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Renewable Baseload Energy

Posted on 27 November 2010 by dana1981

A common argument against investing in renewable energy technology is that it cannot provide baseload power - that is, the ability to provide energy at all times on all days.  This raises two questions - (i) are there renewable energy sources that can provide baseload power, and (ii) do we even need renewable baseload energy?

Does Renewable Energy Need to Provide Baseload Power?

A common myth is that because some types of renewable energy do not provide baseload power, they require an equivalent amount of backup power provided by fossil fuel plants.  However, this is simply untrue.  As wind production fluctuates, it can be supplemented if necessary by a form of baseload power which can start up or whose output can be changed in a relatively short period of time.  Hydroelectric and natural gas plants are common choices for this type of reserve power (AWEA 2008). Although a fossil fuel, combustion of natural gas emits only 45% as much carbon dioxide as combustion of coal, and hydroelectric is of course a very low-carbon energy source.

The current energy production structure consists primarily of coal and nuclear energy providing baseload power, while natural gas and hydroelectric power generally provide the variable reserves to meet peak demand. Coal is cheap, dirty, and the plant output cannot be varied easily.  It also has high initial investment cost and a long return on investment time.  Hydroelectric power is also cheap, clean, and good for both baseload and meeting peak demand, but limited by available natural sources.  Natural gas is less dirty than coal, more expensive and used for peak demand.  Nuclear power is a low-carbon power source, but with an extremely high investment cost and long return on investment time.

Renewable energy can be used to replace some higher-carbon sources of energy in the power grid and achieve a reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, even if not used to provide baseload power.  Intermittent renewables can provide 10-20% of our electricity, with hydroelectric and other baseload renewable sources (see below) on top of that. Even if the rapid growth in wind and other intermittent renewable sources continues, it will be over a decade before storage of the intermittent sources becomes a necessity.

Renewable Baseload Energy Sources

Of course in an ideal world, renewable sources would meet all of our energy needs.  And there are several means by which renewable energy can indeed provide baseload power. 

Concentrated Solar Thermal

One of the more promising renewable energy technologies is concentrated solar thermal, which uses a system of mirrors or lenses to focus solar radiation on a collector.  This type of system can collect and store energy in pressurized steam, molten salt, phase change materials, or purified graphite.  

The first test of a large-scale thermal solar power tower plant was Solar One in the California Mojave Desert, constructed in 1981.  The project produced 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity using 1,818 mirrors, concentrating solar radiation onto a tower which used high-temperature heat transfer fluid to carry the energy to a boiler on the ground, where the steam was used to spin a series of turbines.  Water was used as an energy storage medium for Solar One.  The system was redesigned in 1995 and renamed Solar Two, which used molten salt as an energy storage medium.  In this type of system, molten salt at 290ºC is pumped from a cold storage tank through the receiver where it is heated to about 565ºC. The heated salt then moves on to the hot storage tank (Figure 1).  When power is needed from the plant, the hot salt is pumped to a generator that produces steam, which activates a turbine/generator system that creates electricity (NREL 2001).

 

Figure 1:  Solar Two Power Tower System Diagram (NREL 2001)

The Solar Two molten salt system was capable of storing enough energy to produce power three hours after the Sun had set.  By using thermal storage, power tower plants can potentially operate for 65 percent of the year without the need for a back-up fuel source. The first commercial concentrated solar thermal plant with molten salt storage - Andasol 1 - was completed in Spain in 2009.  Andasol 1 produces 50 MW of power and the molten salt storage can continue to power the plant for approximately 7.5 hours.

Abengoa Solar is building a 280 MW solar thermal plant in Arizona (the Solana Generating Station), scheduled to begin operation in 2013.  This plant will also have a molten salt system with up to 6 hours worth of storage.  The electrical utility Arizona Public Service has contracted to purchase the power from Solana station for approximately 14 cents per kilawatt-hour. 

Italian utility Enel recently unveiled "Archimede", the first concentrated solar thermal plant to use molten salts for both heat storage and heat transfer.  Molten salts can operate at higher temperatures than oils, which gives Archimede higher efficiency and power output.  With the higher temperature heat storage allowed by the direct use of salts, Archimede can extend its operating hours further than an oil-operated solar thermal plant with molten salt storage.  Archimede is a 5 MW plant with 8 hours of storage capacity.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides a long list of concentrated solar thermal plants in operation, under construction, and in development, many of which have energy storage systems.  In short, solar thermal molten salt power storage is already a reality, and a growing resource.

Geothermal

Geothermal systems extract energy from water exposed to hot rock deep beneath the earth's surface, and thus do not face the intermittency problems of other renewable energy sources like wind and solar.  An expert panel concluded that geothermal sources could produce approximately 100 gigawatts (GW) of baseload power to the USA by mid-century, which is approximately 10% of current US generating capacity (MIT 2006).  The panel also concluded that a research and development investment of less than $1 billion would make geothermal energy economically viable.

The MIT-led report focuses on a technology called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems (EGS), which doesn't require ideal subsurface conditions and could theoretically work anywhere.   installing an EGS plant typically involves drilling a 10- to 12-inch-wide, three- to four-kilometer-deep hole, expanding existing fractures in the rock at the bottom of the hole by pumping down water under high pressure, and drilling a second hole into those fractures.  Water pumped down one hole courses through the gaps in the rock, heats up, and flows back to the surface through the second hole. Finally, a plant harvests the heat and circulates the cooled water back down into the cracks (MIT 2007).

Currently there are 10.7 GW of geothermal power online globally, with a 20% increase in geothermal power online capacity since 2005.  The USA leads the world in geothermal production with 3.1 GW of installed capacity from 77 power plants (GEA 2010).

