The concept of capacity factor, as an average through a year, is irrelevant. What matters is the load capacity, minute by minute. This may change with time of day or season, due to ice loads and wind affecting line tension, heat and electrical load, which incrementally heat up the conductors, making the sags between pylons greater and so forth. Each transmission line is available up to its capacity, perhaps with short-term overload capacity as well, thus making the operator’s life more interesting.

Let’s consider two scenarios: 100% nuclear generation and 40% nuclear + 40% renewable + 20% fossil.

Scenarios like those which you have chosen are not realistic. Nowhere on the planet is there a 100% nuclear system, neither is there likely to be one any time soon. The capital costs would be prohibitive and the ability of the system to respond to fast load changes would be poor. Solution: Nuclear can load follow, but only slowly. Hydro and gas turbines and geothermal (where available) provide good quick response to provide this power at much lower capital cost.

So, all realistic grids will be fed by a range of plant, each with its own marginal operating cost and operating parameters. For example, a baseload plant may be available after a period of maintenance, but there is a cost involved with starting it up – large coal units may consume hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fuel oil and other costs when returning to service. Occasionally, return to service will be deferred (for example) to the next business day, rather than bringing the unit back on-line the day before a public holiday weekend.

That leaves us with your Scenario 2.
All I will say here is that unless your rules take note of the costs of providing power from the various sources, you are running a charity, not a business. Any business that throws money at a particular sector (your case: renewables), when there is cheaper supply available, is obviously not feeling the pain of this decision, so the additional cost is being picked up in one of two places.
i) The government, via taxes and subsidies, might do this for a while, till the Opposition uses this silliness to help win an election, after which the situation is re-evaluated.
II) Tariffs and charges are loaded in favour of the selected power source via a feed in tariff or a range of other financial support mechanisms including mandated requirements for X% Green Power, regardless of cost, etc. This is a blind process, not responsive to costs or to customer preference and simply loads the additional costs onto the customers, usually starting with the domestic customers because like in Germany, there is a desire to not drive industry across the border. People are deemed to be trapped and thus unable to avoid the impost. This system will only last as long as it takes for the electors, through the ballot box, to change governments to one which does not waste their money.

This leaves us with the problem which drives this site – GHG and climate change.

That is why those who emit GHG should be brought to account for their damage to the common goods of society and the planet which society depends on so fundamentally.

For 200 plus years, the rise in CO2 levels with developing industrialisation and population went virtually unnoticed. Not so any more. CO2 is causing demonstrated damage and the costs of emitting CO2 fairly lie with those who do the emitting, not as at present with every organism on the globe, emitter or consumer or not.

If we care about CO2 emissions, it seems to me that there is only one rational response – attach a reasonable price, payable by the emitter. If/when this price affects input costs to industry, then so be it. If and when cheaper electricity is available, it should be used, regardless of its colour – green wind and solar, yellow nuclear, natural gas, … whatever, but driven by market dollars.

Forget rules about forcing the market to favour one technology over another – the unforseen consequences are too great.

The single, just, method available is for nations, one by one, to place a price on carbon emissions and for that price to be adjusted in light of rational considerations of the society’s and the planet’s costs due to C02e emissions.

Nuclear reactors under design should optimize the ability to match demand (variable output).

I can think of no reason why any designer does not already aspire to meeting this criterion, regardless of the technology. This includes nuclear and coal baseload plants. Demand following ability is a huge commercial factor, because ability to ramp up quicker than the rest allows the proprietor to grab load during upswings. Ability to ramp down steeply allows the generator to hang onto this load longer before reducing load. Load translates into income.

Your wish (conclusion) has already been granted.

If a NPP or coal fired plant near your place runs flat out 24/7 it is on the basis of price in the marketplace.

If the same unit is only partially loaded, its owners will use their best efforts to increase their load and hence capacity factor.

I object when political forces abandon logic and try to ignore the cost of their actions. Preferencing expensive power over cheap power is one example of this. Not charging for CO2 emissions is another.

Australia’s regulators and legislators are currently guilty on both counts.



Moderator, any chance of having the final 3 paras of my last contribution deleted? Last word: “counts.”

Then this message also.

Please let me know where to start the deletion as it is difficult to determine where the last three paragraphs start(there are spaces between some lines).


John Bennets, great post, as always.

Forced outages require immediate replacement of a unit (say 660MW, Australia’s largest).

How frequently does this sort of event happen in Australia? What might typically cause it? I have an image in mind of some gross and dramatic mechanical failure but that is probably naive.


John, there are hundreds (thousands?) of fault conditions which could cause the loss of an in-service unit. Failure of even minor items can do the job. That’s the business of Protection. Modern units are watched over by very powerful computers which are set to flag unexpected performance and either alert the operators or, in occasional events, protect the unit by taking it out of service.

Turbine trips typically may leave the boiler in service, burning coal and boiling water off via pressure relief and blowdown systems, but there are hundreds of variants on a theme.

An example: Perhaps a failure in a couple of major fans, resulting in loss of air to the boiler. It would be dangerous to pump fuel into a hot, unlit boiler, so the fuel is automatically shut off. Whether the operators can recover from this situation in a minute or a week depends on the problem and the engineering response, however the unit has lost load. It may be back on line very soon… GTs or hydro can carry the load for a while, as the “spinning reserve” ramps up to catch the full load. This all happens in minutes.

If diagnosis indicates that the unit will remain out of service, the next cheapest unit on the pecking order gets the not, comes on stream and the system returns to its former resilient state.

Think of all of the possible systems and sub-systems in a power station. All of them can fail in one way or another, most have parallel backup systems (eg 2 conveyors to do the work of one, the second either on standby or being maintained).

Very rarely is a major plant failure the cause of a unit trip. That might be a once-a-year event for an older coal-fired unit, which might have a few other trips along the way due to cranky bits and pieces or even from outside the power station, if the transmission system has been disturbed by a problem elswehere.

That’s enough for now. Perhaps we need a resource on this site explaining basic operating principles of the various technologies, so that we can get our heads around operational characteristics of each of them. I’ll keep my eyes out for a suitable link, but I have not seen one anywhere.


@ Eclipse Now, re fast rail.

Be careful what you wish for.

Medium fast rail – say 150kph, is a vastly less energy demanding concept than true fast rail and is much cheaper to construct. Chinese-style VFT’s are another thing altogether, they can effectively compete with air, but at similar energy cost and without many intermediate stations. Imagine Sydney-Canberra – Melbourne. Albury misses out?

How do light rail, suburban rail, long distance not-so-fast rail and true fast rail coexist? Do some modes need to be abandoned? If so, at what social cost and benefit?

BNC isn’t really the site for this discussion, but rail modes have vastly differing characteristics. Freight and passenger are pretty much mutually exclusive on the same tracks. Energy is a big factor, especially whether electrical or fossil fuelled.

Those who favour more passenger rail, myself included, need to ensure that they are not being seduced by a few discussion points drawn from various sources and modes, despite them being mutually exclusive and/or prohibitively expensive and/or too long to construct.

