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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 351 to 400 out of 440:

  1. "You are putting some blame on SkS in your last post @340. If you want to improve the post and get people to do it, because you are convinced of being correct regarding the "faulty and baseless treatment", you need to be more convincing, maybe even do a selective rewrite for consideration."

    The post should be rewritten using Ted Trainer's conclusions, which are credible. Subsequently, SkS should indicate that nuclear power can allow a decarbonised energy supply when it is used rather than fossil fuels, such as explained by Barry Brooks in the above link.

    Thank you,

    Joris

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  2. "And... you consider your assumption of 100% curtailment of excess renewable energy to be 'honest'?"

    Excess energy from intermittent renewables will follow the following path:

    1. First, it will be forced exported. It may even be exported at negative price, which already happens sometimes in Denmark and Germany. In that case, foreign energy consumers are actually *paid* to take the electricity. That is because destroying electricity costs money, so sometimes it is cheaper to pay energy users to take it. Of course, using energy export as a way of mitigating the problem of oversupply of intermittent renewables simply transfers the problem to the neighbouring country. For example, in my country, the Netherlands, the liberal politicians are reducing the targets for intermittent renewables build because we are already getting more and more imported electricity from Germany. In fact, we are getting this energy very cheaply, because the Germans have to underbid our local energy suppliers. Sometimes, we literally get 'free' electricity from Germany in this way. Obviously, increasing amounts of curtailment and forced export will bankrupt the energy suppliers sooner or later, which is the kind of problems Germany and Denmark are currently grapling with, although almost nobody realises this. Still, as long as German taxpayers are willing to ignore how they are being exploited, Dutch consumers will happily consume their expensive electricity for free.

    2. Second, if 1 is not an option, and if it is possible, the intermittent energy source will be taken offline. Modern wind turbines have the ability to shut themselves off precisely for this reason, which reduces the need for costly stand-alone electricity destruction facilities.

    3. Finally, destruction. If 1 and 2 are tapped-out, and if large, prompt supply shock occur (which happens when cloud front pass over solar farms, or when storms hit wind farms, when demand drops quickly, or when there is no where to go for the excess electricity for some other reason, the electricity is then destroyed in load banks. Load banks may consist of large resistence circuits or steel shafts drilled into the ground to dissipate electricity in the ground. This is currently used in Denmark and Germany. Note that those countries still only have a minority penetration of intermittent renewables, yet the problems of curtailment are already glaring. As they increase those sources further, they will need larger and larger electricity destruction facilities. Moreover, the tax-payers in those countries always pay for the full production cost of the renewable electricity that is being destroyed in this way, thereby also destroying their own pocketbooks and failing to reduce their coal use. in fact, Germany used 5% more coal last year, even while intermittent sources grew. Closing nuclear power plants is of course a massive own-goal of the Germans and a hit against the health of the planet and the German people. The increasing coal use in the EU will kill an additional 900 people every year (5% of 18000 per year current), which is 15 times the number of people killed in total by Chernobyl.

    Finally, the concept of using the excess electricity for hydrogen or synthetic liquid fuels production or some other worthy cause will not work, for a simple reason. Such facilities are extremely capital intensive and need to be used 24/7 in order to have a hope of recovering investment costs. Certainly, if such facilities would sit idle until such time as there is an excess of intermittent energy, the unit cost of the hydrogen or synfuel produced will multiply.

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  3. Excerpt from Barry Brooks analysis, which describes my position (which is the scientific position):

    "The critique of the future global role of renewable energy by
    Trainer (2010) underscored many important limitations associated
    with variability, dispatchability, large-scale energy storage, the need
    for overbuilding and geographical replication (and the likely consequence: ‘dumping’ of unused excess energy), energy returned on
    energy invested, and other key points. The meta-analysis by
    Nicholson et al. (2011) also considered technological maturity, cost
    and life-cycle emissions as constraints on renewables’ capacity to
    displace fossil fuels. Although I support Trainer’s (2010) conclusion
    that renewables alone will not be able to ‘solve’ the greenhouse
    problem, I argue that his dismissal of a major role for nuclear fission
    energy, working in complement with other low-carbon energy
    sources, was unjustified.
    The principal limitations on fission energy are not technical,
    economic or fuel supply—they are instead tied up in the complex
    issues of societal acceptance and public education (Adamantiades
    and Kessides, 2009; Pidgeon et al., 2008), fiscal and political
    inertia (Hyde et al., 2008; Lund, 2010), and inadequate critical
    evaluation of the alternatives (Jeong et al., 2010; Nicholson et al.,
    2011; Trainer, 2010). Ultimately, as the urgency of climate change
    mitigation mounts, and requirements for sustainable growth in
    developing economies and replacement of aging infrastructure in
    the developed world come to the fore, pragmatic decisions on the
    viability of all types of non-fossil technologies will have to be
    made. Engineering and economics realities point to a large role for
    fission in this new energy future."

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  4. My comments don't seem to be published anymore ... will come back later.

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  5. JvD, setting aside the fact that your analysis is at odds with findings by numerous studies... it also seems to be at odds with itself.

    You argue that there is so much excess renewable power that it must regularly be given away to neighboring countries for free and that renewable power cannot be used to power various forms of energy storage facilities because they would frequently sit idle due to the lack of excess power.

    These scenarios cannot both be true. Indeed, my understanding is that they are both false, but it is clearly impossible for there to be both 'too much' excess renewable power and 'too little' at the same time. Thus, surely you must acknowledge that at least one of these arguments is allowing hyperbole to run amok?

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  6. JvD, thanks for coming back and explaining your position better.

    I think there is an issue here, which your assertiveness suggests you have not accepted yet, namely that your position is not the ultimate one. While climate science itself is consilient and displays a remarkable consensus, how best to go forward to address our climate and energy problem is not settled. But it is a needed discussion, so you are welcome to argue the way forward.

    Statements such as "... which is the scientific position" (JvD @353 and your whole post at @351) suggest that you seem to assume you know a truth few other people have realized yet, while several people here have put reasonable arguments forward suggesting you are not entirely consistent, or correct. Thus, so far the conversation is not goal oriented, which is also your fault. Too many assertions, too little focus on either side. Everyone should focus on a smaller issue first, say "why is the economic forecast (in the EU paper link you gave) so bleak?" and "is that an accepted fact we cannot hope to change?", or "how can we (best) make renewables provide baseload power?", I suggest. Then take it from there.

    On the nuclear discussion: You will not likely see a statement on SkS in favor or against nuclear energy. As there are many arguments for and against that technology, so there are many views among folks here, quite democratic. Your posting style only alienates in this case.

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  7. "In OECD countries, nuclear waste was always handled, has hurt noone and poluted nothing."

    Fair enough, and mostly accurate, although I haven't researched it. However, you're talking about making a drastic switch to global scale production in which nuclear will be the dominant source and inevitably will be undertaken by most countries, including non OECD. Kabul can't even keep up a decent sewer system and people there get exposed to this lovely thing known as "fecal dust", you feel like taking up a nuclear energy contract in this human environment? Hmmm...