Wind Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES)

Various methods of storing wind energy have been explored, including pumped hydroelectric storage, batteries, superconducting magnets, flywheels, regenerative fuel cells, and CAES.  CAES has been identified as the most promising technology for utility-scale bulk wind energy storage due to relatively low costs, environmental impacts, and high reliability (Cavallo 2005).  CAES plants are currently operational in Huntorf, Germany (290 MW, since 1978) and Macintosh, Alabama (110 MW, since 1991).  Recently this type of system has been considered to solve the intermittency difficulties associated with wind turbines.  It is estimated that more than 80% of the U.S. territory has geology suitable for such underground storage (Gardner and Haynes 2007).

The Iowa Stored Energy Park has been proposed to store air in an underground geologic structure during time periods of low customer electric demand and high wind.  The project is hoping to store a 20 week supply of compressed air and have approximately 270 MW of generating capacity.  The project is anticipated to be operational in 2015. 

A similar system has been proposed to create a wind turbine-air compressor.  Instead of generating electricity, each wind turbine will pump air into CAES. This approach has the potential for saving money and improving overall efficiency by eliminating the intermediate and unnecessary electrical generation between the turbine and the air compressor  (Gardner and Haynes 2007).

Pumped Heat Energy Storage

Another promising energy storage technology involves pumping heat between tanks containing hot and cold insulated gravel.  Electrical power is input to the system, which compresses/expands air to approximately 500°C on the hot side and -150°C on the cold side. The air is passed through the two piles of gravel where it gives up its heat/cold to the gravel. In order to regenerate the electricity, the cycle is simply reversed.  The benefits of this type of system are that it would take up relatively little space, the round-trip efficiency is approximately 75%, and gravel is a very cheap and abundant material.

Spent Electric Vehicle (EV) Battery Storage

As plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles become more commonplace, the possibility exists to utilize the spent EV batteries for power grid storage after their automotive life, at which point they will still have significant storage capacity.  General Motors has been examining this possibility, for example.  If a sufficiently large number of former EV batteries could be hooked up to the power grid, they could provide storage capacity for intermittent renewable energy sources.

Summary

To sum up, there are several types of renewable energy which can provide baseload power.  Additionally, intermittent renewable energy can replace dirty energy sources like coal, although it currently requires a backup source such as natural gas which must be factored into the cost of intermittent sources.  It will be over a decade before we can produce sufficient intermittent renewable energy to require high levels of storage, and there are several promising energy storage technologies.  One study found that the UK power grid could accommodate approximately 10-20% of energy from intermittent renewable sources without a "significant issue" (Carbon Trust and DTI 2003).  By the time renewable energy sources begin to displace a significant part of hydrocarbon generation, there may even be new storage technologies coming into play.  The US Department of Energy has made large-scale energy storage one if its research priorities, recently awarding $24.7 million in research grants for Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage.

This post is the Intermediate version (written by Dana Nuccitelli [dana1981]) of the skeptic argument "Renewables can't provide baseload power". 

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 425:

