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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 101 to 150 out of 425:

  1. @Camburn: "This topic is about renewables/alternatives. We can discuss co2 sensativity on another thread." I'm just trying to figure out your position, here. If you don't believe in AGW, why do you care about renewables/alternatives? The only way this would make sense is if you're taking a contrary position on principle, i.e. you will oppose whatever appears to be the most supported position out of a desire for confrontation... Just tell me if you agree with the following statement, which is completely on-topic: "We need to curb our CO2 emmissions, and thus must seriously consider renewables and other energy alternatives." A simple yes or no will sufffice.
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  2. @Camburn (#99): why is it an "either/or" choice? Why does it have to be nuclear, but not nuclear combined to wind and PVs (including from small independent producers, i.e. individuals who sell back power to the utility companies)? "It is time to stop arguing and get moving." It's not the PV/Wind/CPS/Nuclear debate that is slowing things down, but the anti-AGW propaganda pushed by conservative think tanks that are financed by Oil interests, such as the Koch brothers. Our Energy Strategy needs to be multi-pronged: solar (both CPS and PVs), Wind, Geothermal, Tidal Power, Nuclear *and* (to a very limited degree) fossil fuels, at least in the first couple of decades. One of the solutions is to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and start transferring those sums to renewables/alternatives.
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  3. You could power the whole world with nuclear power for thousands of years. There is plenty of uranium and thorium, and the waste is not a problem. To understand the whole potential of nuclear power, a good place to start is this: http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/16/ifr-spm/ Look also "For further reading". We can compare for example wind to nuclear. In France they built 29 nuclear power plants in just 10 years. That was enough to get the same power capacity as with the wind power in the whole world in the same time. http://wp.me/pbZwh-wN There are plenty of pure nonsense out there about nuclear power. The same kind as there are about climate change. You could ask, do they have something in common? Who will benefit of climate inaction and from keeping nuclear out of the business? Hmm...just thinking...
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  4. Re: Kaj L (103)
    "the waste is not a problem"
    Seriously? Channeling your inner Lang, I see. The Yooper
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  5. Folks, Just a heads up that user tt23 may not be the most reliable or reality-based source of information on energy, especially as it relates to nuclear and renewables - although it looks like several of you have worked that out already! One of his classics: "Wind and solar are proven as hypes." He's like the energy equivalent of Anthony Watts. ;)
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  6. Alexandre #92 - the air car is basically just a less efficient electric car. It's a little cheaper for the timebeing, but it will lose that sole advantage as batteries become cheaper. As a general comment, this article really has nothing to do with nuclear power, and it's kind of aggravating that the comments have been hijacked into a nuclear argument. It's hard to resist, because people are making incorrect statements about nuclear power, and then moving the goalposts so that the argument keeps going. But this really isn't the place to be arguing about nuclear power. Please stick to the topic on hand, which is the ability of renewable energy to provide baseload power, and whether it's even necessary.
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  7. Kaj L @103... Waste is not a problem? It seems to currently be a problem. I gotta say, anyone who claims that ANY solution is a panacea is not serious. These are very complex issues for all the potential solutions. It's going to require encouraging all potential solutions in order to effectively address the issues we face.
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  8. I'd like to second Rob Honeycutt #107. In the messy business of rethinking the energy structure of our society there's only one thing we know for sure, no single substitute to fossile fuels will exists in the foreseable future. This is why we need profound changes in the way we produce and use energy. Speaking of which, I noticed that not many like to talk about energy savings. There's ample room to save energy; look at the energy consumption per capita and you'll see large differences between devoloped countries with similar life styles. We are terribly inefficient.
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  9. tt23 stated: "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." tt23 Please do read the law by yourself, in particular I suggest you don't cherry pick. SEC. 638. STANDBY SUPPORT FOR CERTAIN NUCLEAR PLANT DELAYS. "(A) the failure of the Commission to comply with sched- ules for review and approval of inspections, tests, analyses... (B) litigation that delays the commencement of full- power operations of the advanced nuclear facility." Please note that it does not state litigation as the result of government regulatory screwups. The litigation clause is a general one, eg. the loan guarantee would cover delays caused by environmentalists litigating against the nuclear energy company. "(1) INGENERAL.—Subject to paragraphs (2), (3), and (4), the costs that shall be paid by the Secretary pursuant to a contract entered into under this section are the costs that result from a delay covered by the contract." Or in other words it DOES COVER NORMAL BUSINESS RISKS! Delays can be caused by anything. Lets just understand what a loan guarantee is for normal folk. When you take out a loan, there are risks that mean you might not be able to pay, so you pay someone to insure the loan against problems paying it. Without the insurance, you might not get the loan because the lender may consider the risks to high. Apart from this bizarre attempt at re-interpreting legislation, tt23 highlights the very reasons why nuclear energy has specific risks that need to be insured against.
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  10. Riccardo... Exactly!! Too often people miss the simple solution of efficiency because it's just not as sexy as new technology.
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  11. Three separate points. 1) It would seem that part of the "solution" requires failing, since the more you "solve" the problem, the bigger the problem gets,... unless of course you address growth limits apriori as part of the bargain. The article even says, "Of course in an ideal world, renewable sources would meet all of our energy needs." Well, why not make adjustments (that affect demand) for this to be the case? Of course going along with this is basically admitting that GW is a population issue... but dont bother, since it is already implied in the quote. 2) The other thing having to do with nuclear as the "only" solution. I would ask, what difference does it make for nuclear to be the only solution (assuming this were possible) if you're going to have nuclear as part of the package anyway? 3) Last item. Absolutely no mention in this article of the long term thermal impact for adopting these solutions. After all, wasnt global warming the whole point of this website? Or do we have to have all those nuclear plants installed first in order to discover ocean temperatures slowly rising for some mysterious reason? And yes, I know, all this is a waste of time and space given the absolute certainty that CO2 is the only significant cause of global warming, and as long as CO2 isnt somehow attached (on the surface) to the solution, it is a great idea.
