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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 401 to 440 out of 440:

  1. JvD, re: your dogmatic statement of "inexhaustible suppleis of uranium and thorium fuel:" 9ref. Comment #361.)

    They may well be immense, but do they measure in the "trillions of tonnes?" I'd appreciate hard, known data supporting that number.

    This link shows on the order of 5.5 BILION tonnes of known U235 reserves, FAR away from your asserted "trillions of tonnes."

     

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Uranium-Resources/Supply-of-Uranium/#.UVMczBzOuuI

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  2. Don't be silly vrooomie. Doncha know we can get all the uranium we want from the oceans? And there will be zero environmental damage as a result. And we don't have to worry about diminishing returns because as the uranium near the pumping stations is extracted it is instantaneously replaced by ocean mixing. And it absolutely positively will not cost ludicrous amounts of money.

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  3. CBD: I was thinking that the realists had taken sway of this wildly-divergent thread and I thought some FACTS were called for, on the part of the person who was making geologically-inconsistent claims. Being a geologist, I thought I was going to help.

    There I go, thinkin' again.

    Sorry. Back to the crazy...;)

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  4. vroomie,

    I already tried making that point (here and here) but apparently discovering that he was wrong about fuel supply by a factor of 150 was not enough to make JvD question his level of subject knowledge. He never addressed my point about the potential penetration level of nuclear power after I showed France was not the good example he thought it was, either.

    Regarding the "uranium from seawater" idea, "The total amount of uranium recovered in an experiment in 2003 from three collection boxes containing 350 kg of fabric was >1 kg of yellow cake after 240 days of submersion in the ocean." (Wikipedia, citing Seko et al. 2003.) That suggests that you would need 55,000 tonnes of fabric per reactor, submerged in seawater for 2/3 of the year, in order to collect enough uranium for that reactor for one year. Practical? You be the judge.

    JvD, quoting The Australian, apparently quoting Hansen, said:

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

    The thing about true sceptics rather than "fake skeptics" is that we allow facts to change our minds rather than mindlessly accepting arguments from authorities that we happen to like. In this case it's entirely possible that The Australian is accurately reflecting Hansen's opinion (although I wouldn't automatically assume that), but even though I respect Hansen greatly I'm not going to simply take his word for it, especially since it's not an area that he is an actual authority in.

    In fact, in 2011, 20.5% of Germany's electricity supply was produced from renewable energy sources, compared to 17.7% from nuclear, and Germany has far from the highest percentage of renewable power generation of any country in the world, or even the EU!

    JvD has repeatedly tried to portray SkS as portraying the "contrarian" position when it comes to renewables and nuclear power, and himself as holding the "scientific" position. Normally, to disavow someone of that notion, I would point them to a well-written and researched article on SkS. In this case, the article I would point JvD to... is this one! He hasn't argued against any of the reports presented, he has merely stated that it was "per definition" that "Intermittent renewables cannot provide baseload power". If only SkS realised that it could debunk all those skeptical claims by saying they were wrong "per definition"!

    Since JvD is in Europe, it's surprising that he overlooks one significant benefit that Europe has, which is Norway's massive potential for pumped hydro storage. Fully developed it could single-handedly power all of Europe for weeks, allowing Europe to easily take advantage of large amounts of intermittent renewables. Indeed, pumped hydro storage construction is booming in Europe, with this decade set to the the largest growth in capacity on record precisely to accommodate intermittent renewables. 

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  5. Citibank recently did an analysis, discussed here, which closely matches my own expectations. This analysis suggests that the most likely scenario for global energy production in the short term is rapid growth of solar and wind power with natural gas as backup generation. This would slowly eliminate the concept of 'baseload' power... you'd have intermittent power from wind and solar and whenever demand exceeded the available intermittent power the natural gas plants would kick in temporarily to make up the difference. As time goes on the need for natural gas backups would then be eliminated by having a large enough smart grid to dispatch intermittent power from areas with excess to areas with a shortfall and/or various methods of power storage. Some areas will continue to rely on relatively steady power sources like hydro, geothermal, and nuclear which are already in place, but most generation will be from solar and wind.

    Barring some major new power innovation this path seems nearly inevitable to me. Wind, solar, and natural gas are all now cheaper in nearly every market than coal, oil, and nuclear, and this price gap will only get greater with time... and indeed wind and solar will soon be cheaper than natural gas as well. Hydro and geothermal are cheaper in some areas, but more expensive or impossible in others. Thus, economics will inevitably drive wind and solar to replace coal, oil, and nuclear. Natural gas compared to other fossil fuels is cheaper, probably less polluting (though more study of methane leakage is needed), and easier to quickly bring online and shutdown without tremendous inefficiency. Thus, it will logically fill the role of backup power source for most of the world until the infrastructure needed for fully renewable power is in place.

    If the future plays out this way then global carbon emissions will decline to safe levels long before we get to scenarios where we burn all available fossil fuels. Maybe we pass 560 ppm atmospheric CO2, but certainly not 1120 ppm. Of course, that could still result in very damaging AGW (especially if large methane feedbacks kick in), but we should be able to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios. Unfortunately, all that is based on current technology. Someone could come up with a cheap way to collect methane hydrates from the ocean in a few years and thus undercut solar and wind prices with a massive new fossil fuel source... at which point we're back to catastrophe unless governments actually respond intelligently and start putting a price on carbon.

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  6. Interesting though this discussion is, I wonder whther the big picture is being lost. When you look at the projections below (OK they are by an oil company PDF but let's assume that they are not that bad), renewables and nuclear gow over the twenty years, but nowhere as much in absolute terms as coal, gas or oil. OECD countries show little growth in energy and all the growth and, by 2030, two-thirds of the consumption will be in developing countries. Debating the relative merits of renewables vs nuclear in OECD countries seems rather beside the point when the forecasters are predicting negligible shares of both sources globally and quite massive increases in fossil fuel consumption. Shouldn't we be rooting for bigger shares for both nuclear and renewables?

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  7. CBDunkerson:

    "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."

    Yes renewables can be used. But the difficulty is great. Too great, as is stated clearly be every authority on the subject. Therefore, relying on them *alone* to solve the climate crisis constitutes taking a great *risk* with our common future. This risk can be all but eliminated when nuclear is allowed to play a role.

    Putting it another way: Yes, a burning building can be extinguished by using only champagne. There is no denying it can. But for purposes of risk management and prudent resource allocation, at least some water should be used. Similarly, we can run the global economy using renewables only, but for purposes of risk management and prudent resource allocation, at least some nuclear should be used.

    I note that you have turned to misrepresenting my arguments and calling me crazy and irrational. I doubt that those who read this will be terribly impressed with the strength of your argumentation. I am not, at any rate. What I recognise here is a failure on your part to maintain sight of what is at issue here. Hopefully, your kind of so-called 'environmentalist' will wisen-up very soon. Otherwise, all hope of solving the climate change crisis is lost.