    Furthermore, we have not yet moved beyond storing away that waste with the assumption that we will continue to do so for 20K years or so. Perhaps we should reserve definitive statements on our ability to handle it until that time has gone by.

    You didn't adress the supply issue. At current consumption rates with current technology, it would last about 200 years. Projecting from current rates of growth, the MIT study below sees a peak in 2076, only about 60 years away, depending on what's really in Australia. Of course, they're too busy extracting coal right now.

    http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/54467

     

    However, with the rate of growth you suggest, it's anybody's guess how much earlier that would happen, even with immense undiscovered Australian deposits. Some of the equipment might not have too much of a chance to become obsolete. Of course, we could extract U from seawater but then how closer are we to a commercially viable solution of that kind than to energy storage solutions that would solve the curtailment problem? 

    Bottom line is, while nuclear in its current form is probably an indispensable step, it is still only a transitional solution. It may be good for 70 years, or a couple of hundreds, but to be a longer term panacea it has to be different than what we have now, different enough that a radical transformation will be necessary again. There is no silver bullet, unless we get fusion going. This is a finite world.

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  8. JvD:

    you say: "This is not speculation, but demonstrated by history. In OECD countries, nuclear waste was always handled, has hurt noone and poluted nothing. Strong indication that we know how to handle it."

    In Fukushima the nuclear waste pools built on top of the released steam into the atmosphere and may have boiled dry.  It released enormous amounts of radiation into the local environment, in addition to radiation released from the nuclear cores.  Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes and parts of the sea are not fished due to the radioactive materials, an unknown amount coming from nuclear waste.  Babies have been tested for nuclear exposure.  Milk and vegetables have been withdrawn from the market.  If that means "has hurt noone and poluted nothing" to you I am amazed.  Are the rest of your claims as good as this one???

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  9. Further to Michael, many reasonable people will conclude that an irreparably damaged nuclear plant has become nuclear waste and hence a waste disposal problem. To the extent that waste then redistributes itself in an uncontrolled fashion, it's a waste disposal failure. Not having a successful plan to deal with the aftermath of a failure is itself a waste disposal failure. 

    Unfair framing? Well, is the Fukushima Daiichi generation plant nuclear waste, or not? 

    Our poor imaginations are no excuse for our errors. The hopeful outcomes we imagine collapse in the face of opposite facts. 

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  10. I should add that while I think we're very much unsuited to build and operate nuclear plants because of the nature of our species, I also think that with sufficient humility we may yet still do so with a net positive benefit despite a track record that has been spotty and will continue so. However it's still the case that several decades of intensive experimentation in self-deception by the nuclear industry seem to confirm that viewing nuclear power generation as it exists today through rose-tinted glasses does not adequately work as a means of popularizing the technology.

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  11. "You argue that there is so much excess renewable power that it must regularly be given away to neighboring countries for free and that renewable power cannot be used to power various forms of energy storage facilities because they would frequently sit idle due to the lack of excess power."

    No, I argue that if we try to go for a 100% intermittent fuel supply, we will probably fail in getting there, due to the cost.

    Additionally (and this gets my goat), it actually worsens the problems we are trying to solve. In my country, advocates are advising we raise energy taxes on industry to pay for the production subsidies and other sustainability projects. This will move industry out of the country, since energy costs are easily 30% to 50% of total revenues for the largest energy users (chemistry and metalurgy). Fine factories, smelters and forges are already closing, citing energy costs and prospects. Where do these factories go? (let alone the poor highly skilled workers, who are lamenting their years of investment in Best Practice industry practices. A kick to the teeth. Their craft will ikely move to coal burning giants. So much for good intentions.

    Obviously, it seems, we should - if anything - seek to lower energy costs for energy intensive industries, bringing them into our countries so they abide by our environmental laws and efficiency standards. But this evidence is completely lost on popular sustainability guru's advising for more taxes on energy producing industries.

    Nuclear power answers this problem. Nuclear power can power solar panel factories, electric car factories and wind turbine factories, serving the relatively minor demand from households in stride. Solar panels cannot, wind turbines cannot, and electric car batteries cannot do this. Not without grotesque energy storage facilities and legions of fossil fuels plant, burning their poison quietly on the side, more of it every year, while happily egging us on to simply 'believe in the possibility of a 100% fossil-free future'. The big joke is on us suckers, I argue.

    Nuclear fuel is inexhaustible. The earth's crust contains hundreds of trillions of tons of uranium and thorium fuel. Enough to power thousands of GW of nuclear power plants for billions of years. Of course, we can only get at a small fraction of that vast radioactive source. There is 4 billion tons in the ocean we could extract at a cost that would factor negligably in the price of nuclear power. Enough to power the entire world economy five times over for tens of thousands of years. More than enough time to carefully build out what truly sustainable and cost effective renewable source we have, including fusion.

    (Hopefully only very little 'bio-based' energy, which is overhyped and dangerous in worse ways than nuclear. And very inefficient. See Hartmut Michel http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/all-biofuels-are-nonsense-says-nobel-winning-photosynthesis-expert-hartmut-michel.html.)

    The myth about so-called 'uranium shortage' has to be put to rest and I argue that posting an article on SkS illuminating people on the basics of advanced nuclear energy would be a very good development.
    http://www.mcgill.ca/files/gec3/NuclearFissionFuelisInexhaustibleIEEE.pdf

     

     




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  12. JVD: "In my country, advocates are advising we raise energy taxes on industry to pay for the production subsidies and other sustainability projects. This will move industry out of the country, since energy costs are easily 30% to 50% of total revenues for the largest energy users (chemistry and metalurgy). Fine factories, smelters and forges are already closing, citing energy costs and prospects. Where do these factories go?"

    Adopting a blanket refusal to acknowledge human nature or the art of compromise or the difference between what ought to be and what is, as do you, a rejoinder equally as plausible as the nuclear panacea you offer would be to say,  "Just make sure there are international agreements to prevent migration of economic activity to the least responsible host. Just make sure everybody behaves responsibly."

    The problem is, even while having only four letters, "just" is too often a substitute for a reasoned, credible plan requiring much more thought, let alone wisdom. 

    Let's start with understanding the basics before we move to extract all the uranium from the world ocean. How do we keep rats out of the switchboards of nuclear power plants? More to the point, how do we account for the foible of human nature that means we overlook the possibility of a rat interrupting the primary flow of cooling water at a fission generation facility? If we have N nuclear facilities with X/N significantly affected by a rodent, how many facilities will be affected by the same general problem of failure of imagination if we multiply N by 10,000? What is X? How many collisions of an unimagined rat with a switchboard may we expect? How many plants will have inoperative backup power available, leading to some probablility of a collision between a wayward rat and yet another facet of human fallibility in the form of a disgruntled or simply incompetent employee? 

