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—
557 replies on “Open Thread 17”
It is not necessary to put the olivine in coal plants. You can just mix grinded olivine dust in agricultural soil or fertilizer and apply to farmland. No more need for magnesium in the fertilizer, and tilling means the reaction with air and water remains higher so the CO2 fixing rate is higher.
Even bigger potential is in applying the olivine dust to the ocean surface water. Interestingly, if grinded fine enough, the olivine floats on the surface of the ocean for considerable time, enough to fix the CO2.
Olaf Schuiling from the Utrecht University (Netherlands) is a leading researcher on this topic:
You still need to apply this olivine at ~3x the mass rate of coal + oil + gas extraction to break even on instantaneous CO2 production, more if you want to draw down existing atmospheric carbon.
I’d love for olivine to be a geosequestration resource, but I need someone to give me a plausible route to the necessary scale.
Re biochar versus olivine. These are synergetic. The olvine reacts to sequester CO2 but also makes magnesium for the soil. The biochar, when mixed in with the olivine powder, would retain the magnesium and other nutrients better. Now, biochar is definately resource-limited: we’ll never have the biomass or waste to make tens of billions of tonnes of CO2 sequestering per year capabilities. So you’ll need olivine too – its one of the most common rock types on earth.
John Morgan, as you can read in the PDF above and again here:
The scale of operations is similar to concrete (cement+sand+gravel) mining today. Big, but we’re doing this type of scale already today…
The IBI claims 1 gigaton per year sequestration is achievable by 2050. It’s a ‘wedge’, not a silver bullet for all emissions.
Click to access final_carbon.pdf
I never thanked you for the post about the potential synergy between biochar and olivine! Thanks for that. Could make an interesting marriage.
Some interesting articles over at The Conversation that BNCers might want to comment on. The Conversation seems like “the thinking person’s forum”. Just read the heading in the url. I don’t really have the technical expertise to tackle some of these people.
By George Dracoulis — Head of the Department of Nuclear Physics at the Australian National University from 1992 to July 2009.
Here is George Monbiot’s response to Jonathon Porritt’s arguments – and to his highly personal invective: The Moral Case for Nuclear Power
Eclipse Now: there’s an interesting quote in that “Are you ready for a four degree world?” article:
Yes, a great quote that I’ve used on one of my summary pages. But you’ll note I’ve asked The Conversation whether they are in contact with anyone who has done more work on the “Sulphur Gun”. (EG: Will it really stop the Monsoon, reduce agricultural yields and paint the sky white?)
There was this link that Barry tweeted the other day.
When I read this, I wrote a little bit of a long rant about how this
insurance industry which insures the nuclear energy industry actually exists, and about this false but ridiculously persistent anti-nuclear meme of saying that “the risk is not insurable”.
But after I wrote this, I couldn’t figure out how to actually register on this person’s website so I could actually post the comment. So, I figured that I would post it here to share it, instead of letting a long comment go to waste after it had been written anyway.
This is just garbage, it is simply a myth that gets echoed backwards and forwards between the anti-nuclearists, without any of them ever bothering to actually check the facts or do the research. It’s simply a meme, one of many nonsense pseudo-fact memes that persist in the community of devout believers in the evilness of nuclear energy.
The Price-Anderson Act in the United States is often bought up by anti-nuclear activists as some sort of damning evidence of preferential government treatment for nuclear energy, but it’s actually quite the opposite – it’s legislation which imposes exceptional demands on nuclear energy above and beyond any other industry, which is of course completely out of proportion to the realities of the demonstrably low risk of nuclear energy, especially relative to other energy sources. This should be compared with the risks associated with other important energy generation systems, where the industry is not insured in any such way against significant impacts on society and the environment.
When there’s a catastrophic disaster on an oil rig or a coal ash dam or a natural gas pipeline or a coal mine and people lose their lives and/or there is severe environmental damage, where are the Price-Anderson style requirements for insurance and industry liability coverage for those industries? They do not exist. In these incidents, the government spends a fortune managing and cleaning up the effects. Sites polluted by the fossil fuel industry and the chemical industry in the United States are cleaned up as Superfund sites; these industries are not required to take responsibility for themselves in the same way that the nuclear energy industry is.
The air pollution resulting from the use of coal and other fossil fuels causes around 30,000 premature deaths in the United States each year – does the coal generation industry have appropriate insurance coverage? The risks from catastrophic flooding resulting from the failure of a hydroelectric dam, for example, are borne directly by the public. The 1977 failure of Idaho’s Teton Dam caused half a billion dollars in property damage – but the only compensation provided to the affected communities was around $200 million in low-cost government loans.
Nuclear power plants in the United States have literally never harmed anyone. The large liability and insurance pool which the industry provides as it is required to by Price-Anderson has almost never been touched at all, and not one cent in Price-Anderson liability has ever been paid out from the government’s theoretical liability which might exist, theoretically, if the industry’s own private insurance coverage was entirely exhausted.
The commercial nuclear energy industry in the United States has over $10 billion in liability insurance protection, covering them in the event of claims resulting from some kind of nuclear energy-related incident sufficiently catastrophic so as to have a deleterious impact on the community outside the plant boundary. The utilities using nuclear energy (and, indirectly, the consumers of nuclear electricity, for whom the cost of the required insurance constitutes a tiny portion of the cost of their electricity; a fraction of a cent per kilowatt-hour) – not the federal government or the American public – pay for this insurance. The Price-Anderson Act requires that the nuclear energy industry has this massive pool of liability insurance, which is provided by the private, commercial insurance industry.
These insurance pools have paid out a total of more than $200 million in claims and litigation costs since the Act came into effect, mainly as a result of dubious claims supported by anti-nuclear activist groups, particularly following the Three Mile Island accident, which did not have any bona fide health physics impact on any person outside the plant’s boundary. (It is important to point out that not once has any of these claims ever involved a bona fide case of illness or injury to a person relating to ionising radiation or radioactivity from a nuclear power reactor, supported by legitimate evidence.) The American taxpayer has not paid one cent of this.
While the nuclear energy industry’s insurance pools have paid out about $200 million in claims, and the industry has actually paid about $21 million to the government in indemnity fees, again, the taxpayer has never paid for any of this. The Price-Anderson Act does not give the commercial nuclear energy industry in the United States any government money; it is actually a set of government requirements requiring the commercial nuclear energy industry in the United States to spend money.
The Price-Anderson Act requires nuclear energy utilities to demonstrate evidence of financial protection – nuclear power licensees are required to provide a total of more than ten billion dollars in pooled insurance coverage to compensate the public in the event of a catastrophic nuclear accident. Wherever they are available to the commercial insurance industry, nuclear power stations in the Western world actually represent sought-after business because of their high engineering and risk management standards. This has been the case for fifty years.