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  8. "Shouldn't we be rooting for bigger shares for both nuclear and renewables?"

    Yes we should. And I am. Despite constant attempts by some posters on this thread to portray me as being anti-renewables, I am not. However, solar and wind power have serious, inherent limitations which *require* addition of either storage or backup or both. Since storage is not enough (pumped hydro) or too expensive (everything else), and gas is merely another fossil fuel which needs to be *eliminated*, nuclear is the obvious choice. (Contrary to anti-nuke propagandists, nuclear power *can* follow demand very well. Nuclear submarines and nuclear navy ships PROVE THIS every day.)

    Germany has today about 70 GW of solar and wind name-plate capacity installed. In a few years, if all goes to plan, they will have 130 GW. But their maximum power demand is about 80 GW. Which means that pretty much every day, they are going to have dozens of *GW* of power with no place to go but out of the country. Scandinavia can perhaps provide a few dozen extra GW of storage to accept the German excess, but that's it. There is no way Scandinavia can 'Power all of Europe'. Sheer lunacy.

    Certainly, entire EU-27 has about 600 GW of average power demand and there is no chance that scandinavia could provide 600 GW 'for a week' (according to JasonB). Furthermore, in the GreenPeace energy scenario for europe, some 2600(!) GW of solar and wind power would need to be built. This means scandinavia would have to have about 2000(!) GW of pumped hydro storage capacity. That's about one *hundred* times their current installed amount. They cannot provide this! In fact, they can only provide about 50 to 100 GW (Norway and Sweden together) beyond what they have now. That's a large and valuable resource, but clearly *nowhere near* enough for 'all of europe'.

    http://www.twenties-project.eu/system/files/D16.2_2_FINAL_SINTEF.pdf

    What intrigues me now is this: Does JasonB even know what Scandinavian current potential is, since he is clearly the expert? Perhaps JasonB will provide us with the scientifically robust information that he has which contradicts the link above and shows that "Fully developed it [scandinavia] could single-handedly power all of Europe for weeks, allowing Europe to easily take advantage of large amounts of intermittent renewables."

    It would be nice if JasonB provided some scientific support, like I have been doing in my previous posts which he seems to have been selectively reading. I say selectively, because JasonB is still claiming my figures for uranium and thorium reserves are wrong. If only he would go back and simply read science, rather than simply allow his imagination of what is 'fact' run wild? Here is my source again:

    http://www.mcgill.ca/files/gec3/NuclearFissionFuelisInexhaustibleIEEE.pdf

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  9. "As time goes on the need for natural gas backups would then be eliminated by having a large enough smart grid to dispatch intermittent power from areas with excess to areas with a shortfall and/or various methods of power storage. Some areas will continue to rely on relatively steady power sources like hydro, geothermal, and nuclear which are already in place, but most generation will be from solar and wind."

    CBDBunkerson don't you see that this is mere handwaving? And the Citigroup study is promoting natural gas usage! I thought we were trying to stop AGW? So what is the scenario if no natural gas is to be used? Biomass? Storage? What is the environmental impact of those options? What is econnomic cost? Better than nuclear? No way.

    Putting it differently, lets say we don't worry about those costs of storage/backup, because we assume those costs are going to be made through the next few decades, thereby gradually arriving. Alas, it doesn't work that way. Solar and wind installations only have a lifetime of about 15 to 30 years. So to suggest that we can build our solar and wind now, and then worry about our backup and storage 'later' is catastrophic. What will happen is that we will find out that we will not only have to think about storage and backup 'later', but also our completely new set of wind and solar systems. So every few decades, we need to depend on governments and voters to pony-up the cash for these expensive facilities, or risk falling back to fossil fuels. A never-ending game of Russian roulette. Just one future goverment could destroy all our sacrifices today, by deciding to not renew the massive wind farms, solar farms and city-block sized battery plants. With nuclear plants, there would not be this problem. Nuclear power plants become stupendous cash-cows after they have been in service for a few decades, because their original debts are paid off. For example, Germany installed heavy taxes on all their nuclear power plants, in order to subsidise wind and solar. The cost of power from a nuclear power plant that has paid back it's investment is little more than 0,3 ct/kWh (no typo).

    A nuclear power plant of the EPR or AP1000 type will last 60 years. In fact, they are designed ready for life-extensions to up to 100 years of service life. After 100 years, the nuclear power plant will have competed with four(!) complete sets of by then long junked windturbines and solar systems, which then have become (literally) mountain-sized collections of rusting, leaking, chemically hazardous trash! In addition, there will be up to 6 (!) complete sets of junked battery storage systems, which only last 15 years, and which consist of highly unpleasant corrosive salts or heavy metals.

    Our children are just going to *love* that, I'm sure!

    Not really. I think our children would understand that some nuclear waste deep underground in the middle of the empty desert is far better than untold millions of junked wind turbines (also at sea!) and untold millions of junked rooftop systems beyond service, simply rusting and sitting there on roofs, being ugly, leaking their heavy metals through their cracked coatings, with no regulation, no oversight, no control ....

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  10. JvD @408, I have been following your debate only casually, but even I picked up the fact that your initial statements were very strong.  For example, you are quoted as saying:

    ""As someone who is familiar with the field, you must know there are many peer reviewed studies that disagree with your assessment that renewables cannot be used to power the entire globe." [comment by michael sweet]

    Yes I have read probably all of them. None of them disagree with my assessment, since none of them show how renewables can power the globe. All they do is show that there is enough sun, wind, etc. It saddens me that [SkS] it not able to recognise the difference between that and showing actually *how* renewables can power the globe, which is what is demanded in a scientific discussion. IPCC does not do this. Greenpeace does not do this. WWF does not do this. They make a mockery of serious efforts to move to low-carbon economy. This kind of denial is similar to climate change denial and just as damaging to the effort to save the planet for human welfare. I repeat my call for an overhaul of the treatment of this important subject on SS. Dr. Ted Trainer has clearly shown the problem and [SkS] should take it from there. I can't do more than that."

    (My emphasis)

    Even not paying attention, I picked up that there is a considerable backdown from "renewables cannot be used to power the entire globe" to "Yes renewables can be used [to power the globe]. But the difficulty is great."  Perhaps rather than accusing others of misrepresenting your argument, you could simply acknowledge that your initial statement of your position was overstated, and that your position is actually that:

    Renewables can. of necessary, power the globe; but that,

    It is not necessary that they do so exclusively because we have recourse to nuclear power; and that

    It will be much easier to power the globe with a renewables/nuclear mix than exclusively with renewables.

    (Or perhaps you have already acknowledged the initial overstatement and I just missed it, in which case could you point me to that acknowledgement.)

