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A Detailed Look at Renewable Baseload Energy

Posted on 25 June 2011 by Mark Diesendorf, dana1981

The myth that renewable energy sources can't meet baseload (24-hour per day) demand has become quite widespread and widely-accepted.  After all, the wind doesn't blow all the time, and there's no sunlight at night.  However, detailed computer simulations, backed up by real-world experience with wind power, demonstrate that a transition to 100% energy production from renewable sources is possible within the next few decades.

Reducing Baseload Demand

Firstly, we currently do not use our energy very efficiently.  For example, nighttime energy demand is much lower than during the day, and yet we waste a great deal of energy from coal and nuclear power plants, which are difficult to power up quickly, and are thus left running at high capacity even when demand is low.  Baseload demand can be further reduced by increasing the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings.

Renewable Baseload Sources

Secondly, some renewable energy sources are just as reliable for baseload energy as fossil fuels.  For example, bio-electricity generated from burning the residues of crops and plantation forests, concentrated solar thermal power with low-cost thermal storage (such as in molten salt), and hot-rock geothermal power.  In fact, bio-electricity from residues already contributes to both baseload and peak-load power in parts of Europe and the USA, and is poised for rapid growth.  Concentrated solar thermal technology is advancing rapidly, and a 19.9-megawatt solar thermal plant opened in Spain in 2011 (Gemasolar), which stores energy in molten salt for up to 15 hours, and is thus able to provide energy 24 hours per day for a minimum of 270 days per year (74% of the year). 

Addressing Intermittency from Wind and Solar

Wind power is currently the cheapest source of renewable energy, but presents the challenge of dealing with the intermittency of windspeed.  Nevertheless, as of 2011, wind already supplies 24% of Denmark's electricity generation, and over 14% of Spain and Portugal's.

Although the output of a single wind farm will fluctuate greatly, the fluctuations in the total output from a number of wind farms geographically distributed in different wind regimes will be much smaller and partially predictable.  Modeling has also shown that it's relatively inexpensive to increase the reliability of the total wind output to a level equivalent to a coal-fired power station by adding a few low-cost peak-load gas turbines that are opearated infrequently, to fill in the gaps when the wind farm production is low (Diesendorf 2010).  Additionally, in many regions, peak wind (see Figure 4 below) and solar production match up well with peak electricity demand.

Current power grid systems are already built to handle fluctuations in supply and demand with peak-load plants such as hydroelectric and gas turbines which can be switched on and off quickly, and by reserve baseload plants that are kept hot.  Adding wind and solar photovoltaic capacity to the grid may require augmenting the amount of peak-load plants, which can be done relatively cheaply by adding gas turbines, which can be fueled by sustainably-produced biofuels or natural gas.  Recent studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that wind could supply 20-30% of electricity, given improved transmission links and a little low-cost flexible back-up.

As mentioned above, there have been numerous regional and global case studies demonstrating that renewable sources can meet all energy needs within a few decades.  Some of these case studies are summarized below.

Global Case Studies

Energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report detailing how we can meet nearly 100% of global energy needs with renewable sources by 2050.  Approximately half of the goal is met through increased energy efficiency to first reduce energy demands, and the other half is achieved by switching to renewable energy sources for electricity production (Figure 1).

ecofys fig 1

Figure 1: Ecofys projected global energy consumption between 2000 and 2050

Stanford's Mark Jacobson and UC Davis' Mark Delucchi (J&D) published a study in 2010 in the journal Energy Policy examining the possibility of meeting all global energy needs with wind, water, and solar (WWS) power.  They find that it would be plausible to produce all new energy from WWS in 2030, and replace all pre-existing energy with WWS by 2050

In Part I of their study, J&D examine the technologies, energy resources, infrastructure, and materials necessary to provide all energy from WWS sources.  In Part II of the study, J&D examine the variability of WWS energy, and the costs of their proposal.  J&D project that when accounting for the costs associated with air pollution and climate change, all the WWS technologies they consider will be cheaper than conventional energy sources (including coal) by 2020 or 2030, and in fact onshore wind is already cheaper. 

European Union Case Study

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) prepared a plan for the European Union (EU) to meet 100% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2050, entitled Re-Thinking 2050.  The EREC plan begins with an average annual growth rate of renewable electricity capacity of 14% between 2007 and 2020.  Total EU renewable power production increases from 185 GW in 2007 to 521.5 GW in 2020, 965.2 GW in 2030, and finally 1,956 GW in 2050.  In 2050, the proposed EU energy production breakdown is:  31% from wind, 27% from solar PV, 12% from geothermal, 10% from biomass, 9% from hydroelectric,   8% from solar thermal, and 3% from the ocean (Figure 2).

EU Renewables

Figure 2: EREC report breakdown of EU energy production in 2020, 2030, and 2050

Northern Europe Case Study

Sørensen (2008) developed a plan through which a group of northern European countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany) could meet its energy needs using primarily wind, hydropower, and biofuels.  Due to the high latitudes of these countries, solar is only a significant contributor to electricity and heat production in Germany.  In order to address the intermittency of wind power, Sørensen proposes either utilizing hydro reservoir or hydrogen for energy storage, or importing and exporting energy between the northern European nations to meet the varying demand.  However, Sørensen finds:

"The intermittency of wind energy turns out not to be so large, that any substantial trade of electric power between the Nordic countries is called for.  The reasons are first the difference in wind regimes...and second the establishment of a level of wind exploitation considerably greater that that required by dedicated electricity demands.  The latter choice implies that a part of the wind power generated does not have time-urgent uses but may be converted (e.g. to hydrogen) at variable rates, leaving a base-production of wind power sufficient to cover the time-urgent demands."

Britain Case Study

The Centre for Alternative Technology prepared a plan entitled Zero Carbon Britain 2030.  The report details a comprehensive plan through which Britain  could reduce its CO2-equivalent emissions 90% by the year 2030 (in comparison to 2007 levels).  The report proposes to achieve the final 10% emissions reduction through carbon sequestration.

In terms of energy production, the report proposes to provide nearly 100% of UK energy demands by 2030 from renewable sources.  In their plan, 82% of the British electricity demand is supplied through wind (73% from offshore turbines, 9% from onshore), 5% from wave and tidal stream, 4.5% from fixed tidal, 4% from biomass, 3% from biogas, 0.9% each from nuclear and hydroelectric, and 0.5% from solar photovoltaic (PV) (Figure 3).  In this plan, the UK also generates enough electricity to become a significant energy exporter (174 GW and 150 terawatt-hours exported, for approximately £6.37 billion income per year).

UK Renewables

Figure 3: British electricity generation breakdown in 2030

In order to address the intermittency associated with the heavy proposed use of wind power, the report proposes to deploy offshore turbines dispersed in locations all around the country (when there is little windspeed in one location, there is likely to be high windspeed in other locations), and implement backup generation consisting of biogas, biomass, hydro, and imports to manage the remaining variability.  Management of electricity demand must also become more efficient, for example through the implementation of smart grids

The heavy reliance on wind is also plausible because peak electricity demand matches up well with peak wind availability in the UK (Figure 4, UK Committee on Climate Change 2011).

UK wind seasonality

Figure 4: Monthly wind output vs. electricity demand in the UK

The plan was tested by the “Future Energy Scenario Assessment” (FESA) software. This combines weather and demand data, and tests whether there is enough dispatchable generation to manage the variable base supply of renewable electricity with the variable demand.  The Zero Carbon Britain proposal passed this test.

Other Individual Nation Case Studies

Plans to meet 100% of energy needs from renewable sources have also been proposed for various other individual countries such as Denmark (Lund and Mathiessen 2009), Germany (Klaus 2010), Portugal (Krajačić et al 2010), Ireland (Connolly et al 2010), Australia (Zero Carbon Australia 2020), and New Zealand (Mason et al. 2010).  In another study focusing on Denmark, Mathiesen et al 2010 found that not only could the country meet 85% of its electricity demands with renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2050 (63% from wind, 22% from biomass, 9% from solar PV), but the authors also concluded doing so may be economically beneficial:

"implementing energy savings, renewable energy and more efficient conversion technologies can have positive socio-economic effects, create employment and potentially lead to large earnings on exports. If externalities such as health effects are included, even more benefits can be expected. 100% Renewable energy systems will be technically possible in the future, and may even be economically beneficial compared to the business-as-usual energy system."



Summary

Arguments that renewable energy isn't up to the task because "the Sun doesn't shine at night and the wind doesn't blow all the time" are overly simplistic.

There are a number of renewable energy technologies which can supply baseload power.   The intermittency of other sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic can be addressed by interconnecting power plants which are widely geographically distributed, and by coupling them with peak-load plants such as gas turbines fueled by biofuels or natural gas which can quickly be switched on to fill in gaps of low wind or solar production.  Numerous regional and global case studies – some incorporating modeling to demonstrate their feasibility – have provided plausible plans to meet 100% of energy demand with renewable sources.