Significantly, because the RBMK reactors at Chernobyl were of a design that was never acceptable to anybody outside the Soviet Union, notably due the lack of any containment vessel as well as due to the intrinsic physics characteristics of the reactor, the accident had no impact on premium rates for the Western commercial nuclear energy industry.The structure of insurance practice in relation to the nuclear energy industry is different from the management of ordinary industrial risks. It involves international conventions, national legislation channelling liability to the operators of the plants and mandating very large insurance pools taken out by the nuclear energy industry from the private-sector commercial insurance industry, and the pooling of insurance capacity in more than twenty countries. The approach of the national nuclear insurance pool was primarily developed in the United Kingdom in 1956 as a way of marshaling insurance capacity for the coverage of the then-novel and exotic perceived risk of radiological accidents or reactor accidents. Other national pools that followed were modelled on the UK pool, forming the association of insurance brokers serving the nuclear energy industry that is today known as Nuclear Risk Insurers Limited.
NRI’s capacity comes from eight insurance companies and 16 Lloyds syndicates. NRI represents the largest single block of risk transfer insurance capacity in the world, at more than 400 million British pounds. It also reinsures other nuclear energy industry insurance pools worldwide. It covers risks including property, the nuclear fuel and radioactive waste handling, construction work on nuclear energy sites and transport liabilities.
The role of the commercial insurance and actuarial sectors in understanding and underwriting the risks associated with the commercial nuclear energy industry is discussed at further length in 2008 issue three of Market magazine, the industry journal of Lloyds of London.
In the United States, one of the major commercial insurance providers specialising in nuclear energy is Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited. NEIL insures domestic and international nuclear utilities for the costs associated with interruptions, damages, decontaminations and related nuclear risks.
If the commercial insurance industry will not provide any coverage for the commercial nuclear energy industry, as anti-nuclearists often claim, then would they care to explain what it is exactly that these nuclear-specialist insurance corporations actually do all day?
Risk is a quantity. It’s a number. Anti-nuclearists seem to have a really hard time understanding this fact, and since this simple fact is at the foundation of how insurance works, I guess that’s why anti-nuclearists seem to have such a hard time understanding the insurance industry and how it relates to nuclear energy.
The commercial insurance industry will provide you insurance for absolutely any kind of risk, as long as they can actually quantitatively estimate what the risk really is. The industry will provide a successful professional singer with insurance coverage against the risk of some kind of injury damaging her ability to sing, and you cannot seriously say that this risk is any easier to quantify than the risks associated with the commercial nuclear energy industry. If they can put a probability and a cost on it with any reasonable degree of confidence, then the commercial insurance industry can sell you insurance for it. When dealing with a relatively complex system such as a nuclear power plant, these risks are quantitatively assessed through Probabilistic Risk Assessment.
When dealing with a situation or with a technology which is perceived to involve greater risk than it really actually does, then it seems like this would present an attractive opportunity to the commercial insurance industry – because you can charge the customers more money to provide the same degree of coverage of real-world risk. Nuclear energy certainly seems like a good example of such an industry, doesn’t it?
The Price-Anderson Act seems to exist only because of the completely distorted, false, unrealistic idea that nuclear energy is an extremely risky business. But the reality, which we see confirmed from direct, empirical, real-world experience all the time, is that nuclear energy is literally the safest form of energy generation there is.
Incidentally, some people suggest today that the Price-Anderson model has been very successful, and suggest that, in the wake of fossil fuel disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, that it should actually be copied for the oil industry, the fossil fuel industries, the chemical industry and the like, so that such industries are required to cover their risks to the public and to the environment adequately, too.
However, I do not think this would be successful, because it works well in the context of nuclear energy simply because nuclear energy really is very safe, and I don’t think that it is economically practical for industries like the oil and coal and gas industries which really do present high risks to health and to the environment to be forced to hold large amounts of liability coverage in the event of all too common accidents in the same way that the nuclear energy industry is under the terms of the Price-Anderson Act.
Luke we have something like our own version of Price Anderson in Australia for the gas industry
Chevron will separate 3.5 Mt a year of CO2 from raw Gorgon gas and pump it into saline aquifers below Barrow Island until 120 Mt is stored. Then they can walk away and the WA and Federal govts assume liability if anything goes wrong.
Perhaps governments take the view that royalties and mining taxes are a kind of insurance premium. There are emergency plans drawn up for oil spills. Somehow the public has to grasp managed risk, a tough call since they haven’t yet grasped the idea of the lights going out.
Check out this new nuclear support group in NSW (New England area).
They have a Facebook page too and are looking for support. See article:
Here is the Facebook link for the group:
@ Luke W – All true, but although $10bn sounds a lot, the damage claims from Fukushma are likely to be far more than that, due to the prolonged large scale evacuation. The global nuclear insurance pool needs to be more like $100bn to cover such incidents in full, but that would still be only 0.1-0.2 cents/kw-hr onto electricity costs if spread evenly over the whole industry.
More involvement from commercial insurance might actually be a safety benefit. For the chemical industry – my employers – the 2-yearly inspection by the insurance company is at least as concerning as visits from statutory regulators. No insurance –> no business.
Luke W, such a great contribution deserves to be promoted as a BNC post in its own right to make it more discoverable, rather than have it buried as the 426th comment in an open thread. Barry, is there any possibility you can make it so?
Mark, yes, I was thinking that. I’ll contact Luke.
Ms Perps, that is really exciting. They actually seem to have a physical presence, too.
I count a small but apparently growing number of pro-nuclear groups out there:
New England Nuclear Research
Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy
Are there more?
And here’s the obligatory colourful street protest:
And here’s an article from a week ago on the launch of the group:
And here’s the anti’s dedicated facebook page:
If you follow the link to the New England anti-nuke fb page you will likely note that I have been active there today. I hereby request that any pro-nuke with a bit of time go there and keep up my tradition as so far established. I have the Nucleus 92 AGM tonight, and I wouldn’t like to think that my temporary absence meant any letup in criticism of them.
@Finrod, the trouble is that you have to ‘like’ the fb page in order to comment. I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it!
While we’re co-opting support, here’s another for your consideration in which weight of numbers will quite literally tell, if you haven’t already: http://oursay.org/the-sunday-age, where questions to be put to a climate forum will be determined by popular vote. The question I’d recommend getting behind with all 7 of your votes is already up to 4th with a bullet – thanks to everyone who has got behind it so far.
Tsk tsk… ‘Liking’ a facebook page for the purposes of engaging the owners in debate is a well established tradition. Consider it an ‘engage’ button. Go forth and attack!
It does rather stick in ones craw, particularly given the gloating about the number of supporters they are drawing. But you can ‘Like’ it, say your piece, and ‘Unlike’, I think.