Time frames do matter. We need different plans for the 10, 20 and 50 year horizons. Perhaps it’s too early for some long term responses to be initiated.

My question to you:
Where do you want rail transport to provide in 10, 20 and 50 years, mode by mode?


EN I think if we believe in AGW and PO we must do something about it. My fire bunker is progressing well and has been wired up for ethernet, TV and 12v lighting. Soon it will be ready to be backfilled with 30t of rock and soil.


Thanks John B for your illuminating response.

I was lamenting with a friend this morning out buying veges from the farmers market that most people don’t know where their food comes from, don’t know where their water comes from, don’t know where their electricity comes from and don’t know where their petrol comes from. Not a good foundation for rational decision making.


This might be of interest:

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John Newlands and Eclipse Now,

Thanks so much for your lively comments at 9:21 AM and 9:48 AM above. I do look forward to the day when oil has been largely displaced by efficiency, nuclear, natural gas, solar and other technologies. Then a trillion here, a trillion there, and we’ll start getting real savings.


My question to you:
Where do you want rail transport to provide in 10, 20 and 50 years, mode by mode?

More of everything, depending on how serious peak oil becomes and how quickly we either adapt with electric cars, or fail to adapt with electric cars.

So it depends.

I’m no expert on Rail, and I defer to my friend Dr Gary Glazebrook who plans this stuff all day every day, including filling existing trains faster, adding new carriages, adding new trains to existing rail and making further plans for Sydney.

Then there’s fast-rail between the capital cities. Inter-city rail would need to take economics and speed into account. If the 300km an hour trains are just vastly too expensive for our smaller populations, then maybe we’ll need to look at something more modest. It depends both on energy and economics, as you have suggested.

Did you know the inventor of the Double-Decker train was an Australian? Dr Roy Leembruggen. He’s also submitted various plans for intra-city networks of trolley buses which are 5 times cheaper per km to build than trams, can go off the line and down side streets on batteries or a diesel engine before connecting up the main line again, etc.


@ Huon,
the frustrating thing is that how far along the road to oil independence America could be if only America had taken that pathway instead of invading Iraq to set up a police station in the middle east.

Check out the Village Town concept. The first Village Town may in fact be built in America.

Watch the Sydney TEDx 2009 talk by Claude Lewenz of the Village Town movement. It’s 20 minutes and third down on the right hand column. Grab a coffee, and enjoy.


Thanks for helping me think about grid management differently. Obviously, I am having trouble thinking about future grid possibilities because I do not fully understand today’s grid well enough.
Let me try to use the concept of “availability” which was lacking in the original post to rephrase my original puzzle. Today, in the United State, there are 104 nuclear reactors. Three of the reactors are shutdown and almost all the rest are running at 100%. Many US reactors run at 100% for the whole year.

Both nuclear and wind cost a lot to build. Let’s assume that both have adequate transmission capability to handle 100% output. Now, if both are available (the wind is blowing and there is no nuclear plant outrage) which one would be the best to use. Do we use marginal cost? If so, then it would seem wind would have the advantage because there is no fuel cost at all. If wind is not the choice, then what property or characteristic of nuclear am I missing?

“All I will say here is that unless your rules take note of the costs of providing power from the various sources, you are running a charity, not a business.” John, are you talking marginal costs or total costs. If you are talking total cost then I think you imply that wind and solar are charities. OK if you exclude wind and solar due to build cost and exclude coal and gas due to CO2 then you end up with 10% hydro and 90% nuclear. This is scenario #1 where nuclear is available but low demand but not needed (night, spring, and fall). Therefore the capacity factor might be 60% to 70%. Do you agree?


Eclipse Now, on 23 July 2011 at 7:17 PM said:

Check out the Village Town concept. The first Village Town may in fact be built in America.

The first ‘village town’ was built in America at Seaside Florida in 1979.

‘New Urbanism’ has been studied, debated and attempted in the US for 30 years with mixed success.


Seaside is not a Village Town — not at all. New Urbanism is great, Ecocities are great, and Village Towns are great — but they are all different. Village Towns are an attempt to turn mainstream real estate upside down.

Unless you’ve watched the 20 minute video you just will not be informed as to the key differences between Village Towns and New Urbanism. It’s a very different town planning concept with some quite practical advantages for the free markets operating within them.


The long, rambling “manifesto” of Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik contains references to the use of nuclear and radiological weapons as weapons of terrorism, as well as references to the idea of attacking nuclear power plants and using them as radiological weapons.

I don’t personally think that the dubious plans or knowledge or descriptions that he provides on these subjects would constitute any credible, serious threat – even if he was not already in custody, which he is.

Even so, however, I suspect that some media outlets and anti-nuclearists will go nuts over this particular subject in the near future.


@ Martin Burkle, on 24 July 2011 at 2:08 AM:

Positive feedback, as from Martin, makes my day.

First, there is a world of difference between the market price of a good and its cost of production, especially the marginal cost of production, which does not take into account fixed costs and returns to shareholders from their investment.

The marginal cost of fuel alone is even less useful as a comparitor between potential suppliers, whether of electricity or of anything else in life, eg my next car.

I could purchase a cheap, thirsty old clunker or a small, elegant, battery-driven 2-seater, but will either satisfy my needs for performance, reliability, social acceptance, carrying capacity, etc? The ultimate decision will depend on many factors. Thankfully, electricity is a commodity, so the decision might be more straight forward, but a glance at the amount and complexity of competition law and regulation applying to the industry suggests to me that it is ion no way simple to determine, either in advance or day-to-day, the dispatch order of power plants in a large interconnected system.

100% loading of American NPP. I understand that, with 70+% NPP’s, France does run some at less than 100% and to follow loads. In this, I may be wrong, in which case I stand to be corrected. However, if correct, then France’s system relies on one-way hydro, hydro storage, GT’s and a small amount of renewables to manage their loads. As substantial producers of aluminium, I guess that they also use demand managent options in the form of load reduction agreements with the smelters and other large industrial consumers to shave the peaks and thus reduce their need for spinning reserves.

The situation in USA may be better answered by others, however once an NPP is up and running, the fuel costs are minimal, so the marginal cost of power is close to zero, ie the same as wind and solar PV. NPP’s have the advantage of being able to offer stability, ie non-stochastic, unvarying supply minute by minute throughout their in-service period. This enables the other (fossil fuelled) generating plant to operate at relatively stable loads, thus not suffering inefficiencies as they hunt up and down to match loads and to follow drops in generation due to wind fluctuations and/or clouding, etc.

