Reducing emissions: Goldberg machines are not meant to be planning advice

Guest Post by Alex CoramAlex is Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Western Australia and a visiting professor at Robert Gordon University and the University of Massachusetts.  He mostly works on problems in mathematical political-economy.

Rube Goldberg machines are devices for achieving some straightforward objective in a manner that requires great expenditure of effort and resources and is so fanciful and complicated that there is little chance of succeeding.  Their appeal results from the fact that they are the consequence of ignoring simpler ways of achieving the same result.  They also demonstrate the mathematical point that an unconstrained solution is better than a constrained solution.  They are about the last thing we should think about when faced with a serious problem.

Right now we are faced with such a problem.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that to reduce the possibility we will push the climate to a new trajectory anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases need to be cut by between 50 and 80 percent on current figures by about 2050.  They need to go to zero sometime after that. If this is not achieved temperature increases may vary from manageable to possibly over 4 degrees centigrade.  In the latter case the result would be large scale species extinction and possible economic collapse.  This is about as bad as it gets, short of maybe an asteroid strike or something similar.

No solution to these problems is simple, of course.  However, some are beginning to look a bit like Rube’s machines.  To see the point consider the following stripped down view of the options.

Plan A.  Follow Clausewitz’s dictum ‘in war moderation is madness’ and throw everything we have at it.  This means solar, wind, bio-fuels, nuclear the lot. Since hydro is difficult to expand I leave it to one side for this discussion.

Plan B.  Exclude nuclear and just use solar, wind and bio-fuels.

As soon as we try for plan B we complicate things by excluding the main potential source of low emissions expandable base load energy.

Suppose we try to get all the energy we need using solar voltaic. First we need land.  There are a lot of maps on the internet that give the total land required as reassuringly small dots that add up to about the size of Texas.  A better way to do it is to scale up solar installations like the Topaz plant in California.  From this we need about 200~km^2 for each average size 1 GWe power station we replace.  Imagine, for example, that the population of India uses about half current US energy per person.  In this case it would be necessary to cover between 10-20 percent of India’s land mass with panels.

To get an idea of the nature of the second problem just draw a horizontal line that represents a few days and draw average energy requirements as a line that goes up and down a bit.  Now draw some humps of about six hours wide once every twenty four hours.

What is apparent is that the gaps are bigger than the energy filled in bits.  And some of the energy is wasted because it is at the wrong time.  Depending what you want to assume about back up, there are periods where we may have to fill in by100 percent.

So let’s add wind to the diagram. Just draw a line that spikes up and down between the maximum and zero in a random fashion.

Is wind totally random?  As far as getting it to correlate with gaps in the sun, near enough. There is no reason why the wind should coincide with our sunshine humps.  Sometimes it adds to surplus when we don’t want it.  Sometimes it adds nothing when we do want it.

Another thing we might try is to fill in by burning  bio-mass like trees and bushes and grasses.  This also takes up a lot of land and there are issues with soil depletion and environmental loss.   A rough calculation on solar conversion for plants shows that if we use up about ten percent of US agricultural land we get about three to five percent of total energy requirements.  If we wanted to fill in for all solar and wind gaps we would need much more.

Why not spread solar out across a large land mass? In places like the North American continent this reduces the gap to maybe fourteen hours at a minimum.  We can do better across North Africa but we need to duplicate the solar plants and build the transmission grid.   Even so we still don’t come close to completely filling in the gaps.   And this still hasn’t done much for South East Asia.

We could try to use potential energy for storage by pumping water into high damns or even moving rail cars full or rocks uphill.   Water might work for small countries with high mountains.  In places like the US we would need to expand our storage about twenty-five times, and most of the best sites have already been used.

Instead of potential energy use kinetic energy from inertia by constructing giant flywheels?  This might help a bit but it is expensive and complicated.

Batteries might help some more, but we don’t have any of the capacity required.  Wait for them to be invented?  Clausewitz again.  Like Napoleon’s armies, nature won’t wait.

Off peak storage in electric vehicles?  Again it would help, but we don’t have the vehicles and won’t get them in the near future.

Changing consumer demand to fit the humps? Again, complicated.  Maybe people want to cook and watch television after dark.

At this point we might ask, why exclude nuclear anyway?   It isn’t more expensive and I don’t think cost is the central issue.

A sensible answer would have to be that the risks of including nuclear energy in the supply chain are greater than the risks of failing to make the required emissions cuts.  Let’s consider the risks of nuclear

One is accident.  Nuclear energy has dangers, in the same way as air travel or medical procedures or food supply, and it needs to be handled thoughtfully.   It is easy to exaggerate the risk here.  Although I wouldn’t take this as a good indication,  so far ­­deaths from about 15, 000 years (that is reactors times years) of commercial reactor operation are about zero.  If we want to include non-commercial reactors without safety features Chernoybl gives about 50 deaths with a projected addition of maybe 4, 000. For perspective well over a million people die every year on the road and about the same number from burning coal.

What is important, however, is not that the figures are small, but that the risks are controllable.

There is some risk associated with waste.   This also has to be handled carefully, but a lot of the concern misunderstands the quantities involved and thee technology.    The quantities are small and are usually stored on the site.  More importantly,  most current commercial reactors burn out about one percent of the energy contained in the fuel and then dump it.  With already available technology most of the remainder can be reused.  Put differently you could run a fast neutron reactor for about 100 years from what is currently called waste. This still leaves about a milk crate in volume of radioactive material per reactor per year.  This has a life of about 300 years.

What about proliferation?   From the viewpoint of spreading the technology the marginal increase in the risk of proliferation is small. Thirty one countries currently have nuclear reactors and most  major emitters are also nuclear powers.

A second proliferation issue is waste as weapons.  It has to be secured, of course,  but it helps matters that current commercial waste is the wrong sort of material.  Without going nuclear wonk you need a high concentration of PU239 for a feasible weapon and it isn’t practical to separate this out from the rest of the waste.

But there is always terrorism.  That is usually enough to win the argument, unless we stop to think what our terrorists are meant to do.

Flying a plane into a nuclear power station is a common fear. Let’s do a little arithmetic. Most new build reactors are similar to a Westinghouse AP 1000.  This shield building has a radius of about twenty-one metres so to get a direct hit you have a target of less than twenty  metres wide maximum. This building is a reinforced concrete and steel structure with walls about 100 cm to protect it from missiles and aircraft and the core is protected by a one piece steel containment vessel about five cm thick. Chances of penetrating the containment vessel from a direct hit are estimated at zero.

In fact, if a terrorist were organized enough to steal something like a 747 completely laden with fuel and wanted to kill someone, there are many events that regularly draw crowds of over 100, 000.  These are relatively easy to hit.  Even a Chernobyl style disaster wouldn’t come close.

It is sometimes thought that terrorists could steal spent fuel. And do what?  It can’t be used for a bomb.  Maybe it could be spread around as in a dirty bomb?    A problem here is that it is extremely difficult to steal the spent fuel and to include it in a bomb. Even then most studies show that the radioactive material would cause less damage than the blast itself.

