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What should we do about climate change?

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Kevin Judd

A short piece for the general audience of RTR radio, Perth, Australia.
(listen to the original audio podcast)

Climate scientists are telling us that the earth is warming, we are causing it, and we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions to lessen the effects. So what should we do?

Firstly, we should either use less energy, or use renewable energy sources, like solar-thermal generators that are now providing energy in Europe more cheaply than Nuclear generators, without the waste products. In Australia, peak energy demand is on hot summer days, when solar energy is most abundant; it makes no sense to not use solar energy to help meet this peak demand.

Most importantly, we must stop listening to disinformation. Contrary arguments have been repeatedly shown to be false and misleading. Claims that climate change is a hoax, or a conspiracy, or that climate scientists have deceived the public, is an inversion of the truth. Climate change denial is the propaganda. Ninety seven percent of scientists agree climate change is happening. The peer-reviewed evidence is overwhelming. The time for scepticism about climate change has past.

Scepticism is a good thing, all scientists are sceptics. I always encourage people to critically examine evidence and motivations. A good place to begin is the following. What is more plausible? That thousands of scientists have been fabricating evidence and theory for over a hundred years in a conspiracy to achieve, well, what exactly? Or that industries and their partners are sponsoring a disinformation campaign because they stand to lose billions of dollars in profits, if people should use less, or alternative forms of, energy? Ask yourself who stands to lose the most if the scientists' warnings are acted on? Then ask yourself who stands to lose the most if scientists' warnings are not acted on.

And keep in mind that the costs of prevention now is less than the cost of trying to fix the damage later

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO PODCAST

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 380:

  1. Peter Lang, like it or not, many of the life-time electricity costs for nuclear power are based off the assumed capital cost of $1,990/KWe-which comes directly from the World Nuclear Federation. Experience over the last 3 years, though, shows a very different cost for nuclear power. Florida Power & Light estimated the cost of 2 AP1000 reactors in 2008 to come in at around $3100/KWe to $4500/KWe ($6,000 to $8,000 when finance charges were added in). Duke Energy Carolinas is building two AP1000 reactors for a total cost of $11 billion-or around $5,500/KWe. Georgia Power Company is contracted to build 2 AP1000 reactors for a total cost of $17 billion (including $3 billion for transmission upgrades). Excluding transmission upgrades, this gives a cost of around $7,000 per KWe. Then you have the Olkiluoto Power station, which is already costing EU$3,800/KWe, but hasn't even been completed yet. This cost is in *spite* of SIXTY YEARS of Research, Development & Construction of Nuclear Power Stations-not to mention significant public & private investment-compared to the relatively short life span of the Concentrated Solar Power industry (SEGS only went online in 1991). It really does show up the weakness of the pro-nuclear argument!
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  2. quokka, have you not heard of Vanadium Flow Batteries? If these were built (& I see no reason why they haven't, as they wouldn't add significantly to the cost of a wind power project), you'd be able to store several hundred megawatts of excess Wind Power for release when there is no wind power to be had. The fact is that storage & good placement of wind turbines can remove pretty much *all* of the variability experienced by wind power-yet funny how that argument is still bandied about by the anti-renewable squad!
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  3. I am agnostic about nuclear power, but I think we need to consider that any solution must work for the entire world. Do we really want Pakistan and Nigeria to build a bunch of thorium reactors? Will those reactors really be terrorist proof? (Claims about "fanciful" worries seem to pale when we talk about Nigeria and Zimbabwe building reactors). Solutions must work for everyone, not just the developed world. I do not mind if Pakistan builds a bunch of wind generators, but I have my doubts about thorium reactor safety in the third world.
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  4. michael sweet The breeder reactors are a lot safer than the water reactors.. They use the liquid fluoride(thorium salt) as the coolant, which has a very high boiling T(off top o my head around1600-1800C) But its also part of the reactant, so you can basically just run frost plugs in your reactor chamber, that will drop the coolant into a separate chamber, stopping the reaction in the case of over heating. The thorium salt absorbs the radiation, and is stable/ it wont burn, or dissolve in water etc.. The premise i believe is to run processing plants that process the coolant into fissionable fuel, which is a result of the atomic breakdown from absorption of the radiation... so they make their own fuel(uranium), from thorium. They also can use nuclear waste from the old plants as fuel. Now they actually convert OVER 95% of the fissionable material into energy(as opposed to the couple o percent of water reactors) The reason why they havnt been heavily developed, is mostly because the water reactors are better for getting the materials for nuclear weapons. The japanese have some. They have huge potential, and can operate with passive safties... short o vaporizing a plant, the dangers are greatly reduced from the traditional nuclear plants.
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  5. Re: michael sweet (53) Uhmmm, Pakistan is already nuclear. That ship has sailed, as they say. The Yooper
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  6. Thank you Tarcisio José D'Avila (#48)! You did a lot better in your four lines than this Kevin Judd figure. And, also, thank you Marcus, for debating with these nuclear power proponents with their overoptimistic calculations!
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  7. Marcus, Price per name plate capacity quoted in MWe as an indicator of the cost of generating electricity is extremely misleading. We can see how misleading this can be by considering the capacity factor. For on-shore wind this is in the range 25-30%, for solar PV in for example Germany it is no more than 12%, for solar thermal with storage it varies but there are no existing plants than come anywhere near the 90% or so typical of coal and nuclear. A starting point for discussions of costs needs to be LCOE per kWh. But that is not the end of the story. What really matters is the overall system cost. Variable sources of electricity whose variability cannot be controlled must be backed up or shadowed by something that can be controlled. It could be done with storage eg pumped hydro, partially by extra transmission capacity to geographically distant sources or extra generation capacity - possibly gas. Whatever it is, it also costs money and makes the true system costs of solar and wind higher than the LCOE figure would suggest. It is time to stop playing games with the issues of energy and demand the same sort of rigor that is rightfully demanded in discussions of climate.
