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Climate Hustle

How did the UK grid respond to losing a few nuclear reactors?

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from PassiiviIdentiteetti, written by Jani-Petri Martikainen.

Answer: mainly by increasing the use of coal in power production.

In the second week of August power company EDF decided to shutdown their reactors in Heysham and Hartlepool. This was a precautionary measure after finding a defect in the boiler of Heysham unit 1. In total 4 reactors that can produce up to 2.6 GigaWatts (GW) of electricity were turned off. On the week they were turned off, the UK used an average of 30 GW.

Some were quick to declare that wind power came to the rescue when nuclear power was proven unreliable (for example Ari Phillips in Thinkprogress, Greenpeace, Giles Parkinson in More recently Justin McKeating from Greenpeace repeated the claim: "...we see a reversal of the view that renewables need to be supported by nuclear power. Although nuclear and wind power do not have the same generation characteristics, nuclear reactors now needing to lean on renewables means the nuclear industry has a big problem." Given that the claim appears unlikely on meteorological grounds and no evidence for it was provided, I felt a more careful scrutiny was called for.

So, did wind power replace missing nuclear capacity? Short answer is, no it did not. Missing nuclear generation was mostly replaced by increasing use of coal.

In Figure 1 I show the output of relevant power sources in the UK between Saturday 8th August and Thursday 14th August. EDF reactors were ramped down during this period and this can be clearly seen in the figure. Equally clear is that when nuclear output was declining, wind power output was declining even more steeply. So rather than coming to the rescue, wind power was unfortunately galloping away when the action started. The reduction in the amount of wind and nuclear power was mirrored by a clear increase in gas and coal power. Contrary to earlier claims, low carbon sources were replaced by fossil fuels.

Fig 1: UK power production during the reactor shutdowns.

Fig 1: UK power production during the reactor shutdowns.

This quick check does provide the answer to our specific question, but with the data available we can learn more. In the following table I show the average power levels for the most relevant quantities shortly before and after the shutdowns. The most pronounced changes were in the amounts of power derived from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and wind power. There was also some increase in hydropower generation. Weeks following the shutdowns were in fact more windy (not unusually so) than weeks prior to shutdowns and power generation from fossil fuels has increased slightly. However, as the earlier figure makes clear, to understand which power source is replacing which one must look deeper than averages.

  Period 27th Jul-9th Aug [GW] 14th Aug-28th Aug [GW] Change [GW]
Demand 30.4 30.3 -0.1
Nuclear 7.9 6.0 -1.9
Wind 1.3 2.3 +1.0
Gas 12.4 11.5 -0.9
Coal 4.6 6.1 +1.5
Interconnects 2.6 2.6 0

To get a clearer insight as to how different power sources are connected in the UK, we can inspect the data for the year 2013. As an example, Figure 2 shows the scatter plot of wind vs. gas for one month period in 2013 together with a least square fitted line. When wind generation is high, gas generation drops by almost the same amount as wind power increased by. This fits with the idea that electricity companies use wind power to replace gas. The color indicates power demand at that moment. As demand goes up, the colour of the dots on the graph goes redder. This correlates with high gas use. In other words, when demand goes up, power stations burn more gas. There is no such correlation with wind power on short timescales: it's windier when it wants to be and that doesn't necessarily correlate with when we want to use the most power.

Fig 2: Scatter plot of the wind power generation vs. generation with natural gas for a month around April 2013. Color indicates power demand at that moment.

Fig 2: Scatter plot of the wind power generation vs. generation with natural gas for a month around April 2013. Color indicates power demand at that moment. Note: axes are unevenly spaced along y-axis relative to x-axis. Each dot represents a 5 minute period.

In the UK, wind power is attractive because the windiest months are in the dark and cool winter, when electricity demand is highest. However, the hour-to-hour or day-to-day windiness doesn't line up quite so well with UK power demand. The weather does what it wants. Although the weeks after the nuclear reactors went off saw a slight increase in total wind power from the weeks before, it didn't replace the lost nuclear power. Sadly, more coal was burnt to keep the lights on. If this happens again on calm, windless days, the UK would have to burn even more fossil fuels.

UK production and demand data suggest common sense relationships. Wind power acts mainly together with gas while missing nuclear reactors were (sadly) mostly replaced by burning more coal. In the long run it might be technically possible to do without coal. This could be done by using electricity storage like batteries or trading between countries, so that times or places where it's windy can export electricity to times or places when it's not. Changing power demand to match supply, so that power-hungry appliances and industries turn on when it's windy could also help. However, it will be some considerable time before wind power has the capacity to take the place of fossil fuels to meet our power needs.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 75:

  1. The problem with wind (and solar, for that matter) has always been how to back it up when the wind dies. Currently that's almost entirely gas, making wind a crypto-fossil energy source. While it's true that wind-plus-gas is better than gas alone, it's also true that getting to zero fossil fuels on a wind-based system would be hugely expensive.

    The reason for that is that for geographically remote wind to back up local wind, distant regions must overbuild wind to meet their own demands AND potential demand from out-of-region. And each region must do this, to allow for the possibility that exports will be needed on windy days. But if those exports are not needed on windy days, those overbuilt wind turbines must then stand idle as the wind blows: a situation known as curtailment. Since curtailment reduces wind's capacity factor, it drives up the price of wind generated electricity. One recent study (Budischak et al. 2013) estimated that an all-renewable grid would nearly triple the price of electricity because of this issue. 

    We have reached the point where the only way to prevent a looming climate catastrophe is to deploy, deploy, deploy non-fossil energy sources as rapidly as possible. Given limited resources, the way to deploy the most non-fossil the fastest is to deploy the lowest-cost options. Those technologies are (1) shallow geothermal, where available; (2) hydro, where available; and (3) nuclear. Wind is almost as cheap as nuclear, but only as long as grid penetration remains low; once wind reaches the curtailment point (about 25% of total generation) its costs begin to escalate rapidly. 

    Jurisdictions that have already adopted this strategy have already decarbonized their grids: Sweden, Norway, France, Ontario. 

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  2. I'm pretty sure that gas is a fossil fuel. So if wind power is displacing gas-fired power then wind power is "taking the place of fossil fuels."

    Figure 1 shows that the average value of wind-generated power was 2 GW higher from the Sunday night to the Wednesday night when compared with the pre-shutdown value. This is approximately equal to the reduction in nuclear power during this period. This is undoubtedly what the authors of the articles criticised in this piece were referring to when they wrote that an increase in wind power had replaced the lost nuclear generation. Thursday was the only day when the wind power value was lower than its pre-shutdown value.

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  3. Keithpickering,

    Citing Budischak et al. 2013 to support nuclear is a contradiction of the paper.  They say:

    We do not simulate nuclear for backup because it cannot be ramped up and down quickly and its high capital costs make it economically inefficient for occasional use.

    In fact, Budischak states that renewables are the cheapest way to generate electricity.  The question that needs to be answered is what to do with the excess energy generated when the wind blows hard.  Budischak just wastes this electricity.  It seems to me that someone will be able to use this energy profitably.

    This article seems to me to be an attack on renewables without significant data to support it.  The original articles supporting renewables were not published on SkS.  This article does not include peer reviewed data, it is an opinion piece.

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  4. The UK has abundant access to wave power.  Perhaps one reason this resource goes untapped today is the nuclear power industry there, which sabotaged their access to research funds in 1982.

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  5. @michael sweet

    Yes, that's what Budischak et al. said. But they're wrong. The ability of any thermal power plant to ramp quickly depends on the design of the turbine and has nothing to do with the heat source. Current nuclear plants ramp up and down just as quickly as combined-cycle gas turbines. And, just as with natural gas, it is entirely possible to build a nuclear plant to ramp faster, if you're willing to accept a lower-efficiency turbine. Nuclear submarines and ships do that routinely right now.

    Budischak et al. reached that conclusion only because they refused to consider nuclear from the get-go, for highly dubious reasons. That decision seems to have had a lot more to do with reaching a "desirable" outcome than it did with an honest appraisal of technology.

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  6. Kiethpickering:

    If you think Budischak et al are wrong you should not cite them.   If you do not like their conclusions cite a peer reviewed source to support your objections.  The key point is that your peer reviewed source thinks nuclear is too expensive. I note the OP does not cite any peer reviewed sources of information, it is an opinion piece. 

    Wind and solar have dropped dramatically in price since Budischak et al was published.  Up to date figures would show wind and solar are even more cost effective now than they were then.