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  12. @109 The Ville at 06:34 AM on 29 November, 2010 tt23 stated: "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." > tt23 Please do read the law by yourself, in particular I suggest you don't cherry pick. Yes I did, now lets look into the details: > SEC. 638. STANDBY SUPPORT FOR CERTAIN NUCLEAR PLANT DELAYS. > "(A) the failure of the Commission to comply with sched- > ules for review and approval of inspections, tests, analyses... This is failure of "the Commission", meaning the NRC, which is a part of the government. If the screwup is on the part of the Commission, the guarantee holds, if it is on the side of the vendor or investor, it does not. Exactly as I said. > (B) litigation that delays the commencement of full- > power operations of the advanced nuclear facility." > Please note that it does not state litigation as the result of government > regulatory screwups. > The litigation clause is a general one, eg. the loan guarantee would cover delays caused by environmentalists litigating against the nuclear energy company. Litigation can delay the project only if government has a role in it. According to the current rules, if the plant operator has COL (which it gets before the plant is in construction), and if the vendor followed all the NRC rules, there is no possibility of litigation to stop it, unless the government gets in the way. Again, as I said.. > Or in other words it DOES COVER NORMAL BUSINESS RISKS! Explicitly NO! Please consider the following: (2) EXCLUSIONS.—The Secretary may not enter into any contract under this section that would obligate the Secretary to pay any costs resulting from— (A) the failure of the sponsor to take any action required by law or regulation; (B) events within the control (C) normal business risks. > Delays can be caused by anything. Yes they can be caused by anything, which is why those delays which are covered are specified in the law. It does not cover anything, please read carefully the list of Exclusions. > Apart from this bizarre attempt at re-interpreting legislation, Bizarre attempt on YOUR side, sir!
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  13. Sorry, a part of the quote is missing. The list of *Exclusions* again: (A) the failure of the sponsor to take any action required by law or regulation; (B) events within the control of the sponsor; or (C) normal business risks.
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  14. RSVP, On point #3, you are still stuck on waste heat. That point was repeatedly rehashed with you over hundreds of comments at Waste heat vs greenhouse warming. Anthropogenic waste heat contributes 1% of the warming that greenhouse gas warming does and is non-accumulative unlike greenhouse gases.
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  15. RSVP #11 - please don't misrepresent what I said. This article has nothing whatsoever to do with population. Nor does it talk about impact on global temperatures because no specific numbers are discussed. Unlike the comments, I stuck to the topic at hand in the article. This is a rebuttal of the 'skeptic' argument "Renewables can't provide baseload power". The fact that CO2 is causing global warming is addressed in many, many other articles on this site. If you want to argue that fact, do it in one of those articles.
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  16. tt23 it looks like my interpretation of the document was incorrect, however I don't agree with your interpretation either!
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  17. @114 The Ville - thanks for that, I guess we'll agree about our disagreement, and let everybody decide as they can read the law by themselves. :D
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  18. Alexandre - Good questions on the solar tower and compressed air car. The solar tower works - but the energy density (utilization of the updraft air for power) is fairly low. The actual thermal gradient of sun-warmed air doesn't provide as much of an edge as concentrating solar; hence you would need very large areas covered by your greenhouse, more than with other solar technologies. That said, it's very low tech, and might be appropriate for some nations as a low cost alternative. (Minor note - as a private pilot I wouldn't want giant towers [probably with support cables] and the updraft associated with the chimney too close to my airport!) Compressed air cars have a very low end-to-end efficiency, mostly due to heat loss after compressing the air. When you re-expand air at room temperature you get near-cryogenic temperatures, and you either have to reheat it (with a fossil fuel) or accept the poor efficiency. Batteries have a much higher efficiency plug-to-road.
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  19. @RSVP: 1) Lame attempt at tying environmentalism with population reduction. That kind of insinuation alone should be enough to delete your post. 2) The difference is putting all of your eggs in one basket (in this case, nuclear) or using a varied "ecosystem" of power sources, including distributed power generation among small consumers/producers. 3) Waste Heat is insignificant. Get over it.
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  20. tt23- You have the gall to complain about alleged half-truths in the article, yet your own post is based on even more flimsy foundations? The flimsiest is your claim that all these technologies were abandoned because they were too expensive. You must have been living in a cave all these years. The whole POINT of the switch to low-carbon, renewable sources is that once the TRUE cost of carbon emission is taken into account, no, they are NOT too expensive. On the contrary: it is sticking with carbon that is far, far too expensive. Then there is the straw-man approach of your whole post. The article author never proposed use of concentrated solar alone as the baseload power source. Nor did he even propose the use of concentrated solar + geothermal as the complete supply of our baseload power. Read what he wrote instead of what you want to refute: he wrote, "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." But this is NOT that "ideal world". He knows that, most of his readers know it. For some reason, you do not. Nor did he say that renewable energy "can indeed provide" ALL of our "baseload power". That he said this is YOUR fiction, your "straw-man".
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  21. dana1981: You are basically right about nuclear power. The way I put it, or the few who listen:(, is that nuclear power will be a key player in the solution, but cannot be the entire solution by itself. As for the competing technologies, it looks like the Indians are about to put into Thorium the effort we should have been putting into it all these years: they have huge thorium resources they want to take advantage of. Nor are they interested in remaining dependent on others for their nuclear technology. Development of efficient, safe thorium reactors would give them much more energy independence than they have ever had to date. The problem is that with the Indian society and government's contempt for public welfare and human rights, I do not trust them to develop SAFE technology: it is just too low a priority for them. It was their incredibly lax regulation that allowed the Bhopal disaster -- whose victims still have not been recompensed for their suffering, many of them were abandoned like dogs in the street.