What if a nuclear installation were attacked with rocket propelled military weapons?  Nuclear plants are shielded against this sort of attack.  Even under extreme assumptions it is a very low risk that any damage to the population would result.

To pretend that we have hard figures on any of this is, of course, just silly.  But it is difficult to find a good argument to justify the risks of using Rube’s machines as plans for emissions reduction.



  1. I argue that, if we adopt pragmatic, achievable policies, reducing the cost of nuclear power by removing the impediments governments (especially USA, UK and EU) have imposed on it over the past 50 years, nuclear power alone could reduce global GHG emission by around 30% or more.

    Below I’ll explain the basis for my estimate and following that in subsequent comments I’ll explain how I believe the policy can be achieved (pragmatically and realistically).

    Over about 50 years nearly all existing fossil fuel power stations will be replaced. They will be replaced by the technologies that are expected to supply electricity to meet requirements at least cost over the life of the new plants. If we (led by the US President and leaders of the countries that have nuclear power, as well as the IAEA and NRC) remove the impediments to nuclear power, it can become the least cost option and then it will become the technology of choice for new capacity and capacity replacements. Thereafter, the replacement of fossil fuel plants at the end of their economic life will give a net economic benefit, not a cost – and that’s without even including the benefits of lower externalities (like reduced fatalities per TWh).

    Allowing nuclear to be cheaper than fossil fuels, would mean most fossil fuel electricity generation would be replaced by near-zero emissions nuclear in the 19 countries that contribute 80% of the world’s GHG emissions – all but one of the 19 countries (Australia) already has nuclear power or is planning it or building it. Assuming replacing most fossil fuel electricity generation with nuclear reduces emissions intensity of electricity by say 80% (France’s EI is 90% less than Australia’s), and assuming electricity as well as fossil fuels for heat and transport displaced by electricity over the period avoids 50% of total emissions in the 19 countries, then this deregulation policy alone would reduce global emissions by 80% x 80% x 50% = 32% over 50 years. Nuclear would be the cheaper option in other countries too, so they would also convert to nuclear later in the period the period.

    I urge those who are concerned about reducing global GHG emissions to give serious consideration to the deregulation approach as an alternative to the regulatory approach. Regulation, which inevitably raises the cost of energy or damages economies, has virtually no chance of succeeding. It will not get sustained support and even if temporarily implemented it will not be sustainable for much the same reasons as carbon pricing has little chance of success. If given a vote, less than 1% of the world population (i.e. <70 million people) would vote for higher energy prices for the promise of some intangible benefit of “climate damages avoided” in a century from now. That’s the reality. But there is a way forward. We just need to change what policies we focus advocacy on.


  2. The nuclear construction has just moved to new countries that need it more,the Asians. The North America and the West Europe will either find a more economical and safer energy source or join up in due course. They have the knowledge which may enable lower cost in future.
    Australia should best join SE Asia rather than follow faraway Europe with different conditions.


  3. I’m astonished at the dismissal of storage batteries and electric cars given the recent leaps by Tesla and its sister company. How can you can blithely dismiss these recent inventions that are poised to become highly affordable? This is bordering on lobbying for nuclear power. I take it that’s your intent?
    References please – as per BNC Comments Policy.


  4. The amount of resources is limited and throwing money at everything is inefficient and possibly harmful. Only those options that use resources efficiently should be considered. Obviously a reduction in demand is the fastest option with the biggest impact. Only after a reduction in demand come other options.

    Nuclear is expensive and high risk project, which noone is willing to finance. This is the case for all countries, developed and developing. This is why it never took off like gas and coal. It doesn’t matter how many times you say you don’t like solar. If there’s no viable way forward for nuclear, then resources should be used elsewhere.
    Sweeping statements without references are opinion. Please provide references to backup your statements – as per BNC Comments Policy. Thankyou


  5. I see ppp251 is still in full ideological reality-denial mode.

    I’m astonished at the dismissal of storage batteries and electric cars given the recent leaps by Tesla and its sister company.

    Because you’re innumerate.  If you could do arithmetic you’d dismiss them too.

    1.  The ESOI of current batteries is just a fraction of what’s required to maintain civilization using RE.  Even Li-ion must improve by at least a factor of 3.

    2.  The volume of batteries required is staggering.  Suppose you want to hold up the average demand of the US grid for 12 hours (roughly overnight).  This takes about 450 gigawatts for 12 hours, or 5400 gigawatt-hours.  A Tesla P85 has an 85 kWh battery, so it would take the batteries of almost 64 MILLION Teslas to do the job… and they would have to start fully-charged, and you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere the next day.

    EV batteries are good solutions to minute-by-minute imbalances in grid supply and demand.  That is all they’re good for.


  6. 2. The volume of batteries required is staggering.

    No it isn’t. Tesla is building Gigafactory which will be able to make 30GWh batteries (annual production). 100 such factories is enough for the whole world. It’s miniscule compared to fossil fuel infrastructure.
    References please.


  7. According to Wikipedia, the world produced 87 million motor vehicles in 2013 (not just cars), Tesla produced perhaps 25,000 cars in 2014 although it seems there’s a little doubt about the numbers.

    As for batteries. The so called gigafactory may well produce 35 GWh worth of batteries, which is enough for about 400,000 tesla model S batteries per year. So he’ll have plenty of batteries left over, however we need to be producing about 87 million batteries per year for those 87 million vehicles. That would need 217 giga factories. And it wouldn’t deal with the rest of our electricity. It makes no sense at all to try and use batteries for that.


  8. “I’m astonished at the dismissal of storage batteries and electric cars given the recent leaps by Tesla and its sister company. How can you can blithely dismiss these recent inventions that are poised to become highly affordable?”

    With math. Which has been done on the pages here and elsewhere repeatedly.


  9. ” 2. The volume of batteries required is staggering.

    No it isn’t. Tesla is building Gigafactory which will be able to make 30GWh batteries (annual production).”

    And as SE demonstrated above, for just 12 hours of backup, for just the USA, 5400 GWHr is required. That is the output of your entire factory for 147 years. Given that the batteries have a lifetime shy of 7 years, this seems unlikely to be feasible.

    Unless you propose that the USA build and operate 20 of these factories just to supply backup batteries for the electrical grid.

    Even then, it would not be sufficient. Wind/solar production data demonstrate that backup may be required for one or even two weeks at a time. That means you need 140 to 280 of these factories doing nothing but producing batteries to drive the nation’s backup system.

    Ridiculous. Especially given that if one simply builds nuclear electricity generators as the supply, such excess of batteries could be used to smooth peak demand and only a six hour duration of the difference between peak and average demand would be necessary as backup.

    Any backup system that could work for wind and solar, works better and more affordably for nuclear generation.


  10. Is there enough lithium supply to make all those batteries? What are the mining impacts? What are the safety and environmental concerns with large Li-ion installations? Are lithium-ion batteries even the right technology to be looking at for energy storage?