NOTE: This post is also the Advanced rebuttal to "Renewables can't provide baseload power".

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Comments 101 to 150 out of 440:

  1. JMurphy You and I have a simple choice: back the wrong energy policy and - the lights go out - coal is not displaced from the global energy mix - potentially severe climate change You don't 'like' nuclear, but I don't believe renewables can even come close to the potential for displacing coal. This isn't an argument either of us can 'win'. It's an energy policy debate with a range of downsides. Least-bad outcomes, if you like. You can pose the terrorist scenario; I can counter by asking if you know how hard it would be to cause the release of radioactive material. Recall that modern reactor designs feature containment vessels capable of withstanding the impact of a fully-fuelled large passenger jet. You would need a lot of C4 or whatever to match that. And you would have to get a large volume of explosive past security and up next to the containment vessel. And you still wouldn't break it... You might want to ponder what a widespread and prolonged failure of the European supergrid might look like. How many fatalities would you expect? I had a feeling someone would bring up the news from Japan. Let's remember that Fukushima was a natural disaster that damaged a 40 year old plant which was both poorly designed and appallingly sited. The news about the cesium detected in child urine samples is extremely vague and inconclusive and more accurate information from a large sample is required. It is also essential to understand whether the contamination was from airborne or dietary pathways. It is a matter for serious concern. I don't think we should go any further yet. And I don't like the usual emoting and distorting that is coming from the anti-nuclear lobby either. However, your anti-nuclear sniping requires an answer, and here it is: proper perspective. Nuclear power plants in operation worldwide generate ~375GW of electricity. This is ~14% of the global total. 65 more reactors are under construction, which will add about another 63GW of installed capacity. Since 1951, nuclear has generated 64,600 billion kWh. Most of that came in the last 40 years and most reactors are 20 – 40 years old today. 64,600 billion kWh is a lot of energy. But nuclear has been around for longer than you might think. When the operating histories of all currently grid-connected reactors are summed going back 40 years, they total 11,255 years of nuclear generation. Here's the link. Get a calculator, sit down, and see for yourself. Yet since the vast majority of reactors came on line in the last 40 years, there have been 18 incidents that merited a rating on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). It is important to remember that in operational terms, this is 18 incidents in 11,255 years. All bar three were rated as 4 or below on the INES scale (1 = lowest; 7 = highest). An INES rating of 4 is classified as ‘an accident with local consequences’, that is, a minor release of radioactive material unlikely to result in implementation of planned countermeasures other than local food controls. The three rated above INES 4 were: 1979 Three Mile Island (INES rating 5) 1986 Chernobyl (INES rating 7) 2011 Fukushima Daiichi (INES rating 7)
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  2. JMurphy Anyone who says that the anti-nuclear lobby should not be allowed to make comparisons with Chernobyl is absolutely correct. It is a grotesque misrepresentation. There have been no fatalities and none are currently expected. In other words, such contamination as may have occurred is likely to be minor and transient. If you wish to review the facts about Chernobyl (and I suggest that you do), you will find an excellent, unbiased source here.
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  3. Tom Curtis #87 Apologies - I missed this comment. A few things. First, the numbers are those worked up by Saul Griffith. I merely quote them. I'm sorry you felt that the intent was to distort - as opposed to clarify. You say that the numbers for a switch to renewables as illustrated by Griffith are equivalent to current production commitments based on a no-switch projection. To be blunt, this is implausible and you would need to back it up by breaking down your numbers and contrasting them with Griffith's. Something I note that you have not so far done.
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  4. Tom Curtis Yesterday I asked you to comment on Dr Hansen's cautioning President Obama as follows:
    However, the greatest threat to the planet may be the potential gap between that presumption (100% “soft” energy) and reality, with the gap filled by continued use of coal-fired power. [...] However, it would be exceedingly dangerous to make the presumption today that we will soon have all-renewable electric power. Also it would be inappropriate to impose a similar presumption on China and India.
    I asked you: why do you think Hansen is so concerned about energy policy predicated on the dominance of renewables? You have not responded yet.
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  5. BBD - there's no silver bullet here. Certainly not nuclear power, or interconnectivity, or storage or gas turbines. It's going to require a combination of all these factors, though I suspect nuclear won't end up playing a very big role due to cost and public opposition. And we're also going to need to increase energy efficiency, and build a smart grid. We also need to keep in mind that weather a few hours ahead of time can be predicted to a high degree of accuracy, so it can be anticipated when windspeed will drop, or the skies become cloudy above a solar plant, for example.
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  6. dana1981 I agree that there's no silver bullet. I agree that renewables will play a substantially increased role in the global energy mix - perhaps even as much as 20% by 2050. Which leaves 80% on the table. Which I think was Dr Hansen's point. I disagree that Generation III nuclear plant will be problematic in terms of cost or construction rate. I agree that there will be public opposition to new nuclear, which is why anti-nuclear lobbying is so dangerous from a climate perspective. I would like you to consider why you ignore the certain public opposition to the enormous environmental and landscape impact from the footprint of even a 20% renewables contribution to the global energy mix. I agree that we will build smarter grid infrastructure and increase energy efficiency (and applaud that thought). I am concerned about your last paragraph. You do not seem to have absorbed much of what has been said above, eg 96, 98, 99.
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  7. I think 20% is at the low end of the likely renewable contribution by 2050. I suspect it'll be closer to 50%. Most of the rest will probably be natural gas and nuclear. Hopefully you're right about Gen III reactors. Looks like China is building a few. Time is still an issue, with at least 5 years of construction, and a number of years of planning before that. People may delay construction of certain renewable projects, but they generally support the technologies. That's a problem for nuclear power. Wind turbines have very little land impact - the ground between turbines can be used for other purposes. Solar can be placed in deserts and on rooftops. Wind turbines can also go offshore. And so on and so forth. Renewable land impact really isn't a concern. You'll get a few whiners complaining about individual projects, but not enough to make a significant difference. But a lot of people have major concerns about nuclear power. I'm not saying they're necessarily justified - many aren't. But that's the reality of the situation, as long as we're talking about practicality :-)
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  8. dana1981 I have talked about nothing but practicality since I joined this thread ;-) The various counter-perspectives I have see here have not, so far, been convincing. Why do you think Hansen said what he said in his letter to President Obama?
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  9. I really should have posted a link to this article on the Science Council for Global Initiatives site earlier. Please note the SCGI members list on the left of the page.
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  10. Hansen is a climate science expert, not an energy expert, so I don't defer to him on energy issues.
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  11. dana1981 My apologies. I didn't realise you were an energy expert.
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  12. BBD : "You don't 'like' nuclear, but I don't believe renewables can even come close to the potential for displacing coal." Who told you that I don't like nuclear ? I believe it is an old, dirty and dangerous way of producing energy and that we should move as quickly as possible to renewable sources, but that doesn't mean that I don't think it shouldn't be used now, where there are no other options. It should only be a last resort, though, and only as a temporary stop-gap before renewables take over. I don't, however, like nuclear power evangelicals, who are prepared to lessen the dangers and constantly see the best - as the UK government and Brave New Climate did, literally days after the accident. That is called wishful, blinkered thinking. What you believe about the potential for renewables is just that, though - your belief. BBD : "You might want to ponder what a widespread and prolonged failure of the European supergrid might look like. How many fatalities would you expect?" I have no idea. Perhaps you have a number you can believe in ? BBD : "I had a feeling someone would bring up the news from Japan." Sorry to bring up uncomfortable news. That is life that cannot be swept under the carpet or PR'd away. BBD : "However, your anti-nuclear sniping requires an answer" Not being anti-nuclear, I can only assume that what you call anti-nuclear (without any evidence) is actually anti-nuclear evangelism. Guilty. BBD : "But nuclear has been around for longer than you might think." So why does it still need to be subsidised and secretly pushed by governments ? Can't it stand on its own feet and pay for itself yet ? How long more does it need before it can do that ? BBD : "Yet since the vast majority of reactors came on line in the last 40 years, there have been 18 incidents that merited a rating on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). It is important to remember that in operational terms, this is 18 incidents in 11,255 years." Very safe indeed but how many industries can you think of which require long-term evacuations from large areas, as well as intensive and expensive clear-ups, after an accident ? How do you think it feels to have survived a natural disaster, only to be told that you cannot live your life in some form of normality afterwards because a power source miles away means it is unsafe for you to return to your home ? BBD : "Anyone who says that the anti-nuclear lobby should not be allowed to make comparisons with Chernobyl is absolutely correct. It is a grotesque misrepresentation. There have been no fatalities and none are currently expected. In other words, such contamination as may have occurred is likely to be minor and transient." Something about your confident predictions of future non-deaths and minor inconvenience is very troubling and, again, marks you out as a nuclear evangelist. There is a very simple comparison with Chernobyl, though you may wish to lessen it : both were maximum Level 7 severity, involving a major release of radiation with widespread health and environmental effects. The fact that you try to lessen the seriousness, speaks volumes.
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  13. BBD @101: From 101: a) 64.6 trillion kWh of electricity produced by nuclear; b) 2 INES 7 events; Therefore, c) 1 INES 7 event per 32.3 trillion kWh produced by nuclear; From 69: d) 11.5 Terrawatts of clean energy capacity required; Or e) 100 trillion kWh of electricity if produced at peak capacity; Or 50 trillion kWh of electricity allowing for a peak to zero capacity cycle everyday; So F) An expected 1.5 IES 7 events per annum if fossil fuels are replaced by nuclear at current safety standards. But not to worry, the nuke boosters assure us the latest model reactors are much safer. And they have such a good track record of assessing risks:
    "2. No, quite the opposite. They have just performed robustly in the face of the worst earthquake ever to strike the Japanese islands. The risk of meltdown is extremely small, and the death toll from any such accident, even if it occurred, will be zero. There will be no breach of containment and no release of radioactivity beyond, at the very most, some venting of mildly radioactive steam to relieve pressure. Those spreading FUD at the moment will be the ones left with egg on their faces."
    (Barry Brook commenting on Fukushima, March 12, 2011) Again you are throwing up a wall of numbers without carrying it through to an actual analysis, just as you did on your first full post on the topic. And with regard to those numbers (and your comment @103), I don't care whose numbers they where, you quoted them, and you drew an implication from them. Therefore either you defend them, or you withdraw the implication. You do not get to both disavow the "evidence" and retain it as bolstering your argument, at least not if your purpose is rational discussion or analysis rather than propaganda.
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  14. BBD @104, yesterday I commented that
    "That post [your 69] contained some good advise by Hansen, and a stack of numbers use to build up emotional weight, but no analysis."
    (emphasis added) I made that comment half an hour before you asked me to comment on Hansen. But seeing you have asked:
    "Energy efficiency, renewable energies, and an improved grid deserve priority and there is a hope that they could provide all of our electric power requirements. However, the greatest threat to the planet may be the potential gap between that presumption (100% “soft” energy) and reality, with the gap filled by continued use of coal-fired power. Therefore it is important to undertake urgent focused R&D programs in both next generation nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration. These programs could be carried out most rapidly and effectively in full cooperation with China and/or India, and other countries. Given appropriate priority and resources, the option of secure, low-waste 4th generation nuclear power (see below) could be available within a decade. If, by then, wind, solar, other renewables, and an improved grid prove that they are capable of handling all of our electrical energy needs, then there may be no need to construct nuclear plants in the United States. Many energy experts consider an all-renewable scenario to be implausible in the time-frame when coal emissions must be phased out, but it is not necessary to debate that matter. However, it would be exceedingly dangerous to make the presumption today that we will soon have all-renewable electric power. Also it would be inappropriate to impose a similar presumption on China and India. Both countries project large increases in their energy needs, both countries have highly polluted atmospheres primarily due to excessive coal use, and both countries stand to suffer inordinately if global climate change continues."
    (my highlighting) I still think the letter contains good sense - all of it. But I have to wonder, seeing you have introduced Hansen as an authority why you are ignoring those sections that I have highlighted? Why the bitter and unenlightening attack on renewables? You asked in your 81 if I am "a little anti-nuclear"? Well, not especially. I am cautious about nuclear, and have been unable to get satisfying answers from nuke boosters on key issues. But my immediate response to Fukushima was to post a comment on this site to the effect that it changed nothing, and that specifically AGW was so great a threat that nukes cannot be taken of the table. What disturbs me most about Fukushima was not the accident itself, nor the level the disaster has currently reached. These are, in the end, engineering issues, and engineering issues are solvable, at a price. It was the blaisé assumption that things would not get worse, and the jokes about the radiation levels in bananas. It is the same nonchalant attitude to safety that caused the problems at Fukushima in the first place, and which you exhibit in your responses regarding the risks of terrorists capturing a nuclear power station.
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  15. JMurphy #112 You are transparently anti-nuclear. It is evident from the tone and content of your responses. Why deny it? You do not seriously address the points I raise at 101, so I will return the discourtesy. However, the INES 7 ratings for Chernobyl and Fukushima are puzzling. I invited you to refresh your memory on the facts concerning Chernobyl, but evidently you haven't yet had time. When you do get a minute to review the evidence, you can see for yourself that the INES 7 rating for Fukushima may have been an over-reaction. After all, Fukushima has caused no fatalities, and resulted in no life-threatening exposure to radiation. Odd, isn't it? You close with this:
    The fact that you try to lessen the seriousness, speaks volumes.
    This is incorrect and strategically dishonest, which is in line with much else you say here. As time is limited, I do not think there is much point in continuing this exchange.
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  16. Tom Curtis 113
    From 101: a) 64.6 trillion kWh of electricity produced by nuclear; b) 2 INES 7 events; Therefore, c) 1 INES 7 event per 32.3 trillion kWh produced by nuclear; From 69: d) 11.5 Terrawatts of clean energy capacity required; Or e) 100 trillion kWh of electricity if produced at peak capacity; Or 50 trillion kWh of electricity allowing for a peak to zero capacity cycle everyday; So F) An expected 1.5 IES 7 events per annum if fossil fuels are replaced by nuclear at current safety standards.
    Sophistry old chap. You seem to have forgotten that the Chernobyl and Fukushima events were caused by abysmally poor design and afflicted plant many decades old. So your projection breaks. Amusing, coming from someone who repeatedly says things like this:
    Again you are throwing up a wall of numbers without carrying it through to an actual analysis, just as you did on your first full post on the topic.
    Your pop at Brook omits one inconvenient fact: nobody died at Fukushima. But do carry on with the anti-nuclear propaganda anyway.
    I don't care whose numbers they where, you quoted them, and you drew an implication from them. Therefore either you defend them, or you withdraw the implication.
    The 'implication' - which is actually a blindingly obvious logistical problem - speaks for itself. And I can tell that you don't like that at all. Either stop fulminating about Griffith's numbers or rebut them.
    You do not get to both disavow the "evidence" and retain it as bolstering your argument, at least not if your purpose is rational discussion or analysis rather than propaganda.
    As I have said, I have provided a great deal of practical input on this thread. Not propaganda. In responses here I seen nothing that supports the claim that renewables will play a significant role in displacing coal from the global energy mix. If there is bias, denial and zeal anywhere, it is coming from the pro-renewables lobby.
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  17. Tom Curtis 114 Thanks for the amusing attempt to forcibly alter Hansen's meaning. Good try. Now, let's go back to the true sense of the letter:
    Energy efficiency, renewable energies, and an improved grid deserve priority and there is a hope that they could provide all of our electric power requirements. However, the greatest threat to the planet may be the potential gap between that presumption (100% “soft” energy) and reality, with the gap filled by continued use of coal-fired power. Therefore it is important to undertake urgent focused R&D programs in both next generation nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration. These programs could be carried out most rapidly and effectively in full cooperation with China and/or India, and other countries. Given appropriate priority and resources, the option of secure, low-waste 4th generation nuclear power (see below) could be available within a decade. If, by then, wind, solar, other renewables, and an improved grid prove that they are capable of handling all of our electrical energy needs, then there may be no need to construct nuclear plants in the United States. Many energy experts consider an all-renewable scenario to be implausible in the time-frame when coal emissions must be phased out, but it is not necessary to debate that matter. However, it would be exceedingly dangerous to make the presumption today that we will soon have all-renewable electric power. Also it would be inappropriate to impose a similar presumption on China and India. Both countries project large increases in their energy needs, both countries have highly polluted atmospheres primarily due to excessive coal use, and both countries stand to suffer inordinately if global climate change continues.
    Hansen's carefully worded caution to President Obama is that there is no need to debate about whether renewables can displace coal. Rather, we should get on with R&D including Gen IV nuclear and when renewables fail to deliver on the hype (as Hansen clearly believes is likely) we can still get on with the over-arching business of decarbonising the energy mix and attempting to stave of climate disaster. I do think you need to mull this over carefully. It's terrifyingly important, and wishful thinking about renewables is starting to look like a serious impediment to good energy policy-making. So serious that no less than James Hansen wrote an open letter to the President warning him about it.
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  18. Tom Curtis Just a general reflection: it would be constructive if you actually read my original posts here in full rather than creating an artificially distracting fuss about a couple of paragraphs. We could start with the various critiques of Jacobson & Delucchi's contentious claim that we can transition globally to 100% renewables. Funny how the critical response to J&D was greeted by absolute silence here. Especially since it is absolutely essential to any claim that renewables can significantly displace coal.
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  19. BBD - J&D is essential to a claim that wind, water, and solar alone can displace 100% of fossil fuels and nuclear. It's not essential to claims that renewables can significantly displace coal. I haven't had a chance to read the links about that paper, but this is an important distinction to make.
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  20. dana1981 Careless writing; apologies. J&D do indeed claim that renewables can replace nuclear as well as fossil fuels. And their treatment of nuclear is egregious. Not something I'd focus on, if I were you ;-) But to your point: what difference does it really make? All high-renewables energy scenarios claim the same thing. All fail to make a convincing case. Interestingly, I wonder why the main conclusion of the SRREN report - ca 30% renewables by 2050 - is so far at odds with J&D? Had meant to ask earlier but it slipped my mind.
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  21. BBD @114, I repeat:
    "I still think the letter contains good sense - all of it. But I have to wonder, seeing you have introduced Hansen as an authority why you are ignoring those sections that I have highlighted? Why the bitter and unenlightening attack on renewables?"
