A path to energy nirvana, or just a circuitous detour?

Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff recently released the popular book “Greenjacked! The derailing of environmental action on climate change“.

My previous BNC post started with a story about satnavs, those great little replacements for a dog-eared street directory. Everybody understands the value of planning a route. Everybody understands that just because a road is heading in the general direction of your destination, it may not be good choice; let alone the best choice.

It might be a dead end or take you on a long circuitous route to or past your destination. Everybody knows this but when it comes to climate change, it’s as if basic smarts take a holiday and anything that can demonstrate a CO2 savings (i.e., heads in the general direction of a solution) produces cheering and cries of victory. The article went on to show that we’ve wasted over a decade with biofuels because they demonstrably cannot decarbonise our transportation system. Not ever. It was an easy argument; a slam dunk, a lay down misere.

But what about renewable energy? Specifically wind and solar? Are these dead end technologies? It certainly isn’t a slam dunk, but lets examine what’s been happening in South Australia for the past decade.

On Sunday the 8th of February, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill called for a Royal Commission into all things nuclear after a long political history of being anti-nuclear and after being heavily involved in the past decade of wind and solar roll outs in South Australia.

This launched a small flurry of opposition with Greens Senator Mark Parnell rejecting the call with claims about any involvement in the nuclear industry by SA leading to dirty bombs; SA Conservation Council CEO Craig Wilkins invoked a threat to our clean food image. Following an op-ed by me in the Adelaide Advertiser, Wilkins followed with a letter claiming that SA couldn’t possibly have a nuclear reactor within 10 years, and went on to say that (Advertiser Letters 18th Feb):

credible commentators are suggesting that SA could be 100 percent renewable in 10 years

Why have nuclear inquiry if success is imminent?

What on earth is going on? If SA could have 100 percent of its electricity being generated by renewables in 10 years, I’d certainly be cheering and dancing in the street. And what’s with Weatherill? Doesn’t he have any “credible commentators” on his staff? Or is he getting advice from real engineers instead of credible commentators.

Let’s look at the numbers.

First a couple of interesting graphs from AEMO’s 2014 South Australian Electricity Report.

The graph shows exports and imports of electricity into SA. After a steep decline in 2006, we see a gradual rise in imports of electricity starting in 2007. Why?

The next table shows electricity generated in SA by generator type:

SA got it’s first “big” wind farm in 2003. So these two tables summarise a decade of renewable growth. With rooftop PV beginning in earnest in about 2008.

The rise in electricity imports pretty much tracks the rise in rooftop PV but is more than double the size. Our net imports of electricity in 2013-4 were 1700 gigawatt hours and our rooftop PV was 709 gigawatt hours. This table doesn’t tell us how much coal or gas has been displaced by that PV, but any CO2 savings have probably been exceeded by importing some of the dirtiest (in terms of CO2 per kilowatt hour) electricity on the planet … Victoria’s brown coal.

Okay, so in 10 years we’ve gone from effectively zero renewables to getting 37 percent of our electricity from wind and solar. Does that mean that we can get to 100 percent in just under 20 more years; by 2035? Where on earth does the figure of 10 come from? Wilkins didn’t name his credible commentators.

What do the graphs tell us? The crash in imports beginning in 2006 is probably best explained by the raft of wind turbines which came on-line in 2005 and added significantly to SA’s homegrown generation capacity. But then as PV renewables grew, coal and gas operators here got priced out of the market, ramped down their production so shortfalls got met instead by imports of dirty electricity from Victoria.

We have two interconnectors with Victoria, one is normal AC, that’s called the Heywood interconnector, and the other is HVDC, that’s Murraylink. If you don’t know the difference between HVDC and AC, then keep reading, its important!

AEMO released a second report toward the end of last year and it’s really interesting reading. It’s about how to integrate renewable energy into the grid. What? Why do people write reports on that? Don’t you just plug it in?


Back in 2012 CSIRO did a major study called Solar intermittency: Australia’s clean energy challenge. Talking about the report, a CSIRO expert was asked at what level would the intermittent character of solar start having an impact.

Dr Glen Platt: … The short answer is we actually still don’t know. It depends heavily on the particular situation.

It’s now a couple of years on, presumably the issue is still being studied but the AEMO report contains a bombshell. I’m sure it’s not a surprise to power engineers, but it is probably a shock to the rest of us. Suppose we had all the wind and solar power we needed to generate all our electricity and we shut down all the coal and gas. Yes, that’s 100 percent renewable. Except that it isn’t, because without that interconnector we’d be toast. Or rather, we’d be bananas, because we’d all have to keep some raw food on hand to deal with statewide blackout risks. Here’s what they say:

Where SA has zero synchronous generation online, and is separated from the rest of the NEM, AEMO is unable to maintain frequency in the islanded SA power system. This would result in state-wide power outage.

This statement just says that a 100 percent renewable system would result in a state-wide power outage if the interconnector between Victoria and SA went down. In 2006, 200,000 homes in Victoria lost power when bushfires took out an interconnector between Victoria and NSW. So bushfires can take out interconnectors. Do we ever see bush fires in Victoria?

Now what exactly is this “synchronous generation” that was mentioned? How on earth can a grid fail if there’s plenty of electricity? There’s no shortage of modelling from people like Mark Diesendorf showing that with enough intermittent power supplies you can eventually have enough kilowatts on hand to meet demand. Just like you can run a restaurant with 100 percent narcoleptic casuals who nod off from time to time … you just need more of them. For example, AEMO calculates that wind power can only be relied upon for 8.6 percent of it’s stated capacity. So, for example, in SA we have 1200 mega watts of wind capacity, but in summer, when our peak demand is 3,300 megawatts all we can rely upon from wind is 103 megawatts. So while theoretically you can power the state entirely with wind power, you’d need 38,000 mega watts worth of wind farms, about 31 times more than out present amount.