It looks like the principal of the New England anti-nuke group is a fossil fuel supporter and global warming antagonist:
Thats a direct quote from a much larger stream of bile on their Facebook page. It will be interesting to see how the environmentally minded members of this group react.
This morning saw the following comment on the SANENEG page, which is much more measured and concilliatory in tone. I suspect some of the admins were horrified at what their friend had put up during the night.
The culprit of yester eve/morn is apparently one Mat Reynolds, who is now posting lunacy under his own name:
From Rod Adams – listen up!
Atomic Show #172 – Decarbonise South Australia
On August 13, 2011, I spoke with Ben Heard of Decarbonise SA and Barry Brook of Brave New Climate. These two Australians are both working hard to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in a land where the idea of reducing the consumption of carbon and hydrocarbon fuels trends on the interests of some very powerful and wealthy people.
Ben grew up assuming that nuclear energy was bad, but after a logical process of evaluating all available options, changed his mind. He is now running a campaign that he calls Decarbonise SA. Since his home state of South Australia has only 1.5 million residents, his goal could be achieved in less than a decade with the construction of 3 large nuclear plants – or 30 small modular reactors like the B&W mPowerTM.
Barry (or should I say, Dr. Brook?) is a scientist who focuses on the earth’s climate, never opposed the use of nuclear energy, but did not immediately recognize just how effective a weapon it could be in what he considers to be an extremely important battle to keep the Earth as hospitable as it has been for humans for the past tens of thousands of years.
I think you will enjoy the conversation. I apologize for any sound issues – from my point of view it is almost magical that I could speak to two people in separate locations in a time zone that is 13.5 hours farther along in the day than my own. The fact that I could do it with essentially no lag and at no cost is even more incredible. Thank you, Skype.
Disclosure: I work for B&W on the mPower reactor project.
Listened to that podcast to and from work todays, really, a great conversation, and Rod Adams is a great host.
The cleantech graveyard to start filling up
The current Foreign Policy magazine has an article titled “The Crisis in Clean Energy, Stark Realities of the Renewables Craze” by David G. Victor (University of California) and Kassia Yanosek
Article costs 99 cents to download
Graham, I saw that linked before but it was behind a paywall. But I think I can burn 99c for it. Thanks.
This is discouraging:
as many fo the definitions are at best misleading.
This is better, although rather technical:
And then we have
important in nuclear reactor engineering. But don’t forget the following four sections of the article.
To avoid all above in communicating (anyway attempting to) with non-specialists such as (most) politicians and interested laymen (as the phrase goes; I take to include both female and male men), one wants a clean, new definition which does not mislead by the use of “fuel” and “burn up”. For nuclear fissile and fissionable elements are not fuels which burn up via oxidation. A new word is required IMO.
I propose excallage from the the classical Greek exallagē meaning, roughly, alteration or complete change. It is to be treated as a neologism and so declined as in the usual [American, Australian, British, Canadian, Indian, South African, New Zealandish (any others?)] manner: excallage by slow or fast neutrons; uranium excallages into lighter weight isotopes; excallaging actinides via fast neutrons for a long time leaves only only low radioactive level waste products…
A suitable beginning definition is what happens to uranium and many other actinides in side a nucler (power) reactor. Language specialists might care to make that more precise without resorting to the details of the nuclear physics involved.
In 2010, one ton of CO2 in the atmosphere cost up to $893 in economic damage—more than 12 times the [US] government’s highest estimate. from
I wonder if anyone has been able to locate a CO2 stabilization level for the Greenpeace Report “Energy [R]evolution 2010” by Teske et al. They state they want to keep warming below 2 degrees C, and have a final target of 3.7 GTons per year CO2 – but a PPM CO2 figure and the bounds of the final temperature wouls be nice.
An interesting data table at the bottom of this BBC report on constructing an offshore wind farm: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14412189
According to it only gas and onshore wind are cheaper than New Nuclear.
Eamon, on 16 August 2011 at 3:07 PM — Greenpeace is wrong again. Even 3.7 gigatonnes CO2/year is way too much for stability.
Measurements Reveal Extent of Leakage from Japan’s Damaged Fukushima Reactor:
Here are two items I found; the Open Thread seems to be the best place for them.
How We Know We Are Causing Global Heating is, IMO, an excellent and brief introduction to CO2 and the greenhouse effect. It starts its discussion with Tyndall’s 1861 predictions (the Bakerian Lecture to the Royal Society) and has links to research papers that illuminate and confirm the predictions. I think this discussion has a place in everyone’s list of links to post in climate comments.
Economics for Equity and Environment’s report Climate Risks and Carbon Prices: Revising the Social Cost of Carbon is described thus:
The Executive Summary puts the case well; the Full Report and Peer Review Comments are all available. The Executive Summary says (emphasis added)
Hopefully we can use this report to get our politicians off the pot.
David B. Benson, on 17 August 2011 at 3:08 AM – Thanks. Do you know what temperatures their final emissions target would result in?
Eamon, on 17 August 2011 at 11:49 AM — So long as emissions exceed the ability of biological organisms to sequester the exess carbon (1) the oceans will continue to acidify even further and (2) global temperatures will continue to rise.
There is no safe excess carbon emission limit.
Hi David, we seem to be talking past each other here. I’m in total agreement with your statements, but what I’m looking for is a global temperature figure to hang on the Teske’s paper. He says they’ll keep temperature rises below 2 degrees C, and sadly I don’t have the technical skills to investigate his claim.
Eamon, on 17 August 2011 at 10:56 PM — I see my previous answer didn’t statisfy. [Its technically incorrect anyway.]
So long as carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil carbon (including natural gas emissions or burning) exceed the ability of the natural carbon cycle to remove the carbon, atmospheric carbon dioxide will continue to increase and so the temperature will also. So to first approximation, even the 3.7 gigatonnes per annum figure will lead to ever increasing temperatures so long as it persists. For the horendous effect of even a 2 K increase (and more), read Mark Lynas’s “Six Degrees”:
The matter is actually quite complex. To begin, study “Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast” by David Archer, made easier as the lectures based on that book and Lynas’s are available as on-line video:
Then read his popular book, “The Long Thaw” to obtain a better appreciation of the complexities of the carbon cycle. [That might suffice for your purpose.] If not adequate to check Teske’s paper, you’ll probably need estimates of land based carbonate formation as well as a good understanding of chemical oceanography. The latter is distinctly difficult and is beyond my current state of knowledge.
However, David Archer will probably be willing to answer a politely phrased question in an e-amil message, especially if you have previously read his books and paid close attention to his video lectures.
Whatever generation sources are hung on a power grid, control is required. A readable summary of current directions in control be explored (and implemented) here is found in “POWER SYSTEM STABILITY:
NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONTROL” by Anjan Bose of Washington State University:
[I occasionally meet Anjan over lunch; more often Carl Hauser who researches the computer side of these control issues.]