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  22. Quokka #53 "answering" my point about the dangers of a plutonium economy claims that the pyroprocessing process "cannot be used to produce weapons grade plutonium". As Quokka stated about my original post "this is a poorly informed claim". The pyroprocessing link that Q gave actually says this "The key step is "electrorefining," which removes uranium, plutonium and the other actinides (highly radioactive elements with long half-lives) from the spent fuel, while keeping them mixed together so the plutonium cannot be used directly in weapons." Oh dear. Perhaps Quokka does not comprehend what the word "directly" implies? Perhaps Q can tell us what will prevent an unscrupulous regime (see below) from using ordinary chemical separation methods to separate and purify the mixed actinides? TT23 #84 claims my argument was a straw-man. "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." Really? You just haven't thought about the way the world works enough. In order for population to stabilise at round 9 billion by 2050, which is the only way we will ever get to grips with "growth" eventually eating everything, it is assumed that the whole world will develop to achieve close to European living standards. That means, if we are to reduce our global carbon inputs to the atmosphere whilst simultaneously the third world gets necessary access to much more energy to develop than they currently use, then many nations will have access to whatever means we choose to supply all that extra energy. Many of those nations/regimes could currently be regarded as potentially unstable, prone to dictator style government etc. As they get more politically powerful (as they develop) the egos of their current and future leaders leaders may develop also. TT23 also wrote "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" You're assuming that all these newly developing nations will choose the tech that you have faith in, rather than a tech that can be used to siphon off fissile material. Why do pro-nuke shills have such a childlike, but dangerous, faith in the innate goodness and morals of megalomaniac dictators? The problem with the nuclear industry is they have been claiming that nuclear energy is the answer for about 60 years. Yet again, with Gen 111 and Gen IV, they are holding out the same jam tomorrow. Prove it! Not just a demonstration or pilot plant but multiple full size plant with every aspect of the final engineering fully stress and time tested. If the new nuke designs are going to be promoted as a way to solve/ameliorate the atmospheric emergency we would have to install an awful lot of them and we would have to start now - decades before we can be sure in practice of the engineering. If some unforeseen problem surfaces 20 years down the line and the world was wholly reliant on nukes, what then? France has 60 million people and 60 nukes. A back of the envelope calculation speculation shows that if we were to power the world in 2050 with the universal European living standards needed to stabilise population - with the same size plant as France currently has - we would have to have around 9,000 nukes spread out in every one of the 200 countries in the world. Better pray that they are all run by selfless saints...
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  23. Regarding baseload power - it seems we will continue to need this, baring the unforeseen. I do agree with the poster who points out renewables tend to favor a national grid (actually - everyone benefits, even coal - more open market). In general we can produce more power locally (and there is HUGE power in generating your own resources as the building level - it really is control over your life that we haven't had in modern industrial times - it feeds a primordial hunger most of us didn't know we had). We can severely reduce the need for baseload power through efficiency methods. One of the trade magazines I read stated "recapturing waste heat at x and so plant produced more energy then all the PV production of the US combined" (Contractor magazine). I don't know that is true - but surely we have opportunities to reduce demand by ~50% or more. Price carbon-based fuel correctly and see how much waste we have! I also agree that used EV batteries are not going to be the storage answer of the future - as I understand it, batteries have a charge cycle limitation and a straight-up time limitation (perhaps not all batteries). I do think there are opportunities in using active EV batteries as short term storage - power company pays you to store the energy - no payment if you run off and drive the car! But if they can store from 3pm until 7pm - this solves a peak renewable (PV/CSP) to peak load shift issue. As has been stated - there is SO much we can do before we hit storage issues - it is great that people are working on it now - but the first move for every INDIVIDUAL is to install renewable energy in their home/business. This is how the market starts and grows - people watch people and act accordingly.
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  24. tt3, here are some actual price-tags of various nuclear power stations either being built in the US, or on the drawing board. "The reported prices at six new pressurized water reactors are indicative of costs for that type of plant:[17] * February 2008 — For two new AP1000 reactors at its Turkey Point site Florida Power & Light calculated overnight capital cost from $2444 to $3582 per kW, which were grossed up to include cooling towers, site works, land costs, transmission costs and risk management for total costs of $3108 to $4540 per kilowatt. Adding in finance charges increased the overall figures to $5780 to $8071 per kW. * March 2008 — For two new AP1000 reactors in Florida Progress Energy announced that if built within 18 months of each other, the cost for the first would be $5144 per kilowatt and the second $3376/kW - total $9.4 billion. Including land, plant components, cooling towers, financing costs, license application, regulatory fees, initial fuel for two units, owner's costs, insurance and taxes, escalation and contingencies the total would be about $14 billion. * May 2008 — For two new AP1000 reactors at the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. and Santee Cooper expected to pay $9.8 billion (which includes forecast inflation and owners' costs for site preparation, contingencies and project financing). * November 2008 — For two new AP1000 reactors at its Lee site Duke Energy Carolinas raised the cost estimate to $11 billion, excluding finance and inflation, but apparently including other owners costs. * November 2008 — For two new AP1000 reactors at its Bellefonte site TVA updated its estimates for overnight capital cost estimates ranged to $2516 to $4649/kW for a combined construction cost of $5.6 to 10.4 billion (total costs of $9.9 to $17.5 billion). * April 2008 — Georgia Power Company reached a contract agreement for two AP1000 reactors to be built at Vogtle, at an estimated final cost of $14 billion plus $3 billion for necessary transmission upgrades. All of the above prices of course assume no time overruns but, as Finland can attest, overruns are actually quite common. What we see, though, is that China's "cheap" nuclear power stations are the exception, not the rule. Power Stations in the US & Europe come in at anywhere from US$2500 up to US$7,000 per KW. Hardly cheap-& certainly not as cheap as the cost assumed in the EIA's life-time energy cost study. Yet still that study leaves nuclear as *more* expensive than Wind or Combined Cycle Gas. That this is still the case after *sixty* years-& hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies-really suggests this fascination with nuclear power is totally fantastical in nature.
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  25. Another point, tt3. If you want an example of *why* renewable energy doesn't need massive geographic distribution, just consider King Island in Tasmania. A population of 2,000 people receive over 50% of their electricity from a single Wind Farm consisting of just 5 generation units-courtesy of a Vanadium Flow Battery. Now if you were to double the number of generation units, & make a modest increase to the size of the Flow Batteries, King Island could run almost *entirely* off Wind Power. Of course, I'm not suggesting that the whole world takes this approach, but it just shows how a Distributed Generation approach-when coupled with a decent storage system-can supply more than 50% of a local areas electricity needs *without* the need to be distributed over a wide geographical area. The same is true of both roof-top solar & Mid-Sized PV Power plants (50MW or less). Of course, as the efficiencies of both Wind, PV & CSP technology improves, the land area needed per MW of output will continue to decline-whereas the land area required for coal or nuclear will remain the same.
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  26. The Ville @88
    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.
