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BNC Update

It’s been a while — well over 4 years, in fact… Time for an update?

Brave New Climate is is a blog with its roots in the climate and energy problem. It was started in 2008, flourished for about 5 years, and then reached what seemed to be the end of its natural life. I lost motivation to continue. I paid my dues to WordPress each year to keep the site ‘up’, such that people could access its archive of posts, but otherwise, it was left neglected. Today it reminds me a little of the Ferris Wheel in Pripyat.

The metaphorical forest has grown up around the deserted remnant of BNC, and debates have moved on. As for today:

…the world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today
And black’s white today
And day’s night today…
Anything goes!

Cole Porter (in 1934) summarised 2020 in a nutshell!

Anyway, as I said, I last posted anything of substance here in 2015. However, I’ve continued to work, on and off, in the area of sustainable energy. FYI, below are some recent papers I’ve published on the topic:

Blomqvist, L., Yates, L. & Brook, B. W. Drivers of increasing global crop production: a decompositional analysis. Environmental Research Letters 15, 0940b0946, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ab9e9c (2020).

Brook, B. W., Blees, T., Wigley, T. M. L. & Hong, S. Silver buckshot or bullet: is a future ‘energy mix’ necessary? Sustainability 10, 302, doi:10.3390/su10020302 (2018).

Brook, B. W., Ellis, E. C. & Buettel, J. C. What is the evidence for planetary tipping points? In Effective Conservation Science: Data Not Dogma (eds P. Kareiva, M. Marvier, & B. Silliman) (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Hong, S. & Brook, B. W. At the crossroads: an uncertain future facing the electricity-generation sector in South Korea. Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies 5, 522-532, doi:10.1002/app5.245 (2018).

Hong, S. & Brook, B. W. A nuclear-to-gas transition in South Korea: Is it environmentally friendly or economically viable? . Energy Policy 112, 67-73, doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2017.10.012 (2018).

Hong, S. & Brook, B. W. Economic feasibility of energy supply by small modular nuclear reactors on small islands: case studies of Jeju, Tasmania and Tenerife. Energies 11, 2587, doi:10.3390/en11102587 (2018).

Hong, S., Qvist, S. & Brook, B. W. Economic and environmental costs of replacing nuclear fission with solar and wind energy in Sweden. Energy Policy 112, 56-66, doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2017.10.013 (2018).

Berger, A. et al. How much can nuclear energy do about global warming? International Journal of Global Energy Issues 40, 43-78, doi:10.1504/IJGEI.2017.080766 (2017).

Berger, A. et al. Nuclear energy and bio energy carbon capture and storage, keys for obtaining 1.5°C mean surface temperature limit. International Journal of Global Energy Issues 40, doi:10.1504/IJGEI.2017.086622 (2017).

Heard, B. P., Brook, B. W., Wigley, T. M. L. & Bradshaw, C. J. A. Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews 76, 1122-1133, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2017.03.114 (2017).

Heard, B. P. & Brook, B. W. Closing the cycle: How South Australia and Asia can benefit from re-inventing used nuclear fuel management. Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies 4, 166-175, doi:10.1002/app5.164 (2017).

Bradshaw, C. J. A. & Brook, B. W. Implications of Australia’s population policy for future greenhouse-gas emissions targets. Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies 3, 249-265, doi:10.1002/app5.135 (2016).

Brook, B. W. & Blomqvist, L. Innovations and limits in methods of forecasting global environmental change. Basic and Applied Ecology 17, 565-575, doi:10.1016/j.baae.2016.06.002 (2016).

Brook, B. W., Edney, K., Hillerbrand, R., Karlsson, R. & Symons, J. Energy research within the UNFCCC: A proposal to guard against ongoing climate-deadlock. Climate Policy 16, 803-813, doi:10.1080/14693062.2015.1037820 (2016).

There’s been relatively few in 2019-2020, but my co-authors and I have a few more energy-climate related papers currently under submission. (Note: I mostly research the impact of global change on biodiversity, wildlife population dynamics, and the causes and consequences of extinction.)

Other than my academic work, I’ve been watching the world go by, thinking about the problems I used to talk about regularly, and pondering—philosophically, as I walk through my bush block—what it is that makes arguments persuasive, and how to most effectively achieve cooperation.