An important point is that the equations given in the paper describe how a grid atualy operates; this is rather different than the financial transaction which occcur between power sellers and buyers, which do not reflect the full reality of grid power flows. Roughly, a buyer pays a seller to energize he grid so that the buyer’s power withdrawals do not destabilize the power grid. Sometimes the ISO determines that certain transactions will destailize the grid and then has to take corrective actions such as not permitting that or other transacton(s).
Wind advocate’s take on the current ERCOT (Texas grid) power difficulties:
David B. Benson, on 18 August 2011 at 8:03 AM – thanks for the link to David Archer’s work. I’ll watch the lectures when I get some free time.
HFR geothermal still struggling – and this is the only low carbon baseload option that any Australian Governments will permit – why would you even bother going through the pain of a carbon tax when HFR might be decades from multi-gigwatt deployment ?
Kinda makes you wonder when HFR geothermal gets star billing in the TV ads. Alongside the impossible-to-reproduce 1973 hydro. The public loves it tho.
More on HDR – yes, it does make you kinda wonder
Energy: Global Prospects 1985-2000, 1977, Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies, page 222.
A california desert project is switching from a planned CSP to solar PV, for a nameplate 500 MW installation. Using the figures in the Climate Progress piece, and using NREL’s simpified LCOE calculator with reasonable assumptions, I find a US$0.158/kWh busbar price (to which retail costs must be added.)
Not yet supercompetative.
David B. Benson, on 18 August 2011 at 10:54 AM said:
Wind advocate’s take on the current ERCOT (Texas grid) power difficulties:
some 1,800 MW of wind generation were available
According to ERCOT some 10,265 MW of wind capacity is installed.
The wind people bragging that their wind mills were operating at 17% of capacity during a heat wave seems like a bit of a stretch.
harrywr2, on 19 August 2011 at 3:59 AM — Worse than that. It seems that about 13% of ERCOT’s wind power is coastal and it has been primarily that which did most of the duty. The remaining 87% out on the northern Texas plain was almost motionless. This latter is quite common; inland wind does not produce during the hottest days (which are still) nor during the coldest ones in the winter. About 3 winters ago ERCOT had a class 1 power emergency with all the wind turbines stationary [plus other problems].
What is needed is a better Quality of Power (QoP) measure than simply maximum capacity factor, which just averages every day over the years. By some QofP standard, inland wind power ranks way down.
For comparison with
David B. Benson, on 19 August 2011 at 3:19 AM
I used the NREL simplified LCOE calculator for an NPP financed for 30 Years @ 10.8% and a build cost of US$5460 (to include the finance changes) and a modern CF=93%. FOr O&M I used the NREL suggested US$70/kW-yr and then a modest fuel change. The result is an LCOE of US$0.092/kWh, obviously superior.
Assuming used for load following, so CF=74% gives an LCOE of US$0.11.3/kWh, still superior.
Conclusion: solar PV is still only a plaything for the rich.
David Benson: “…NPP financed for 30 Years @ 10.8%”.
You have piled a huge financing charge onto your NPP. Surely finance at much less than that can be obtained.
A rate of, say, 6 or 7%pa, would significantly reduce those LCOE’s of 9 and 11 cents per kWh.
John Bennetts, on 19 August 2011 at 8:01 AM — That is big indeed, but it is the best (and only) terms available in the USA. Nor does that end the financing woes here. WIthout going into detail, even more is required during construction (before the loan can start being properly paid off) so I have to use such extra large build costs to cover than additional financing.
Other countries probably have more sensible ways of doing the financing. Using your thought of 30 years @ 7%, interest not payable until construction is complete, so a build cost of US$4170/kW suffices, gives an simplified LCOE of but US$0.056/kWh at CF=93% and US$0.071 at CF=74%. That beats even the projected eventual low cost of wind power!
Graham Palmer, @18 August 2011 at 6:31 PM
Good quote. This highlights the nub of the problem. We really have not made any significant progress since 1977. We are still doing demonstration plants and there are no commercially viable HDR or HFR projects anywhere in the world. That is despite many trials having been conducted around the world in the past nearly 50 years (first was in 1973).
This is interesting http://geoheat.oit.edu/bulletin/bull22-4/art4.pdf . It explains some of the main geotechnical problems. There are other problems as well such as corrosion which caused the blow-out at Geodynamics’s Innamincka demonstration plant in April 2010, before it had generated any power.
After nearly 50 years we’ve achieved next to nothing. Geodynamics need $90 billion federal government subsidy for a 25MW plant ($3.6/W subsidy). http://www.smh.com.au/business/geodynamics-learns-its-lesson-from-well-blowout-20100413-s7mi.html
I often explain to people that geothermal is like solar. There’s lots of heat in the Sun and lots of heat in the rocks at depth. But in both cases it is disuse and very difficult to extract.
John Bennetts, on 19 August 2011 at 8:01 AM said:
You have piled a huge financing charge onto your NPP. Surely finance at much less than that can be obtained.
Do to the volatile nature of natural gas prices(currently at historical lows) in the US there is a ‘demand risk’ when building a NPP in the US. A big problem the last time we built NPP’s was that projected demand didn’t materialize. So even projects built on budget and were well managed ended up having poor utilization rates.
Another problem is various states have Renewable Energy Standards that don’t include nuclear…so even if an NPP is cost competitive with Wind and Solar the utilities in those states are obligated to buy the Wind/Solar energy first.
IMHO ‘Renewable Portfolio Standard’ that includes Nuclear as a renewable would alleviate the demand risk. Of course with low cost financing there would be no market demand risk as a NPP would be the low cost producer.
One of the difficult things to get across to people concerned with their wallet is that a Renewable Portfolio Standard of 20% gets you a bunch of windmills, windmills are relatively cheap and integrating up to about 20% capacity avoids the storage issue. Once the storage issue comes into play windmills have a financial hurdle to overcome.
IMHO A Renewable portfolio standard of 30% gets you nuclear power with lower financing costs as the market for the nuclear energy is effectively guaranteed. This appears to be the model the UK is looking at with some sort of pricing mechanism that favors energy sources that are dispatchable.
At the moment we are still in the circular argument phase in the US.
Nuclear Power Plants can’t get good financing rates because the only way to guarantee utilization is that they are the low cost producer. They can’t be the low cost producer because the financing rates charged guarantee they won’t be ‘low cost’ producer.
Maybe after Vogtle #3 and Vogle #4 are built which would remove concerns over construction and regulatory risk financing rates will drop. There will still be demand risk and someone will have to pass some sort of law to address that.
Beats me why they categorise geothermal as “renewable”, as it takes thousands of years for that chilled rock to warm up again. The ball park for geothermal heat flux is only a hundred or so mW/m2.