    (emphasis added) So, as explicitly stated, I introduced highlighting not to "reveal the true meaning" of Hansen's quote, but simply to emphasise those parts of it which obviously you find uncomfortable, and which contradict the line you are pushing. Further, no body can ever reveal the "true meaning" of a quote by adding emphasis. Adding emphasis changes emphasis, and by doing so changes the meaning. That is why people who are concerned about accuracy of quotation always note when they add emphasis, and your failure to do so shows that accuracy in conveying Hansen's meaning is not a concern of yours. In fact, you clearly attempt to distort his meaning when you say "... when renewables fail to deliver on the hype (as Hansen clearly believes is likely)...". Indeed, Hansen's "carefully worded" message states that "Energy efficiency, renewable energies, and an improved grid deserve priority ..." (my emphasis). When you remove your heavy handed emphasis it is clear that as much generation of electricity that can be done by renewables should be done by renewables. However, he clearly thinks that nuclear is better than coal and that we should not put all our eggs in one basket. And let me emphasise again, and for the third time, I think Hansen's advise is good. All of it, or at least all of it that letter, except for the discussion of the Carbon Tax where I am indifferent between broad means of pricing carbon (but not about implementation). My preferred policy is: 1) Place a price on carbon that increases incrementally on an annual basis (whether by tax or emissions trading I do not care); 2) Remove broad prohibitions on nuclear power except for occupational health and safety, and security regulations; 3) Implement regulations guaranteeing that waste disposal does not place any additional risk on later generations; and 4) Let the market sort it out. Apparently that is too anti-nuclear a position for you. Anyway, this will be my last post responding to you. You have demonstrated a complete unwillingness to enter into rational debate, to the extent that you have several times completely ignored my clear statements and tried to set me up as as strawman. You have also repeatedly repudiated the burden of justifying your claims when challenged. I get enough irrationalism on this site from the deniers. I don't need another source as well.
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  22. Tom Curtis Your points 1 - 4 are entirely reasonable. Your apparent belief in the ability of renewables to displace coal significantly by 2050 is not. You have not justified your position, so you have effectively lost this debate. Your misreading of Hansen's letter is obtuse. End of. WRT nuclear safety, I find your position untenable, and your reasoning misleading. You obviously don't take well to criticism:
    Anyway, this will be my last post responding to you. You have demonstrated a complete unwillingness to enter into rational debate, to the extent that you have several times completely ignored my clear statements and tried to set me up as as strawman. You have also repeatedly repudiated the burden of justifying your claims when challenged. I get enough irrationalism on this site from the deniers. I don't need another source as well.
    Oho. I see. Fine, off you go then. ( -Snip- ).
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    Moderator Response: (DB) Inflammatory snipped.
  23. Haven't read all the posts here but would like to ask when Mark Diesendorf says "There are a number of renewable energy technologies which can supply baseload power. The intermittency of other sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic can be addressed by interconnecting power plants which are widely geographically distributed, and by coupling them with peak-load plants such as gas turbines fueled by biofuels or natural gas which can quickly be switched on to fill in gaps of low wind or solar production." 1) Have there been any actually implementations of this sort of load management model implemented on any serious commercial scale (as opposed to modelling)? 2) Just how much "peak load" gas type generation will be needed in a given annual scenario and how much CO2 might they produce (for example as a % of today's Australian emissions assuming the same generation requirements as today). In other words if we could wave a magic wand and switch on Mark's proposal tomorrow what would that do to emissions? Despite the proselytising of Wind, data I have seen suggests it's load factor is about 1/3 of gas or coal. I have even heard it alleged that sometimes lots of Wind can lead to increased emissions because it can displace other forms of renewables and the need for the back up generators can cause problems - but I confess I don't know how reliable that allegation might be. So how many wind plants would be needed and how widely distributed would they need to be on a well connected grid to achieve the model parameters Mark sets out? Is this practical in Australia? The problem with Solar Thermal, as I see it and by Mark's own admission, is that it is simply not a commercially viable technology yet. A 20 Megawatt plant that can only operate less than 3/4 of the year is hardly inspiring. Solar PV remains grossly expensive in terms of the cost per tonne of carbon offset and I'm yet to hear of any Solar PV plants in commercial operation producing more than 100MW. Given that Australia currently has well over 50GigaWatt generating capacity it's hard for me to see how we can replace that so easily with the alternatives on offer - at least not very quickly within our financial means and not with the relatively poor grid interconnection available today. I have to confess, as much as I might find it appealing, I am sceptical about Mark Diesendorf's approach as being practical or affordable in the near to medium term. Still - I like this debate. At least it focuses on what the options are to move forwards and Mark's contribution is certainly a positive one
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  24. Mark Harrigan #123 Good to see some critical thinking ;-)
    1) Have there been any actually implementations of this sort of load management model implemented on any serious commercial scale (as opposed to modelling)? [No] 2) Just how much "peak load" gas type generation will be needed in a given annual scenario and how much CO2 might they produce (for example as a % of today's Australian emissions assuming the same generation requirements as today). In other words if we could wave a magic wand and switch on Mark's proposal tomorrow what would that do to emissions?
    Perhaps an even earlier question to ask than your (2) is: what kind of gas turbine can be brought up from cold shutdown to full operating capacity fast enough to respond to peaking demand? And why, in countries such as the UK, can't we have some? Instead, we are obliged to compensate for wind intermittency with gas turbines permanently running because they cannot otherwise respond quickly enough to allow grid balancing? Needless to say, this cancels out any emissions saving from UK wind. And it might do worse. Consider this statement by someone who knows what they are talking about:
    One of Britain's leading energy providers warned yesterday that Britain will need substantial fossil fuel generation to back up the renewable energy it needs to meet European Union targets. The UK has to meet a target of 15% of energy from renewables by 2020. E.ON said that it could take 50 gigawatts of renewable electricity generation to meet the EU target. But it would require up to 90% of this amount as backup from coal and gas plants to ensure supply when intermittent renewable supplies were not available. That would push Britain's installed power base from the existing 76 gigawatts to 120 gigawatts. Paul Golby, E.ON UK's chief executive, declined to be drawn on how much the expansion would cost, beyond saying it would be "significant". Industry sources estimate the bill for additional generation could be well in excess of £50bn.
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  25. BBD - not sure what you mean about SRREN. It examined 164 different scenarios, up to 77% renewable production by 2050. Mark - in response to your #1, I don't think there's enough wind turbines installed in any single country to test that load management. Regarding #2, it would depend on how much the gas turbines were fueled by natural gas vs. biofuel, for one thing. How many gas turbines would be necessary would depend on the breakdown of the rest of the power grid mix. But remember that even natural gas has significantly lower CO2 emissions than coal, and these gas turbines are proposed to operate as peak load power, only used when there is insufficient wind and solar energy to meet demand. Solar PV costs have been declining quite rapidly, as well. They're expected to become as cheap as coal power (without subsidies, and excluding coal external costs) within the next decade.
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  26. dana1981 See SPM p19:
    More than half of the scenarios show a contribution from RE in excess of a 17% share of primary energy supply in 2030 rising to more than 27% in 2050. The scenarios with the highest RE shares reach approximately 43% in 2030 and 77% in 2050.
    Teske is the outlier. The report points to ca 30% RE by 2050. I don't want to argue about this sort of thing; it's pointless. The press release grossly misrepresented the actual report. Which was both exceptionally stupid of the IPCC, and unforgivable.
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  27. Mark Harrigan 123
    Still - I like this debate. At least it focuses on what the options are to move forwards and Mark's contribution is certainly a positive one
    Not if it's wrong, and being used to push energy policy in the wrong direction. Tom Curtis asks me above (114): Why the bitter and unenlightening attack on renewables? I think this is unreasonably harsh, but then I would. However, if TC had read my original comments when I joined the thread, he would understand why I have a problem with renewables advocacy. It is fantastically dangerous to energy policy (see #69 and above, where Hansen's warning to President Obama is discussed), and it is going to cause an energy policy disaster in the UK (see #72). It will cause an energy policy disaster everywhere in due course, if not stopped, but I happen to be in the UK where I can see what is going on (eg #98; #99). What such activism is not going to do is displace coal significantly from the global energy mix. Which means it is as dangerous from a climate perspective as scepticism. We need to get past the all-consuming anti-nuclear bias and accept the unpalatable facts as they stand. Then formulate energy policy that makes sense.
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  28. OK, a final highlight of pro-nuclearitis : BBD : "You close with this: 'The fact that you try to lessen the seriousness, speaks volumes.' This is incorrect and strategically dishonest, which is in line with much else you say here." Really ? Compare and contrast : BBD : "It is a grotesque misrepresentation. There have been no fatalities and none are currently expected. In other words, such contamination as may have occurred is likely to be minor and transient." BBD : "After all, Fukushima has caused no fatalities, and resulted in no life-threatening exposure to radiation. Odd, isn't it?" Odd indeed...if you want to believe in fortune-telling, rely on wishful-thinking and wear rose-tinted glasses : Results of ACRO's monitoring in Japan (30th june 2011 update) Overall, the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious. Perhaps you should put the IAEA straight and tell everyone in the vicinity that they are currently not expected to die or be affected by radiation in any shape or form, now or in the future ? I'm sure they'll respect your opinion. BBD : "You seem to have forgotten that the Chernobyl and Fukushima events were caused by abysmally poor design and afflicted plant many decades old." BBD : "Some of what you say confuses me, but Fukushima 1 was 40 years old and badly designed. And it still worked fine until hit by a massive earthquake and inundated by the consequent tsunami." Old, badly-designed...and, perhaps, affected by falsified safety records for more than 10 years; a failure to inspect 33 pieces of equipment; a long-term, incestuous relationships between government regulatory bodies and this particular private industry (the cosying up which you seem to support, at least in the UK); and the ignoring of concerns about potential earthquake damage. Yes, that sure is 'working fine' - in a broken, corrupt kind of way. BBD : "However, the INES 7 ratings for Chernobyl and Fukushima are puzzling" BBD : "When you do get a minute to review the evidence, you can see for yourself that the INES 7 rating for Fukushima may have been an over-reaction." Perhaps you had better seek and dole-out more enlightenment : IAEA - Level 7 : "An event resulting in an environmental release corresponding to a quantity of radioactivity radiologically equivalent to a release to the atmosphere of more than several tens of thousands of terabecquerels of [iodine-131]" This corresponds to a large fraction of the core inventory of a power reactor, typically involving a mixture of short and long lived radionuclides. With such a release, stochastic health effects over a wide area, perhaps involving more than one country, are expected, and there is a possibility of deterministic health effects. Long-term environmental consequences are also likely, and it is very likely that protective action such as sheltering and evacuation will be judged necessary to prevent or limit health effects on members of the public. JAIF - Many areas still showing 'High' and 'Severe (Need immediate action)' Significance, and many Countermeasures that are still 'Under construction' or 'To be done (including studying and manufacturing)'. Maybe you should tell them where they are going wrong and that they are indulging in "over-reaction". Finally, as I have already said here (and elsewhere) : I believe it is an old, dirty and dangerous way of producing energy and that we should move as quickly as possible to renewable sources, but that doesn't mean that I don't think it shouldn't be used now, where there are no other options. It should only be a last resort, though, and only as a temporary stop-gap before renewables take over. It is just your evangelism for nuclear that makes you see anti-nuclear 'enemies' everywhere - perhaps even under your bed. (Sorry to have gone one but I always argue against blind faith) Fin