    So far, X as it is emerging doesn't look promising as a number when it comes to replacing all of our energy supplies with nuclear fission plants; with about 450 operating power generation plants attached to a record of 3 plants suffering failures of human nature leading to irreparable damage in at least one core, X isn't looking very attractive. Moving the present proportion of nuclear generation capacity against demand from about 6% to 100% would produce what number of failures over 40 years, in keeping with the actual record?

    But perhaps we can change human nature. Or perhaps we can keep N to a number more in keeping with X.

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  13. JvD,

    How would you propose to solve the mismatch between supply (which is ideally constant at a high capacity factor) and demand (which fluctuates over a wide range) at high penetrations of nuclear power?

    The places I've checked have a difference between minimum demand and maximum demand over the course of a year of about 2.5:1, and over the course of a day as much as 2:1.

    If you want to use nuclear to meet peak demand, then the capacity factor will be much lower than 100% and the cost of the nuclear power will be much higher than advertised.

    If you want to maintain close to 100% load then you either need to limit nuclear to about 40% penetration, in which case it's only ever one part of the solution, or you need to find useful things to do with the unused capacity, in which case I'd be interested in knowing why the same solutions wouldn't apply to intermittent renewables in an over-capacity situation.

    The bottom line is that both intermittent renewables and nuclear power need to be coupled with some storage mechanism, albeit for different reasons. Neither are a good substitute for the current mix of low-cost baseload power plants coupled with higher-cost load-following and peaking power generators on their own and it's disingenuous to dismiss either simply on that basis because no technology scales up to 100% well, and that includes coal — otherwise we wouldn't have a mixture of technologies now!

    Also, if you're going to use fast breeders to counter the claim that there are genuine and well-founded concerns about uranium supply, then you should also be up-front about the cost of electricity from those fast breeders and the current state of production readiness of the technology. Exactly how far away are we from large-scale rollout of fast breeders (especially given how far behind schedule and over budget the first two EPRs are, and they're conventional reactors!)? How much CO2 can be abated by continuing to build wind farms at the present rate in the meantime?

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  14. So... extracting uranium from the oceans is a feasible plan, but storing wind and solar power for later use is not.

    Right, we've crossed the 'five fold crazy' line. I'm done here.

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  15. "Let's start with understanding the basics before we move to extract all the uranium from the world ocean. How do we keep rats out of the switchboards of nuclear power plants? More to the point, how do we account for the foible of human nature that means we overlook the possibility of a rat interrupting the primary flow of cooling water at a fission generation facility?"

    The best solution would be to use fission technology that is not dependent on flowing cooling water. Inherently safe reactors, in other words. Current commercial reactor technology is based on scaled-up versions of 1950's submarine reactor technology. While the submarine reactors are inherently safe, when they were scaled-up for commercial power generation, the inherent safety feature was lost due to core power scaling more quickly than heat dissipation capacity (i.e. volume increased more than surface area of the core), and the need for uninterrupted cooling was introduced.

    In order to mitigate the problem of not having absolute containment, all nuclear reactors today were fitted and are fitted with secondary containment structures which will capture most or all of the radioactivity in case of 'rats in the swithcboard'. This worked well at TMI and reasonably well at Fukushima, although at Fukushima, some volatile radioactive material escaped through human failure (wrong operation of emergency vents), although the amount lost was arguably not very dangerous. While Fukushima is measurably contaminated with radionuclides, the contamination is rather benign, as stated recently by the WHO. Even in the worst case prognosis, about 1000 lives will in future be cut short due to Fukushima, which of course is a tiny, tiny amount of health effect compared to the at least 1.000.000 people *every year* who die from fossil burning polution world wide. In the EU alone, the usage of coal burning generating plants causes 18.000 people te die *every year*. While we need nuclear power to be as safe as possible, it is necessary to compare any health effects to the alternative: coal. To make nuclear power safer, it would be good to move to reactor designs that are not dependent on forced cooling.

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  16. "How would you propose to solve the mismatch between supply (which is ideally constant at a high capacity factor) and demand (which fluctuates over a wide range) at high penetrations of nuclear power?

    The places I've checked have a difference between minimum demand and maximum demand over the course of a year of about 2.5:1, and over the course of a day as much as 2:1."

    We can simply look to France, which have a couple of their nuclear generating plants working in load-following mode. The French obtain 80% of their electricity using nuclear power. So your claim that only 40% can be done with nuclear is falsified by reality. The French, by the way, have the lowest cost and lowest co2 intensity electrity of any OECD country, which proves that nuclear is low co2 *and* low cost. French electricity is far, far less co2 intensive than German power, and is far cheaper, for example.

    "Also, if you're going to use fast breeders to counter the claim that there are genuine and well-founded concerns about uranium supply, then you should also be up-front about the cost of electricity from those fast breeders and the current state of production readiness of the technology. Exactly how far away are we from large-scale rollout of fast breeders (especially given how far behind schedule and over budget the first two EPRs are, and they're conventional reactors!)? How much CO2 can be abated by continuing to build wind farms at the present rate in the meantime?"

    We don't need to build fast breeders yet, although we know how to do it. Many countries have built fast breeders, such as France and Japan. The Russians have a fast reactor, the BN600 which they are already selling commercially for export. The technology is here. It works. Yes, it is a little bit more expensive than conventional once-through nuclear power plants, but this will probably change sometime this century or the next. In order to move to a low-co2, nuclear energy supply, breeders, fast breeders, and fast reactors will be built. Another reason to build such plants is because they result in far less nuclear waste. However, since the amount of nuclear waste is already very small for nuclear, making it even smaller is not a very important goal. For example, in the French nuclear power system, the total amount of nuclear waste per Frenchman is the size of a 20 EURO-cent coin. Tiny, tiny amount of waste, in other words. Easily handled.

    Wind farms can abate a lot of co2 emissions. But not enough, because they cannot supply most of the electricity you need. You need backup, which will be powdered coal or natural gas. Burning coal or gas releases huge amounts of carbon per unit of energy, compared to nuclear power. An energy system running on wind farms (and solar farms) and natural gas backup generators will not nearly achieve the amount of co2 reduction that we need, unless the amount of wind farms and solar farms becomes unreasonably large, leading to massive curtailment and massive hits to the economics.

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  17. "So... extracting uranium from the oceans is a feasible plan, but storing wind and solar power for later use is not.

    Right, we've crossed the 'five fold crazy' line. I'm done here"

    Extracting uranium from the oceans is proven technology:

    www.neutron.kth.se/courses/reactor_physics/NEA-redbook2003.pdf

    See page 22.

    Fo course, we don't need to mine uranium from the oceans yet, but perhaps in a hundred or two hundred years it will be worthwhile. Until that time, there are still vast amounts of uranium in conventional mines. But it's good to know that the amount of uranium we can get is virtually limitless.

    BTW, don't worry about going crazy. It happens to a lot of people once they start realising that everything they thought they knew about nuclear power is wrong. Breaking down one's own indoctrination can cause feelings of stress and uncertainty, but it will pass. Don't give up!