    “…the fact is, the energy density and specific energy of lithium-ion batteries is terrible in comparison to almost everything. There’s definitely a market for lithium-ion as a partial replacement for peaker plants, but the economics of using it in conjunction with wind and solar power are dubious at large scale.”

    Electrical grids need deliverable sources for stability, and baseload power plants work best when they run around the clock. Coal is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to carbon emissions; nuclear replaces coal. Nuclear is much safer than coal. Coal kills. Adding intermittents (wind and solar) to the mix means there are times when excess energy needs to be stored.

    Producing methanol is a good choice. It’s liquid at room temperature, so it’s much easier handle than hydrogen, existing vehicles can easily be converted to run on it, and it can be stored and used in small power plants to meet peak demand when needed.


  11. I crunched some numbers on thermal storage a little while ago, using “solar salt” as the medium.  Figuring a ΔT of 275°C (250 C cold, 525 C hot) and 40% thermal efficiency, I got a salt cost of about $10/kWh of electricity.  Note that this would work with ANYTHING for the heat input.  My calculations assumed steam compression with an AP1000 as the steam supply, but you could use a compressed-air heat pump fed by excess wind generation just as easily.


  12. Hi Alex,

    I did not read every word in your article as it started ok but then dipped steeply away from rational analysis into directed preconclusions. You were attempting to derate solar pv on the basis of land area required. This is demonstrably a pointless approach as most people are aware that there is more than sufficient “land” area available for electricity production in the rooftop area of our homes and businesses, by far the most appropriate place for such hardware. That is true for most countries. It is only city highrise and ultra heavy industry where this is not true.

    On the basis of that omission alone I have to doubt your ability to analyze in this field, especially where you are using an anti solar area argument in Australia of all places. Land area per person India: .27 hectares. Land area per person Australia: 30 hectares. A difference factor of 90. Per capita electricity consumption India: 640 kwhrs . Per capita electricity factor Australia 11,000 kwhrs. A difference factor of 18. An Indian person requires a bit over 2 square meters of solar panels to generate his electricity, and this is the electricity for his home and his work. Each Indian person’s land share amounts to 2,700 square meters, 1000 times the area of his electricity production area requirement. Your argument falls over even for India. You could argue affordability, but even there you would fail as Indian’s energy use is proportional to their per capita income as compared to Australia.

    Another reason why India is a poor choice of energy argument is that of connectivity. It is cheaper to provide solar panels and batteries to people who live in more primative accomodation than is the cost of building a power distribution Even where people are so close together.

    That is not to say that India does not need Nuclear power. They are in the process of installing it so their choice is made, and this will serve to advance their industies, and that is a good thing.

    Geof Russel,

    The most probable future EV fleet will be hybride vehicles similar to the Audi A3 plug in hybride drive vehicle. This utilises an 8.9 kwhr battery which gives a 50 klm range per charge, sufficient for most commutes, and well within the daily charging capacity of most rooftop solar systems. Globally there would need be 21 Tesla battery factories initially then an increasing number of wind energy powered battery recycling factories (read employment that other important metric). Yes such vehicles at present are more expensive, that is due mostly to initial startup costs and low volume. This will change. For those who need low cost EV transport there is of course the High speed stealth bomber electric bike:

    … all we need there is to dispose of stodgey legislators who think that everyone must be wrapped in 2 tonne of steel in order to get around.

    By the way the European distributor of my product has 4 of those Tesla’s, in case you are suggesting that they are not selling.


  13. Tesla’s are doing very well in their tiny niche market. Who knows, in a decade, they might be competing with Porsche for that 1/10 of a percent of the vehicle market they have.

    But seriously, I’ll be delighted if Musk helps electrify the world’s transport. Currently I’m rather cynical because he shows little interest in much besides making cool toys for the rich and buckets of money.


  14. @BilB

    Let’s start with your quote.
    “Each Indian person’s land share amounts to 2,700 square meters, 1000 times the area of his electricity production area requirement.”

    2,700 divided by 1000 is 2.7 square meter.

    Now a quote from the part of the article you were responding to.
    “Imagine, for example, that the population of India uses about half current US energy per person. ”

    One, the article was talking about total energy use, while you are only talking about a small subset of that so you aren’t really addressing what the author was saying. Two, do you seriously think 2.7 square meters of solar panels per person will meet all their electric needs? What are they going to do during the night time and when it’s cloudy?


  15. As in the article above, we could quote the warning by the IPCC (2009) that we must reduce our emissions towards near zero by end of century, passing through a certain waypoint at 2050. However we should not quote it verbatim, because IPCC documents are written word-by-word by a committee that includes delegates from unwilling nations intent on ensuring ambiguity. In this case, the text can be misquoted conveniently by denialists of all colours.

    Thoughtful people fitting a smooth curve through that waypoint find that emissions from developed nations must reduce at least 4.5% per year, every year for the next 85 years. Developing nations are assumed to converge on the same target. Variations from year to year would still require the developed world’s emitters to achieve a halving every 15 years. Said this way, the message is almost a declaration of emergency.

    If we quote that waypoint at all, we allow equivocators of all persuasions to believe that we only have to achieve “up to 80% reductions by mid century”. In particular, it allows many of us in our own ranks to believe that rolling out a combination of gas-and-wind will rescue the greenhouse. But any reliance on gas backup would guarantee defeat of the requirement to halve every 15 years.


  16. One can make all manner of energy suppositions to make a fictional argument, sodacup, but I am talking about the reality.

    You can find reality at

    What are people going to do when it is dark or cloudy? probably exactly the same they do when the grid electricity fails, wait. But with solar they have another option, they can use a small union carbide battery to operate their lights and charge their phones. You do realise that most Indian households have just one light bulb, don’t you? That is why the “use half US power” argument is total crap. Other cultures are not built on the obsolescent consumerism model that much of the west is. So Indians with their very different perspective build equipment like

    ….which means that when they need to charge those batteries they will run their motorbike for a while.

    Geoff, it won’t be Musk that electrifies transport, it will be VW, Toyota, Nissan, Renault, and the multitude of other significant players, and Tata too. What I am also pointing out to you is that it will not be the 85 kwhr fueled EV’s that make the difference, it will be the 8 and 16 kwhr PHEV’s.

    I wish you guys here would bring your knowledge base up to speed on just where the renewable energy world has progressed to, and argue from that perspective.


  17. @BilB

    The reality isn’t very good. I don’t think we should be satisfied with it. We should shoot for better. A European level lifestyle for everyone in the world seems like a good target, which is what the Arthur was talking about when he said that we should imagine the population of India uses about half the current US energy per person.


  18. I agree with you on we should be shooting for better, sodacup. I do not accept that my energy access needs be limited through energy austerity except were that requires fossil fuels. I know from empirical evidence that a 100% solar energy future is realistic and achievable in ths short term. It will take some time though as there are changes to be made and hardware to build. Further, not everyone will have equal access at the same time.