  1. New Zealand company I mentioned in comment 50: http://www.solenza.co.nz/
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  2. When considering grid storage, it must be realised that grid storage is not something that is uniquely applicable to variable renewables. It would be just as useful in conjunction with coal or nuclear for meeting peak demand. This surely leads to the obvious question of why, other than pumped hydro, grid storage is not currently used on any significant scale? Which leads to the obvious conclusion that all of the possible technologies mentioned in the article are not currently viable. Furthermore, I would suggest that there is no real indication of when they might be viable on a scale that matters. There is a very dangerous tendency to put hugely optimistic hope in future technologies - some of which may very well never prove to viable. The notion of using half-spent batteries from EVs is a fine example of dangerous nonsense that should never figure in a discussion of current energy planning. We do not know when there will be enough EVs deployed to even begin seriously thinking about such a scheme, let alone the practicalities of it. We don't even know whether batteries are going to largely replace the good old internal combustion engine. It may be possible that the ICE lives on for a long time with carbon neutral syn fuels. Undue and unwarranted faith in unproven technologies has the very nasty side effect of providing a fig leaf for the continued use of fossil fuels. Time for a serious dose of reality.
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  3. Nick Palmer @31
    we will switch to breeders, which is tested and proved technology since the early 1050s. Then we would have to deal with the consequences of a very widespread plutonium economy. Just imagine what might happen if Iran, North Korea, Chechnya etc had easy access to tonnes of the stuff.
    This is a poorly informed claim. It has no relevance whatsoever to potential thorium based breeders. In the case of fast spectrum reactors based on a uranium/plutonium fuel cycle, the preferred reprocessing technology is almost certainly Pyroprocessing. This technology simply cannot be used to produce weapons grade plutonium. The reprocessed fuel from pyroprocessing contains uranium, plutonium and other actinides all mixed together and the resulting material cannot be used to make a bomb. Would be bomb makers would certainly take some other, mostly likely traditional method of obtaining weapons grade material.
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  4. sailrick at 08:32 AM, sailrick, I was thinking more along the lines the energy being stored elsewhere in the system other than by the power generator itself. In order for the power generator to be able to store energy that can be drawn upon when the sun or wind is insufficient, the amount it puts into the grid is somewhat less than what it is capable off, just for arguments sake, lets say supplier A puts 2/3 of their capacity into the grid, and 1/3 goes into storage. That means that some other power supplier, generator B has to be also supplying power into the grid, firstly to supplement the 1/3 that generator A is otherwise putting into storage, and then perhaps 100% when generator A becomes idle having exhausted their storage capacity. Generator B will be using fuel of some sort, but again for arguments sake, lets say it is hydro powered. If generator A is limiting itself to only putting 2/3 of capacity into the grid in order to store energy, then generator B will being using water to makeup the extra required. What I was saying is that if instead generator B puts 100% directly into the grid instead of 1/3 into storage, then the power required from generator B will be correspondingly less, thus they are conserving their energy input, namely the water in their reservoir, which in effect becomes an energy store, increased in capacity by the equivalent to what otherwise would have been put into storage by generator A. What one has to consider then which is the most efficient form of storage, both in terms of losses, and the ability to store for extended periods. In this example it would be hard to beat storing water in a dam.
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  5. Quokka: "This surely leads to the obvious question of why, other than pumped hydro, grid storage is not currently used on any significant scale?" I will take this at face value. There has not previously been a need, nor the ability. The first molten salt happened in 1995. Before then we didn't have the material science to pull it off. Same with the super-high temperatures of CSP. So then your next sentence:"Which leads to the obvious conclusion that all of the possible technologies mentioned in the article are not currently viable." Makes no sense (it never did). By your logic we could never have been to the moon - the technology was not in use at the time - therefore it was not viable. Lather, rinse, repeat. But even your weak conclusion (it isn't viable) isn't supported by the evidence. I have dozens of customers NOW who have cut their home heating bills (in a winter climate) by 75%. With today's "non-viable" technology. We risk the great being the enemy of the good. It would be great for a high energy-density, non-CO2, non-WMD producing, non-polluting energy source to appear right now. But to insist on that, when we have very GOOD energy sources (wind, solar, wave) ready - RIGHT NOW is just silly. Go install solar panels on your roof (PV, solar thermal or both). Experience the feeling of controlling your own energy density. Of locally produced energy. Reflect on peak oil/gas/coal/nuke, on pollution in its various forms, on terrorists funded by the energy YOU buy. Then tell me "Undue and unwarranted faith in unproven technologies has the very nasty side effect of providing a fig leaf for the continued use of fossil fuels." Time for a dose of reality indeed. While you are hand-wringing and fearing it can't be done - some of us are busy doing it. The more people who install renewable energy, the easier it gets.
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  6. Another day, another thread hijacked by nuclear industry shills. Look, we all agree that nuclear is *part* of the solution, but it cannot be the *only* solution. For starters, nuclear energy doesn't allow for consumer-producers, i.e. consumers who have their own solar/wind installation and can sell back excess power to the grid.
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  7. archiesteel: Why not the only solution? Proven tech, supply of thorium for over 1,000 years. No co2 emitted. After reading the comments again, it would appear that to most of you nuclear is not part of any solution. To me it is a better solution than the current mix as it is an actable solution. Just think of the level of co2 emitted in 10 years if we decided to REALLY attack emissions, shut down all coal/natural gas power plants and have nuclear instead. I know.....a pipe dream. But we won't because no one really wants to.
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  8. CAmburn: "No CO2 emitted." Research how much CO2 is in concrete. Then how much concrete goes into a nuclear power plant. It sounds good - but it ain't true.
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  9. archiesteel. Yes, for what its worth, I agree with helping those Countries that already *have* nuclear power to keep using that-rather than switching to coal-as their source of base-load power, at least until renewable energy technologies truly "come of age". I certainly don't believe we should try expanding nuclear power into Countries that don't already have it-especially when you consider the very long lead times in construction. Finland, for example, started construction of a new 1.6GW reactor earlier in the decade, & was due to go online in 2009. It is now not expected to go online until 2013-four years behind schedule. The project has also run into significant cost overruns. Now this is in a Country with prior experience in nuclear power-so how much *worse* will it be for Countries that lack the skills base? Also, what about potential proliferation issues in Countries that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Of course, nuclear power was tried in a number of developing countries, mostly in SE Asia, but was abandoned in each case due to cost & construction overruns. Last I checked, the World Bank no longer funds energy projects that involve nuclear power. I do love tt3's claim that nuclear power receives no subsidies! Complete nonsense. Globally, nuclear power has received hundreds of *billions* of dollars worth of subsidies-both direct & indirect-to keep the price of the technology down. The spruikers of the technology also love to low-ball their overnight construction cost estimates in order to produce a much lower life-time cost of the electricity of new plants. Even with these low estimates, & the ongoing subsidies, EIA studies show that new nuclear reactors are more expensive than Wind, Gas or Coal (at around $60/MW-h)-with Solar technologies swiftly catching up.