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  18. We can simply look to France, which have a couple of their nuclear generating plants working in load-following mode.

    Yes, and exactly what is the average capacity factor in France? And how expensive is nuclear power once that capacity factor is included in the calculation?

    The French obtain 80% of their electricity using nuclear power. So your claim that only 40% can be done with nuclear is falsified by reality.

    Only if you ignore the fact that France is interconnected with its neighbours and so therefore can export electricity when demand drops (allowing it to have a much higher nuclear penetration than its own market allows, and it still has the lowest capacity factor of any nuclear country in the world) and also import electricity when demand exceeds supply (so even then there's actually not enough nuclear capacity to meet France's own peak demand). When you take into account the entire network what's the nuclear penetration work out to again?

    And perhaps you can tell everyone what happened during the heatwave of 2003? Bit of a problem in a warming world, don't you think?

    The French, by the way, have the lowest cost and lowest co2 intensity electrity of any OECD country, which proves that nuclear is low co2 *and* low cost.

    Or that the French power price does not accurately reflect the true cost of generating that power, as evidenced by EDF's financial woes. That's the thing about state-owned utilities, they don't always charge the true cost for political reasons. We paid 12.5c/kWh here for our coal-fired power for about a decade before the government decided that the taxpayer could no longer subsidise electricity consumers and gradually started raising retail prices until they're now nearly double that.

    Perhaps France wasn't such a good example after all.

    We don't need to build fast breeders yet, although we know how to do it. Many countries have built fast breeders, such as France and Japan.

    Ah, yes, Japan. This would be the reactor that's run for what, a total of 20 months since it was completed in 1991. Perhaps another bad example?

    As for not needing them yet, perhaps you should actually look carefully at the actual (and probable) reserves and think about what that means for plants that you want to construct now that are supposed to last 40-60 years, and then think about the fact that you need to scale up nuclear power about 15-fold to replace fossil fuels. Oh, and also ponder just how much production is actually capable of ramping, and just how few mines actually contain the majority of the known reserves.

    And it's funny what you think is "easy". :-)

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  19. Jason

    Thank you for providing some data about JvD's claims about France.  I said at the start of this discussion that nuclear supporters on this site have provided little to support their position.  Since JvD has a list of problems he says are solved, but do not appear solved to me, I remain unconvinced.  On the contrary, I see that nuclear supporters are unable to justify their position.  Perhaps we can power their computers with the truck mounted reactors JvD described here.  The plans are in Isacc Asimovs Foundation novel. 

    Really JvD, you must recognise that you are proposing what you would like to be the situation and not what actually exists.  Provide a reference for your truck mounted fission reactors, or even a link that suggests it might be feasible in the next 50 years.  You must provide something beyond your strongly felt positions to convince others to change their minds.  Your arguments have not proven credible here.  You have made a number of claims that are obviously incorrect.  When I see several claims (like truck mounted fiddion reactors) that are obviously false I doubt the rest of what you say.  The rest of what you say has holes that I can drive a truck through and I am not even really opposed to nuclear.

    I read an article in the most recent Scientific American that stated that nuclear power has the lowest Energy Invested for Energy Output of any of the currently used power systems.  That doesn't look good for the long term.

    Nuclear may have a place in the future energy system, and it may be large, but you have not provided convincing evidence that will be the case.

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  20. "As for not needing them yet, perhaps you should actually look carefully at the actual (and probable) reserves and think about what that means for plants that you want to construct now that are supposed to last 40-60 years, and then think about the fact that you need to scale up nuclear power about 15-fold to replace fossil fuels. Oh, and also ponder just how much production is actually capable of ramping, and just how few mines actually contain the majority of the known reserves."

    If you think we cannot ramp up nuclear to replace fossil fuels, then what hope is there that solar panels and wind turbines will do it?

    One nuclear power plant requires one ton of uranium per year. So if we build 10.000 nukes, we need 10.000 tons of uranium, per year. Known reserves are more than 5.000.000 tons, so we have at least 500 years of fuel for 10.000 nuclear generating stations in known reserves. In other words, we don't have to turn to the oceans or the other unconventional resources for at least 500 years. So what is the problem?

    I already explained the situation with nuclear fuel inexhaustibility in a comment above, and I provided a reference to a report giving you all the information. You are being willfully ignorant, which is typical of a AGW denier, not of a rational person.

    And you, Micheal Sweet, are ignorant for thanking Jason, who has added nothing substantial but basically just repeated wrong arguments previously made by others. Both of you need to get serious, otherwise we will get nowhere.

    Anyway, here is an explanation of the US army's ML-1 portable nuclear power station program. It was abandoned decades ago because oil is cheap, but it could be restarted at any time. Therefore: truck mounted nuclear power stations are *not* incredible. They *are* technically feasible. If and when oil should become too expensive, they *will* be built. You may find this impoossible to imagine, but that is your loss.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ML-1

    Recently, Greenpeace published an updated version of their [R]Evolution scenario for my country, the Netherlands. Just like I have been trying to tell you, Greenpeace sees my country install 70 GW of solar and wind power, which is an installed capacity about 6 times the maximum demand. You can deny this all you want, reality falsifies your denial.

    www.greenpeace.nl/Global/nederland/report/2013/klimaat%20en%20energie/energy-revolution-scenario.pdf

    Finally, here is a very recent research report from the OECD partnership, which explains why intermittent renewables add significant hidden system costs, and calculates them. This report corroborates my viewpoint completely. To get with the program, you need to study this report, or else learn to live with the fact that you are operating from a position of willfull ignorance.

    www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2012/system-effects-exec-sum.pdf

    Now, I'm getting really frustrated with the low level of discussion we are having here. There is routine dismissal of scientific research going on here. This is no way to proceed. At this point, I would thank you for explaining to me whether any of you are ready to accept the purport of science, yes or no, concerning this issue. Otherwise, time is simply being wasted for all of us. If necessary, please re-read my comments in this thread, which  contain all my main arguments backed up by credible scientific research.

    Thank you,

    Joris

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  21. "I read an article in the most recent Scientific American that stated that nuclear power has the lowest Energy Invested for Energy Output of any of the currently used power systems. That doesn't look good for the long term."

    Isn't that just dandy. You read an article. Care to provide a source? A scientific one? Even in a worst case scenario, nuclear power stations have an EROEI of 12. In the best case, such as Vattenfall's generating stations in Sweden, the EROEI is >50. In future, with gen4 nuclear power plants, EROEI could be >100.

    Now, what is your source saying that nuclear power has the worst EROEI? I bet you have none.

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  22. While the advantages/disadvantages of nuclear power are an interesting topic, they are a red herring in regards to the actual topic of this thread - the capabilities of renewable power to supply baseload/ongoing energy demands. 