    In any event, if you agree that the position I laid out above is your actual position, the issue is, to me, a non-issue.  What government policy needs to dictate is a strong, revenue neutral carbon price  with a clear timetable for emissions reduction built into the pricing mechanism.  The later can be reduced by mandatory reductions in emissions credits in line with the time table (in an ETS), or mandatory increases in the carbon price in any year where emissions excede the timetable allowance (for a carbon tax).  With such a policy, the market can decide for itself what is the best mix of nuclear and renewables, and I don't have to pretend to an expertise I lack or an ability to prophecy technological advances 50 years into the future (both of which would be required to resolve your debate).

    Of course, this assumes that nuclear is a permitted technology.  I see no problem with making nuclear a permitted technology on condition that clear policies are in place to avoid risks from nuclear power.  These policies should include:

    1) Fail safe design, so that in the complete breakdown of power supply and or mechanical systems the reactor shuts down safely; and

    2) No net environmental impact for ore to waste.  The idea here being that uranium ore is a naturally occuring low level environmental hazard.  That fact allows a straightforward definition of safe disposal of nuclear waste.  That is, if radiation count at the surface of a waste disposal site is no greater than at the original ore body, and the waste is stored in a way that is proof to leeching and as expensive to reprocess as the original ore, then waste disposal has no net environmental impact and can be considered safe.

    Do you agree that these are reasonable constraints on the nuclear industry?

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  11. JvD,

    At 408 you say

    "Which means that pretty much every day, they are going to have dozens of *GW* of power with no place to go but out of the country. "

    Yet every night France has to export substantial amounts of their nuclear power since their generation capacity is greater than their baseline usage.  Why is it good for France to export nuclear but bad for Germany to export renewables?  Provide citations to support your wild claim that wind and solar facilities only last 15 years.  I previously noted several nuclear plants that have been withdrawn from service because of maintenance issues.  Your 100 year claim is simply false.

    You currently claim that nuclear has had no problems in the OECD countries (you ignore Japans' problems in that claim) and at the same time claim that nuclear can power the globe.  Which is it?  You have completely ignored my point that nuclear is unsuitable in unstable countries because the reactors melt down if the grid is disconnected.  How will Africa, the Middle East and other volatile locations generate their electricity?  You ignore the issues related to waste disposal, which has not even been addressed in most countries.  Your citations are all nuclear power supporters, not unbiased scientists.  You agree that the consensus of scientists, as reflected in the IPCC reports, supports renewables, and say they are all wrong. 

    Your argument is bankrupt.  You have provided a very convincing argument that nuclear supporters are unreasonable.  You are currently convincing people that nuclear is dangerous.  You have made a very strong impression on me, and I used to support nuclear. 

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  12. Nuclear would be a reasonable way to provide baseload 'backup' for intermittent renewables. I just don't see it ever happening because nuclear is too mistrusted. Three mile island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima each had a massive impact on the global nuclear industry. If they could go twenty years without a major disaster the story would change, but that probably isn't going to happen when they continue to insist on running decrepit old 'first generation' nuclear plants decades after they were originally supposed to be shut down.

    Fukushima probably killed nuclear's last chance. It ended nuclear in Japan, Germany, and other countries that were finally starting to look into it again to reduce emissions. Instead those countries are now going heavily into solar PV... which has helped drive down prices. Globally solar is now much cheaper than nuclear and by 2020 it will be cheaper than fossil fuels as well. At which point... why would anyone give nuclear another chance? Even if they manage to avoid another disaster it will be at least fifteen years before anyone would try to make another major push for nuclear... and by then there won't be any reason to.

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  13. Contrary to anti-nuke propagandists, nuclear power *can* follow demand very well. Nuclear submarines and nuclear navy ships PROVE THIS every day.

    Ignoring the fact that naval nuclear reactors are much more expensive per kWh, is it "propaganda" to point out that the levelised cost of electricity of new nuclear power is extremely sensitive to the load factor? If you're going to quote nuclear power generation costs with respect to renewables, don't forget to adjust it by average load factor; running at an average of 60% load factor increases the LCOE by about 40% vs running at 90% average load factor.

    Scandinavia can perhaps provide a few dozen extra GW of storage to accept the German excess, but that's it. There is no way Scandinavia can 'Power all of Europe'. Sheer lunacy.

    You seem to be confusing generation power with storage capacity, which is surprising for someone trying to lecture others. "a few dozen extra GW of storage" makes no sense.

    Certainly, entire EU-27 has about 600 GW of average power demand and there is no chance that scandinavia could provide 600 GW 'for a week' (according to JasonB).

    EU-27 electricity generation for 2010 was 3.18 million GWh, which equates to an average electricity generation of 363 GW. (Link)

    The Nordel power system has a storage capacity of about 120 TWh (and I have seen reports that there is the potential to expand it to as much as 205 TWh) and the UCTE grid has another 57 TWh, for a total of 177 TWh. (Link)

    That's enough storage (note the units) to power the EU-27 for 177,000 GWh/363 GW = 487 hours = 20 days = nearly three weeks with no other electricity generation at all — no wind, no solar, nothing. Nordel alone actually has enough for nearly two weeks.

    Now, in order for it to be able to do that, obviously three things need to happen:

    1. Big interconnects between Scandinavia and Europe so the power can be efficiently transferred back and forth. (Hence NORD.LINK, NorNed, NorGer, HVDC Norway–UK, Scotland–Norway interconnector, etc.)

    2. The existing hydro-electric dams upgraded to pumped storage so they can pump water back up into the reservoir when electricity is cheap, thereby storing it (rather than simply relying on nature to replenish the dams).

    3. Install more and larger generators so the peak power output can be increased (current max. for Nordel is 46 GW because that's all they need at the moment).

    Given that Europe is unlikely to ever be in a situation where all electricity must be coming from Scandinavia there's no point actually installing 300+ GW of generating capacity; far more important is the storage capacity, which would allow it to plug a shortfall in generation for a very long period of time until the renewables are once again producing more than demand requires. (What was it you said again? Oh, yes: "Which means that pretty much every day, they are going to have dozens of *GW* of power with no place to go but out of the country." Bingo.)

    Furthermore, in the GreenPeace energy scenario for europe, some 2600(!) GW of solar and wind power would need to be built. This means scandinavia would have to have about 2000(!) GW of pumped hydro storage capacity. That's about one *hundred* times their current installed amount. They cannot provide this! In fact, they can only provide about 50 to 100 GW (Norway and Sweden together) beyond what they have now. That's a large and valuable resource, but clearly *nowhere near* enough for 'all of europe'.

    Again with the unit confusion. What's "2000(!) GW of pumped hydro storage capacity" supposed to mean? 2000 GWh is only 1% of their current capacity, while 2000 GW of generating capacity is 5.5 times more than the average generation for the whole of Europe right now. It would help if you took time to familiarise yourself with the concepts, I think. 