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  10. Camburn, in what way is Thorium a "proven" technology? How many commercially viable power plants are there in the world? By my reading, only the Indians have built a Thorium Reactor-a single, pilot plant. In spite of some benefits, Thorium Reactors still have a number of engineering & cost hurdles to overcome, & Thorium has a number of negative health & environment impacts that can't be overlooked.
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  11. actually: There is a lot of concrete in any type of power generating plant. There is a lot of concrete in each base of a wind tower. I watched a Windfarm being built. A LOT of concrete under each tower. But once it is built, the co2 emission ceases.
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  12. Marcus: Here is my take: In the southwest, water limitations taken into consideration, CPS power plants are a no brainer. Other areas of the country that right now rely heavily on coal or natural gas, nuclear is the only other option. Thorium is the best option. The Indians have shown that thorium is viable. The US has thoriumm for 1,000's of years. PPV is too expensive. I could put one on my roof but the cost per kwh would exceed 1.15 cents. I can't afford to erect a tower high enough, even tho I live in an area 5 wind zone, to produce wind power. And even if I could, I would have to keep my current infrastructure as at times the wind just does not blow. There are ways to reduce co2 quickly and effectively. No one seems willing to compromise enough to do so.
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  13. actually thoughtfull @55
    I will take this at face value. There has not previously been a need, nor the ability. The first molten salt happened in 1995. Before then we didn't have the material science to pull it off. Same with the super-high temperatures of CSP.
    I was referring to grid storage not CSP. As I already explained grid storage IF it were economic, would be very useful in meeting peak demand in conjunction with coal or nuclear - so yes there has been a "need" for it. Please stick to the point.
    So then your next sentence:"Which leads to the obvious conclusion that all of the possible technologies mentioned in the article are not currently viable." Makes no sense (it never did). By your logic we could never have been to the moon - the technology was not in use at the time - therefore it was not viable. Lather, rinse, repeat.
    Going to the moon was done for political reasons - there was never any need to for it to be economic. It is utterly irrelevant.
    But even your weak conclusion (it isn't viable) isn't supported by the evidence. I have dozens of customers NOW who have cut their home heating bills (in a winter climate) by 75%. With today's "non-viable" technology.
    What on earth has this got to do with grid storage? If you are commenting on what I wrote, why don't you stick to the point?
    But to insist on that, when we have very GOOD energy sources (wind, solar, wave) ready - RIGHT NOW is just silly.
    Oh really? Why don't you tell me how much wave power is being generated world wide, or how many coal fired power stations that have been shutdown because PV panels have made them redundant?
    Go install solar panels on your roof (PV, solar thermal or both). Experience the feeling of controlling your own energy density. Of locally produced energy. Reflect on peak oil/gas/coal/nuke, on pollution in its various forms, on terrorists funded by the energy YOU buy.
    I live in a rented house. I have not the slightest intention of installing PV panels. Many people are in exactly the same position. As are people who live in high density/high rise housing. It is plainly obvious that high density housing is environmentally beneficial. In any case I take strong exception to the moralistic overtones of your comment. I also take exception to squandering public money on ridiculous feed in tariffs, that benefit only the better off and shift the cost of electricity to the less well off and achieve absolutely no meaningful reduction in GHG emissions. But they do provide a political fig leaf for the continuing large scale burning of fossil fuels. I am almost (but not quite) lost for words when I read "Experience the feeling of controlling your own energy density". I really have very little interest in "my energy destiny" or the "experience" that may or may not accompany such. I do however care about the world that my daughter will live in and I would rather not have the planet experience a mass extinction event. Mitigating warming requires critical thinking about energy and collective action to implement feasible solutions. If I want a sales spiel for PV panels, I can get it from one of the door to door PV sales persons who I regularly turn away. I steadfastly refuse to suspend my critical faculties just to feel "green".
    While you are hand-wringing and fearing it can't be done
    It can be done, but it requires nuclear power and even then the task is huge.
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  14. Water limitations, Camburn? So what about the water needed for a Thorium Reactor? Not just the water needed to generate the steam to make the electricity, but also the water needed for the *entire* nuclear fuel cycle? Face it, *all* forms of nuclear energy require far more water to operate than even Coal-& far more than Gas or any of the renewable energy sources. As water becomes even less widely available, I'd argue that nuclear power is going to be even *less* feasible* than it is now. Especially when one considers the wasted electricity generated by large, overly centralized power stations (10% losses from transmission & distribution & the over-supply during off-peak times). As I said, the Indians have *not* shown Thorium to be technically or economically viable *yet*-though maybe they will down the track. Even so, the Indians are investing *far* more time & effort into the various forms of renewable energy than they are into Thorium, & the *experts* in the US & Europe have only started talking about Thorium for the first time in the last 18 months. Sounds like they don't have a huge amount of faith in this "proven" technology either.
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  15. So, Quokka, why don't you petition your landlord to install PV's or hot-water systems? There are a lot of rental houses in my area, & most of them have PV's that were installed, by the landlord, out of their own pocket, because it made long-term sense. I mean, *yes* if you want to continue to let some CEO dictate the price you pay for electricity, if you want to pay for the 10% extra electricity that gets sent to you, but you never receive (due to T&D losses) & if you want to continue subsidizing the massive glut of electricity generated during off-peak periods, then by all means keep spruiking large, inefficient & expensive nuclear power.
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  16. Marcus: I posted a link earlier. The Indians are just behind the Chinese in building nuclear power plants. CPS and water? CPS uses more water per mwh than any other source of power. Nuclear is the 2nd lowest, wind is nill and the lowest. The northern zones of the US have ample water. The southwest does not. The southwest has sun for CPS and will have to figure out how to provide enough water for CPS. My cousin is a quality control engineer at a nuclear power plant. IF we decided to use thorium, it would not be a problem. There may be wasted elec from base stations, but at least there WOULD be electricity.
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  17. actually thoughtfull @58
    Research how much CO2 is in concrete. Then how much concrete goes into a nuclear power plant.