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  29. I think Germany is a good example here (see the German Energy Priorities post I just published). They've decided that phasing out nuclear power is their top priority, whereas I agree with Tom that we should maintain what nuclear power we currently have and phase-out fossil fuels first. However, a number of German studies found that they could at least reduce their use of coal even while phasing-out nuclear power, and may even be able to replace both with renewables simultaneously (though Merkel thinks some new fossil fuel plants will be necessary in order to meet the nuclear phase-out). So it will be interesting to see if Germany can do what BBD seems to think can't be done. They seem confident that they can.
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  30. JMurphy I do not excuse the insane siting of Fukushima 1. I do not excuse laxity in the inspection and maintenance regimes at the plant. But the damage to it was indisputably caused by the earthquake and tsunami. This is a matter of fact. You are going beyond matters of fact. See #101:
    Let's remember that Fukushima was a natural disaster that damaged a 40 year old plant which was both poorly designed and appallingly sited. The news about the cesium detected in child urine samples is extremely vague and inconclusive and more accurate information from a large sample is required. It is also essential to understand whether the contamination was from airborne or dietary pathways. It is a matter for serious concern. I don't think we should go any further yet. And I don't like the usual emoting and distorting that is coming from the anti-nuclear lobby either.
    WRT the INES 7 classification of Fukushima - you still haven't read the facts about Chernobyl, I see.
    (Sorry to have gone one but I always argue against blind faith)
    And your views on the potential for renewables to displace coal and nuclear are based on what, exactly?
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  31. To be absolutely clear: I do not advocate nuclear because I think it is risk-free and wonderful. I do so because unlike some here, I can see no option.
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  32. dana1981
    However, a number of German studies found that they could at least reduce their use of coal even while phasing-out nuclear power, and may even be able to replace both with renewables simultaneously (though Merkel thinks some new fossil fuel plants will be necessary in order to meet the nuclear phase-out).
    So we have studies in which Ch.Merkel has apparently limited confidence. Germany phases out nuclear, and in all probability is forced to install more conventional plant. Emissions will: - stay the same - rise - fall We shall see. What concerns me is things like this:
    The four German TSOs have indicated that the nuclear power moratorium is having a significant impact on the German electricity supply system. Sufficient security of energy supply may not be guaranteed in southern Germany on very cold winter days with concurrent low wind power generation. Section 11(1) of the German Energy Act (EnWG) obliges transmission system operators (TSOs) to operate a secure, reliable and capable energy transmissions system without discrimination. Furthermore, they are obliged to maintain the system, to optimize it in line with demand, to strengthen it and to expand it, to the extent this is commercially reasonable. However, as unbundled TSOs do not generate the electricity, and as recent shutdowns are limiting German generation capacity, the German TSOs are facing a challenge to comply with their obligations. As a result of the Fukushima moratorium and scheduled revisions, only 4 of the 17 German nuclear power plants are currently online. Favourable conditions (low network load, strong solar, but rather low wind power input) and system operator interventions have so far made it possible to maintain network stability, the TSOs pointed out. Assuming no unusual events, the situation shall presumably be manageable also for the summer period, the four TSOs (Amprion GmbH, 50Hertz Transmission GmbH, EnbW Transportnetze AG and Tennet TSO GmbH) said. However, stability will require using every possibility form of redispatch measures, interventions in the electricity markets, to postponing urgent grid maintenance and expansion projects as well as power plant revisions, they added. The TSOs also indicated that the free electricity market will be suspended for considerable periods of time. Still the risk of power failure has increased, the TSOs said. In case input capacity remained reduced by 8,000 MW after the end of the 3-month nuclear power extension moratorium (on 15 June 2011), TSOs foresee problems in particular for the coming winter months, as the possibilities for interventions were largely exhausted. In (industrial) southern Germany the electricity demand might not be satisfied on cold cloudy winter days with a low wind power input in northern Germany. 2,000 MW of secure generation capacity would be missing in southern Germany. Demand might also not be covered by electricity imports if other countries consume their electricity output themselves. As a consequence the risk for large power outages will increase, the TSOs warned.
    Must read your post though. And thank you for staying with this thread.
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  33. Moderator #122 Apologies for overstepping the mark. I took my measure of what is acceptable from this:
    I get enough irrationalism on this site from the deniers. I don't need another source as well.
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  34. Ouch! Looks like I've stepped into the middle of a nuclear debate! I'll come back to that @BDD #123 & #127 I think Mark D's contribution is a positive one EVEN if he is wrong - because it is focussed on what we need to do. You might want to consider the issue of right and wrong here On Being Wrong watch the video - it's enlightening and humbling Re the issue of gas fired turbines - you make an excellent point about just how fast they can spin up. But this seems to me a problem that some good thinking might overcome rather than a fundamental unsolveable problem We should invite some expert comment on this? My limited understanding is that gas turbines have a longer start-up time than conventional engines but no worse than coal or other existing "base load" technologies - all of which have to be "on" to provide power. I also gather gas generation is relatively slow to respond to changes in power demand - but that is all relative I'm told this is improved somewhat by Simplified Combined Cycle because of the pre-mixing steam and fuel before injection into the combustor. This enables a faster start possible because steam can be injected in the gas turbine as quickly as it is produced, avoiding steam turbine warm-up requirements.. The critical question is - how rapidly can this be done versus what is needed. I really don't know on what time scale this sort of demand management matching is required but I think it sounds like a technical challenge rather than a fundamental one. For example - momentum alone would ensure that the power from a wind turbine wouldn't suddenly drop to zero. What's more (and I don't know if this is done) surely a little bit of intelligently designed anemometry could be used as a short term predictor and signal to the grid that the wind turbine/farm was about to drop the load and spin up a gas turbine ahead of time. Perhaps there is someone who reads this site who could advise on the time scales required? Can we advance the debate by seeking solutions to the problems of renewables?
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  35. @BDD on the nuclear issue You say "We need to get past the all-consuming anti-nuclear bias and accept the unpalatable facts as they stand. Then formulate energy policy that makes sense." I agree that too often the nuclear question gets submerged by emotionalism. The question is what unpalatable facts do we need to consider? Despite the problems associated with the issues in Japan the fact is Nuclear has a far better safety record per MWh generated than any fossil fuel by orders of magnitude. The deaths per TWh for various energy sources are here Deaths per TWh Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh) Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity) Coal – China 278 Coal – USA 15 Oil 36 (36% of world energy) Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy) Biofuel/Biomass 12 Peat 12 Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy) Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy) Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy) Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead) Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy) I'm not sure about the veracity of the energy splits but taking this data at face value then Nuclear appears to be very safe. BUT (and it's a big but) I think to consider the nuclear issue we must first examine safety in its two component parts. Risk (chances of something going wrong) and Hazard (impact of something going wrong). With nuclear technology (even older technology such as at Fukushima) the risk is actually vanishingly small - but the hazard is enormous. The question is can we manage the hazard? So far Fukushima suggests this is a major problem. IF something goes catastrophically wrong (which clearly can happen) we simply cannot cope. So the issue of hazard is huge. Perhaps this is acceptable though if the risk is so tiny? After all we accept airline travel as commonplace and it is somewhat analogous (the risk of an accident is about 1/60th of car travel) although it can be argued the hazard is high (plane crash = almost certain death whereas it is not certain with a car accident) Until recently that was my view and I was a passionate advocate for Nuclear as the "obvious" solution to AGW. The technology is CO2 free in operation (yes I've heard the tired arguments about life cycle but they've been comprehensively refuted). It works and is proven as a reliable 24/7 base load/peak demand supply (as opposed to almost all renewable alternatives which - whilst promising are not yet proven). It's relatively cost effective and whilst waste management issues are real they are not beyond solution or management (as existing countries with an extensive nuclear history show). And the risk of something going wrong is tiny - even better if you site it somewhere geologically appropriate. So far so good for the technology - especially when you consider that new designs are way better. But the problem is the risk is not just in the technology. What makes it worse is where the human factor comes in. I think what Fukushima amply demonstrates is not so much that the problem with Nuclear is in the technology but in how it is managed. The management has been exposed to be one of avoidance of responsibility and cover up of what had really happened. This clearly increased the risk (made it more likely for things to go wrong) and has unquestionably exacerbated the hazard. I think most people sense this intuitively and hence that is why the "fear" of nuclear is so high. The hazard is enormous, sometimes unmanageable and there is simply not sufficient trust in fallible human management (which wants to avoid accountability) especially when it is profit motivated. So where do we weigh that up? I don't profess to know the answer I'd still like to think that we shouldn't be taking the nuclear option off the table. If we could improve our human management I think it has a role to play. But I can very much understand and empathise with why people are so distrustful of it as a viable alternative. It's hard to have an honest dispassionate debate about it because of the emotional factor but I hope some of this post helps. BTW in the interests of disclosure I am Atomic Physicist by training (not the same as nuclear but I have some knowledge)