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  7. Well said, Michael. However, one might also respect the time-honored tradition in scientific, medical, economic, and legal discourse of citing an author's own data to refute his stated conclusions.

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  8. @michael sweet.

    I cite Budischak only to point out that even the most wind-friendly source possible admits that an all-renewable grid would be very expensive. They support my overall point. And please point out where Budischak et al. say that nuclear is too expensive? Because I'm not seeing it. What I see is Budischak et al. rejecting nuclear out-of-hand for technical reasons that do not stand up to scrutiny. 

    There is probably a hidden reason Budischak et al. reject nuclear, and it's not because nuclear is too expensive — it's because the nuclear gid is too cheap. Certainly anyone truly concerned for the climate would admit that a non-fossil backup for wind is superior to a fossil-fuel backup for wind. So then, why not back up wind with fast ramping open-cycle nuclear rather than fast ramping open-cycle gas? And thinking about this solution, it becomes obvious: if you have the nuclear plant, why do you even need the wind turbine? Why not just run the nuclear plant for peaking, and avoid the cost of the wind turbine entirely? Thus the nuclear-allowed grid will therefore always be cheaper than the nuclear-banned grid, because it avoids the excess cost of renewables. And if you're on the only-renewables-can-save-us bandwagon, that's a politically unacceptable outcome, regardless of the technical and financial merits.

    The price of wind power hit bottom in 2004, well before Budischak was published, and has been going essentially sideways since then. As turbines get bigger, costs scale with the mass, which scales with the cube of the rotor diameter. But wind energy scales with the square of the rotor diameter. Therefore economies of scale are running up against the laws of physics and they are fighting to a draw.

    And solar continues to be one of the most expensive energy sources out there, and will continue to be. Even as the price of modules continues to decline, the balance-of-system costs alone will not allow solar to compete with wind, much less fossil fuel.

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  9. Increasing penetration of intermittent renewables requires increasing intermittency of generation from fossil fuels; whatever inability to respond - and with improved weather forecasting it's not all blind, moment by moment responding - needs to be recognised as inadequacies of existing fossil fuel plant at least as much as an inadequacy of intermittent generation.  With a transition to low emissions as a clear goal the shift of fossil fuel plant from being the principle supply into the role of backup to low emissions alternatives needs to be recognised and facilitated, not used as an excuse to fail to continue with that transition. The burden of costs of replacing or updating infrastructure that is outdated and inadequate to the task of being backup to low emissions should land primarily upon the operators of obsolete fossil fuel plant and, if necessary, become a defacto carbon price. In this case the low emissions supply intermittency that fossil fuels are responding to is not that of wind generation but that of nuclear generation. 

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  10. Keithpickering,

    I have heard promises of nuclear energy too cheap to meter my entire life, and that is starting to be a long time.  Please cite some peer reviewed data to support your claims.  I currently have only your unsupported word. Meanwhile, we see daily that investors are putting up money for wind farms all around the world.  Solar is currently cheaper for me to install on my house than grid.  Utility scale solar plants are being built. 

    According to Lazard (click link half way down the page), from 2009 to 2014 the cost of wind energy went down 58%.  Please cite data to support your wild claim that wind costs have been constant since 2004.  Widespread investor interest demonstrates your claim is false.

    Where are the investors who want to build your nuclear plants?  Only governments are building nuclear and their track record is bad.  In Florida, where I live, Nuclear plants can be billed ten years before they generate any power.  We are currently paying $1.5 billion dollars for a plant where they never broke ground (it has been decided it is uneconomic to build).  Where is the utility scale nuclear plant that can load follow?  What did it cost to build and run?  Oh wait, it has never been built and exists only in your imagination.  Come back when you have built a pilot plant.  That will take at least ten years, which is too long to help.  Wind and solar are being built now.

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  11. While this argument is interesting it seems to be a bit circular.

    Currently we are playing "lower fossil fuels". Current renewables can do that.

    There is a greater game however which gets seen when you consider that at 400 ppm CO2 3 million years ago we did not have ice sheets.

    Given that Greenland now has reported a doubling time of ice loss of less than 5 years and that an end to the world economy happens at 1 metre of sea level rise, Hansen 2012 has reported 1 metre sea level rise at sooner than 2050.

    At that point the cost of adaption will exceed what we can spend on mitigation and we have lost control and are headed towards an end to civilisation.

    It seems to me that the anti nukes see nuclear power as a greater threat than fossil fuels.

    What can be said about the cost of nukes in the western world is that a very large part is due to extreme regulations due to the anti nuke emotions. 

    I think we need to be playing end fossil fuels which will needs nukes both 3rd and 4th gen as well as an enormous push for renewables.

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  12. Michael, Google is your friend. Try "load following nuclear". See Responding to System Demand. Things are indeed a bit complicated with Pressurized Water Reactors, but in practice quite doable. See Nuclear Power in France and scroll to "Load-following with PWR nuclear plants". Boiling Water Reactors are inherently easy load followers as moderator density may be moderated by pumped recirculation rate. They are usually designed specifically for load following although of course are still most economic as base load providers. Canadian CANDU reactors also do rather well. 

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  13. @michael sweet.

    If you've heard the "too cheap to meter" claim your entire life, then you've been misled your entire life. That quote, from Lewis Strauss, refers to fusion power, not fission.

    Regarding the cost of nuclear energy, see EIA's LCOE here:

    ... which shows nuclear comparable to wind, even under the (false) assumption that both generator types have identical lifetimes. 

    Or see a composite of LCOE studies collected by the Open IE project's Transparent Cost Database here:

    ... which again shows nuclear comparable to wind, and is based on literally dozens of peer-reviewed sources. So if nuclear is too expensive, so is wind, by the same token.

    For actual historical costs of wind, as installed, here's the National Renewable Energy Lab:

    NREL wind cost

    ... and here's Lawrence Berkeley Lab:

    LBL wind price

    ... and also see IPCC 2011, figure 7.20, confirming these sources for both Denmark and the US:

    ... and also see also IPCC 2011 figure SPM.6, which confirms that the learning curve for wind has hit bottom and bounced:

    All of these peer-reviewed sources agree that wind has hit bottom some years ago.

    The lack of interest in new nuclear build in the US is due to regulatory uncertainty and high entry cost. Nuclear plants cost billions to build, which effectively closes off entry to all but a handful of the largest utilities. The enormous amounts of energy produced will eventually make up for that and more, but I agree that a move toward small modular reactors is needed. It's incorrect, however, that there are no private investors for nuclear: all five nuclear reactors currently under construction in the US obtained private financing, and there are a number of VCs (including Bill Gates, for one) who are funding leading-edge startups in the nuclear industry.

    You ask, "Where is the utility scale nuclear plant that can load follow?" and the answer is, every nuclear plant that has ever been built can load follow. In France, which has a mostly-nuclear grid, nuclear plants load follow routinely. In the US they don't, but that's an economic decision, not a technilogical requirement. It's simply cheaper to operate the grid when nuclear plants are in baseload mode (and it's also better for the climate too, because it avoids the maximum amount of GHG emissions that way).

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Adjusted image size down to 550 px wide.

  14. Ed,

    Please provide data on a nuclear power plant that is economic when it load follows.  It is the responsibillity of nuclear supporters to provide their data, not mine to look for it.  If France, a government agency that has no public budget, is your best example I think you have made my case.

    Load following and economic are two completely different matters.  Some nuclear can theoretically follow load a little, but all are uneconomic when they are not working all out all the time.  They are currently uneconomic when they are running all out all the time.  It will lower their cost benefit if they run only part of the time.

    Reading more in the Lazard report I linked before (an investment white paper that is presumably unbiased), I see that the most expensive wind in the USA is cheaper than the cheapest nuclear. Unsubsidized wind: $37-81/kwh, unsubsidized nuclear 92-132 $/kwh (page 2) (load following nuclear would be much more expensive).   

    Cheap wind is about 1/3 the cost of cheap nuclear.  Wind is dropping in price at 10% plus per year.  Nuclear's price keeps going up.  Please provide economic numbers that show nuclear can produce power as cheap as renewables.  I have provided data to support my argument, it is your responsibility to provide data to support your argument.

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  15. Keith,

    According to your first link, wind costs 61.4$/MWh while nuclear is 71.4$/MWh.  Nuclear is over 10% more expensive. 

    It is interesting that the Lazard report for investors shows decrease in wind costs but your sources show flat costs, hopefully someone more informed than I will tell us the difference.  Certainly  much more wind is being installed now than was installed in the past.  Presumably that is because costs went down.