But this isn’t AEMO’s concern in the above paragraph.

AEMO is saying, in effect, that it doesn’t matter how much electricity you have, you still need interconnectors. Why? Because power engineering is far more complicated than simply having enough watts on hand. When you read power engineering reports there are words like frequency, reactivity and inductivity, that don’t get a mention in 100 percent renewable modelling studies frequently cited by 100 percent renewable advocates (for example).

We use AC power. The AC means “alternating current”. The voltage at a power point oscillates between plus and minus 240 Volts 50 times a second, so the current, the electrons, move backwards and forwards. The frequency is kept very precisely at 50 cycles per second because some kinds of electric devices, particularly turbines, will go off line (‘trip out’ is what engineers call this) if the frequency drops too low or goes to high and the tolerances can be very fine.

What kinds of things screw up the frequency?

At 6pm or so when a large number of people start to prepare meals and the system is put under load, the frequency can drop. But those big spinning turbines in power stations act rather like flywheels and smooth things out. If that isn’t sufficient, automatic circuits kick in to shed load to keep the frequency within specified limits. Load shedding is a polite way of saying that some areas get blacked out. These big turbines are synchronous energy sources and that’s why we still need to be connected to places with turbines. It doesn’t matter what is driving them, it could be wood, coal, gas, geothermal, nuclear, or even solar thermal, it’s the turbines that are the key to maintaining frequency. In Germany, unlike South Australia, they are burning half of their forest output to make electricity and they are making more from this source than either solar or wind. This gives them a significant source of synchronous generators; just like Victorian brown coal supplies ours.

But don’t we have two interconnectors? It would be a freak to lose them both. That’s where the HVDC and AC distinction matters. The HVDC interconnector supplies DC and that won’t help with the frequency issue. So again, it isn’t just watts that are required, it’s the massive spinning turbines.

The relationship between alternating current and alternating voltage is also characterised by two other measurement of reactivity and inductivity. These are also important, particularly when you are running big electric motors.

Different types of devices can affect a grid differently. Turning on a bunch of hot plates does slightly different things to a grid from a bunch of air conditioners. The latter can change the relationship of the voltage and current waveforms and that matters. Similarly, having the wind start or stop blowing also causes disruption to electricity systems.

When engineers analyse the grid’s response to load changes, they look at all these things. The problem is that nobody knows how to model a grid without large synchronous sources. The AEMO study is very explicit about this.

The challenge of how to best model PV in power system dynamic studies is presently an active area of international research. Given the high levels of PV generation currently installed in SA, and likely to be installed in future, AEMO and ElectraNet plan to incorporate dynamic PV generation models into future studies when available.

“High”? They said “high” but it’s only 6 percent!

Scientists and engineers can model some very complex things, but can’t yet model an electricity network with even 6 percent rooftop PV. What can possibly be so hard about it? That’s the thing with modelling, some things sound really complex but are actually pretty simple, and vice versa. Readers may have heard about a problem called the “Travelling Salesman Problem”. It involves finding the route with the shortest distance for a salesman who wants to visiting a set of customers. Does this sound very much like the satnav problem? Yes. But it turns out to be harder. Much, much harder. People typically use networks of computers to solve largish versions of this apparently simple problem. By largish, I mean 85,000 locations. Is the problem of modelling a grid with a million small power sources easy, like the satnav problem, or hard, like the TSP problem? I’ve no idea, but if it were trivial, there’d be plenty of models floating around. So it isn’t trivial, but whether it’s really hard or not, I don’t know. But the fact that nobody has done it yet might just be a clue.

But we should return to the goal of our renewable roll out. It’s not a game, we really need to decarbonise our electricity, and further, we want to electrify as much of our transport system as we can. The goal isn’t to open up new fun fields of engineering. If that’s necessary to achieve our goal, then fine, but it isn’t an end in itself. And how is our renewable decarbonising going?

Using the table above, and some IPCC factors for the grams of CO2 per kWh of various electricity generator types, then we can calculate roughly the grams of CO2 produced per kilowatt hour in South Australia. In 2013-14, using the above table, I estimate we are generating about 436 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. That’s down from 451 in the previous year. More accurate calculation using local data by Ben Heard in a forth coming paper indicate that this is a large underestimate with the real number being around 600 grams of CO2 per kwh. France with nuclear power has been generating close to 70 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour for the past 20 years. Sweden is very roughly 50/50 nuclear and hydro and they are down to about 20 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour.

In the French case, it’s not just a matter of clean electricity, it’s impacted the total energy supply. Remember, energy is not just electricity but if you have plenty of clean electricity you can use it for other things. So a better measure then grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour is tonnes of CO2 per terajoule of energy. There’s a recent IEA publication which gives just that. Between 1971 and 1985, France went from 65.1 to 42.2 tonnes of CO2 per terajoule (and she’s now down to 31). Compare that 23 unit drop over 14 years with the German data from 2000-2012 (the latest available), the renewable roll out has taken them from 58.6 to 57.7 … a tiny drop.

So our renewable experiment, like the German renewable experiment, is just that, an experiment with an energy source that is slow to build and which nobody knows how to manage at the levels of penetration required. On the other hand, engineers know how to build grids with nuclear power stations. They are just large synchronous electricity sources with well understood characteristics. The issue is whether we want to continue with wind and solar and pray that it isn’t a dead end, or go with what we know will work and work quickly. Even if it isn’t a dead end, we are still decades away from decarbonising electricity, and there’s plenty to do after that. We need to replace ALL fossil fuel use; among other things.



  1. Actually German simulation of 100% renewable grid did take frequency and voltage control under consideration. The conclusion was that renewable system can react faster than conventional system and can ensure reliability of supply at all times. Also real world tests were done.

    I have posted this link before and maybe language is a barrier, but at least take a look at english summary or short video.