    One of the more important points made on this thread. A carbon price only partially addresses this. There is an all too common blind faith in the ability of the "free market" to abstractly get things right. One way of debt financing might be to somehow draw on the capital of pension/superannuation funds perhaps though some sort of government guaranteed bonds. Pension funds would possibly have an interest in this type of very long term investment at least for part of their portfolio. It would be useful to hear from financial economists on what sort of possibilities may lie here. One thing I think is vitally important is long term energy policies from national governments. Politically this can be represented as being in the national interest. That is why France is nuclear powered - for the "good of the republic" and not because there was a race to nuclear for a quick buck. For those that think that such large scale government intervention is no longer possible, I think the National Broadband Network in Australia shows that it is entirely possible to achieve the political support required if the public believe it to be in the national interest. This is not holding up the NBN model as something to be necessarily replicated, but as an indication that we are not entirely at the mercies of the "free market".
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  27. A lot of posts on this topic show that co2 is not an immenent threat to climate at all. There seems little interest to use tech at hand to solve emission problems. The development of a super grid nationally is foolish and unnecessary. There are leakage losses with long line transmission no matter what current tech is used. PV on a roof sounds noble, but in reality is expensive per kwh. The rich folks can do this and feel good. The idea of "backfeeding" the grid is also a very poor way of transmitting power. There has to be baseload generating stations. People expect the light to turn on when the switch is activated. Business expects the lights to be on when the switch is thrown in the morning. Commerce depends on this, humanity depends on this. The above is one of the main reasons that no action has/will be taken. The "threat" that demands this action does not seem credible simply because of the lack of use of "what we have" to solve a that percieved threat.
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  28. Quokka, the reason that both France & the US pursued Nuclear Power with such vigor was because of its close relationship with the development of nuclear weapons. Its no coincidence that the nations with the largest investment in nuclear energy just happen to be those with the biggest stockpiles of nuclear weapons (France, US, UK, China, Russia). Its also the reason why these nations used tax-payers money to subsidize the nuclear power industry. Also, if you look at how desperately the Conservative Political Forces are trying to undermine the NBN here in Australia, you'll see that they'd actually be *very* unwilling to pony up the kind of cash needed to fund the building of an extensive, local nuclear power industry. However, given our extensive coast-line, our good sunshine & wind & our rich geothermal resources, I see no reason why Australia even *needs* an expensive-& time-consuming- construction of a nuclear industry!
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  29. "A lot of posts on this topic show that co2 is not an immenent threat to climate at all." They do?? Any with any scientific credibility at all? "The above is one of the main reasons that no action has/will be taken. The "threat" that demands this action does not seem credible simply because of the lack of use of "what we have" to solve a that percieved threat. " I cant see how this makes any sense at all. Replace climate change with "asteroid heading for earth". I cant see how you link "what business needs" with nature of threat. You are saying that business depends on fossil fuels, you can cant see any alternative, ergo we will do nothing even it will cost a great deal more in the long run than doing something about it now?
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  30. "PV on a roof sounds noble, but in reality is expensive per kwh." What, & nuclear isn't? Totally laughable Camburn. You can purchase enough solar power capacity to meet nearly *all* your year-round electricity needs for *less* than the cost of a car. Also, wheras the car will continue to *cost* you money after you buy it, the solar system will *save*-or even earn-you money from day 1. Also, there is nothing wrong with backfeeding solar into the grid. Take a look at *any* power use graph, & you will see that it is *peak* electricity we most desperately need-not more baseload power. The fact is that in the time it takes to get just *one* nuclear power plant online, you could already have installed over a thousand megawatts worth of wind, PV, concentrated solar & land-fill gas plants-& have a significant proportion of it already generating electricity over a 4-5 year period. This is because that, whilst a single nuclear power plant to take upwards of 10 years to build & bring online, most wind farms, PV farms & land-fill gas plants can be up & running in *half* the time. Also, wind & solar can be producing electricity once the first generation units are put in place-without even waiting for the entire project to be completed. Also, whilst nuclear power usually displaces existing land use, biomass gas & solar can be sited in locations already being used for other things (like rubbish tips, sewerage treatment plants & housing) & even wind farms-on a small enough scale-can be placed in locations *without* displacing what was already there.
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  31. 123 actually thoughtful. I'm not a great advocate of individual action to solve the problem, but it's great for changing the mindset. (Must confess I've had solar hot water for 20+ years.) My mum lives in a retirement village which organised bulk purchase of solar PV for 190+ households. Now there's a bragging rights competition. One neighbour is crowing to the world at large that her power bill for the last 2 months was a measly $20. Where retired people have enough money and simply look at moderate investment / expenditure options, this is a surefire winner.
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  32. quokka "CPS uses more water per mwh than any other source of power" Not so. It can be water cooled, air cooled, or closed loop cooled as in a Heller system. This last one uses very little water. Brightsource says their 410 MW Ivanpah site uses less than 100 acre feet annualy. Enough power for 140,000 homes while using 300 homes worth of water. "The secret to low water ue, high efficiency CSP" http://climateprogress.org/2009/04/29/csp-concentrating-solar-power-heller-water-use/ quokka "grand plans for renewables require very significantly expanded grids with large deployment of new HVDC transmission lines. Precisely to avail themselves of spacial smoothing" How about significantly improved grids? And much of the need for HVDC is because of the remote areas where CSP or Wind might be built. Giving CSP the ability to add power to the long distance grid via HVDC thereby enabling "spatial smoothing" not just "availing" itself of the HVDC. Like I posted earlier, there is over 300 GW potential for CSP near existing power lines.
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  33. @dana1981
    As a general comment, this article really has nothing to do with nuclear power, and it's kind of aggravating that the comments have been hijacked into a nuclear argument. It's hard to resist, because people are making incorrect statements about nuclear power, and then moving the goalposts so that the argument keeps going. But this really isn't the place to be arguing about nuclear power. Please stick to the topic on hand, which is the ability of renewable energy to provide baseload power, and whether it's even necessary.