Given a generous time span, coal is renewable too. No doubt the Earth will recover some time – after we have become extinct.
Exelon chairman and CEO John Rowe said that the renaissance of the US nuclear industry is being limited by economics rather than technology. from
Of his three limiting factors, the first will hopefuly be resolved by adopting the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee. The second is insufficient (current) demand for new generation. [Possibly coal burner retirement will change that.] The last is the currently low price for natgas.
Harrywr2: Things are certainly changing, although very slowly, as opinion makers publish articles which point out the uncounted costs of intermittency. The glib assurances of the intermittent energy clubs are being pushed aside by the realisation that there is no doubt that wind and solar power are already causing losses to existing gas fired plant, while at the same time requiring more gas fired plant as support. The issues include steeper ramp rates, lower market access and hence income, more starts and more. In other words, existing gas is being squeezed into higher costs and lower income, right at the time when market regulators and system operators are wrestling with the legislators’ demand that renewables must comprise a bigger and bigger share of the market, regardless of capital cost.
For example, in “Power”, 1 August 2011.
Quote: “To many, it may sound counterintuitive to suggest that, as renewable penetration increases, the importance of flexible gas-fired generation will increase. However, reliability in a renewables world demands dispatchable resources with specific load-following capabilities, ramp rates, and regulation capacity—attributes to be found in the gas-fired generation fleet.”
It’s worth reading. Note that its audience is not academics or system control professionals, but those more generally involved throughout the power industry. I’m optimistic that a broad base of those whose business is threatened by intermittents will lead a drive towards rational assessment of the true costs of energy options.
Peter Lang, correction, Geodynamics is looking for $90 million subsidy, not $90 billion. Obviously just a typo since you calculated the $3.6/W correctly.
John Bennetts, on 19 August 2011 at 11:10 AM — Most useful. Thank you.
Thanks John Morgan. That was a Barnaby! :)
Re the link in the sidebar
about replacing 2,000 MW of coal power with deals to be signed before carbon tax arrives. If they can’t pull it off it will be a major setback. It’s hard to know whether in desperation they will agree to something like brown coal gasification with CCS to be added later on.
I don’t think Rex Connor’s 1970s grand plan of a natural gas pipe from WA to the east will eventuate. However they could connect central Qld coal seam gas to Victoria via Moomba and Adelaide using existing pipes if capacity is adequate. When southern natgas basins run out in 10-15 years (assuming fracking disappoints) they could then use Qld CSG.
Using CSG I’d say the 240 MW Playford SA crappy black coal station will be converted. However the 1600 MW Hazelwood Vic brown coal plant replacement would use a lot more gas and would be less secure using fuel from so far away. That extra fuel cost would easily outweigh carbon tax which is why the Feds need to pay for it. In between Playford and Hazelwood is the 1280 MW Torrens Island SA closed cycle (steam turbines only) baseload plant is the nation’s biggest single gas user, using gas from both Moomba and western Victoria.
Anyways the contracts are supposed to be signed in June 2012 with carbon tax starting the following month. If it doesn’t come off we could use a quote from TV character Effie how embarrassment.
My Question on Notice for the Prime Minister
‘does increasing coal exports help global CO2 abatement?’
I see an Indian firm wants to have its own Queensland coal mine and loading terminal dedicated to supplying 7 power stations in India.
By 2020 the trade will be 60 Mt a year. Using ABARE’s conservative multiplier of 2.4 that will create an extra 144 Mtpa of CO2.
Aren’t we supposed to be cutting 160 Mt domestically by 2020? At $23 X 2.4 we should carbon tax this coal at $55/t. After 2015 when we move to an ETS somehow exports will have to come under a shrinking CO2 cap which is meant to relate to a global figure. Why isn’t the govt warning this company about the troubles that must lie ahead?
While I agree with carbon pricing as an essential intermediate step exempting increased coal and LNG exports renders it somewhat pointless. Like the unproven or unscalable technologies in the TV ads you have to wonder if they’ve thought this through.
The NREL simplified LCOE calculator has the decimal point wrong in the Variable O&M Cost ($/kWh) field. The actual unitss are dimes, i.e., 1/10th of a dollar. Chefck this yourself by zeroing out everything but that field and observing the LCOE at the bottom.
With that correction, using the assumptions for the Areva EPR first build whch I used on the TCASE 14 thread and Variable O&M Cost properly set to 0.2 to represent “fuel” costs of US$0.02/kWh give a simplified LCOE of US$0.103/kWh which is both kinda pricey and also fairly believable.
If the build cost can be brought down to US$4140/kW [which should be possible even in the USA] the simplified LCOE is US$0.086 which puts in direct competition with current [subsidized] wind prices (about LCOE US$0.092, but dropping) and [expected] future solar PV prices.
A new public forum has been established on facebook to debate the nuclear power proposal which has emerged in Glen Innes, New England, northern NSW. This was done by anti-nuclear commenter and former SANE admin Korrena Hill and myself after it became clear that the SANE (anti-nuclear) facebook page was not an ideal debating space (and after they banned Korrena for their own reasons). The open forum page will be administered by two pro and two anti nuclear commenters. The rules for commenting as explained in the info section of the page will hopefully go some way to making the debate a bit more fruitful than it otherwise would be. John Morgan is the other pro admin. Korrena will select a second anti admin soon.
@ John Newlands, on 20 August 2011 at 8:28 AM:
The current Australian proposal ia to tax domestic consumption and to let exports through untaxed, so your basic premise is incorrect.
The first substantial effort to achieve real international carbon taxing seems to be the European tax on aviation fuels, via a charge on carriers for half of the fuel used on round trips. That shows up an interesting issue. Flights across the Atlantic are not able to be broken efficiently, so the tax on the final leg is a tax on a couple of thousand miles across the ditch. Conversely, a tax on the final leg from, say, Australia via the Middle East – Dubai or Egypt – would only attract a fraction of the tax. From Australia, it may well act against round the world flights and actually favour stopovers just outside the European Union’s perimeter.
If, on the other hand, the final leg is not that which is taxed by the Europeans, but the whole flight, then where does taxing start and stop on a round the world ticket with, say, six or eight legs?
So, your example is of a tax on international trade, whereas the current proposal is only for the 500 or so largest domestic CO2-e emitters. There’s nothing to warn the Indians about – their government may choose to tax the emissions that take place on Indian soil.
Internationally, I foresee a situation which is analagous to the rise of tax havens internationally, small and middle sized nation states which choose not to charge for CO2 emissions. Imagine, if you can, a small nation on the fringe of Europe, with 20 or 30 coal fired units, exporting the electricity via fat cables across the border into a carbon taxed Europe. Perhaps from Morocco or Algeria to Spain, or from one of the former Yugoslav states into the south-east. Or part of the former USSR, feeding into the NE corner.