    Clusters of wind farms can feather their blades to provide ancillary services and inverters at PV plants offer reactive power capabilities (which is actually required in Germany by law above certain size).

    And besides, obviously, batteries can react much faster than any conventional power plant. Off-grid people don’t have coal power plants in their basement. They only have batteries and are doing just fine.


  2. This probably appears way off topic, but I recently saw a documentary with Peter, Paul, and Mary singing with tremendous passion: “Power” (Take all your atomic poison power away). The anti-nuke psyche’ is deep in my baby boomer generation. The real possibility of nuclear threats were all around and we need education on a grand scale to heal this scar in our memory.


  3. Hi Geoff, thanks for another, dare I say illuminating article. Your ability to us facts in analogies that a relatively scientific and technically unsophisticated member of the hoi poll can understand, is without peer in the crusade for rational (nuclear) power generation.
    I noted the site now has close to 5m hits! Impressive especially if all were paying a subscription —
    One of the bloggers I follow is Chris Martenson, a scientist turned businessman turned uber successful blogger predicting doom from peak oil, peak credit, peak everything – all undeniably true, but when and how?
    In his most recent article he ridicules the claim by Ray Kurzweil that ‘alternatives’ will solve global warming & peak oil
    “Dreams of a technological utopia continue to dazzle people and blot out realistic conversations about the magnitude of the task at hand. For example, the world’s biggest technological salesman, Ray Kurzweil, has assured everyone recently that in just 16 years solar power will provide 100% of our energy needs:”
    One graphic image in the article sums it up – although alternatives are increasing at a much faster rate than carbon sources, the starting point is so low that carbon based energy is still increasing at a faster absolute rate, such that it will remain the major source of energy for the foreseeable future. The very same upper middle class high minds who want us, to accept the science of global warming, ignore/reject the science & engineering of electricity generation, and they don’t think their children should be vaccinated (sic).
    Martenson goes soft on nuclear (he still making a mountain out of the contamination around Fukushima) , as many of his paying subscribers are arm chair greenies who think owning a few solar panels,driving a Prius and eating GM free food will save the world.
    Please engage Martenson (and his ilk), get him to interview you and use his site and your powers of rational argument to advance the idea that civilisation depends on ever increasing sources of cheap electrical energy and that is not possible without nuclear – TINA – a phrase Martenson is well acquainted with.
    Cheers, GB.


  4. @ppp251. I have presumed AEMO know their business. I certainly don’t know enough to debate power engineering with them.

    @Gary: Thanks for the kind words and suggestions. I’ll give them some thought.


  5. @sodacup, I’ve read the article. Kauai is small island and clouds can cause problems in such situations. This doesn’t happen in bigger grids. That being said, it will still be interesting to watch how they integrate storage. It’s an interesting test example.


  6. There is something so terribly wrong with plonking 1000 tons of steel and concrete into a pristine rural environment, to power 2 tons of electric motor at a remote site in or near a city:http://idiocyofrenewables.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/plonk-1000-tons-in-countryside-power.html

    Buffered renewables – wind and solar with energy storage – are shown in this report to have an EMORI and an EROI below the ‘Economical Threshold’ for our way of life (pages 28 and 29).

    I have argued in comment columns of various on-line newspaper articles, that this report should kill off any argument in favour of renewables – but no – the dyed-in-the-wool renewables supporters come back with reports showing renewables well above the threshold and even better than coal and nuclear.

    I’m a reasonably qualified mechanical engineer and even though retired, I can’t justify the time trying to get my head around the science of EMROI and EROI, let alone weighing up conflicting reports.

    EROI should be the killer for renewables, but it has to be said in a form that can register with the 99.9% of the population who don’t give a damn where their energy comes from, as long as it’s there 24/7 on demand.

    These same numbers are only interested in sound bites from newspaper headlines or ones that flash across TV screens, with a few minutes of commentary.

    I’d be up for contributing to a crowdfunded report, video or documentary that got over the simple message – in layman’s terms – that renewables take more energy to produce, install, operate and maintain than they can ever usefully supply.

    It should be the death of them for mainstream electricity supply.

    Does anyone out there know if this could be done?


  7. @ppp251
    Great decision by Germany to go full bore for solar pv, in a country with the same solar potential as Alaska – 9% capacity factor means a LOT of installed capacity to get any useful contribution out: http://idiocyofrenewables.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/we-have-ways-of-keeping-you-warm-even.html

    Had a look at a video on the link you provided. It’s premissed on batteries in the basements – battery stations dotted about – hydrogen production plants here – methane production plants there – bio-gas plants all over.

    Not a mention of the cost – and, more to the point – does all of this plant and inefficient technology (+ storage) produce more energy than is used in manufacture, installation, operation, maintenance, decommissioning and replacement?

    If it doesn’t, it’s a fairyland fantasy!

    PS: the Hawaii link in a comment directed at you mentions battery replacement every 2 years!


  8. Colin Megson,

    does all of this … produce more energy than is used … ?

    Yes. And even Weissbach doesn’t claim that renewable energy system uses more energy than it produces. He claims that EROI is not high enough to sustain modern world. His paper is in dispute, however.

    There is another thread (long, but active) for discussion about EROI.


  9. The problem with 100% renewables is that it’s really a bait-and-switch shell game in the cost and reliability areas. The fundamental problem is this: how do you power the grid on a windless night with 100% renewable generation? Because there are sometimes when both wind and sun are flat zero, and the hospitals and airports still have to keep the lights on.

    Well, you can use hydro or geothermal — IF the geography is right. (In SA, neither one is viable). You can burn biomass — IF you’ve got a forest to burn (and SA doesn’t). Or, you can store energy using batteries — but that triples the price of the system.

    So while renewables advocates might claim on the one hand that renewables are cheap, and claim on the other hand that a 100% renewable system is feasible, the fact is that’s an either/or proposition. EITHER renewables are cheap (and we keep grid penetration low), OR renewables can power the whole grid (and the price goes through the roof).