    I am not going to post again, it is my experience that nuclear discussions are a waste of time and clutter up the comments board.   

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  16. @michael sweet.

    " Please provide economic numbers that show nuclear can produce power as cheap as renewables."

    Happy to do so.

    Recently, Warren Buffett invested in five Iowa wind farms, a project of 1050 MW costing $1.9 billion, or $1.81/Watt, a nice low number. Capacity factor for wind varies widely by location, but Iowa is fairly windy so let's assume 35%, which is pretty good. Most wind turbines are designed and engineered for a 20 year lifetime (and that's the number NREL uses routinely in their calculations), but the average lifetime of a wind turbine in Denmark is 22 years, and some modern turbines are designed and engineered for a 25 year lifetime. So let's go with 25 years, best-case for wind. The total amount of energy produced in the lifetime of those windfarms will therefore be: 1050 (MW) * 8766 (hours per year) * 25 (years) * .35 (CF) = 80 million MWh. Total lifetime capital expenditure is therefore $1.9 billion / 80 million = $23.59 per MWh.

    There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear reactors under construction in the US, two at Vogtle in Georgia, coming in at $15 billion for the pair, and two at V.C. Summer in South Carolina, coming in at $10 billion for the pair. All four reactors (1117MW each) will therefore cost $25 billion, or $5.60/Watt. ZOMG! Nuclear is so expensive!

    But nuclear plants (and the AP-1000 in particular) are designed and engineered for a 60 year lifetime, and nuclear capacity factors in the US are above 90%. So the total amount of energy produced in the lifetimes of those reactors will be: 1117 (MW) * 4 (reactors) * 8766 (hours per year) * 60 (years) * .90 (CF) = 2.11 billion MWh. Total lifetime capital expenditure is therefore $11.82/MWh, less than half the cost of wind. 

    In France, where nuclear plants load-follow, capacity factors for nuclear are lower for that reason: about 77% according to the WNA. Let's assume that US plants when load following couldn't do that well, and could only manage 75%. In that case, following the same computations above, total lifetime capital expenditure of load following nuclear would be $14.18/MWh, still well below wind.

    Of course, capital expenditure is not the only cost of providing electricity; there are also operating costs (both fixed and variable) and systems costs. Operating costs for nuclear are higher than wind: nuclear provides higher-paying jobs than wind, and nuclear's fuel cost, while small, are above wind's zero. According to the EIA, wind's operation & maintenance costs are a very small $13/MWh, while for nuclear they are $23.60/MWh. 

    Systems cost capture the cost of integrating a generator into the existing grid, and include backup, load balancing, grid connection, and grid reinforcement. These costs are higher for renewables because of their intermittancy and because renewables are typically generated far from load centers in cities. OECD puts systems costs for onshore wind at $19.84/MWh and for nuclear at $1.66/MWh.

    So adding it all up, for wind, $23.59 capital, $13 O&M, $19.84 Systems, for a total of $56.43. For nuclear, even in load following mode, $14.18 capital, $23.60 O&M, $1.66 Systems, for a total of $39.44.

    I should say here that I'm not at all anti-wind. Wind has a place in the grid, and its low cost of entry makes it attractive for smaller utilities. Anything that displaces fossil is fine with me. Nuclear has high cost-of-entry issues, even though it's cheap in the long run. But capitalism doesn't do "long run" very well, and when that happens it's up to government to understand those long-term implications and step in to correctly value what markets cannot. Energy and climate are issues like that.

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  17. @Keithpickering

    People buy power not energy. By doing your analysis in terms of energy you have discounted the cost of financing. A higher MW/$ ratio means that the generator can repay its debts faster. This can greatly reduce the cost of a generator, esepecially those with high upfront costs.

    When comparing the relative cost of various power sources, the best indicator of value is the return on investment, and that is different for every project.

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  18. A fascinatig discussion between Keith Pickering and Michael Sweet with the latter exiting the field  part way through the conversation which is rather disappointing .  Michael Sweet in his posts places much emphasis on peer review but the real politik peer review is that which is important.  No matter how many peer reviewed papers cite the advantages and blessings of wind power, the UK governemnt clearly showed what it thought of peer review when it burnt fossil fuels to replace energy from nuclear powered sources rather than rely on wind power.  The comparisons made by Jani-Petri Martikainen clearly show that wind power despite its undoubted attractions is, at the moment, not a reliable alternative to either fossil or nuclear fuels for energy production. I thought the comment below particularly telling

     "Equally clear is that when nuclear output was declining, wind power output was declining even more steeply. So rather than coming to the rescue, wind power was unfortunately galloping away when the action started. The reduction in the amount of wind and nuclear power was mirrored by a clear increase in gas and coal power. Contrary to earlier claims, low carbon sources were replaced by fossil fuels."

    I can think of no government that would jeopardise its citizen's access to cheap and most importantly reliable, power by turning to renewables as its major supply source.  This is of course clearly shown by the increase in global  CO2 emissions in 2013 and the reluctance of governments to sign and/or comply with UN strictures on these emissions.

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  19. Michael,

    Your specific question to Keith was "Where is the utility scale nuclear plant that can load follow?" We have provided such. We provided working everyday examples in France, Canada, and the U.S.  Contrary to your assertion, they do not "theoretically follow load a little." They follow in practice, daily, and by fairly substantial amounts. For those interested, nuclear load following technology and limitations is well described in the links I provided.

    Your "data" does not support your argument, as unsubsidized wind at $37 - $81/kWh does not provide dispatchable baseload power, as provided by nuclear and coal. Your Lazard reference is written purely for investors seeking to make short-term profit on the margin of peak energy demand and production, low renewable penetration and established variable load gas. It says nothing about what is best long-term economic and environmental policy for the country, or for the world. Short-term marginal utility is not the same as long-term value. 

    For today's economics, at 0.10 EUR/kWh French consumer electric prices are the lowest in Western Europe, her industrial prices are bested only by Finland (33% nuclear, 24% hydro, 15% biofuel). See Eurostat: Energy Price Statistics. Whether state-owned EDF is anti-competitive is an issue one may take up with the EU authorities.  I suspect many EU countires have similar arrangements, but certainly not all. In any event EU has well-established legal mechanism to handle complaints.

    Closer to home, Ontario boasts the highest industrial electricity rates in North America. Not because it today generates 70% nuclear, 23% hydro, and only 2% wind (Canadian Energy Issues), but rather because those 2% wind were deployed without apparent consideration for costs vs benefit: Ontario’s Power Trip: Irrational energy planning has tripled power rates. Its not that wind cannot be of economic benefit, particularly at these low penetration levels. But it is a capital-intensive, inherently unreliable resource, that requires a modicum of advance planning.

    Careful advance planning. Here in my backyard we've recently seen plans to build a new 2.1 GW $4 billion windfarm in Chugwater Wyoming, a 1.2 GW, 60 GWh $1.5 billion CAES system in Delta, Utah, and a $2.6 billion transmission line to connect them. The finished product will ship from Delta to California via existing lines. See  Renewable Energy Plan Hinges on Huge Utah Caverns. Expected wind capacity factor at Chugwater is not reported, so I'll assume 43%. 2.1 GW * 35% = 900 GW average production. Assuming an 85% one-way CAES efficiency,  the CAES system can store 900 GW for 2.4 completely calm days, reasonable given fossil backup. Excluding that backup, that's $8.1 billion for 900 GW of fairly reliable power, or  $9 billion / fairly reliable GW.

    Back in your backyard, Southern and SCG&E were planning on $5 billion/GW for new AP1000 at Vogtle and VC Summer. But these are first-of-a-kind and there has been manufacturing delays for some critical components, so these costs will rise, apparently to perhaps $7 billion per plant (Delays and more costs for Plant Vogtle). But even $7 billion nuclear is substantaily less than $9 billion wind, and includes cost of backup in its capacity factor (assumed 90%). We shall see: final tabs are TBD.

    Load following is a related issue. My $9 billion wind vs. $7 billion nuclear estimate assumed baseload generation, but at 1.2 GW CAES capacity and 900 GW average wind capacity, the wind planners are obviously counting to supply at least some variable load as well. Further, the cited article isn't clear the CAES was only 60 GWh. It may be four times that but for now I'm going with 60 GWh as that is substantial and in fact sufficient to supply California's entire 6 GW 48 GWh variable demand (this time of year) for the 12 hours required if her 26 GW average were supplied entirely by baseload generation (independent of the CAES) and that single proposed Delta CAES plant (suitably uprated) were used for balance. 