    If I might make a constructive criticism. Your article is essentially a shopping list of technologies - many of which are at best very immature. This leads to commentors here making ridiculous and unfounded claims such as "renewables don't require a much beefed up grid" not because it is true, but they think that repeating nonsense reinforces their position which is political and not based in science, engineering and economics. Just pick some whizz bang thing like vanadium flow batteries and shout loudly that it "proves" that grid level storage is viable and HVDC expansion is not needed. I think a much better and more fruitful approach would be to take some of the "grand plans" for energy, dissect and criticize them. The fact that none of these plans that I have seen have a significant element of grid storage should tell us something about grid storage - especially when the plans are prepared by the some of the most fervent and knowledgeable of renewables advocates. One such plan might be for Australia, ZCA2020, there are analogous plans for Europe and possibly the US. For a plan with a large slice of nuclear, Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan might be interesting to look at. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of cost. Being forced to deal with a complete plan, rather than just a bunch of hand waving about the next big thing, means that the overall system cost must be addressed. For example LCOE does not fully price wind power as there is a system and emissions cost in backup generation. Existing grids act as a kind of slush fund for wind, but that game is only good up to some level of wind penetration, maybe of the order of 20% or so. As far as I can see, system wide analysis where the system components must be costed on the most authoritative basis available is the only way to productively address questions such as "Can renewables do baseload?"
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  34. adelady - I wish you would disagree with me more often! This is exactly what I am talking about - you yourself with the real world experience of 20 years of solar hot water (systems now do a lot more to tell you what is happening - less of a black box (at least the ones I design...)). And then your mother! My goodness 190 households full of matriarchs and patriarchs telling their offspring and bridge/golf buddies - solar works! This is what we need to change the world! (Yes - it should be a government/industry led thing - but in the US at least - the political body is already owned by the corporations that stand to lose - so we MUST find effective means of change that work outside of our institutions - thus the call for INDIVIDUAL and IMMEDIATE action - if you understand climate change - how can you not act at the home/business level?) Please! Argue louder with me! ;-) My neighbor - a red neck, right wing, anti-environmental gun-totin' smoking radical - just signed up to have the local power company install solar PV in exchange for a fixed electricity payment for the next 20 years. I really am in awe - he doesn't give a fig about global warming - but he does want a fixed cost for electricity. This is APS - Arizona utility monopoly. I have to admit they are the most enlightened utility I know of (after fighting PV for a few decades...). They are proving false the idea that back feeding the grid causes problems. They are going to have 25% plus of the power that goes through our local sub-station come from decentralized PV. I thought I would throw out some unrelenting good news to break up all the denier class BS we all deal with everyday!
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  35. sailrick @132 I made no claim about water used in CSP, you are mistaking me for somebody else. But I will make one comment on the Brightsource project. Has it been built and operated and if so what was the cost and has it met the design claims? I'm not saying that it won't. I'm just saying that it pays to maintain a skeptical - in the good sense - attitude to first of a kind large scale civil engineering projects with brand new designs and technologies. Oh, and last time I looked "homes" were not a SI unit for energy or power. Would authors of pieces on renewable generation please drop the deplorable habit of specifying generation capacity in "homes". And your point about HVDC is what? I was replying to nonsense about renewables not needing expanded grids because of local generation and grid storage. I did not say this was good or bad - just trying to drag the discussion back to some connection with reality.
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  36. Quokka - the counter to your claims about "ridiculous and unfounded claims" is reality. This is why I posted earlier about my customers who have cut their winter heating bills (in a cold climate) by 75% - this is the type of thing people like you claim can't be done. Likewise, if a city in Tasmania is running 50% off of wind by using a vanadium flow battery - this is a real-world proof of concept. Will it roll out to the world? Perhaps, perhaps not. But lessons learned there will be useful in other renewable base load projects. Likewise, my local utility with their 25% power at one substation - again proving the concept. Nothing beats real world to establish a claim. Which is why nuclear is having such trouble in this thread - in the real world it is wickedly expensive. I agree we should start now to put some nuclear in place - that means we should see it on line around 2020-2025 - by which time I HOPE we have correctly priced carbon and many of these "impossible things" you keep railing against will be part of our everyday reality. The single most important thing any/all of us can do is take action now. Just as we can't get government to turn on a dime - none of us can build a nuclear plant. But all of us can install solar or wind on our homes, or work with the landlord to get it installed on their property. Bring it up at work and see if you can't make something happen. I know when we put solar in at businesses the employees are all quite pleased (obviously the owner is or we wouldn't have the job). Given the failure of governments worldwide to deal with this crisis - we are going to have to act as individuals to create the momentum (and yes - economies of scale) to bring these technologies into the mainstream.
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  37. actually thoughtfull @136 Why do we have to have this absurd conversation. It widely acknowledged, indeed advocated by the best renewables experts that HVDC must be substantially upgraded for renewables to be able to run a viable grid. There is no question about this. How do you think this electricity generated by desert CSP is going to be moved to where it's needed? Quantum entanglement? Why are people always banging on that if the wind is not blowing somewhere, it is blowing somewhere else and electricity will be moved over an enhanced grid? This is so fundamentally basic to intermittent renewables, that to deny it is expose complete ignorance. King Island is, remarkably, an island with a small population and NOT a city in Tasmania. What is economic on an island with a small population where the alternative is most likely diesel generation may very well not be at all relevant to national grids. Is this so astonishingly difficult to grasp?
    Which is why nuclear is having such trouble in this thread - in the real world it is wickedly expensive.
    I have already provided on this thread references to both the IEA and US DOE/EIA 2010 estimates of the costs of electricity generation which show nuclear to be competitive with fossil fuels given a carbon price and broadly cheaper than wind and far cheaper than solar, but apparently you for some reason, yet to be explained, know better. I should think that IEA and DOE have a far more substantial connection to the real world than some of the tosh being peddled here.