    In that regard, and in reply to a number of assertions made recently:

    • Widespread distribution has been shown to reduce irregularity of supply by many orders of magnitude.
    • The US NREL has studied and considers a US 50% electrical supply with wind/solar, and a total of 80% for all renewables, possible by 2050.
    • NREL has also shown that 35% penetration by wind/solar in the Western US can be accomplished, and "not require extensive infrastructure if changes are made to operational practices", contrary to assertions re: penetration made on this thread. 
    • European integration in a heterogenous environment will be more challenging, but it may be that the majority of the issues are political/regulatory
    • See the several other studies listed in the opening post (OP) in this regard - there is a great deal of evidence supporting baseload renewable capabilities. Note that varying supply is addressed in these studies. 

    Please - stay on topic. 

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  23. JvD,

    The background for my citation is here.

    Nuclear: As with hydroelectricity, the EROI estimates for nuclear power span a very large range. Some claim that the EROI is actually less than 1—which would mean that the whole process is not a source of energy, but rather a sink—whereas others (such as the World Nuclear Association, an industry group) estimate that the EROI is much higher than perhaps any other source of energy, around 40 to 60 when using centrifuge enrichment. I drew on a paper that reviewed many studies, and estimated the EROI to be 5. Lenzen, “Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review,” Energy Conversion and Management (2008) (my emphasis)

    As usual, nuclear makes wild claims of energy returned.  I notice you did not cite a source, even though you ask me for one.  Scientific American has a good reputation as a neutral observer.  You still have not provided a citation for truck mounted fission reactors.  I will not comment on this thread again until you provide this citation since if you do not it shows you are not debating in good faith, just making up stuff as you go along.

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  24. JvD,

    I did not see your source for truck mounted fission reactors before.  Reading it I see that they are not praticable.  No shielding for operators!  Keep up trying to convince people.  You have certainly convinced me that nuclear is not an option at all.  I used to be agnostic about nuclear and have worked with radiation so that is not a big deal for me.  Seeing the material you cite I no longer consider nuclear much of an option.

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  25. KR,

    Apologies for the off-topic post but if I could just correct the record on two points that would be great.

    If you think we cannot ramp up nuclear to replace fossil fuels, then what hope is there that solar panels and wind turbines will do it?

    The "production" I was referring to was uranium fuel production, which naturally isn't an issue for wind or solar because neither need fuel.

    To put things into context, Olkiluoto reactor 3, a 3rd generation conventional reactor, was started in 2005. Since 2005, the world has added 223 GW of wind capacity (http://www.gwec.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/GWEC-PRstats-2012_english.pdf), equivalent to about 80 GW of nuclear power, or 50 Olkiluoto reactors.

    One nuclear power plant requires one ton of uranium per year. So if we build 10.000 nukes, we need 10.000 tons of uranium, per year. Known reserves are more than 5.000.000 tons, so we have at least 500 years of fuel for 10.000 nuclear generating stations in known reserves. In other words, we don't have to turn to the oceans or the other unconventional resources for at least 500 years. So what is the problem?

    The problem is your numbers.

    According to the World Nuclear Association, your reserves are off by a factor of ten: 5,327,200 tonnes. Oops. And right now, with nuclear power representing less than 6% of world energy production, the consumption rate is 68,000 tonnes/year. That means that at the current rate of consumption we have less than 80 years' worth of uranium left.

    Scale consumption up by a factor of 15 and what happens?

    And that's not even the whole problem. Right now, primary production (i.e. what is coming out of the mines) is only enough to satisfy 58% of current demand. Do you really think that Olympic Dam and Ranger can nearly double production overnight, just to satisfy current demand when Russia stops selling its stockpiles? Even under modest expansions of nuclear power there are question marks about uranium supply through to 2030.

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  26. JasonB - I assume you are responding to JvD with these quotes? You might want to identify whose comments you're talking about :)

    I suspect a well-written SkS post on nuclear options and possibilities for mitigating greenhouse gases would be useful, but quite frankly that hasn't been (as far as I know) a recurring denial myth - it's not even on John Cooks list

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  27. Beleive it or not, the State of Kansas has visions of becoming the "Saudi Arabia of Wind." Read about it in the article, New transmission lines funnel wind-generated electricity out of Kansas. by Dan Voorhis, Wichita Eagle/McClatchy Newspapers, Mar 25, 2013.

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  28. As a Skeptical Science contributor and  regular, I should say that I am grateful for this discussion about a subject that I really should learn more about. It is frustrating for me that such discussions actually range a little too widely and it might help if we isolated one subject at a time (nuclear waste, intermittency and the grid, uranium ore resources, energy storage options, demand management etc). I realize that all these subjects interact and can't be entirely considered in isolation but some better focus would be helpful for beginners.

    Some of the comments in this thread are longer than some SkS blogposts, so I would encourage everyone here to consider submitting a focussed blog post on some aspect of this huge and important problem.

    I have one question for Joris. What do you think of this report: California’s Energy Future - The View to 2050?

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  29. KR — sorry, yes, the quotes were from JvD but the initial sentence was in response to your request to stay on-topic. :-)

    As an aside, I'm not that strongly against about nuclear power, as long as it's not in my backyard; if the Chinese want to go ahead and build 30 new reactors in addition to their wind farms, I see that as a useful reduction in CO2 emissions vs what would be the case if they built coal instead. What I don't like is people with massive blind spots in regard to the issues with nuclear power blowing every little problem with renewables out of proportion in their efforts to capitalise on the potential benefits of AGW to their favoured solution. Nuclear has been around for a long time now, it still costs a lot of money, has unique hazards, and major obstacles that need to be overcome if it is to scale up to a useful level. China has been able to build nuclear power plants on time and on budget, but that's partly thanks to a skilled workforce willing to work 10 hour days, 7 days/week, for Chinese wages, and (although I have no proof of this) I suspect partly because the Chinese probably aren't as demanding when it comes to safety. Olkiluoto, on the other hand, is now up to €8.5 billion for one conventional 1.6 GW reactor that has taken eight years to build so far and counting. And we're supposed to believe that magically we can now build fast breeders at scale, starting any day now, without any problems?

    It seems to me that solving the storage and distribution problems with intermittent renewables will be a lot easier.

    As an interesting aside, the global nuclear power production has been roughly 2500-2600 TWh per year for the past decade. From 2010-2011 wind power production increased by 118 TWh (from 341 TWh to 460 TWh). At that rate of increase it would take only 20 years to be generating as much power per year as the entire world's nuclear fleet just with wind power alone, and there have only been four years since 1980 where the increase in nuclear power generation per year has exceeded that rate of increase (1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988). (Note that I'm talking about actual power generated here, not nameplate capacity, so it's taking into account the fact that wind has a capacity factor of only about 30% while nuclear has a capacity factor of about 90%. The only difference between them is that wind is intermittent while nuclear is flat; demand, of course, fluctuates.)

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  30. I wrote:

    According to the World Nuclear Association, your reserves are off by a factor of ten: 5,327,200 tonnes. Oops. And right now, with nuclear power representing less than 6% of world energy production, the consumption rate is 68,000 tonnes/year. That means that at the current rate of consumption we have less than 80 years' worth of uranium left.