This is directly analogous to Australia’s failure to tax the coal and gas export.
Philosophically, there are three basic ways to tax carbon globally:
1. Tax at the mine gate, plus emissions due to mining. That would effectively and instantaneously shut down Australia’s big earners in gas and coal – only iron ore is bigger.
2. Tax at the point of consumption, including embedded carbon. That involves 22 million Australians recording their consumption, accounting for consumption, and paying up. It also requires importers and manufacturers to disclose energy/carbon content of everything. Was that hair brush made from recycled plastic and nuclear electricity, or virgin oil and coal fired power? This is obviously unworkable.
3. Tax at the point of carbon emission – domestic via a cap and trade or taxation system, which is where Australia is headed. For this to work, international pressure must be put on free-riding non-taxing states via trade sanctions to levy an equivalent tax or cap system, backed up by carbon taxing their goods at the point of entry into Australia to rebalance the unfair trade advantage due to untaxed goods. Best of luck with that approach, because it flies in the face of all the trade agreements and related law which has been built up over 100 years and can never be transparent, honest and free from rorts.
Australia is currently heading slowlt towards the first half of Option 2 above.
NB: Hypothetical Option 4: No “One World Government with a unified tax” is worth discussing. Europe is currently showing us what happens when governments try to half merge their fiscal systems. The impending failure of the Euro will ensure that international coordination of carbon taxation on a grand scale will be avoided for many decades to come. The environmental imperative is immediate.
Best of luck with that Facebook page. You have saddled a tiger. Prepare for a rough ride.
The site already looks a bit messy, imagine what it will become in a few months.
That said, I really do wish you well, especially re fairness and balance. I tend, to my own detriment, to drift towards adoption of a stance along the lines of “My view is already balanced. All else is misguided, biased and/or uninformed.” I am not alone in being human.
Your moderators will be very busy, indeed.
Sock it to coal [and several other sectors]:
Those sectors whch are a net deficit are mentioned in the abstract.
JB I think even more complications will arise. I understand India has a coal tax of a few dollars per tonne so that is perhaps already a carbon tax in lieu, a bit like our fuel excise. An internationally harmonised system should make up the differences only. Secondly c.t. is supposed to be revenue neutral so the host government of the importing firm can ask for a refund. That might require promises that the money will be spent on green programs.
I agree that India and China don’t intend to make serious carbon cuts anytime soon yet they will increasingly depend upon Australia for that carbon. While Indonesia can supply thermal coal I think the main alternative supplier for coking coal is South Africa. These alternative suppliers do not have the number of ports that Australia does so if we make it harder that will cause real economic pain, for them and for us. Also we could sell less iron ore if the global coking coal trade is restricted.
Then there is the issue of carbon tariffs on made-up goods imports, favoured by Sarkozy in France. It would be tricky to assess the emissions embodied in services such as Indian or Filipino call centres used by Australian banks. Yet they are using ‘undertaxed’ electricity. With heavy emitters it appears both OneSteel and Bluescope want to move offshore despite the money thrown at them to stay local. Some have said offshoring keeps the $A artificially high. When the last Australian manufacturer turns out the lights we’ll wonder why CO2 levels keep rising. It’s because it’s all done in Asian sweatshops with no carbon constraints, except Australia is supplying the carbon. I think we should put the squeeze on this insidious process.
If you do contribute to the discussion on the New England Nuclear Open Forum, please consider:
– Its the New England in Australia, not Massachusetts
– avoid strident, aggressive advocacy, so as to ensure a considerate space for discussion
– make sure any technical discussion is accessible to people who have never encountered nuclear technologies before, assume a starting base of zero knowledge of physics, chemistry, power, etc.
– defer to the locals appropriate and allow them to develop their own informed views
With that said, I’m quite excited for the potential of this forum to engage with energy options at national and global levels from a local perspective, and informed and considerate contributions are very welcome, especially if you have a connection with the New England area.
And if you’re on Facebook, go and “Like” the page!
@John Bennetts points out the unfeasibility of a hypothetical “One World Government with a unified (carbon) tax” for traded coal. It would seem to apply equally to any goods.
However we don’t have to have a universal tax rate for carbon. We only need to have a universal certification system for implied carbon content.
For example, a shipload of ore or goods leaves an Australian port with a certificate for so-much carbon content. As it leaves, the exporter collects a rebate on the Australian carbon taxes already paid on that amount.
Then, as it enters an Indian port, the importer pays Indian carbon taxes on the same certificate. It meets a level playing field inside India because it is paying the same carbon tax as their domestic goods.
Of course that scenario is equally hypothetical…
“These tables indicate that for the Columbia Basin region, both positive and negative ramps
of any magnitude can occur at any time of the day, though positive ramps tend to occur more
frequently than negative ramps. Very severe ramps (that is, the high threshold cases) can
be of either sign, though the positive ones tend to outnumber the negative ones. Positive
ramps tend to occur in the early afternoon, while negative ramps are more frequent in the
early morning and late evening.” from
Using Simple Statistical Analysis of
Historical Data to Understand Wind Ramp
February 5, 2010
This study of historical wind generation is of onterest, but I’m concerned that the smoothing doen on the data results in understating the severity of the most extreme ramps [with the downramps being by far the more serious concern].
Continuing from TCASE14, link and link , about gypsum films on solar panels.
On an Institute of Engineers field trip in 1992 or 93 to a solar PV installation near Alice Springs, we were told that maintenance costs were primarily in cleaning the glass. Although salt and dust could be readily washed off, a residual gypsum film had to be polished off with elbow grease. (The location is in arid land, Central Australia). As a diffuse reflector, it reduced the PV efficiency by up to 50%, if my memory serves me correctly.
As I understand it, the bottom-most layer of the atmosphere is thick with transient aerosols. The aerosol sputtered off drying soils and playas is saturated in NaCl, and enriched in other salts and pore water colloids. Anyone who has camped downwind of a drying salt lake will remember waking up gummy with salt. On the ground nearby, such salt is quickly washed back into the soil by the next rains. Salt is endlessly cycled from the salty layer in the soil, travelling across Australia from west to east. Downwind of salt lakes are temporary deposits of calcite, CaCO3 and more permanent deposits of gypsum , CaSO4. Desert glaze (e.g., orange skin on Ayers Rock) accumulates manganese and iron oxides on the longest time scale, as the gypsum etc leaches out.
I am unable to find references on the web explicitly connecting wind-borne gypsum and solar panels, undermining my assertion that gypsum causes long-term inefficiency to solar panels. Does anyone have a more current confirmation?
I would greatly appreciate comments on the suitability [with suggested revisions] on the following, intended [and possibly not succeeding] for a general audience.