    The obvious answer is to back up renewables with fossil-free nuclear instead of coal or gas, which gives you a reliable, cheap, and 100% non-fossil grid. But then, if you’ve got the nuclear plant, why do you need the solar panels in the first place?


  10. Geof, a few issues with your argument. The required turbine argument is not necessarily true. Grid synchronicity can be better maintained fully across the grid by gps time signatures, local time dead reaconing, and connection sensitivity. Thd grid does not need turbines to work . At the moment the turbines are the largest energy cogs in our grid system so everything takes its cue from their timing.

    On energy exports, there is a likely reduction timing connection to the coal loving Liberal Baillieu/Napthine Victorian government incumbancy.

    On how can renewables ramp up their performance. Most of the currently installed rooftop solar is solar PV (photovoltaic) and of efficiencies ranging from 11% through to 16%. Future rooftop solar will include an increasing amount of PVT (photovoltaic/thermal) with storage. These newer systems will have overall efficiencies ranging from 40% to 60%, and with storage capacities as offered by Elon Musk’s soon to be available Li ion storage units up to 90kwhrs (I believe) and at a cost approaching $100 per kwhr.

    PVT delivers both electriciy more efficiently and heat energy for water heating and space heating, hence the higher overall efficiency. This combination reduces the need for grid connection. Add a decent amount of efficient long life storage, and ghat grid dependency reduces further, but importantly so also does rooftop solar’s impact on the grid reduce. The next 20 years of distributed renewable energy production installation will see an escallation in the installed capacity and a reduction in grid dependency.

    The electrification of transportation will be a major transition. But I believe that rooftop solar can cope quite well with much of this demand. I see the new fleet of small car hybrides typified by the Audi A3 drive train as being the vehicle model with the greatest impact. These vehicles have battery capacities upto 10 kwhrs, not such a big capacity for appropriately scaled rooftop solar to supply.


  11. I cannot see anywhere in this thread or in the EROI paper (which is essentially an economic assessment) any mention of externalities. The whole point of CO2 mitigation is to reduce the impacts of global warming that we’re all having to endure – the externality cost. Until those costs are factored into the debate, any financial argument is like comparing apples and oranges.

    As an example of externality costs, consider the remediation costs of Katrina and Sandy. For data on the increasing frequency of extreme hurricanes see either IPCC AR5 or the following webpage: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/changes-hurricanes.

    Personally, I am attracted by Gen 4 nuclear as a low emissions route which uses spent nuclear fuel. However, my understanding is that a nuclear/renewable solution is an uncomfortable marriage, ironically for grid management issues.

    Let’s have a realistic financial assessment which includes a realistic price on externalities before deciding on the best generating strategy. If nothing else, it will highlight the real cost of imported Victorian energy!


  12. @Phil Tomney

    Why do you think money tells you nothing about the real world. Just think about it a little. If a material is expensive ask yourself why. The answer is usually because it’s energy intensive to gather and process. Maybe it’s rare so they have to process a lot of material to get it. Maybe it’s chemistry is a pain to deal with. Maybe it needs to be super pure. Either way it’s expensive because it takes a lot of energy. High equipment and manufacturing costs also translate to high energy use. Usually these things mean external costs as well although we often don’t hear about them.

    You have to think about why something is expensive. With renewable energy it’s almost always because of high material, machine, manufacturing costs. Basically renewable energy is expensive because of it’s low EROEI. Now think about this for a minute how much more expensive (i.e. energy intensive) crap do you think you can add on to it before the EROEI of the whole system becomes less than one?

    I think the honest answer is we don’t know. We don’t really know what kind of 100% renewable energy systems are possible. The only one that ever existed was much different than anything we are used to or want to return to (at least I don’t want to return to it). I think you ignore the high costs of 100% renewable energy systems at your own risk (at all of our risk really).

    Nuclear power is different. When you take all the costs into account its much cheaper than a 100% renewable energy system. Also a lot of it’s costs can also be reduced by better regulatory structures, and standardization with mass produced parts.


  13. @ppp251
    “…He claims that EROI is not high enough to sustain modern world…”

    Yes your right. It’s an easy transfer of emotions to go from being utterly useless to useless for providing energy to sustain the standard of living I wish to cling on to.

    If the report is correct, would renewables still be your technologies of choice?

    To a degree, a bit of a common sense comparison might not go amiss to mitigate the contradictory EROI/EMROI claims.

    Hinkley Point C at 3,200 MW and 90% capacity factor, will be self contained on a site with an area equal to a 1.7 km x 1.7 km square, and will put out 2,880 MW.

    ‘Gridwatch Templar’ monitors 91% of the 12 GW of the UK’s wind turbines. The 5,176 turbines monitored (10.35 GW) put out 2,420 MW in a 12 month period ending last October (23.4% capacity factor).

    So Hinkley Point C will generate nearly 20% more than over 90% of the UK’s wind farm fleet.

    Hinkley Point C will probably cost twice as much as we have paid for all of those wind turbines, but the lifetime is 3 x longer.

    3 lots of wind turbines giving the same number of GWh as Hinkley Point C will use 8½ x more steel and 6¼ x more concrete:


  14. @BilB: Let’s assume that the CSIRO (and everybody else) are just flat wrong and that high penetration of renewables isn’t a challenge and that all the things that have never been demonstrated at scale will work: smart grids, storage, satellites monitoring cloud cover feeding into supercomputers, batteries, demand shifting, biomass base load, vast fields of concrete, steel and silicon and towers. Or nuclear. I am just gob-smacked why anybody would choose the former rather than the latter, which we not only know “just works” but which we know can be built far faster than renewables. My guess is that the fundamental reason is either simply “fashion” or a totally misinformed and obsolete understanding (circa 1950s) of radiation as a risk factor and a knee jerk fear. Or perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps people just think it’s all just a game and solving all these renewable problems is just so much fun.