Of course, in USA there is quite a large component of hydro, including pumped storage, to help to manage peaks and troughs in both supply (eg wind drops, clouds), and demand (demand peaks) but this is constrained by three factors:
1. Must-run conditions occur when the water (eg spring melts in the NW) will either be used or lost over the spillway. This favours using at least part of the hydro installed capacity at a steady load for a couple of months. Nobody suggests that this power should be free, because the income from this base load period is an essential part of the annual income of the business, even though its fuel (water) is free.
2. Transmission capacity and line losses. No substantial transmission system is capable of generating power just anywhere and transmitting it anywhere without encountering capacity constraints. Let’s not dwell too long on this – your hypothetical question is perhaps best rephrased as “Why would we run a nuclear plant if there was a renewable one next door, able to be loaded?” I’ll try that one next.
3. Since there is very little difference between the marginal cost of fuel for an NPP and for renewables, other economic factors come into play. Prime amongst these is the need for both power stations to recoup their capital costs over time, as well as their operating costs, including financing costs, as they go. NPP’s are mightily expensive to build, but renewables are even more so. Thus, the nuclear plant may well have smaller prorata overheads than the renewable plant next door. That’s why the LCOE should guide the construction of new generating plant. Plants with lower LCOE’s promise better returns on capital than those with higher LCOE’s in any given market.

I know that I have not answered Martin’s questions in a rigorous manner, but it remains true that the capital costs and other non-fuel costs must be recouped somehow. This may be via taxes or feed-in tariffs which are an indirect charge on the community and the politicians who support these taxes and tariffs do so at the risk of electoral defeat, as I stated in my previous post. The only other way to recoup these costs is via the marketplace, ie by charging more for power than simply the cost of fuel. Any supplier with a higher embedded cost structure will lose market share through attempting to recover a return on shareholders’ capital and/or lose money through failing to do so.

It’s not about fuel costs, it is about running a business.

Businesses need to recover all of their costs via the market.

Before construction, the key comparitor is the LCOE.

After construction, it is the ROI after allowance for abnormalities – the net return on investment of the shareholders’ funds. An economist would use more precise terminology such as EBIT, EBITDA, etc. An investor might consider his yield, expressed in any of a number of ways. The message is the same.

Fuel costs, even zero fuel costs, are only a small component when capital costs are such a large part of the business’s cash flows.

One of my previous employers, in the coal powered business, had financing costs greater than their fuel costs, even before providing dividends for shareholders. Wages, contract maintenance, spares, insurances and all those other things were smaller still. These figures are published annually in many corporations’ Annual Report to Shareholders. Readers might like to look on-line for the reports from local generators and make their own comparisons.

Martin asked: “Do we use marginal cost?” for comparisons between NPP and wind and PV.

My answer: We must determine the dispatch order of generating plant on the basis of lowest market prices, not the input costs, especially not the cost of only one input, fuel. Individual operators will develop market strategies which interpret the rules of the marketplace and the need for the business to cover marginal costs, to recover the cost of capital and to return value to shareholders. Any bidder which fails to price his power, over the long term, to achieve all three objectives, is on a dowward slide. Thus, the producer’s marginal cost of production is an inadequate indicator, except for the very short term.

I’ll leave short term considerations with a comment that some Victorian brown coal proprietors appear to have walked unprotected through this minefield and paid the price, eventually having to re-sell their assets at a fraction of the prices they paid for them to the Victorian Government when they were privatised. It is noteworthy that, after almost two decades, none of the Victorian brown coal generators has substantially enlarged the capacity of their plant. Not one. They are all flogging their ageing, carbon-intense brown coal assets in hope of obtaining a return from a market which has been held down by short-sighted focus on marginal costs.

For Australia to possess any kind of reliable electricity business in 10, 20 and 50 years’ time, this focus must shift to future returns through building the business.

By way of comparison, New South Wales’ State-owned generators have done no better. The last commissioned substantial new capacity in my state was Unit 2 at Mt Piper in the 1980’s. The NSW Government has also drawn dividends from its businesses at a faster rate than they have been producing profits, thus starving them of funds with which to construct new capacity. These generators developed at least 6 plans for additional base load generation, but none have been funded. So, it’s not a question of state Vs private ownership – it’s a question of retruns on capital not being adequate to build the business, or even adequate to continue these businesses at their current capacity. They are getting older and older and less reliable with age. System load has continued to climb at 2 to 3% per annum during this period. 15 years = 20% increase in load and very little increase in capacity.

Liddell Power Station, with 4 units commissioned between 1971 and 1975 set its production record not in its first few years. As I type this, my coffee cup has written on the side; “2009 Liddell Power Station 2 Years No LTI Record Generation 11,586 GWH.” The station was about 40 years old! Design life: 25 years. Life Extension programs have cost hundreds of millions, yet the fact remains – NSW is relying for its power on plant which is 40-plus years old.

The market must soon start returning a real dividend to investors, or we will face intractable blackouts. Simply paying for the cost of fuel will not keep the lights on, in Australia or anywhere. Cost of capital dwarfs fuel cost.

Think LCOE. Think carbon price. Add carbon prices into LCOE, because those numbers are where the longer term answers will come from, once the politicians have stopped playing unaffordable tax and subsidy and FiT games.


Quick, I need a $$figure for replacing USA energy with nukes 3 times over. Check this out, the solar highways idea is getting an airing at TEDx.

The 12- x 12-foot panels, which each cost $6,900, are designed to be embedded into roads. When shined upon, each panel generates an estimated 7.6 kilowatt hours of power each day. If this electricity could be pumped into the grid, the company predicts that a four-lane, one-mile stretch of road with panels could generate enough power for 500 homes. Although it would be expensive, covering the entire US interstate highway system with the panels could theoretically fulfill the country’s total energy needs. The company estimates that this would take 5 billion panels, but could “produce three times more power than we’ve ever used as a nation – almost enough to power the entire world.”

Are you trying to bankrupt America?

“Although it would be expensive” is the understatement of the century!

Do the math on what they are suggesting:
$6900 * 5 billion = $34.5 TRILLION dollars, or half of the annual GLOBAL economy! And then you still haven’t factored in this terribly inconvenient thing we call night time.

Gen3 nukes like the AP1000 could offer safe reliable baseload power now, and they work at 100% all day every day, even through the horrors of NIGHT TIME! The waste from Gen3 nukes can then be fed into the IFR’s or Gen4 nukes when they arrive.

We already have the technology to beat global warming, and don’t need to fund the hair-brained schemes of venture capitalists trying to find bizarre new markets for their products. Honestly, they’re going to take the most expensive form of electricity we have — Solar PV — and put it down UNDER cars, in the shade, in car parks? Huh? Did someone just slip something interesting in my coffee, or is this just insane? (No wonder he starts his talk by having a go at sensible, real world engineers leaving derogatory comments on his crack-pot idea).


Heads up: the solar chimney is doing the rounds as well.

When are these guys going to actually just build one of these behemoths? I’m just curious how the working stats would pan out after the engineers took their theory into the frightening real world.
EG: * How much power does it really produce as reliable baseload, especially in winter?

* How does the plastic or glass of the greenhouse work in a hail storm?

* How much does it really cost?

* How water does the greenhouse really produce through condensation? Will it really make the deserts bloom?