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  38. Actually thoughtful: "I do agree with the poster who points out renewables tend to favor a national grid (actually - everyone benefits, even coal - more open market)." Quokka:"Why do we have to have this absurd conversation. It widely acknowledged, indeed advocated by the best renewables experts that HVDC must be substantially upgraded for renewables to be able to run a viable grid." Perhaps because you can't even be bothered to read my posts? To think beyond your ax of the evening - nuclear everywhere? Quokka: "King Island is, remarkably, an island with a small population and NOT a city in Tasmania. " My source for that is: "A 200 kW, 800 kW·h (2.9 GJ) output leveler in use at the Huxley Hill Wind Farm on King Island, Tasmania." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanadium_redox_battery Look I am not a citizen of Australia - I have been to Tasmania, but did not visit King Island (I guess because it is not there...). If both the original poster of this information and Wikipedia are incorrect - I certainly apologize for continuing the misinformation. Where is King Island? As for the mythical nuclear so cheap we won't even meter it! (yep, I can use a straw man too). Well, again, read my posts - where I find (using well, er, US DOE/EIA estimates!) that nuclear is ~$60/unit and wind, coal and gas are ~$53-55/unit (and to be fair solar PV weighs in at $100/unit (minimum) - but historically PV goes down by 20% for each doubling of installed base). And all of this relies on an overnight cost of nuclear at ~2k/KWHe - which is, as you so colorfully put it "tosh." (in the United States) So we are having this conversation because you don't read my posts, nor my sources, which back up my posts and you are frustrated that all of us enlightened folks don't bow to the alter of nuclear. Nuclear in the US is destined to be a partial solution as it is in China (China leads in nuclear. China leads in coal. China leads in renewables. China is big. Really big.) As to whether the DOE is accurate in pricing renewables - probably not. They are still not admitting there is such a thing as peak oil. They are relatively neutral, but if they have any bias, it is pro-fossil, pro-nuclear, and in NO way pro-renewable. Here is some background on a national electric grid (US) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=110997398 (not saying you need background - the conversation about "the grid" is amorphous for more posters than just myself) Look there is a lot going on - I now have an electric meter that I can't read, that the electric company calls a "smart" meter. We already have a national grid - I am honestly asking you what you mean when you talk about improvements to the grid. I mean better interconnections between regional grids, replacement of aging infrastructure, better ways to control and price flows between regional grids, connections from remote sources (utility size wind, solar, and nuclear are all going to be sited far from current loads due to NIMBY). All of these things benefit current utilities. That it will benefit renewables is obviously true. That a wind plant in BFE will need a connection to the grid is obviously true - as will nuclear.
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  39. johnd Thanks for the response. I get what you are saying. I don't think there's any one size fits all solution utilizing CSP. Each power company would decide how best to use it to suit their needs. One company may just want CSP for peak demand, without the heat storage, while another may have a different situation that calls for heat storage. Another power company may choose to couple CSP with natural gas, if it better suits their needs. Storing heat is far more efficient and cheaper than storing power in batteries. In the areas most likely to have CSP built, it is a good match, since the biggest nearby demands are in summer for air conditioning. And it is possible to build enough heat storage into a CSP plant to run all night, if that is what you need. It should also be possible to add heat storage to an existing parabolic trough CSP plant at a later date, if deemed worthwhile, or needed. Long story short, I don't think its an either or question of CSP with heat storage verses storing hydro power, or other alternatives. We'll likely need all this and more. Same goes for the PV verses centralized CSP argument that I hear sometimes. We need them both IMO, distributed as well as utility scale solar. All in all, I still think CSP is a very versatile and useful technology. But thanks for showing me the utility of using hydro as storage, particularly over long periods of time. The nine NREL pilot plants in the Mojave Desert were orignally built with heat storage. I believe oil was used, maybe water. They were able to provide power to SoCal cities in the evening, when demand is still pretty high. Of course, molten salt is a much more efficient storage medium. They were later converted to co-firing with gas, not because the heat storage wasn't working, but because they wanted to experiment with co-firing gas, and couldn't do both. If permitting and such goes well, there are 15 GW of solar thermal ready to be built in the southwest, which is not a bad start. There is about 6 GW already undederway if my memory serves. That at least partially answers quokka's question about solar replacing coal. I'm not saying it has resulted in coal plants being shut down, but 15GW is equivalent to about 23 coal plants at avg. nameplate generating capacity. (650 MW coal plants) or roughly - 6.46 coal plants @28% capacity factor for solar thermal, 11.5 coal plants @50% cpacity factor for solar thermal with heat storage. Lets call it 7 and 12, since I didn't adjust for coal's less than 100% capacity factor. :-) CSP plants can be up and running in three years, or less, from inception. It's biggest drawback is that it's captial intensive up front.
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  40. Camburn #127 - "A lot of posts on this topic show that co2 is not an immenent threat to climate at all." Funny, I haven't seen a single example of this. Perhaps you're seeing what you want to see. "There are leakage losses with long line transmission no matter what current tech is used." High voltage direct current lines only lose about 3% per 1,000 km. "PV on a roof sounds noble, but in reality is expensive per kwh. The rich folks can do this and feel good." I'm not rich by any means, but I've leased PV for my roof. Over the 10 year lease, it roughly breaks even with what I would have paid otherwise to my electric utility, despite the fact that my house has very low energy consumption. And PV prices continue to drop. "There has to be baseload generating stations." That's what the article is about.
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  41. "grand plans for renewables require very significantly expanded grids with large deployment of new HVDC transmission lines. Precisely to avail themselves of spacial smoothing" One of my points was that renewables can also enable spatial smoothing, by contributing to the grid, particularly large scale solar thermal following the load. If you don't have to fire up a peaker gas plant because you have some saved up energy from wind or solar, isn't that contributing to the grid and reducing emissions? Or do you think it all just flows toward backing up the renewable sources? Solar mostly provides power when you need it most.
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  42. @124 Marcus at 11:18 AM on 29 November, 2010 > What we see, though, is that China's "cheap" nuclear power stations are the exception, not the rule. Actually the same cheap nuclear plants have been built recently in countries as different as Japan, India, South Korea, and even the Czech Republic. This shows that there is nothing expensive with nuclear fission energy as such, but the problem is in the way nuclear plants are "built by lawyers" in the US. There is clearly an effect of economy of "mass" production, that is after several few plants are build many issues get ironed out, everyone knows what to do etc., which lacks in most places in the West right now after the decades of no new nuclear builds. Even that is hard to justify the difference, in particular considering the costs such as the completely new nuclear plants in UAE build by Koreans. See here for some relevant info, pages 74-77: http://www.asmeconferences.org/ICONE16/pdfs/NewPlantsBeBuilt.pdf
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  43. Regarding nuclear, while it may be a necessary part of the overall solution, I think Nick Palmer @ 122 has some good points. What I always question, is not so much the technology, but human nature. Human error, whether of the willful sort, as in terrorism, or unwitting sort. We've all seen plenty of examples of the latter, in the fossil fuel industry and to a lesser extent with nuclear. And there has been some of the former, like Saddam Hussein setting fire to the oil wells in Kuwait, and stolen nuclear materials from the former USSR. KajL "In France they built 29 nuclear power plants in just 10 years." In the U.S. over 18 GW of wind energy were built in two years. 2008-2009 And the French don't know what to do with the waste any more than we do.