    There are some comparative estimates here giving the steel, concrete and land requirements for CSP, Wind and Nuclear. The figures are remarkably lopsided - in favor of nuclear: Energy system build rates and material inputs
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  18. I believe the most important renewable resource for this list is Biomass - apparently unmentioned by the author or any above comment. Biomass is larger than even hydropower around the world - especially in developing countries. It is unique by virtue of easily providing a means of energy storage - so that it can back up solar and wind. But even more important is that when employed as Biochar, all forms of biomass can provide carbon negativity. The sun produces annually (via photosynthesis) about 8 times more carbon than we presently emit via fossil fuels. This is a huge untapped resource that should be endorsed by all SkS readers. See www.biochar-international.org. Ron
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  19. 'Enhanced geothermal systems' are also sometimes called hot rock technology. South Australia has one of the most promising areas in the world for this type of energy, due to the presence of highly radioactive granites deep in the subsurface, and favourable overlying lithologies. It is believed by some that Australia's precious opal deposits have formed ultimately from this rare geology; deeply sourced heat from underlying radioactive granites below the Great Artesian Basin have breached the surface, interacting with microorganisms in the subsurface to create the opal deposits in extinct hot spring zones. The source of this energy is large, safe, constant and entirely sustainable. Granites are large bodies of heat, U and other radioactive elements decays to produce a constant supply of heat. It is large enough to potentially supply much of Australia's energy needs. The problems include: 1) the technology and very high cost of deep drilling and 2) various energy transfer/extraction issues. One promising area of research is to reduce the very high costs of deep drilling. Currently laser drills (a drill with a powerful laser out in front which weakens and breaks up the rock before the drill bit hits it) are being developed which could significantly speed up and reduce the costs of deep drilling. The deeper one goes the more expensive it becomes, and the hotter the rocks get. Drilling is a highly technical and expensive science which still has a long way to go. If one can reduce the costs of very deep drilling, where there has been little research/work, (because nobody historically wants to mine that deep down, and deep oil drilling technology wasn't ever set up/researched for such purposes), there is enough heat down there to supply baseload power in specific areas. There is virtually nothing known about some of the very deep rocks beneath our feet. In many areas, we know more about the moon then about some of the rocks more than just a few kilometres beneath the earth. Some of these areas have high heat flows. If the technology becomes much more efficient (think computers in the 1980s compared to now), areas with less radioactive granites and lower heat flows etc can become viable. Drilling is an ancient art that has more potential to develop and become cheaper. Dont under-estimate the miners and their drills-they know about the earth and this field of science may provide answers to future energy needs. PS. Traditionally, there has been virtually no government subsidies/grants or research into improving drilling methods, because these are associated with what is viewed as 'non-green' technologies, and moreover this is something which is largely viewed as something industries/market forces will naturally address. However, mining and oil companies have no real incentive to drill very deep holes historically, other than for oil and gas. This is largely still the case; and most of the research money into sustainable energies has gone into more obvious 'green technologies' not related traditionally to something like mining.
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  20. Ron, I mention biomass frequently. Gas generated by the anaerobic decomposition of organic waste-at such locations as farms, plantation forests, land-fill sites & sewerage plants represents a readily available source of energy, whilst significantly reducing the amount of CO2-equivalent released into the atmosphere (as methane is a more potent Greenhouse gas than CO2). Not only that, but bio-sequestration of CO2, from existing Gas & Coal fired power stations, using high-density algae, also represents an excellent source of biomass energy.
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  21. Quokka: "There has not previously been a need, nor the ability. The first molten salt happened in 1995. Before then we didn't have the material science to pull it off. Same with the super-high temperatures of CSP. I was referring to grid storage not CSP. As I already explained grid storage IF it were economic, would be very useful in meeting peak demand in conjunction with coal or nuclear - so yes there has been a "need" for it. Please stick to the point." Ironically - as you attempt to tear apart my message - the one point you overlook is molten salt - AKA grid storage. If YOU won't stick to your point, why should I? OK one more time - "always on" technologies - coal and nuclear, don't really need storage - they need consumption. So your "point" is not entirely valid to start with. As for being in dense housing - the relevant point is to use EXISTING technology - available NOW, to solve the CO2 crisis - not pie-in-the-sky "to cheap to meter" nuclear, not some future "clean coal." At the risk of being a nag (but realizing that the only way we can accomplish what MUST be done, given that governments are pinned down by the ignorance of their people) - have you asked your landlord to install PV or solar thermal or a ground source heat pump? He/She will benefit from increased property values, you could agree to have the landlord pay for heat/cool, and pay your old rent + your old heating/cooling bill. There are lots of ways to solve the landlord/tenant renewable problem (with willing parties). I am not a huge fan of PV (after we have gone over the world once with solar thermal, lets pick up PV on the second pass - but every bit we put in the grid now both proves out renewables and reduces CO2. I am sorry for the typo - I meant energy destiny. It is actually a very powerful position to be in - controlling you own heat/power locally. It is yet another subtle (and strictly positive) result of the switch to renewables. The main point remains - action will solve this problem - not endless debate (even amongst people who "get it"). As I posted in another comment - let's leave nuclear at 20% and get rid of coal. Then we can look around and see if it is smarter to expand natural gas, nuclear, or renewables. We have plenty of work to do just displacing coal.
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  22. Camburn: According to this site here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Library/pubs/rn/2006-07/07rn12.pdf, just the operation of the nuclear power plant alone uses between 1,500L & 2,800L per MW-h of electricity generated (depending on the technology used). The Olympic Dam mine in South Australia uses 42 *million* liters of water-per day-in its operations (14,000 times more than Australia's per capita water use per day). Yet you'd have me believe that Nuclear Power has one of the lowest levels of water use than any other source of electricity? Well, sure, if you spend all your time reading pro-nuclear propaganda. Also, whereas CSP technologies are actively seeking to *reduce* their fresh-water use per MW-h (by use of more efficient concentrating technologies, different heat-capturing liquids, or by supplementing CSP & desalination), the water use of Nuclear Power remains high compared not only to solar, but also compared to a range of other conventional & renewable electricity sources!
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  23. Been some debate about nuclear CO2 emissions (concrete is VERY CO2 intense). Here is a link that shows nuclear is 10th worst on the list (it is better than coal) - it is at least twice as bad as any renewable, but it is better than all fossil fuels. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparisons_of_life-cycle_greenhouse_gas_emissions Nuclear has a (small) role going forward. But whatever your choice - get on it! Remember the effect of YOU taking action is much greater than 1000 letters to the editor or to politicians. Your actions speak volumes.