* How does the chimney go with weird fluting air dynamics; do vibrations in certain wind conditions threaten the integrity of the chimney? That sort of thing.


“How does the chimney go with weird fluting air dynamics; do vibrations in certain wind conditions threaten the integrity of the chimney? That sort of thing.”

Look up “vortex shedding” or “Kármán vortex shedding”. All structures, in all winds, have a tendency to shed vortices (spirals) of wind alternately from one side, then the other, as the wind slips around them.

This sets up a rhythmic, left-right-left… transverse force and thus movement back and forth. If the structure is horizontal, eg a bridge deck, then the forces and movements are up and down.

For visual comparison, the chimney part of the proposal is about three times as tall as the chimney stacks that I worked on at Bayswater Power Station (NSW). Structurally speaking, design of such a structure is not a huge leap into the unknown.

For a more technical discussion which is not entirely over the top, see especially pages 46 and 47.


Yeah, I just heard that might be an issue. I suspected it wasn’t the biggest deal with solar chimneys. I’m guessing cost & only 60% capacity will be the biggest issues with these things, but man the idea is so simple. (The wind turbines can be more robust as the wind is steadier and in a more consistent direction.)

As I said above, I’m also keen to see if they really can make a patch of desert grow grass — although at the temperatures they are talking about under the collector, I doubt cattle would enjoy it. (Unless he was talking F not C?)


Grass? And cattle? Under the glass deck?

That sounds like wishful thinking to me.

There will be a ferocious breeze, at least closer to the centre. The breeze will tend to be dry, due to its coming straight in from the Arizonan desert.

I must have missed something significant in the video. I didn’t hear anything about grass and cattle.


Hi John,

If I appear to rave about these a bit too much it is not because I’ve given up nukes, it’s because these were one of my favourite solutions prior to discovering the fact that we could burn nuclear waste in IFR’s.

Check it out.

The first solar chimney (or updraft tower) that was ever built in Spain had the unintended side-effect of greening the desert. Even desert air contains some moisture, and at night the air under the glass was still warm from the heat trapped in the soil under the hotter greenhouse conditions. So air still travels up the chimney, drawing in more desert air from the surrounding desert.

As this air passes under the greenhouse collector some of it brushes past the underside of the collector glass, and water condenses on the glass and then falls to the floor.

So remembering this is about 6km diameter, some solar tower proponents have probably tried to over-market the spin-off benefits. (They’re probably worried about just how much friggin’ LAND these things take to make 200MW). So concepts have ranged from only biofuel grasses and crops through to the outer km’s growing some sheep or cattle! As the km’s roll inwards different areas could be fenced off.

This Enviromission video shows some kind of small shrubs or fruit trees? Wouldn’t that slow the all-important wind? (Also has a cool clip comparing the solar updraft tower with the pyramids, Sydney Tower and the Eiffel tower). Anyway, if they are actually going to build one of these beasts then we’ll just see what ‘side benefits’ there really are, such as how much water it actually collects from the surrounding air.

Water is not just from the collectors.

As the wiki says:

“Release of humid ground-level air from an atmospheric vortex or solar chimney at altitude could form clouds or precipitation, potentially altering local hydrology.[45][46][47] Local de-desertification, or afforestation could be achieved if a regional water cycle were established and sustained in an otherwise arid area.”


The greenwash keeps coming on TV. A Clean Energy Futures ad shows a 70s era hydro which is not eligible for subsidies and no more will be built. There are glimpses of industrial scale solar but no mention that the Federal govt is paying 40% of the capital cost as well as any ongoing subsidy or that some is gas boosted.

On the Four Corners program about wind turbine noise they quietly mentioned that wind only provides 2% of Australia’s energy. Untroubled by facts Diesendorf said it would eventually enable coal fired power stations to be closed.

In another ad a coal mining company (let’s call them Xstrata) says they are environmental good guys since they take less water from the river than they feel they are entitled. They didn’t get around to mentioning the burning of diesel, fugitive methane or the fact each tonne of coal creates 2-3 tonnes of CO2. The best thing they could do for the natural water cycle would be to stop mining coal.

I wonder if Joe Public sees through all this. The TV ads are creating a sort of green haze which will not be reflected by emissions cuts. The danger is that symbolism will replace reality.


I made a vain attempt at “The Conversation”. It will probably get banned because I used my eclipse alias, but hey? Just not interested in whacko’s calling me in the middle of the night. (I had some weird encounters with activists calling late when I used to do peak oil activism under my real name. Eeerrghghggh).


Emissions and abatement scenarios used in Treasury modelling are highly unrealistic in several ways. The ABC graph is
The Martin Nicholson article linked in the sidebar points out the unreality of proposed abatement paths. It assumes a lot of geothermal, CCS for both gas and coal, no nuclear and the massive purchase of foreign offsets.

We’re now at 580 Mt but we want to get to 480 by 2020, an annual reduction of over 2%. Treasury predict that left unchecked and with strong population growth we would get to 640 by 2020, some 160 higher. I’m not so sure. On the Oil Drum some are predicting a permanent global economic slowdown after 2015. I think without abatement or just the limited carbon tax we will still be in the 500-600 range by 2020.

If this is right we won’t make the 2020 target. On the other hand by 2050 all fossil fuels will have peaked. The modelling says that everything will get bigger and better except it will be low carbon. In all likelihood we’ll continue to burn the same amount of carbon until it starts to run out. Then we’ll have a double crisis of locked in warming and energy shortages. The graph in the link cannot be close to reality because it is wrong on three counts; long term economic growth, no depletion of fossil fuels and unproven technology.


Great summary!

“The graph in the link cannot be close to reality because it is wrong on three counts; long term economic growth, no depletion of fossil fuels and unproven technology.”


I note that in the medium scenario, as Martin has noted, CCS commands around 36% of electricity in 2050 (chart 3.13 page 61).

Click to access Modelling_Report_Consolidated.pdf

As discussed by Smil in a number of articles, the sheer volume of CO2 would rival that of global oil production.

Click to access smil-article-2011-AMSCI.11.pdf

Under the medium scenario, the quantity of liquid CO2 would possibly be around twice the quantity of oil currently produced (quick calculation). Given that CO2 has no market value and would only be extracted, compressed, shipped and injected based on a carbon price, the cost must easily exceed the current value of global oil, and the entire infrastructure exceeding that of oil must be constructed by 2050. Given that there is no current prospect (for the next couple of decades at least?) that the largest emitters, China and the US, will implement a carbon price at anywhere near a sufficient price to drive large scale CCS, and that no commercial CCS currently exists, one wonders where Treasury has derived their figures from?


Hi Graham,
I’ve always heard that CCS would be extremely expensive but comparing all the plumbing and piping to the oil industry is a brilliant image to get out there! If anyone has time to do the numbers and peer-review this claim, I can see another “pro-nuke” poster going up along this theme!


EN, try these figures:

Global electricity consumption in 2050 : 40,000 TWh – take 36% of this equals 14400 TWh per year CCS.