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  8. Argus, "And, also, thank you Marcus, for debating with these nuclear power proponents with their overoptimistic calculations! What is the basis for implying that the nuclear figures are over-optimistic but the renewable figures are not? Nuclear is proven technology. Renewables are not. Whereas the nuclear figures are based on 50 years of actual recorded history, the renewables projections are based on hope and wishful thinking. So which is optimistic? France, 80% nucelar, lowest emissions from electricity of any major country, least cost electricity, and it is reliable! What is the goal? Cut emissions or promote ideological beliefs?
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  9. "short o vaporizing a plant, the dangers are greatly reduced from the traditional nuclear plants." this sentence reads wrong, What i mean is, for you to get the same kinda disaster as at say Chernobyl, would require you to drop a Daisey cutter on the plant, and atomize the coolant/plant in general. Not that the plant can vaporize itself, passive safeties n all, even if all people suddenly turned in zombies and eat our selves into extinction, the plants would simply shut themselves down. As a result of time.
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  10. Peter Lang, if "Renewables are Unproven" is your only criteria for dismissing it, then why in the *hell* did any country ever embrace nuclear power? In 1950, that technology was "unproven" too. As I recall, the proponents of nuclear power claimed it would be "too cheap to meter", yet it still remains one of the *highest* cost sources of electricity after *sixty years* of intensive public & private funding. The only reason France differs is because the French Government heavily subsidized the nuclear industry when Electricitie de France was was publicly owned. These days, EdF is one of the most heavily indebted companies in Europe-hardly a great advertisement for nuclear power. As I said above, take a look at the *real* costs of nuclear power, compared to those quoted by the WNF, & tell me that the nuclear industry isn't being over-optimistic in their calculations. Also, cost & time overruns are the *norm* in the nuclear power industry-not the exception, whereas the bulk of the renewable energy projects I've read about were completed ON TIME & ON BUDGET. Indeed, based on the examples I've given above, I'd agree that nuclear power *is* proven-a proven WHITE ELEPHANT! By contrast, have a look at photovoltaics. In 1982, the year the sine-wave inverter was invented, the average price of a solar cell was US$25 per watt & had an average efficiency of barely 5%. Just 28 years later, & the cost is currently $3 to $4 per watt, & average efficiencies are pushing 20% (with efficiencies in the lab of around 42%). Can nuclear power make the same claims?
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    Moderator Response: Please don't use all caps.
  11. #53 Marcus, "quokka, have you not heard of Vanadium Flow Batteries". Apparently these were first patented in 1986. One has to ask why it is 24 years later that there is no significant deployment of these things anywhere in any grid. Everybody would love inexpensive storage, not just to support renewables, but to deal with peak load requirements in existing grids. I'm as much for the next big thing as the next person, but if it cannot feasibly be used as a substitute for the next coal fired plant to be built in the next five years, then that next big thing is something to keep an eye on but no more than that. Remember that those new coal fired plants will have a life of several decades and once built, they will be very hard to get rid of. It is imperative that we do not fall into the really dangerous trap of mistaking our wishes for the engineering and economic realities of what can actually be done. This has been referred to with some justification as a "technological cargo cult".
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  12. So quokka, do you *really* believe that coal & nuclear are as reliable as you'd have us believe? Centralized power plants are subject to all kinds of faults between the point of production & the point of consumption. Also, do you *honestly* believe Coal Power stations don't have to be shadowed to some extent, in case of breakdowns? Like I said before-but you've chosen to ignore-claims about variability are usually made by those living in a TIME WARP. Massive improvements in relatively cheap storage technology has made the issue of variability in renewable energy practically moot. Also, how does your argument stack up when looking at energy sources like Tidal Streams, Run-of-River Hydro-electricity or Landfill Gas, which are completely capable of supplying reliable base-load power *without* the need for additional back-up?
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  13. Marcus says & average efficiencies are pushing 20% (with efficiencies in the lab of around 42%). Can nuclear power make the same claims? Yes, well over the 90% range for turbine efficiency, yah can run the turbines at 1800C(big difference between that and 15C), the 95% figure, is a lower end estimate of mass converted to energy(E=MC^2 n all eh)... there is no comparison. The old nuclear plants, were, are designed for the purpose of producing nuclear weapons, electricity was the bi product. And whats more... they(fast breeders) can theoretically be built small enough to power aircraft... think o the GHG savings there;-) that may be pushing it.
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  14. A couple of points Quokka. Number 1, we're not talking about replacing coal-fired electricity in the next 5 years. I'm an optimist, & even I recognize that a switch to a 100%low-carbon, decentralized electricity grid will probably take on the order of 20-30 years to achieve, possibly longer. In the meantime, however, a reduction in our dependence on coal from 80% to around 60% is entirely achievable within the next 10-15 years *if* the political will exists. Number 2, there are currently half a dozen sites in the world where Vanadium Redox Batteries are being used to supply a regular source of electricity-with another one on the drawing board in Ireland. Its worth noting that a lot of the whizz-bang technology cited by pro-nuclear advocates has still not seen the light of day-in spite of being patented more than 30 years ago (Gas Cooling & Pebble-Bed come to mind). Number 3-even if you ignore Redox Batteries, other sources of rechargeable storage have come a *very* long way in the last decade-in terms of both energy density & price.
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  15. Joe Blog-from what I've read, even a gas-cooled nuclear reactor (the best design currently available) still only has thermal efficiencies of about 50%. Good, but hardly great (Coal & regular water-cooled reactors have a thermal efficiency of around 35% to 40%). Like I said, these efficiency gains have taken 60 years of intensive research & development to achieve, & come at a significant dollar cost for construction compared to lower tech reactors, whereas the achievements of photovoltaics have been done whilst simultaneously lowering the unit cost of the cells-& has been done on the funding equivalent of "the smell of an oily rag"!