  15. The key element that you are missing Geoff is the commercial consequence of energy production cost and retail price.

    Most commenters are locked into the thinking of comparing nuclear with grid scale renewables, a comparison in which costs are nearer to equal and the the factors of eroei are very valid and the main variable becomes the cost and losses associated with wheeling the power to the end user if the renewable source can be in the near vacinity of the end user.

    The problem for nuclear is that the rooftop solar genie is now out of the bottle, and the end user has a factor of five cost saving incentive to generate their own power. So the domestic power user market is certain to “dry up” for grid energy suppliers. But so too is the is a large section of the retail and wharehousing customer base. What will be left is heavy industry, commercial transport, and high rise office and residential. Still a solid customer base, but less than 50% of the BAU traditional grid energy business.

    Apart from that you have made a few false inclusions in your list above. CSIRO type reports are typically backward looking and much of the material available is old, this in a very fast moving technological field. Your argument about materials is also questionable. I have done the calculation of material consumption against delivered energy for renewables against nuclear. At the present time it is true that nuclear would be a more efficient use of resources, but not by as much as you imagine. But where the comparison is against PVT with air conditioniing the solar solution uses less material for the same delivered energy. The fact is that nuclear power plants use huge amounts of steel and concrete.

    It took the grid energy operators a very long time to realise that their business model is broken. Their reaction has been to attempt to control the damage by becoming the solar installer thereby locking in their customer and maximise their situation by installing smart meters with time of day power charging with which they could use energy flow information to optimise their return while still seaming to give the user a return from their rooftop solar. This is however a short term stitchup.

    The impact of PVT has not yet hit the market, solar panel efficiencies are slowly moving up with 35% now available for those who can afford it, solar airconditioning is in its infancy, battery technology is a wide open field, hybride vehicles that mesh with rooftop solar are now beginning to appear, and backup generators will take on a whole new character with the introduction of the Liquid Piston engine.

    The key realisation here has to be that nuclear’s claim of “cheap” power is its own worst enemy. Cheap product equates to low revenue in any business model. Against that is the high business value rooftop solar industry funded by the premium retail cost offsets.

    That is Nuclear’s probem now. As I have said and will continue to say is that nuclear’s biggest business opportunity and biggest potential climate impact is in nuclear powered shipping. If this industry fails to take up this challenge then it will fall into the shadow of Nuclear Fusion and fade into history.


  16. Colin Megson,

    If the report is correct, would renewables still be your technologies of choice?

    If multiple independent authors would come to this conclusion, then I’d change my mind. But I don’t see multiple authors coming to that conclusion. I only see motivated anti-renewable reasoning.


    nuclear’s biggest business opportunity and biggest potential climate impact is in nuclear powered shipping

    I have my doubts. Nuclear power today costs about $3000-5000/kW, and that is big reactors. Smaller reactor for marine propulsion would be more expensive. Emma Maersk uses 80MW diesel engine and whole ship cost $145 million. If this was nuclear powered only the reactor would cost north of $400 million.


  17. One more point, Geof, where you say

    “Or perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps people just think it’s all just a game and solving all these renewable problems is just so much fun.”

    ……you are indeed so spectacularly wrong. The fact is that millions of people around the world, young energetic people becoming entrepreneurs, are finding a place in building solar solutions, and they do it because they can participate and earn a living. There is such broad scope for involvement in the distributed energy industry, right down to the very poorest and least educated



  18. That is the challenge ppp251. Those cost per kw figures are based on expansive nuclear plants with buildings and real estate and cooling towers. Ship based power plants have to be compact, require no real estate, and the cooling is by direct heat exchanger. Furthermore the production volumes are potentially beyond anything ever experienced by this industry offering real mass production and volume cost savings. Furthermore the fuel rod management is entirely different eliminating the cooling pools and retired rod management.

    For those reasons, ppp251, those figures you quoted are entirely irrelevant to this design solution.The other factor is that the ship does not require refuelling “in the field”. The energy system comes prefuelled for up to 20 years.

    Of that ship cost you quoted the engine is more than half.


  19. Geoff, perhaps I am horribly wrong on energy industry employment, but I think that the figures speak for themselves.


    You have to go to Fig 16 or thereabout for comparative information. I could not easily find global total employment figures for the Nuclear Industry

    Again, I could be wrong about this, so if I am wrong please help me to see where. BilB


  20. @BilB: Your goal may well be different to mine. Mine is to reverse climate destabilisation, not to provide new and exciting ways to make money. It may well be that market mechanisms make it unprofitable to reverse climate destabilisation because they end up favouring the me-generation doing what it does best … acting in its own short term self interest. It’s cars Vs public transport all over again except with far more serious consequences.


  21. @BilB: I’ve had a look at that German report you mentioned but I used the English report rather than the summary. There are two points that need making, first they assumed plenty of biomass baseload power, biomass may be renewable, but it sucks if you care about wildlife, second they admitted that renewables couldn’t meet frequency stabilisation requirements. I.e., The simulation of the actual system failed. What did they do? Just fiddled the parameters until it worked.

    “However, by simulating far faster reaction times for solar and wind energy, power-to-gas systems and batteries, this challenge
    for an exclusively renewable power supply system was solved.”

    It reminds me of an old joke… :) An engineer, a chemist and a mathematician were stuck on a desert island with cases of cans of baked beans. The engineer carried her cans up to the top
    of a cliff and dropped them off to split them open. The chemist started soaking them in salt water. But the mathematician had it easy: “Let’s assume we have a can opener.” :)


  22. Some reasons why employing renewable energy is a bad solution for combating carbon pollution.

    Maybe, as this article has inferred, if wind and solar leads us down a dead end track, then a rethink in energy policy is long overdue.