    Those are back-of-the-envelope tradeoffs. Capital cost-wise nuclear wins. As Keith has documented, on an unsubsidised LCOE basis nuclear does well as well, but in order to pull ahead needs be computed well beyond the nominal 30 year return LCOE estimates typically assume. Neither of which are relevant because... California. And Federal subsidies. California has a state moratorium on new nuclear construction, a state mandate for 33% renewable generation and a stored energy mandate as well, though the latter is deliberately vague. In other words, Callifornia will build and buy renewable energy and storage because that's what Californians want to build and buy. 

    Today's Federal wind PTC is effectively $33/MWh. Should it be extended past the Utah-Wyoming start date and apply for twenty years, that will be $5.2 billion and capital-wise the project looks competetive (to the developers) even with coal. Which is why we have PTC, though there are more economic ways to subsidize wind that are not so disruptive of existing nuclear. 

    Whether a particular nuclear plant can operate economically as a load follower depends entirely on the market circumstance of that plant, the availability of other dispatchable reserve,  and the freedom of the grid operator to minimize long-term costs. Although nuclear currently (right now) supplies 70% of Ontario's power, its capacity is about 37% total  while hydro is 25% and oil/gas 16%, so while load-following, with 41% capacity for variable load Ontario is still in good shape to run her nukes at a relatively high capacity factor of 83%. France has less hydro but greater market flexibility as part of the Euro grid; her nuclear capacity factor is about 77%. Electric prices are considerably lower here in the states (12.5 cent/kWh average) and nuclear plants must run something over 85% capacity factor just to break even, though it depends on the size of the plant. Small single unit merchant sites such as Kewaunee (560 MW) and Vermont Yankee (650 MW) could not make it in competition with low-priced gas. They closed down. Carbon emissions went up.

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  20. Since Michael mentioned the Lazard "report" , I think it is worth pointing out that their best case wind power costs we computed by assuming a capacity factor of 52%. Their worst case numbers assumed a capacity factor of 30%. Given that the US average is around 30% and EU average somewhere between 20% and 25% (in Germany less than 20%), this seems quite generous. In computing abatement costs with wind power they assumed 52% capacity factor. (In the past Lazard seems to have subtracted subsidies from the costs and then cited this figure as the cost of wind power. It seems that this year they have refrained from this practice.) Finally they choose to plot their estimated costs for wind power starting from 2009...which conventiently leaves out the pronounced cost increases between 2004-2009.

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  21. "No matter how many peer reviewed papers cite the advantages and blessings of wind power, the UK governemnt clearly showed what it thought of peer review when it burnt fossil fuels to replace energy from nuclear powered sources rather than rely on wind power."

    Democratic government care what voters think, not what scientists think and if voters prefer denial, then so will governments. Governments struggle to tackle problems that require long term thinking, especially if costs can be counted to the next generation. Even without climate change, countries cannot depend on fossil fuel indefinitely so a transition to something else is  required. The science is telling you do it quicker.

    "I can think of no government that would jeopardise its citizen's access to cheap and most importantly reliable, power by turning to renewables as its major supply source." Think again and try mine - New Zealand. Admittedly, low population compared to UK and abundant renewables help. I think UK needs nuclear.

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  22. I agree with michael that "nuclear discussions are a waste of time and clutter up the comments board" so I hope we don't have a lot more of the same here. This 'study' does seem fatally flawed from the beginning. Obviously, a temporary shut down of a few facilities is going to be different than a planned conversion of an entire energy sector.

    And of course, in the absense of a high carbon tax or some even more rigorous regulatory structure, and in the presence of an eternal-growth economic model, no source, nuke or otherwise, is likely to dislodge fossil-fuels from their place of dominance.

    As the article mentions toward the end, intelligently managing consumption can play a major role in incorporating more renewables, as more and better storage systems are developed.

    The main thing is that nukes just can't be ramped up quickly enough (not to mention cheaply enough or safely enough) to offset the enormous cuts needed _now_ to our carbon emissions.

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  23. If "enormous cuts are needed now to our carbon emissions" why not champion the use of hybrid cars or significant increases in taxes on petrol and diesel or banning driving more than, say, 200 Km per week  or moving to rail to transport goods and cutting truck numbers by 50%?  Surely that is intelligently managing consumption rather than relying on alternative and erratic, sources of power supply.  If you run a business one of the necessities at least in the developed world, is a constant and reliable supply  of energy.  It has been pointed out that NZ  energy comes from renewables and that is true.  But the NZ government many years before the current focus on climate change/global warming developed its power sources based on its natural resources as do many other countries.  NZ is fortunate in that respect to be able to use hydro and geothermal sources of power supply.  As for depending on fossil fuel, Australia has enough coal for the next 600 years and as has been dramatically shown in the US, tapping into less accessible sources of oil is clearly an avenue that will extend fossil fuel recovery and use.

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  24. CCS from gas plants in combination with power to gas might be an inefficient but feasible way to store electric energy: advantage: it may use existing storage capacities and is versatile (use gas for electricity or heating, ...):


    A little off topic, but fit's into replacement debate:

    this discussion here - like so many - sounds like: how can we replace all we have today by renewables. My answer: we cannot. We rich have to downsize considerably, whether we want or not, whether we call it loss or new quality of life. Our children will have to downsize anyway, so it boils down to the one question: do we currently rich people sacrifice a significant part of "our" material wealth? Of course, we will need renewables, then, as well; see Fukushima: the danger lies not only in the burning core, but in the waste, which permanently needs to be cooled and stored savely for many hundreds of generations; also, uranium is a finite resource too).

    I personally prefer to have less and limit climate change and at the same time limit nuclear waste: I live in Germany, have no car, do not fly, heat very little, have no refrigerator and air conditioning, only have cold showers, eat very little animal products, eat mostly unrefined regional and organic food and have a vegetable garden, but still my CO2/ecological footprint is still much too high: single room apartement (globally seen, this is a palace ...), washing machine, electrical light, personal computer, smartphone, small music device, CDs, books, stuff, stuff, stuff, coffee/tea, cashew nuts, ... There's much more to be changed in my life.

    I fear that we humans will indeed try to limit climate change, but only as it more and more hurts even the richer/powerful parts of the world (too late) and then hastily look for more or less complete replacements of our unsustainable way of life and destroy the world as we know it by a mixture of uncontrollable climate change and wide spread ecological destruction though nuclear waste radiation, deforestation and soil degradation for "bio" fuels, wars for water, oil, uranium, litium for batteries, ... resources (all generators need water for cooling ...), ... And all that, because we deny the inevitable and try to avoid the necessary changes. 

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  25. Ashton - A significant carbon tax would immediately act to reduct carbon emissions and change the economic landscape against fossil fuel power, in a much more organic and market responsive manner than mandates or driving bans.

    Some notes here for the general topic: 

    • The article in the OP regards a power shortfall of about a week. At that time the wind sourced power was at a low point, not surprising as variability of renewable power only decreases with larger geographic spreads, and the UK is quite frankly small enough for a single weather pattern to have a large influence on renewable power levels. 
    • A week is far to short a time period to build new power plants (doh!), and the UK marker clearly went for what they had available - coal. 
    • There will be supplemental needs for any power system, nuclear or renewable or mixed - recent work looking at US regional grids estimated FF backup for peak times and low renewable availability were on the order of a only few percent of total grid energy. And in this case coal was apparently the less expensive option. 

    But this was a short-term balance issue of about a week! None of this really addresses longer term issues with renewables vs. nuclear, however, nor the general issues with the grid that are involved. As the UK moves away from fossil fuels, given it's small size, it will either have to tie into a greater European energy grid with more widely distributed renewables to maintain baseload needs, and/or build a lot of nukes. That's a geographic and economic limitation, though, not a technical one - if tied into a greater European and possibly North African grid there's plenty of potential power available. 

    The regulatory environment is indeed one of the limiting factors on nuclear power, that could and should certainly be streamlined. But I really have to point out that there are some environmental isses to be considered, not the least of which is waste handling, and that many of the regulations have solid reasons behind them. Much as we prevent dumping industrial waste into the water supply, no major industrial endeavor including nuclear power should be regulation-free. 


    Lastly: Should we, IMO, have more nuclear power plants? Yes. We should also have more renewables, better energy efficiency, carbon taxes, and all the other wedges that can be applied to reduce CO2 emissions. No single approach will do everything. 