At 0.5 kg CO2-e/kWh (guess, averaging gas and coal), multiplies out to 7.2 billion tonnes per year.

For oil, allowing 85 million barrels a day, 159 litres a barrel, 365 days, 0.8 density equals 4 billion tonnes oil per year

Allow critical density CO2 at 468 kg/m3
Allow density crude 800 kg/m3

So (7.2/4.0) x (800/468) equals 3 times the volume of CO2 sequestration compared to current global oil.

Feel free to recalculate in case I’ve missed something or made a mistake.


I think the public ‘gets’ the implausibility of coal CCS more because of economics rather than the waste volume requirement. This could be why the Clean Energy Future ads focus on wind and solar which are still a ‘maybe’ in the public’s mind. Ironically dry rock geothermal which is also dogged by underground plumbing problems is portrayed as the baseload saviour.

From what I gather the gas CCS project in Scotland has gone nowhere
Correct me if I’m wrong but I understand in terms of working prototypes for 4th generation nuclear the number is 5-10 gas while for gas CCS the number is 0.

I think the problem for selling the Clean Energy Future will come around 2013 after a year or so of carbon tax with emissions either increasing or falling short of the inferred reduction path. As it becomes more urgent to replace older coal plants the public will look askance at wind, solar and geothermal. The advantage I see of the carbon tax is that it may have cleared the decks for serious action.


Nice work, Graham Palmer. That 3-times-world-oil factor puts CCS into perspective, regardless of financial and technical implausibility.


A few quibbles. 4-9 Mt a year of liquefied gas will be going from Queensland to China.

1st quibble it’s not strictly LNG since natural gas comes from marine sediments not coal seams. I suggest the acronym LCSG.

2nd quibble; what is the plan for replacing crude oil about 60% of which we now import? We can increasingly get transport fuel and plastics feedstock from gas. Small amounts of bitumen can come from coal not crude under the CO2 cap if it is not burned to make electricity.

3rd quibble call Qld northeast Australia while SA, Vic and Tas are southeast Australia. The SE gas basins (natgas not CSG) have reserve to production ratios in the 10-20 year range. Hazelwood Vic will never be fully replaced with gas unless Qld gas is diverted south. Whether current pipe sizes are adequate or not at least the easement exists. Bringing in LNG or LCSG by ship would be expensive.

4th quibble; the Chinese won’t be paying carbon tax while local customers of piped CSG will. Is that fair and does it help global emissions abatement?


Graham Palmer and Eclipse Now:

… only be extracted, compressed, shipped and injected based on a carbon price, the cost must easily exceed the current value of global oil

That refutes a straw man, although many people other than Palmer have helped to build him. Carbon dioxide won’t be sequestered with pipes and bottles that extract, compress, etc. But notice the part about olivine here.

To refute CCS, you must refute its strongest variant.

So Palmer should understand that after you pulverize olivine and disperse it, it extracts and condenses CO2 all by itself, and the resulting form, if solid, doesn’t need to be shipped or injected. It can just lie stably on the ground.

He should repeat his calculation using the density of CO2 in magnesium carbonate (total density (CRC60 p. B-204) 3.0095 g/mL) and figure out how thick a layer this would make on, say, North America.

This is slightly conservative, because the captured CO2 doesn’t actually stay solid; a magnesium carbonate tends to pull down another CO2 in the process of dissolving in the ocean as bicarbonate, where it is less obtrusive.


More here. Although note that this paper makes heavy weather of something that I would have thought was obvious —

However, a distribution in the densely vegetated interior of the tropical rain forest catchment area seems difficult to obtain.

— meaning it’s difficult to distribute by surface transport. Well sure, but no-one would do it that way. You loft the particles and let them be wind-transported where they may.



You seem to have misunderstood the subject matter in your links – your links relate to geoengineering, not carbon capture from the exhaust of fossil fuel plants.

The mainstream position of the global coal industry is to sequester carbon dioxide as a compressed liquid. The Global CCS Institute and CSIRO provide a good indication of the mainstream position – are you alleging that they conspired to build ‘straw men’?


GRLC, if olivine is effective in broadcast dispersal, would it not be even more effective if used to directly capture emissions from fossil fuel plants, say by sparging the exhaust gasses through an olivine slurry?


Does this Olivine have *any* economic value whatsoever other than just removing Co2? Aren’t we bigger than this? Aren’t we able to think of multiple wins for the environment and equally importantly, for our economies?

If we are going to subsidise carbon sequestration let’s subsidise an industry that turns carbon into something we DESPERATELY NEED ANYWAY! So let’s biochar agriwaste, forestry waste, and council waste. Let’s support regional communities getting biomass converted into biochar and back into the soil.

This makes farmers 33% less reliant on nitrogen fertiliser. Just think about that statistic for a moment, and how much energy goes into the Haber-Bosch process to suck nitrogen out of the air!

Biochar retains water and other nutrients in the soil, like nitrous oxides which are a very powerful greenhouse pollutant and nitrogen runoff which is a VERY powerful water nutrient which over-fertilises rivers and causes algal blooms and ultimately dead zones in our oceans.

As the wiki says:

Johannes Lehmann, of Cornell University, estimates that pyrolysis can be cost-effective for a combination of sequestration and energy production when the cost of a CO2 ton reaches $37.[27] As of mid-February 2010, CO2 is trading at $16.82/ton on the European Climate Exchange (ECX), so using pyrolysis for bioenergy production may be feasible even if it is more expensive than fossil fuels.

The technology for biochar sequestration does not require a fundamental scientific advance. The underlying production technology is robust and simple, making it appropriate for many regions of the world.[28]

Watch this BBC feed on the Biochar from sewage.


There are no olivine mountains around here, but plenty of coal mining and combustion. Does anybody know whether mining gigatonnes of olivine is conceivable, and at what price?

Besides which, who in his right mind would recommend “lofting” billions of tonnes of fine powder into the atmosphere? How is this a good idea?


JB I sometimes go hiking near a 60s era peridotite (main ingredient olivine) working, the Adamsfield open cut. I see carbonate veins in the rocks though I guess most of the weathering products would be washed down the creek. My impression is that the reaction is too slow to be a practical carbon sink. I guess a kg pulverised to sub milligram particle size exposed to humid air would absorb just a few grams of CO2 a year. Then we need to add the emissions created in powering the crusher. I can’t quantify the reaction rate in terms of mol litres per second, just very slow. Most silicate minerals are slow reacting with rare exceptions like zeolites.

Historical sidenote (on account of Open Thread) a father and son team worked this outcrop hoping to find ‘osmo’ a natural alloy of the platinoids osmium, iridium and ruthenium. According to one version of the story the son walked behind the bulldozer driven by the father looking for glints of platinum nuggets. One day the machine lurched sideways on the steep slope and killed the son. The nearest people were hydro workers 50 km away. This was around 1967.


Here’s an amusing little blog post from some anti-nuclearist who is having a hysterical little tantrum about David Mackay’s Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air.