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  44. Quokka - how can you be in favor of nuclear but against a beefed up grid? It just doesn't compute. I am not arguing for starting an electron's flow in the Keys of FL and sending it to Anchorage, AK, then back to the Keys. But any non-stone age future for mankind will rely more heavily on electricity. You want to rule out local use (ie solar PV on rooftops, backyard wind). So we will have, in your world, larger plants. In the absence of a beefed up grid - how will you pull that off? In the presence of a beefed up grid - why can't renewables benefit? I am not sure if you have created a straw man (renewables don't need a better grid) or a logical fallacy (nuclear doesn't need a better grid). It is hard to envision any future that doesn't include a much more reliable, smarter, more robust electrical grid. In fact, the only way to avoid that is to go whole hog on backyard wind and solar - and be willing to forgo lights, heat, internet, etc from time to time when no one locally is adding any power to the grid. Now, once you have backyard solar/wind, and you throw in some CSP, utility wind and some of these grid storage concepts (some are proof of concept, some are done already, some are possible now due to materials sciences advances not available when the grid was first developed, some are clever ideas no one thought of before (and many more ideas will come into being once we put a rational price on carbon)) - THEN you could potentially make do with smaller grid interconnects. But you will have them anyways because in between those two times you have a period when you need to be able to move electricity around long distances. And when you factor in that wind rules the heartland, and solar the southwest, and many loads are in the NE and West - you can see that a stronger grid is a MUST - no matter which vision of the future comes into being. PS - I was thinking perhaps you meant that King Island is not a city, rather than disputing its location. The 2007 population was 1,723 according to Wikipedia. So providing power for 50% of that through grid storage is pretty cool. Maybe we should be thinking in units of 2,000 people. I am somewhat tongue in cheek here, but also quite serious that it will take new approaches in thinking to bring about a successful carbon free future. It isn't just replace coal with nuclear, next problem please. Renewables are different, and the more local they are, the more power you have over your energy destiny - which I think is a notable improvement over greedily sucking on the electric utility teat.
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  45. I started out wondering the average size of a nuclear plant (1GW). I found this article - a great rundown on wind, solar and nuclear output (we ALREADY have wind output in the USthat equals US + France total nuclear output!) http://www.ases.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1178&Itemid=204 The power of using technology we have now! (so rounding out sailrick's comments - the French built 29GW nuclear in 10 years, USA built 18GW solar in two years - blow it out and we see that we could build 90GW in the time it took the French to build 29GW - and not have any nuclear waste to deal with). [wind may have some problems scaling, but hasn't shown any yet (run out of "good" wind, transmission lines, intermittent supply]
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  46. @120 MattJ at 10:39 AM on 29 November, 2010 > The flimsiest is your claim that all these technologies were abandoned because they were too expensive. No this was not the crux of my argument. It was that these technologies do not scale due to fundamental limitations which I discussed, the price being just one of them. I was complaining that natgas burners with compressed air storage (CAES) are incorrectly presented as a renewable, without even mentioning the necessity of burning the gas. I was complaining that the environmental impacts, which already did kill several projects of the kind mentioned, were not considered. I was complaining that EV battery storage is not feasible due to battery technology we have. I was complaining that the largest, the most efficient (at the scale of hundreds of MWs), and so far the cheapest electricity storage technology at this scale - pumped hydro - was not even mentioned in the article. > You must have been living in a cave all these years. The whole POINT of the switch to low-carbon, renewable sources is that once the TRUE cost of carbon emission is taken into account, no, they are NOT too expensive. On the contrary: it is sticking with carbon that is far, far too expensive. I agree, and I would add that it is not only the cost of carbon (dioxide) emissions which should be factored in, but the cost of other externalities/emissions as well. Coal in particular produces quantifiable externalities of about $8/MWh according to EU study ExternE - http://www.externe.info/ This is about the price of the coal electricity itself! However I maintain that nuclear is not only the cheaper option than the presented alternatives (nuclear electricity in the US is actually the cheapest one, cheaper than coal right now), but that is the only one which can get the job done at the scale necessary to replace coal/gas (and eventually oil with electric cars). @121 MattJ at 10:43 AM on 29 November, 2010 I agree that the Indian way with solid fueled fast breeders is not optional, and there is a much better, safer way, the molten salt reactors, actually developed in the US. This talk is a brief primer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWUeBSoEnRk Gore details here: http://energyfromthorium.com/ Concerning thorium - to power the whole civilization on thorium one would need to fission about 7 000 tonnes per year in a LFTR-type of reactor. Thorium is chemically similar to rare earth elements (REE), so it is often collocated with REE. As of now, there is no economic value in thorium, actually it presents an obnoxious waste which REE extraction has to deal with, therefore many places where the is a lot of thorium admixture are avoided. I asked a friend of mine who is in REE business, and he said that if there was any positive value of thorium, nearly all of the needed 7000 t/y (to power the whole planet), would be extracted as byproducts from existing scale of REE mining... The point here is that thorium is not an Indian specific thing. Actually the reason is the opposite: every large enough country has plenty of thorium, but India had very little uranium, and due to its opposition to NNPT used to be (until very recently) considered as a bad boy country which nobody could sell uranium (or other nuclear tech) into.
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  47. "However I maintain that nuclear is not only the cheaper option than the presented alternatives (nuclear electricity in the US is actually the cheapest one, cheaper than coal right now), but that is the only one which can get the job done at the scale necessary to replace coal/gas (and eventually oil with electric cars)." I provided facts a few pages ago that refute the claim that nuclear is cheaper than coal, gas or wind. While some of your points are valid - fixating on nuclear at the exclusion of renewables simply doesn't make sense. Having nuclear in the mix makes sense. Having nuclear as the only option does NOT make sense. Indeed, given the well known, discussed here already negatives of nuclear - it makes more sense to work renewables until you hit a stopping point (at least a decade away unless we suddenly get serious about it). If we can push the envelope of renewables and not add any more nuclear - the world will be a better (and cheaper!) place to be. That said, in the US at least, we should start a few nuclear plants now - it takes over a decade to get one going (being charitable - I am in AZ - the home of mesa verde - check it out - what a disaster) and we may need a few in the 2020s. Also, read my post just above yours - US is building wind at the rate of 90GW per decade. That crosses out your argument that only nuclear can scale fast enough.