    In any case, note that there's no logical reason why Scandinavia's pumped hydro generation capacity has to match the nameplate capacity of solar + wind; what it needs to match in reality is the worst-case shortfall between ex-Scandinavian production and EU demand.

    Funnily enough, your own link states that Norway's total reservoir capacity is 85 TWh alone, which by itself would be enough to provide nearly ten days' power for all of Europe. They don't have sufficient generating capacity hooked up to those reservoirs to do so, of course, because right now they are pure hydro power rather than pumped storage — in other words, they rely entirely on nature to recharge those reservoirs, and those reservoirs have to last all year long. As soon as you switch to pumped storage — that is, install generators that can double as pumps and pump the water back up to the reservoir — then more powerful generators are justified. 

    What intrigues me now is this: Does JasonB even know what Scandinavian current potential is, since he is clearly the expert?

    You would do well to lose the snark, especially since your own link supports what I said.

    Perhaps JasonB will provide us with the scientifically robust information that he has which contradicts the link above and shows that "Fully developed it [scandinavia] could single-handedly power all of Europe for weeks, allowing Europe to easily take advantage of large amounts of intermittent renewables."

    See both my link and your own link above. Note that I never said that the installed generating capacity was enough, because it would have been stupid for Scandinavia to have installed generators capable of draining their reserviors in a matter of weeks then leave them without power for the rest of the year, as they are normal hydro power plants at the moment, dependent on nature for replenishment. The important thing is their storage potential, which, fully developed, would be enough to single-handedly power Europe for weeks, although it would never actually be required to.

    The point is that Europe has a lot of headroom when it comes to attaching intermittent renewables to the grid. As the range in prices increases (even down to negative prices at times — Link), the economic incentive to upgrade hydro power stations in Scandinavia to pumped storage with larger generating capacity and increase their links to the rest of the grid increases (since they buy electricity when it is cheap and sell it back when it is expensive) hand-in-hand. Install away and the free market will provide an incentive for the upgrades as-needed.

    The big question at the moment is not whether Scandinavia can become Europe's battery, but whether they can upgrade their interconnects and generators quickly enough to lock themselves in as established providers before other technologies like Compressed Air Energy Storage (Link), which is similarly attractive economically, can gain a foothold.

    It would be nice if JasonB provided some scientific support, like I have been doing in my previous posts which he seems to have been selectively reading.

    Hmm... I littered my comments with hyperlinks to supporting documents. I count at least nine references in my earlier posts but perhaps they weren't clear enough for you, so I've separated out the links above for you so they're more obvious. I note, also, that the vast majority of your claims have been unsupported by references, despite your apparent belief to the contrary.

    I say selectively, because JasonB is still claiming my figures for uranium and thorium reserves are wrong.

    No, your figures for the amount of reserves were roughly correct; you were just out by a factor of 150 on the rate that nuclear reactors consumed those reserves. "Enough to power 10,000 nuclear power plants for 500 years" vs "enough to power the current fleet of 435 nuclear reactors for 80 years" is a pretty big discrepancy, especially when we're talking about scaling up nuclear power by a factor of 15 or so. Since you apparently missed the links I used to support my claims, here they are again:

    1. World uranium reserves: 5,327,200 tonnes (Link)

    2. Current uranium consumption: 66,512 tonnes/year (Link)

    3. Time left: 5,327,200/66,512 = 80.1 years (Maths)

    In case you don't trust the maths, the first link above also includes this:

    "Current usage is about 68,000 tU/yr. Thus the world's present measured resources of uranium (5.3 Mt) in the cost category around present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for about 80 years."

    The links themselves are to the World Nuclear Association, which in turn reference the Red Book, in case you're worried they've been hijacked by greenies.

    If only he would go back and simply read science, rather than simply allow his imagination of what is 'fact' run wild? Here is my source again:

    http://www.mcgill.ca/files/gec3/NuclearFissionFuelisInexhaustibleIEEE.pdf

    Then why don't you read it? Your source is talking about breeders. If you're going to advocate nuclear power and, at the same time, claim that fuel supply is a non-issue, then be honest and point out that the type of nuclear power you are talking about is the type of reactor that e.g. Japan started building in 1986, which has cost ¥1.08 trillion (for 280 MWe!) and as of late last year had generated electricity for just one hour? (Link) The power plant that is claimed to be Japan's "most dangerous reactor"? (Link) The type of reactor that the US first had operational in 1951 but which it doesn't use at all anymore? The type that spawned the book "We Almost Lost Detroit"? (Link)

    The bottom line is that people, including the Japanese and the Americans, have tried and failed to build commercial breeders in the past, and there's no guarantee that breeders will be commercial-ready in the near future. We may as well be talking about fusion, or extracting methane from unicorn farts. There are real obstacles to overcome, and large amounts of time, money, and effort will need to be expended to make them a viable part of the solution. It isn't even clear whether they'll eventually be cost-effective or not, especially given the cost overruns of the first two EPR installations (which are conventional reactors, that are supposed to herald a new era of cheap and safe nuclear power!); in contrast, there are plenty of storage technologies that are available now that can help intermittent renewables achieve much higher levels of penetration. Upgrading Scandinavia's hydro plants is positively pedestrian in comparison.

    You also seem to have a massive blind spot when it comes to the need for nuclear to be coupled with storage, which I've raised many times now. The original purpose of Dinorwig, for example, "was to deal with the difficulty that National Grid would have had if the large numbers of nuclear power stations then planned had been built. These are technically and economically inflexible, ideally needing to run at full output all of the time and, effectively, storage capacity was needed for some of the night-time power when the demand for power dropped off. " (Link)

    Simply claiming that this isn't a problem because nuclear power plants can do load following since nuclear submarines exist doesn't address the issue.

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  14. @Tom Curtis. you wrote:

    "1) Fail safe design, so that in the complete breakdown of power supply and or mechanical systems the reactor shuts down safely; and

    2) No net environmental impact for ore to waste. The idea here being that uranium ore is a naturally occuring low level environmental hazard. That fact allows a straightforward definition of safe disposal of nuclear waste. That is, if radiation count at the surface of a waste disposal site is no greater than at the original ore body, and the waste is stored in a way that is proof to leeching and as expensive to reprocess as the original ore, then waste disposal has no net environmental impact and can be considered safe.

    Do you agree that these are reasonable constraints on the nuclear industry?"

    I agree. Furthermore, these constraints should count for all energy industries. What we need is a level playing field. So if there is for example a gas pipeline break that kills people (which happens all the time, in all countries using natural gas) then clearly all natural gas pipelines worldwideneed to be shut down immediately until there is a thorough review of their safety, and full list of recommendations to improve safety to the minimum level of nuclear power, just as what was done in Japan and Germany after Fukushima. Otherwise there is no level playing field. It won't do to consider deaths due to natural gas explosions, wind turbine blade tossing, people falling of their roofs while cleaning solar panels, etc as somehow different from deaths due to radiation accidents. All these deaths are known and they should be treated equally.