To these fanatical, hysterical anti-nuclearists, anybody, absolutely anyone, who even discusses the actual numbers, anybody who dares to discuss actual science, evidence, skepticism and critical thinking, or to bring the conversation to something that is a little more rational and science-literate is a big evil pro-nuclear lobbyist defending the big evil mean nuclear industry.



The article you linked to is a fine example of work by somebody who likes to have things both ways.

First, BlueRock argues that David MacKay has got his numbers wrong and that numbers are important, then he presents a wild guess of 82kw/person/day, based on a link to a site which details why the number is 245kw/d by breaking it down a little so that losses are recognisable. It turns out that the number is 205kW/p/d, plus thermal and system losses.

Beyond that point, I lose track, because I am continually forced to allow for a factor of 3 for exaggeration in everything else that BlueRock has written.

So, David MacKay wasn’t wrong after all, and BlueRock’s own source says so.

The rules of this site forbid me from expressing my opinion about BlueRock.


Hugh Sharman, writing for the European Energy Review, has just released a damning review of UK energy policy.


After describing (with graphs and statistics) UK’s poor current situation re both nuclear and coal fired baseload and demonstrating the futility of pretending that wind will fill the gap, his closing remark is:

“This must almost certainly require the electrification of almost everything and the speeding up of nuclear capacity build, wherever possible innovating technically and reducing the costs by depending more on South Korea and China than our partners across the Channel in France.”

It is highly recommended and very much relevant to Australia’s and the world’s circumstances.


John Bennetts

… who in his right mind would recommend “lofting” billions of tonnes of fine powder into the atmosphere? How is this a good idea?

It doesn’t have to stay up long; just long enough for the wind to spread it out over a square megametre or so from each station. The particles do their work in the subsequent year or so as they lie on or near the surface.

It completely addresses a problem that is generally considered serious.


Radio National Philosopher’s Zone has an interesting discussion on the “perfect moral storm” of geoengineering:

It shows that humanity wasn’t capable of adapting to this perfectly serviceable planet that it was given to live on; that it did foul its nest. And then having discovered that it was fouling the nest, couldn’t just do the straightforward thing that the science community and the World Society reports are urging us to do; clean up the mess. It decided to try and do some further manipulation of the system to see if it could get away with continuing to foul the nest as long as it made adjustments elsewhere in the system to dampen down the impacts.


The simple answer is we know the absorption spectra of CO2 because we can measure it directly, unambiguously and very accurately.

The measurement is conceptually very simple – shine a light source of a given wavelength through a sample of CO2 gas in a glass box, and measure the decrease in intensity of the light that passes through. The difference between what goes in and what comes out is the absorption, at that particular wavelength. If you measure the absorption for a range of wavelengths – say from infrared through to ultraviolet, thats the absorption spectrum. If you know the dimensions of the box, and the density of the gas, you can then calculate the absorption per molecule, or mole, or whatever. You can then use that to calculate the absorption through any amount of CO2, say, that in the atmosphere above us.

Look up Beer’s Law on wikipedia. In the old days we would have used a single wavelength spectrometer, which would split light through a prism and slit arrangement to select a single wavelength. A more modern instrument is the FTIR – Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy – which illuminates with all wavelengths at once and uses fourier analysis to back out the spectrum. But the spectrum of CO2 is a bit like the boiling point of water. It was established a very long time ago, and if you need it, you look it up.

We don’t use mass spectrometers, thats a different kind of instrument used for chemical analysis – it breaks a molecule into charged fragments, ejects them through a magnetic field which separates them by charge mass ratio, and from the fragments you can figure out what you started with. A very powerful tool for chemical analysis, but unrelated to absorption spectroscopy.


I suspected there was a connection between the abdication of SA premier Mike Rann and the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, the world’s biggest uranium deposit
Rann says he wants to sign off on expansion plans. Without pre-empting any decisions I hope the plan is not the compromise that sees jobs, profits and newly extracted uranium going to China.

The original expansion plan called for 700 MW of new power supply and a 200 ML/d desalination plant. For the latter BHP chose a poor location at Whyalla. SA has about 10 years of gas reserves and 20 years of poor quality developed coal. It seems unlikely a new coal fired power station will be built in SA. However in his early political career Rann was opposed to French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

This makes me think the China option is on the cards whereby OD concentrate is railed to Darwin then Guandong in China. There the uranium will extracted along with copper and I presume gold and silver. Massive amounts of rare earths will remain at OD as tailings. I think the best approach is for the OD expansion to go ahead with an NP and desal at an alternative coastal site. I also think SA should look at enrichment and storing nuclear waste.

My gut feeling is that Rann’s parting shot will not see anything like this eventuate.


Ben Heard at Decarbonise SA is seeking supporters to (virtually) sign a letter of support to the South Australian Opposition spokesman for energy, Mitch Williams. Williams has recently spoken in favour of developing nuclear power for South Australia.

If you support this position, and particularly if you are in South Australia, please read Ben’s post here:

Open letter to Mitch Williams


* email him with your name and location (at the address on his blog)
* add a comment to this post

Any politician in Australia who sticks his head up where it can be kicked deserves all the support we can muster.


Sodium nitrate-potassium nitrate has been prototyped; it’s not entirely new.

Winter is the main difficulty. Eclipse Now’s link says,

The systems could store enough heat, accumulated over 10 sunny days, to continue generating power through one full cloudy day.

Two cloudy days would defeat this system — in the summer. 90 days of low average sunlight are out of the question.

EN’s other question — “Aren’t we able to think of multiple wins for the environment” — is answerable, Yes, but we aren’t all that likely to find them. Things that are good as floor polish aren’t likely also to be good as dessert toppings.

Olivine dispersal seems to me to be the best way of accomplishing the single purpose of getting the atmosphere’s carbon level back down to long-term safe levels. Anything that promises to do this and some other good thing is making an extraordinary claim, and must back it up with extraordinary evidence.


@ Cowan,
good point on the CSP. However, I don’t see why we need to rush to Olivine. Biochar lets us:
* fix our soils AND
* sequester Co2 AND
* reduce nitrous oxide emissions
* reduce nitrogen pollution in rivers
* increase farm productivity with 1/3 less nitrogen fertiliser required
* saves moisture in the soil
* turns Co2 into a useful agricultural aid

Whereas Olivine costs money but just sits there and soaks up Co2 … what am I missing?



The Conversation continues:, more of the usual misleading and/or wishful thinking from BZE.

Also interesting there today is a piece from a CSIRO person on their concentrating solar thermal research, though I found it frustratingly light on for detail:


The Say Yes Australia facebook page has seen the following exchange recently:

Brigid Cahill: NUCLEAR POWER IS !!!!NOT!!!! CLEAN AND ITS !!!!NOT!!!! SAFE!!!!!!

Brigid Cahill: People who go on “competing sites” do so because they feel the need to prove themselves and to justify their beliefs but who they are really justifying to is themselves!!