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  16. Marcus, Nuclear plants in the US and Sth Korea currently operate at over 90% capacity factor. There has been a steady increase in nuclear capacity factor over the last three decades as a result of the increased operational experience. And importantly, much of the downtime for refueling and scheduled maintenance can be planned for. You are whistling in the wind if you wish to dispute this. "I'd agree that nuclear power *is* proven-a proven WHITE ELEPHANT!" Let's have a look at what this white elephant has done for CO2 emissions in some selected European countries: Per Capita CO2 Emissions France has mostly nuclear, Sweden and Switzerland have a mix of hydro and nuclear and the rest are principally fossil fueled. The message is crystal clear - you cannot make meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions without displacing fossil fuels from base load electricity generation. And that includes Denmark despite the considerable effort put into wind power.
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  17. If this was a science question, we would be looking for peer-reviewed papers on the relative economics, which would in turn point to auditable, verifiable data. We'd be discussing relative merits of methodology and assumption and proposing way to settle discrepancies with empirical experiments. As it is, we have a whole lot of contradictory information being presented and little way of doing verification. I'd like to see economics done like science. I was persuaded from reading MacKay's Sustainable energy without all the hot air that some countries would find it very tough to meet energy needs (especially to power transport too) without nuclear, though I strongly doubt Australia would be one of them.
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  18. Marcus, More misrepresentation. You say: "Peter Lang, if "Renewables are Unproven" is your only criteria for dismissing it, ..." No, I did not say that. The reasons renewables are uneconomic and cannot meet our requirementsd are many: 1. they are very costly - far more coslty tnan uuclear 2. cannot provide reliable power 3. do not avoid much if any emisisons (so why do it) 4. require hufe subsidies per MWh (unlike nuclear which has to subsidises renewables 5. require far more mining, materials processing, manufacturing, fabricating, construction, decomissioning and waste disposal than nuclear 6. require far more land area In short, there really are no advantages of renewables over nuclear. The point about renewables are umnproven related to the cost projections. Nuclear is proven so the cost projections are based on actual costs over a long period of time. Non-hydro renewables are un-proven so the costs are little better than a guess. Over the past 20+ years the projecxtions of the cost of renewables, and when they would be economic, have been completely wrong - always!. So why would we expect that to change in the future. Google "Zero Carbon Australia - Stationary Energy Plan - Critique" to see just how ridiculous are the whishes, hopes and claims of the rnewable energy advocates.
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  19. The article tells us that: "Firstly, we should either use less energy, or use renewable energy sources, like solar-thermal generators..." What comes after that? While “Firstly” has a ring of common sense, I wonder what effect this will have on reducing global temperatures. Why won't government and scientists prepare estimates of global temperature reductions to be expected by replacing SOME of our carbon fuels energy sources with power from windmills and solar panels? If worthwhile temperature reductions from these actions can be shown to consumers, it would go a long way to enhance public support. Of course, if estimates of temperature reductions are disappointingly low, that would explain why we’re not being told. Carbon fuels have been laid to blame by scientists for causing global warming, yet government has yet to unveil a plan to show a timeline for how and when we can effectively discontinue their use. Government hasn't seriously funded R&D to find a full time replacement for carbon fuels. Wouldn’t this be the cornerstone of a comprehensive national energy policy? Given government’s “solutions”, why isn’t the public being told where this is taking us? Government tries repeatedly to pass Cap and Trade. If it comes to pass, carbon trading will create a $10 trillion per year industry, depending where government sets the threshold to require use of carbon credits. One may argue the money involved, but how can such an industry reduce carbon fuel dependency? Obviously, the carbon trading industry would become too big to fail. The carbon trading industry would require continued use of large quantities of carbon fuels to survive. To me, it seems that the money from carbon trading will come from the pockets of consumers (through higher prices on all commodities), and do so without reducing global temperatures in any meaningful way. This is only a guess, since we haven’t been told. Government has surely calculated the tax revenues to be derived from, say, a 30% tax on Cap and Trade revenues. Given this, why would government WANT to replace carbon fuels? What would happen to the trading value of carbon credits if someone actually discovered the Holy Grail of energy that gives us a full time replacement for carbon fuels? It seems that government is betting the farm on wind and solar to save humanity from the threat of carbon fuels. But nobody will tell us how much of a temperature reduction to expect from government’s solutions. Why is this so? Why are scientists silent on this?