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  36. Mark Harrigan Thanks for your thoughtful response. First, I obviously agree with you on the (to some) surprisingly 'safe' nature of nuclear (see #101 for another way of looking at this: sum total plant operating history over last 40 years = 11,255 years; 18 INES rated incidents over this period, only Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima 1 rated above INES 4). But the risk/hazard question is real, although it pays to remember that Generation III plant is inherently far safer than Generation II. Also, those who fret most about terrorist threats to reactors and waste transport know least about reactor containment vessels and Type B transport package specs. The best way to keep operators on their toes is continuous, unscheduled, independent inspection with absolute power to require access and disclosure. Nothing less will do. And yes, I can see it being a big problem with the Russians and the Chinese and other contrarians, but that's a political fight worth having and frankly I'd be very happy with somewhat ill-tempered Chinese and Russian teams picking over US and EU plant really looking for something wrong. We would of course be doing the same for them. Even so, this is where it gets hard. If you ask around on this site about the risk/hazard analysis of AGW, you will get a variety of answers, mostly high/high or worse. That's the policy bullet to bite. What infuriates me is that only Hansen and Lovelock actually criticise the massed ranks of anti-nuclear activists among the climate concerned for getting in the way of a difficult but necessary decision to expand nuclear. Anti-nuclear sentiment is Janus-faced; its other aspect is ill-founded renewables advocacy. The policy 'missing link' is the frankly naive claim that western democracies will somehow turn to austerity and energy poverty and deindustrialise to make it all work. It's wishful thinking on a par with AGW scepticsim - and similarly dangerous. Mike Hulme was correct to classify AGW as a 'wicked problem'. This sort of thing is exactly what he was talking about.
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  37. Mark Harrigan Many good points at 134, culminating in:
    Can we advance the debate by seeking solutions to the problems of renewables?
    Yes, of course. But this is implicit in all future renewables scenarios, as we see with Diesendorf (2010). People have been thinking about the solutions for a long time. There is real potential here, but the upper bound appears to be ca 30% of the global energy mix by 2050. If not rather less. This is the problem with renewables. The potential is either misrepresented (high renewables scenarios), or optimistic (30%). Even assuming the latter, there is a very large elephant in the room.
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  38. Mark Harrigan @135, as stated previously, my major problem with the nuclear industry is that they simply do not honestly report the costs of the nuclear industry in summary statistics. They are not alone in this, with anti-nuclear lobbyists being, if anything, even more dishonest. The consequence is that for non-experts no clear indication of the risk can be found, and in terms of comparisons with renewable energy sources, the risks and costs of nuclear power are significantly understated. I will give you two examples of this. First, you assure us that "The technology is CO2 free in operation", but it is not. In operation, the generation of nuclear power requires the mining, and refining of uranium, the manufacture of fuel rods (or alternatives in newer designs), the transport of ore, refined uranium, and rods to the appropriate location, and then the transport and removal of the spent fuel and other waste. None of these are emission free operations. And for none of these are their equivalent CO2 emissions from renewables. I am willing to accept that the overall emissions from these processes are small relative to power production, that they are much smaller than the equivalent costs for coal (and to a lesser extent natural gas and oil), and that in principle they can be eliminated by moving to an emissions free economy. But they exist. Consequently they should be included in any estimate of operational CO2 emissions from nuclear power. So, do you know of any reliable source that budgets nuclear operational CO2 emissions including the entire fuel and waste cycle? I have even greater trouble with the mortality figures. Deaths for solar and wind power are essentially limited to those caused by accidents during instillation and (for wind power) maintenance. Further, large scale construction projects have a lower death rate per hour worked than small scale construction projects. But 11 times smaller than for PV? And that is assuming that no deaths from operational accidents, nuclear accidents, or in the mining, processing and waste management cycles. Using Quokka's estimate, the 0.04 deaths per Terrawatt represents 2800 deaths. Using BBD's preferred source, there where 28 deaths among emergency workers at Chernobyl, and 15 from Thyroid Cancer up to 2002; but an expected 4000 Chernobyl related cancer deaths are expected in the effected population. (See also http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/Chernobyl/chernobyl.pdf) That already exceeds the 0.04 figure. Perhaps the nuclear industry does not count cancer deaths from radiation exposure in their figures. No doubt they will also assure us that smoking does not cause lung cancer. Mining is a major cause of mortality in the uranium fuel cycle. In the US across all mines, on average there is one death per annum per 520 full time workers. Given that there are well over a hundred uranium mines world wide, that probably translates into deaths in the hundreds each year just from mining operations alone. Indeed, mining uranium has unusual hazards, both from the radioactivity of the ore itself, and from the release of radon gas. One study shows an excess of 24 deaths (actual deaths: 34, expected: 10.2) from lung cancer in a cohort of 757 Navajo uranium miners. Based on these figures, total deaths from the nuclear power industry, excluding accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima is likely to be much higher than the 0.04 per Terrawatt indicated. Again, if you have reliable information including whole of fuel cycle figures, I would be very interested. One small point that goes unnoticed in these mortality figures is that large nuclear industry accidents have a very large health cost relative to mortalities. For example, only 15 people died of thyroid cancer to 2002, but around four thousand people got thyroid cancer who otherwise would not have. You can probably see my concerns from these examples. I also have concerns about reported costs of generation. Do they include the costs from large scale accidents as well. Please note that these costs to health and in CO2 emissions pale in comparison to equivalent figures from coal. There is no basis from these considerations to get rid of nuclear power in favour of any fossil fuel, or to not introduce nuclear power as a substitute for fossil fuels. But the selective statistics used for comparison data make a proper comparison between nuclear and renewable options difficult, and significantly overstate the advantage of nuclear, if any.
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  39. Mark Harrigan @134, the issue of "spin up time" is significantly overstated. In framing the issue, anti-renewable campaigners assume the auxiliary power stations must be independent gas or biofuel plants. One alternative is to design them as solar-thermal plaints with auxiliary gas heating. As the plant is already in continuous operation, the plant will neither need to spin up from scratch nor consume fuel in idle times.
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  40. According the the EIA's latest Monthly Energy Review the United States now generates 11.73% of its energy from renewable sources vs 11.10% from nuclear power. Until now, nuclear had exceeded renewable generation since the 1960s. Also see this news article on the report. To me it seems likely that this trend of renewable energy production growing faster than nuclear, and surpassing it in total power generation, will continue for at least the next twenty years. Quite simply there is too much public opposition to nuclear. Famous nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011) keep the dangers of radiation exposure fresh in people's minds. Probably the best thing the nuclear energy industry could do for their cause would be to shut down every nuclear power plant with a design similar to those which have failed in the past. Indeed, they should have done so twenty years ago. Let the newer designs prove their safety record, without it being wrecked in the public consciousness by problems at older plants, and in another twenty years or so people might be ready to accept nuclear on a large scale. If they instead continue to operate poorly designed reactors decades past their originally intended 'end of life' more nuclear accidents, and thus continued public opposition, are guaranteed.
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  41. Tom Curtis #138
    So, do you know of any reliable source that budgets nuclear operational CO2 emissions including the entire fuel and waste cycle?
    See EU figures from Energy Sources, Production Costs and Performance of Technologies for Power Generation, Heating and Transport accompanying the Second Strategic Energy Review 2008. See Table 2.1, which shows lifecycle emissions as follows: [kg CO2(eq)/MWh] Natural gas OCGT: 640 Natural gas CCGT: 420 Oil CCo-fT:585 Coal PCC: 820 Coal CFBC: 960 Coal IGCC: 855 Nuclear: 15 Wind on-shore: 11 Wind off-shore: 14 Solar PV: 45 Solar CSP: 135 Not really game-changing numbers when it comes to evaluating nuclear against wind (especially offshore) are they? And SPV and CSP do not emerge as quite so green as many suppose. You say:
    Please note that these costs to health and in CO2 emissions pale in comparison to equivalent figures from coal. There is no basis from these considerations to get rid of nuclear power in favour of any fossil fuel, or to not introduce nuclear power as a substitute for fossil fuels.
    Then why are you devoting so much time to discussing them? You go on:
    But the selective statistics used for comparison data make a proper comparison between nuclear and renewable options difficult, and significantly overstate the advantage of nuclear, if any.
    The limitations of renewables are examined in some detail upthread. It's the engineering argument that gets ignored every time: Nuclear power is superior to renewables because is it a proven, scalable, mature baseload generation technology that can - and will, given the chance - significantly displace coal from the global energy mix. Renewables are fundamentally unsuited to baseload, extremely expensive, extremely low density, untried at large scales and fraught with uncertainties we have neither the budget (opportunity cost) nor the time (AGW) to explore. Finally, there is no excuse whatsoever for this:
    That already exceeds the 0.04 figure. Perhaps the nuclear industry does not count cancer deaths from radiation exposure in their figures. No doubt they will also assure us that smoking does not cause lung cancer.