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  26. Why is it the supposed "costs" of nuclear power consistently ignore the long term environmental costs?  And given its safety record and associated risks, every few decades you should factor in the cost of a Chernobyl or Fukushima.  In addition, we're talking about a technology that is often designed to operate at sea level, and I shouldn't have to remind anyone on this site what is happening with that...  

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  27. Ashton wrote: "If "enormous cuts are needed now to our carbon emissions" why not champion the use of hybrid cars or significant increases in taxes on petrol and diesel or banning driving more than, say, 200 Km per week or moving to rail to transport goods and cutting truck numbers by 50%? "

    Since it quotes me, I assume this is addressed to me. And the answer is that I have and I do advocate things like this and many more. Why would you assume otherwise. And many businesses do in fact already manage their electricity use in cooperation with utilities, and many more could do so with the right incentives...

    ZK has it right. We need to add the costs that TMI, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima have incurred and more to nearly every single nuclear facility in the world if we want anything close to an honest accounting  of the probably costs of these things.

    Given the vagaries of history and the propensities of individual and collective humans toward folly of various sorts, we must expect that every plant in the world, unless thoroughly decommissioned (and how much will _that_ cost??!!) will eventually go Fuku or worse.

    Accidents Will Happen

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  28. Re. wind energy in Denmark:

    In the first six months of this year Denmark got 41.2% of its electricity from wind. In January the figure was 61.7%. This in itself disproves the often heard argument that grids can only accommodate small amounts of electricity from intermittent sources.
    The Danish Energy Agency recently found that onshore wind was the cheapest way for Denmark to generate additional electricity.
    A good number of Danish turbines have been replaced as a result of a government program to reduce the number of small (old) turbines and replace them with larger ones, thus increasing efficiency and power production, and diminishing the number of turbines spread over the Danish landscape.
    Rather than indicating that turbines wear out after 20 years, the program underlines the flexibility and scalability of wind energy. It also indicates that improvements in wind technology are so significant, that they justify this kind of program, which has been renewed by governments of both the left and right.
    The turbines that have been installed since 2008 are 50% more productive than those that were installed before. In 1998 and 2013 the number of turbines was essentially the same, but in 2013 the turbines produced approximately four times as much electricity. By the end of August this year, more than 3 times as much. The goal is to increase wind energy's contribution to 50% by 2020 and to become fossil fuel free by 2050. Oversigtstabel_Vindkraft.xls - ult. august 2014 (uploaded 23/9-2014)

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  29. keithpickering maintains that the cost of wind energy hasn't fallen and that “the learning curve for wind has hit bottom and bounced.” What he's neglected to do is supply some context that can explain the cost increase. At the same time he pays little attention to the undeniable fact that prices have fallen steeply in recent years, and that there's no reason to believe that this won't continue:
    “After hitting a low of roughly $750/kW from 2000 to 2002, average wind turbine prices increased by approximately $800/kW (more than 100%) through 2008, rising to an average of more than $1,500/kW. The increase in turbine prices over this period was caused by several factors, including a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the Euro; increased materials, energy, and labor input prices; a general increase in turbine manufacturer profitability due in part to strong demand growth and turbine and component supply shortages; increased costs for turbine warranty provisions; and an up-scaling of turbine size, including hub height and rotor diameter (Bolinger and Wiser 2011).
    Since 2008, wind turbine prices have declined substantially, reflecting a reversal of some of the previously mentioned underlying trends that had earlier pushed prices higher as well as increased competition among manufacturers and significant cost-cutting measures on the part of turbine and component suppliers. As shown in Figure 38, our limited sample of recently announced U.S. turbine transactions shows pricing in the $900–$1,300/kW range. Bloomberg NEF (2014b) reports global average pricing for the most-recent contracts of approximately $1,000/kW for older turbine models and $1,300/kW for newer turbine models that feature larger rotors. Data on average global pricing from Vestas largely confirm these pricing points.
    Overall, these figures suggest price declines of 20%–40% since late 2008. Moreover, these declines have been coupled with improved turbine technology (e.g., the recent growth in average hub heights and rotor diameters shown in Chapter 4) and more-favorable terms for turbine purchasers (e.g., reduced turbine delivery lead times and less need for large frame-agreement orders, longer initial O&M contract durations, improved warranty terms, and more-stringent performance guarantees). These price reductions and improved terms have exerted downward pressure on total project costs and wind power prices, whereas increased rotor diameters and hub heights are improving capacity factors and further reducing wind power prices.
    LINK pp.59-60

    “Skyrocketing demand, downward trending prices
    Since the beginning of 2008, wind power capacity has more than tripled in the U.S. This has happened despite a jump in wind turbine costs from 2001 to 2009. But that rise in turbine prices is, in some senses, misleading. The cost to install the same sized turbine, in an area with the same level of wind resource has gone down. However, as more of the prime real estate for building wind farms – windy terrain near power lines and big cities – is populated by wind turbines, developers have moved to areas that are farther away from population centers and power lines, or have lower wind quality. To compensate for lower wind speeds, many turbines are manufactured with bigger blades – to catch more wind. These bigger blades are more expensive, and this increase in costs was accentuated by the steep climb in commodity prices (e.g. steel and oil) from 2004-2008. But as commodity prices have receded, the average cost of new wind power has also started to recede, and deployment of wind turbines has skyrocketed. In 2012, the U.S. deployed almost twice as much wind as it did in 2011. In fact, wind accounted for 43% of new electrical generation capacity in the U.S. – more than any other source.” p.3

    “We expect the competiveness (sic) of wind power to increase further due to cost reductions and increases in efficiency. Our analysis is that, by 2020, wind power will be competitive with gas-fired power at a natural gas price of roughly ~$1/MMBtu less than today. For the U.S., for example, this means that wind power will be competitive with gas-fired power for a natural gas price of under $6/MMBtu.”
    LINK p.53

    Finally, in real life some American states have found that wind is the the preferable alternative:
    “Today, Minnesota gets more of its power from wind than all but four other states, and the amount of coal burned at power plants has dropped by more than a third from its 2003 peak.”
    “ 'We’re adding 750 megawatts of wind in the next couple of years, and we’re getting that for a price that’s below the competing alternatives,' said Frank Prager, the vice president for environmental policy at Xcel Energy.
    Bill Grant, the deputy commissioner of Minnesota’s Commerce Department, said he believed that the federal tax credit for wind-energy projects was increasingly irrelevant. 'My hunch is, given prices right now, we’d be building wind with or without the subsidy,' he said.”

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Hot linked URL that was breaking page format. Please try to use the link tool in the tools menu above the text box.

  30. "We need to add the costs that TMI, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima have incurred and more to nearly every single nuclear facility in the world if we want anything close to an honest accounting of the probably costs of these things".

    That is an oversimplification. For one, we first need accurately assess what the true costs of each of these were, why they accrued, what we and reactor designers have learned from them, and the actual likelihood of their reoccurrance. Western insurors, for example, do not include Chernobyl in their risk analysis precisely because the industry _is_ regulated and that particular Soviet RMBK-1000 reactor design could never have been approved at any time by any Western regulatory agency.

    TMI killed or injured no one. It was indeed a public-relations disaster and the reactor itself will take decades more to clean up. Time there is on our side. TMI also gave a large impetus to both improve existing reactors of that era, upgrade their safety and control systems — no, Japan didn't really get the message — and prepare the passively safe Gen III+ designs — AP1000, APR1400, ESBWR and VVER-1200  for example — currently being deployed in Europe, China, the U.S, Russia, Korea, and tomorrow the world. Regulatory changes were also made, as miscommunication from NRC made a significant contribution.

    Again, it must be stressed that for all its cost and dislocation, Fukushima radiation killed or injured no one directly, and is unlikely to do so. Indirectly, from fear and dislocation stress, is another matter, and there's much debate whether Japan's massive and extended evacuation was really necessary. Some did prove to be, and Prime Minister Kan was under a bit of stress himself at the time he made those decisions so I'm not criticizing. But looking forward we owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves about the true hazards of radiation on the levels dispersed at Fukushima, and how to minimize the panic should a similar situation ever again arise. 

    Which might be _possible_ but is by no means given. Engineers do learn from these things, do act accordingly,. and do get support from regulators and politicians. Given the carbon crises, we owe it to ourselves and our children to learn likewise. 