    For example, Andrew Dodson, (a US researcher investigating the feasibility of a renewable energy grid) has questioned the suitability of wind farms and solar power to power a reliable power grid.

    He argues that in the long term, wind farms and solar farms will be an expensive liability that will do little to reduce carbon pollution.

    Furthermore, I suspect his opinions are relevant here in Australia, where it appears we are heavily investing in wind and solar power rather than nuclear.

    To the moderator only.

    You did not post my previous comment.

    I thought, referencing a talk by a researcher, investigating the feasibility of a renewable energy grid, would have provided some credible opinions on the suitability of wind and solar energy to provide reliable economic grid power, required to combat carbon pollution.

    Admittedly, Andrew Dodson is a masters student and is discussing the situation from a US perspective. However I find many of his observations convincing.

    Dallas Lane B.Tech.Eng M.Eng.Sc.
    We seem not to have received a previous comment. It may be that one was caught by the spam filter, which sometimes occurs if there are large number of links. We can’t check all the spam as it runs into hundreds each day. I suggest you re-submit your comment. Thanks.


  23. Hi Geoff. I respect and appreciate your climate restabilisation aim, I have exactly the same aim, only I see things from a different perspective to you.

    The problem we face here at this site is that there is a kill renewables and install nuclear focus. It should be a install renewables and nuclear, but it has become a one versus the other argument at any cost, and that is unfortunate. I personally do not support nuclear for Australia but I do see that it is the only realistic solution for shipping, and the more that I look at it the more I realise that there has been a huge lost opportunity in this area for the nuclear industry, and for the climate.

    Perhaps the worst thing that the nuclear industry has done is not adopt the open accident investigation and forward improvement programme that the aviation industry utilises. Such an approach would have taken the knowledge of the three mile island accident and updated the facilities at Fukushima to make the reactor building hydrogen buildups impossible, thereby preventing a natural disaster from becoming a maximum nuclear accident. It is that culture of secrecy, coverups, and failure to co-operate and improve the designs that has led to the public’s attitude to nuclear power. Thousands have died in aircraft accidents but people still happily board aircraft.

    In fairness there are far fewer nuclear reactors and building the culture of safety and public comfort has had fewer opportunities to develop, but that just means that they should have worked a lot harder at it.

    Now the Nuclear Fission Industry is at risk of being over run by the Nuclear Fusion industry, and the very prospect is sufficient to put a nuclear decision off by 12 years, and I would vote for that. But. If the shipping industry adopted nuclear power that would confuse the picture and give Nuclear Fission a new life line which would include a number of breeder reactors in various parts of the world to deep cycle the fuel.

    Meanwhile the renewable industry is doing just fine despite all of those who would see it fail.


    …. and any climate restabilisation activist should embrace this.

    But tell me, Geoff, what do you think is going to happen here. Do you imagine that the government can flick a switch and five years from now there will be twenty nuclear power stations in Australia and the country will have gone nuclear? Is that how you see the future shaping up?
    Barry has consistently said that he supports renewable energy as part of the future mix of energy sources. BNC publishes articles on both renewable energy and nuclear power. The aim is not to kill renewables but to enable nuclear power to be considered as part of the solution to climate change. Presently nuclear power is banned in Australia!


  24. @BilB: “maximum nuclear accident” ?@#! This is precisely the point of many of my contributions to BNC for the past few years. There is no shortage of publicly available information on radiation, the problem is people don’t want to know. Why on earth would you call an event in which the only deaths were caused through irrational fear mongering a “maximum nuclear accident”? With rational behaviour there would have been no (or perhaps minor, temporary and leisurely) evacuation and no deaths. Life around Fukushima would have gone on as normally as possible within the constraints of the tsunami devastation. It doesn’t matter how open and transparent a process is when the antinuclear movement has a track record of screaming coverup whenever information contradicts their prejudices.

    If the UAE could get its first reactors up in under a decade, then
    we should be able to do similarly. The problem isn’t technical its political. For example, I’ve offered various Greens MPs that I’d donate money to the party if they read my small book GreenJacked. They have refused. Robert Stone found the same kind of thing with “Pandora’s Promise”. For many Greens, “truth” isn’t a core value.

    Happily, the polls say that nuclear has good support in Australia


    with more people strongly supporting than opposing. But even a small amount of strong opposition worries politicians. With bipartisan support we could certainly get reactors running at least as fast as the UAE.

    Even more happily, the Chinese are both rational and pragmatic and are building nukes hand over fist. Once they pick a fast reactor technology, I can see them pumping them out of factories en mass.
    That really is the only hope because renewables are simply too slow and too destructive (ie., biomass, solar farms) and too dangerous (ie. biomass again and rooftop solar … anything with ladders is seriously dangerous).


  25. dwl, I think that the guy is just flat wrong. His discussion is about the US grid, not the Australian grid which has just had a 40 billion dollar overhaul.

    His arguments about resonance are real, but these are just problems that need to be resolved. One of the issues is that power over distance creates problems. For instance the frequency synchronisation between Sydney and Melbourne something like half a cycle out (my business partner is the expert here I am attempting to remember the details).

    His comments about rooftop solar injection are only partially relevant. My business partner has a smart meter designed that looks in detail at the grid’s voltage, resonances, and frequency. It records power flows and power quality for months and tansmits the information via wifi. The reason why we are not manufacturing the product is that there are plenty of other players in the market. Today’s inverters also do these measurements before connecting with their feed lines.

    Make no mistake. everything that I refer to with rooftop solar assumes total local consumption. ie I do not see putting power from a rooftop into the grid as being good business. It does however make sense for a supermarket with a large solar array supplying the local grid and that then is a matter of compatibility that the business must engage with their electricity utility. Most likely though is that such a business would be refuelling electric cars in their carpark for a premium profit.