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  42. @Tom 138 I'm sorry Tom but it is totally fallacious to extrapolate from an average figure of deaths for all mining to a figure for uranium mining. All mining profiles are different but perhaps the most important is that the majority of Uranium mining is either open cut (stripping off overburden and refining) or in-situ leaching as opposed to Under Ground (such as in long wall coal mining). Underground mining is inherently more dangerous. So I dispute your figures - they are not logical I agree it's hard to get precise figures but even if you allow a significant increase in the figure I quoted - and say it is wrong by a factor of 100 - it is still two orders of magnitude better than coal. And this doesn't take into account the 100,000's of early deaths the UN attributes each year to the use of extractive fossil fuels. So I do not think you can pretend that Nuclear is a real problem on the basis of its comparative mine safety. As to my statement "The technology is CO2 free in operation" - well - it IS. I meant exactly what I said - the issues you raise of CO2 emissions relate to extraction (which I made clear) so I feel you either misunderstood or are being disingenuous. The Green movement often slanders uranium as somehow producing more CO2 than alternatives over the lifetime of the plant by pumping up figures involved in mining and processing. Really this is a furphy. Of course there are emissions associated with mining and extraction - just as there are associated with the extraction of metals and refining, forging and fabrication of Wind Turbines and Silicon for Solar Panels (which is actually quite energy intensive!). That all depends on what methods you use to power those processes and should really be the subject of a separate comparison. What matters is that once the Nuclear Plant is in place it is essential CO2 emissions free. I agree it is hard to find reliable life cycle emissions data that most would accept life cycle emissions is one source but many would discount it because it's the industry talking. I think it is pretty reasonable though and here is an independent source that suggests nuclear is on a par with Wind emiisions comparisons Regardless I think it is hard to conceive of any logic that would make Nuclear a "bad" CO2 option - I think it's a furphy raised by those who are ideologically opposed to nuclear power - It's the same sort of misrepresentation that denialists use only from a different direction. I prefer to be data and logic driven and not come from an ideological view point of support or oppositiion The real issue with Nuclear as an option is, I believe, as I have stated. On the plus side it's reliable and will contribute to enormous CO2 emissions reduction - It's proven technology and generally able to be implemented in most geographies (excluding those that are seismically at risk) - which put' it ahead of hydro and geothermal which have severe geographical limitations. With modern technology designs the risk are frankly extremely low BUT - the hazard is enormous -and if something does go wrong humans have not demonstrated an ability to manage it. This compounded with the human fallibility issue I mentioned earlier is a very big negative. The only way I can see forward for nuclear is if it is highly regulated AND the industry steps up to the plate and imposes on itself a rigorous accountability, management discipline and transparency to better manage itself. I'm not sanguine about that happening but I see it as the only way forward for Nuclear if we want to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as the science says we need - because (as I will post elsewhere) renewables are simply not (YET) up to the task - or at least it is not proven that they are - again part of the debate that is needed The cold truth is that the world is full of lesser evil choices. We need the debate to mature to that fact and have a sensible informed discussion about the nuclear option and renewable options- not one based on fear or poor logic or data or wishful thinking.
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  43. CBDunkerson #140
    If they instead continue to operate poorly designed reactors decades past their originally intended 'end of life' more nuclear accidents, and thus continued public opposition, are guaranteed.
    This is absurd. The main reason older plant is kept running is that anti-nuclear activism makes it difficult to get new plant built.
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  44. BDD @ 136 Thanks for your comments I think an important point to pursue in any discussion of safety is the separation of risk from hazard. Too often they are conflated and mean the discussion gets derailed. Regardless of how much lower risk new technology is (and I agree it is) the hazard is not really mitigated. I think we are in agreement the real issue to make Nuclear an acceptable option is that management and regulation must be rigorous, transparent and accountable. In my opinion until that happens, and is proactively addressed by the Nuclear industry the politics against it as an option will simply prove insurmountable. A pity but that's the political reality. On renewables and what sparked this whole thread I may share your views about the current state of renewable but the 30% limitation you mention seems somewhat arbitrary to me? Tom @ 139 I think makes a couple of good points. One is that the debate is made poorer by campaigners from any side (nuclear, anti-nuclear, renewable, anti-renewable, denialist etc) overstating issues to shore up their perspectives. I would like to move beyond that insofar as it is humanly possible. I also think his framing of the "spin-up time" issue makes good sense. What is needed I think is a "utility" that uses a mix of wind (with intelligent predictive anemometering) and solar thermal supported by gas/biofuel turbines (or similar) to manage the variability.(gasp - they might even have some nuclear too!) The trouble is (as I see it - so just a hunch) that everyone wants to push their own barrow and there's very little evidence of anyone using a multi-pronged approach There is a plan in Australia (one I think that makes some brave/unrealistic assumptions and is way beyond our current capital investment capabilities) here beyond zero which has been thoroughly critiqued here beyond zero critique Does that mean the idea is dead in the water? No, it means it needs more work. My point is that our challenge in the debate is not simply to point out what is wrong with any proposal (though that is important) but to use our skills and creative energies to try and suggest better ways to move forward and create improvements. We need to move past everyone just pushing their particular hobby horse of a solution. Given that we can move past the denialist vs AGW is real debate (which is maybe only just starting to happen in Australia I'm sorry to say), the problem in the debate moving forward , as I see it, is that (as I said above in #142) we need to acknowledge that the world is full of lesser evil choices. Wishful thinking for renewables don't make them any more real but also just attacking renewable options doesn't make them any better. Similarly denying the nuclear option based on FUD seems unwise to me but we also need to confront the difficulties head on. I am interested in Mark Diesendorf's proposal (the article that sparked this whole thread) because it is a serious attempt to do that - I agree it may not be perfect (probably far from it). But let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good - or to extend the phrase - can we take what is good in any option and strive through logic and reason to make it better? (sorry - I'll stop preaching now ;->)
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  45. Mark Harrigan @142, please note again my final @138:
    "Please note that these costs to health and in CO2 emissions pale in comparison to equivalent figures from coal. There is no basis from these considerations to get rid of nuclear power in favour of any fossil fuel, or to not introduce nuclear power as a substitute for fossil fuels. But the selective statistics used for comparison data make a proper comparison between nuclear and renewable options difficult, and significantly overstate the advantage of nuclear, if any."
    (emphasis added) Your response seems to me to spend most of its time arguing against a position I explicitly disavow. I have to say that for you to follow BBD's example of arguing straw men as a substitute for actually reading the post that is supposedly being responded to is not a good sign. Please do not continue doing so as I find it very uninteresting to discuss issues with people that discourteous. When it happens once, I assume it was just an error. If it happens repeatedly, I assume the person is incapable of a polite and reasoned discussion. Having said that, I agree that mineral mining is safer than coal mining, and open cut mining safer than underground mining; but was unable to get figures for open cut mineral mining (which would be directly comparable). I can say from experience in the mining industry that deaths from mining are comparable in rate to deaths from surface workings (concentrators, smelters,maintenance facilities), so while the figures are inaccurate, they will be of the right magnitude. That however, is not the point. The point is that even deaths from Chernobyl alone more than exceed the listed deaths per terraWatthour you listed. Arguably the deaths from construction equal or exceed those listed. Deaths from mining and processing are also likely to be a significant fraction of those listed, and possibly exceed them. Consequently the value listed is simply not plausible. Because the value is much smaller than the value for coal, these problems are not a problem in that comparison. However, they call into question the very dubious (IMO) claim that Nuclear power is eleven times safer than Photovoltaic Solar power, and nearly four times safer than off shore wind. With regard to emissions, I am less sure the comparisons made are inaccurate, and would not question them except for the repeated examples of glib dismissals of any concerns by nuclear advocates (not to mention the attempts to shoe horn anyone who raises concerns as a greenpeace radical). However, there is a distinct difference between wind and solar power and nuclear. They both have CO2 emissions from construction, and these emissions can in principle be eliminated (except perhaps from concrete construction). But in addition to that, nuclear has a fuel cycle, which wind and solar do not. Given that, claims that CO2 emissions for nuclear are a third of that for photovoltaics, and a ninth of that for concentrated solar need to be defended. And simply citing a table with no detailed methodology is not a defence.
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  46. Mark Harrigan # 144 30% by 2050 is essentially the conclusion of the recent IPCC SRREN study. This is broadly in line with other projections. Unfortunately, the elephant remains firmly in the room. WRT TC's comment on spin-up is puzzling.In fact I can't really make clear sense of it. What happens at the end of a cloudy week of relatively high demand? Molten salt is a clever idea for thermal storage, but not a free pass to unlimited backup. This kind of plant design strategy is going to lead to capacity shortfalls. Baseload capacity shortfalls. I completely agree with you that this is an invitation to do more research. I completely disagree that it will ever make renewables suitable for large-scale baseload.
    Tom @ 139 I think makes a couple of good points. One is that the debate is made poorer by campaigners from any side (nuclear, anti-nuclear, renewable, anti-renewable, denialist etc) overstating issues to shore up their perspectives.
    TC is, in my view, being disingenuous. He is clearly anti-nuclear and continuously deploys FUD in furtherence of his stance. And he also seems to be treating you exactly as he treated me when I disagreed with him upthread. I will restate what I said above: Anti-nuclear sentiment is ( -Snip- ); its other aspect is ill-founded renewables advocacy. The policy 'missing link' is the frankly naive claim that western democracies will somehow turn to austerity and energy poverty and deindustrialise to make it all work. It's wishful thinking on a par with AGW scepticsim - and similarly dangerous. You conclude with a commendable appeal to reason:
    But let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good - or to extend the phrase - can we take what is good in any option and strive through logic and reason to make it better? (sorry - I'll stop preaching now ;-)
    This is laudable, but there are constraints. We do not have unlimited budgets, and the problem of opportunity cost must be addressed before a major policy mistake sends us down the wrong track. Not only can we not afford to do the whole thing twice, once for renewables, once for nuclear, the projected acceleration in warming does not allow the luxury of time. This is why I (and many others) argue that unless renewables can absolutely confound their critics and achieve near-physics-defying efficiency improvement within the next decade, they will at best give us 30% of the global energy mix by 2050. Coal is projected to be a big player - ca 40% or higher - and that's simply unacceptable. So what's on the table? Nuclear. I wish we could power a world of ca 9 billion in 2050 with renewables and fairy dust, but we can't. And this requires urgent but absolutely logical consideration.
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    Response:

    [DB] Accusations of deceit are a Comments Policy violation (unless you have incontrovertible proof).

  47. Tom Curtis #145
    Given that, claims that CO2 emissions for nuclear are a third of that for photovoltaics, and a ninth of that for concentrated solar need to be defended. And simply citing a table with no detailed methodology is not a defence.
    You will be relieved to know that the EU doesn't formulate pan-European energy policy on the basis of guesswork. Please see p13 III in the linked document, which you evidently have not read. It is a synopsis of the methodology. There, you will be referred to Table 3.3, which in turn will direct to to the relevant sources and references in the literature.
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  48. Moderator While I am well aware of the likely counter-productive results of arguing with you, I am baffled here. No accusation of deceit was made. Another analogy might be 'two sides of the same coin'. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding?
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    Response:

    [DB] This (the exact term you used) is what I based that on.

    "two-faced; hypocritical; deceitful"

    To use the term that you used is to invite any of those three interpretations, including deceit by implication.  Clarity is best, leaving naught for misinterpretation.

  49. BBD wrote: "This is absurd. The main reason older plant is kept running is that anti-nuclear activism makes it difficult to get new plant built." You say my position is absurd... and then seem to agree with it. Yes, nuclear power companies are continuing to use outdated power plants because they want to make money and can't get newer ones built... because a few of the outdated ones have had nuclear accidents which have turned many people against nuclear power. If you want people to trust that your technology is safe you shouldn't continue using older versions of it which are known to be unsafe long after they were supposed to be decommissioned. What part of that (seemingly obvious) analysis is to you "absurd"?
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  50. BBD @147 1) I am still not interested in discussing anything with you. You repeatedly ignored my direct statements in previous posts to try to construe me as a straw man. I consider that sort behaviour discourteous, and a refusal of rational debate. Where I a moderator, I would invite you to post elsewhere as the only opposing views you appear willing to respond to are those you construct yourself. 2) Every single claim you have made about me and my beliefs to date has been false. You will no doubt ignore this and continue constructing falsehoods because it suites your debating style. But other participants should be aware that your ability to correctly understand an interlocuter closely approximates zero. 3) In particular your claim about what I have read and haven't read have on all occasions been false. In this particular instance I had read table 3.3, and the introductory remarks. I had followed up on two of the five (or was it six) references, but one was in german, and the other only available on a cd-rom. I intend to follow up on the others tomorrow, time permitting. As it stands, I still have no information as to whether mining and processing costs are included in the lifetime CO2 emissions for nuclear power. Indeed, I have no idea, for it is not specified how the EU Communication Commission took a range of 3 - 40 from their source documents and turned it into a value of 15. Seeing you are either unwilling or unable to cite original studies that actually specify their methodology, you are tacitly arguing from authority, and I will certainly, and happily point that out. 4) (And finally), it is certainly possible to build a power generation system consisting entirely of solar thermal and wind power generation with the following features: a) The solar thermal peak generating capacity can meet the full system needs; b) The solar thermal plants have back-up gas or biofuel heating capable of generating peak capacity; c) The wind capacity can handle 50% of peak load under normal wind conditions; d) When wind power is being generated, solar power in excess of demand is diverted to thermal storage (or pumped storage); e) When wind capacity falls, solar power is picks up the load if possible; f) If combined wind and solar capacity falls below demand, thermal (or pumped) storage picks up the load; and g) When wind, solar and stored capacity cannot handle the load, the auxiliary gas or biofuel is used to meet system load. The system has the virtue that it can always meet designed load requirements, but that it only emits CO2 when renewable sources do not meet current load requirements. It has the further advantage that the gas or biofuel auxiliary, when called upon, is only maintaining heat in a system already brought up to operating capacity by solar or stored thermal, and hence requires no "spin up" time. I make no claim that this is the best or most efficient way to deploy renewables, only that it is possible. Because it is possible, renewables can meet almost all power requirements in most countries, supplemented by either gas or better biofuel. The question is then, not is that possible. The question is is it the best way to go, ie, is nuclear cheaper, and/or does it have a lower emissions profile overall, and/or is it safer. I do not have the answer to that question, though I would like to. On the other hand, I don't need to in that if governments would leave both renewables and nuclear as open options with no subsidies including on research, or equivalent subsidies, and with a carbon price, the power companies will quickly find the cheapest combination of technologies. In the mean time I do not trust nuclear advocates who tell me renewables cannot work, and feed me obviously false data (such as the mortality rate data), and who ignore obvious questions and evade the onus of rationally supporting their views just as I distrust greenpeace advocates who do the same sorts of thing in the other direction (although probably on a larger scale).
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