    Yes accidents do happen, in all human endeavor. Electricity itself is dangerous, but its continued use must be weighed against the dangers of discontinuing its use, On a deaths per TWh basis commerical nuclear generation has proved itself statistically safer than any other power source: 35 times safer than hydro and four times wind. That's including what will probably prove a highly inflated 4,000 from Chernobyl and does not include deaths from the hydro and fossils used to regularize wind. Further discussion and references at Risk in Perspective: Power-related Safety by Energy Source (brief),  Gen III+ LIght-Water Reactor Designs (also brief), and Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors. Not to get controversial, but some misuderstandings concerning radiation are discussed by Cuttler and Pollycove in Nuclear Energy and Health. The U.S. National Academy of Science is taking these (and other) concerns seriously enough to convene of a new Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VIII comittee to look into them. Just don't expect conclusions overnight.

    In the U.S. nuclear plant decommissioning costs are set aside over the lifetime of plant operation. Decommissioning adds about 0.5 cent/kWh to electricity price, fuel cost about 0.1 cent. Final disposition of lightly-used nuclear fuel is not a geological or technical issue. In the U.S. it is a purely political can of worms we have chosen to kick down the road. NRC has recently determined we are safe to do so, probably indefinitely.  Unlike carbon dioxide, the probem opportunity will have resolved itself well before then, unless we decide to avail ourselves sooner.  


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  31. Thanks cosmicomics, that was quite a breath of fresh air! I don't think many of us nuclear advocates deny the benefits of wind, particularly over the critical next few decades. But we do need recognize that 80% overall reduction of society's carbon emissions will require essentially 100% elimination from stationary sources, electric generation in particular, reliably and at reasonable cost. We must plan in advance for that eventuality, and wind and solar cannot possibly do it on their own.

    Denmark is no different. The Danes might generate an amount of electricity from wind same as the amount of electricity they consume, and that will be well and good. But Denmark is not isolated, an island unto itself, but rather is at the crossroads of major interconnects between Norway, Sweden, and Germany. Denmark's wind is buffered by Norse hydro, Swedish hydro and nuclear, and German coal.

    Speaking of which, today Germany burns more lignite than at any time since 1990, and Denmark still relies upon it. Doesn't mean Danish wind is bad, or German for that matter. Only that someone has lost focus on the ultimate goal.

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  32. Dear Moderator,

    I don't understand how my comment 29 reappeared as comment 31. Please delete whichever you prefer. I don't know what a hot link is and I'm not familiar with your commenting options – Insert, Source – but I'll try to figure them out.

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Above the text box where you type your comment, there are some tabs. Look through those tabs and find the icon that looks like a chain. Select a segment of text to link, then click the chain icon. Enter the website address into the box that pops up.

    Hope that helps.

  33. cosmicomics, when preparing a comment the text opens in "Basic" tab. When you want to inclue a URL, click "Insert", then click the little lchain-link icon that says "Insert/edit link" when you mouse over it. An "Insert" widget will pop up. Paste your link's URL into the "Link URL" field, and its title into the "Link text" field. Works great!

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  34. Ed Leaver –
    No one is claiming that wind energy alone is the solution. Wind and solar are complementary technologies. Wind is strongest during winter and when the sun isn't at its highest. The sun is strongest during summer and the hours around noon. Solar is strongest during peak consumption hours, and that's why it's seen as a threat to utilities. It cuts into their greatest period of profitability. There are other kinds of renewable energy that can supplement wind and solar, and that can provide power when those sources are insufficient: geothermal, hydro, biomass and biogas. There are storage systems such as pumped hydro and compressed air. The collaboration between Denmark and Norway benefits both countries, and a grid based on a diversity of renewables is doable, and a number of energy plans based solely on renewables have been developed by extremely competent experts.
    We agree that, because of climate change, we have to get away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. My view is that nuclear energy will not enable us to do that. It takes approximately 9.4 years to construct a new plant after it has been designed and the plans have been accepted by the relevant authorities. Construction is beset with delays and cost overruns (Vogtle, Olkiluoto 3) and the power would not be available when it's needed. Moreover, there's the very relevant question of whether nuclear is a suitable technology for a world undergoing warming and subject to more intense heat waves, droughts, and floods:
    “Unlike power plants fired by coal and natural gas, nuclear fission produces no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
    But there is a less well-known side of nuclear power: It requires great amounts of cool water to keep reactors operating at safe temperatures. That is worrying if the rivers and reservoirs which many power plants rely on for water are hot or depleted because of steadily rising air temperatures.
    If temperatures soar above average this summer - let alone steadily increase in years to come, as many scientists predict - many nuclear plants could face a dilemma: Either cut output or break environmental rules...
    'We're going to have to solve the climate-change problem if we're going to have nuclear power, not the other way around,' said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who is with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
    'As the climate warms up, nuclear power plants are less able to deliver,' he said...
    During the extreme heat of 2003 in France, 17 nuclear reactors operated at reduced capacity or were turned off. Électricité de France was forced to buy power from neighboring countries on the open market, where demand drove the price of a megawatt hour as high as €1,000, or $1,350. Average prices in France during summer months ordinarily are about €95 per megawatt hour.”
    For more, see: power.html?full=true
    The problems can be mitigated, but at a cost that makes nuclear less economic than it already is. Please see:



    (A 2014 version of the nuclear report is available, but I haven't read it yet.)

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] You're probably going to end up with the same problem as before if you just hot link the entire URL. The problem is that sometimes a URL gets read as one very long word, and thus breaks the page formatting. Better to type a short phrase or the word "LINK" and then hot link that phrase or word.

  35. Thanks cosmicomic. I think I already posted a cost comparison of wind+caes vs new foak nuclear at VC Summer and Vogtle. These plants include cooling towers, as do many others including coal.

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  36. I noticed that gas is higher on the generating table.  Natural gas produces twice the amount of water vapour than carbon dioxide.  Water vapour is the main contributor to weather and is the 'dangerous' greenhouse gas.  Because scientists cannot establish the water vapour conontent in the air at any time, any temperature, the most important gas for the human existence on the planet is ignored.  But not only that scientists, deniers, politicians and other fools don't seem to know the difference between weather and climate.

    Climate is the average of past weather as recorded faithfully by the humble thermometer.  In that airmix water vapour content could be anything up to 4% - or 40,000 ppm.  To even suggest that carbon dioxide has a major impact on weather or climate (a desk figure) is fooling himself. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please acquaint yourself with the comments policy on this site. Note particularly the rules concerning sloganeering and commenting on topic. You can use the search function on the top left to find appropriate threads. You might want to look at "Water is the most powerful greenhouse" for starters. You might also like to look up the formal definition of climate as per WMO. When scientists talk about "climate", this is the definition that is understood.  If you wish to debate the science, then do so with backing from data and/or references, preferrably peer-reviewed. Unsupported repetition of long-debunked myths will simply be deleted.

  37. Hi Ingvar! You seem to have come to the right site! Welcome, and please feel free to avail yourselves of Skeptical Science's resources, e.g. Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works

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  38. Ingvar...  In other words, you can't just make up your own version of science. You have to dig in a learn the science.

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  39. The arguments on how good renewables are mitigating CO2 are indeed technically not straightforward. It may be useful to take a real-life example, and look at the major industrial country that's gone furthest down the renewable road: Germany. Its CO2 emissions have continued to rise during 2012 and 2013 and it's not meeting it's Kyoto goals:
    while burning of coal (often lignite) has risen to levels not seen for 20 years:

    Those who refer to Fukushima ought to be candid about how many people have died or will die because of radiation: zero. Virtually all of the casualties were caused by the panicky reaction. Even Chernobyl is vastly exaggerated: the number of directly attributable deaths is less than 100 (virtually all firefighters or technical emergency workers).

    Of course there's a lot of political careers based on fostering hysteria - see the success of the greens in Germany.
    For the facts :


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  40. ubrew12 @4

    I've often wondered why wave/tidal power was not more developed in the UK. I gather (sorry no reference) that tidal/wave presents a challenge due to the complexity  of the wave motion. However there is some glimmering hope

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  41. Sotolith7,

    It is morally bankrupt for nuclear supporters to blame the victims for their deaths in the Fukashima and Chernobyl disasters.  If you want me to support nuclear, and I used to, you must accept responsibility for your past problems.  If you insist that it is other peoples fault that you killed them I will never believe that you are keeping safety first in mind.  Disclamer: I have extensive radioactivity training.  I worked with radioactivity for 4 years and have held a Curie of unshielded radiation in my hand.

    Holding renewables responsible for the failure of nuclear power in Germany will not win you many converts.  Nuclear failed on its own and renewables are taking up the slack left by that failure.  You cannot expect renewables to take over immediately for a business that took decades to build.