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  24. Addendum to my previous post: Camburn, look at this link here: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/pdfs/csp_water_study.pdf According to this study, Coal & Nuclear power both consume 500 gallons (around 2,000L) of water per MW/h. Combined Cycle gas consumes only 200 gallons (800L) & a Parabolic Trough consumes 800 gallons (3,000 Liters) per MW/h. Dish/Engine systems apparently only use 80L of water per MW/h of electricity produced. Of course, we must also not forget that nuclear power uses a further 700L to 900L of water-per MW/h, for the remainder of the fuel cycle (compared to around 50L to 400L of water for other fossil-fuel sources of electricity). So, Camburn, whilst you might be correct in saying that trough-based solar power uses more water than nuclear power-it is only by a tiny fraction, & nuclear definitely isn't the 2nd most water-efficient power source, as you claim.
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  25. There are a lot of reasons nuclear is not *the* answer. It's relatively expensive and requires massive up-front capital costs. Government loans put taxpayers at great financial risk, and often default due to cost overruns. "CBO considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high—well above 50 percent." There's the NIMBY problem. There's the fact that it takes about a decade to build a single nuclear power plant. There are terrorism concerns. There are a lot of reasons why we shouldn't put all of our eggs in the nuclear basket, especially since we have other available technologies with essentially infinite energy sources, which are already as cheap or cheaper than nuclear power (e.g. wind, solar thermal, geothermal). Diversifying is usually a good idea, and the power grid is no exception.
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  26. Marcus @64, You make a claim that large centralized power stations are wasteful because of transmission losses with the implicit assertion that distributed generation by solar and wind will be more efficient from a transmission point of view. This is plainly nonsense due to the huge geographical area required to achieve "spacial smoothing" of variable renewables. In fact centralized power stations sited relatively close to centres of consumption, are more efficient from a transmission standpoint than distributed renewables generation. Why do I need to point this obvious truth out? Because there is a deplorable habit of commentors making wild claims without factual basis, solely because they "sound good". This is not in the spirit of this web site.
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  27. "The lifetime cost of new generating capacity in the United States was estimated in 2006 by the U.S. government: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MW·h, coal (cheap in the U.S.) at $53.10, natural gas at $52.50 and nuclear at $59.30. However, the "total overnight cost" for new nuclear was assumed to be $1,984 per kWe[38] — as seen above in Capital Costs, this figure is subject to debate, as much higher cost was found for recent projects." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_of_new_nuclear_power_plants#Cost_per_kW.C2.B7h So what about Solar PV? http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2010/06/solar-photovoltaics-pv-is-cost-competitive-now (I know the source looks biased - read the article and decide for yourself). OK, convert the .10-.40/kWh to per MW·h as above = kWhX1,000 = $100-$400 per MW h (note that these come from different sources - so it looks like apples-to-apples but it might be crab apples-to-granny smith apples.
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  28. dana1981 @75 Your link is broken. One authoritative source for the costs of electricity generation is the IEA Projected Costs of Generating Electricity 2010 Edition It's quite clear that with the assumed $30 per tonne CO2 price, nuclear is competitive everywhere and in Asia is cheaper than anything by a substantial amount. The significance of the assessment for Asia should be very obvious.
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  29. Oh dear Quokka, the point is that you can build renewable energy plants at a much smaller size, with no loss of overall efficiency, to meet the needs of smaller geographical areas-especially if coupled with effective storage systems & a decent back-up base-load supply (i.e. biomass gas/natural gas). So the spatial distribution needed for renewable energy is not nearly as great as you claim, & certainly much less than the geographic area required by most centralized power plants. Nor could you answer my other point-namely the huge amount of *waste* electricity generated during off-peak hours due to the large size of nuclear power stations needed to achieve acceptable levels of thermal efficiency. So yet again your claims sound like nothing more than Nuclear Industry propaganda-unsubstantiated by anything approaching actual *facts*.
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  30. Quokka, did you even *bother* to read Actually Thoughtful's post? The EIA says lifetime costs of new nuclear power stations are $60/MW-h, assuming an overnight construction cost of less than $2,000/KW. Of course, history has shown costs of closer to $4,000 to $6,000/KW for a conventional power station. Newer, more radical designs (gas-cooled, pebble-bed, fast-breeders) will probably carry a much higher price tag. Of course, given the fossil-fuel dependence of nuclear power (specifically diesel & other forms of petroleum), how much more expensive do you think nuclear will become-compared to less CO2 intensive technologies, over a lifetime? Meanwhile, Wind & Biomass Gas are already cost-competitive with Coal-without a carbon tax-& the various solar energy technologies are rapidly coming down in cost, & will probably be cost competitive with Coal within the next decade-assuming economies of scale are achieved.
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  31. BTW, The Philippines tried to go nuclear in the 1980's. The result was massive cost & time overruns, before they finally abandoned the project & installed a gas-powered turbine in its place. Indeed, as far as low-CO2 resources go, most SE Asian countries would be better off switching to Geothermal Power, rather than nuclear, due to the Geologically Active region they live in. Indeed, that same Geological Activity is why I-as an Australian-do *not* want to see any SE Asian Countries going nuclear in the near future.
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  32. @Camburn: "There are ways to reduce co2 quickly and effectively. No one seems willing to compromise enough to do so." So, you agree that we should reduce CO2 emmissions, then. On other threads, you seemed to dismiss the existence of the greenhouse effect...
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  33. Australia has the hottest, most accessible granites in the world, at depths of 4,500-5,000m. where temperatures are 250-300C. At shallower depth (2,500-3,000m) temperatures of 135-150C are sufficient to generate electricity. Over 30 companies are currently engaged in exploring for and mining heat in Australia. The most advanced of these is Geodynamics (GDY) which is currently drilling wells in the Cooper Basin, north of SA and Hunter Valley in NSW. It has already drilled into and fractured hot rock at 4,500m, creating a heat exchanger, and drilled production wells bringing super-heated water to the surface. It has developed and applied the technology needed to extract emission free geothermal heat for electricity generation. GDY has installed a 1MW test generator which it expects to commission in 2011 and intends following with a 25MW power station in 2013 and thereafter a series of 50MW power stations feeding into the National Grid. GDY estimates that its Cooper Basin tenement contains sufficient economically recoverable heat to generate 6.5 GWe and that by 2020 it will be generating 500 MWe from this source alone. Australia is endowed with sufficient accessible geothermal energy to replace all of electricity now being generated by burning fossil fuels. Why then