    In your interpretation of thd future you imagind the white building feeding out cheap emissionless energy, and the world is saved. The problem with that idea is that the source of the energy is the smallest part of the solution. The nuclear future is everybit as dependent on battery technology as the solar future is. You will argue that there will be nuclear origin methanol to power vehicles, but that is a nonsense as to manufacture a liquid fuel for use in internal combustion engines has huge built in lsses that would require there to be five times as many reactors to achieve the same result as storing electricity in a form for use as required.
    ” I know from empirical evidence that a 100% solar energy future is realistic and achievable in the short term. It will take some time though as there are changes to be made and hardware to build The fact is that battery technology would win out commercially as its cost cycle is far cheaper than a manufactured fuel cycle no matter how limiting its EROEI is.”
    Please supply peer reviewed evidence to support such statements. Failure to do so is a violation of the BNC Comments Policy and renders your comment opinion only.
    Peer review posts on BNC have already covered these topics and find other than your opinion to be true. Without these references you are trolling and further comments may be deleted.


  19. “We really should be examining … what will life 100, 200 years from now possibly look like? If you are arguing to store nuclear waste with many hundreds of years half life in your backyard, you had better have some believable answers to these questions.”

    BilB, anyone who believes that some buried fission products will be of the slightest concern to people in 100 or 200 years, just has not grasped how seriously the climate is going to change. As far as sharing the biosphere with other furred or feathered friends goes, we had better put samples of them in bottles while we can.


  20. India’s energy consumption per capita has gone up about 70% between 2003 and 2011, and with the Modi administration’s big economy growth plans I think we can safely assume that trend will continue. Still about 1/14th of the US per capita figure according to Wikipedia, but I’d like my climate change plans to not rely on the Indian people being satisfied with so-and-so much energy use.

    You do realise that most Indian households have just one light bulb, don’t you? That is why the “use half US power” argument is total crap. Other cultures are not built on the obsolescent consumerism model that much of the west is.

    Until you can provide a opinion poll showing that those one-bulb Indian households would be perfectly happy to not have any more material wealth, or else demonstrate that you’re fully willing to emulate their lifestyle (among other things, as of 2010 this involved open defecation for 626 million of them, with all the attendant risks of infectious disease), you may cease your patronizing presumptions of what poor brown people want in their lives.


  21. As far as I am concerned MOD the peer reviewers are here. I aim to provide evidence that can be understood by ordinary people and checked with research, empirical evidence, and standard calculators. My comments need only be taken as my considered opinion, as is how I recieve other’s arguments here. It is my experience in the renewable energy discussion that letters after a name count for little, all material requires critical evaluation.

    However as you demand papers Dr Franz Trieb of the DLR has been all over the global electricity production subject from any number of angles. His 2005 publication “CSP Now” fully covered electricity production utilising one primary energy vonversion medium. I think that I am well and truly on the record as accepting that only nuclear energy can resolve shipping energy needs In an emission free manner.
    Aviation is an open subject. Both Boeing and Airbus are researching electric hybride powered flight.
    Iron production can be achieved with timber. There is claimed to be an alternative method for producing iron from ore….

    ….and concrete can be kilned using tip waste, as is done in California. The chemical industries will take longer to convert to renewables as there is an immense amount of research required. The positive here is that every company profile these days registers an acceptance that there is a need to strive towards renewable energy and environmentally acceptable production methods.
    I have added the link for you this time. Please add your own links in future, Thanks


  22. @BilB: Iron production from timber? I hope not. Logging is always at or near the top of any industrial deaths/serious injury table. And for wildlife it is invariably fatal or dispossessing. Timber is a beautiful material, but its production should be minimised, not maximised. The only thing worse than using timber for iron is using it for electricity … which is what the Germans are doing … biomass is generating more than either wind or solar …


  23. Hi, the post above described Chernobyl as a non-commercial reactor without safety features.

    The reactors were connected to the grid, therefore making them commercial reactors, no?

    Also, the accident happened in Reactor 4, which is the second gen reactor, with better accident localization system in place.


  24. To be fair to BilB, he did suggest an alternative, electrolytic method for reducing iron. However, the link he gave does not give details, only that it relies on dissolving iron oxide and uses intermittent (solar) power. That would mean that the plant has to pay interest to the bank manager while lying idle, waiting for the sun to return.

    The article seemed to imply that iron oxide was dissolved in water, in which case the cathode would release hydrogen rather than iron. I imagine that if the iron oxide was induced to dissolve in liquid chloride, perhaps ferrous chloride, and electrolysed using baseload power, it might collect dendritic iron at rather less than the cost of electrolytic aluminium. It might be necessary, as with electrolytic aluminium, to use a sacrificial carbon anode, but at least that gas could be collected and the anode recreated.


  25. Quite so, Roger C. Geof Russel completely misses the point that a Nuclear solution for a decarbonised world has the same iron producing problem. Steel is routinely produced from pig iron using electric kilns, so nothing new there other than the need to add carbon, not remove it. The electrolytic process is experimental as it has not so far been necessary to advance the technology.

    Your comment though misunderstands the 24/7 feature of hybride CSP.


  26. RWE, E.On losing money on fossil-fueled power plants
    “Recently, the two companies’ requested additional financial support in the form of capacity payments for the coal power plants.”

    So on energy prices, so-called renewables undercut coal when such actually generate, but still have to have the coal fired capacity for when the renewables fail to generate enough.

    Ah, Germany…


  27. Nuclear and local solar PV/hot-water are all we’ve ever needed or will need. Even President Kennedy had a good grip on that reality:

    And, the reason we need even more than we think is simple — ocean acidification, on track to extinguish the base of key food chains and the dominant carbon0-sequestration mechanism… (acidification, Halper) (cretaceous -> carboniferous)

    We were to have eliminated combustion power by about 2000, and been deploying 1GWeof nuclear each week by 1980. Oops.

    Swing on by Palo Alto, June 2-3 (website below)


  28. @ bilb, re steel production.
    1. This is trending off topic and taking on the nature of a fishing trip.
    2. Do you realise that pig iron isn’t present in nature? Once arc furnaces or electrolytic or whatever else has consumed it, then there will be unmet demand for iron and steel from other sources?
    3. What do you mean by “24/7 hybride CSP”? If, as I guess might be the case, you are affirming that concentrated solar thermal power is available in quantities and at prices that are adequate to power the heaviest of industries reliably, all day and every day, then this needs to be discussed on a different thread than this, compete with the extraordinary evidence that would be needed in order to support this extraordinary hypothesis.


  29. 1 The introduction, singletonengineer, features Rube Goldberg machines, I think that allows broad scope.
    2 Pig iron is the product of blast furnaces. It contains a number of impurities, particularly carbon. The iron extracted from iron ore in an electrified world will be pure iron. Impurities will have to be added to it to make the steels that the world needs.
    3 If you google “Dr Franz Trieb Hybride CSP” you will find the research and technologies of the German DLR which build towards the system to produce 24/7 electricity from solar sources.


  30. BilBe, the author explained that a Rube Goldberg machine appeals to our sense of humour because it is so ridiculously complicated as to ensure the job never gets done, despite a much simpler method being available.