In that spirit, I thought it might be time to re-enliven (resurrect?) BNC. The trouble is, I’m not sure in what people might be interested these days. In times past, a vast ocean of content was traversed herein, by myself and the many commenters who contributed greatly to its value as a forum. That material is still available in the archives for reference and perusal.

So, I’m inviting you, the reader (whomever remains), to ‘ask me anything’ (Sam Harris does this well, I am just mimicking.) You may ask literally anything, because I’ll then cherry pick the questions I find interesting, and try to address them succinctly, as I see it. That’s the plan, anyway.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

47 replies on “BNC Update”

Barry,

Thank you for reopening BNC. It’s great that it’s back. It was once an excellent forum. I hope it will be well moderated so trolling is prevented and people are free to post their comments without being abused.

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Some pro nuclear websites have stopped posting so a revived BNC will help fly the flag. There are topics that could clarify muddled thinking in the mainstream forums. For example; just how much energy storage do we need to achieve a reliable wind and solar dominated system? Way more than batteries can provide I suggest. How does green hydrogen sit with the concept of the EROEI Cliff?

To illustrate as a former South Australian I’m bemused by their latest plan to export liquefied hydrogen in cryogenic tanks. The hydrogen will supposedly use renewable energy for water electrolysis. The problems is SA gets 45% of its electricity from fast depleting gas fields and they have the world’s largest uranium deposit at Olympic Dam. The mainstream media is not pointing out the incongruities. Cue BNC.

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Barry, I do have a request. Could you add the BNC indexes (from the earlier version), such as “Sustainable Nuclear” and “Renewable Limits”? These listed the names of the posts and the authors. They were much easier to use to find previous posts than having to scroll through pages and pages of posts. As an example, this is the link to “Renewable Limits” https://bravenewclimate.com/renewable-limits/

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WordPress overhauled their styles (which broke the old site). I have to gradually fix and tune things using the new template. It’ll take time, bear with me. But this, and a few other things, are on the list of things to do, eventually!

Liked by 1 person

It must become onerous and boring to continually refute the same nonsense from AGW deniers. Hope you are willing to update us with your research without responding to the trolls who have no interest in the truth!

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Welcome back, Barry!

The Forum has continued since BNC closed for comments. I salute Huon for taking on the role of Moderator, regularly cleaning away the rubbish left behind by visiting trolls. His ongoing work has maintained your vision of a forum for the BNC community to muse and debate. However the traffic of ideas has declined since you left. A revival of BNC may need discussion leaders for the new threads, not just yourself, but also authors of significant essays, such as Geoff Russell, David Jones, and John Morgan have done on BNC in the past.

Each of the publications you have linked (above) could become reading material for a discussion led by one or more of its authors. Passers-by in cyberspace, alien to nuclear engineering, may find the discussion when searching on the title, and join in. Such as ecologists…

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I’d be interested in updates on economics of various energy sources, given the changes over the past five years.

I also keep seeing/hearing people talking about CCS at work, and they seem to have rather, um, optimistic outlooks on that technology…

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Awesome! I want to thank Barry for his patience in educating an ignorant, younger, anti-nuclear version of myself – and helping me see how to move through being fearful and uninformed through to being excited about nuclear and just knowing enough (with the limits of my humanities background) to rave about nuclear power and breeder reactors in forums all over the net. Again, I echo the thoughts above about the need for excellent and easy archiving and more fact-based thoughts on energy storage, pumped hydro, recent renewables claims, and all that. As the climate emergency becomes more and more dire and solar PV prices continue to dip I find myself WISHING I didn’t know about EROEI and ESOEI and the sheer economic cost of storage. I wish I could just ‘believe’ the traditional anti-nuclear narrative. But when even someone of my low technical calibre can poke holes in papers by the ‘experts’ simply because they miss whole CATEGORIES of thought (like the intimidating clean up bill for all those wind and solar farms in their ‘cheaper than coal’ costings), then I rejoice in even more pointed analysis from real experts. Thank you for opening up the blog again!

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So glad to see the re-awakening of BNC. The educational component helps me, as a concerned citizen, offer more compelling counter arguments to the anti- nuclear at any cost crowd, that I meet in my business world.