does it boast the highest per capita CO2 emissions in the world and operation of the worlds dirtiest power station? There are several reasons why geothermal energy has not developed more rapidly. Foremost among them is: • government failure to place a price on carbon, • reluctance to withdraw subsidies for production and use of fossil fuels and • commitment to on-going use of coal using so called clean coal technology. These are all tied to an unsubstantiated and dubious belief that Australian industry would become uncompetitive were it faced with higher electricity costs. That belief is vociferously advocated by the mining industry, electricity generators and other vested interests, particularly the NSW and QLD State governments that are increasingly dependent on revenue derived from mining. Once a price is put on carbon (2011/12?) and raised by the market in response to emission reduction targets, capital will be attracted to investment in the most efficient fossil fuelled power stations and, increasingly, to investment in clean renewable energy, particularly geothermal. A price on carbon will also increase the price of electricity generated from fossil fuels, reducing then reversing the price differential between it and electricity produced from wind and geothermal heat. Domestic use of coal will then contract and government subsidies, currently estimated to exceed $1 billion/annum will be withdrawn as the workforce now engaged in mining is progressively retrained and employed elsewhere. Lack of political will rather than any economic imperative is responsible for failure to use renewable energy sources more rapidly and extensively in Australia. See various publications at http://www.geodynamics.com.au or google the topic.
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  34. @Nick Palmer at 04:12 AM on 28 November, 2010 > Then we would have to deal with the consequences of a very widespread plutonium economy. Just imagine what might happen if Iran, North Korea, Chechnya etc had easy access to tonnes of the stuff. This is strawman. Please read about how modern breeders (such as the IFR) work - they breed new fissile in place, and the reprocessing is done at the site. Once started, only U238 is fed into the system. Anyway if you are objecting to U/Pu cycle, then we can use thorium as fertile nucleus, or even approaches which allow for no proliferation avenue at all even in principle, such as the DMSR(*), for countries which are at risk. However most people live in places which already have nuclear weapons, so even if the "plutonium economy" was a reality, this does not add to weapons proliferation in any way. (*) Concerning DMSR, read the papers attached here: http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=28633
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  35. @dana1981 at 06:15 AM on 28 November, 2010 > t23 - like The Ville, I don't even know where to start. I guess the easiest claim to debunk is that nuclear power receives no subsidies. The EIA found in 2007 nuclear power received $1.27 billion in subsidies that year alone (compared to $740 million in 1999). Dana you are arguing against something I have not said. I specified that running nuclear reactors get no subsidies, which is true. Unfortunately it lumps everything related to nuclear physics as a "nuclear R&D" subsidy, which can hardly be the case, and I would argue that we should invest much more than we do into real nuclear energy R&D. > President Obama has also proposed to triple nuclear power loan guarantees to over $54 billion in 2011 - loans which put taxpayers at risk if the energy companies default, which often happens on nuclear projects. 1) Nuclear loan guarantees are not expenditures, companies applying for them have to pay hefty sums to get them. 2)Loan guarantees only remove the risk related to GOVERNMENT regulatory screwups beyond the control of the vendor, not to vendor screwups, or normal business risks. Even at that, it only covers 90% of the costs which may be incurred by govt. screwups. Please do read the respective law (Energy Policy Act of 2005, section 638). > As for claiming the article is full of "half truths", those blue words are links. I suggest reading them if you don't believe what's said in the article. Every claim is supported by various studies or real-world examples. Yes I read the links, and it does not change my criticism: CAES is still only a more efficient use of natgas (the least sustainable resource, unless we go for frackgas), which you failed to mention. > tt23 also made a comment about geothermal not being available anywhere, which again indicates that he didn't really read the article, which specifically discusses EGS which could work basically everywhere. EGS does not alleviate the real-world concerns I mentioned, namely earthquakes and pollution leeched from the underground rock. IT actually shares a lot of risks associated with fracking, as the technologies are similar. In summary, our choice is gas dependence and fracking under the guise of renewables - or nuclear. I'm all for nuclear.
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  36. > President Obama has also proposed to triple nuclear power loan guarantees to over $54 billion in 2011 - loans which put taxpayers at risk if the energy companies default, which often happens on nuclear projects. Nuclear projects so far defaulted due to government policy, which prevented the already build and certified power plants from operating, see Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island for example. Long Island now gets 60% of electricity from burning oil (!!), and 35% from burning gas. Companies providing heating oil for Long Islanders were instrumental in this political hatched job. Due to this history of government forcing nuclear projects into default (and thus making profits for coal, oil, and gas competition), none sane in the US is going to build any nuclear plant without the loan guarantees. Much of the same applies in the Western Europe. If you compare this with situation in Japan, South Korea, and China, where energy policy is not swayed by fossil fuel interests, the situation looks very different. Reactors are build on time and on budget, often within less than 5 years per reactor. Someone took the pain to create a nice table demonstrating this, so here is the link: http://www.reddit.com/r/energy/comments/eciy6/rep_jay_inslee_dwa_attacks_antiinnovation_gop/c173ww4
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  37. quakka: "When considering grid storage, it must be realised that grid storage is not something that is uniquely applicable to variable renewables. It would be just as useful in conjunction with coal or nuclear for meeting peak demand. This surely leads to the obvious question of why, other than pumped hydro, grid storage is not currently used on any significant scale?" Which suggests that you don't understand how the current system has developed and the marketing involved. You shouldn't be asking the question here, go and ask a historian. If you have an abundant supply of fossil fuels and can develop an infrastructure to feed large power stations, you can store the fuel with the energy embedded in it. No need to develop energy storage, if you can stick the fuel in a pile or a big tin can. When demand goes up, you bring on line spinning reserve and you can do that because the fuel is cheap. Engineers developed this idea from scratch many decades ago, as someone else has said, you seem to ignore the fact that these ideas didn't once exist, they had to be invented by people with different skills. Why do we need energy storage now? Well you know very well why, you answered it in your comment. Because unlike what you have claimed, history provides the context of why storage is UNIQUELY now required for renewables.
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  38. tt23: "1) Nuclear loan guarantees are not expenditures, companies applying for them have to pay hefty sums to get them." US department of energy: "A loan guarantee is a contractual obligation between the government, private creditors and a borrower—such as banks and other commercial loan institutions—that the Federal Government will cover the borrower’s debt obligation in the event that the borrower defaults." The reason for the need of government guarantees is because the private sector is unwilling to fork out the dosh for the capital costs and the risks involved. Nuclear energy suffers the same problems as renewables in that when fossil fuel prices drop no one will make the long term investment in nuclear. http://blogs.ft.com/energy-source/2010/02/26/nuclear-renaissance-will-take-more-than-loan-guarantees/