    Concerning the safe storage of wastes, we know from the Oklo uranium deposits (which contain numerous natural nuclear reactors) that radioactive products from nuclear fission are contained by such geologies. So returning HLW to such mines is a first indication that safe storage of fission products is easy and in existence. We can engineer storage facilities that are even better than the naturally occuring nuclear waste storage sites that have been found at Oklo, but it is nonsense to suppose that 'there is no solution to nuclear waste' Clearly, there is. Even nature itself - with no engineered radiation barriers - does a very good job.

    Concerning fail-safe reactor esign. The modern AP1000 and EPR NPP's contain many of such features. Most 4th generation reactor design are even safer still, because they don't rely on passive, non-energised safety systems, but rather on reactor physics that require no safety systems at all, passive or active.

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  15. @michael sweet. You said:

    "Yet every night France has to export substantial amounts of their nuclear power since their generation capacity is greater than their baseline usage. Why is it good for France to export nuclear but bad for Germany to export renewables? Provide citations to support your wild claim that wind and solar facilities only last 15 years. I previously noted several nuclear plants that have been withdrawn from service because of maintenance issues. Your 100 year claim is simply false."

    France exports this electricy for profit, whereas Germany exports their electricy far below cost. Politicians in my country (Netherlands) are takign note of this, and considering reducing the ambition for build out of wind/solar in The Netherlands precisely because The Netherlands is already benefitting from near-free (or even negative cost!) solar/wind power from Germany oftentimes. Of course, the solar/wind power we get from Germany is not really free. Far from it. But it's costs are paid by German citizens, rather than the buyer of the electricy. This suits The Netherlands just fine. Especially since we have a lot of natural gas power plants which can deal relatively well with deep load following. But it is a false comfort. Once the German population decides it wants to stop subsidizing solar/wind energy, The Netherlands will not be able to import near-free subsidized German power anymore. We will have to start paying the cost of energy again ourselves. So the Netherlands can never rely on Germany for providing us some of its excess renewable power in future.

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  16. @JasonB. You write:

    "Ignoring the fact that naval nuclear reactors are much more expensive per kWh, is it "propaganda" to point out that the levelised cost of electricity of new nuclear power is extremely sensitive to the load factor?"

    They are not much more expensive. Typical navy nukes such as are installed on nuclear aircraft carriers cost around 7 ct/kwh, according to US Navy own figures (look it up yourself plz, I forget the source). This is expensive compared to stationary, commercial NPP's, but not *much more* expensive. Also, building such plants on land instead of in limited space on ships will allow some cost reductions. In fact, the first ever NPP to supply electricity to the grid was a beeched naval nuke built in the '50's at Shippingport, I memory serves.

    "You seem to be confusing generation power with storage capacity, which is surprising for someone trying to lecture others. "a few dozen extra GW of storage" makes no sense."

    I'm hoping you practice reading comprehension. When we are talking about storage, tow kinds of capacity are relevant: storage capacity, and power capacity. When I say: GW of capacity, I'm referring to power capacity. When I say GWh of capacity, I'm referring to storage capacity. This is normal practice in power engineering communications. No reason to initiate a quibble over this. If anything, you are exposing your own lack of routine in discussing these kinds of issues.

    "The Nordel power system has a storage capacity of about 120 TWh (and I have seen reports that there is the potential to expand it to as much as 205 TWh) and the UCTE grid has another 57 TWh, for a total of 177 TWh. (Link)

    That's enough storage (note the units) to power the EU-27 for 177,000 GWh/363 GW = 487 hours = 20 days = nearly three weeks with no other electricity generation at all — no wind, no solar, nothing. Nordel alone actually has enough for nearly two weeks."

    Yes the storage is enough for this, but there is no power capacity to deliver 300 GW (as you confirm) much less absorb the 2000 GW of power that the Greenpeace EU renewables fleet will be delivering for storage. If the pumped hydro cannot absorb 2000 GW, then that pumped hydro can play no role in reducing curtailment of renewables. If the capacity to absorb renewable power is limited to 100GW, then, in worst case, 1900 GW of renewables will need to be curtailed during a windy, sunny day in Europe. This is my point, and you are not addressing it.

    Please address how the Greenpeace-proposed 2600 GW of renewables for Europe will not be regularly and significantly curtailed, using your own figure of 363 GW average power usage if you want.

    "Now, in order for it to be able to do that, obviously three things need to happen:

    1. Big interconnects between Scandinavia and Europe so the power can be efficiently transferred back and forth. (Hence NORD.LINK, NorNed, NorGer, HVDC Norway–UK, Scotland–Norway interconnector, etc.)

    2. The existing hydro-electric dams upgraded to pumped storage so they can pump water back up into the reservoir when electricity is cheap, thereby storing it (rather than simply relying on nature to replenish the dams).

    3. Install more and larger generators so the peak power output can be increased (current max. for Nordel is 46 GW because that's all they need at the moment)."

    On point 1. This can be done, and is already done. Extra links have already been built, and more will be built. No problem here.

    On point 2. This is not a minor exercise problem, because the number of locations suitable for this is much smaller than mere hydropower. To covert to pumped storage, you need an upper lake AND a lower lake. I recollect a Scnandinavian research estimate of about 100 GW of capacity that could be built across Scandinavia in suitable locations. Of course, as you rightly point out, more GW could be installed at the same site, although the storage time and load factor would decrease and hence the economics.

    On point 3. Additional GW's cannot be added endlessly to any particular pumped storage site, because GW's are also limited by water flow rates that need to conform to ecological and safety regulations. That is why scandinavian authorities work with the ~100 GW max potential figure for power capacity of pumped hydro in Scandinavia, which estimate already includes optimism about ecological feasibility. More certain is the availability of a few dozen extra GW's that would cause limited and perhaps acceptable ecological damage.

    "Then why don't you read it? Your source is talking about breeders."

    I am very much aware my source is talking about breeders and fast reactors. Only the breeder reactor (or the fast reactor) is relevant to the discussion of inexhaustible energy supply. I (perhaps falsely) assumed this to be self-evident. Thermal uranium reactors cannot be part of an inexhaustible energy supply for obvious reasons.

    Anti-nuclear propaganda has several import main ambitions, one of which is to convince the public that fast reactors, breeders and fast breeders are not commercialisable. They are half-right. The commercial argument for such reactors is based mainly on the improvement of uranium usage efficiency. But as long as uranium prices are as low as they are today, fast reactors or breeders are not commercial. Typically, nuclear energineering experts use the rule of thumb that a breeder or fast reactor will always be at least 20% more expensive than a once-through reactor. This is too much to justify only on the basis of the uranium fuel savings at current uranium prices. There is an important caveat to this though. The Russians have been developing their fast reactor BN-xxx series for decades, and have recently started exporting commercial versions. These reactors are competitive because the Russians have been able to leverage the cost benefit of the specific low-pressure reactor design they are using. So although the reactor is more expensive to build, it is far cheaper to operate and maintain, which, apparently, allows them to compete with traditional once through thermal reactor designs like the AP1000 and EPR.