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  20. Marcus@29, you said: "By contrast, Andasol-in Spain-has an installed capacity of 100MW & cost US$380 million-or a cost of $3800 per MW of installed capacity." There severl inaccuricies in this statement. Firstly, Andasol does not have a capacity of 100 MW. It has a capacity of 50MW. It has only just been completed. They recently started development of a second plant of 50MW. So to say it 'has' a capacity of 100MW is false. Secondly, the cost of Andasol 1 was 300 million Euro (US$400 million) (50MW) or $8,000/kW, not $3,800/kW. http://www.nrel.gov/csp/solarpaces/project_detail.cfm/projectID=3 Thirdly, it is wrong to compare capacity of solar and nuclear. Nuclear provides power whenever the demand calls for it, 24/7/365. Solar provides power when the sun shines, in the day time and mostly in summer. Without storage it has a capacity factor of about 13% to 20%. With storage, at huge cost, this can be increased somewhat. The claim that solar thermal with energy storage is a baseload power station is not correct. Therefore, nuclear and solar must be compared on a properly comparable basis. The proper way to do this is with levelised cost of electricity (LCOE). However, that is complicated. For simplicity, let's compare Andasol 1 with a nuclear plant on the basis of the average energy they can supply per year. I'll use the contracted cost for the new nuclear plants being built in the UAE because it is from a recently signed contract, and the power station is the 'first in country' (which is higher cost than the 'settled down cost'). The cost is $20.4 billion for 5,400 MW, or $3,800/kW. Based on experience with the units in Korea they expect a capacity factor of about 90% (use 85% to be conservative). The cost of average power is $4,400/kWy/y. What about Andasol 1? 50MW (rated peak capacity), $8,000/kW capacity factor = 36% ('expected' but will no doubt be much lower in practice) cost of average power = $22,000/kWy/y On the basis of that rough calculation, the cost of electricity from solar (unreliable electricity at that) is 5 times the cost of reliable electricity from nuclear. Levelised cost of electricity: nuclear = $60-$100/MWh (of electricity that is always available) Andasol 1 = $400/MWh (for electricity that is available part time) On this more accurate basis, the cost of electricity from solar is 4-7 times the cost of solar. If we want to cut CO2 emissions, we must embrace nuclear - like France has. France has about the lowest cost electricity in Europe, by far the lowest CO2 emissions from electricity of any major country, exports more electricity than any other country (which demonstrates it is cheap and reliable). 76% of France's electricity is generated by nuclear power.
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  21. Regarding solar PV, the pannels are only part of the cost. The total cost of average power for the new PV poewer stations (just commissioned) at Windora, Queensland is $110,000/kWy/y. Compared with $4,400/kWy/y for nuclear (based on the recently signed UAE contract). [Windora cost $4.5 million for 130kW, expected generation = 360MWh/y, = 32% capacity factor. Cost per average power = $109,500/kWy/y.]
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  22. Re: daisym (69) OK, I'll take a crack at this:
    "Why won't government and scientists prepare estimates of global temperature reductions to be expected by replacing SOME of our carbon fuels energy sources with power from windmills and solar panels?"
    The rise in temperatures seen is driven by an energy imbalance. Due to the rise in human-emitted CO2 (a greenhouse gas), more energy is being retained in the lower troposphere than before the extra CO2 was released; this extra energy retained mostly (93% or so) has gone into the oceans, the rest into the air. Due to the immense thermal mass of the oceans, heating has been unequal. If no more extra CO2 were injected into the carbon cycle, the temperatures would eventually stabilize (after about 30 years or so). It's kind of like eating an extra 100 calories a day. Doesn't seem like much, eh? An extra pound or two a year, who cares? Work it off next year or two...but after 20 or 30 years, you have an extra 40-60 pounds, much tougher to lose. Until the calorie budget gets balanced, either by eating less, exercising more or a combination of both, none of the extra weight will be lost. CO2 and temperatures work much the same way. As long as humans inject extra CO2 into the carbon cycle, the energy imbalance continues, the climate warms, the weather patterns destabilize, Arctic ice melts, glaciers melt, more moisture enters the air (about 4% extra [the equivalent of the volume of Lake Erie] moisture is now carried in the atmosphere due to the warming of 0.8 C), etc. So the short answer is: temperatures will not start to plateau and then go down. Not until the extra CO2 causing the rise in temps gets removed through natural processes. Which takes time: Centuries to Millenia time; effectively, we have wrought a permanent change on our world. But if we don't stop emitting fossil fuel derived CO2, temps will continue to rise...
    "Carbon fuels have been laid to blame by scientists for causing global warming, yet government has yet to unveil a plan to show a timeline for how and when we can effectively discontinue their use."
    Fossil fuel derived CO2 emissions are indeed to blame for the warming seen. Government has been dragging its heels as few in power have the political spine to walk away from the enormous dollars the fossil fuel industries represent. And then there is the potential damage to the economy it is felt will result without a viable replacement alternative. Business As Usual in Washington is safest, politically. The rest of your comment addresses why governments do or don't do things and energy alternatives; areas in which I typically don't delve. Hope what I did offer made some sense. The Yooper
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  23. Can anyone tell me if a nuclear power station anywhere in the world has been successfully decommissioned yet? If so, how much did it cost? And how much to permanently store the high level waste?
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  24. #51 Marcus
    like it or not, many of the life-time electricity costs for nuclear power are based off the assumed capital cost of $1,990/KWe-which comes directly from the World Nuclear Federation.
    I'm assuming that you are referring to the World Nuclear Association. You can read what they actually have to say here, and it is not what you are claiming: The Economics of Nuclear Power This piece draws heavily on the IEA 2010 Projection of Electricity Costs report. One thing is very clear is that the cost is highly dependent on region and that China and Sth Korea are doing it at low cost - from around $1.4 to $2.0 billion max per GWe. This in itself raises interesting questions. As the piece states, cost is a complex issue. In particular it is misleading to quote cost for first of a kind projects such as the Finnish EPR and claim they representative. The experience gained with first of a kind will most likely result in more efficient subsequent builds. This is not unique to nuclear. Finally, if a project is poorly executed or delayed, costs will blow out. Again, this is not unique to nuclear and can apply to any large civil engineering project. A representative view on cost is essential, and we have to look to authorities such as the IEA. By all means criticize their figures from an informed basis if you wish, but let's try to stick to the facts.
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  25. @Peter Lang, you're forgetting an advantage Solar has over Nuclear: its scalability. It's easy to envision a large number of private utility clients generating power through local PV installations with the possibility of selling excess power. It's a lot harder to envision people having miniature nuclear reactors in their backyard... That said, Nuclear Power is safer than it used to be, and we shouldn't necessarily shun it (as long as stringent safety protocols are followed and proper disposal is carefully monitored). It should be part of a mixed energy strategy that needs to continue promoting renewables (which will push the technology further and drive down costs).