    When the job to be done consists of eliminating the world’s carbon emissions to “near zero” in the lifetime of children alive today, the Rube Goldberg antics of the renewables-only movement presents a deadly serious delay.


  31. The reality is, Roger C, that Nuclear energy appeals to those people who seek simple solutions and see the myriad of alternative energy solutions in Rubes Mechanistic Terms, and fail to appreciate that other people prefer natural local energy harvesting with all of its variability. It is a kind of effortless energy farming with very good returns.


  32. BilB — Here is a simplified electric grid to use is estimating the costs of various means of energizing it. The gird is to deliver 100% power from 6 am to 11 pm every day but only 70% of maximum overnight. Pick your favorite rating for 100% power; I usually use just 5 GW,

    Use published figures for availability of various power sources. Typically nuclear power plant are in excess of 90% available while around here wind is 25% available and even in the desert solar is less than 20% available. Note that for the latter two types there can be many weeks of insignificant generation, deppending upon region.

    Last time I did this, a fleet of nuclear power plants equipped with thermal stores would meet the load at lower cost than other alternatives. But please do the exercise yourself.


  33. Every installation of intermittent power must be matched by an equal capacity of gas generation. Realistically, the owner of every new installation wants it to continue production for fifty years.

    However the IPCC warns us that we must halve our emissions every 15 years, over and over. There is no way you could honestly say that any installation of gas will halve its emissions in the next 15 years, then halve again in the following 15 years, and halve again in the final period of its production. Anyone who wants us to believe that is not just failing to do arithmetic, he or she is concealing the facts. Yet there are plenty of people trying to do just that.

    This “Rube Goldberg” behaviour is not just a machine, it is a syndrome of diseased thinking. Am I exaggerating? Well, consider that anyone who so desperately wants to avoid using nuclear energy does not face up to the fact that the consequences of global warming will be far, far worse than any nuclear nightmare they can calculate.

    Er, have a nice day. While it lasts…


  34. Roger – I suggest that you look up the definition of hybride CSP, again the best source here is Dr Franz Trieb.

    Separately for those who doubt that aviation is not planning an electric future

    And delievable or not

    WORLDS LARGEST STEALTH AIRCRAFT to be built for Russian Military Pak TA:

    This last item is a direct steal from the imagination book of Airbus.

    Roger on your second comment (Rubes), you still refuse to appreciate that rooftop solar is about end users, who pay the retail price for their electricity if it comes to them through the grid, installing hardware that saves them that ongoing income drain…plus tax. These forward thinkers also, while increasing their standard of living with their solar generated electricity, reduce their carbon foot print whether they want to or not. And that footprint reduction is significant.

    The other feature of rooftop solar is that it is immediate from an implementation perspective, relative to every other energy solution. The energy backup argument is no where near as large as some make out.

    The take away reality here is that rooftop solar installers are not avoiding Nuclear Energy, they are avoiding RETAI PRICES for energy, regardless of its source.
    As per policy, comment edited to remove personal slight


  35. The take away reality here is that rooftop solar installers are not avoiding Nuclear Energy, they are avoiding RETAI PRICES for energy, regardless of its source.

    Since net-metering users are generators themselves, utilities are going to change their billing to commercial/industrial rates for connection fee, energy and peak consumption as separate line items.  Their per-kWh rates will go down by around 60%, and with them pretty much every bit of “profit” they make from their PV panels.  Bills will go up.  The sham of net metering will be exposed, and the fraud will end.

    This is absolutely the right thing to do.  No utility should have to buy someone’s excess power at residential retail rates, then have to sell it (minus transmission losses) to industrial customers at much lower rates.


  36. Enineerpoet, the domestic power export profit incentives are mostly all gone and those with long term contracts are being reigned in. It is a false argument to obsess over a short term implementation incentive program when examining rooftop solar over the long term (for Australia). But make no mistake that those billing changes are the one feature that will drive people to disconnect from the grid altogether.

    At present there is not an affordable rooftop solar compound package to encourage wide spread disconnection, but it is not that far off. Once the system is readilly available the uptake rate will be dramatic. The spec for such a system will be:

    4.5/9.0 PVT (solar photovoltaic/thermal panels)
    A power management system.
    10 kwhr min battery storage
    2.5 kw gas fuelled fully silenced battery backup generator
    Gas cooking appliances
    Eutectic panelled refrigerator
    Optional thermal absorptive airconditioning.

    This system will be 19 rooftop panels, one harware box the size of a small rubbish bin, and an electronic module fitted into the defunct meter box and an extra hardware box for the optional airconditioner.


  37. those billing changes are the one feature that will drive people to disconnect from the grid altogether.

    I doubt it.  People will take one look at the cost of the batteries and solar will be a dead letter.  They’ll install ice-storage A/C instead, and buy all their power for space cooling at overnight electric rates (with no peak charge).

    At present there is not an affordable rooftop solar compound package to encourage wide spread disconnection, but it is not that far off.

    Suppose you get the full GigaFactory package at an all-included cost of $200/kWh of storage.  3 days (72 hr) of backup storage at 1 kW costs you a whopping $14,400, not including the excess generation needed to keep it charged.  Maybe you can sneak through a tax credit to stick the public with the expense, but I wouldn’t bet on it any more.

    10 kwhr min battery storage

    Even in my highly-efficient house, that’s still maybe a day’s worth of juice during my minimum-demand months.  Solar advocates say you need 5 days or more in most places.

    2.5 kw gas fuelled fully silenced battery backup generator
    Gas cooking appliances

    There you go again:  fossil backup.  You always fall back to FF.

    Just going off the electric grid doesn’t help if you are still burning FF.  My solutions are completely carbon-free for electric, and potentially carbon-free for space heat as well (steam heat for cities big enough to host SMRs, possibility of electric heat pumps for the rest).  Electric power can de-carbonize the bulk of transport via PHEVs, and much industrial energy as well.

    We need to aim for 100% decarbonization in this century, with most of the work finished by 2050.  You’d be burning natural gas or bottled gas forever.  You don’t have a solution, you have an anti-nuclear agenda and that’s it.


  38. I don’t have a problem with gas fuelled backup. In the short term that can be natural gas, in the medium term that gas can come from sewerage and other waste treatment sources. That depends entirely upon the community’s commitment to carbon reduction.

    The weeklong battery storage argument is a furfey.

    The rooftop power solution is completely independent of every other energy solution. It will steadily continue to replace grid capacity. Grid operators face the tas f determining how much capacity they will be left with when the electricity sector is fully decarbonised. The problem they face is that they gleefully took the price increases triggered by the failed CPRS, and worse for them they established contracts to protect their profits from the grid goldplating rort. So as their product demand declines their relative costs will steadily increase making their retail product progressively less competitive.

    That is all bad news for Nuclear in Australia. The daydream of endless cheap power will never eventuate as it cannot be competitive in a rigged market. Then there is he coal fossil fuel lobby who have done their level best to cripple every challenge to their energy dominance. Greens get on with fitting solar panels, Blacks use their considerable wealth and lobby power pitting Blues (nuclear lobby) against Greens while in the background lobby with government against both.