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The effective altruist organization 80000hours aims to support young people in maximizing the amount of good that they can do in their careers. More and more people use their advice. They regard climate change as one of the largest global catastrophic risks, but not as the largest one. And they mention advocating nuclear energy has one of the potentially most effective strategies to mitigate this risk. Here is their problem profile page:

https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/climate-change/

I would be curious to see it discussed on BNC.

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Not much has changed while BNC was having a break. I wonder why, and therefore ask you a small question ;-) , why has no country and no party taken (or even promoted) serious concrete steps to solve the obvious and imminent problems?

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Here was me thinking that you had disappeared on some intrepid expedition into the wilds of Tasmania.
But you were just taking a well earned rest. That’s alright then.

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Glad you are back. BNC, needed now more than ever.

So…Peter Lang, Barry, et al…, we need new economic analysis of both nuclear and renewables. It was/is a great resource, Peter’s parsing of the economics of RE. Things have changed in the 4 years or so the site has been inactive. For example, there are simply loads of announcements about battery storage. Australia itself is the local for the big one Tesla put in. Can we see the numbers please? We need that here in California and the rest of N. America.

Again, glad you are back.

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Given that the late Roger Andrews thought Australia needed at least 2800 Gwh of energy storage the supposed 350 Gwh of Snowy 2 would have been a step in the right direction
http://euanmearns.com/australia-energy-storage-and-the-blakers-study/
Note the ‘world’s biggest battery’ at Hornsdale SA stores 0.194 Gwh. If Snowy 2 doesn’t get off the ground I wonder if Tasmania’s Battery of The Nation will find favour. They plan on using 4 paired reservoirs but they need 2 sets of 750 MW underwater cable across Bass Strait. That also brings the costs up into the billions. Conclusion; there won’t be enough storage.

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David Walters asks for the numbers for battery storage such as “the big one Tesla put in”. For a start, that was more than three years ago, since when no one has been silly enough to buy such a big lithium battery, mainly because they are far too small for the job. John Newlands quotes Australia’s need for storage as 2800 GWh, and then points out that the “world’s biggest battery” only stores 0.194 GWh. For comparison, the coal-fired power stations in the US routinely keep coal heaped up to 100 days of storage. That would be 2400 GWh for a 1 GW power station, or 3100 GWh for South Australia’s consumption of 1.3 GW, so the “world’s biggest battery” falls short by a factor of 16,000. Clearly any preacher claiming realistic grid-scale battery storage is wickedly deceiving a worried public.

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The future of energy supply for all nations in a ‘zero’ carbon world is low-carbon electricity generation, plus green-hydrogen production to replace all coal, natural gas and petroleum use for all heating, industrial and all forms of transport.

The battle lines for the technologies to win out as the preferred option to supply the low-carbon electricity are clearly drawn. It’s either Wind And Solar Plants (WASPs) or Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs).

And WASPs are winning out to the tune of 99.9% in everything seen and heard in the media. Nuclear power support from professional bodies, associations and NGOs of all shades is a pathetic shadow of the prowess displayed by the multifarious backers of WASPs.

But WASPs + green-hydrogen only works when humongous volumes of H2 are stored in such as salt caverns, for seasonal and diurnal backup when the Sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow. This is done through a green-hydrogen powered P2G2P infrastructure, which has a round-trip efficiency of 30%. So even more WASPs are required to make up the missing 70%.

The nuclear option though, is perfection. Electrolyser plants respond almost instantaneously to load changes, with no detriment to technical performance – it’s purely economics. Electrolyser plant costs will be heading down to US$300/kW soon, as demand is skyrocketing at the moment.

So a NPP/(low cost) electrolyser combo will allow NPPs to operate at 100% availability, as they must do for maximum efficiency, and load follow both electricity demand and hydrogen fuel demand through the lightening load flexibility of the electrolyser.

This combo can get paid for electricity and green-hydrogen and also for the grid service of load following, often at premium rates. And in the crazy world of having to mix with WASPs on the grid, they can get paid premium rates too, for frequency correction.

What would it take to see commercial capital head the way of this combination and keep energy-inept politicians out of the process. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as the NPPs of choice, with build programmes of 2 years (BWRX-300); 3 years (NuScale); 4 years (Rolls-Royce).