Wind generation increases electricity prices
We compare generating for a small grid using nuclear power
plants (NPPs) alone with a mixture of NPPs and wind powered
generators. The latter increases the average price of the
electrical energy generated.
The calculations are done via the NREL simplified levelized
cost of electricty calculator
with assumptions which are slightly pessimistic for NPPs and
slightly optimistic for wind generation. The details are
given in the appendix. This choice makes the
conclusion all the more robust.
For simplicity, the grid load is assumed to be a constant
20 GW = 20,000 MW. This simplification does not change the
conclusion. To meet this load with 1 GW [nameplate] NPPs
alone requires a fleet of 23 NPPs to meet the reliability and
reserve requirements. On average, each NPP runs at a capacity
factor (CF) of 20/23, about 87%. The resulting wholesale
price is $0.089/kWh. This is the busbar cost using just NPPs.
The NPPs cannot operate at less than CF=30%, but averaged over
the entire fleet of 23 NPPs, some of which are off-line for
replenishment and refurbishment, the average minimum CF is
0.92*0.30, about 28%. At such a low CF the busbar cost is
much higher; $0.235/kWh. Still, this leaves an unmet load
of 0.74*20 = 14.8 GW. This is taken as the nameplate rating
of the wind turbine fleet.
On averag, however, the wind turbines have a maximum CF of but
27% since this is all the (quite good) wind allows. Thus the
wind turbine fleet generates, on average, 0.27*14.8 GW, being
almost 4 GW. The NPPs must cover the rest of the load being
averaged over the years, 16 GW. The wind turbine LCOE is
$0.074/kWh for the 4 GW generated; the NPP LCOE, with a CF of
almost 70% is $0.106/kWh. The average LCOE is
(0.074*4 + 0.106*16)/20 = $0.0991/kWh
which is one cent per kilowhatt-hour higher than just using the
NPP fleet alone. Ths result is hardly surprising as more
capital had to be allocated to meeting the load, so greater revenues are required to service the debt. While stated for
particular (approximately realistic) cost assumptions, this
result depends only two factors: (1) as sometimes the wind
does not blow at all, the NPP fleet must be capable of meeting
the entire load; (2) the wind generation busbar price is
realistically large in comparison to the NPP price.
The NPPs are loosely based on the specifications for the
Areva/Mitsubishi ATMEA1, chosen for its fast cycling and so
compatible with a grid with considerable wind generation.
and then the technical description pdf. The assumptions
used in the NREL simplified LCOE calculator are
Period: 30 years
Discount rate: 10.8%
Capital cost: $4140/kW
Capacity factor: variable (see main text), 92% maximum
Fixed O&M cost: $60/kW-yr (industry average)
Variable O&M cost: $0.02/kWh [represent consumable charges]
Hate rate: irrelevant as
Fuel cost: 0 [treated as a variable O&M cost]
The wind turbines are assumed to be only about 80% of the cost
of curren generation wind turbines; net of any incentive
program. The assumptions are
Period: 20 years
Discont rate: 8%
Capital cost: $1380/kWh
Capacity factor: 27%
Fixed O&M cost: $30/kW-yr (industry average)
Variable O&M cost: $0.002/kWh [other repairs]
Heat rate: irrelevant as
Fuel cost: 0
It is interesting to think about an all nuclear electricity system and capacity factor. In one of the recent comments a chart was shown of demand over the period of a week. Each day the peak was about 65 and the night time low was about 40. Now if all the electricity came from nuclear plants the capacity factor would be much lower that 85%. Just guessing, I would say that 15% of the capacity would be built to handle peak days above 65 and emergencies. Another 15% would be idle due to the night time dips. So, my guesses would lead me to think that an all nuclear system would have a capacity factor somewhere around 70%. (I wonder what France’s most all nuclear capacity factor is.)
DB your example seems likely to create MEGO (my eyes glaze over) in a general audience. It’s not clear to me if spinning reserve and ramp time limits are covered. It may be better to state upfront the higher costs come from a mix of duplicated capital costs and non-optimal dispatching, then dissect the costs that way. Numbers to come after the verbal explanation for those who want to follow through.
John Newlands, on 22 August 2011 at 8:16 AM — Thank you for the prompt (early Monday morning in Oz) reply!
I stated … requires a fleet of 23 NPPs to meet the reliability and reserve requirements. That ought to be enough about (spinning) reserve. The ramp time limits are only n the appendix. There I stated fast cycling but given your comment, changed to fast ramping.
I took your advice in placing the conclusion, extra capital costs, in the introductory paragraph. Those uninterested in details can stop there before their eyes graze over…
It seems odd to me that carbon tax is not being blamed for the apparently imminent collapse of the Australian steel industry yet industry assistance will come from carbon tax revenue. A tonne of steel co-generates 1.7t CO2. A tonne of coking coal (which is partly pre-combusted before steel making) generates 2.7t CO2e per Table 11.1 here.
By not carbon taxing coking coal exports and also supplying iron ore Australia is giving a free ride to other countries. They merely supply the cheap labour and lax pollution controls. On coking coal the tax would be 2.7 X $23 = $62.10/t on top of about $400 spot price. We could also slap a carbon tariff on imported steel, highly likely to embody both Australian iron and carbon. This may have an affect on the $A exchange rate.
I’m not saying this would save the Australian steel industry but it would make the economics more transparent. In a couple of years we can expect a dummy spit from the aluminium industry as well if their money isn’t right. Carbon tax is proving to be a muddle before it has even begun.
I just noticed The Capacity Factor blog has closed. I don’t know why uvdiv shuttered it, but I’ll miss it. If you see this uvdiv, thank you for some absolutely stellar analysis over the last two years, its been a great ride.
Martin Burkle @ 22 August 2011 at 8:01 AM
What’s the problem? Nuclear has been providing about 75% to 80% of France’s electricity for some 30 years. Most of the remainder is provided by hydro.
The pre GFC electricity demand in the Australian National Energy Market (including peak) could be met by 28 GW nuclear and 8 GW pumped hydro (assuming nuclear at 90% capacity and excluding reserve capacity margin).
I think the criteria given in the linked article in the sidebar are eminently sensible
The carbon leakage caution applies to the woes befalling the Australian steel industry. Consider two two steel ingots or simple products like rail lines. One is made in Australia the other in Asia, yet
– both could be made with iron ore from the same mine
– both could be made with coking coal from the same mine.
Despite shipping costs the Aussie steel can’t compete. To me that says the playing field should be levelled. The deal should be that Asia pays carbon tax on our coking coal ( $62 atop $400/t) and a carbon tariff on import of the steel ($32 atop $850/t) with a possible adjustment against paying twice.