Brigid Cahill: We don’t need to justify or prove ourselves to anyon because we know we are on the path that will lead to the best outcome for Australia and Australians!

Grant Copeland: Oh noes I can’t see Howard’s posts anymore lol, have they been removed or has he blocked me?

Say Yes Australia: Hi guys,
I think we’re getting off topic. Removed offending posts and trolls who repeatedly post false or misleading information will be banned (as has been done here) but please don’t feed them quitttttttttttte so enthusiastically :)!

So…. whatcha planning for the fortnight!

Rhiannon Michell: I’m going to bet removed as I can’t see them either.

Grant Copeland: Sorry admins it’s just so much fun :) Busted Howard plaigerizing tonight, fun times :D

Say Yes Australia: ‎;-)

The thread asks people what they’ll be doing for the events planned around Australia for the next fortnight supporting the carbon tax. I responded that I would be attending the nearest to hand out pamphlets explaining the advantages of nuclear power. This started an exchange I haven’t been around to contribute to for a couple of days. Does anyone find it a bit worrying that the admin is so obviously partisan about this issue?


EN (above) presented a shopping list extolling the advantages of biochar.

In a former life, I became very optimistic about using power station fly ash as a soil improver. At first test, the ash from the power stations I was associated with offered hopes for water retention, fertiliser reduction, phosphate adsorption (useful with phosphate intolerant native species, eg grevilleas), selenium replenishment (very useful for wide areas of NSW which have selenium deficient soils) and much more.

Unfortunately, many of these fantastic positives melted away or at least reduced during further testing and commercialisation studies. For example, the phosphates were dumped by the ash if the pH dropped below a trigger point, thus introducing both an unforseen chemical limit and a substantial commercial and environmental risk.

The end result was that the none of the foreshadowed uses was commercialised.

I suspect, without any specific knowledge on the subject, that EN’s shopping list will follow the same path towards non-commercialisation.

‘Twould be nice to be proved wrong, but at present nobody has been proved right, either, because it isn’t happening yet.

On a science-related site such as BNC, conjecture comes a poor second to results.

BTW: What, precisely, am I to understand the phrase “Fix our soils” to mean? Fix what? When? How? At what cost? It’s a motherhood statement, not verifiable, not defined, not useful. And so on, down the list.


I think alkaline ash needs to brewed in a mix of wet ‘sour’ compost for a few months as it is too harsh in raw form. In any case I think phosphorus always needs to be added. That’s wood ash; I wonder what happens to metals like arsenic in power station fly ash. That’s also why for example we’re not supposed to burn treated timber.

Just read the Crikey piece on why Fukushima is worse than Hiroshima. That must be the hot spot referred to in WNA news. I hope somebody knowledgeable can put this in perspective.


@ John Bennetts,
Why are you reading my posts again? Please don’t. Please just put me back on your ignore list. You obviously have no intention of looking up biochar or you might have at least watched the ABC Catalyst piece — or even gone to wikipedia for crying out loud. Just put me back on your ignore list. Thanks.


(Snide comment deleted) Biochar, is an exciting new scientific field with a body of peer-reviewed soil Phd’s working away to identify the best biochar production methods. They run various empirical tests to eliminate variables, have sophisticated gas and soil and river testing equipment deployed around test sites, and have an international organisation and dialogue amongst the experts.

John would have learned all this if he had watched the Catalyst report or had looked up the Wiki.

There is a huge difference between ash and charcoal where ash is produced in almost any old fire but charcoal requires a special low oxygen environment.

The fixing our soils fixation I have is documented as a loss of arable land around the world. Industrial farming has saved many people from starvation but has come at a terrible price. The farmland soil is mined of nutrients in a one-way trip from farm to dinner plate to sewerage to sea. Many soils are now as sterile as cotton wool, and require NPK chemical fertilisers to be shoved onto the seeds to force them to grow. We’ve mined the soil of all it’s living biota and naturally occurring fertilisers, moved thousands of tons of plant matter to our dinner tables and then flushed the nutrients out to sea.

What the experts have found is that biochar has an enormous surface to mass ratio, and all the folds and nooks and crannies in biochar become a habitat for micro-oganisms that suck nitrogen out of the air. Biochar reduces the need for nitrogen fertiliser by about 30%.

It is not just a “motherhood statement, not verifiable, not defined, not useful” but a cutting edge science with energy & agricultural economists estimating the carbon price that might be necessary to introduce this in Australia. It’s even gone mobile with “Bigchar” turning up to cook up a farm’s agriwaste on site.

John sounds as informed about biochar as I was about nuclear energy 18 months ago.
EN- I have edited out your unnecessary asides on another commenter. Please desist.


Anyone got information on whether AP1000’s have been put up on an assembly line yet, or are in the process of being modularised to go on an assembly line? The wiki just explains that AP1000’s are under construction but not *how* they are being constructed… and as I’m cramming some new software for a new job I start Monday week (FINALLY!!!!) I really don’t have time to scan through all the reports.

It’s for BlueRock over at Climate Crock of the week. Dang but I’m sick of his smug misdirection and diversion tactics.


Anyone got time to head over there? Climate crock is a great site for Debunking Deniers, but BlueRock needs some (debating). Be polite to Peter Sinclair (Greenman) though as he has said if GenIV nukes ever arrive, he’ll support them.


I saw this on the comments of another site:

Official Death Tolls

Japan 2011 Tsunami – 20448 (July 31)
Japan 2011 Nuclear Meltdown – 3 (July 31) – none from radiation

Japan Hiroshima A Bomb 1945 – 90,000–166,000
Japan Nagasaki A Bomb 1945 – 60,000–80,000

Japan Motor Accidents 2010 – 4914

China Coal Mines 2010 – 2433
Global Plane Crashes 2010 – 829
US Motor Accidents 2010 – 33808


@ EN, 8:59 and subsequent:

No, I did not have EN on my “do not read” list. I do, however, turn my optimism detector all the way up for certain posts.

There is a possible future for biochar – I never said that there is not. What I said, I stand by, and it is essentially as follows.

Biochar and other uncommercialised trial technologies are fine and I support this type of endeavour, for the same reasons that I threw myself into trying to find beneficial uses for fly ash. However, in a world where billions of tonnes of carbon have been burned and added to the atmosphere, any contibution from biochar to reducing the excessof atmospheric CO2 will likely help, but cannot solve the main problem, for which additional heavy lifting solutions are needed.

“Cutting edge science” biochar is not… it is a welcome contribution to a technological toolkit, but not cutting edge. I await peer reviewed reports covering biochar. Until then, it remains a conversation topic, not a thesis.
I have edited the untoward comments by EN and therefore have also deleted your comment about this.


(Snide comment deleted)

any contibution from biochar to reducing the excessof atmospheric CO2 will likely help, but cannot solve the main problem, for which additional heavy lifting solutions are needed.

“Cutting edge science” biochar is not…

Biochar itself is a 7000 year old technique. Biochar studies involve our best and brightest soil scientists.

These quotes pretty much sum it up.