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  26. Re: lin Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant at Charlevoix, Michigan (USA) was decommissioned, starting in 1997 and ending about 2003. Costs were $390,000,000. See quokka's link above for some valuable info as well. The Yooper
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  27. This compares six options for cutting Australia's CO2 emissions from electricity generation. http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/09/emission-cuts-realities/ The six options compared are: 1. Business as usual Replace coal in the BAU case with 2. Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) 3. CCGT and nuclear 4. Wind, CCGT and Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGT) 5. Solar Thermal and CCGT 6. Solar Thermal, Wind, CCGT and OCGT The options are compared on the basis of: a) CO2 emissions avoided compared with BAU, b) capital expenditure c) electricity cost (for the replacement technologies) d) avoidance cost (cost per tonne of CO2 avoided) Nuclear is by far the least cost option. All Australia's coal fired power stations could be replaced with nuclear by about 2035 to 2040. Then we'd be replacing gas power stations. If we want to make substantial cuts to CO2 emissions from electricity generation, want security of supply, want low cost electricity so electricity can displace fossil fuels used in heat and transport, then we need to embrace nuclear power.
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  28. #74 lin
    Can anyone tell me if a nuclear power station anywhere in the world has been successfully decommissioned yet? If so, how much did it cost?
    Yes. Nuclear decommissioning It's also important to understand that a lot of consideration is given in the design stage to decommissioning for modern nuclear power plants and they will be much cheaper to decommission than for example, the old Magnox reactors in the UK.
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  29. If we start building a lot of uranium powered stations, how long until we start running out of uranium? How long would thorium last if we started building them?
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  30. #79 lin How long will the uranium last? Try here: are uranium resources sufficient? The answer is, at the very least more than long enough until the next generation of reactors with advanced fuel cycles dramatically reduce the need for mined uranium. A recent MIT study came to the same conclusion. As for thorium, there is substantially more thorium than uranium available.
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  31. I like this as a summary. Got to page 7-8 and check out the estimates on geothermal and solar. Compare to the estimates in the upper section of p7. http://www.abare.gov.au/publications_html/energy/energy_10/ch_1.pdf
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  32. lin (#79), That is a really good question. Today's nuclear power plants consume about 0.7% of the Uranium in the fuel. While this is pretty inefficient it still makes sense in a world where Uranium costs $106 per kilogram and even after processing, reactor grade Uranium costs only $2,500 per kilogram (cf. Gold at $42,000/kg). Thanks to Jimmy Carter, NPPs in the USA use a "Once Through" fuel cycle so 99.3% of the fuel ends up as high level nuclear waste. Even so, the cost of the fuel is a tiny part of the cost of generating nuclear power. According to the EIA, NPP fuel averaged $0.00529/kVAh in the USA (2008): http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat8p2.html Even with a "Once Through" fuel cycle, proven reserves of Uranium and Thorium will last thousands of years. Fortunately, 4th generation fission reactors are capable of burning over 99% of the fuel which means that we can expect the Uranium and Thorium reserves to last at least 100,000 years. To get a feel for the issues involved in a rapid expansion of NPP generating capacity, you should spend some time on "Brave New Climate". This is a web site run by Barry Brook who is a "general all around egg-head" (I mean that in the nicest possible way). This link should get you started: http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/10/14/2060-nuclear-scenarios-p3/
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  33. Nuclear costs much more than it should and could cost in the Western democracies. This is mainly because ofd the regulatory impediments we have built up over the past 40+ years. Some examples of the sort of impediments and regulatory distortions to the market that are blocking nuclear in Australia are: 1. nuclear power is prohibited 2. high investor risk premium because of the politics 3. Renewable Energy Targets 4. Renewable Energy Certificates 5. Feed in Tariffs for renewables 6. Subsidies and tax advantages for renewable energy 7. Subsidies and tax advantages for fossil fuel electricity generators 8. subsidies for transmission and grid enhancements to support renewable energy 9. massive funding for research into renewable energy 10. massive subsidies for research into carbon capture and storage(CCS) 11. Guarantees that the government will carry the risk for any leakage from CCS 12. No equivalent guarantee for management of 'once-used-nuclear-fuel' 13. Massive subsidies and government facilitation for the gas industry, coal seam gas and coal to gas industries (despite the latter putting toxic chemicals into the ground water and the Great Artesian Basin water) 14. Fast tracking of the approvals process for wind power, solar power, gas industry, coal industry while nuclear industry remains prohibited from even fair comparative studies by Treasury, Productivity Commission, ABARE, Department of Climate change and more. We can just imagine what the approvals process would be like for a nuclear power plant!!
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  34. Peter Lang (#58): "What is the basis for implying that the nuclear figures are over-optimistic" --- Just take alook at Marcus (#51)! Those are the real costs. Your figures are pure fantasy. The poor Finnish people will have to pay forever for the scandalous new Olkiluoto 3. Building the plants is one thing. Then we have to take care of the radioactive waste 'forever'. That is going to cost as much as building the plants, but that will be our grandchildren's worry, not ours, right? To the moderator: What happened to the principle of keeping comments relevant to the current thread, and deleting any off topic comments? About 90% of this thread is a detailed discussion about the pros and cons of nuclear power and its economy. Hardly relevant to the title "What should we do about climate change?"
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    Moderator Response: The current topic does include the possibility of nuclear power as an option. All comments are still moderated for compliance to the comments policy. If you wish a more in-depth discussion of, say, solar power or geothermal or tidal, please kick start the flow of discussion with a comment in that direction. That way we all can benefit.