     I liive in Florida and the governmet here could not care less for environmental issues.  Nuclear has failed here, at great cost to ratepayers, on its own legs.  Blaming environmentalists will not help you to solve the problems with nuclear.

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  42. sotolith7, your conclusions seem based on 'facts' and 'logic' which aren't.

    Germany - Carbon emissions have risen, though only slightly, in Germany because they are trying to quickly replace nuclear power. Claiming this as a "real life example" of the inability of renewables to decrease CO2 emissions is patently false. Actual instances of using rapid renewable development to decrease carbon emissions (e.g. Hawaii, Spain) consistently show them succeeding at that goal. Once nuclear power in Germany is shut down any continued significant development of renewable power there will perforce lead to reductions in CO2 emissions.

    Fukushima - Yes, most of the immediate deaths were caused by the evacuation (though more due to poor living conditions than 'panic') rather than radiation exposure. However, claiming this as evidence that there was no danger requires dismissal of any trace of logical thought. That is, had they not evacuated then there would have been more radiation deaths. Likewise, your claim of "zero" radiation related deaths in the future is unsupportable. Statistically significant increases in the incidence of thyroid cancer have already been detected in the surrounding areas.

    The reckless management of the nuclear industry, leaving old plant designs running long after they should have been shut down, prevented it from ever becoming a major power source... and now any chance of that has passed because nuclear is simply too expensive. Why build nuclear when wind and solar power already cost considerably less... and costs are projected to continue declining rapidly for years? World nuclear power production peaked at 17.6% of total in 2006. Last year it was down to 10.8%. That decline has mostly been due to nuclear production being flat while global demand grew, but now total nuclear production is declining. Most of the active nuclear reactors in the world should have been shut down years ago, and very few new ones are being built. The industry is heading towards a rapid collapse.

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  43. @sweet : Blame the victims for their death ? No, blaming the goverment for non-sense evacuation decision including the non-sense deliberate decision of ignoring the SPEEDI warning system data. Pregnant women and childs had very good reason for evacuation. Nobody else was encuring a radiation risk that really justified immediate evacuation, especially the elderly citizens that the governement sometimes pushed to suicide.
    Early report indicate that the Hazelwell coal mine in Victoria, Australia has have had more direct impact on the population that Fukushima, with 11 direct and short term deaths suspected. Statistics on small particle pollution say the exposition suffered was highly dangerous, but nobody was evacuated. The trouble is here in the double standard.

    The nuclear plant in St. Lucie and Turkey Point work very well, and save massive amount of carbon emission in Florida every year. The owners of Crystal River 3 made a stupid decision to try to save money, that ended up massively expensive for them. Tens of nuclear reactors have had their steam generators replaced without problem when the proper company with the corrrect knowledge was used. Meanwhile I know we can find many wind turbines where improper maintenance has resulted in catstrophic costly failure or fatal fires. The lesson here is not that you should abandon the technology but that incorrect maintenance fails really badly.

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  44. jmdesp,

    If nuclear advocates have nothing better to offer than to blame the people they killed for their own deaths nuclear will never be safe enough to build.  Appropriate risk analysis was done and evacuation was required. I have read many posts like yours over the past five years and have gone from being a supporter of nuclear to an opponent.  I do not want to accept the risks you insist we must all take.   Monday morning quarterbacks who now claim the evacuation was not necessary ensure that nuclear safety will not be sufficient to protect the public.  

    I was actually thinking of the Crystal River 4 plant where they spent $1.5 billiion on a new plant and then decided that it was enough for the ratepayers to  pay for.  They never applied for a permit to build.  Thank you for reminding all of us about the other plant that was shut down early.  A supporter of nuclear in this thread claimed 60 year design life when current plants are shutting down after much less than that.  

    You failed to mention that the San Onofree Nuclear in California was also shut down after a failed attempt to upgrade the steam generator.  The engineering design on the new generator failed: that gives me a lot of confidence in the new nuclear designs.  There is another plant in Florida that has significant premature wear.

    Earlier in this thread a nuclear supporter claimed that private funding was obtained for the 5 US plants that the Federal Government has guaranted the loans on.  Some free market.  In Georgia they are also allowed to bill the customers for the interest on the loans before the plant is finished.  Where are the wind generators we pay interest on before they are built?  Oh wait, they are built so fast the interest is not needed to be paid in advance.

    I will not address safety since nuclear is not economic anyway, but there are many square kilometers that are uninhabited because of nuclear "incorrect maintenence".  Wind does not lay waste to the landscape.

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  45. Michael Sweet:

    Federal nuclear loan guarantees are not free, and are funded by fees paid by the grantees. After much negotiation Southern accepted a gaurantee for Vogtle, but they do pay for it. At VC Summers in South Carolina, SCE&G passed on the opportunity, and went completely with private finance. It was cheaper. The Federal energy loan guarantee program is available to "clean"coal and renewables as well. The program is not above criticism, but a gaurantee costs the government only if the grantee defaults on the terms. As you may recall, in 2011 solar panel fabricator Solyndra defaulted on $535 million.  

    Such are the risks of venture capital. Renewables get additional subsidies: wind, geothermal, and closed-loop biomass get a 2.3 cent/kWh Production Tax Credit, after-tax so effectively 3.3 cents. Rooftop solar gets net metering. Renewable Energy Standards gaurantee a captive market and insure the consumer picks up the tab for increased costs due to renewable generation. It was feared 80% of new wind projects would be cancelled if the PTC were not extended at the end of 2012.  

    More information at US Nuclear Power Policy. Times change. Nuclear does not enjoy the support it once did, and renewables are comparatively better off. It might be done better: if the goal is to increase wind and solar deployment, then net metering, PTC, and RES are fine. If the goal is long-term carbon reduction, they should be re-thought in favor of support mechanisms that might better effect that goal.

    Please try to realise just what it will take to attain zero-carbon emissions from the electric sector. Prof. MacKay and UK Department of Energy and Climate Change recently hosted a public thought-experiment, wherein the participants were asked to optimize the kingdom's energy mix with goal of reducing total carbon emissions 80% by 2050. This is not an easy task, and DECC has developed an interactive online tool the public may use to gain appreciation for the difficulty. Participants in this particular exercise did rather well: 77% reduction. Not the hoped-for 80%, but what they could agree upon. Their final timeline looked something like this:

    UK Primary Energy Supply to 2050

    The online tool is here. Feel free to do better, but note the latency in nuclear build-out; advance planning is required. Of course the US is not the UK, and whatever we eventually come up with will be different. But not totally. 

    Admittedly, making predictions is hard. Particularly about the future. But such is our task. In 2011 Allison Thomson and her colleagues looked at the problem globally, which also has some merit. They sought cost-minimized global energy mixtures to match IPCC's four Representatitve Concentration Pathways. RPC 4.5 stabilizes end-of-century emissions at 4.5 W/m^2 radiative forcing and estimated  2.4 C temperature rise — scary, but better than RPC's 6.0 or 8.5. The authors' RPC 4.5 results:

    Electricity generation by technology type in the RCP4.5 scenario 2005 - 2095  Note that “other” includes non-dispatchable wind and solar; their fractional contribution is somewhat less than their nominal capacity factor. Also, again note the latency in nuclear build. These are cost-optimized mixtures. Certainly nuclear can be excluded, as is popular here in the United States. But our electricity will then cost more relative to economies that do advantage themselves of fission, and low electric cost is one of our main competitive factors.

    For that reason if we can't get this, or any, combination of reliable low-carbon energy sources lower in cost than that afforded by coal, coal is what developing economies will continue to burn. Just to better themselves. No one can afford to do otherwise. 

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  46. Ed,

    Why should VC Summers get a loan when they are allowed to charge their customers billions of dollars in interest and construction costs years before any electricity is produced?  Your claim of free market financing is simply false, they make the customers pay in advance.  If they did not bill in advance they would never make a profit.  It is a set up for the profit of the utility and everyone knows it. They are at least 18 months behind schedule (they currently do not have a public schedule so I cannot determine the actual delivery date).  The Fitch rating Credit Desk has lowered the parent company credit rating to "negative" because of the delays. 

    Your UK link is broken.  Without looking at it I can say that the USA  has considerably more renewable resources than the UK.  In addition, the UK is too small to balance wind and solar systems across the country so they will require a different system than the US.