But are the NPP backers up to it? Will it happen in time, before the WASP/green-hydrogen juggernaut crushes nuclear power down to minor-player status?

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It’s been a long time since I was Finrod. I do have some questions, now you mention it. What do you think of Tesla and its technology, especially the battery tech? They seem to have pushed past what I previously thought achievable.

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Thanks everyone for the positive feedback, it’s very encouraging! Also thank you for the questions posed — I’ll start working through them in upcoming posts. (I got a couple on Twitter too).

It’s great to see a bunch of ‘old stagers’ are still around, as well as a few fresh faces. It seems that online communities like this are resilient entities! I’ll post a few brief replies above too.

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Another fruitful topic is how the choice of Napandee SA as a repository for low and intermediate nuclear waste could one day work in with a nuclear power industry
https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Senate-inquiry-recommends-passing-of-Australian-wa
Apart from hospital gloves etc that site will hold the casks of vitrified material from Lucas Heights NSW until a high level waste site is found. As it happens the arid country to the north (Woomera Prohibited Area) is home to uranium mines and hosted a number of A-bomb tests after WW2. The landlord for the WPA is the Dept Defence who should be immune to vexatious legal attacks. I hope this thought doesn’t give ammunition to the antinuclear lobby.

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Welcome back to former followers and welcome to anyone new to BNC this time around.
Please familiarise yourself with our Comments Policy before you post on BNC.
Thanks

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Barry Brook.
A surprise and welcome email from out of the blue: thank you Barry.
I stumbled onto BNC when I began looking at climate change. BNC was the first website I came across that acknowledged the significance of nuclear. This was a revelation to me, because in spite of claims that climate change was an imminent ‘existential threat,’ nuclear did not exist according to most forums.
I followed BNC with great interest until about the end of the SA nuclear RC. The farce of the ‘Citizen’s Jury’ that destroyed the herculean efforts of the RC still burns deeply. It was a lost opportunity to support a nuclear renaissance (and fix the finances of an ailing state). I am still hopeful that in the longer term it is ‘not dead, just sleeping’.
Back to BNC. It seemed to morph into a platform for nuclear enthusiasts to debate the values of various future technologies. Interesting, but not relevant to the immediate issue of managing climate change.
I moved on to Ben Heard’s Bright New World. He is an individual who has carried your mentorship to new heights. His drive and incisive analysis has put a scythe through much of the ‘100% renewables’ ideology, but sadly, often not given the attention it deserves in this little bit of God’s flat earth we choose to call South Australia.
Communicating the value of nuclear is a formidable task.
The efforts of the anti-nukes are unending. They are still trying to quash the Kimba repository. I was privy to a Conservation SA zoom hook-up a couple of weeks ago. Craig Wilkins told his disciples that the radical environmentalist/Aboriginal activist axis has ‘never lost one yet, and won’t lose this one.’ Cheers all round.
A program on our ABC the other night purported to look at the various forms of low carbon energy. There are no prizes for guessing the visual that introduced nuclear. The program ended with a chap confidently informing us that the future was unquestionably 100% renewables. We are clearly climbing a vertical wall in trying to show the importance of nuclear power in a low carbon energy mix, when the mums and dads are being fed this sort of stuff.
I am curious about the progress of the IFR, often referred to on BNC. Initially I had the impression that it was a near term commercial technology. I once sent you an email asking why it had not made more progress. You replied, saying that everybody wanted one, but they all wanted the second one off the production line.
I now get the impression that it is still some way from commercial reality, in spite of its impressive credentials. It seems to be a machine in two parts, the reactor, and the pyroprocessing recycling unit. I am guessing that although pyroprocessing is a well-developed technology, the pyroprocessor as a recycler of Transuranics is still in development. I am also guessing that GEH’s offer to build IFRs in Britain and SA was aimed at long-term development testing ‘in situ’ rather that ‘in laboratory’.
It is apparently a candidate for the Versatile Test Reactor, researching fast neutron effects on materials. https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Contract-negotiations-under-way-for-US-test-reacto
The period from June 1 to late July this year, with very low winds over most of Australia, and limited winter sun, would make a good baseline to analyse the 100% renewables case. The amount of stored energy required under these weather conditions, expressed in terms of the number of ‘Snowy 2.0’s’ needed (if even available in this country), would be a useful tool in explaining the ‘challenge’ of 100% renewables.
This analysis would not be a task for the home handyman, but it would be within the capabilities (and responsibilities) of AEMO. Are you in a position to influence them on this matter?
Thanks for the ‘ask me anything’ offer. Self-education on climate mitigation technologies is an admirable pursuit, but it inevitably leaves gaps in understanding. Perhaps you also have a list of ‘go to’ persons who could assist.
‘what it is that makes arguments persuasive, and how to most effectively achieve cooperation.’
It has to be short (otherwise no one reads or listens), and simple (otherwise no one understands, but the facts cannot be distorted by oversimplicity). Easy to say, but hard to do.
Being on solid ground in our own heads is certainly the foundation stone for getting the climate-nuclear connection through to anyone else, especially the dissenters.
Thank you for returning Barry.