  35. I'm a bit behind... but in response to #9 (waste + terrorists). It might not take much nuclear waste to make a bomb, but the issue is the technology. For the 400+ power stations in the world and the plethora of terrorists, none have succeeded (or even tried?) yet. And what if they did fly a plane into a nuke power station? My point is that such scenarios are still a better option than global warming - unless there is a viable energy alternative. That debate is above. For waste, digging numerous great holes in geologically stable Australian outback, suitable encasement, etc would do the trick nicely. We don't seem to have worried about the typical 4 tonnes p.a. of U238 each coal-fired power station emits from their chimney stacks! As for #14 - curbing population growth. Removing benefits to 3rd-plus-more child would be a start (as I gather Germany does). A taxi driver I had the other day was onto his 8th child and wanted more because his father had had 12! In this country Canberra will happily pay benefits for those children, education, health, housing benefits, etc. (Am I allowed to say he was from Africa?) Anyway, I'm not sure if I have the answer, but at least it should be raised as a serious issue in politics and solutions explored.
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  36. #81 adelady With respect to geothermal, nobody doubts that there is a huge amount of heat in granite rock a few Ks below the surface. Engineered Geothermal is a great story - huge reserves, potentially baseload power, small environmental footprint. The problem is that no electricity generation on a commercial scale has even been demonstrated and at best is several years away. Geodynamics was said to be the company closest with it's facility in the Cooper Basin in SA, but they have had their share of problems, are well behind schedule and still are to make a decision on a proposed 25 MW commercial scale demonstration plant. They have had federal govt. financial assistance. It's worth following developments, but far too early to make a judgment as to whether EGS is going to be any more than at best a bit player. I hope it is, but at this stage it would be folly to bet the future on it. It's worth keeping an eye on Geodynamics
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  37. Argus (No 84 ) said "To the moderator: What happened to the principle of keeping comments relevant to the current thread, and deleting any off topic comments? About 90% of this thread is a detailed discussion about the pros and cons of nuclear power and its economy. Hardly relevant to the title "What should we do about climate change?" " I think you have missed the intent of the pro nuclear commentators. All are very passionate about climate change and are actively researching the best way to reduce CO2 emissions without destroying our very high standard of living. The only example of a large developed country reducing carbon emissions without compromising living standards is France. In just 20 years France constructed 58 nuclear power stations replacing almost all its fossil fuel generation. Today France has low carbon emissions (per capita) compared to all other G20 countries, a strong economy, exports 4B euros of non carbon energy energy annually to Britain, Germany and Italy, has a social welfare and health system that is the envy of Europe and their citizens retire at 60. If all G20 countries had followed France's lead 30 years ago climate change would not be the issue it is today. Thus the debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power is very relevant to what we should do about climate change.
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  38. Regarding the safety of nuclear energy: I recently saw a television program about the French nuclear power plants. Title of the program: “Nothing to report”. Ever since nuclear power plants in France have been privatised, the operators cut corners wherever they can to save costs. Regarding the risk of nuclear pollution, instead of the “zero risk” policy from earlier days, they have adopted a “calculated risk” policy. The replacement of parts that are past their usable lifetime is delayed. Instead of a fixed staff, temporary workmen are hired from subcontractors, people who don’t have the necessary skills and don’t have a clue about the risks they are running. If anything goes wrong, the subcontractors take the blame. Nuclear inspectors are put under pressure to put “nothing to report” in their reports, even if they find flaws in the installation. What was most striking for me: this isn’t propaganda from the anti-nuclear lobby. These words and criticism came from people who have worked for many years in the nuclear industry, who used to be proud of their work, and have seen the situation deteriorate, and the risk of disasters increase. And this is France, for Gods sake. A highly developed and technologically advanced country . It makes you wonder what happens with nuclear power plants in developing countries like India, where environmental rules are not that strict, where public health is less protected, where low cost is even more a driver for all decisions. For me, fighting global warming with nuclear energy is like choosing between pest and cholera.
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  39. daisym "But nobody will tell us how much of a temperature reduction to expect from government’s solutions. Why is this so? Why are scientists silent on this?" Why? Because the very, very unpleasant truth is that we've really mucked it up for this and the next couple of generations. We can reduce our emissions instantly - meaning over the next 20 years. We can set some clever energetic people onto the task of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere (not from using geological carbon fuels) but actually extracting some of the surplus CO2 'pulse' we've injected into our oceans and atmosphere. But in the end, temperature is set to keep on rising for quite a while even with instantaneous cessation. The reason people don't talk about it? Because making that sort of thing the general topic of conversation can lead to despair and hopelessness. People need to feel that they can do some good. We need the occasional blast from the likes of "Storms of my Grandchildren" James Hansen. Mostly we need to keep plugging away at politicians on renewable power, urban design, public transport and all the rest of it.
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  40. RE: Fossil Fuel Are Forever! Harold the Chemist says: Boats, planes, freight trains and trucks, military and emergency vehicles, heavy machinery used agriculture, construction, forestry and mining, cars and light trucks, recreational vehicles, and so forth will always require and use hydrocarbon fuels because these fuels have high energy density and are readily prepared from abundant crude oil, which exists free in Nature, by fractional distillation and blending of the distillate fraction, low energy processes which do not involve the breaking of chemical bonds. Even catalytic cracking of the heavy ditillate fractions into lighter fractions for fuel formulation is a relative low energy process. In the heavy industries, only fossil fuels can supply the heat energy and high process temperatures either directy or indirectly (e.g. the electric furnace) required by lime and cement kilns, smelters, steel mills, foundries and metal casting planets, all facilities manufacturing ceramic materials (glass, bricks, tiles, porcelin ware, etc), refineries and chemical plants and so forth. Diesel-electrical generating systems are used extensively throughout the world for primary and back-up power and for power generation in many delveloping countries and at remote locations (e.g., diamond and gold mines, resort islands, drilling rigs, movie sets, etc). Electrical generators using gasoline are quite portable and are used for small snd modest power requriments. Many processes in food production require large amounts of heat for baking, cooking and steam for sterilization, etc which can provided economically by fossil fuels. Drying of grain for storage requires enormous amounts of heat which can only be provided economically by fossils fuels. Energy for space heating especially in cold climates and hot water production and for electricity generation, in particular for refrigeration, communication systems, hospitals and emergency services, is provided most reliably and economically by use of fossil fuels. FYI: A Boeing 747 takes off with 346,000 US gallons of fuel for a long intl. fight. At large airports big jet are more numerous that house sparrows. The largeset cruise ship ever built, the Oasis of the Ocean can carry about 6,000 passengers and 5,000 crew members. These large cruise ships cary enormous amounts of fuel. The most wasteful use of energy is diamond mining. Tons of ore are sometimes processed to obtain a few carats of rough diamonds. About 80% of gold production goes to the jewerly industry. Who among you wants to tell the ladies, "No more diamonds, gold, sliver, platinium, rubies, emeralds, etc for jewerly because we must save the planet from over heating." They would become outraged, ponce on you, take off the Pradas and pound you into hamburger which they would feed with glee to the dingo dogs! I don't want read any more foolish comments about getting rid of fossil fuels. Ain't ever going to happen.