    In their conclusion Thomson state:

    " However, there are many possible pathways in GCAM and other integrated assessment models that would also achieve a radiative forcing level of 4.5 Wm−2. For example, simulations with GCAM can reach 4.5 Wm−2 even if some technology options, such as CCS or nuclear power, are removed from consideration" (my emphasis)

    In a brief read of the paper they do not discuss their energy production model.  I note that electricity generation with CCS has not been demonstrated anywhere on a commercial scale and is a speculative technology.  Wind and solar have plummeted in price since the paper was written while installation has skyrocketed.  I doubt their model captured this change in price.

    I have never seen a nuclear proponent suggest how Syria, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and Africa can safely be powered using nuclear

    Other nuclear supporters on this thread blame the Japanese Government for the deaths caused by the Fukashima Nuclear disaster.  That gives nuclear a very bad reputation.  Multiple recent engineering fiascos with nuclear upgrades do not inspire confidence in the industry.  Excuses from proponents are a dime a dozen.

    Nuclear proponents blame environmentalists for their problems.  The problem is that nuclear is not economic.  Nuclear hopes that the five reactors currently being built will demonstrate they can compete with renewables.  In 5 years we will see if they are successful.

    I personally hope that they are successful since we need all the options we can get.  The nuclear industry track record is terrible and they are currently way behind schedule on their builds.  Wind and solar have gone down in price by close to 50%. 

    Nuclear proponents on this thread exaggerate the problems with wind (see Kieth at 16 on Dutch wind turbines).  Keith leaves out the currently announced cost over-runs at nuclear plants being built and fails to mention they are all way behind schedule.  Claims of free market financing fall over on superficial inspection.  It is impossible to trust anything nuclear proponents say. 

    As Keith points out, Warren Buffett is investing in wind.  Yesterday my local power company announced their first commercial solar power build (only a 2 megawatt pilot plant).  Walmart is planning to put solar on their roofs.  What more do I need to say?

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  47. Michael, 

    I assume you meant "loan guarantee". You don't build nothing without loans. My point was that Federal guarantees are not free, SCE&G thought them too expensive, and took on higher-interest debt rather than pay for them. A loan guarantee is not a subsidy on a good loan. Not in the same sense as a RES, grid priority, or Production Tax Credit. Would you like to forgo any of these? How do they affect "free-market financing?"

    Yes, it is indeed a regulated market that allows Southern and SCE&G to gouge their present customers for a benefit (long term low and stable electric prices) that will acrue mainly upon future customers long after the current gougees are dead. At least present customers are represented by their respective PUCs and have some say in the matter. Elsewhere, it also are regulated market that dictate RES and NM and PTCs that require utilities to gouge present customers for needlessly expensive energy whose cost will only rise with the future price of gas. I mean, it's impossible to trust anything...

    Nevermind. I do thank you for taking time to read the Thomson Paper. I am well aware of their "of course we can run our econ models with whatever constraints you wish" reminder. My point is they didn't, though I too wish they had included more details than appeared in that particular article, and in particular had directly compared costs both with and without nuclear. But its what I could find at the time. However,  under their assumptions nuclear <b>is</b> highly competitive, at least toward the higher-emissions end of the timeline, and at least compared with the total system cost of acheiving the same carbon reductions without nuclear. And given construction latencies, one does need plan in advance to get there.  

    Most important, though, is that the Thomson study and the U.K. demonstration both illustrate integrated systems solutions that directly address the over-riding question: "How do we most economically obtain the necessary carbon reductions at minimum cost?" — and don't attempt to hide behind ideological preconceptions to answer something else. 

    And that is where my definition of "economic" appears to differ (somewhat) from your own. Like many others, you apparently look at the short-term marginal cost of wind in today's low-penetration market with plentiful gas, see that cost is wonderfully low, and think that means anything meaningful in a future high penetration, low emissions world were gas must become much, much more expensive. I included the U.K. and Thomson figures in a modest attempt to convince you otherwise.

    Perhaps "convince" is too strong a word. Give pause for thought, anyway.  

    And actually, today's low marginal cost of wind is meaningful. It means investors can invest in wind today, make a profit, and look at figures like those I cited and see their investment isn't going to blow away. Future demand for wind continues to grow, and that does mean something. What it doesn't mean is that wind+solar+biofuels alone are going to solve the world's carbon problem. They won't. In absense of carbon tax coal will always be cheaper, and the enemy is coal.

    I am also aware that cost of raw wind has dropped rather nicely the past few years. These models all take into account projected future costs of all technologies, but of course such projections cannot be perfect. Like climate, we won't know the exact details until they become weather, by which time it will be too late.  

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  48. Ed Leaver, a straight reading of mainstream climate science tells us that no nation can afford development built upon the use of coal; the permanent and irreversible climate consequences and costs make it something worse than mere uneconomical. Even more so when a nation taking that course is in fact many nations. It's a failure of policy of the developed nations that they are still encouraging and financing development elsewhere based on coal.

     "Not more expensive than coal" as the limiting constraint on a transition to low emissions is a dangerous and irresponsible and wholly artificial one that arises from failure to appropriately cost the climate consequences and price carbon dioxide emissions accordingly.

    Periodically and intermittently wind and solar have only recently become cheaper than coal - the full implications of that are yet to be appreciated. Projections based on assumptions of their excessively high costs - and for energy storage with them - look likely to be rewritten again and again. Along the way fossil fuels - and nuclear - will be forced into intermittency. This should have been foreseen but the assumption was that neither wind nor solar could ever make a significant contribution to energy supply at a competitive price - and that has now been shown to be false.

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  49. Ken, I did specifically say "in absense of carbon tax." The reality is external costs remain external, and coal continues to be developed. One way or another that must change. Earlier in the thread I showed a state-of-the-art wind+CAES storage project that had capital cost twice that of coal. I didn't do a complete LCOE comparison, but do keep in mind the southern Wyoming wind source is also home to the world's cheapest coal. However, wind and storage are mandated by California's RES, so in this case it doesn't matter. But fossil fuels aside, why should nuclear ever be forced into intermittency? Not that it can't be, or isn't. Because it is, and to our mutual detriment. Rather, why should it? 

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  50. Ed, when the sun is shining and wind is blowing and the wholesale electricity price is low as a consequence, why wouldn't the market buy those megawatts ahead of more expensive nuclear's? And if nuclear is sold at below cost during such periods, how can it not increase the prices they need to charge outside them? 

    We are passing a tipping point, where wind and solar are being installed because they are cheaper than alternatives, not because they are propped by subsidy and new installs globally now rival that of coal and exceed that of nuclear. They are not yet - but are nearing - scales where their intermittency is a serious issue, but that's an issue at least as much for obsolete plant that has to fall into the role of intermittent backup and lose profitability in the process as it is for wind and solar; in the transition to low emissions that shift of role needs to be recognised and accommodated as an interim step.

    It may seem to be a case of jumping blind, to  commit to low emissions when energy storage has a lot of development still to do and redundancy of low emissions supply is still inadequate - and known low emissions plant like nuclear is struggling to establish a major place in the mix - but we cannot afford a failure to commit to low emissions by insisting only perfect and whole solutions must be there first.

    The failures of policy - such as absence of carbon pricing - are principally failures of politics to achieve unanimity of purpose. More a failure of politics in my opinion than failures of technologies. I don't know to what extent political declarations of commitment to low emissions in the UK, Germany and elsewhere - where there is the outward appearance of such unanimity - continue to mask strong determination to doubt, deny obstruct and delay but I would be very surprised if that were not the case. Certainly such politicking, whether overt or covert, undermines the goal of low emissions by any means and continues to inhibit commitment to measures like adequate carbon pricing that are not specific to particular technologies

    Such opposition represent a double hit for nuclear, which already suffers from serious PR problems exacerbated by small but dedicated and vocal groups of anti-nuclear activists. Politics as well as public sentiment is against it and, unlike wind and solar that can and will keep growing incrementally even in the presence of political opposition, it's long lead times and high initial investments, and need to overcome popular resistance make that unanimity of commitment to low emissions an absolute prerequisite. That the political players that most want to obstruct or delay on low emissions tend to be those that profess willingness to use nuclear is particularly damaging as it diverts many of the most influential voices in favour of nuclear towards the wholly incompatible goal of undermining unanimity in order to do as little as possible. Where anti-nuclear activism represents strength of opposition and hits from the front, obstructionist politics represents weakness of support and hits from behind.

    I think that genuine unanimity of commitment is essential and will give a boost to nuclear but it can only add impetus to renewables as well - and they too have been held back from their full potential by failures of political will.

    (PS I hope this has not exceeded the bounds for political commentary)

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