    Anyway, I'm sorry if I did not state clearly enough that when discussing te eon-scale energy supply picture, the once-through thermal uranium fuel fuel cycle is utterly irrelevant. Therefore, it is completely superfluous to assess the longevity of the uranium (and thorium) resource bases by assuming only once-through thermal uranium reactors, because you will automatically conclude that uranium is not sufficiently abundant to support eon-scale nuclear power. Perhaps that is why anti-nuke advocates always insist on assuming only once-through thermal reactors will ever be built, because otherwise they will be forced to concluded that uranium and thorium supplies are inexhaustible on the scale of eons.

    For additional information, one can review the various long-term nuclear power strategy reviews that are available from different sources. All of these sources conclude that fast reactors and breeders will be built in force from around the middle of the century, or whenever uranium price development calls for it, or whenever the populations demands a solution for nuclear waste. I assume you know that all virtually all very long lived nuclear waste can be burned as fuel in fast reactors, so fast reactors may eventually be fast-tracked if populations demand cheap and effective solution to nuclear waste. 

    Concerning load following, the French have long augmented several of their NPP's for improved load following, so this is not limited to naval NPP's. EPR and AP1000 both support 5%/min. load following per standard design.

    Concerning the lack of commercial fast reactors or breeders, please refer to my explanation that current low uranium prices do not call for commercialisation of fast reactor or breeders today. Initial R&D on fast reactors and breeders was initiated during a time when uranium supplies were thought to be limited enough to warrant the R&D. But as recently as the '60 and '70 it became clear that uranium supplies were abundant enough to leave fast reactors and breeders to the future. I remember having already explained this in a previous post on this thread.

    Thank you,

    JvD

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  17. I'd like to have a show of hands at this point of people who - having followed this discussion - agree with me that SkS is creating a false impression that 100% renewables scenario's are realistic. I call this creating a false impression, because in reality, achieving 100% renewables (global average!) has been stated by numerous credible sources to be extremely difficult which is another way of saying extremely costly.

    My proposal here is that SkS overhaul its various articles that conclude that 100% renewables scenario are credible.

    For example, the final sentence of this particular article is:

    "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."

    Should be updated to read:

    "Numerous regional and global case studies – some incorporating modeling to demonstrate their feasibility – have provided plans to meet 100% of energy demand with renewable sources, although achieving such plans globally is thought to be extremely difficult and costly, according to authoritative expert bodies"

    I have re-read most of this entire discussion (which took almost an hour) and I think that we could all agree that SkS should now move to create the above example amendment to this article. It would be sensible to update the other articles on renewables providing 100% power or baseload power to reflect this conclusion. It is necessary that SkS does this, because the current purport of all these articles is that renewable can 'plausibly' provide 100% of energy without any nuclear.

    SkS needs to update the articles to make sure that people realise that achieving 100% renewables can only be done with extreme difficulty. It is right and just that readers of Sks should realise this fully, and not be moved to complacency on this issue, which is what the current version of the articles are apparently seeking to do!

    Thank you,

    Joris

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  18. JvD @417, SkS is most definitely not being misleading on this issue, a point you have already tacitly acknowledged @407 when you wrote:

    "Yes renewables can be used. But the difficulty is great."

    You are not disputing a matter of technical feasibility, but only of economic cost. It may be true that the economic cost of an all renewables energy economy is to great to maintain continued economic growth, but it is not so high that such a conversion would bring down our civilization.  Ergo it is even economically feasible to have a global renewable energy only economy.  Beyond that I don't care provided that any nuclear power satisfies the conditions I specified above, and that renewables are a significant portion of any energy mix.

    Finally, I do not agree that a full renewable economy can only be achieved with "extreme difficulty".  Assuming that to be the case depends on assuming an technical difficulties with nuclear power will be quickly and cheaply resolved, while any technical difficulties with renewables are intractable.  I don't believe in begging the question in so blatant a manner.

     

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  19. JvD, no SkS is not here creating a false impression. As you concede, it is possible to achieve global 100% renewable energy... with current technology. It would just be very expensive. If you read the post above you will see that it does not advocate 100% renewable power with current technology, but rather "within the next few decades" and "by 2020 or 2030". Ergo, no it is not ignoring the cost factors.

    As I said upthread, I think there will be a transition period over the next few decades where natural gas and existing nuclear play a role. After that the buildout of the grid and storage combined with falling costs will lead to 100% renewables.

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  20. "As you concede, it is possible to achieve global 100% renewable energy... with current technology. It would just be very expensive."

     

    If money is no object, anything is possible, obviously. This does not add understanding. The impression people are going to take home from SkS's various webpages on renewables is that renewables will 'plausibly' replace fossil fuels in no short order. This is a patently false and dangerous impression which directly harms the fight to stop AGW, by fostering complacency and motivating people like the German's to recklessly trash their own high-quality nuclear energy sector.

    It may be worthwhile to look at the case of the Ozone Hole problem of the last century. Scientists discovered that popular chemicals used at the time as refrigerants for cooling applicatios were causing massive damage to the ozone layers. Therefore, policy was phased in to eliminate the use of these chemicals. Slowly, these are being phased out which has cause the ozone hole to stop expanding. (it has yet to start shrinking BTW).

    Now, the interesting thing about the Ozone Hole problem was that the cost of switching to non-ozone depleting refrigerants was only a few percent compared to BAU. But even these few percentage point costs required global cooperation and law-making in order to realise the necessary switch.

    Now, a project to make renewables cover for baseload would require backup, storage and renewables build out, which would increase the cost of baseload electricity generation by at least 100% in the best case, and possibly up to 500% or more (f.e. when considering countries like France who currently have 80% nuclear electricity costing about 3 ct/kWh.)

    Considering how slow and difficult it has been to *begin* solving the ozone hole problem - which after all involved adding only a few percentage point costs to refrigeration by switching to chemicals that were only a tiny bit more expensive - how "plausible" is it really that we will switch tot non-co2 emitting energy generators that will cost from 100% to more than 500% more than current? 

    This question is the interesting question to tackle. It is not interesting to conclude that renewable energy can meet baseload as long as money is no object. That is elementary. The question is whether it is able to do it when money is an object. What if people and competitive economies demand that the cost of energy does not rise more than a few percent over baseline? What then? SkS ignores this question and thereby fosters complacency IMHO.

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  21. JvD, did you stop reading after the part of my message you quoted or did you just decide to repeat the same false claims anyway?