    As per Comments Policy, you need to supply peer review references to back up your statements. Without the refs it is merely your opinion and could be construed as trolling for which you may be banned. Further instances may result in your comments being held in a moderation queue for approval.


  39. I don’t have a problem with gas fuelled backup. In the short term that can be natural gas, in the medium term that gas can come from sewerage and other waste treatment sources.

    .  Your medium-term scenario is not going to happen.  The essential resource for such gas is biomass, and there isn’t enough.  The ultimate effect of your scheme is lock-in for fossil natural gas as long as it lasts, meaning the world busts through the limit of total fossil carbon extraction.  Whether you realize it or not, you rule out decarbonization.

    I suggest you follow the call of the BNC moderator and actually do a quantitative analysis of your basic proposal, something that can be sketched on a napkin.  Use verifiable and reasonably un-biased sources for energy consumption, sewage/landfill gas potential and the rest, and work from there.  Don’t forget to take something off the top for the essential purification for pipeline or long-term storage.

    This, of course, is a “gotcha”.  I suspect that you are unable to do such an analysis. 

    The weeklong battery storage argument is a furfey.

    Here’s a personal account from someone whose minimum is 3 days of storage:
    Instructables recommends as much as 5 days:

    The rooftop power solution is completely independent of every other energy solution. It will steadily continue to replace grid capacity.

    It’s about to be stopped dead in its tracks.  The entire business case for grid-tied rooftop PV is based on straight offsets of net consumption billed at residential flat rates per kWh.  When billing changes to peak demand plus energy (especially real-time energy, when the market price at peak PV hours will head toward zero) the costs will remain but the profits will vanish.  The business case was an artifact of a specific billing system; the latter has out-lived its usefulness, and the former will disappear with it.
    Comment edited. Everyone, please “play the ball not the man”. Thank you!


  40. I am unclear, MOD, on which part of my comment offends.

    If it is on electricity pricing, this should be blatantly obvious to anyone who pays the power bills. For my home and my factory the electricity price rose from 13 cents per unit some seven years ago to 26 cents per unit over a five year period. Seven years ago Australia’s power consumption was 275 billion kwhrs, today it is something like 235 billion kwhrs. In that time supposed 40 billion dollars has been spent improving the grid. That expenditure, intended to allow the grid to cope with INCREASED energy traffic, comes at a cost. I am told by people in the industry that the wheeling of power over the grid WAS one third of the retail price. So at retail 13 cents a unit, that would have been about 4.3 cents to move electricity from the generator to the customer’s locality. Recent comments, and this is unverified, suggest that the current wheeling share is 50% of the retail price which amounts now to 13 cents per unit the move the power from the generator to the user’s locality. So the background information

    Well before Jess Hill’s investigation I have blovged extensively about what was happening with poer pricing. And I have another article which is not available for linking which adds more perspective on the longer history of power pricing.

    I fail to see why this should be a mystery to those who claim to have energy production as their central focus. The consequence of the sequence of outcomes triggered by the CPRS is that having cheap power generation will not deliver cheap electricity to the retail customer.

    Now if I am horribly wrong about all of this and you have some other understanding on why electricity prices are being maintained at their current levels without there being a carbon tax, then I will be thrilled to hear it, and it would have been really useful for you to have shared them with the NSW public before the recent state election.

    As for who the lobbyists are and what are their objectives, that is entirely speculation on my part, based on annecdotal evidence and common sense thinking. But again feel free to offer your opinions or evidence that electricity prices will fall to a level, and what level will be, to discourage people from installing their own rooftop solar system.
    Your comments do not offend, except in being unsubstantiated. BNC is a science based, not opinion based, blog and as such, expects commenters to support their assertions with scientific evidence not hearsay, media beatup etc. If you do not have this evidence and can’t supply references to the science, please refrain from commenting.


  41. Engineer-poet,

    It is pretty clear that we are talking about 2 completely different solar systems and market realities.

    To start with your claim thatt here is insufficient energy in household waste to power backup generaton. I use Franz Trieb’s backup energy figure of 13%, though this can vary by a significant figure. That would mean that for my houshold I would want to generate 1500 kwhs from my backup system. That figure is for my household where water heating is achieved with resistive heating element bu in the system I am refering to water heating is achieved by solar thermal, and in bqckup mode is ceated from the water jacket of the water cooled generator. Average garbage waste per person (not including sewerage and in Victoria) is 2 tonne per year.

    The energy content of houshold garbage per kg

    Is 12 Mj which is about 3.3 kwhr. But as this energy is converted to gas and then to electricity at 30% efficiency then that is about 1 kwhr per kg of garbage.


    Mr. Hart checked out Mr. Kasten’s gasifier and decided to buy the patents. Then he applied to a Pentagon program established to shepherd proven concepts to the production stage. Results at the Defense Department’s testing facility near Sacramento have been promising; after about four hours, one ton of waste creates enough gas to produce 1,580 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which would power an average home in the United States for about a month and a half — at one-third the emissions of coal — and 42 gallons of renewably sourced fuel. And that’s with a 12-ton-a-day gasifier; existing blast furnaces can handle as much as 2,000 tons a day.”

    So the energy content of the garbage from a household of 3 will be 6,000 kwhrs. So to use your terminology that is a gotcha times 4, or times 2 to allow for extreme loses. Long term storage not an issue as the garbage can be gassified at the demand rate. For reference material on energy extraction from sewerge refer to the many papers from NASA’s Dr Jonathan Trent and the Omega project.

    Furphy (my spelling mistake) meaning exactly as I used it

    The battery storage for the system you linked, a 1.75 kw pv only system the batteries were lead acid battery Which as a ptevious article identified have a ESOEI of as little as 2, and prefer a shallow cycling. I specify Li-ion batteries which can be deep cycled hence requiring a smaller capacity for the same effect, and have a ESOEI of 10 and above. Furthermore if you read the spec carefully you would have seen that I included additional thermwl energy storage in ther refrigeratore which charges during the peak solar period and “coasts” through the night. This system is well proven with freezers that companies such as Streets use for “event” product mobile sales With units that will hold their charge for up to 36 hours.

    Your last paragraph seems to be suggesting that electricity is about to become free, I suggest that you have done zero research on this subject. This link gives the time zone makeup

    …and this link gis some idea of the billing

    As usual the billing is relative. Present billing is comparable with the new shoulder. The difference is that peak power billing is during the day when solar rooftop is working best.

    Please demonstrate how this billing regime destroys the “business model” for rooftop solar.

    My solar system spec assumes no installation grant and zero electricity exmetered to the grid.

    Engineer-poet, unless there is something that I do not know I fail to see how your aguments amount to a “threat” to the future of rooftop Solar as defined by the specification that I am putting forward. The only thing that I have not covered is the price of the system. My target here is for the 4.5/9 PVT system to be well under $20,000. This is a bit of a challenge and has required the creation of a very different economic model, which once the connection was made it turned out to be a financing method that has been used successfully to the benefit of both customer and manufacturer in one industry for decades.