    Oops indeed — it's not JvD's reserves that were off by a factor of ten, it was the consumption rate per reactor per year that was off by a factor of more than 100. Not sure how I misread the "5.000.000" but my conclusions stand.

    Anyway, current consumption rate divided by the 435 reactors in use equates to 156 tonnes of Uranium/year, not 1 tonne/year. It seems likely that JvD was referring to the rate of consumption of U235 per year, which would be about 1 tonne/year, but the problem is that the reserves are not reported as tonnes of U235 but as tonnes of Uranium, of which only about 0.7% is U235.

    There are many different estimates of the actual time left at the current rate of consumption but they're all in the 50-100 year ballpark, including the OECD's red book. I'd certainly be concerned about embarking on a program to build over 6,000 conventional reactors that I'm budgeting on running for 60 years under those circumstances, even if we can assume that more reserves will be found and exploited as demand went up.

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  31. The concepts behind Fast Breeder Reactors are certainly a major advance over earlier designs - much greater intrinsic safety, massively lower dangerous wastes produced, able consume a lot of existing wastes, and can even run on Thorium. However, they are still at the proof of concept/pilot stage. They are years away from serious scale commercial deployment.

    Should money be poured into developing them? Absolutely. Particularly if that development can produce modular designs that don't need to be specially designed for each installation.

    But that does not justify any slowdown in deployment of Renewables. Any and every technology that can save a kilogram of CO2 going into the atmsphere now should be used to the maximum possible now! FBR's, as a viable option are quite some years away. But our CO2 problem is today.

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  32. KR. "I did not see your source for truck mounted fission reactors before. Reading it I see that they are not praticable. No shielding for operators! Keep up trying to convince people."

    I brought up the truckmounted nuke plant only as an example of what is possible. You are trying to make it sound as if this is a major part of my argument. Shielding reactor cores is as simple as pooring concrete, by the way. Concrete is an excellent radiation shield.

     

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  33. @Michael Sweet. I don't care whether some people claim nuke EROI is less than one. And I don't care whether the American Scientists sees fit to cite such wild claims. Note that they also published the WNA figures of 40-60. The WNA figures are credible. Vattenfall published figures for their Swedish Forsmark plant which demonstrates EROI > 50. This is not a controversial figure, and I trust you will find the Forsmark figures using google and not muddle this discussion again. If nuke EROI was 1, there would never have been any nuke plants built, so it is completely silly to pursue this wild claim and frankly it makes you look like a troll, I'm sorry to say. Stop doing it. Start learning.

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  34. KR: "While the advantages/disadvantages of nuclear power are an interesting topic, they are a red herring in regards to the actual topic of this thread - the capabilities of renewable power to supply baseload/ongoing energy demands.

    In that regard, and in reply to a number of assertions made recently:

    [...]NREL has also shown that 35% penetration by wind/solar in the Western US can be accomplished, and "not require extensive infrastructure if changes are made to operational practices", contrary to assertions re: penetration made on this thread."

    KR, I don't dispute that 35% penetration is possible (although it will be very expensive, as shown by the OECD report I linked to). Rather I dispute that 100% is possible.

    I linked to an excruciatingly obtuse Greenpeace study that says that in my country, the Netherland, 70 GW (!) of solar and wind farms should be installed by 2050, even while maximum power demand is 13 GW. This is a dream. No scratch that: it is a fantasy. No, scratch that too, it is a LIE! It will never happen and cannot happen. In my country, we will NOT build 70 GW of batteries to store the power of 70 GW of intermittent renewables. Greenpeace places itself outside of normal rational discussion, and is thereby the enemy of all parties who sincerely want to solve the GHG emissions problem. Fortunately, I know some people within Greenpeace who are as sick and tired of such nonsense as I am. I dare to predict that Greenpeace will abandon its deadly obsession with destroying the nuclear option within ten years. Greenpeace has already recently abandoned its deadly embrace of biofuels (I like to think partly due to the almost 10 years I have spent reminding them of the deadly facts about biofuels), and similarly, Greenpeace will abandon its nuclear sabotage ideology sooner or later.

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  35. @JasonB. We do not need fast breeders for at least a few centuries if we don't scale up nuclear power. Only if the world would embark on a rational nuclear build-out, then most new reactors would be fast reactors, fast breeders or breeders. China's long-term energy plan calls for a majority of such reactors, which they will start building toward the second half of the century (or earlier, according to recent announcements, but that aside). India's long term plan is to use thorium breeders, which deliver similar benefits as fast breeders.

    Fast breeder technology is a proven technology. the US EBR-II operated as a (inherently safe!) fast breeder IFR for years, though only at a small (research) scale. The French Phenix reactor was very succesfull, although the Superphenix suffered from teething problems. Still, much was learned from that and the current state-of-the-art of fast reactor technology is highly advanced. 

    There is no serious person who knows the technology who claims that fast reactors are not feasible. The reason for not building them today is mainly that the once-through uranium fuel cycle is still economical, and because of technological lock-in of traditional thermal reactors, which makes it hard to make a case for spending billions on new licencing regimes and designs while the traditional thermal technology is completely developed and licenced. If getting a new thermal reactor through the red tape is extremely costly. Imagine how expensive a 4th gen design will be! They can be made, and they will be made, but arguably not while uranium is still dirt cheap. This says nothing about the feasibility of fast breeders, but is just a matter of basic economics and the current status of uranium supplies which still gives the cost advantage to a once-through fuel cycle.

    Finally, note that the actual nuclear component of a typical new nuclear power plant is only 5% of the project cost. 95% is for redundant safety, financing and red-tape. So even if a fast-reactor is more expensive than a thermal reactor, it will change nothing to the overal cost of the reactor. Arguably, since fast reactors can be built inherently safe, there are cost *savings* available, if licencing regulations can evolve to incorporate the inherent safety. However, politically, evolving licencing regulations is very difficult. It takes more than a decade to change something in the licencing system in the USA. Licencing regulation has prevented nuclear innovation, which is the main cause of a percieved lack of innovation.

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  36. @Glenn: "The concepts behind Fast Breeder Reactors are certainly a major advance over earlier designs - much greater intrinsic safety, massively lower dangerous wastes produced, able consume a lot of existing wastes, and can even run on Thorium. However, they are still at the proof of concept/pilot stage. They are years away from serious scale commercial deployment."

    They are years away from serious deployment because there is not yet a need for fast breeders. But the technical knowhow to build them is there already, after decades of research and demonstration in multiple countries. The argument that fast breeders are not commercial (if you are making it) is a non argument. The only reason they are not (strongly) commercially pursued today is because we already have licenced thermal reactor technology that will be applied first. But there is no technical reason why we could not equally build fast reactors. In fact: almost all nuclear countries such as the US, Japan, Russia, etc, have proven and demonstrated the technology through decades. It's here. It's real. If we want them, they can and will be built. And you are right: they have all sorts of advantages over traditional thermal reactors.