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  41. The reason big oil and many mining companies are quite skeptical of cilmate change is because they have not experiend any at their field site. Many of comapnies have had operation in the field for over a century. Moreover, they don't want the boys in Brussels taking over and running their companies.
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  42. I will also post an on-topic comment :-) As much as I think we need to invest in renewable energy to replace fossil fuel based energy, I think this in itself is not going to stop climate change. It is even dangerous to put too much trust in the whole renewable energy story. The problem is that all renewable energy plants are just installed in addition to the existing power plants, until now – as far as I know – they have never actually replaced fossil fuel based plants. All measures that are taken to fight climate change should deal directly with the problem. Encouraging renewable energy, reducing ecological footprint are indirect methods at the best. It is like trying to stop a leak not at the source, but way downstream. The real issue is the extra carbon we bring into the carbon cycle by burning fossil fuels, carbon that otherwise would stay buried deep down in the earth’s crust. The carbon is exchanged between the atmosphere, the oceans, plants, rocks etc, and temporary shifts may take place (f.i. through deforestration or reforestation), but what matters in the long run is the total amount of carbon that is circulating in the system. None of the current initiatives to stop global warming prevent the further addition of carbon to the carbon cycle. If we continue like this, eventually all carbon that is now stored as fossil fuels will become part of the carbon cycle. It may take a bit longer (if we decrease our energy consumption and use more renewable energy) or shorter, but this will the end result. So, for me the viable options are: - encourage energy companies somehow to keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. I am really phantasizing now, cause I don’t see that happening. I think we have to calculate with the assumption that every last drop of petroleum and every last lump of coal will eventually be burnt. - carbon capture and sequestration : harvest the energy of fossil fuels, but keep the carbon behind and store it back in the ground. - mechanical trees: actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and sequester the CO2. - reforestation is a short-term solution, as in the long run forests emit just as much CO2 as they absorb. But short-term it can be part of the solution and buy us more time. Regarding geo-engineering: these are short term and emergency solutions at best. I wouldn’t like to live in a world that is only able to survive because we are constantly controlling and readjusting the climate.
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  43. #90: "these fuels have high energy density and are readily prepared from abundant crude oil, which exists free in Nature, " False on two counts; crude oil is not abundant any longer and its most definitely NOT free. Perhaps the illusion of 'cheap oil' came from generations of allowing consumers and producers to get a free pass on cleaning up their own waste products: ie, pollutants including CO2. #91: "The reason big oil and many mining companies are quite skeptical of cilmate change is because they have not experiend any at their field site." Nope again. The oil companies I worked for are skeptical of climate change because it threatens their bottom line.
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  44. quokka #50 Very interesting graph, thanks. Eyeballing it, I'd say it's as variable as weather. Local wind farms are indeed very variable. What I said is that this variability is climatologically predictable in the long term and meteorologically predictable in the short term, allowing you to manage the various sources. And if you have a extensive grid, say covering all Australia, you could smooth out most of the variance. Ok, I don't know much about Australian winds, but that's what I conclude from this study, about an extensive grid over Europe and northern Africa, that could smooth out even seasonal variability. They mention energy costs within the range of 3~4.5 Euro cents per kWh. High wind power penetration by the systematic use of smoothing effects within huge catchment areas shown in a European example Anyway, of course you cannot rely only on wind energy. You will need the occasional backup. But it can be an important part of the final mix, significantly lowering emissions.
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  45. MC "...free in Nature.." means not in incombined form such as most metals and most elements. The most abundant materials free in Nature are water, the gases in the atmosphere. This includes small amount of gold, silver and coppper. There are about 10-15 trillion barrels of unconvential oil which are heavy and extra heavy crude oils, tar sand and oil shale. Coal which can be converted to liquid hydrocabons is not included in this catatgory. During WW II Germany obtained most of its fuel from coal using the Fischer-Tropsch proccess as does South Africa. Google "SASOL"' Shell R&D has several pilot projects in north western Colorado in the oil shale basin that uses in situ resistive heating to produces liquid hydrocarbons from kerogene, a waxy material in the shale. Obtaining hydrocabons from oil shale is well-known. During WW II the US Navy has a pilot plant in the Green River basin. They found that heating a ton of average oil shale would yield 25-30 gallons of liquid hydrocarbons and about 10,000 cubic feet of methane and ammonia. "Nope again. The oil companies I worked for are skeptical of climate change because it threatens their bottom line." No way. The transportation sector will always use hydrocabon fuels. If I were the CEO of a big oil company, I would tell the goverment "no carbon taxes and regulations of emisions or I will shut this company down, dismantle the refinery and move it and HQ to a tax haven." If workers can go on strikes so can compsnies. Presently, I pay a carbon tax of Can $0.9935 per Gj of natural gas which costs Can $4.976 per Gj in British columbia. That a tax rate 19.96% The general sales tax on junk food and beer is 12%. No sales tax on good food. Note: Fossil fuels are use for producing distilled spirits. Are you willing to pay a lot more for whisky, vodka, etc. You want to pay a carbon tax on propane for the barbie? In BC there free passes on the carbon tax for low income wage earners who receive a carbon tax credit, for companies exploring for nat gas, oil and minerals, cement producers and smelters making aluminium, lead and zinc. In the domestic economy the cosummer will eventually pay all carbon taxes. I have already noticed that the cost food in the supermarket has risen across the board since trucks bring it to the store. If a goverment can regulate ghg emission and impose carbon taxes, it can not only seize control of the means of production but every aspect of your life. Would you like the lady premier running your life? I don't think so!