    Note to MOD. I use fewer links because, on the one hand many sites these days will allow only one link per comment, and on the other because the comments I put up I believe are uncontroversial and easily researched by the reader, if they chose to make the effort.
    Thank you for supplying the links. It is incumbent on you, and not the reader, to make the effort to do the research to substantiate your comments.


  42. which part of my comment offends.

    You’re still demanding to be let into the game, without playing by the rules.

    Your latest two comments had 7 URLs, of which 3 are lay treatments without quantitative information.  The “power corrupts” article doesn’t define several of the acronyms you’ve been using here, let alone spell out how the policies to which they apply actually bring about the situation the author decries.  The two links to gave a picture of what hours of the day are peak, shoulder and off-peak, but I found zero quantitative information there either.  I clicked on the link for the calculator, and found that there was a link statement in the HTML but the entire href field was missing.

    The two things you got right were the ausstats link and the Google doc reference for energy content of MSW.  That’s an error rate of 71%.  And, having stumbled across 12 MJ/kj and 2 MT/capita/yr, you failed to combine this with anything else to make a quantitative comparison leading to a factually-supported conclusion.

    I’ll give you an example of how it’s done.

    2 t/capita/yr * 12 MJ/kg is 24 GJ/capita/yr.  As a starting point (NEVER use Wikipedia as a final authority), per-capita primary energy consumption for Australia was 243.92 GJ/yr (2003 values).  Ergo, even before subtracting petroleum-based and other non-renewable parts of MSW (which are the most energy-dense) given that they must be recycled or replaced, MSW can supply at most about 10% of Australian per-capita energy consumption.

    Since you are talking about electricity consumption, you should have started someplace like the Wikipedia list of countries by electricity consumption and tunneled down to the source data for Australia.  The IEA is good enough for this work.

    Taking as a SWAG that electric generation accounts for 40% of primary energy consumption, and 33% efficiency of generation, electricity consumption is just over 13% of total primary energy.  Your figure of 30% efficiency for waste-to-electricity, times waste’s figure of 10% of primary energy, works out to potential waste-derived electric generation of 3% of primary energy—about 22% of electricity actually consumed.  (I can’t directly compare the figures from Wikipedia because they’re taken 10 years apart.)

    As a rule of thumb, wind and solar are limited to a contribution equal to their capacity factor.  At maybe 30% and 15% respectively, they top out at 45%… leaving you at least 33% of total electric demand to be met by means unspecified, along with the 60% of primary energy consumption that isn’t used for electric generation.

    You’d need at least 8.5 times as much MSW to do the full substitution (2.5x to get to 55% of electric, another 6x for the rest), plus more to compensate for losses in shipment and conversion.  You’re roughly an order of magnitude short of your claim.

    The quantitative analysis I’ve done here is something any freshman physics student should be able to do, and any interested layman should be able to learn to do.  Those of us who’ve actually bothered to do it and have gone over claims like yours have come to this exact conclusion many times before.  It is inescapable.  This is why we treat your hand-waving with overt contempt.  You do nothing except waste everyone’s time… and yes, moderator, this is a moral failing on the commenter’s part.  His behavior is either willful ignorance or deliberate trolling, and calling it out is the very least we should do.

    End part 1.


  43. … supposed 40 billion dollars has been spent improving the grid. That expenditure, intended to allow the grid to cope with INCREASED energy traffic, comes at a cost.

    That’s right.  One element of the the “Green” program of conversion to wind and solar is a requirement that more transmission be available to get power from where it’s immediately available to where it’s not.  This doesn’t generate a single watt-hour, but it costs money (resources) which must be paid back.  Your own Power Corrupts article suggests that the ministers of certain states, unshackled from any constraints on their spending, got control of the process and went hog-wild.  Your electric bill is one of the consequences.

    Without knowing the players and their histories I can’t speculate on motivations, but many Greens view energy consumption as an intrinsic evil and would take measures to limit consumption (including by raising the price) as a positive thing.  Tripling the per-kWh cost of the transmission system would just be one more step on their road to “goodness”.

    I fail to see why this should be a mystery to those who claim to have energy production as their central focus. The consequence of the sequence of outcomes triggered by the CPRS is that having cheap power generation will not deliver cheap electricity to the retail customer.

    Why are you deliberately conflating transmission assets, which don’t make a single watt, with energy PRODUCTION?

    Those of us who favor nuclear power can point to transmission costs as an advantage:  nuclear can be sited almost anywhere (though abundant cooling water is a big advantage) so there’s no inherent requirement for more than minor additions to the transmission system.  As an example, take the proposed Fermi 3 plant in Michigan.  It would be sited next to Fermi 2, and not far from the coal-fired site in Monroe.  There’s about 4 GW of transmission going out of that area already; you’d barely have to add a thing for Fermi 3.

    Long-term costs are ever on my mind.  However much a nuclear plant costs to build, its cost of fuel is stable and very, very low.  The major element of risk in nuclear is political/regulatory.

    Now if I am horribly wrong about all of this and you have some other understanding on why electricity prices are being maintained at their current levels without there being a carbon tax

    After you just spelled out how the per-kWh fraction of your own electric bill tripled due to out-of-control spending on transmission, I find it very, very hard to believe that you don’t fully understand what happened and are just trolling us.

    I use Franz Trieb’s backup energy figure of 13%

    You don’t have a link for this, particularly one spelling out his assumptions and/or measurements.  You are going to need far more backup with 20 hours of storage than 120 hours, and in a system with minimal storage it’s not meaningful to refer to the non-RE as “backup”; it’s primary.

    I included additional thermwl energy storage in ther refrigeratore …. This system is well proven with freezers that companies such as Streets use for “event” product mobile sales With units that will hold their charge for up to 36 hours.

    I’d like to see a link for them too.  Spelling out how much power consumption you can defer this way is essential to making your case.  Also remember:  if you haven’t fully pre-charged your freezer, your “coasting” duration is less than the maximum.  Non-electric “batteries” can be run flat too.

    Note that this works better if you have guaranteed-available power to recharge such storage nightly.

    Your last paragraph seems to be suggesting that electricity is about to become free

    Real-time power prices have gone below zero on wind-heavy grids where this is permitted, so precisely what are you arguing against?  This is established fact, not speculation.

    What I wrote was “the market price at peak PV hours will head toward zero”.  If the PV owners receive the real-time price for their production, they’ll get little or nothing for what they put on the grid when they’re actually producing.  They’ll still be paying a connection fee and a peak-demand fee, so their grid connection will be anything BUT “free”.  Of course, merely cutting the per-kWh fraction of the bill by 60% or so is enough to destroy the business case for grid-tied PV.  For residential users whose peak consumption is in the evening hours, there is no way for instant PV generation to offset the peak demand fee.  When this is done, the economics of “net metering” disappear; the fake fire brigade is revealed for what it is.