    Just panning around looking for reasons why renewables are “bad” is a fools errand, as renewables are not going away for the very reasons that I have laboured to demonstrate…..


    Their return is the retail price offsets, and where they are fuelling their car those offsets are even more valuable.


  26. Geof,

    Complete demolition of the facility is in my view a maximum accident. We know that there is not going to be a nuclear explosion, but there should NEVER be a hydrogen explosion either. That was just plain irresponsible management and design. Fukushima kept operating with the same design flaw that showed up at Three Mile Island. It was finally only after Fukushima that European power plant operators acted to rethink the venting of gasses from the reactor building’s various parts for that design of reactor.


    You shoot yourself in the foot with this

    “That really is the only hope because renewables are simply too slow and too destructive (ie., biomass, solar farms) and too dangerous (ie. biomass again and rooftop solar … anything with ladders is seriously dangerous).”

    …sort of nonsense argument. No wonder the Greens won’t read your book.


    Nuclear is going to have to fight for a position in Australia, the country that people know has more solar potential for its population size than any other in the world. Our 30 hectares per person offers sufficient spacial security for any personal energy need. The bizarre actions of our current leadership regarding CO2 abatement are also derailing any argument for Nuclear. Simply put if there is no climate problem then there is no reason to not burn more coal in the short to medium term.


  27. @BilB: Have you got an example anywhere of renewables being built as fast as nuclear?


    If the maximum nuclear accident kills nobody, then I’d say that’s pretty good. Ladders are dangerous. Not potentially dangerous, they actually kill people, they cripple people … roofing has always been a dangerous job … far more dangerous than working at a nuclear plant or modern mine. So anything which puts more people up ladders is dangerous.


    Your treatment of my suggestion of ladders as dangerous is revealing of your attitude to pain and suffering (I’m guessing you aren’t vegan or even vegetarian). Compare living a few km from Fukushima with falling off a roof. The latter is seriously dangerous … you can have permanent pain for the rest of your life. A work colleague has just had a relative fall his (the relatives) roof. He was lucky, he’ll be out of hospital in a few weeks and should be pain free in another month after that. By contrast, what will radiation do at a low level? If you are incredibly unlucky and the radiation is much higher than anything around Fukushima, you may increase your cancer risk and take a few months off your life. How does that compare with a spinal injury or a leg that doesn’t work right for the rest of your life and aches all day and all night? I know which I’d prefer!



  28. @BilB: Just one last thing before I go … OHS. A friend of mine is a welder and worked for some time at Roxby Downs. It was made very clear when he started that violation of any of the OHS rules was instant dismissal … and he saw it happen. You can enforce safety like that in big companies. But compare that with roofing insulation. What the various studies established after the abortive insulation scheme was that the insulation industry had always been dodgy and dangerous. It’s a distributed industry and very tough to police. Ditto solar PV on roofs. Solar farms are easy. A large construction company can enforce rules. But where you get little companies … Dodgy Brother Solar Panels … this is much tougher to deal with. Distributed industries are intrinsically tougher to make safe. And ladders. If you want to make rooftop PV safe then you have to get rid of ladders and you have to stop home owners using ladders to clean their panels. Otherwise these industries will always feed the spinal injury rehabilitation industry.


  29. First up my business partner contradicts me on the Dobson video.

    “Everything the guy says is correct, he reports, it is one of the reasons (there are others) why we use dc links on long trans mission lines.

    It is also why I (he partner) keeps going on about the lack of long haul transmission lines. (what did they spend those 40 billion dollars on Aust)

    It is also why I said that we need to allow the energy companies to control the phase of inverters at the home.”

    The world Nuclear Report show Nuclear installation has flatlined and renewables are on a steep ascencion.

    In my solar design solutions I insist on roof access through the roof via an opening skylight panel, this is standard in Europe and in many parts of America. The safety line is connected before stepping out onto the roof. Apart from that I have a patent pending design for what I called the gutter guard safety fence.

    Fukushima? the plant was totally destroyed, the area was rendered unliveable, and a huge amount of radioactive material went out to sea. Had that been in the center of Europe or America and not conveniently on the East coast of an island the end result would have been far worse. You celebrate too casually.


  30. @BilB: No land was rendered uninhabitable at Fukushima … please read the Kerala article. And I’m genuinely pleased you take
    safety seriously … but the problems will be incredibly tough to get rid of because its a distributed cut-throat industry.


  31. Geoff, I’m more interested in


    this sort of evidence.

    Kerala? That is an open question, and the question is where the danger exposure level is, somewhere between Kerala and the the exposure level that killed Marie Curie and the radium painting watch artists. But more interesting is the information being collected by citizen monitors in Fukushima. They have shown how radioactive material moves around over time. For example

    “Decontamination of Koriyama shi , Fukushima Prefecture was done in this area. It is a path taken to school by many kids. Monitoring posts are showing 0.3 µSv/h. However, while we measured, levels reached 5 to 10 times higher that number. Despite the “decontamination”, micro hotspots are found all around the school area where sludge accumulates ….”


  32. Radiophobic rantings, such as those on your link, drove dithering politicians into the forced evacuation of Fukushima, resulting in over 1600 subsequent deaths. Radiophobes [those with an overwhelming and debilitating fear of ionising radiation] really do have deaths on their hands.

    Of course they’ll never be prosecuted but normal people, in the Court of Human Morality, should be able to force them to play “Find the Japanese hotspot”: http://jciv.iidj.net/map/

    In open court, they should be made to announce the highest reading they find and readings from some of the other locations in close proximity. Then, at taxpayers’ expense, they should be sent on holiday to the Guarapari beaches. Along with tens of thousands of normal, healthy residents and holidaymakers they will be bathed in the 19,963 nSv/h of background radiation.

    They’ll meet many visitors who go there to be covered up to the neck in the monzanite sand to alleviate rheumatism and other aches and pains.

    It may just prove to be a cure for radiophobia.