Ironically it appears the Whyalla steel mill may do better than Port Kembla. They will export iron ore to Asia from a new deposit (the one with the funny name). Whyalla will also make ammonium nitrate explosive and grinding balls for an expanded non-ferrous mining industry. That’s if they can get the power and water to expand.
In summary the govt needs to
– stop carbon leakages
– find an adequate new clean energy source
but they are doing neither.
Wind farms not the answer:
Environmental Effects of Wind Energy Projects
National Research Council
May 3, 2007
I know this is not wholly on topic here on BNC (it’s semi-sustainability related), but I’m curious to know what your initial response is to the new species estimate paper referred to in this article, Barry.
“Number of species on Earth tagged at 8.7 million”
I’m assuming it could have implications for our understanding of the magnitude of species loss we’re currently experiencing, but the prokaryotes figure is dubious.
Core spray cooling for Fukushima Dai-ichi #3?
I fail to understand why this is an improvement.
On the contrary, Tom Keen, I reckon that issue should be right up Barry’s alley. Similar to you, the question that came to my mind when I saw this story was ‘If the estimates of extant species numbers are so rubbery, how meaningful are those scary-sounding numbers you often hear tossed around regarding how we’re supposedly losing n species per year?’
Mark, the estimates are rubbery, but in the upwards rather than downwards direction. We (a group from ACEAS, including me) are doing some work in this area right now. A lowball estimate would be 5 million, a highball one 100 million. But it really does depend a lot on how one defines protozoan species and, most uncertainly, bacteria (if such a reality as a ‘species’ even exists for prokaryotes). The scary sounding numbers hurled around do have justification – but most of those species we presume are being lost each year are invertebrates, not charismatic megafauna.
Thanks Barry. What I was partly driving at with ‘meaningful’ was notions of ‘Anthropocene Great Extinctions’, i.e. how current extinction rates compare with ‘background’ (pre-human) ones. How do you get a handle on the latter, if you’re dealing mostly with protozoa and bacteria? Is there a quantitatively representative fossil record?
Mark, the unicellular organisms might contribute a lot, or almost nothing, to total species loss. We just don’t know. The focus of conservation biology has been on relatively well studied groups — the vertebrates, as well as some invertebrate taxa like insects, and of course, plants. The great extinction is manifest in the vertebrate and plant extinction rates, which represent high proportional losses within those taxa. So projections talking about 1/3 of all species lost within a century should really says 1/3 of all vertebrates + trachaeophytes, as these are the only groups with which we have reasonable confidence over. This is a mass extinction irrespective of precisely how many species this represents (100,000 or 1 million, we can’t really know) – background rates, from the fossil record, are only a few percent per million years. But equally, there is no a priori reason to suspect that other invertebrate phyla that constitute the majority of the total species ‘headcount’, especially the insects, molluscs, crustaceans, etc. are not being similarly impacted by the human enterprise.
Very interesting, thanks.
I just noticed someone has suggested a Nuclear Power for our low carbon future campaign on the GetUp! website, with a fairly well written piece to go with it.
It’s not doing so well in terms of rank at the moment, but I reckon if everyone got on board and voted 3 times for it (the maximum you can vote for a suggestion), we could bump it up a bit and maybe get people talking. Worth a try for 30 seconds of your time anyway.
Great answer to the “What about the waste question?” and happening right now!
Megatons to Megawatts:
Next Big Future has a story about a technology for shale oil extraction that would make 800 billions of oil in Utah economically recoverable at an oil price of $45+ per barrel. Apparently this is three times Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves. Ouch.
Well that pretty much puts to rest the idea that we can just wait around and hope that peak oil will spur a move to alternative energy sources before it’s too late. Very ouch.
@quokka yes ouch, but…In some respects it’s a compromise that won’t please extremists on any side, but it’s often struck me that it should be possible to use direct solar heat to do the shale retorting process, with intermittency not necessarily being a big issue. Does anyone have an idea how this might improve the CO2 emissions profile (not to mention EROEI) of shale oil?
The top fraction obtained from heating oil shales is the most valuable, and easiest to obtain with just a flow of warm water . Left behind is an oily slush .
Heavier fractions require more heat to volatilise them. At least a resulting dry residue would be preferable. However, raising the temperature of both ore and water above 100 C would require a cheap source of heat.
portable reactors come to mind…
It’s easy to forget that alternative liquid hydrocarbon fuels require of lot of preliminary energy input
biodiesel – waste vegetable oil
NextBTL – w.v.o. and hydrogen
tar sands – steam generators
pyrolysis oil – biomass harvesting and hydrogen
gas-to-liquids – 40% heating value loss during Fischer Tropsch
UCG-GTL – partial underground combustion.
The fact remains it’s hard to see alternatives to liquid hydrocarbons for applications like jet fuel. Maybe if all baseload electricity was carbon free we could afford to be slapdash with liquid fuels.
quokka, brings to mind a Pixies lyric,
I posted this originally on the insurance thread in response to a number of assertions about the possibility of residents returning to their homes in Fukushima.
However, I’ve been advised that it was off-topic (although I don’t think it is because it relates directly to financial loss and therefore insurance risk) by the Moderator and asked to re-post here. So I will.
Zone Near Fukushima May Be Off Limits for Decades – NYTimes
Consideration of this measure has also been semi-confirmed by a “personal comment” from a Japanese Cabinet Minister in the last couple of days as reported by the Age yesterday (about p7 I think)
Thank you BJ for the re-post. Several previous comments were off topic in the insurance thread – this sometimes happens when I am away for a period. Someone comments off-topic and, naturally, others reply in the same thread. Yesterday I advised these commenters to move to the OT as you have done.
What about these areas, then? How long before the mercury, cadmium and arsenic decay away?
Perhaps the coal ash pollution will wash away in a couple thousand years, if you’re lucky. How much will it cost to clean up? Who will pay for this? Is the coal plant insured against coal ash ponds breaking?
BJ, I posted this on the other thread but it fits your discussion here as well.
Another great example of flawed risk perception is of course the recent Fukushima evacuation. The evacuation criterium is 20 mSv per year. According to the theory of linear-no-threshold, for which there is no evidence but everyone uses it anyway, 20 mSv gives you a 0.2 percent increase in cancer (any type).
Now compare this to living in Londen: a 2.8 percent increase in your chance of dying, because of the pollution.
Even if we believ the linear no threshold model, this is 14 times deadlier than the 20 mSv limit, yet no one is talking about evacuating London.
If we believe the linear no threshold model, and we are not evacuating London, then we should put the evacuation criterium in Fukushima no lower than 280 mSv/year.
This nuclear dramatizing exceptionalism is even more stark, when one realizes that nuclear powerplants powering electric vehicles and factories in Londen can solve most of the pollution deaths.
This is the opportunity cost that we are paying for our radiophobia.