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  39. Marcus @80 and @81 The IEA 2010 report tabulates the overnight costs and LCOE for nuclear power for most nations with NPPs. The overnight costs vary from $1,763 per kWe (China CPR-1000) to $5,858 per kWe. (Czech Rep). http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010/09/ieaoecd-projected-nuclear-costs-for-14.html These are the figures used to compile the IEA report. Notice the overnight costs and LCOE costs for China, Sth Korea and Japan. If you are truly interested in the actual costs in Asia, rather than rambling on about what happened in the Philippines in the 1980s, this is what you must deal with. China has recently upped it's target for nuclear power to 112 GWe by 2020. This is a trebling of the target in just a couple of years. If you want to see what is achievable, watch China in the next few years with the construction of standardized designs and increasing engineering experience. The US DOE/EIA 2010 estimated LCOE for various generation resources is provided here. Notice that nuclear is cheaper than wind or solar. In fact solar is simply uncompetitive. The EIA estimates are broadly in line with the the IEA estimates with respect to the relative costs of nuclear and wind. If you want to stop nuclear power in SE Asia, you are out of luck. Vietnam has an agreement for Russia to build 2.4GWe of nuclear capacity and longer term plan of 15GWe by 2030. Bangladesh has also signed an agreement with Russia for two reactors this year.
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  40. Marcus @79
    Oh dear Quokka, the point is that you can build renewable energy plants at a much smaller size, with no loss of overall efficiency, to meet the needs of smaller geographical areas-especially if coupled with effective storage systems & a decent back-up base-load supply (i.e. biomass gas/natural gas). So the spatial distribution needed for renewable energy is not nearly as great as you claim, & certainly much less than the geographic area required by most centralized power plants.
    You are either exceedingly ill informed or being disingenuous. All the of the grand plans for renewables require very significantly expanded grids with large deployment of new HVDC transmission lines. Precisely to avail themselves of spacial smoothing. This is what the leading renewables advocates are saying. Don't believe me? - then go and read the ZCA2020 plan.
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  41. quokka wrote : "If you want to see what is achievable, watch China in the next few years with the construction of standardized designs and increasing engineering experience." Amazing what you can do with cheap labour and a government that decides what laws (especially health and safety ones) can be disregarded for the sake of the party/country. Perhaps you want the UK, USA, etc. to do the same, but this time for the good of the free-market ? Or shall we buy off Russia too, if it's going to be cheaper ?
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  42. Great post, thanks Dana. There are two seemingly far-fetched solutions that I've been following up for some time. Can anyone tell me how viable or realistic they are? Or are they just a crock? Solar tower - Air is heated by the sun over an area in the ground, then forced to rise convectively through a huge chimney, rotating a turbine on the way up. Compressed air car - compressed air is stored in a tank with very high pressure, then it's released to move a piston motor.
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  43. I would like to bring your attention to the following peer reviewed paper which was just published: "Nuclear is the least-cost, low-carbon, baseload power source" http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/11/28/nuclear-is-the-least-cost-low-carbon-baseload-power-source/
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  44. @88 The Ville at 20:44 PM on 28 November, 2010 Please do read the law by yourself. It states clearly the vendor has to pay the government, in order for the govt. to guarantee the loan in case of regulation or litigation delaying construction etc. If the issue is under the sponsor's (the plant owner's/vendor's) control, there is _no_ guarantee. Here is a link for your convenience: Energy Policy Act of 2005, section 638 http://www.ne.doe.gov/doclibrary/epact2005.html
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  45. JMurphy
    Amazing what you can do with cheap labour and a government that decides what laws (especially health and safety ones) can be disregarded for the sake of the party/country. Perhaps you want the UK, USA, etc. to do the same, but this time for the good of the free-market ? Or shall we buy off Russia too, if it's going to be cheaper ?
    If you have some evidence of unsafe practices in the construction of Chinese NPPs then out with it. Otherwise these type of comments belong in the "doubt is our business" bin. Or you could look at the costs of Sth Korean reactors which are only a little higher cost than the Chinese ones in domestic builds. Yes, I think buying NPPs from China may well be a serious possibility with ten years and quite possibly in as little as five years. One of the preferred Chinese designs is the Westinghouse AP-1000 Generation III+ advanced pressurized water reactor which the Chinese have acquired the intellectual property rights to. If you are in the market for NPPs then you could a lot worse than this design.
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  46. Agnostic (#83) Geothermal has one caveat which is sustaining the heat since the cooled water must be pumped back down into the formation. What it means is that each geothermal design is unique and somewhat unpredictable. "Injecting this water in the right place at the right depth is the most critical component of the project, to assure long-term viability of the project." http://www.chenahotsprings.com/geothermal-power/
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  47. quokka wrote : "If you have some evidence of unsafe practices in the construction of Chinese NPPs then out with it. Otherwise these type of comments belong in the "doubt is our business" bin." Not wishing to go any further off-topic, all I have to say is that if you have to try to ignore the problems involved with Chinese construction projects generally (especially low wages and less concern for regulations), then you just want to ignore any problem (especially political, and those to do with waste-disposal) just so you can say that nuclear is the answer come-what-may. It isn't - it is part of the answer but not one that we should rely on to a greater extent than renewables as a whole. Maybe your comments belong in the "complete faith in my business" bin ?
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  48. archiesteel@82: This topic is about renewables/alternatives. We can discuss co2 sensativity on another thread. Thank you
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  49. Use your imagination: The year is 2020. Compromise was effected in the year 2010. (I am talking only the US here) We look out on our vast nation with pride. CPS is being utilized, within practical restraints in the South West. The rest of the country is being supplied with electricity from regional nuclear. Co2 emissions are virtually nill for each kw of elec produced. By using regional nuclear, a huge infrastructure of new power lines has been eliminated. Scenerio 2: It is the year 2020. People are still arguing that pv/wind is the solution. co2 is being emitted with each kw of elec produced. The solution is before us folks. It is time to stop arguing and get moving.
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  50. @quokka: "If you want to see what is achievable, watch China in the next few years with the construction of standardized designs and increasing engineering experience." The same China who is also putting billions in renewables, to bring them to a level of output similar to their planned NPPs? It seems like the Chinese agree with me and others here, i.e. Nuclear is part of the solution, but far from the only solution.
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