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  37. Okay, so it took a while after me and now KR suggested to get back on topic. There is not much to add re nuclear here, Joris, and while I see some folks here correcting there own comments, I see few of your points being convincing.

    Joris now finally returned to his 100%-impossible-claim, but now beats Greenpeace as a strawman. This post is not about them ... obviously a small country like yours should and need not attempt an island solution. Care instead of responding to my post @356 and KR's @372 ?

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  38. Andy Skuse: "I have one question for Joris. What do you think of this report: California’s Energy Future - The View to 2050?"

    I think it is a very good report. I recommend everyone read it, because it does justice to pointing out the *serious* problems associated with banking on intermittent renewables to provide the majority of sustainable energy, let alone firm capacity, which is the topic of this thread.

    The report unfortunately appears to dismiss the option of producing fully synthetic liquid fuels on the grounds that it would require (too) much energy. I don't agree and neither does the US navy. Recently, the US navy has shown that shipborne nuclear power could supply synthetic liquid jet fuels at reasonable cost, allowing nuke powered navy fleets to go without refueling for decades, and still fly regular air superiority sorties.

    So since California has a high technological skill base and reputation for innovation, my recommendation for Californians is to push for building nuclear powered synfuel facilities which makes liquid fuel from carbonates in seawater. Initially, they could be built to make synfuel from coal, but ultimately they should switch to using seawater. The cost per gallon ofequivalent liquid fuel will then be only slightly higher than current prices at the pump, and would be completely GHG free. Such facilities could be built at the 10GW scale, or 50GW or even higher. Studies have already shown that inherently safe liquid metal cooled fast reactors or breeders could arguably be built at that scale, and possibly even up to 100 GW capacity per reactor. (source: AFAIK as yet unpublished research by a PhD friend of mine specialised in LMR technology.)

    Additionally, another PhD friend has shown that such applications could benefit from molten salt heat storage, which doubles as a credible indirect eletricity storage. In other words: building such nuclear powered synfuel facilities allows coupling with intermittent renewables by damping fluctuations in energy supply by storing and retrieving process heat from molten salt heat stores in tandem with increasing and dereasing wind speed or solar insolation. However, while technically feasible, the economics would not favour this as a long term strategy. Still it could help in absorbing large penetrations of intermittent energy sources until such time as there is a global superconductor grid that would actually make a fully solar/wind power system slightly possible, as opposed to impossible.

    To be clear, Is support wind and solar energy and further build out of those technologies. What I do *not* support is the nonsensical idea that intermittent energy sources can replace stable supply from fossil or nuclear power plants. I view that as a very dangerous and unfortunately very prevalent myth, and I take time out every once in a while to point this out since the future is also mine, not just of greenpeace. Note that I bring up Greenpeace, because the IPCC has used the Greenpeace vision as the lead scenario in there press-release statement about the SSREN study. This is a major mistake. Part of my intention is that the Greenpeace scenarios are exposed as nonsense and removed from the IPCC documentation until such time as they are made rational, which will happen as soon as Greenpeace ends it's counterproductive crusade against nuclear energy and also acknowledges the grave difficulties with switching to 100% intermittent renewables. They will do both sooner or later, since logic and truth requires it.

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  39. gws: "Everyone should focus on a smaller issue first, say "why is the economic forecast (in the EU paper link you gave) so bleak?" and "is that an accepted fact we cannot hope to change?", or "how can we (best) make renewables provide baseload power?", I suggest. Then take it from there."

    Intermittent renewables cannot provide baseload power, per definition. Only fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro and biomass can do that. Biomass and hydro are not large enough, which leaves fossil and nuclear. The only way to make intermittent sources supply baseload is by using electricity storage. Hydro is too small for this, while engineered storage is too expensive. If money is not issue, there would be no problem, but money is an issue, and while it is, intermittent renewables will never provide baseload.

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  40. @gws, I already replied to KR 372. My reply is that I do not dispute that intermittent renewables could provide 35% of supply. I dispute that it can supply a majority of the required 100%. The difference will be made up with fossils or (worse) biomass, if we don't use nuclear. That is why I am pro-nuclear. Not because I am against solar or wind (which I am not!) but because I am against GHG emissions and against blackouts. If we don't use nuclear, the only way forward is continued use of fossils, or blackouts.

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  41. There are dozens of countries currently generating more than 35% of their electricity from sources other than fossil fuels, biomass, and nuclear. Eleven of these countries generate more than 99% of their electricity without using fossil fuels, biomass, or nuclear.

    Granted, most of that power is hydro (and geothermal in Iceland) rather than wind and solar, but it is obviously not true that we have no choice other than 'nuclear vs combustion'. Wind and solar account for greater than 35% electricity generation in several sub-national regions (e.g. German states) and will soon be reaching that point on a national level (e.g. Italy and Spain).

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  42. JvD @390,

    This is not helpful. Again, you simply repeated your assertion.

    So far, the only unchallenged argument you made with respect to the 100%-impossible-claim is an economic one (you cited an EU report), and I asked @356 if that is set in stone. You did not address that. I may be naive, but usually economic forecasts assume BAU and use statistics of past data to extrapolate, so whatever bleak economic forecast re renewables there is, it is not likely very reliable, meaning it can change quickly given changing circumstances.

    I quote that EUR 24996 report from 10/2011, preface:

    The policy implication of this analysis is that there are increasing costs associated to the deployment of intermittent generation technologies in the EU-27. If the cost of integrating intermittent generation was to be limited to about 25 billion EUR per year, no more than about 40% of intermittent generation can be integrated in the European power market. The final choice of an acceptable cost increase will be a political choice.

    Clearly, the calculated limit of of 40% is created by the artifical 25 billion EUR per year cap with the implication that political choices need to be made. May I say ... duh. Somehow I think that report is hardly the last definitive word out there ...

    Furthermore, I got the impression that you argue from the narrow view that renewables basically mean wind and solar and that 100% use of these cannot work (although even your arguments for that were contested here strongly). That may be correct on small scales and ignoring other renewables such as hydroelectric, wave and tidal power generation (hello The Netherlands!), and biomass, presuming the latter is done responsibly.

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  43. gws@392 needs to be amended. My bad, I managed to overlook JvD's comment @389. Neverthless, as CDBunkerson pointed out, your "Intermittent renewables cannot provide baseload power, per definition"-statement appears as a gross generalization.

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  44. JvD - I have a number of issues with your arguments:

    You have attempted to dismiss baseline support numbers with ad hominem arguments, are now attempting to demonize Greenpeace (not a perfect organization, but then neither are some of the nuclear interest groups you have sourced from),  and make claims from a single study that a 1/3 penetration of renewables will be outrageously expensive - others show 50% wind/solar with 80% renewable quite achievable, and right now in the US Iowa has 24.5% of its electricity coming from wind, and South Dakota 23.9%; without bankrupting either. 