    Once the fake fire brigade is off the stage, you’ve got room for other players.  The freeze-battery refrigerator is a case in point.  One with even 8 hours of storage could go off-grid from 1 PM to 9 PM, and restrict demand to keeping up with heat gain during the “shoulder” hours; it would recharge the storage during off-peak hours (which might also get an exemption from peak-demand rates).  Sure, you can also use it with PV… but you’d be offsetting time-of-day or market-rate power at about 2/3 shoulder rates, 1/3 peak rates.  This is not nearly so attractive.


  44. Thanks for a great essay.

    Solar does not work well even in the sunny state of Florida so don’t expect much success in Germany or the UK where the sun seldom shines:

    Ancient Gen I & II fission reactors produce electricity for under $0.03 per kVAh so how can we doubt that Generation IV reactors will do much better:


  45. Engineer-Poet,
    While I agree with most of your arguments you need to understand that in some countries (e.g. Spain and the UK) there are “Feed-in Tariffs” for solar power.

    Let’s look at the UK where the tariff was set at 0.46 pounds sterling per kVAh or roughly six times what electricity generated using “Old Nukes” costs.

    The UK soon found it could not afford to maintain the “Feed In Tariff” subsidy soit was reduced ro as reduced to 0.25 pounds per kVAh.


  46. Engineer-Poet,

    Thanks for your input, I can see that you are a little out of date with your information and analysis technique. This energy issue is not rocket science so components such as municipal waste are quite straight forward. I took a bit of a survey of waste composition, the bulk of which identified that over 50% of the waste was of renewable origin (ie not including fossil fuel origin materials such as plastics). A typical example.

    There was significant variety in the energy yields from waste gassification process, I took the lowest and derated it below a third. My conclusion that there is more than sufficient renewable recycleable waste to provide backup energy for rooftop power generation for the specific system specification that I have repeated put forward, is safe.

    That was the only argument that I made for Municipal waste. I did not project the use of municipal waste out to a total national energy figure as as you have done. In the PVT system up to 50% of house hold energy is derived thermally not requiring conversion to electricity. PVT is an energy cogeneration system.

    The common mistake made by people not experienced in energy matters is to take a figure such as national energy consumption per person (in this case Australia at 66,000 kwhrs {from your referenced link}) and demand a direct energy equivalent for a decarbonised economy, forgetting that a fossil fueled economy is only 33% efficient (ie transport ICE’s 25%, electricity generation 35%, etc). In other words where all energy originates from renewable and zero carbon sources and where all transport and industrial energy is electrified, the total energy per person drops to a third of the current (in an idealised model) at 22,000 kwhrs (approx). This then suggests that the total national energy requirement is 530 billion kwhrs. So using the Victorian waste figure or 2 tonnes per person, of which more than half is of recycled origin and using the US Pentagon gassifier example (link above) of 1580 kwhrs per tonne of waste but derating that by 25 % then the total national total energy share recoverable in a decarbonised economy from the burning of renewable municipal waste is about 5%. However, this is up to 3 times the energy required to fuel backup rooftop power generation. And that is the point that I was making.

    It is important to point out that the above is talking predominately about the energy yield from waste packaging material and in no way represents the total amount of bio mass fuel available in Australia.

    On Eutectic fridges here is an example from which some meaningful assumptions can be made. An average refrigerator would be four times this volume and based on the figures would require 600 watt hours for refrigeration and another 150 watt hours to power the freezer for one to two days.

    “Of course, merely cutting the per-kWh fraction of the bill by 60% or so is enough to destroy the business case for grid-tied PV.”

    Nowhere have I talked about grid tied PV. I have gone to some effort to demonstrate grid independent PVT as an economic alternative which provides free household energy to power a household, and a PHEV, beyond its pay back period where the full offset energy cost is applied to paying for the system in as little as six years.

    The 13% was a figure in one of the DLR CSP studies that referred to the amount of fossil fuel energy required to backup their full base load CSP system. I believe that it was in the original CSP Now PDF. However, the alternative approach is to consider the average solar availability for Australia for which I use 275 days out of 365, or 90 low solar days. PVT is still generating power at 25% to 30% electrical on these days which would mean a backup requirement of 17%, which is, again, more than covered by the gassified renewable bio fuel available form municipal waste.

    As for the grid distance argument for Nuclear, a gigawatt of energy capacity cannot be wheeled any distance without raising its voltage to hundreds of thousands of volts which requires the grid cabling regardless. The proximity argument is false for that reason and doubly false for the real estate value risk. Munmora was a coal power generation location because the coal was accessible and because at the time of construction that location was remote. No longer so remote. Nuclear does not require fuel supply proximity, but local real estate value affects its insurance costs. There are also strategic location risks. A nuclear power station cannot be located where an accident would cause a severing of primary transport routes. So in all realistic scenarios Nuclear requires a significant length of trunk high voltage cabling.

    I have not studied this document yet but a cursory look suggests that it provides some useful information

    “Figure IV‑10: Transmission charges (50 fixed, plus 25% demand, plus 25% energy”

    but this document suggests that Grid Australia is arguing for incentive pricing for large projects. Note there is absolutely no specific information from which conclusions can be drawn.


  47. you need to understand that in some countries (e.g. Spain and the UK) there are “Feed-in Tariffs” for solar power.

    And in the USA there is the wind Production Tax Credit, which has similar effects on the market.

    What I’m saying is that these regimes will end, sooner rather than later.  The US PTC has already lapsed for considerable periods before being renewed.  At some point, opposition will prevent renewal.

    The UK soon found it could not afford to maintain the “Feed In Tariff” subsidy

    Such tariffs and credits for certain favored camps are going to disappear, for the same reason.

    OBTW, BilB circuitously referenced this for his 12 MJ/kg figure:

    That’s a worksheet for an engineering course, not a reliable reference for anything therein.  I have to downgrade his last two comments’ verifiable veracity to 1.5/7, or about 20% on-topic/80% irrelevant.

    BilB, why the obfuscated reference through a Google search instead of a direct link?  What are you trying to hide?  All we’re asking for is plain talking and honest accounting.


  48. Mod: Please delete my previous 2 comments. It is clear that you guys want to talk among yourselves. Goodbye.

    You have been placed in the moderation queue. Your comments were held there over Easter.


  49. The link that DBB gave is quite interesting, in that it tells of a large-scale vanadium-flow battery. Such a device is more like a reversible fuel cell, in that they intake discharged vanadium solution, put energy into changing it into two streams of higher and lower oxidation states for storage in tanks of indefinite capacity. Discharge recombines the two fluids, with the neutralised fluid flowing back into a third tank.

    I think that 7 M$ is for the whole R&D project, not just for the 3 MWh of capacity of the demonstration unit. The article quoted its discharge power at 1 MW, so it appears to have three hours of fluids in the tanks.

    I have personal reservations about a vision of unlimited numbers of vanadium-containing units throughout the world’s industry. Inevitably most of that non-biodegradable, toxic element, must eventually leak into the environment. It is an aspect of the scheme that we choose to be blind to, just as in any Rube Goldberg system.


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