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  48. @122 Nick Palmer at 10:53 AM on 29 November, 2010 > Oh dear. Perhaps Quokka does not comprehend what the word "directly" implies? Perhaps Q can tell us what will prevent an unscrupulous regime (see below) from using ordinary chemical separation methods to separate and purify the mixed actinides? I do not think it would be great idea to export solid fueled fast breeders (FBRs) to "unscrupulous regimes", I actually suggested DMSR for such purposes, where all the elements (U and Pu in particular) are kept at weapons-useless levels at all times, so chemical separation would not do a thing. (LEU; Pu with a large part of 238, 240, and 242 isotopes, so that a weapon physically cannot be constructed out of it in any way). However, there is a larger issue than that: this is not up to us (or US) to decide anymore. India is building their indigenous FBRs, China is building FBRs using the Russian design, Japan restarted their own FBR prototype this year, South Korea is developing an FBR for export. Us (or US) had already lost its technological leadership in this area, and consequently lost the control over who buys this technology. There is a small chance that US could develop something so much better than FBRs, such as the molten salt reactors - LFTR and DMSR-like, that other countries (in particular the "unscrupulous regime" ones) would voluntarily decided to avoid FBRs, and used proliferation and tamper proof US designs, but as it stands now this is not much likely. In particular as far as the "unscrupulous regimes" are concerned. *** Please do understand this very clearly: nuclear weapons are over 60 years old technology, physics and chemistry of which is well known and documented in textbooks and other public sources, including detailed blueprints of tested working designs. This may sound disagreeable and scary, but it has been a fact of life for some time by now. Any country which decides to pay the material and political price to develop them - will, if it has nuclear power reactors of any kind or not. Even the isolated and starving North Korea did exactly that! (NK has zero power reactors). If the US or Europe builds PWRs, FBRs, or any other reactors, it does not change the above any bit in any way. Claiming otherwise is maintaining dangerously mistaken and even somewhat arrogant attitude, which has already been decisively demonstrated as FALSE by the example of the starving and isolated North Korea. *** # >> "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." > Really? You just haven't thought about the way the world works enough. Oh thank you! Did you notice that large majority of the poeple you talked about live (and will live) in China and India, both of which already have nuclear weapons? For countries where one is worried about possible weapons proliferation, there is DMSR. This would not stop any determined rogue nation (as the easiest way to produce nuclear weapons does not involve any power reactors, but small and special low flux reactors which do not produce any electricity), but it would set our hearts free that we don't provide them with any conceivable avenue for proliferation. Despite what I wrote above, this seems to be a political necessity nowadays, and it is well feasible technologically, so not a big deal. > You're assuming that all these newly developing nations will choose the tech that you have faith in, rather than a tech that can be used to siphon off fissile material. Why do pro-nuke shills have such a childlike, but dangerous, faith in the innate goodness and morals of megalomaniac dictators? 1) Please keep your ad-hominem attacks to minimum, it is not that funny. 2) Megalomaniac dictators or any other rulers do not need any nuclear power reactors to produce their weapon-grade plutonium, as neither USA nor USSR nor India nor even starving North Korea needed any to begin with. Perhaps you forgot that nuclear weapons predate nuclear power reactors. Suggesting that commercial nuclear power plants aid proliferation of nuclear weapons in any way is incorrect, at odds with facts of recent history, and perhaps even dangerously delusional: In an energy starved world the probability for a regime to turn unscrupulous, and put together some graphite and uranium slugs, is much higher than in a world with plentiful, on-demand, scalable, economic, and clean power. [There are efficient ways of limiting proliferation of weapons, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion.] # > France has 60 million people and 60 nukes. A back of the envelope calculation speculation shows that if we were to power the world in 2050 with the universal European living standards needed to stabilise population - with the same size plant as France currently has - we would have to have around 9,000 nukes spread out in every one of the 200 countries in the world. Better pray that they are all run by selfless saints... I very much agree with you concerning stabilizing of the world population. 9000 GWe of nuclear capacity sounds about right. Thanks for bringing up the example of France. Most of their reactors were built within about two decades, demonstrating we can actually switch over to non-fossil sources in this rather short time frame using nuclear power. The similar experiment was done by other countries deploying wind/solar sources (Denmark, Austria, Germany, Spain), in some cases for about he same time of two decades. A brief look at where the electricity comes from in these countries, along with the respective gCO2/kWh (which I already posted earlier), clearly demonstrates which of these two approaches actually achieves the stated goals of eliminating CO2-intensive electricity generation, and reduces the emissions. BTW: Since when exactly is France being run by selfless saints? Or India, China, South Korea, Japan, US, Switzerland, Sweden, UK, ...?
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  49. @147 actually thoughtfull at 17:28 PM on 29 November, 2010 >> me: "However I maintain that nuclear is not only the cheaper option than the presented alternatives (nuclear electricity in the US is actually the cheapest one, cheaper than coal right now), but that is the only one which can get the job done at the scale necessary to replace coal/gas (and eventually oil with electric cars)." > I provided facts a few pages ago that refute the claim that nuclear is cheaper than coal, gas or wind. I said: "Nuclear electricity in the US is actually the cheapest one, cheaper than coal right now." See the plot which demonstrates this: http://newenergyandfuel.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/US-Electricity-Production-Costs-1995-2008.png Obviously, this is due to the fact that most of these nuclear plants were build decades ago, and are largely amortized by now. The hotly debated subject is the cost of the new plants in the US, for which we only have various estimates, not real life data. (I should add that the single plant in construction in the US is indeed on schedule and on budged, so far.) > While some of your points are valid - fixating on nuclear at the exclusion of renewables simply doesn't make sense. Having nuclear in the mix makes sense. Having nuclear as the only option does NOT make sense. I agree. In particular I don't want to get rid of existing hydro (~8% of US electricity), and I think there are places for wind, solar, geothermal etc., but I do not think they will ever constitute more than few percent each in the overall mix. Maybe I'm wrong but I haven't seen anything persuasive yet, or at the horizon :)
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  50. Bibliovermis #114 "Anthropogenic waste heat contributes 1% of the warming" OK, so instead of changes within 100 years it will take 1000. The problem remains.... no to mention all that spent nuclear fuel. The only thing that does make sense is the implied assumption that by then people will not continue to be fooled by all this tommy rot.
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