““We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.”
– Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1500s

”In many ways the ground beneath our feet is as alien as a distant planet. The processes occurring in the top few centimenters of Earth’s surface are the basis of all life on dry land but the opacity of soil has severely limited our understanding of how it functions…. However, perspectives are beginning to change… Interest in soil is booming, spurred in part by technical advances of the past decade.”

Here is the peer reviewed material. Which topic grabs ya?

IBI Research Summaries
Research Summaries provide in depth information on a single issue and provide additional references from peer reviewed publications.

Biochar in Mixtures
Biochar for Soil Remediation and Land Reclamation
Biochar Impact on Soil Carbon Losses
Biochar Recalcitrance in Soil
Impact of Biochar on Soil Moisture
Soil Improvement from Application of Biochar

From here.


From Eclipse Now Anyone got information on whether AP1000′s have been put up on an assembly line yet, or are in the process of being modularised to go on an assembly line?

My god this is entering the realm of fantasy. Courtesy Barry from earlier in the thread:

27 July 2011
The reactor pressure vessel cylinder to be used in the world’s first AP1000 has been delivered from South Korea to Sanmen in Zhejiang province, eastern China.

(Snide remark deleted)


@ BJ

Do you scorn EN’s notion of an “assembly line” for AP1000s on the basis that the first only has been delivered?

The Westinghouse site reports

Westinghouse Electric Company and its consortium are currently building four AP1000® in China. Additionally, five U.S. utilities have chosen the AP1000 for possible nuclear plant construction.

There could very well be an “assembly line” with “modularised” manufacturing process.

30 years ago my engineering practice was co-located with a heavy fabricator which had a contract to manufacture the structures for 3 draglines destined for the central Queensland coal fields.

A passing observer would not see evidence of a modularised assembly line, but over the course of 15 months you could see the bits coming together and being spat off the end of the assembly line.

Interestingly, the second caught up with the first and the third caught up with the first! Experience curve.


Global capacity for heavy forgings does limit the possibility of a emergency production run of large PWR reactors such as AP1000. Smaller reactor designs would avoid this bottleneck. Whichever design wins out to become the T-model of a newly nuclear world, its fuel cycle would require corresponding effort and planning.


Roger Clifton, on 5 August 2011 at 6:23 PM said:

Global capacity for heavy forgings does limit the possibility of a emergency production run of large PWR reactors such as AP1000

The heavy forgings business is adapting. The South Koreans are now doing heavy forgings, the Chinese are expected to do heavy forgings as well which has ‘cooled’ the enthusiasm of those outside of China wishing to get into the heavy forgings business.


“Global capacity for heavy forgings does limit the possibility of a emergency production run of large PWR reactors such as AP1000”

The link to “Global capacity to heavy forgings” does not seem to work for me. Could you repost it?


John Newlands writes,

My impression is that the reaction is too slow to be a practical carbon sink. I guess a kg pulverised to sub milligram particle size exposed to humid air would absorb just a few grams of CO2 a year. Then we need to add the emissions created in powering the crusher. I can’t quantify the reaction rate in terms of mol litres per second, just very slow.

much as he did here. The offer of help I followed that with still stands. There is no need for impressions and guesses.

John Morgan, on 29 July 2011 at 10:02 AM said:

GRLC, if olivine is effective in broadcast dispersal, would it not be even more effective if used to directly capture emissions from fossil fuel plants, say by sparging the exhaust gasses through an olivine slurry?

Yes, I think it would, and I’m pretty sure there’s a web-inaccessible paper on this, perhaps Schuiling, R. D.; Krijgsman, P. (2006). “Enhanced Weathering: An Effective and Cheap Tool to Sequester Co2”. Climatic Change 74: 349–354. The available heat for a given coal is increased by burning its carbon all the way to its geochemical ground state rather than just to gaseous CO2. I did some basic figuring, not for slurry but for a giant pile of chips, in that other thread.


Here’s some sad news

Japan PM vows nuclear-free future

What I find infuriating about this is that they don’t (or won’t) say what they’ll be replacing the nuclear plants with. If they do end up eventually phasing out nuclear (and I have doubts about this), they’ll replace them with coal – it’s obvious, but the pollies and media won’t say it. It’s criminal.


I just noticed it was ‘Hiroshima Day’ today.

Denis Doherty from the Hiroshima Day Committee believes there are grim similarities between [Hiroshima and Fukushima].

“Both areas had ground zero. Both had incredibly large death tolls,” he said.

An incredibly large death toll in respect of the latter nuclear event of, um, zero.


GRL Cowan, that Schuiling Krijgsman paper can be found here.

Olivine sequesters CO2 on roughly a ton for ton basis. Picture a coal plant with a coal train like this running into it. Now picture a second set of tracks carrying the complementary olivine train. And a third set of tracks to take away the product.

Or, to reverse our greenhouse gas emissions, imagine us recapitulating in olivine the history of fossil fuel extraction in the industrial age.

Without some very cheap means to expose vast quantities of finely divided olivine to the weather [is there such], I am not optimistic about what could be achieved by this process.


@ G.R.L. Cowan, hydrogen-energy fan until ~1996, on 6 August 2011 at 5:13 AM:

Re olivine rocks and heat recovery, I wonder how much sensible heat there will be to recover. My experience with fabric filter plant in existing coal fired power stations is that the exit temperatures from the bag houses is far less than 100 degrees C – perhaps 70C max. If it is over 110 C at the entry to the baghouses, attemperating air is used to cool the flue gas. This is to minimise the risk of a baghouse fire, which is a very nasty event.

Considerable energy is needed to blow the filtered flue gas up the chimney stack, by use of Induced Draft fans drawing about 1% of the generated power from the unit.

Any proposal to pass the flue gas through a pile of rocks must include additional collection of the gases and discharge via the chimneys, otherwise many environmental conditions will not be achieved, not least the need to ensure that the air at ground level is breathable.

I’m still far from convinced. The first essential is to calculate the size of the necessary pile of olivine rocks to absorb CO2 from an airflow of more than 1000 cubic metres per second carrying 650 tonnes per hour of CO2. That’s for a 500MW plant. It’s simply not conceivable as a retrofit.


John B, that would be approximately 650 tonnes per hour of olivine.

Mind you, I’m not sure that is any more ludicrous than collecting the same flux of hot CO2, pressurizing it and removing heat until it liquifies, and pumping it deep underground while maintaining both positive energy return andnet profit at market rates from the exercise.


@Graham Palmer, on 6 August 2011 at 8:31 PM:

Many thanks for the link to a most informative short discussion paper. Well done, MIT.

Betcha our daily newspapers won’t publish the major observations and recommendations – they aren’t sufficiently sensational.


John M: That much olivine is about 3 times the coal usage, in tonnes, perhaps double in volume. Huge.

As a competitor for CCS, perhaps, but since when has CCS been likely to grow legs? Really? Readers wilI already have noticed that I consider CCS to be more FUD, a fig leaf, BS. Whatever term fits best.


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