    You do realize that no matter how many times you claim that this page (or my response) is misleading because it says renewables will be cost effective "in no short order" or that "money is no object" the actual page itself will always still say;

    "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."

    and

    "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."

    Right? So no matter how many times you claim, "SkS ignores this [cost] question", it will never be true.

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  22. "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."

    This is coded language which is actually saying that renewables will remain far more expensive than coal. There are many variables here: the price of coal in 2020 and 2030, and the cost of air pullution and climate change in 2020 and 2030. The authors assume great costs for these elements, which is how they arrive at the conclusion that WWS will be 'cheaper'. The elephant in the room is whether coal will really be more expensive in 10 or 20 years time, and more importantly: whether the external cost of climate change and air pollution will ever be internalised (requiring new international lawmaking).

    In a way, J&D are saying: "if we get a global tax on carbon and air pollution, then WWS will be cheaper than coal". 

    But what if we never get such a global agreement? That is my point. 30 decades of complete failure on establiishing global climate and air pollution regulations could very well be followed by another 30 years of failure. Why should we take that risk? Why not use an energy source that is cheaper and more abundant and far cleaner than fossil fuels? That is the question SkS needs to answer. But rather than doing that, SkS is suggesting that replacement of fossils with WWS is 'plausible'. The message to the reader is: "Don't worry. WWS will (through international agreements on putting a price on air pollution and cliamte change) be competitive with fossils in time to stop climate change and air pollution (so we don't need nuclear power)".

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  23. The fact that SkS *is* ignoring the cost question is clearly evidenced by the comments in this thread. It has taken a lot of discussion even to establish the fact that a WWS-only scenario is extremely difficult / extremely expensive. All this discussion would have been unnecessary if SkS would simply come out clearly and say: "WWS as a solution to climate change is extremely difficult/ extremely expensive." But SkS does not do this. On the contrary, according to SkS, a WWS-only scenario is called 'plausible'! In another article, SkS even goes so far as to seek to 'debunk the myth' that WWS cannot provide baseload!

    So sure, you can look at snippets of SkS articles and tease-out citations and lines that in a round-about-way suggest that costs are 'not ignored', but surely you must agree that the basic conclusion of SkS is that WWS is or will be competitive with coal sooner rather than later. Which is a conclusion that flies utterly in the face of all major scientific institutions, which conclude that is will be extremely difficult / extremely costly.

    If necessary, read back through the comments in this thread. Surely, you can see that most commenters are or have been under the impression (from reading SkS articles) that renewables can provide baseload with little or no problem and therefore that nuclear power is unnecessary or 'too expensive'. This is an absurd position to take, do you not agree?

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  24. I would like to link here to a very interesting post by michael sweet, and in particular the Budischack et al 2013 article he links. 

    In that paper Budishcack et al ran cost minimization estimates for 30, 90, and 99.90% baseload for a regional electrical grid using renewables. They found that at high baseload the cost economical mix includes a 3x overcapacity of generation; roughly the same percentage as Archer and Jacobson 2007 estimated, with a very small contribution of more expensive storage. Costs were estimated with a moderate externality factor for fossil fuels. Estimates were run with/without selling excess capacity for replacing gas for heating during winters, but with no other use of dumped excess generation capacity. 

    The simulations were run with several years of actual weather data, to see if the renewable systems simulated could manage baseload at the desired level. They found that aiming for 90%+ renewables by 2030 leads to economic savings, not costs, with each step of expansion moving towards lower costs. 

    I believe their results support the thesis of the opening post - that renewables can provide baseload capacity, and what's more, in a cost effective fashion. 

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  25. KR,

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe wind power is the answer. Wind is hopelessly in efficient as they have a low capacity factor.

    Lets take a look at Hazelwood, it produces 11,770GWh with a capacity factor of 84%, this equates to approx 10,240GWh per annun. See page 12 below.

    EnvironmentVictoria.org

    Now lets look at replacing this 10240GWh with wind, see this link below for wind farm performance, note the website is a little slow to load so patience is required :-)

    http://windfarmperformance.info/?date=2013-06-13

    It is actually a very good site because it allows you to look at individual farms etc, however i want you to look at the first graph (Wind Farm Capacity Factor (%)) Notice that none of the wind farms operate anywhere near 100%.

    The next graph Wind Farm Output (MW) shows you just how poorly these farms perform with regard to their rated capacity.

    A bit further down you will see the actual capacity factor of the farms the highest is 41.9% (2011) scroll down to the bottom and you will see two graphs on the right hand side the red line is demand and the blue line down the bottom is the wind farm output.

    Now lets do some basic calculations.

    Hazelwood produces 10240GWh/year or 1100 odd MW per day.

    Total wind farm capacity in Australia 2680 MW with a capacity factor of about 33% which means the farms will produce on average 900MW per day which is kind of close to Hazelwood but remember we are talking about wind farms spread all over the country and this is just to replace Hazelwood we would need to build thousands upon thousands of them to replace all of current energy supplies.

    Then that would still not be enough as wind farms at times produce zero power so we then need a gas turbine back up!!!! Pretty crap energy source if it is not reliable why dont we just build gas turbines only and be done with it?

     

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Fixed link that was breaking page formatting.

  26. Donthaveone...  I'm curious if you've read the article you're commenting on.  Your last comment (@425) is contradicted by the very basis of this article.  Mark and Dana are saying that renewable baseload is shown to be a viable option, thus no need for gas turbine back up.

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  27. This article from Clean Technica describes the current generation of power in Germany.  Three counties generate over 250% of their electricity using renewables.  Many ore generate over 100%.  As people learn about the benefits of renewables more and more individuals and businesses are installing wind and solar.  They will have hard data to compare to the model data described above in a short time.

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  28. Here is the correct link for the above comment.

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  29. Donthaveone - An Argument from Incredulity is not a refutation. Read the linked paper, read the Archer and Jacobson 2007 article as well. When you actually run the numbers for observed weather, for distributed generation sites (even if you only use inland wind, which will have a lower capacity factor than mixed generation), doing the work shows that renewables can provide baseload, and can do so less expensively than fossil fuels if you actually account for external costs (pollution, toxins, warming, etc.).

    One of the largest errors made in this discussion is referring to the numbers for (as you do) single stations - distributed sites have much higher capacity. Storage is expensive, mind you - I find the Budishcack et al 2013 very interesting in that they find excess capacity is more economical than storage. 

    Fossil fuel backup? Budishcack et al 2013 find that it's roughly 0.017% total capacity for the 99.90% renewable scenario. Your objection, a mix of incredulity and Common Sense fallacies, just does not hold. 

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  30. Addendum to this post: The Budischack paper did not incorporate demand management, which is an ongoing development in many markets (I have begun to receive indications from my power company regarding networked thermostats for distributed demand management already), nor sharing arrangements with neighboring power grids - I expect that incorporating those will reduce fossil fuel contributions even more, perhaps to the the level of zero. 