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  46. Marcus (#51) and Argus (#84), Yes, those are real numbers and they surely cast doubt on the viability of future nuclear power projects in the USA . However, the prospects look much brighter in some other countries including China where NPPs are being built for $1.5/We. In France they already built their fleet of NPPs, so they enjoy raking in huge sums by exporting electricity to Germany, Italy, the UK and Denmark. Apparently the French have a base cost of less than $0.05/kVAh. http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/10/25/2060-nuclear-scenarios-p4/ Finally, I pay Florida Power & Light about $0.12/kVAh for my electric power. That company has a wide variety of generating technologies but their lowest cost sources right now are their two NPPs. This is based on inside information that I hope to be able to share on this blog when (if?) I get permission.
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  47. Ann #92: " – as far as I know – they have never actually replaced fossil fuel based plants. " I think Denmark have replaced some old fossil burning plants already, they do have a lot of wind power, and they are definitely aiming towards closing them all. The following is a rough Google translation of (part of) an article recently found on the Swedish TV website, svt.se: "By essentially a proliferation of wind power, Denmark shall be completely free of fossil fuels by 2050. After two years of work, the Government's Climate Commission presented its ambitious proposal, which is claimed to be surprisingly cheap (costing one half percent of GDP in 2050, scientists believe). Each year between 2015 and 2025, one offshore wind farm that generates 200 megawatts each, is erected. Wind power as a share of energy production should be increased from (now) 20 percent, to 60-80 percent in 2050. When there is no wind energy will be met by biomass and waste incineration."
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  48. H pierce: "The transportation sector will always use hydrocabon fuels" What do you think people will do in 50 years after the full affects of peak oil? The AGW problem will just make us adjust sooner to the shortage of fossil fuels. I noticed a great many bases for wind generators the last time I flew over Texas. In the US wind is supposed to be more cost effective than solar. Spain got 40% of their energy from wind one month last spring. Does anyone have informed comments about wind energy?
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  49. h pierce brings a good point about culture (diamonds). First of all, asking Americans to change their culture is not going to work. Non-Americans on this forum who aren't familiar with American culture may not realize this. Imagine a country road with driveways every 200-300 meters or more. Properties will be 20 to 40,000 square meters or more. The driveway is another several hundred meters and leads to a house in the open (no shade trees or winter protection partly due to wildfire concerns, partly for the view). The property may contain some hunting area or a range, a tree harvesting area, or a rough road down to the river. I could write a book, not just a paragraph, about the benefits of such a lifestyle. Changing the equation might include the cost of convenience offset by self sufficiency. For example, do the property owners desire 100% constant and reliable electric power or is they willing to put up with somewhat intermittent power at a lower cost? Are they willing to pay less for a limited range heavy vehicle registration (e.g. haul from home supply store)? Would they be willing to save on commuting costs but still have a reliable and comfortable service (e.g. privately-run luxury van) using express lanes or similar incentives? What I propose is in addition to many good alt energy production suggestions above along with alt energy basic research.
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  50. Peak oil only refers to oil that can be recoverd by present convential methods. These are (1)flow from the reservior under natural pressure,(2)pumping, (3)water flodding and (4)gas injection suchas CO2. At the temperature and pressure in the reservor CO2 can be a super critcal fluid which has good solvent power for many materials. A super critical fluid has a density greater than the gas phase but less than the liquid phase. The CO2 on Venus is supercrical fluid not a gas. The critical temperature and pressure for CO2 31.1 deg C and 72.9 atm, resp. Above 31.1 deg C CO2 will not form a true liq phase no matter how much presssure is applied. The oil coming out of the damaged BP well in the Gulf of Mexico was flowing at pressure of ca 3000 psi iirc. It probably a real good idea to get as much of this high pressure oil out the reservor. An earth quake that cause release of this deep oil would be a true catastrophe and there would no easy way to stop it. There is nat seepage in the Gulf and this oil washes up on the beach as tar balls. In fact there huge amount of oil coming from nat seepage but lots gets eaten by microbes. Wind, solar, concentrated solar power aren't really going to make a dent in power usage especially in cold climates and at higher latitudes where there are about 8 hrs sunlight. Icing of the blades of wind turbines is a problem in really cold climates. The main draw back of these power surces is that these are unreliable (i.e., producing or not producing power) and unpredicatable (i.e., the amount of power produced is quite variable). The most important draw back is that for every megawatt of power from these sources there must be availble the same amount of power from convential sources. When it is -40 deg C in really cold climates, you must have stable and reliable power for furnance fans and electric heaters. Many farms in cold climate have beck up generators in case of power failure. At -30 to-40 deg C you will freeze to death quite quickly unless you can get heat PDQ. Go over to WUWT and read the article about how the Spanish gov shafted all the people who invested their life savings and mortaged the properties for wind farms. A lot of them are face with bankruptcy.
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