    You have also flatly stated that "Intermittent renewables cannot provide baseload power, per definition", dismissing (on rather poorly supported economic grounds, not technical) the entire opening post and many studies discussed in this thread. Meaning your statement is, so far as you have shown, incorrect. Renewables can provide baseload - whether that's the economic path, and the assumptions used, can still be a point of discussion. 

    You have not made your case, and your methods of argument weigh against your conclusions. 

     

    Instead, you appear (again, IMO) to be convinced that nuclear power is the panacea, dismissing or attacking any other approach, and ignoring or hand-waving issues such as waste disposal, which have not been adequately or socially addressed in the 50 years we've had nukes. You've even proposed ideas like the 1960's truck reactor, which I suspect was abandoned for very good reasons (such as mechanical flaws in the design, or the 150 meter radioactive exclusion zone during operations due to having zero shielding) - and seem blind to the issues with your proposals.

     

    Personally, I feel that nuclear power and its expansion has a place in our future. So do significant amounts of renewable power, improvements in efficiency, synthetic fuels, improvements in energy dispatch, and so on - each can contribute. But in terms of the simple, technical question of whether or not baseload power can be provided by renewables - yes, yes it can, that 'skeptic' myth is (ahem) baseless.

    In the meantime, crusading for a single black/white all/nothing solution, attacking other approaches with a blind eye to your own, is not going to be a useful part of the discussion - it's a False Dichotomy fallacy. We have to consider and perhaps implement all options, while being realistic about which issues are myths, and which are real and significant. 

    ---

    [ Side note: There have been a couple of posts in this thread where I have been ambiguously linked to or directly quoted for something I have not said! Please pay attention the sources of your quotes. ]

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  45. Nuclear power is critical if we want to have any hope of ameliorating AGW, because intermittent renewables cannot provide more than a minor fraction of electricity needs, let alone energy needs, and no baseload power. The latest comments above continue to deny this. It is certainly not up to me to support my position - which is the consensus position. It is up to you - and SkS - to prove that you are right, which is the contrarian position. I've given ample evidence, which has been roundly ignored here. That is a great pity IMO.

    Perhaps while you are busy collecting credible evidence for your unsupported position about the ability of intermittent renewables to work without nuclear power or other baseload sources, you will also tell Dr. James Hansen that he is wrong. After all: James Hansen is firmly on my side of the line separating fact from fiction. This is what Dr. Hansen has to say on the subject:

    ====

    "We should undertake urgent focused research and development programs in next generation nuclear power," said atmospheric physicist James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York.

    While renewable energies such as solar and wind were gaining in economic competition with coal-fired plants, Professor Hansen said they wouldn't be able to provide baseload power for years to come.

    Even in Germany, which pushed renewables heavily, they generated only 7 per cent of the nation's power.

    "It's just too expensive," said Professor Hansen, an expert in climate modelling, planetary atmospheres and the Earth's climate.

    www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/james-hansen-keen-on-next-generation-nuclear-power/story-e6frgcjx-1225838858482

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  46. Here is a letter sent by Hansen to Obama. Further evidence that SkS is in urgent need of overhauling it's contrarian position on energy matters:

    ===

    "It would be great if energy efficiency, renewable energies, and an improved (”smart”) electric grid could satisfy all energy needs. However, the future of our children should not rest on that gamble. The danger is that the minority of vehement antinuclear “environmentalists” could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed such that utilities are forced to continue coal-burning in order to keep the lights on. That is a prescription for disaster.

    "There is no need for a decision to deploy nuclear power on a large scale. What is needed is rapid development of the potential, including prototypes, so that options are available. We have to avoid a “FutureGen” sort of drag-out. It seems to me that it is time to get fed-up with those people who think they can impose their will on everybody, and all the consequences that might imply for the planet, by putting this R&D on a slow boat to nowhere instead of on the fast-track that it deserves.”

    www.thesciencecouncil.com/james-hansen.html?start=5

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  47. JvD,

    As you have pointed out several times, the IPCC has supported the use of renewables for generation of power.  By definition, the IPCC position is the consensus scientific position.  You are simply wrong when you claim that your position is the only scientific one.  You have ignored the problems that nuclear has and alienated people, like me, who would support nuclear if a  suitable argument was presented.  You have damaged the nuclear position at this web site by your extreme views and wild claims.  I am much more skeptical of nuclear after this exchange with you than I was before.  I suggest you work on your message or you will not convince anyone.

     

    SkS is a site where the science of climate change is discussed.  The solutions are mentioned but are not the main goal here.  SkS is not going to take an official position on nuclear either way.  You have hijacked this forum for the past week.  You appear to me to have alienated more people than you have convinced.  No-one has supported your position.  At least three posters have stated that your style alienates them.  Why don't you take your positions to a site where it is more appropriate to discuss nuclear as long as you like?  At Real Climate they do not allow nuclear to be discussed because of people like you.

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  48. KR: "In the meantime, crusading for a single black/white all/nothing solution, attacking other approaches with a blind eye to your own, is not going to be a useful part of the discussion - it's a False Dichotomy fallacy. We have to consider and perhaps implement all options, while being realistic about which issues are myths, and which are real and significant. "

    You'll note in my comments that I am not against solar and wind power, or any other low-co2 energy source. The false dichotomy you are presenting is ... false!

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  49. Michael Sweet. If I have alienated anyone, I am sorry for that. I guess I am simply following Dr. Hansens advice to start getting fed-up with people who like to impose their will on everybody else, endangering the planet.

    Besides, I will turn your argument around and state frankly that you alienate me. I've been reading most of your comments on this thread, and you have been repeaing almost every anti-nuclear myth out there, even after other commenters and myself have given you the evidence that shows you are wrong. Now who's alienating who?

    Finally, I hope that anyone who feels alienated by me uses the energy that that gives to look hard for evidence that destroys the credibility of my position, because by doing that you will learn infinitely more about the subject matter than simply relying an the assertations and opinion expressed by the anti-nuclear advocates who are active on SkS.

    Learning about inconvenient truths and exposing one's one indoctrination is always a painfull proces. But it must be gone through. I hope people don't project the shagrin caused by exposing one's own indoctrination onto me.

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    Moderator Response: [JH]You are skating on the thin ice of sloganeering. Please cease and desist or face the consequences.
  50. JvD wrote: Oh dear, another group of top experts - the PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL OF ADVISORS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY - concluding the opposite from SkS:

    "Achieving low-carbon goals without a substantial contribution from nuclear power is possible, but extremely difficult."

    We interrupt the ongoing crazy for a brief reality check.

    The SkS position, as described in the post above, is that renewable energy sources can be used to produce substantial baseload power. Your position is that they cannot and that nuclear must be used to reduce CO2 emissions. The quotation you supplied states that renewables can be used, albeit with difficulty, to achieve low carbon goals without nuclear. Which agrees with the SkS position... and directly contradicts yours.

    Thank you. We now return to your regularly scheduled irrational nonsense.

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