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  31. Australia and US are different. Australia must have one the best resources of solar power (eg CSP) around. If Germany can make such a difference with their poor solar resources, Australia should be able to massively more.

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  32. One of the strongest arguments from baseload renewables skeptics is the need for backup generation amounting to a larges fraction of the renewable nameplate capacity and/or huge overcapacity for wind to assure 8-10% baseload reliability.

    While I am concerned about Jacobson & Delucchi’s lack of practicality in general, they do have an excellent point about using hydrogen turbines for backup with the H2 coming from moderate wind overcapacity.

    KR @341 and JvD @388 both mentioned the Navy’s proposed scheme to use nuclear power on aircraft carriers to generate electrolytic H2 and extract CO2 from seawater to prepare jet fuel onboard (http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/01/16/zero-emission-synfuel-from-seawater/).  While this may make sense for the aircraft carrier, it makes no sense at all otherwise – why waste all that energy and hardware to extract and reduce CO2?  

    Hydrogen production technology is well established with 4-5% of feedstock-scale H2 generation being electrolytic already. No transport or consumer exposure would be involved.  Gas turbines have by far the lowest levelized capital cost and low fixed maintenance costs (excluding fuel) of any current large scale generation (EIA data), and costs of redesigning for H2 should be minimal.  Using hydrogen turbine backup, the base load capacity of wind could become substantial.

    This scenario makes considerable sense for the US with its wind resources. It may not be sufficient for Britain or Europe where multiple-day periods of cloudy calm are not infrequent.   

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  33. tcpflood - "...why waste all that energy and hardware to extract and reduce CO2?"

    Because liquid hydrocarbons are overwhelmingly useful in transportation. Battery tech is improving, but not quickly - however, the tech to generate kerosene/methenol/etc from CO2 and water is already available, and the energy density provided is a basic requirement for transportation use. As a personal opinion, since overgeneration appears to be more economical than large storage, I would consider generation of liquid transport fuels an excellent use of unneeded overgeneration - unlike electrical dispatch, it's not time critical given a week or so of supply buffering. 

    However, the idea you mention, of electrolytic hydrogen generation for power plant usage (as backup), is probably worth considering as well. Running the numbers would help to determine whether it was cost-effective. 

    WRT "multiple-day" limitations, I suspect that large grid interconnections and extended regional generation will be of great use. But not all solution mixes will apply to all regions - the UK, for example, with limited area and insolation, may find a larger investment in nuclear more cost-effective than being dependent on large interconnects to and energy imports from Eastern Europe or to the Mediterranean. 

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  34. KR @433;

    I'm well aware of the chemistry of conversion of H2 + CO2 to hydrocarbons, the properties of hydorcarbons and their use as fuel. I agree that with enough overcapacity the generation of hydrocarbon transportation fuels could be useful until hydrogen infrastructure, fuel cell costs and battery technology all advance. However, generating hydrocarbons as fuel for backup generation, as I have often heard elsewhere, would be a huge waste.  

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  35. As to pricing out the H2 backup, just price out the H2 + CO2 backup scheme and stop at H2.

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  36. One thing I have not checked out as yet is the rate at which electrolytic H2 can be produced vs. scale (capital cost). In any event, an appropriate supply buffer would need to be maintained for backup power generation. 

    If enough overcapacity were constructed and enough capacity were routed to H2 production, and given that wind patterns are readily predicted several days in advance, it would mean that by switching off electrodes some amount of wind power would become dispatchable to the grid.    

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  37. I would have to opine that a hydrogen economy is some time out, at least for transportation. H2 storage requires high pressure, liquification, or some sort of chemical storage (metal hydrides, carbohydrates, etc). Storage, shipment, and energy are all issues. 

    A hydrocarbon such as methanol (CH3OH) is a liquid at room temperature and pressure, has good energy density for weight/volume, and would be a very easy transition from the current gasoline fleet. 

    I don't know what the best and most cost-effective path would be, whether electrical backup or transportion - but we do have multiple alternatives worth considering.

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  38. tcflood:

    1)  Certain engines are designed for use with particular fuels.  In particular, jet engines are designed for use with kerosene rather than hydrogen gas, the two having quite different properties.  By extracting CO2 to make hydrocarbons, the Navy will avoid the need to retrofit their fleet of aircraft with different engines.

    2)  Hydrogen gas is notoriously difficult to store in a compact manner, while compact storage is a necessity in aircraft.  So, even in the event that the navy did convert to hydrogen gass for a fuel, it would need to retrofit the fuel tanks of its entire fleet of aircraft - again something unlikely to be practical.

    3)  Hydrogen gas has the tendency to make hot metals brittle, and brittle turbine fans are a very bad idea in jet engines.  This may by itself make hydrogen gas powered turbojet engines impractical.

    I don't know enough to know which of these three is the most important factor, or even if they are the only factors.  I suspect strongly, however, that the Navy experts do know about the relevant significant of these (and other) factors, and that the Navy's decision is not fivolous.   Unless you are reasonably expert in the areas of aircraft fuel storage, jet engine design, and metalurgy, however, I doubt sincerely your ability to formulate reasonable critiques of the Navy's decision.  Assuming energy requirements is the only factor certainly does not count as reasonable in this context.

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  39. Tom Curtis @438,

    Please read @432 and you will see that your comments are off topic.

    Incidentally, I'm also well aware of the issues you raise.

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  40. The NREL (US National Renewable Energy Laboratory) has a new study (news release here) out looking at the pollution impact of fossil fuel cycling of conventional generators with increased wind/solar inputs. Those opposed to renewable baseload power for various grounds have, on occasion, raised this as an issue.

    The WWSIS-2 study of the western US grid finds that

    ...the carbon emissions induced by more frequent cycling are negligible (<0.2%) compared with the carbon reductions achieved through the wind and solar power generation evaluated in the study... The study also finds that high levels of wind and solar power would reduce fossil fuel costs by approximately $7 billion per year across the West, while incurring cycling costs of $35 million to $157 million per year.   [...]

    "Adding wind and solar to the grid greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel — and associated emissions — that would have been burned to provide power,” ... “Our high wind and solar scenarios, in which one-fourth of the energy in the entire western grid would come from these sources, reduced the carbon footprint of the western grid by about one-third. Cycling induces some inefficiencies, but the carbon emission reduction is impacted by much less than 1%.” (emphasis added)

    Also noteworthy in this study are the positive impacts of accurate 24 and 4-hour weather forecasts, allowing quite reasonable ramping times as wind/solar inputs vary. 4 MWh of renewables would displace 1 MWh of coal and 3 MWh of natural gas power. 

    Renewables will not, contrary to skeptic objections, increase emissions or carbon fuel costs with increased generator cycling - the benefits are overwhelmingly positive. 

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