  33. So you are saying that .1 milli sieverts per hour is a safe move in and bath in the waters for life radiation level.

    From what I am reading here .1msv/hr may give an accumulated dose over a year that will cause

    Accumulated dosage estimated to cause a fatal cancer many years later in 5% of people 1,000.00 msv

    if it was a general background level.

    Then you are claiming that in the only country in the world that has experienced a nuclear bombing, twice, when there is a nuclear accident, and right after there has been a natural disaster the washed 10’s of thousands of people away, these people should just stick around and see how things eventually work out??

    Derogatory personal comment remove as per BNC Comments Policy


  34. Geoff,

    About Nuclear I will say this, after Colin’s little contribution, apologists for the failings of the Nuclear Industry do the industry absolutely no service at all. During the last debate on Nuclear from Switkowski’s report I identified (and blogged about it) the hydrogen explosion at Three Mile Island as being the most significant danger from the accident. That explosion killed no one and blew out some doors, but the fact that it could be possible to occur at all was the design flaw. That was many years before Fukushima, and if I could find the evidence on the internet then the industry players themselves should have been acutely aware of the danger, and redesigned the venting. It was the explosion that cracked the cooling ponds and rendered the control rooms useless. Without that bringing the backup generators and plugging them in would have brought the situations largely under control, the reactors melted down but the plants still occupiable and therefore able to be managed.

    But when the industry itself and the politicians obscure causes and cover up extent then the public become justifiably cautious. I was just reading about the Windscale accident causes, the cover up that occurred there and why.

    So when you have a hard job getting acceptance in this country for a Nuclear industry understand that the reasons are entirely to do with the history of perpetual dishonesty that the industry operates in overseas. I’ll say it again. Apologists do the industry no service at all.


  35. @Bilb: I’ve gone over the cancer stuff many times and then wrote a book about it. But there’s not a damn thing I can do if people don’t read. Nobel prizewinner Peter Doherty endorsed the book. He knows rather a lot about cancer.

    Do you have kids? Do you feed them red or processed meat? Do you let them get fat or inactive. In Japan they now have an extra 80,000 bowel cancers annually because of adding more such food to their diet (none of the other causal factors being relevant).


    Kerala and Chernobyl both indicate that Fukushima won’t cause the slightest blip in the cancer rates. WHO concurs.

    But you won’t believe experts and you won’t read anybody except those who reinforce your prejudices, you prefer to trust thousands of people taking measurements of stuff they haven’t a clue about while busily taking far more dangerous cancer risks on a daily basis. Why don’t they collect their stool samples and test for DNA adducts and genotoxic compounds? I guess its not half as much fun blaming yourself for something as blaming somebody else.

    For reasons I don’t understand people love to believe in coverups. They’ll yell lack of transparency about an event like Chernobyl that’s been studied by scientists ad-nauseum for decades with plenty of big reports, papers and the like.

    Ever seen what milk does to DNA when you drink it? … there’s a couple of pictures here.


    Is milk a carcinogen? Probably not. Think about that.How can something smash your DNA but not be carcinogenic?

    The milk damage looks pretty much the same as a massive dose of radiation. Cancer isn’t as simple as damage->cancer.


  36. You were the one who brought up radiation.

    Kerala is a red herring as we might find that in that population Leukemia susceptible genes died out hundreds of a thousand years ago. There is a locality in the med where the locals eat as much carbohydrate as the like but never get fat or heart problems. Natural selection.

    What the Japanese have done is provide more definitive and independent information. It is a good direction.

    Coverups? well just read it


    The three Mile Island hydrogen explosion was at least buried and played done if not actively covered up. The only reason I found out is because someone in the building at the time wrote a personal account and was calling it a coverup, when this should have been megaphoned with all similar designs being reviewed.

    Yes there are all manner of factors that cause cancers, and where these are self imposed through lifestyle, tradition, or personal choice that is just life. The issue is where risk is avoidably imposed externally, and invisibly. That is what the radiation issue is about.


  37. Ah ! but an idiot who works it out as 0.02, not 0.1.

    “…Guarapari is a coastal town of Espírito Santo, Brazil. It is a part of Greater Vitoria, 47 km south of the state capital Vitória. Its population is 116,278 (2013) and its area is 592 km².

    It is a well-known tourist destination, known for its curving white sand beaches backed by commercial development. With its heavily built-up coastline like Vila Velha and Vitória, it caters heavily to seasonal tourists, and consequently has quite a dramatic seasonal population fluctuation…”

    A radiophobes paradsise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guarapari


  38. @DavidBBenson: Thanks for the info. But TSP isn’t simple. Far from it, it’s in a class called “NP-hard” (google it).

    @BilB: “The leukemia genes died out” … no. Decades of research has established that when people migrate from a low cancer culture to a high cancer one, they gradually get the cancer rate of their new home … particularly the children who adopt the lifestyle most fully. So when people from Kerala move with their children to Australia, those children get Australian cancer rates. Likewise if the Japanese evacuees had moved to Australia (or the US), their cancer rates would have increased about 50% … because US/Australian cancer rates are about 50% higher than in Japan. With Keralites, we are looking at a tripling of cancer rates with lifestyle compared to living with very high levels of radiation. Thus moving a group from Japan to Australia will raise cancer rates in that group by about 5 times more than surviving an atomic blast … which raised cancer rates by about 11 percent.


    Of course you could base your knowledge of cancer on surveys and polls, and the wisdom of lots of enthusiastic people with geiger counters, but I’d suggest you read the last WCRF report:


    Or shell out for a good cancer textbook.


  39. Geoff — Yes, the traveling salesman problem is NP-complete. It has a simple statement. A grid optimization problem does not and may lie in a complexity class which contains the NP-complete complexity class.

    In any case both are intractable.


  40. Pingback: Tunnel Vision at the Climate Council | Brave New Climate

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