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Hi Barry,
welcome back! The Renaissance of Brave New Climate is the best news in four years. There are now signs of a mood for change. Perhaps now our Government may heed the advice, of the Open Letter from the cohort of
75 eminent scientists, that the most suitable energy source should be chosen for each application.
Brave New Climate formerly attracted more than 1 million followers. It should exert a commensurate influence upon Government policy.
Count me in!
Clive M Pearson.
Chairman,
GoldenAidSA Inc.

Sent from Outlook

________________________________

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Just put this comment on:
—————————-//—————————–
“”…solar panels………. “are now clearly commercially viable…””

When Australia reverses its ban on nuclear power, as it surely will this decade, fund managers will be clawing at one another’s throats to get their pots out of Wind And Solar Plants (WASPs) and into ultra-profitabe Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

Every $1.00 of pension savings invested in Robertstown Solar will earns $0.34. Every $1.00 of pension savings invested in a GE Hitachi BWRX-300 SMR will earn $5.75 (17X more)

Search for: bwrx-300 blogspot Scroll down to Thursday 21 May 2020

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David Rennie:
I would be inclined to direct any climate change deniers to these two essays.

Click to access Renewable%20Energy%20Limitations.pdf


Click to access Beyond_Fossil_Fuels.pdf


The author expresses doubt about the severity of AGW (more than I consider justifiable) but his position is that it doesn’t matter because we need to get off fossil fuels anyway because of the limited supply.
The first essay tells why wind and solar are inadequate to be more than supplementary energy sources. The 2nd tells what we do need to do. Ie; build lots of nuclear & electric rail & just live with the fact that some things are difficult & expensive without fossil fuels, so we will be doing less of them eg; flying.

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Hi Jim (and all – what do you all think of the points below?)

If we design energy efficient cities that don’t require as many car trips in the first place because they’re based on New Urbanist principles – then that may save society so much time and money we can put it into alternative fuels for flying etc. How to build a town that encourages walking, fitness, community, and decreases CO2 emissions, traffic jams, loneliness.

BNC had a rave review of ‘electrofuels’ as not being too expensive.
https://bravenewclimate.com/2013/01/16/zero-emission-synfuel-from-seawater/

However, Bill Gates seems to take your approach in thinking they will be significantly more expensive.

“Another type of alternative fuel is electrofuels. By using electricity to combine the hydrogen molecules in water with the carbon in carbon dioxide, we can create a liquid fuel that works in existing engines. The carbon dioxide this process uses is captured directly from the atmosphere, so burning electrofuels doesn’t add to overall emissions. They’re very expensive, though. Depending on what fuel you’re replacing, electrofuels can cost anywhere from 3 times to 7 times as much as fossil fuels. And like with EVs, the electricity used to create them needs to be from zero-carbon sources to be a real solution.”
https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/Moving-around-in-a-zero-carbon-world

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I guess I’m not sure synfuels like the ones in the old BNC post will be uneconomic, I just think it is unwise to count on them being economic.
We know electric rail works. Building lots of that does mean we can afford higher prices for the synfuels for cars trucks & airplanes because we are using them less & so less liquid fuel. Ditto your ‘New Urbanism’.

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